1960s Princeton Provided a Lifetime of Memories and a Path to Opportunities

We moved to Princeton around 1961. My mom, Mitzi Alter Markowitz, had recently married a Trenton lawyer, Joseph Markowitz. They bought a newly constructed house on Braeburn Drive from SandDean Construction. Braeburn Dr. is off of Snowden Lane, and I spent many hours walking around that part of town. Herrontown Woods was a destination and I loved to go walking in those woods. Princeton was so safe that I would walk around at night without any worry at all.

I remember watching the March on Washington with my neighbor Curt Mitchell. I attended Littlebrook School for 5th grade where Catherine Codere taught us about the Coelacanth. We made a paper mache copy and I have a picture of it and our class somewhere. I remain proud that I am one of the few people who know about that remarkable fish and that fossils of that fish were found while excavating for the Firestone Library addition. This means that eons ago Princeton was very deep under water. Ms. Codere had someone come in from the University and talk to us about that ancient history. During my time at Littlebrook and Valley Road School (VRS), Jugtown became a part of my life. I bought my first coffee and TastyKakes in that place. I seem to recall they had egg muffins as well in the mornings. In those days I spent most of whatever money I had at Tiger Auto getting things for my bike. I had high rise handlebars, and a Banana Seat as well as streamers and other things.

I attended Community Park School in its first year. My teacher was Mr. Greif. He was kind and gentle and I will never forget his kindness towards a very sad and backward red headed girl who obviously was in need of some love and tenderness. There was a candy store across from Community Park, kids would go there after school. I cannot remember the name. It was about that time when I was allowed to go to the movies by myself or with friends. I saw the Bond movies at the Princeton Playhouse. I also loved to go to the old library on Nassau Street. It felt really special to go in there and I seem to remember that it had a distinctly interesting smell.

After 6th grade at Community Park, I went to VRS where one fall day in Mrs. Lorber’s Social Studies class it was announced J.F.K. had been assassinated. I was at VRS when the world first heard The Beatles, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand, etc. The sound was electrifying, and we were as entranced as everyone else in America was by The Beatles. But my heart still belonged to Motown and would for a few more years. I will never forget some girls doing line dances to those songs.

We played soccer, and the girls played field hockey. I always thought field hockey was harder and looked more fun. I remember a young man telling another young man who was an aspiring pitcher that he could catch him bare handed and then watching him do it after practice in the gym. After school me and my friends would hang out at the Princeton Shopping Center. I bought my 79¢ 45s and first $3.00 LP, West Side Story, from the Stationary Store up by Bambergers.

I took Wood Shop with Mr. Thiel. In his class I learned things that I used throughout my life as a carpenter/remodeler. It was the only class I really liked and always paid attention. That class, along with his respect for tools and their use, might be the reason I chose a career in Carpentry. He insisted on being careful and not mistreating tools. He was tough.

I went to Princeton High School and by then had a bad attitude and hung out with the troublemakers. We smoked lots of pot before school and generally took the path of noncompliance with the demands of education. We drove around, hung out uptown, and bought corncob pipes and rolling papers from Skirm’s Smoke Shop. I loved Skirm’s and likely took up pipe smoking which I have done off and on my whole adult life as a result of that little shop on Palmer Sq. Mr. Drulis and Mr. Seitz treated me with more respect than I deserved in those days as I was a regular in their offices. Drugs and my rebelliousness got the best of me, and I dropped out of high school.

In 1967, I went to work for the Nelson Glass company. Everyone there did their best to give me a chance and I will be forever grateful to all of them, especially Bobby Sandusky for showing me how to work and not putting up with my teenage garbage. Every day he would send me over to a deli on Witherspoon St. to get him some Pepper Loaf and Swiss. He would also pull up to the curb on Nassau St. and give me 35¢ to run into the luncheonette to get some Kools.

I moved to a Philadelphia suburb in 1970 where I lived with my father, my stepmother and her children and finished high school in downtown Philly. It was then that I realized how much I loved Princeton and began to see the value of what I had so far eschewed. I was in downtown Philly near Rittenhouse Square every day and the contrast of the big city to Princeton, as well as the mutually shared oldness, made me realize what I had in Princeton. Something clicked, and I wanted to not be ignorant and to be a part of the light not the darkness. I began to feel that I no longer wanted to be part of the problem of society and instead become part of the better half. The better half, as seen by a 19-year-old.

After a few more years and an unsuccessful attempt at college I moved to Seattle in 1974. It was in Seattle where I began my career as a carpenter. Seattle was very special in the 1970s. It was open and opportunity was everywhere. Housing was affordable, jobs were possible, and I got my first house on Capitol Hill for $18,000. I was learning how to play banjo and fiddle music from the Appalachian region with a bunch of like-minded folks. I was carving a life in Seattle, and it was clear I would not be returning to live in Princeton, where I would never be able to buy a house.

I returned over the years to visit my mother who’s remained in Princeton, and I treasure every return and still long for it in a way I will never completely understand. Walking around town, and through the U are among my favorite things to do when I return. I especially enjoyed walking along the D&R Canal as my mom lived at Canal Point for many years. I live in Port Townsend, Washington and have been here since ’97. Covid has made traveling too risky for my taste and I don’t know when the next time is that I will return to Princeton, but my mom is still alive at age 98 and when she is gone my reason to return will be gone as well and I will feel that loss for the rest of my days.