Archive | March, 2014

The Great Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Anniversary Brings Memories of Grandma

30 Mar

March 25, 1911. A horrible fire breaks out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  The exit doors are chained shut.  There is no escape.  Young Jewish and Italian girls jump from the windows: many to their death. But jumping is much better than burning to death in the inferno inside the building. In the end 146 young women and men died.

Across the street a 13 year-old-girl is watching.    She knew many of the young women who worked at the factory.  She knew many who died.  She knew many who jumped.  She never, ever forgot.

I would call it a defining moment in her life. I say this because throughout my life, she always talked about it to my sister and me.  I became obsessed with this fire. I have purchased books about it, watched documentaries, and tried to understand what happened that day.

When my daughter was 13, 88 years later, she had a school history project where she had to interview a family member.  She interviewed my Dad.  And this is one of the stories he told her.

His words, my daughter’s writing:

“A story my mother told that took place in New York City. It is called the Triangle Fire. I will also remember this story to my grave.

There was a blouse factory that burned to the ground. It caused many young Jewish and Italian women who worked there to die.  The reason is, all the doors were nailed shut. The only escape was to jump out the windows, most of the women who tried, died.  Just a handful survived. The incident caused America to change their labor laws. The thing is, my mother lived opposite this building.  She watched the whole scene from her window.”

Two 13 year-old girls, decades apart, great grandmother and great granddaughter, now united with a story, remembering a horrible fire.  My grandmother never mentioned this fire to my daughter.  She was only 6 ½ when my grandmother died.  But to my sister and I, it was a common memory. We often listened to my grandmother relive this day.

It was the heat of the fire; the smell of the fire; the screams of the girls and the people in the street.   They were on the eighth floor.  The ladders did not reach them.  They jumped. They fell.  They died.   (90 years later I thought of this fire as others perished as they jumped from towers to avoid a deadly inferno…choosing to fly into the sky then burn to death.)

It was because of this fire that the women of New York City, and The International Ladies Garment Workers Union became a powerful force in the United States labor scene. The fire and its deadly toll helped this Union, formed years before, into the forefront.

As my sister said, I wish we could talk about my grandmother’s story in the past, because incidents like this fire no longer happen.  But when we hear about incidents in third world countries, like Bangladesh, where women and children perish in factories making the clothing that is imported to the United States, I know we have to continue to remember and to speak out.

I hope that these young women’s lives are never forgotten. It is because of this event, I think I have always volunteered to help women and children throughout the world and  am so active in National Council of Jewish Women.   And I carry my grandmother’s story in my heart and as a strident memory in my soul.

 

 

(There were not a residential area across the street.  So we think my grandmother watched from the across the street, not in her apartment as my Dad states.  No matter, it was still an important moment in her life. )

For those who want more information:  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 1911: List of Victims
http://www.authentichistory.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire

 

Grandma Esther’s Afghans Wrap Me in Love

28 Mar

Throughout my home are reminders of my Grandma Esther.   She spent much of her time knitting and crocheting for her three children, nine grandchildren and later 18 great grandchildren.

During the summers she stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in a bungalow in Kauneonga Lake, where my other grandparent’s bungalow colony once stood. Most days, rain or sunshine, Grandma crocheted.

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I still have the first afghan that she helped me to make, when she first taught me to crochet. It was the first thing I made after a scarf.  This afghan began life as a poncho. But when I got tired of wearing it, Grandma helped me find matching yarn, and we made it into my first afghan with my Mom’s help when Grandma was not around.  This green, orange, yellow, brown and beige afghan stays in my sewing room/guest room.  It is starting to fray, and the stitches do not look so wonderful. But since it has to be about 47 years old, I would say it is in pretty good shape.

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In my bedroom is the afghan she made as one of nine for her grandchildren.  My brother, sister and I each got one when we got married.  Mine is orange and green, because those were once my favorite colors (though not anymore). I keep it in my bedroom on a comfortable reclining chair.  When I am having a bad day or feeling sick, I wrap myself in my Grandmother’s afghan and feel only love and warmth.

My daughter has two afghans made by Grandma.  By this time Grandma only remembered one stitch.  So all the great grandchildren have the same pattern, just different colors.

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She made one afghan when I was pregnant and presented to me as a baby gift.  The other afghan she made at my daughter’s request, using the colors she wanted…pinks and purple. (My daughter was almost seven when my grandmother passed away.)  But the green, yellow and blue one was made in anticipation of my daughter’s arrival.

