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This is Ann McGrath interviewing Robbie Wedeen for the Teaneck Oral History Project. We are at her home. It is January 9, 1985.
(I) Robbie, why did you move to Teaneck and when did you move to Teaneck?
(N) We moved to Teaneck in 1969 from Boston where my husband had just completed a teaching fellowship at Harvard Medical School.
(I) Why did you pick Teaneck?
(N) We picked Teaneck because I especially did not wish to return to New York city.
(I) What were your requirements for a house that you were looking for?
(N) I am not sure that I remember. We had a young child who was two and a half, our son Tim, and so we needed two or three bedrooms and we did purchase a small and pretty house we thought. We were pleased with it, with a very pretty land, a rather larger lot that many that we had seen in Teaneck. Se we were pleased with the charm of the house and of the neighborhood and I think our requirements were just generally that we find a comfortable place that required a minimum of work which in fact we were lucky to find because the house has recently been redecorated by the proceeding inhabitants who unfortunately had been drafted or something into the Army and had to depart.
(I) You are on a corner lot. Do you have a sidewalk going all the way around?
(N) We have no sidewalks.
(I) No sidewalks here. Oh, that's interesting. Did you find the move easy to Teaneck? Did you enjoy moving out here or were you lonely?
(N) Personally I found it difficult because I had lived all my life in the city, in New York city. I had been active as a teacher in New York City on the lower east side, at Seward Park High School prior to the arrival of our child. We had lived in New York all our lives and had just spent a year in Boston. When we moved to Teaneck, we did not know anyone really at all. My husband had had a few colleagues who had lived here but we did not really personally have a friendship with them. I had a two and a half year old child, I didn't drive so that I was very much confined to the house. I was not working.
(I) Do you drive now?
(N) I do. It was the first thing I did when I moved into Teaneck was learn how to drive. And that was quite an accomplishment because though I had all my life said, well if I really had to do it, I would do it, not until I moved here did I really have to do it and so it was reassuring to know that I could do it.
(I) But it was hard for you as a young mother.
(N) It was difficult. There were not that many children my son's age. This particular neighborhood was in a state of transition I think in terms of the various ages of the people who lived here. Though we have some good friends among our neighbors, it was not a terribly neighborly, is not still a terribly neighborly community. I don't know if that applies to all of Teaneck but in this particular area, what I found as someone newly moved to the suburbs, just not seeing people on the streets was in itself a bit of a strange emptiness in a sense in terms of the kinds of sense of life in the area in which you live in and
(I) How did you deal with this? What did you find yourself doing to
(N) I think I also found that when I go for walks, that unlike the city where you go window shopping and so forth, to a certain degree wherever you walked looked like wherever you had been and though it was very attractive and pretty and I enjoyed the trees and the greenery and the flowers and the homes, that it was difficult for me to get a sense of place in Teaneck. Well I don't know what I did. I didn't really have, I don't think I did very much in terms of handling that situation. Incidentally I would just add parenthetically now, I think there are certain organizations in Teaneck which help new residents in the community that there is a welcoming reception for residents for example in the spring. People who are newly arrived that there is a Parents Information Center, or a Parents Center concerned with the plight of the parent caring for the toddler and it is a difficult age anyway. I think that I certainly wasn't aware of such organizations then and in fact I don't think that any existed. And it took me a long time to become involved in the life of the community in what felt to me like related and a meaningful way. So in answer to your question, I think how I handled it was to feel sorry for myself quite a bit and to be lonely a lot.
(I) You said you started playing the guitar here though.
(N) Yes, I think that what happened is that really to some degree I wound up falling upon my own resources and turning inward in a sense and I began writing music which is something I had really never done before. I began writing songs and I became involved in folk music society that was actually based in New York because I think I was still oriented toward the city. But as I began writing songs, I thought it might be nice if I could also play them so then I began studying the guitar also in New York. Well no, actually I first studied with Eric Schonberg who lived in Edgewater, who was a fine guitarist known for ragtime style. And then later with Eric Darling who is also a very fine musician and guitarist but that was in New York. And I began writing and learning how to play the guitar and then actually singing and performing so I did start all that here.
(I) What was the first song you wrote? Do you remember it?
(N) Well I do still remember it and I do still sing it occasionally. And I wrote it standing in my kitchen where we are now seated and it is called LOOKING OUT MY WINDOW. Which is something I did a lot of then and I think the song does show some of the loneliness as well as some of the appeal of the new situation in which I found myself.
(I) Well, we would love to hear it.
(N) Well I could try it.
(I) That would be fun. Let's do it. So this is LOOKING OUT MY WINDOW.
