When our family of four moved to Brooklyn from San Francisco on New Year’s day, 1946, we had been living in public housing built during WWII. My dad had worked in the shipyards helping to build Liberty Ships. The neighborhood was called Sunnydale, in Visitacion Valley near the Cow Palace.
My best friend at the time was Mike M_. We were in the same grade, belonged to the stamp club, and were often considered the smartest kids in the class. Some teachers thought us, or at least me, a smartass and I caught some punishment for this.
After moving to the third, top floor of a tenement in a neighborhood of dock workers, I enrolled in Mrs. Jokiel’s upper-3rd-grade class at nearby P.S. 2 (the implication is that it was the second public school built in New York City). It was a very old, three-story brick building.
Dad and Mike’s father had remained in touch, so when Mr. M_ and Mike passed through New York on a trip to Europe, they stayed with us for a few days. Mike attended class with me. This coincided with a spelling bee Mrs. Jokiel organized each semester.
By random selection the class was divided in two, then lined up on opposite sides of the room to face the other half. Mike and I stood side-by-side. I knew Mike and I could beat everyone in the ‘bee’, so in my mind I was competing with Mike.
When it became Mike’s turn, Mrs. Jokiel gave him his word. It sounded, to a California ear like “CAH-ving,” which Mike parroted with a question mark in his voice. The exchange was repeated. In exasperation Mrs. Jokiel said, “CAHving, like you CAHVE with a knife,” and she made cutting motions with her hands.
Mike responded, “Oh, you mean CARRR-ving!” The class erupted in laughter, and his California accent was mimicked the rest of the day.