Great Uncle William/David’s millinery business appears in the New York City Phone Directory in 1940, 1946, 1953, 1957 and 1959. It is always situated at 55 West 39th Street in New York City. The building still stands today, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Lord & Taylor Department Store is right around the corner on Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets.
My parents, as well as Grandma Bessie, were always very pleased to tell me that Great Aunt Belle was a buyer for Lord & Taylor. In a general manner her job was explained to me in a way that fascinated me for years. I was told that because she had such an impeccable sense of style and good taste, Great Aunt Belle was paid to go out and purchase the kinds of high quality merchandise similar to the high fashion wardrobe and accessories my early Barbie doll had. I never asked too many questions being satisfied with such a glamorous explanation.
I sometimes imagined my Barbie doll being a buyer. What a wonderful job that seemed to be. You got paid to travel to the big cities in the U.S.A. or maybe even Paris or Rome and shop for beautiful clothes, jewelry, hats, gloves…my imagination never ran out of things Great Aunt Belle would purchase for Lord & Taylor. Sometimes I even set up a little department store using my Barbie carrying case as the backdrop and thought about what we should buy that would go with hats, gloves and pocketbooks.
In reality I never learned exactly what department Great Aunt Belle was working in. I had no knowledge that her husband was so successful in the millinery business. To remain in the same location for almost 20 years speaks to me of stability. I also think it is possible that customers to Great Uncle William/David’s office were of assistance in helping Great Aunt Belle get a position at Lord & Taylor. Although there is no hard proof, I can almost see her leaving her husband’s office one day and going for an interview at Lord & Taylor right around the corner.
The Arens continued to live in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan all through these years. I have searched the Public Records and Phone Directories after 1960 at Ancestry to find any further information about the Arens but nothing for Manhattan comes back in the search results.
What I got instead was the Social Security Death Index entry for Great Uncle William/David Arens who passed away in Pennsylvania in 1964. Great Aunt Belle also lived in Pennsylvania until she passed on in 1982. To me it looks like the Arens moved away from New York City to be with Sybil in Pennsylvania.
This part of the family history fits very neatly and clearly into what my Dad had told me about Sybil, namely that she was living in the Philadelphia area. I cannot pinpoint the specific year he told me this but I remember it was often during the times I was playing with my Barbie dolls so it had to be around 1959-1961, since that was the time period when Barbie and Midge became a permanent part of my life. I still think of Great Aunt Belle whenever I take out my Number 1 Repro Barbie and display her in the recreations of those glamorous outfits from the early Barbie years. If only a little Chanel No. 5 were in the air I’d expect Great Aunt Belle and Grandma Bessie to enter the room and take time to ask me about the latest adventures I was having in my play world.
As a child I may have met Great Uncle William/David but if I did I have no memory or impression of him. It saddens me that my parents did not think enough or realize how inspiring I would have found his example as a successful businessperson all those years.
(to be continued for the Flashenberg family in the next entry)
New York City-Manhattan-Phone Directories for 1940, 1946, 1953, 1957 and 1959.
SSDI entries for David Arens and Belle Arens.