Archive | June, 2015

The Sad Scandal That Forever Scarred My Grandpa Harry

14 Jun

My paternal grandfather, Harry, was a difficult man to love. He never hugged us or played with us. He kept his distance, except to sometimes reprimand us from eating too much cake. “The Trolley Car Stops, Too,” he would intone if we spent too much time at the dessert table. Or to tell us to “Quiet Down.”

In the summers he would take long walks and sit by himself. Grandpa Harry, “Hersh Zvi,” was not one to dole out love.

When I entered high school, he actually began talking to me. I took some sewing classes and was making my own clothes and clothing for my sister and Mom. Grandpa was a retired tailor. And suddenly we had a language to share. He taught me how to match plaids and make my slacks more tailored. He could explain about French seams and other ways of making the clothes I made stand out. We formed the tiniest bit of a bond. I know he was so proud of everything I made, which made me feel good as well.

I knew he had had a difficult life. I remember my paternal Grandma Esther saying to me, “When you get married, make sure you check out the family. You do not only marry the man, you marry the entire family. And they can be crazy.”

And that was my Grandpa Harry’s family according to my Grandma. His family could have been a column in the “Bintel Brief” columns of the old Yiddish Jewish Forward. Except I am not sure my Great Grandma Sarah could write.

We think this is Grandpa Harry on his bar mitzvah day.

We think this is Grandpa Harry on his bar mitzvah day.

My grandfather was the oldest of six children: Harry, Harriet (Hady), Muriel, Jacob and two ‘maiden’ sisters. When he was either 13 or 14, his father abandoned the family and took off for the west coast. Disaster.

Grandma Esther once told me that my great grandmother was a ‘schrier,’ someone who screamed a lot. And although my great grandfather Abraham was probably unhappy, he should not have left my grandfather with the mess. And that is true.

Abraham was one of three to five brothers who all came to America at different times, or so we think. Their original last name was Grau, but in the USA Abraham Grau became Abraham Rosenberg. I believe he was from Russia, perhaps Bialystok.

So we know this is a posed photo, but it is when Grandpa crossed the USA looking for his father.

So we know this is a posed photo, but it is when Grandpa crossed the USA looking for his father.

In any case he was not a mensch at all.

My grandfather at age 15 took off across America by himself to find his father.   He traveled through the plains, up the mountains, to Seattle, Washington, in the early 1900s. Grandpa was born in 1888 or 1889. So this was in 1903 or 1904. Can you imagine! He might have wanted to get away as well. But I think he really wanted to find his father.

Well he did find him, in Seattle, living with another woman as if she was his wife. Or as my grandma called her, the ‘churva,’ which I believe means prostitute in Yiddish.

Grandpa Harry was not happy. I do not think the meeting went well. So Grandpa turned around and traveled all the way back to the New York, where he became the bread winner and head of the family.

He worked as a tailor and never finished school. But his five siblings, four girls and his brother, ALL went to college. He paid for it. His brother even became an attorney and lived Up Town.   Grandpa sacrificed his life for his siblings. He was a mensch! He gave them food, clothes and a college education in a time when women did not go to college. And he did not get much in return. I think this is why he so unable to show affection to his own children and grandchildren.  He held back.

Eventually, on February 26, 1922, he married my Grandma, after he finished supporting his siblings and mother. He was in his mid 30s when he married. Since, my grandmother’s father, Louis, was also a tailor, I believe grandpa married his partner’s daughter. In fact my grandparents and my great grandparents continued to live together.

As for my great grandmother, Sarah Rosenberg, we know nothing. Not her maiden name. Not when she was born or died. I do not think she was a very loving person either.  In fact, my brother reminded me that years later Grandpa found out his father was sending money, but his mother never told him!

My Dad on his Bar Mitzvah day on the roof of a building in the Bronx.

My Dad on his Bar Mitzvah day on the roof of a building in the Bronx.

I do know that in 1941 my great grandfather and his second ‘wife’ showed up in New York City, in the Bronx on the day of my Dad’s bar mitzvah. I do not know if one of the other siblings had kept in touch with him. I do not know why he chose that day. All I know is that my grandfather would not let him into the house. I believe my Dad met his grandfather in the hallway.

As for my grandfather’s siblings, we never met any of them except for Aunt Hady and her husband, Lenny. The others were not part of our lives. However, I do know that my Aunt Leona, my Dad’s sister, took piano lessons with her cousin at the apartment uptown. So she had some weekly contact with my great Uncle Jacob and his family when she was a child.

But I would one day like to know, where did my great grandfather end up and was buried? What was my Great grandma Sarah’s maiden name? Who was she?

And where are the children of Muriel, who had two sons; and Jacob, who had two children: Delilah and Betram.

I wish my Grandpa Harry had not been so scarred by his own father.He was a good man.  He provided for his family.  And he cared about us. I know in the moments that he discussed sewing with me that he wanted a connection with his family, he just did not know how. He was forever scarred by the scandal of his childhood.

Advertisements

Finding Katie!

