Sol Polish, an inveterate writer and chronicler of days-gone-by whose wry sense of humor and Runyonesque recollections of life before, during, and after the Great Depression appeared week after week in the pages of Courier Life, died peacefully on Nov. 21 at the New York State Veterans Home in Queens of natural causes. He was 96.
Polish kept old-time Brooklyn alive in his column “Remembering Brooklyn,” which chronicled the adventures of Canarsie’s 98th Street Kids in the 1920s and ’30s: “Greazy Gus,” “Goomba,” “Suchie” and Polish himself, “Skinny,” delighting readers of the Courier from the 1970s until he retired it in 2007 at the age of 92.
Sol then frequently contributed “Looking Back,” which told stories of Polish’s adventures in World War II and the Korean War in the Courier’s popular Harbor Watch supplement, which appears each week in our Bay Ridge edition. His last column was published on April 29 of this year.
Sol started writing in the 1960s when he penned a newsletter and worked for the Army in the insurance department.
But he discovered that there was better money in the private sector, so he left the army and became an auto salesman for the Studebaker dealership on Tilden Avenue. A friend convinced him to write a letter to the editor to the Canarsie Courier recalling the old days of the neighborhood, and soon after, a column called “Remembering Canarsie” was born.
After several years — and a few editorial differences — Sol left the Canarsie Courier, and began sending copies of his column to the Courier Life, which led to “Remembering Brooklyn” and, later, “Looking Back.”
Sol was born Sept. 18, 1915 in Canarsie, the youngest of two boys, to immigrant parents. He attended PS 115 and Thomas Jefferson High School and enlisted in the cavalry in 1941 after becoming enamored with all those horse soldiers he saw at the Saturday matinees.
But as the army phased out his unit in favor of tanks, Sol found himself transferring into the infantry division and served in Europe as a cryptographer until his discharge in 1946. After a short span as a civilian, Sol re-upped in 1950 and served in the Korean conflict —the same year that he married his beloved wife Lil.
“I met her in a night club in Manhattan. She was a girl from Bensonhurst, I was from Canarsie, so I had to travel across the borough. Right before I left to go to Korea, Lil and I married, Sept.10, 1950.”
He and Lil moved into an apartment in Canarsie after his second discharge, where he lived until July when he took ill and moved to the Veterans facility in Queens. They had no children.
His niece, Anne Baumgarten, said that she would be keeping Polish’s beloved Smith Corona typewriter, which he used to type every column that appeared in the Courier.
“He was so proud of two things: his military service, and the fact that his work still appeared in Harbor Watch,” she said.
Polish, who once said of his work that “writers of nostalgia reach into the hearts of both old and young, and brings the reader away from the stark reality of today’s existence,” will be sorely missed by his colleagues.
“Sol had a twinkle in his eye and a humble love of life that he wove into heartwarming tales about his youth that will remain forever timeless,” said Shavana Abruzzo, whose column, “A Britisher’s View,” appeared alongside Polish’s “Remembering Brooklyn” for many years. “His loss is huge because he brought so much pleasure to people each week.”
Polish was interred on Friday, next to his wife Lil, who passed away in September 2010.
His family asked that in honor of Polish, donations can be made in his name to any Veterans Association.
Reach reporter Joanna DelBuono at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-2523.