Grandma was 88 years young when she flew from New York to Kansas to be here the week after my daughter was born. My sister and her husband flew here with Grandma. Nothing was going to stop her from seeing my daughter. She stayed for a long weekend.  It was a special time.  And these memories are there in the afghan.

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A dark blue, kelly green and orange afghan was made for my son.  By this time Grandma has having trouble.  My son was born when Grandma was 92. Grandma had three great grandchildren born close together that year.  If I remember correctly, my Aunt helped Grandma complete these afghans.   She had several more to make after my son was born.  I think his is one of the last full-size afghan.  She made a matching pillow to go with it as well.

I keep his in a plastic bag in his closet.  When he was little he liked to sleep on the floor of his bedroom in a teepee wrapped in this afghan.  Now it waits for him to once again use it.  There is no room in his little college apartment.

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On the back of the chair I work in, is a small lap afghan. This my Grandma made from scraps of yarn leftover from other projects.  She gave it to my parents, who used it for almost 20 years  after she passed away, until they also died. When we cleaned out their home, I took it home with me.

Besides my Grandmother’s afghans, I also have ones that I have made.  A purple one for my daughter when she was born is one of my favorites.

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Each afghan holds love in each stitch.  The love I remember when Grandma taught me to crochet and knit.  The love my Grandma put into each afghan she made. And the memories she wanted us to hold with the little label sewn in each one that says “Made especially for you by Grandma Esther.”

The Great Shoe Catastrophe

18 Mar

Spending the summers in the Catskills was so important to my brother, sister and I, that once we became of age to work, we looked for jobs in and around Kauneonga Lake.  We wanted to be able to spend the weeks in the Catskills and not have to join the long line of cars that went to and from the City every Friday and Sunday night/Monday morning.

For two years, when my brother was 16 and 17, his job was at a shoe store in Monticello.   It started as National Shoe Store, but then was changed to the Triangle Shoe Store. He worked five days a week.  Sometimes he worked during the week, but many times on the weekends, because that is when all the tourists were up.  For this job he had to be dressed appropriately.  No jeans and tee-shirts  and sneakers for him, instead he was in nice pants, a collared, button-down shirt and dress shoes.  This attire lead to what I call the GREAT SHOE CATASTROPHE.

It started as an abnormal day to begin with for us.  Not only was my Dad in the City working, but my Mom had left the day before to spend time alone with Dad at our home in North Bergen, New Jersey.  I think they had a meeting and a social event they had to attend.  My Mom decided she would take some items back to our house.

At this point, we were no longer staying on the grounds of my grandparent’s bungalow colony.  Instead we had a bungalow on the same property as their year-round home about 1/2mile from the colony.  Both houses sat on several acres of land.  It was peaceful and beautiful.

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A peaceful Catskills morning on our property.

But not so peaceful on this morning.

My brother was getting ready for work, when he realized he had no shoes.  My Mom had taken his good shoes with her to New Jersey to get the repaired or resoled or something. But she did not only take the damaged shoes, she took both pairs of shoes. All my brother had to wear was a pair of sneakers.

He went bonkers.  He was yelling, he was screaming. “How could she take my shoes! Both pair.!”  I have to be honest, I was laughing.  That is what a younger sister does, when an older brother is annoyed.

But then he lifted up a kitchen chair.  I don’t think he meant to do anything really wrong.  But first the chair hit the ceiling then crashed into the floor.  A t this point, my sister and I decided it was prudent to leave the bungalow and get my grandmother.  Which we did: we ran to get her, screaming all the way.

She quickly went back to the bungalow to see what was happening.  And then came back to the house, laughing.  With a big smile on face, she turned to my grandfather and said, ”Go back there.  Look at yourself.”

We stayed with Grandma, while Grandpa walked back to the bungalow and my crazed brother.  I was not witness to what was said. But it became family lore.

My brother raved and ranted about my Mom taking both pair of shoes and leaving him with only sneakers. And he had to wear nice shoes for work.  And why would she do that to him?  (This was before the age of cell phones, so he could not even call her.)

My grandfather laughed.  “Shmenrick ,”  he said.  “You work in a shoe store.  Buy another pair of shoes.” And he gave my brother money for shoes.

I am laughing as I remember the story.  My brother, for a long time, did not think it was so funny.  But later…the words,  “You work in a shoe store, buy yourself shoes, “ became amusing even to him.

When my Mom returned, she felt terrible.  She realized when she got to Jersey that she had both pairs of his shoes.  She had not meant to do that. But it was done.  However, she was not happy with the hole in the ceiling or the broken chair.

