By Leslie Sands Bell
Class of 1968
The concept of working or starting a business at home is touted as the latest idea, born of necessity in today’s difficult economic times. There’s nothing new about it. My grandfather was doing it in the 1920’s, and so were many Levittown residents in the 1950’s and 1960’s when I was growing up there.
In those days, very few women with children worked outside of the home. My mother, Elinor Sands (Malis) was raising two children under the age of six and keeping house in
our newly purchased Cape Cod in the mid-1950‘s when my father hit tough financial times. She used her considerable courage and talent to supplement his income with her first home-based business. She decorated vinegar and oil cruet sets at our kitchen table and sold them to as many housewives in the neighborhood as she could walk to.
Then she bought a home party kit from Sarah Coventry and sold costume jewelry at customers’ homes while my father babysat. My sister and I helped her prepare her kit after dinner while she got dressed to go out to work. She prepared paperwork and made business phone calls from home during the day.
By 1958, she decided that she needed a more lucrative way to earn money and stay at home. She sent me off to my third grade Show and Tell Day with strict instructions to write her name and our phone number on the blackboard and to tell my classmates that she was giving piano lessons after school at our house on Carnation Road. Her first students came from that Show and Tell.
She hung a shingle on the signpost on the front lawn that simply stated “Piano Lessons” and our phone number. Her roster grew and her students’ addresses spread geographically. In 1960 she bought a used car and drove to their homes all over Levittown, Hicksville, Westbury, Wantagh, the Merricks, East Meadow and later, to the North Shore’s Gold Coast. She taught a number of siblings in several families as they came of age (seven years), and later taught their mothers who finally had time for themselves.
My sister and I became adept at taking students’ messages and referrals over our home phone. She showed us how to start simple dinner preparations and left a daily prep list for us to follow. We became two of the earliest latchkey kids of the 1960‘s. She was always home to complete and eat dinner with the family. She taught piano for more than 40 years, long after money was no longer an issue, because she had fallen in love with her career.
My mother was encouraged to start teaching piano by Celso Ferrari, an accomplished accordianist who lived in our neighborhood and supported his family by playing in a house band at a dinner and dancing club at night, and teaching the instrument in the afternoons at his home.
There were many more home businesses that I remember in just my immediate Levittown neighborhood in the 1950-1960’s. Levittowners were true pioneers - brave, resourceful, and in my opinion, examples of The Greatest Generation.