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Hofstra University Library Special Collections

Diverse Suburbs Oral History Collection

Theme: Origins

Clips from the Judith Kronin Interview


JK: My parents were born in Aiken, South Carolina, and they came from different backgrounds. My father was one of seventeen children.

JL: Oh, my Lord.

JK: Yes.

JL: One mother?

JK: One mother, seventeen children. And growing up I had twelve uncles and aunts that were living, that were living in the area, actually.

JL: You did?

JK: Yes.

JL: So you grew up and you were born there?

JK: No. No, they migrated to Hempstead. Many of them are in this area. Amityville, Hempstead.

JL: Okay. So let's hear that story in a minute, but tell me more about your morn and your dad.

JK: Okay. My mother, she carne from a household that was quite different. She had-it was four of them, and very strict household in terms of, you know, her dad was a rather peculiar individual when you think back on it. He was very strict, and they were very fearful. He had a lot of land, and stock, livestock, and they should've ended up wealthy. But because he was very, to himself and isolated himself, he ended up losing all of his land, and no one ended up with anything. Very, very private person, and my mother- I can just see her now, being very formal with him. It was very, very interesting, and I guess she must have made up her mind that she was going to be a real warm, loving mother, because that's the kind of mother she was. She was very different, and each of her siblings, quite different. She had one sibling that, after childbirth, she had a mental breakdown, so I really never had a close relationship with her. She had another sister who was very, very gorgeous, and kind of flamboyant, and she had a brother that seemed to be very, very bothered by the way he was raised, and grew up with some issues, you know? A nice man, but never reached his potential. Just really the kind of product that comes about as someone dominating their lives, so that's the kind of family my mother had.

JK: Oh, my Dad, no. There were seventeen children. And it seems like-my grandmother was a Cherokee Indian, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. And she was a storyteller. She was this person that could cook, and take care of this huge family. So while they weren't dirt poor, they managed. They managed. There were never stories about-they had the highest regard for her. I mean, there was no one better than my grandmother, according to them. However, she didn't have these warm feelings, necessarily, for my father. He was kind of like the black sheep of the family. Although he never complained, he never got the kind of attention that his siblings got, and consequently that was passed on to us. So we were just like dying for this attention from this, his grandmother, because she was in our lives when we grew up in Hempstead, because, when she migrated to Hempstead, she never owned a home. She lived with her children. And by then, her husband was deceased. So she was comfortable spending maybe a year here, or six months here, and then she'd pack up and go to another person's home. She spent a little time with us, but what I remember is, I was really fascinated by her storytelling, and also, she was just this-she looked like this little Indian woman. She had that kind of body, with this hair down to here, down to her waist, and she was a character. She would tell these stories, and she'd have this straight face. She'd have everyone cracking up. And I just wanted a little more of that. She seemed to have greater love for my father's sisters and brothers, his children, more so than my father. And we just came to kind of accept that.

JL: Interesting. Do you remember any of her stories?

JK: Let's see. Let's see. I'll probably have to come back to one, because nothing comes to mind.

JL: What kind of stories would she tell?

JK: She would tell you stories about people in her life. Not necessarily her children, but people in her life. She would just always, it would always be a long story, and it would always have this clever ending, and something that would kind of shock you, and she would sit back and wait for this reaction. She just knew how to really, really captivate us.

JL: Oh, that's great.

JK: And the stories didn't have to necessarily be true. You know, like, I'm trying to think­ she was never considered dishonest, but if she told a story and it wasn't exactly true, it was just like "that's one of Mama's stories." So it was just, like, accepted, you know? And her children adored her. Her children adored her. Like she had her, not her youngest son, but her next to youngest son, who is the only one of the seventeen children that's still living, Tommy Bates. He's in his eighties, and he still lives in Hempstead. But anyway, he used to really, really, just, I mean, his mother was the beginning and the end in his life, and also she had a very close relationship with-she had two--all of her kids were really very good looking. In fact, I have a picture with the boys and the girls.

JL: I'd like to see that.

JK: And she would visit these girls. They lived in Amityville, and they would just sit around, drink coffee, she smoked cigarettes, and she cooked when she felt like it, but she was treated pretty much like a little prima donna. You just wanted to hear her tell these stories. That was the big thing with her.

JL: Sounds charismatic. You know, they talk a lot about birth order, but with seventeen children, that's kind of-that would be a very complex theory to spin out.

JK: Very early on, we moved to Hickory Street, and this house we live in is five stories, wooden staircase. And we're living on-I'm trying to think, I'm not sure if it was the fourth or the fifth floor. It's a tenement, and the rooms go straight back, and the bathroom is attached on the outside. So when you go into the house, when you go into this apartment, you'd have to go out and on a, like a old iron kind of porch, and the bathroom was in the comer. It was really scary. It was really scary.