That chair matched her kitchen set.  And there were only four of them.  She wanted it fixed.  So it was put in the corner of the screened-in porch.  We all knew not to sit in it.  Eventually my Dad was going to fix that darn chair.  But he did not get around to it right away.  It sort of just sat there in the corner for most of the summer.

Several weeks later, we had lots of company one weekend.  We were all eating breakfast on the porch.  Along came my cousin to join in for the food and conversation.  But there were no empty chairs at the table. In the corner was a chair that looked fine.  So he went over to sit on it.  (Yes that broken chair.)

We all yelled at the same exact moment,  “NO DON’T SIT THERE!!!!!”

Too late.

He was down and out. The chair splintered into hundreds of pieces beneath him and scattered everywhere.

He had a horrified look on his face.  And said,  “Did I do that?”

None of us could respond because we were laughing … there was nothing else to do. The chair was a goner.  My cousin was fine, just startled.  We tried to explain what happened.

The great shoe catastrophe had taken one more victim.  But the outcome was important: my brother never lost his temper like that again.

It was a Small World at the New York City’s World’s Fair 1964/65

14 Mar

I remember it so well, even though it was almost 50 years ago: the World’s Fair in New York City.  My parents took my brother, sister and I there several times over the two summers it was open in 1964 and 1965.  We were all amazed by the rides and the excitement of being there.  Almost like being in Disneyland, but much closer to home.

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At the World’s Fair. My brother took this photo. 🙂

My sister, who was 5 the summer of 1964, was in love…in love with one ride only ”It’s a Small World.”  She could have sat on that ride all day, every day.  The ride was the UNICEF exhibit, and later it would become a popular ride in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld. But in 1964 and 1965, it was only at the World’s Fair.

I am sure my sister was not the only person to fall in love with both the ride and the song.  And I am sure that my parents were not the only parents to buy the 45 record and bring it home for their child.  And I am also sure, like any other 5-year-old in the world, my sister was not the only child to play the record over and over and over again.

My brother, my parents and I were about to lose our minds. My sister not only played the record, she sang the song constantly, except when we were in school.  Then the record was silent and we all had peace.

My mother was still not working full time that year. She was a substitute teacher, who stayed home when we were at school. Cleaning, cooking, doing all the things a mom did in the 1960s.  So when we came home from school one day, it was not surprising to see our room extremely clean.

What was surprising?  The record was gone.  My sister searched and searched. She finally went to my Mom to ask.  And my Mom had a story of woe.  While she was cleaning she accidentally broke the record.  My sister could no longer play it. In fact it was in so many pieces, she had to throw it out because she did not want us to get hurt.

I was so happy.  I shared a room with my sister. And I had the worst of the song.  I loved my Mom’s cleaning at that moment.  To be honest, I did not even feel sad for my sister.  Just a sense of profound relief!

Fast forward about 10 years.  We were living in a different home on the other side of North Bergen.  And our house was robbed!!! A burglar had broken in and emptied everything out of my parent’s closet.  The room was a mess.  Papers and objects were thrown about, on the floor, on the bed, on the furniture.

And there, amid the mess, what did my sharp-eyed sister see.  YES, the record of  “It’s a Small World.”  It was not broken or thrown away.  The record had been hidden for years by my mother.  She had lied.   My sister was astounded.  “MOM,” she cried. “MY record.  How could you lie to me.”

My Mom said,  “it was driving us crazy.  I had to do something.”

I wish the story would end there.  But years later, I became a mother.  And I took my daughter to Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld, while my husband was at a meeting.  And yes, history does repeat itself.  My daughter, then almost three, fell in love with “It’s a Small World.” I went on that ride over and over and over again.  It was a drizzly day in November and not many people were there.  We could get off and get right back on again. And so we did!

But I had learned an important lesson.  I did not buy the record, CD or whatever music was available.  I could not, would not relive the pain of my childhood of listening to that song one hundred thousand times.  And I am not being over dramatic.

Each time we returned to Disneyworld, my daughter wanted to go to this ride first.  Even my son agreed once he arrived on the scene.  So I was doomed.  I actually began to like it. I was haunted by the song.

And then, almost 20 years after the first time my daughter experienced the ride, she got a taste of what, one day, will be her curse.  She was a senior at Drew University in New Jersey. For spring break, she and four friends did not go on a cruise or to Mexico.  No they spent a week at Disneyworld.  She, of course, wanted to go on “It’s a Small World” over and over and over again.  Her friends did not always want to go.  She tells this story.

