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The Way I Saw It
Memoirs of an Ophthalmologist
By Harold A. Stein
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013Harold A. Stein M.D. MSc. (OPH) FRCSC
All rights reserved.
1929-1942: From Birth to Public School
The Era: When I was born on May 24, 1929 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, there was no Google, no Yahoo!, no DVDs and no ballpoint pens.
We did however have a global perceptive: Men like Theodore Roosevelt and Mohandas Gandhi (known as Mahatma) were coming onto the scene, the former fighting to get the world out of the Great Depression, the latter fighting for basic human rights and freedoms you probably take for granted today.
Perhaps it wasn't so different than the modern age. In 2011, as I write the edit this, the world is again fighting to recover from an economic meltdown and the Arab Spring uprising have given voice to dreams of freedom.
Similarly, 1929 marked the largest stock market crash in American history. I was born into that era of the Great Depression, which had a traumatic effect worldwide. Then, as in the Great Recession of 2008, the US Congress was asked for a $150 million stimulus package to boost the economy. How small it seems compared to today when the U.S. (and Canada) pumped billions of dollars into the economy to build new roads, hospitals and other infrastructure to prevent a depression and try and keep their economies afloat.
Living in Niagara Falls, of course, and being a small child, I knew nothing of this first hand but learned about it later when I went to school.
It scared us all to learn about authoritarian regimes which sprung up, such as the Third Reich in Germany. It was an effort for expansionism of many of these countries that ultimately led to the Second World War.
The era of Nazism began in 1933 with the election of Adolph Hitler to power in Germany. The fascist regime wasted no time, ripping up the treaties among European countries and starting the process of removing Jews and other minorities from the German population. It was the start of what would be the greatest genocide of our recorded history. By 1939, Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, tried to appease Hitler in the hopes of avoiding war. The so-called policy of appeasement promised "peace in our time" but rang hollow the moment the German army swept into Poland. Chamberlain was disgraced and the great statesman Winston Churchill, the British bulldog, became Prime Minister and would lead the nation into war. Those who fled ahead of the fighting found they had jumped from the frying pan in to the fire. When refused entry into other countries many of these refugees simply committed suicide rather than return to certain death at the hands of the Nazis. It was terrible time and while I was safe in Canada, that shadow still hangs over all of us and we must never, ever forget what happened and each of us must work to ensure it never happens again, anywhere to any race or culture.
The Dec. 6, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese brought the horrors of World War II even closer to our homes and made the U.S. our allies.
On a lighter note, entertainment was also markedly different in my early years: It was the beginning of the Mickey Mouse comic strips. Warner Brothers started the first cartoon movie, which they called Looney Tunes. You can still see the logo on their shows today. There were no sports on TV because there no TVs!
Better yet, we had our imaginations and we had radio. Entire families would huddle around a wooden box in the living room to catch their favourite shows. Mine was The Shadow, the forerunner of today's action films and video game heroes. If we wanted see a game, why we just went down and bought a ticket to the Maple Leafs at the Mutual Street Arena – yep, that was before the Air Canada Centre and before the Maple Leaf Gardens on Carlton St., where the Loblaws supermarket opened in 2011.
I grew up at a time in which there were also no such things as cell phones or CDs. Hard to believe today. We didn't have fast food outlets like McDonald's; in fact, we had slow food outlets such as my grandmother's and mother's house. We sat down for the whole meal and never left until the meal was finished.
Everything was fresh because we didn't have refrigerators. We had iceboxes which were literally wooden cabinets with a block of ice inside to keep a few essentials from spoiling. When the ice melted we replaced it with a new block brought to the house by the deliveryman. Milk and bread were also delivered daily.
We ate fresh because frozen food was just coming to the markets, thanks to a process patented by Clarence Birdseye – his name lives on today as a popular brand for frozen food.
More recently I've enjoyed using the Internet, particularly some of those stories shared by email. I really like the ones which highlight how different things were while us "old folks" were growing up.
And you know what? In addition to being funny, they're pretty much true: My parents never drove me to soccer practice. This was mostly because soccer wasn't popular. I did, however, have a bicycle. It weighed as much as me - 50 pounds - and had one speed: slow.
Some of those shared stories are peppered through my memories here and really do sum up what it was like.
Life wasn't that bad. We didn't know what we were missing, I guess, and it seemed like every day there were new discoveries in the world of science and fantastic appliances appearing in store windows.
Refrigerators were coming. So too were TVs and so much more technology. It was in the same year that the 3M Company began marketing Scotch tape for the first time. Eastman Kodak developed the first colour film, the beginning of television as we know it today and movies in colour.
My Family: How I got here from there
So now you know a little more about the era I was born into, let me tell you a little about my family's history.
I lived through my junior high school years at my grandmother's house. My grandmother, Emma Levine and I had a great bond together until she died when I was 25.
My grandmother was the matriarch of the family and my mother, and later my father, stayed with her and helped maintain her house. Eventually, my father became more successful and moved out and helped start my grandmother and my Uncle Ben in a business of a ladies' and children's clothing store on Main Street in Niagara Falls.
Emma Levine came from Warsaw, Poland just after the First World War in 1918. She came with a very shy and quiet husband and her two children, Sadie (my mother), age 9, and Ben, age 11. She waited a year in Antwerp, Belgium before they could get the proper papers to come to Canada.
Eventually her husband split and left for New York and only returned occasionally to visit his family. My mother Sadie was only nine years old when she came over from Poland. She finished public and then secretarial school.
Emma Levine was a very strong person; she saved her money and brought over her sister Sophie, who went to live in Albany, and her sister Sadie, who went to Brooklyn. There are many stories that could be told but I'll limit it to my involvement. In the twilight of her life, while I was in my first year in practice, I received a panicked call that Emma had a stroke at home in Niagara Falls. I quickly went to the Falls and, as the only doctor in the family everyone leaned on, I took over her care and moved her to the hospital in Toronto and later to a nursing home. She remained unconscious in the nursing home until she died six months later. It was a blessing.
My early recollections of her were that she kept a kosher house and would bring live chickens to the house to kill in the basement. There was also a visiting Rabbi who came to Niagara Falls from Toronto, went into her basement and cut
Excerpted from The Way I Saw It by Harold A. Stein. Copyright © 2013 by Harold A. Stein M.D. MSc. (OPH) FRCSC. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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