Growing Up in New Haven

The title of Philip Roth’s 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus refers to a disc recording awarded to graduating Ohio State seniors evoking songs, cheers, and the nostalgia of bright college years — the weakest among them played on iPhones into their grave. It almost happened to me growing up side by side the Yale campus immersed in Eli popular culture together with the campus sartorial legacy of family business

J. Press —the mixed metaphor of my life. I never chanted Boola Boola, escaping childhood fantasy at Dartmouth. Growing up in a college town New Haven, Hanover, Ithaca, Charlottesville or whatever, stays with you forever.

 In 1940s New Haven, classmates at my public elementary school came from surrounding Irish, Italian and Jewish neighborhoods. I never enjoyed a WASP peer until my parents sent me to New Haven’s historic Hopkins day school for seventh and eighth grade preparation for boarding school years at Loomis Chaffee. I left home for Dartmouth to escape my Dodge City years growing up surrounded by all those Skull and Boners.

Me and my pals were regulars at all the Bulldog athletic events. Heroes included Levi Jackson, former star at Hillhouse High School prior to entering Yale. His father was a dining-room steward at the college. Jackson became the first black football captain in the Ivy League. My father once furnished a birthday treat bringing Jackson with us to the fabled Louis’ Lunch, alleged U.S. home of the hamburger. I was so excited I threw up in the men’s room.

I also worshipped balletic hook-shots of all-American basketball star Tony Lavelli, a scholarship kid from Somerville, Massachusetts who made pocket change playing the accordion at the Loew’s Poli movie palace before the preview, cartoon and newsreel. And not to forget George H.W. “Poppy” Bush, the Yale baseball captain described in a prior column.

Not only sports. My best friend and I howled alongside arrogant Yalies at a Shubert Theatre try-out hysterically booing alcoholic Yale movie star Sonny Tufts when he drunkenly forgot his lines and mangled dance routines in “Ankles Aweigh,” the dreadful burlesque musical. Poor Sonny was immediately replaced but the show still flopped on Broadway.

New Haven stays in my blood more than half a century removed from the old hometown. Especially the memory of Grandpa Press’ funeral service at Temple Mishkan Israel. His longtime pal and fishing companion, Yale Chaplain and Pastor of the Church of Christ at Yale, Sid Lovett, left our family pew gently placing a New Haven pond lily upon my grandfather’s open coffin.

 

Goodbye, Columbus.

 

RICHARD PRESS

1 comment

Excellent write-up.my family has been going to three of your stores since the early 20’s. The

R. Varrone July 09, 2020

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