As a grown man traveling to my father's funeral with a couple of my uncles, I heard for the first time that my conception was an unwanted pregnancy. Indeed, some years later my older brothers told me that my mother had tried, unsuccessfully, to abort me by riding on a roller coaster. However unwanted, I made my entrance into the world on March 11, 1931, just as the Depression was descending on the country. I was the sixth, and last, child of Peter and Bessie Elkind, who as adolescents had immigrated to the United States to escape the pogroms against Jews in Russia. My father was a machinist and moved to Detroit, where the growing auto industry provided him the best job opportunities.
In Russia my grandfather had owned a tobacco factory, and my father learned his trade working in this factory. Although he had less than a high school education, he was an avid reader and in his younger years was active in the labor movement. My mother was the daughter of a shamus, the caretaker of the shtetl synagogue. Her own mother died when she was quite young, and she took on the responsibility for rearing her younger siblings and thus had little formal schooling. As a child I remember trying to teach my mother to read to prepare her to take the examination required to get her citizenship papers. By then I had become, if not the favorite, at least not the scapegoat or the focus of resentment.
Perhaps because of their own backgrounds, my parents did not venerate education in the way that many Jewish parents did. My father always worked with his hands, and he believed that was the only honorable occupation for a man. Nonetheless, my oldest sister did go to college and got a degree in education. She taught in an early childhood setting for a number of years. Later she went to law school and after graduation edited a prestigious law journal. My two oldest brothers, however, followed in my father's footsteps, and one opened his own machine shop while the other started his own printing business. My younger sister worked as a secretary until her marriage. The brother closest to me did not attend college either but worked as a production manager in an advertising firm before starting his own highly successful packaging and shipping company.
It was not, therefore, an intellectual family, and I never felt any pressure to achieve academically. From my earliest years, however, I was a voracious reader. There were only a limited number of books in our small three-bedroom apart-