(N) LOOKING OUT MY WINDOW and I think I will sing it unaccompanied because when I did it, I didn't play any instruments. Looking out my window, what do you think I see? Just my own reflection staring back at me. Leaves, leaves, fluttering down, Falling on the city and falling on the town, Covering up the flowers and covering up the ground, Covering allover me, Looking out my window, the neighbor's in her car, When I get out my front door, she'll be far, far, far, Listen to the children playing outside, Hocus, pocus, run and hide, Up on the swings and down on the slide, Far, far from me. Looking out my window, sun is shining through, Looking out my window, with nothing else to do, Listen to the birdies chirping in the trees, Squirrels are scrambling in the leaves Flowers are fluttering in the breeze, What am I to do? Looking out my window, feeling all alone, Looking out my window, still a long way from home. Leaves, leaves, falling down, Covering up the city and covering up the town, Covering up the flowers and covering up the ground, Covering all over me. Oh, covering all over me.
(I) That's wonderful.
(N) Thank you.
(I) What made you take to this, it is not called country music, is it or is it?
(N) I think that song was really much more related to traditional folk music.
(N) Really? What made you pick folk music?
(N) Well I didn't pick it. I just sang that way and I guess to some degree, you'd have to say that I am folk as much as whoever sat on Buttermilk is folk
(I) Had you been listening to a lot of folk music?
(N) I was into folk music when I was a child and I sang in choirs when I was in high school so that I have a great love of hymns and sort of country music. As I said, I listen to folk music and then I really did not for a very long time so that when I got into folk music, I came in really after the, great folk music revival of the 60s.
(I) But you never had any question in your mind of what kind of music you would be interested in?
(N) Well I never thought in terms of what kind of music it was. In other words, I was just impelled on that particular day when I was looking out my window and doing my dishes in the sink and seeing the leaves and watching the children and all these things happened to be literally true though they may not all have been happening at the same time that's what I began humming and singing to myself and because it was unaccompanied as you heard it, that's the way it emerged and it is simple and direct and lyrical I guess you could say as a folk song is. Subsequently I have added a chorus and changed things around a bit and played it on the guitar and with a banjo accompaniment as well and it sounds good that way too so I like it but that's the plain, unvarnished LOOKING OUT MY WINDOW and that it a lot of how I felt which was in my kitchen, still a long way from home.
(I) Let's go back just to your growing up. What was your maiden name?
(N) My maiden name was Rubien.
(I) Does that have any meaning, that name?
(N) And where did your parents come from?
(N) My father came from Russia when he was five years old and my mother was born in the United states in I am not sure whether it was Boston or New York.
(I) But you grew up in Boston?
(N) No, I grew up in New York. I spent all my life, I was born in Brooklyn and really spent up until the time I left for college in Brooklyn.
(I) Where did you go to college?
(N) I went to Wellesley College and then transferred to Radcliff College.
(I) Where did your husband's parents live, where did they come from?
(N) His parents came from New York and my family had lived in New York. Oh, then he was brought up out on the island in Woodmere, Long Island.
(I) Where did you work? You said you taught.
(N) I taught at Seward Park High School which is on the lower east side in Manhattan and I taught English.
(I) To what age? All four years?
(N) To all levels. Actually I think Seward even had a ninth grade so that I taught at all levels and both in terms of age and in terms of skill, abilities, some honors classes and creative writing classes to reading clinics.
(I) And how did you meet your husband?
(N) I met my husband at a party at my house in Westport, Connecticut.
(I) In Westport? How did you get to Westport?
(N) We spent summers in Westport and his family had a home up in Westport.
(I) Well, we will get back to Teaneck now. Timothy started school in Teaneck.
(N) Yes, he started at the age of about three at Musical Primer which at that time, I think it was three mornings a week which worked out well for him. However, after the first year, as an anxious mother, anxious in a sense of wanting to have all possible advantages for her child, I felt that he might benefit from a fuller program and he went to Paramus Co-op which met five days a week. It turned out to be not as beneficial a program for him. But I think it is a good nursery school.
(I) Musical Primer met at the temple.
(N) Temple Emeth. Yes. And the children just seemed to enjoy it. I think they did a good bit of music and it was a good first experience.
(I) Then where did he go to elementary school and high school?
(N) Tim went to elementary school at Whittier School through the fourth grade. He spent a year at Horace Mann in New York.
(I) Did he go to central kindergarten?
(N) Yes, he did go to central kindergarten which was also
(I) It wasn't a K-1 though, was it?
(N) Well, K-1, what do you mean?
(I) Where did he go to kindergarten?
(N) At Washington Irving. Kindergarten and first grade were in the same school at that time. Yes.
(I) How old is he now?
(I) He was in one of the first years there maybe.
(N) I don't think so. I think it had been in existence at least two or three years. Because when we talk to people about, you asked me earlier about when we selected Teaneck, and one reason was that the people that we spoke to who had recommended the school system as being a good system and one of the things they mentioned was the centralized kindergarten and first grade which they thought well of. And worked out well.
(I) And you were pleased with it?
(N) Yeah, that was also I guess those people had been through the busing crisis, the introduction of busing and generally speaking they all seemed very pleased with the result. So that was another important reason that we selected Teaneck. Yes, we were pleased generally with the school system. When Tim was in kindergarten and the issue then was the introduction of the open classroom and there was a great deal of discussion about the open classrooms which generally speaking had a philosophy of allowing an individual child to proceed more or less at his or her own pace and which we felt would be helpful to Tim. I think we didn't have very strong convictions about the ethicacy of one system as compared to the other and I still don't because I still believe that most of a child's experience in school is determined by whether or not he has good teachers and any teacher, if she or he is a good teacher, can use any method or no method or whatever, if there is that chemistry and the knowledge there and I think any system is going to work.
