By Lester Hoel


Lester Hoel


The 40’s and 50’s

            My father was a heard-working man and each morning before sun-up, he left for his job in Garden City, Long Island, where he worked as a cabinet maker in a small shop owned by a member of the church. The work week was six day, and on several Saturdays he would take me with. It was a long trip beginning with a street car ride to the Long Island Railroad Station in downtown Brooklyn and then a ride out on the railroad where we changed at Jamaica for a local train to Garden City.   It was a fun day for me to play in the country while my father worked in a drafty, poorly ventilated building, heated by a wood stove and created beautiful cabinets for the wealthy people on Long Island. These were years before federal regulations were passed controlling the workplace environment. I often wondered why my father traveled such a long distance to this beautiful rural town instead of moving closer to work, but came to realize that his church and his friends in Brooklyn were too important for him to move away from them.

I was a baseball fan and listened to the Dodgers game on the radio whenever possible. Recently, I read a book by Doris Kearns Goodman and it stirred up many memories of my baseball heroes. Regrettably, I never did addend a actual Dodgers” game. When my father came home from work we always had dinner together. Often there would be a guest, someone who was “down and out” and needed a hand. I remember a poor soul named Mr. Jorgensen who came often. He had the coldest hand of anyone I had ever met. He would tell us that he was waiting for “his ship to come in.” I am amazed at the generosity of my parents given how poor we were, but my other always seemed to manage saying cheerfully, that there was always room for one more. Dinners were plain, but nourishing. Norwegian dishes such ask lapskaus, fiskekaker, raspeballer, pannekaker, fish, potatoes and turnips. We never went hungry. Evenings were spent studying and a final Bible reading and prayer before bedtime.

Since money was so scarce, I tried to earn some myself. The most obvious choice would have been to be a paper delivery boy, but since that required Sunday work, I was not allowed. While I became an avid reader of the Herald Tribune, we didn’t get the Sunday papers. Instead I became a shoeshine boy. Usually I worked every Saturday either in Flatbush with my friend from church, Arthur Carlson, or I traveled intoMidtown Manhattan by subway., where I had a good spot on a street corner under a big clock. Business was usually good, but occasionally I would move my shoe box to Pennsylvania Station. Within Penn Station there were authorized shoe shine concessions and one day a policeman grabbed my arm and hustled me to the police station. Was I scared! They let me go, but without my shoeshine box. Upon arriving home, I told my parents what had happened and my mother insisted that she would go with me to the police station where we retrieved my box. That was my only brush with the law.


            A the age of 16, we moved to 57th Street near Ft. Hamilton Parkway, a significant improvement in my living conditions since I now had a bedroom of my own for the first time I my life. In 1952, I enrolled in City College of New York and in 1955 I met a beautiful Norwegian girl, Unni Blegen, who attended 46th Street Lutheran Church. We were married in 1959 and left Brooklyn for California in 1960.