It was their last night in Disneyworld. They were at the Magic Kingdom for the parade, and my daughter said,  “Hey, “It’s a Small World” is not busy.  Anyone want to go?”  And they said,  “NO. But you can go.  We will wait for you.”  So she did.  She walked down the long ramp by herself.  And suddenly a young girl came running down as well.

My daughter was surprised. The parents did not come.  They sent their daughter on, and looked  and  waved at my daughter.  My daughter was not sure what to do, but she said to the little girl, “Do you want to sit with me or by yourself?“ Oh she wanted to sit with my daughter. And she talked to her the entire ride.

My daughter was amazed that any parent in 2004 would let their child go alone a ride with a total stranger.  I was not totally surprised.

I figure, they were done. No more “It’s a Small World” for them.  And there was this nice young lady who would rather miss the parade than lose one last chance on their daughter’s favorite ride.  They deserved to be together. And they were.   At the end of the ride, the girl’s mother was waiting for her.  She ran off laughing and happy!  As was my daughter.

Oh the 45 record….my sister still has it.  Safe in her home.  A memory.  As for me, I have CDs of every Disney song…including “It’s A Small World.”

For your enjoyment:  https://disneyland.disney.go.com/attractions/disneyland/its-a-small-world/

Shopping on the Avenue…. I don’t mean Fifth, I mean Bergenline!

10 Mar

When I grew up in New Jersey, the place to shop was Bergenline Avenue.  It was filled with shops of all types.  There was an advantage to shopping in Jersey then crossing the River (Hudson) to shop in the City (New York).  First of all, we paid no tax on clothing in Jersey, while they did in New York.  (We could have our purchases shipped home, which saved us the cost of these taxes, but then we had to wait.)  Second it was so convenient and there were so many shops!

We could go to find lingerie at Sylvette’s; boy’s and men’s clothes Al’s Army/Navy; a bit of everything at Schlesinger’s; shoes at National Family; women’s fancy clothing at Corduroy Village.  And of course, there were many places to get something to eat.

For me there was one more advantage.  My Mom knew everyone.  She had grown up in West New York, the daughter of a store owner.  And she was an elementary school teacher in the West New York schools.  So if people did know her for one reason, they knew her for the other.

My Mom’s favorite place to shop for us was Little Marcy’s.  She knew the owners well.  That is true.  But what is also true is that they had everything you could want.  It was conveniently located right on the Avenue with a bus stop right there, and we always could find parking..

The store was really several stores linked together over time.  It started on a corner and moved to the middle of the block.   When you first walked in there was the infant clothes, then you walked to your left and entered an area with toddler’s clothing; walk through another opening and children’s clothes.  Up to this point there was clothing for both girls and boys.  But once you entered the teen clothes, the emphasis changed to girls only.  There were, I think, two small dressig rooms on this floor.  Young girls do not like to change in front of others.

I loved shopping there.  And I loved it even more once I turned about 16. That is when my mom took me to the staircase in the back of the infant clothing and we walked up to the adult women’s clothing for the first time. Oh my….a world of bargains of all bargains of designer clothes.

Upstairs were two rooms of women’s clothing with the labels removed.  This is where designer clothing that were overstocks and now highly discounted were located.  In the second room was a dressing room along a back wall. It was a common room where everyone changed together.

My Mom, sister and I loved going there.  We got back to school clothes, clothing for special events.  (Although I will admit a few excursions to Corduroy Village for special events. The dress I wore to my brother’s bar mitzvah came from Corduroy Village.)

We loved to browse through the racks upon racks of clothing, searching for the just the right item.  Then bringing them back to the dressing room area.  My sister, mother and I would carry so many hangers filled with clothing.  Mom usually did not try on that much.  She got her enjoyment helping my sister and I.  But every once in a while, we could talk her in to trying something on.  Especially if we were the only three in the dressing room!

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My wedding day. My sister wearing her most wonderful dress from Little Marcy’s.

But the most important purchase of all occur in the winter of 1980.  We were in crisis mode.  I was getting married in March.  And my sister did not yet have a dress. My Mom, sister and I had gone everywhere looking for a dress for my sister to wear as the maid of honor for my wedding. We had looked in every store. And frustration and fear was rising.  Would we find something before the wedding?  Could we, would we find anything  for her to wear that went with my dress?

In our last ditch effort,  we went to the upstairs room at Little Marcy’s.  We went to the second room, where prom dresses and long dresses hung along the walls in color and size order.  And there….in her size…. a dress.  The perfect dress!  Waiting just for us!  You cannot imagine our joy and astonishment.

