Dad used to grow enormous flowers and was urged by various afficionados to enter them in contests, but he never did.
Our Nutley pad just before I was born. The small tree at center was soon removed and the awning (just barely visible at right) over the patio was replaced with a green fiberglass roof which, I believe, still stands.
Looking toward the front yard from the side of the house.
Mom and our cocker spaniel (the daughter of a 5-time blue ribbon winner) in the front yard of our Nutley home, which we sold in 1967. The trees are all gone now, and an addition was made to the left side of the house in the 1970s.
While growing up on Hillside Avenue in Nutley in the 1950s and 60s, Yours Truly became aware in bits and pieces of its remarkable history. Originally called Franklin in the 19th century, some of it was once part of Belleville. It became a town in 1902. Although portraying itself as a working class town, some of the locals joked that "the Belleville millionaries lived in Nutley," partly in reference to its citizens who contributed to the town's 17th-highest per capital income in the U.S., as measured early in the 20th century.
The author Frank R. Stockton lived on 203 Walnut Street. Legend has it that, in 1880, he was asked to write something to be read aloud to entertain an evening party hosted by his friend, William H. Boardman (who would later be portrayed as the boarder in Stockton's famous novel, Rudder Grange). The result, a short story called, "In the King's Arena," was later sold to the Century Magazine and its title was ultimately changed to, "The Lady, or the Tiger?"
Annie Oakley lived for a time in the 1890s on Grant Avenue. Mark Twain would occasionally travel from his Grammercy Park home in New York to visit friends in Nutley. Nutley's denizens have ranged from artists and illustrators such as Frederick Dana Marsh, Reginald Marsh, and Frederic Dorr Steele, to chemist Leo Sternbach (the inventor of Valium), to Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural historian Paul Goldberger, to psychoanalyst Alix Strachey (who translated Sigmund Freud's works into English), to actor Robert Blake and, of course, home guru Martha Stewart. When Frank Capra called upon the writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett to fix the shooting script for the movie It's a Wonderful Life, Goodrich drew upon her fond memories of Nutley at the turn of the 20th century to create the charming community of Bedford Falls.
And in some coincidental presage of my eventual involvement in the publishing business, offset printing was invented by Ira Rubel in Nutley in 1903.
The one great thing my mother did was to introduce me to libraries. Fortunately, the Nutley Public Library was quite good. She initiated my education by reading to me from novels such as Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, then dragging me off to the library. Of course, I initially didn’t know what a library was. “Going to the library” sounded like “going to the doctor’s office.” I therefore was apprehensive until I got there, and saw all of the lovely books, all of that vast accumulation of knowledge, which I found exciting.
My mother would keep track of the books I read. During the summers, the library allowed you to take out 15 books at a time, and during the summer between my third and fourth grade, I read over 80 books. When the library bought a first edition of Isaac Asimov’s three volume set, The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science, I polished it off in a week. (I was tested and it was revealed that I was reading at the college level, which was pretty good for a ten-year-old.) More than 20 years later I would meet Asimov at a book signing event at B. Dalton's Fifth Avenue bookstore in New York (now closed, sadly, along with many great bookstores than flourished in the last century).
Libraries are important because people are educated in spite of, not because of our so-called educational system. That's why I've always thought it amusing that libraries are only open during the day, when nearly everyone is at work, aside from some housewives and retirees.
When I was in second grade, the textbooks they used in my elementary school were from the 1930s. The chapter on television showed a TV set having a mechanical scanner—what’s called a “Nipkow disk,” which hasn’t been used in a commercial TV system since the 1930s. The teacher read out of the book and then said, “and that’s how television works.” Well, I was aghast. Television hadn't worked like that since the days of John Logie Baird and Francis Jenkins.
Then I decided to write my own book. I scrawled and drew illustrations for my first book (done on the back of fanfold paper, like some enormous Mayan codex), which I proudly presented to my second grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, and plopped it on her desk. Upon returning to my seat, I turned around to see it protruding from her wastepaper basket. I ran back up the classroom aisle, retrieved the wad of paper and plunked it down again in front of her, urging her with: “but you don’t understand, Mrs. Johnson, this is for you to read!” You see, long before it became fashionable to deride American education, I already knew from an early age that educators didn’t know what they were doing (or talking about) most of the time, and so I tried to set poor Mrs. Johnson straight as to what to do with the magnum opus I had just bestowed upon her. Mrs. Johnson to her credit thanked me for my clarification of the matter and slid the pile into her desk drawer, never to be seen again.