It was 2:14 a.m., on the cold and windy morning of Friday, March 9, 1945, when I was finally in the loving arms of my mother, Mimi. Out of respect for my father, and his parents, she named me after my dad.
At the time, my dad, Otto, was halfway around the world on the island of Guam, serving as a Seabee in the Navy. He told me many times that the news of my birth came as no surprise, as he actually shared my mother's labor pains at the same time that afternoon, in Guam (early morning in the U.S.).
I was raised on Lakeshore Blvd., near Bratenahl, during early childhood. where I spent most of my time hanging out. There were woods to explore, beautiful mansions and estates to marvel at, and the kids were quite nice. They accepted me even though I attended a public school, while most of them attended private schools. As they grew, they followed in their parent's footsteps, becoming prominent and influential, which in some ways helped me later in life. ?
They were fascinated with my dad, too. He would always include them in our adventures. He was creative and inventive. In fact, he was the first person to have a revolving Christmas tree. He built a turntable to mount the tree on. Then, using an old record player motor, some coffee cans, string and copper brushes that conducted electric to the turntable, he made the tree slowly rotate.
Being a perfectionist, he would buy two trees and have them spray painted the same color. He would take the best-looking tree and drill holes in the trunk, remove branches from the second tree, and insert them into the holes of the first, so the finished tree would be perfectly symmetrical.
I guess they were attracted to me because I was different, a curiosity I suppose. I had a laboratory set up in my basement, complete with a Bunsen burner. I really enjoyed experimenting and learning about how things worked, of course under my father's watchful eye. I had a "printing press," which was actually a mimeograph machine that my neighbor Gary and I would use to print weekly neighborhood newsletters and deliver them to hundreds of homes for free. I always thought it would be cool to write for a newspaper, and that dream did come true later on.
Most of my "toys" for a boy of my age were unusual -- one of the first commercially sold Polaroid cameras, a Brownie movie camera, a high-end telescope, a professional mercury-filled barometer and other weather forecasting instruments, a static electricity generator, and the list goes on. I liked things that were useful and educational (not cap guns, cowboy hats, etc.).
I was inquisitive (and still am) wanting to know how everything works. My dad even helped me construct a darkroom where I could develop my photos. Together we also built a micro midget race car that my dad raced at local race tracks, and even at the old Cleveland Arena in downtown Cleveland. My friends enjoyed my kind of "play" as much as I did.
Every year he chose (or I did) a different color. I remember white, pale green, silver, gold, and one year florescent green. It didn't need lights that year, just one powerful "black light" to make it glow.
Behind me is the revolving Christmas tree stand my father invented. Over the years it became much smaller.
My father's friend, Richard George, was high in the ranks of a large wholesale florist supply company. He begged my dad to patent the turntable and start manufacturing them. "Otto, you'll make a killing on this," he said. "I'm not interested in that" my dad said. "You patent the idea and make a killing on it, George." To make a long story short, the corporation George was affiliated with did patent the idea and found a manufacturer. That turned out to be the start of twirling Christmas trees in millions of homes. Now every time I see a revolving tree, I think of my father and what he should have done. However, he did receive a nice, hefty, thank you a bonus check.
My mother, Mimi, made a hit with my friends, too. She was the den mother for our Cub Scout group for several years, and was praised for all the creative and useful projects she came up with for us kids to make — like a small rocking chair with a drawer under the seat for pins, thimbles and needles. There were spindles alongside the arms of the chair to hold thread, and the seat cover served as a pincushion.
Whenever friends were at the house, treats and drinks were part of the fun. Cases of chilled, mini bottles of Tom Thumb soda pop, fancy finger-tip sandwiches with comical designs on top made from slivers of green peppers, radish peels, black olives, etc. A favorite was ice cream cones filled with a scoop of chicken salad, or maybe tuna, garnished with sprinkles of parsley flakes. My mom was a regular Martha Stewart.
Also, like Martha Stewart, Mimi's creativity led her into the business world. She developed a method for making the first plastic plants and flowers for home decorating. That's when Cleveland Plastic Plants† was born. She taught thousands of homemakers how to do it, and many of them went on teaching others, purchasing the supplies from Cleveland Plastic Plants.
Liquid plastic, in various colors, was poured from squeeze bottles into aluminum molds for a leaf or petal, then "baked" a few minutes under a heat lamp to set the plastic. Then the leaves and petals were assembled for a finished product. All my friends got into the act at the apartmentand were making gifts for their parents. It was fun and fascinating to do.
Soon she began studying floral designand added that aspect to her classes. I picked up the talent from her, which led to my first job, which inspired me to open my first business, and on to a long list of other ventures throughout my life.
Jumping back in time a bit, my schooling began at Memorial Elementary, on E. 152nd St., in Cleveland. Kindergarten was somewhat awkward for me. I was raised as an only child (my mom had had five miscarriages), and I was shyand didn't make friends easily. I had spent most of my time around adults, except for my best friend, and next door neighbor, Paula. Paula and her family moved to Mentor, Ohio, shortly before we started school. Our paths took us in different directions, but to this very day, she still remains one of my best friends.
Paula's moving led to another neighbor, Gary, who I spent a great deal of time with. Then, in the first or second grade, I developed a close friendship with a fellow student, named Ronald. Our mothers also became close. Ronny and I were very much different. He was a whiz kid; I, the daydreamer. Our parents led Gary, Ronny and me through Cub Scouts, and Little League. These were not my happiest days, as they were for most kids. I remember standing in the outfield, hoping the ball wouldn't head in my direction. Instead of being interested in baseball, my attention was focused on the colorful butterflies fluttering around, and the beauty of the tiny golden buttercup blossoms hiding in the grass. Even admiring the dandelions was more interesting than trying to catch a ball in the crazy-looking leather mitt on my hand.
My mom, Mimi, dad, Otto, and me in matching outfits designed by Mimi.