13 Jun

When my maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States in 1922, she was sponsored by her father’s sister: her Aunt Gussie. I wrote about this in another blog, which I will reference at the end.

Grandma became very good friends with her first cousin, Katie L. They remained friends throughout their lives, even though they did not live near to each other. But the letters and phone calls seemed to keep their love for each other in tact.

Katie’s married name was Katie Alexander. That is the name we always heard, and this was the name we thought of when we spoke of Katie. It was so ingrained in our lives.   Grandma loved her cousin, Katie; she spoke of her often!

I think my sister was the most in love with the name.   She named her son, Alexander. And four years later, she named her daughter Katherine, or Katie. My Mom at first said, “How can you name her Katherine?” My sister was naming her daughter after my grandmother, whose name was Thelma in English/ Tova in Hebrew.

My sister reminded my Mom that Katie was Grandma’s friend and cousin. And since she did not want to name her daughter Thelma, she thought she would use Tova as the Hebrew name and Katie, Grandma’s cousin’s name for the English.

I laughed. I often tell my sister that she named her children for Katie Alexander. And so the name stays alive in my family.

Album

Last summer, while we were cleaning out the attic of the Catskill’s home that had been both our grandparents and parents, we found an old brown leather photo album. It was filled with photos from the 1920s. Many had no names. Some had Yiddish or Hebrew writing on the back. Some had just an address or a place.

Grandma:Katie

But within the photos was a photo from 1924 of Grandma and Katie. That was it. I decided I had to find out what happened to Katie Alexander’s family. Thanks to the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I now have that information. The wonderful members of the group found members of Katie’s family for me. And then I contacted them.

I have been in touch with one of her sons, a niece and a granddaughter. I have found out that another name we often heard in our home was Katie’s brother. We never knew Katie’s maiden name. She was always referred to by her married. But I realized after I send them some photos, that the Sam L. that my grandmother spoke was Katie’s brother. WOW!

I am hoping that they will be able to identify more of the photos in the album so we can put names to those nameless young men and women who were so important to my grandmother. I am so happy we were able to find Katie.

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/grandma-thelma-knows-what-she-knows/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/old-photographs-bring-memories-to-life/

How I loved the Golden Chair! But Giving it Away Might Be A Blessing.

11 Jun

As a child I was in love with the Golden chair that was situated in front of a vanity table at my grandparent’s home. This small easy chair had been my mother’s chair. It was once upholstered in a print fabric, but sometime after my Mom got married, my grandmother had it upholstered in a golden leatherette.

I LOVED that chair. It was the perfect size for a child to sit in and imagine. I imagined I was a princess when I sat in that chair! I imagined I was on an adventure when I reclined in the chair. I would read a book and lounge there, dreaming. I so wanted that chair.

I used to ask my Grandma, all the time, if my parents could bring the Golden chair home and keep it in my bedroom. And my Grandma always said, “No!” She would not give up the chair.

She never sat in it. I am not sure if she kept it because she knew I loved to sit in it; or if she had another reason? My Grandma did not like to give things away. She did not horde, but relinquishing her possessions was difficult. Perhaps it was the results of her childhood in Europe in the early 1900s? I do know. I only know she would not give me the chair!

The chair was in my grandparent’s apartment in New Jersey. There was an area that was kept locked and separate. Behind the locks were the living room and my mother’s old bedroom. As I got older, Grandma would unlock the door and let me be there on my own to dream in the chair.

When they moved to the Catskills for the entire year, the chair went with them. It was always a part of their home. It was a great place for me to read a book on a rainy Catskills day.

Grandma did know how I longed for the Golden chair. She always told me that it would be my chair one day: that I would own their bedroom set and the chair. So I should not worry. She knew that I loved the golden chair. But I did not want to wait! I wanted the chair then, when I was a girl.

My grandmother died when I was 26 years old. My grandfather passed away when I was 34 years old. About a year after my Grandpa died, my parents had the bedroom set and the Golden chair shipped to my home in Kansas.

It was bittersweet. I was glad the Golden chair was finally mine. But I missed my grandparents.

The chair

I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the chair. I had it re-upholstered in a sparkling geometric print fabric. And I placed it in the room of my then three-year-old daughter. It had the place of honor in a corner with a lamp behind it. I told her that it would be her reading and imagining chair. And it was. She sat there often with a cat either on her lap or under the chair. She read many a books in that chair.

When she was older, she used it as a desk chair, even though it really was not intended for a desk. I think she loves the chair as much as I do.

My Mom once asked me if I was happy that I finally got my chair. And I was happy, but I told my Mom I would have enjoyed the chair even more if Grandma had given to me when she was alive. Receiving the chair after they died put a pall on it. I told my Mom that I would have loved having the chair to read in all the time, not just when I visited my grandparents.

Most important, if Grandma had given me the chair when she was alive, I would have known that she really wanted me to have it. Getting it when she had passed away took some of the joy out of the chair. In fact, I never have sat in the chair in all the years that I have owned it.