(I) Do you remember his first grade teacher?
(N) Oh yes, his first grade teacher was Ruth Clibinoff (?). She was a wonderful teacher and he enjoyed first grade very much. And I think she taught, I think he learned a lot from her.
(I) Did he continue with open at Whittier?
(N) He did continue at open at Whittier. His second grade teacher was Ann Elman who was also a wonderful teacher. I think these were young women who really were excited about what they were doing and had a very warm and welcoming approach to the children and so I think that they gave the kids in that group a good start.
(I) And then in fifth grade he left the school system for a year and then came back?
(N) Yes. Well, during the third grade, his teacher had to leave in the middle of the year and there was some upheaval for all the kids with a new teacher. I think at a certain point, we were feeling that Tim was experiencing some conflicts that maybe we were concerned that he wasn't learning as he had as much basic material as he should and I guess both my husband and I, though I had gone through public schools until high school, both of us had also had private school education and I think there are a lot of advantages to private school education depending on the child. And I guess we thought that he might, at this point, benefit from a more traditional approach which we tried at Horace Mann in Riverdale. Incidentally, I would just mention that while we were doing this and just prior to that, his fourth grade teacher was Helen Shoppe who was again an excellent teacher and I think if he had had her earlier, before we had launched upon this that perhaps we never would have. In any case, he did have that year which was not as it happened a good experience for him. He was lonely. He missed Teaneck. He missed his community of children that he had been in school with since the first grade. He missed and I think this is quite perceptive for a young person because he was then like nine or ten, he missed what he perceived was the more democratic distribution of people in Teaneck. He was quite aware of the difference in Teaneck's attitude from those of Horace Mann which he as a youngster sort of felt were "country clubish ".
(I) How did he get in and out of Horace Mann?
(N) He commuted with a man who was the assistant head master of the school who took a group of students in from this region and I picked him up at school every day in the afternoons. Which I wasn't happy about.
(I) Do you know how many children commuted in?
(N) A good number from this area, I would say from a little closer than Teaneck. In the middle and upper schools especially I think there were many. Not as many in the lower school. But even so, there were a fair number of children not only from Teaneck and Alpine and Tenafly and Englewood but also from Scarsdale and Westchester County coming into Riverdale.
(I) How would you compare Timothy's education with yours.
(N) I'd have to think about that and even if I thought about it, I don't know what I'd say. I had a, I think what was a very good public school education and probably more traditional. Well I don't even know what traditional is anymore to tell you the truth but I still would call activities in elementary school of doing things in committees and studying projects and so forth which now that I think about it, don't sound so very traditional to me. So that I think that maybe I went to a school that was in Brooklyn, in Flatbush, that was not, that was fairly advanced in terms of its method and its approach.
(I) Did Timothy do any extra curricular activities.
(N) I am sure that we did, I mean it seems to me that we did more work, that we did more homework, that we, that our programs were more traditional in that sense. And I think generally that Tim's experience in Teaneck, I think I have felt that though there is concern for the individual child, that sometimes I feel that the concern is in, allows a student to do a little less well than he might be encouraged to do. I am getting tangled up in my own thoughts but I can't really
(I) I was going to ask you, you are not really involved with the reorganization but how do you think it is working out as you see it. Do you think it is going well?
(N) Well as a former teacher in a public school system in New York, and as a parent, I have to confess to a predisposition to saying that if there is a smaller enrollment in the school system, I say terrific, that they should keep the same number of schools and have smaller classes. And enriched instruction. So that in the abstract, I don't have any particular reason to think that reorganization is a wonderful thing. I would rather see them maintain their school buildings and have smaller classes and I think that is an advantage and I think that the towns-people should be happy to provide financial resources to support such a system because I think that whenever there is smaller class sizes, there is a better chance of reaching that individual child and having that child live up to his potential or her potential.
(I) Would you agree with the schools they closed or now that they were closed?
(N) Which were
(I) Emerson, Eugene Field and Washington Irving.
(N) I don't really know because as far as I have ever, I think Washington Irving as far as I could see when my son was a student there and later as a person participating in the schools with Operation Community Talent, it seemed to me to be an excellent school. A very fine spirit. Similarly, Eugene Field seemed to be a particularly active school with an active parents association, active after school programs so that, no, offhand, I would think there wouldn't be any particular advantage in closing those schools and it is the old what has become a cliche, that is, if it works, don't fix it. So that though I don't have much current information about reorganization and since my job is no longer in the school system, I am not predisposed to be in favor of it. I have no terrible, again, systems are systems and it is who is operating them and what goes into them in terms of the people in them that's important so in the abstract, if you ask me any question the abstract about a system is a little hard for me to give you a straight answer.
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