A Childhood Memory of Wall Street

As Thanksgiving approaches every year, memories of a time and place that reside deep in my memory emerge from a time when “your word was your bond.”

Getting up early to go to dad’s work on Thanksgiving eve was always such a treat. The early morning air was filled with a sense of the unknown, mystery and excitement. Dad’s work was a world we, as children, rarely had a glimpse into. It was a day that was always new. It was a world unfamiliar, uncommon and very special. Getting prepared to join dad on his pilgrimage to the New York Stock Exchange at 11 Wall Street was not unlike getting ready for grammar school at Oak Knoll School of The Holy Child in Summit. In fact the only difference was that I was leaving the house with dad in his Oldsmobile 442 convertible, which in and of itself was very special for me.

I dressed as I did for grammar school; navy blazer, grey cuffed slacks, white button down oxford shirt, penny loafers and navy blue knee socks. Hair neatly combed, parted and slicked down with O’Dell’s hair trainer. We hopped in his car and headed off to the train station where we jumped on a train that seemed populated with many folks my dad’s age and all very friendly. We sat together on wicker seats that creaked when my dad sat on them but that otherwise were supremely comfortable.

As the train rumbled along through suburbia it would occasionally stop to let other men on. Nearly everyone seemed to know my dad and nearly everyone seemed to like him as well. After greetings at every stop all the men would busy themselves with the Wall Street Journal. I didn’t know why they were so intent on reading so many numbers and lists but I suspected the work day had already commenced. As a result I kept quiet and kept my eyes open. It was normally a cool morning with most trees having dropped their leaves in preparation for winter. The early morning sun was bright, clean, clear. Before long we would hop off the train at the terminal in Hoboken. There was a sea of men wearing grey fedoras, light dark coats and newspapers folded neatly under their arms. Quietly this sea of men would move while trains pulled into and out of the terminal behind them occasionally blowing their whistles. Initially everyone was moving in one direction but seemingly without any cue that one direction became several different directions. Some would head to the ferry. Some would head to the tubes and some would head to the street. Every man seemed to know where he was going.

The line that my dad and I were headed towards was in the direction of the ferry. Men quietly clamored aboard after giving their tickets to the boarding captain – dressed in navy blue and wearing an unfamiliar cap. Some had coffee cups in one hand but all had the Wall Street Journal in the other. Some men also had the Newark Star Ledger sports section in tow as well. The air on the Hudson River was cooler than it had been when we boarded the train in Summit. It was also breezier. Salt air filled my small nostrils as dad held my hand. We stood side by side outside on the deck and watched downtown Manhattan, bathed in the autumn morning approach before our eyes. The sun reflected off the office towers and seagulls followed our little ferry to the dock on the other side of the broad, swift river.

The walk to the exchange was crowded with faces that were clearly familiar to dad. There were many nods of the head, good mornings and quiet acknowledgements. We got to the exchange through a winding labyrinth of old buildings, cobblestone lanes and streets. As we walked up to the exchange my dad was always greeted with a sense of respect and courteousness that was strange. It was as if he was an entirely different person here in this world. Everyone knew him, Mr. Kenny or Jim, and everyone held him in high esteem. It made me so proud to be his son. The guards would shake my small hand with their large mitts while looking down at me. Often I was asked if I was helping dad. I was shy but always proud enough of my dad to answer “Yes!” without hesitation. Some how, I was a part of my father’s life in ways that made me feel special. That feeling has never left me. My dad passed in 2001 but never a day goes by that I don’t express my gratitude to him for being my dad.

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year.

  • Pictured above is a screen shot of  H. James Kenny Jr. who appeared in this film in his role as a NYSE member broker. Watch The Big Board if you have  not seen this footage from a time when “Your word was your bond.”