My parents gave us items when they were alive. In my mind,I think the Golden chair had something to do with it. When each of my siblings and I had a child, we were presented a piece of family jewelry.   Artwork and furniture was given as well.   Yes, when they passed away a few months apart, we had many other things to go through. But they had always been so generous and loving, we were able to say that there was nothing worth fighting over! These were my brother’s favorite words.

I hope to be that way with my children. I do not want them to wait till I am dead to get something from my house that they really want. My husband always says that ‘we don’t own material items, they own us if we let them.’   There is no item in my house that I need, except maybe my computer.

I would rather see the joy on my children’s faces using something they love from my home. I hope that one day my daughter says to me, “Mom I want the Golden chair.” And even though I have always loved that chair, it would be a blessing for me to give to my daughter.

Stormy Weather Was My Sister’s Worst Nightmare

3 Jun

Ever since I moved to Kansas over 30 years ago I have been amazed by the storms! Where I grew up in the New Jersey/New York area, you never really saw a storm coming. Yes, the sky turned grey; yes it got windy; yes there was lightening and thunder. But you never actually saw an entire anvil thunderstorm cloud or could see the twirling clouds that at times become tornados.

Over the years I grew used to the sound of the sirens being tested the first Wednesday of every month at 11 am, unless there was bad weather. I learned that a bow hook on a radar echo was a very bad sight to see. The sight of pea size, dime size, nickel size, quarter size and baseball size hail taught us to stay indoors! Oh how I hate to be driving my car when hail starts falling!

I taught my children that when the sirens go off, they go to our basement shelter. No discussion, no arguments, just get the cats and go. And they never argued. Tornados are not something to argue about.

For three years my nephew, my sister’s son, lived in Kansas while he studied at the University of Kansas for his master’s degree. I was not sure how my sister would deal with the stormy weather. You see, my sister is petrified of storms.

It dates back to a storm in the Catskills when she was very young. She insists that I was not there when it happened. But since I remember it just as well, I think she is wrong. And I am 3 ½ years older. So I believe I was there,at least for one storm. The one I remember was frightening enough.

It was in our grandparents’ home in Kauneonga Lake, the big house, which was an all season house, not just a bungalow.   There was a storm going on outside. It might have been the hurricane that came up the coast in the early 1960s. In any case we were watching television and a bolt of lightening hit the house and shot from the television into the refrigerator. It went right past me in the family room. This is what I remember.

My sister has a slightly different memory. But since I am the one blogging, I will go with my memory.

However, being a good sister, I will give her side. She says she was in the kitchen and saw lightening hit the stove as it went past her. “It was right after the kitchen was remodeled, and the lightening broke the clock on the oven.  As you may recall it never worked again.”

“The thing that cemented my terror,” my sister said, “was the power went out (no surprise there) and Grandma took a candle and went all through the house looking for fires from the lightening.” She was “petrified being alone in the dark with just a candle and still seeing the afterimage of the lightening and smelling the burnt insulation from the stove.”

It was absolutely terrifying. To this day, I cannot watch television when there is lightening and thunder. I go around the house turning off computers and televisions. I have a wonderful weather radio I listen to during storms. And with modern technology, I now have a weather ap on my phone to let me know tornado and thunder storm warnings and watches, as well as the radar.

For my sister, who was about four, the memory was paralyzing.   She became absolutely terrified of storms. When thunder and lightening occurred she would cry and need to be held. And since I shared a room, I often shared my bed with her during a nighttime storm.

As we aged, I have to admit, I was not always pleasant about her fears. I remember one storm in particular. She was in middle school, and I was in high school. I woke up during one of the worst thunderstorms I ever heard in the Catskills.. But I kept quiet and did not move. I knew if I said anything, my sister would crawl into bed with me, and I was not in the mood. After a few minutes of listening to the storm, the door opened. My mother was standing there.

“Are you okay?” She asked my sister, who then began to cry. I spoke up. “I knew she would do that,” I whispered.

I got in so much trouble!!! My Mom started yelling at me. “You were awake and you did not help your sister!!!”

Next thing I knew my sister was in my twin bed with me, where she spent the rest of the night. I was doomed from that point on to always share my bed during a storm. I guess it was great practice for years later when I had children.

So flash forward 35 years, and my nephew is now in the land of thunderstorms and tornadoes. My sister was not totally happy about the choice of Kansas as a place to live; although she tried to stay calm about it. She said, “Once my children were born, I made a concerted effort not to show my fear to either of them, and they didn’t know until they were teenagers that I was afraid of storms.”

The only thing that helped my sister at all is that he lived in a basement apartment, so he basically lived in a storm shelter.

I am honestly glad that my sister has never been here for a severe thunderstorm when the rotation starts and we have had to seek shelter. The swirl of the winds, the roar of the thunder, the sudden flashes of lightening make storms furious and intense in Kansas.  Living in Kansas through spring and autumn storms has taught me to be wary and keep aware of changing weather.  I am not sure that my sister would do well living through her worst nightmare.