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Back To Old Neighborhoods

Nephew Makes Sure His Uncle, 86, Gets Another Look At The City Of His Childhood

December 2, 2006
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

Leonard Tulin hadn't been to his old neighborhood in Hartford's North End for decades.

His nephew thought it was important for him to come back.

So, at the age of 86, Tulin recently returned to the city of his youth with his nephew, David Kravet, by his side.

The trip, which included visits to his former high school, Keney Park and the family burial plot, was an important one, said Kravet, not only for his uncle but for the entire family.

"I really pushed him to come because it's been a long time," said Kravet, an Avon resident who also grew up in Hartford's North End. "It's important for my children and family to see him and touch him and hear what he has to say."

Over the years, Kravet says, he has thought a lot about his uncle's life and remembers fondly the stories his mother, Rosalie - Tulin's sister - recounted about their close-knit Russian immigrant family.

As a child, Kravet and his parents corresponded with Tulin when he served as a weather forecaster in India and Burma during World War II. Tulin went on to become a respected engineer after he graduated from the University of Colorado. He now resides in Estes Park, Colo.

To a little boy, Uncle Lenny's life was an exciting and glamorous success story, Kravet said.

"Uncle Lenny was always my hero," said Kravet, who has encouraged his uncle to record his life experiences for the family. "We used to write to him when he was in India and he would send us photos, but he couldn't say too much and the photos were always cropped."

Tulin began his visit at the former Weaver High School, now the Martin Luther King Elementary School, where he was guided by Assistant Principal Beverly Lawrence from the gymnasium to the auditorium to the principal's office - a place he remembered well.

"I was not the best-behaved student," Tulin admitted. "We had a demerit system and if you got 15 at the end of the marking period you were in trouble. There were times when I had up to 14 and I was walking on eggshells until I could make a fresh start. I was just pretty bratty, I guess."

Driving through the old neighborhoods last month jogged Tulin's memory and he was able to direct his nephew from one family home to the next. The tenement at Mather and Brook streets still stands, but the bakery where the family bought seedless pumpernickel bread was gone, as was the corner grocery where he bought penny candy. The row of blond brick apartment buildings on Magnolia Street, where Tulin ran with his "gang" of friends, are still solidly in place. There the family shared three rooms for about five years before moving to Lenox Street.

"There was a vegetable garden across the street and grapevines," he said as his nephew drove slowly down Magnolia. "There was a lot of kids in the area and we played and used to sneak into the vegetable garden and steal green tomatoes and get sick."

The Lenox Street house, No. 78, is now an empty lot, a shock to Tulin, who sat in his seat, staring out the car window.

"There was a back hall where the icebox was. I had to empty the tray every day," he said quietly. "The iceman had a horse and wagon and he'd come down the street and shout `Ice.' He'd throw a cake of ice over his shoulder with tongs and bring it in. Ice was about 15 cents a cake. ... It lasted a couple of days."

Tulin was a toddler when his family left Mozyr, Russia, in 1923, on a long journey to a new life in Connecticut. The Jewish family left what is now Belarus as a tide of anti-Semitism was rising. "It wasn't a very good place for Jews," he said.

Tulin, his parents, Luba and Saul, and sister, Rosalie, settled in Hartford's North End where they lived with relatives on Winthrop Street for six months before moving to the tenement at Brook and Mather.

The family moved several times over the years as their circumstances improved, but the Tulins kept to the North End, where they were surrounded by a close-knit community of Jewish families and other immigrants of Irish and Italian descent.

"It was always a working-class area, but a desirable one," said Tulin. "We all got along wonderfully. There was no problems."

For Kravit, the visit was important because he was raised in the same neighborhoods his uncle once roamed as a child. During their drive together, Kravit sighed wistfully as he glimpsed familiar places.

"I remember my grandfather used to wait for me on the front porch when I got home from school," said Kravit, as they drove past a former home on Vine Street.

Kravit remembered the happy crowds that would stream out of the synagogues after the high holiday services and gather in Keney Park.

"It was our version of the Easter Parade," said Kravit. "It was a `see and be seen' kind of thing."

Kravit and Tulin ended their visit at the Workmen's Circle Burial Society, part of a large Jewish cemetery on Garden Street. As dry leaves floated beneath the vibrant autumn sky, Tulin bowed his head after placing smooth stones on the headstones of his parents. The stones are a Jewish tradition that represents permanence and shows that someone has visited.

"It was very emotional. When he's talking about when he lived here, my mother lived there, too," Kravit said. "If I hadn't pushed him to come, he would never have seen these things from his childhood."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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