I was born on July 2, 1937, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My father owned a small pharmacy on the east side of town and my mom worked in the store full time. As a child I spent a lot of time in the store unpacking the magazines and putting them into the rack and selling candy bars and gum. We also frequently visited my grandfather’s grocery store up on Whiskey Hill. I loved those bins of cookies and the refrigerated room where he kept the meat. And the little kitchen behind the store where the family gathered during business hours.
As a teenager, I worked every afternoon at the drugstore, mostly making sundaes and shakes at the soda fountain. I loved scooping ice cream, pouring the hot fudge over it, and squirting the whipped cream in a rising spiral with a cherry on the top. But even more, I loved interacting with the customers. Right from the beginning I was intrigued by the many shapes, sizes, accents, and styles of people who sat on the other side of the counter.
I went to Beardsley Elementary School, Harding High School for my freshman year, and Bassick High School for my last three years. I graduated from Bassick in the class of 1954 and went off to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where I got my B.A. in English and American Literature in 1958. (I went back to school many years later and studied anthropology at UCLA.)
My schools (before college) were all public, and every summer I would spend a week or two at Brownie and Girl Scout camp (Trefoil) and YWCA camp (Mohawk) and one summer I got a scholarship to a Hebrew speaking camp in the Poconos (Ramah). When I was fourteen, I began four summers as a swimming instructor at the JCC day camp in Stepney, CT.
When I finished college, my parents took off for Europe. I gave my brother Dick a party and sent him off to his first year at college. I packed up my cousin Sharon who had been living with my parents ever since her mother died four years earlier. Now her father had remarried and eleven-year-old Sharon was ready to join him in his new household.
Then I ran as fast as I could to New York City. In Bridgeport, I was always Fran and Al Golden’s daughter and whatever I did always found its way back to them. My behavior, I was told, reflected on the good reputation my father had built over the years. I didn’t want to be my father’s daughter. I wanted the freedom and anonymity of the big city. I moved to Greenwich Village.
In New York, I looked for work as a writer and dreamed of writing children’s books. My first job was with a children’s magazine called, FOR YOUNG NEW YORKERS (until it became YOUNG AMERICANS). They hired me as a file clerk. What they didn’t know was that I am totally lacking in organizing skills. I messed up the files so badly that they make me a writer just to keep me away from the files.
I loved that job and the people I worked with. It was like an education in the many ways people live life, the variations were way beyond the customers in my father’s drugstore and I was endlessly fascinated. I thought I had been dropped into a fictional kingdom inhabited by dynamic, dramatic, colorful, and unique short story characters. How exciting it was. And a great introduction to the world outside of Bridgeport.
When YOUNG AMERICANS folded, I freelanced at anything anyone would pay me to write. How a bakery modernized and doubled its profits. How to throw a spectacular New Year’s Eve party. How efficiency in the stockroom pays off. It was a fun time for me. I’d write, get paid, and play until my money was used up. Then I’d write some more.
I married in 1960. My husband was an editor and a writer who worked for SPORT magazine and later, LIFE, NEW TIMES, and eventually as a consultant to NEW WEST (which turned into CALIFORNIA), T.V. GUIDE, and others. I worked as an editor on an anthology of children’s books, and then I had kids. Mitch was born in 1962 and Jan in 1963. I was a stay-at-home mom, active in their schools (PS 41, PS 3, and IS 70) and an activist in the community. We had a house in Otis, Massachusetts, and we went up every weekend and all summer. The three-hour drive every Friday and Sunday was family time. We sang, played games, and talked about things we never had time to talk about during the week.
In 1972 I published my first children’s book, DUMB JOEY. View complete list of my children’s books.
In 1976 we moved to Los Angeles where I continued to write. I even got myself an office in Venice which was as close as I could get to Greenwich Village in L.A.
There are a lot more details about my early life and thoughts in the kids’ bio. And the rest of my story is in my book, TALES OF A FEMALE NOMAD.
~About Rita Golden Gelman (adapted from SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Volume 84.)