JL: So there were five stories, and a different family on each story? And they all shared?

JK: Hm-hmm [affirmative]. It was more than five families. On the floor that we lived on, it was another family that lived opposite us, an Italian family.

JL: Okay.

JK: And they cooked-I hate garlic to this day, because they cooked-I mean, I really like it, but if smell it, and if it's-they cooked with so much garlic that we couldn't even walk out of our door! It was just like incredible.

JL: Kept the demons away.

JK: And they never spoke. They never once spoke, and if they did speak, it was in Italian and we didn't understand them.

JL: So wait. There are about, you think, two units on each floor, so maybe ten families, and everyone shared the same bathroom?

JK: No, no. There was a bathroom on their side for them. We had our bathroom on our side.
There was probably-every family-see, I don't know this--Dh, there was, I tell you what. There is a tenement in that place that had an indoor bathroom, because when I became superintendent in Orange, I ran into one of my teachers that knew, had relatives that lived in the same area, and we talked about it. She knew the place I lived. It was just amazing.

JK: Oh, yeah, but they had the evening group (laughs) coming and going. We had kids coming and going and families, whereas they just-it just seemed like a household that­ we just never thought about it. You know, there was a kid that lived there at one time. His mother probably rented a room, and he was living there. And we remained friends until his death. He actually went from that house to his parents, his mom moving him to the other side of town. And he became a police officer, and a really, really important figure. He was a year younger than myself, and went to Hempstead High School, and became a big figure in Atlanta, Georgia, when people-he kind oflike recruited a lot of people, and a lot of people moved from Hempstead to Atlanta because of Charles Blunt [phonetic]. But he did live next door for a while.

JL: He lived in that house.

JK: He lived in that house.

JL: As a whole different family by that time [unintelligible]...

JK: No, he was a tenant in that house. I can't even remember the timeline, but I remember him being a tenant, his mom... His mom was a single mother, and they just kind of like-I don't know if they had one room, two rooms, but they were tenants in that household.

JL: I see. And of the rest of the block, or the surrounding two or three blocks, pretty integrated? Or was it rare in the mid-fifties and early sixties for there to be black families in that area?

JK: Okay, the white people started moving out. When we moved in, the Koppels stayed.
Across the street became black, and down the street, what was happening down the street? Early in the fifties, it was white. It was white down the street, and we didn't mix and mingle. I remember a kid in my class, Eugene, I think his last name was Galazio [phonetic]. And he lived right down the street, and I saw him in school, but I didn't play with him. It was just-it was integrated, but we-when I was in third and fourth grade, we just kind of like went to school and came home, and we kind of like, it was just my sister and I, we didn't-

JL: It wasn't like a big group of neighborhood kids that were hanging out?

JK: No, it was just kind of like, just the immediate family, and, I'm trying to think... and cousins. It was really cousins. It wasn't a lot of mix-the people across the street were very, very weird.

JL: (laughs) There's always one of those on the block.

JK: Yeah, they were very, very weird. And we kind of like--education was a big deal. We didn't talk about it, but basically we had to make sure that we were on top of things with our education. And it wasn't like my mother had to constantly tell us, it was just like we knew we had to do-if the teacher gave us an assignment, it had to be done, you know? And my mother never had to worry about us-is she going to fail a subject? Or not pass a grade? It wasn't like that at all. Everybody did well. Everyone, the four of us, after my brother graduated by the skin of his (laughs) chin from high school, all the others, we did well.

JL: Well that was my second question about education, so I want to end on that. But right before we get to that, you said that in the fifties it was mostly white, but in the sixties it started becoming more black, your neighborhood. Is that right?

JK: Yes.

JL: You remember that?

JK: Hm-hmrnm [affirmative].

JL: Was there discussion about that in your house?

JK: No. It was just like 'White Flight." They would just leave. Like kids that I was in third grade with, they weren't there when I got to-a lot of them weren't there when I got to eighth grade. Jackson Street School was K-8. They weren't there. Some of them I still miss. Like, I went to my reunion and I was asked, "What happened to Barbara Burns?" and so forth. And she said-Barbara moved to Deer Park and Ann-I can't even remember Ann's last name, but she was another kid that I really cared for-they moved out after a couple years.

JL: How did your parents discuss these changes?

JK: There wasn't like a big discussion. It was like, urn.... I don't know, at the time, it just didn't seem to impact our life in a big way. We had our church. We had relatives. We had friends. And once school was out, we never, like, went to their homes. They'd come to my house, but I didn't go to their house.