She tried it on.  Oh my,  it fit perfectly!  No alteration needed.  And the sleeves of the dress echoed the sleeves of my dress!  Wow!

And most amazing of all, it only cost $28.

We could not believe our luck!

Later this month, I will celebrate 34 years of marriage.  Whenever I look at the photos of my wedding.  I see my sister in this glorious dress standing next to me, and I remember the happy days shopping at Little Marcy’s and the fun on the Avenue!

We are going to the LAKE!!!

1 Mar

I did not swim in a pool until I was 17.  Up until then I had only ever swam in a lake…one lake in particular: Kauneonga Lake in Sullivan County, NY.  My grandparents owned a small bungalow colony right across the street from the lake on West Shore Road. 

Kauneonga Lake is the northern side of White Lake.  White Lake and Kauneonga Lake once had just a small channel connecting them, but it was widened many years ago.  Amber Lake was off to the side, and could only be accessed on foot or by canoe because the channel was so shallow.

Each spring we would begin to prepare for the first visit to the lake.  Memorial Day weekend the bungalows would open. But the season would really not begin until the end of June, when school ended.  We would go up earlier so my Mom and Dad could help my grandparents prepare for the season.  My siblings and I would be put to work. . My brother and I would be scrapping paint off the bungalows to get ready for a new coat!  My sister was too young for those jobs, so was given a simpler job to do. 

Oh the excitement of knowing that summer was coming!  Once school was out, we would be there for two months of joy.  We would pack up the car, put on our pajamas, and head out for what was then a four-hour ride.  When we woke, we were there in our bungalow at Kauneonga Lake.

There, in the mornings we could watch the mist rise above the lake. In those days it was so cold in the mornings, we slept with our clothes under our pillows to keep them warm.  We would dress in layers under the covers and then get up.  Going to the bathroom in an unheated bungalow, first thing in the morning, was a COLD experience.  But even though the lakes were fed by spring water, in the mornings the water was warmer than the air, and mist would rise so ghostly above the water.

Watching the mist rise over the lake was a normal experience and also a beautiful one.  It was so peaceful.  There were very few motor boats on the lake then, just canoes and rowboats. 

My grandmother, who grew up in Poland, believed that washing your hair in the lake was the best.  So some mornings I would join her to walk over to the dock.  She wore her hair in braids on top of her head. But at the lake, she let it down and then would wash it with Ivory soap. She would wash my hair as well.  Then we would dunk in to the warmth of the lake and quickly wrap ourselves in towels when we came out.

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Swimming in Kauneonga Lake 1961.

Every afternoon, when it wasn’t raining or too cold, we would all go to the dock to swim.  Along side the dock were rocks were we could hunt for crayfish.  Some mornings we would fish.  I was an expert in filleting fish, which I did for my brother and I.  Later these skills were important when I worked in a deli and would filet white fish for the customers.  But then it was the joy of fishing and being at the lake.

When we swam, we tried to stay out of the gush. This was the seaweed and the bottom of the lake. The area we swam in was sandy because of all the activity. But on either side it was gushy. The older boys tried to make us have to step there. And in the gush were turtles and fish that would nibble at our feet.

We knew that a warm spot was a bad sign…and we would scream and yell when we walked or swam through one.  Who had peed in the lake?  No one would ever tell.

When I reached my teens, the lake atmosphere had changed. But I still loved it!  Now there were many motor boats and water skiing.  My friends and I would go out on the lake for hours, boating over to the cove where we could swim without our parents watching.

In the early fall, we would come back for weekends.  Even though the colony was closed, we came out to help do the closing of the buildings.  A friend of mine, who had a boat, came up sometimes as well, especially during Rosh Hashannah.  We would ride in his boat over to the beach at Camp Hi Li and sit on its floating dock working on our homework.

My parents had a pontoon boat in their later years.  It was perfect for my Dad to go gently around the lake. My cousins would keep watch over my parents when they went boating. Just as my parents kept an eye on my cousins when they were young.  Generation reversal!

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Kauneonga Lake summer 2013.

I still go up to the Lake.  There are so many more boats on it.  I don’t see as many people swimming. Most are boating.  My cousins have a large beach area where we hang out.  The ‘youngsters’ swim and boat and ski and go tubing and other water sports.  We, now the older generation, go out on the boat once in a while for a spin around the lake.  My cousins tell me about all the changes in the past year.

For all of us, there is joy just being by the lake.  Visiting with each other. Continuing the fun we had in the many years we spent growing up together across the street from Kauneonga Lake.

To this day, the words,  “We are going to the Lake,” still bring joy to my soul.