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FAMILY

Mildred Lazarus (1923- ) reminiscences

Composed April 10, 2000 from taped interviews made in 1995 and 1996

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1        Context
2        Earliest memories1
3        Parents and their relatives2
4        Deaths in the family 4
5        Growing up5
6        Theater and film.. 8
7        Sylvia
8        Teen-ager and young adult 
9        Work and unions
10     Eddie and Mae
11     Hy and Mahty
12     Adult life
13     Relatively recently
NOTES
Editor’s concluding comments


Back to My family & its history page

Editor’s preface

I transcribed the following material from audio tapes I made in sessions with Mildred Lazarus (whom I’ve always called Mimi), born 10/26/23.  The recordings occurred on 10/12/95 (in Queens), 10/16/95 (in Greenwich Village) and 5/22/96 (in Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library).  I transcribed about half of this in 1995 and the rest in April, 2000.

The words are usually verbatim, but I have grouped the narrative in broad topics, have stripped out speech superfluities like hesitations, and have occasionally added or changed one or a few words to make a passage work in context.  When Mimi says “you,” of course, she is referring to me, who am also the “Ricky” asking questions.

Statements in square brackets are my own.  Sometimes this is for clarity.  On a small number of occasions, I include a quote from myself because I think it helps understand Mimi’s context.

Reminiscences

1            Context

I talked to Ed about recording these memoirs.  I told him, “You know, there are certain things you said in yours that I disagree with.”  He said, “I know.  I took certain privileges.”  In his story, I found some discrepancies—not a lot.

I skip around a lot.  I do this normally, actually.  My son goes crazy: “Ma, stay on the subject!”  But that’s me.

Lou and Irving were the brothers; the sisters were Mae and Rose.  Oldest was my father, I think—no Rose was the oldest, and my father I think was next, then Aunt Mae, and Irving was the youngest.

My parents had six children—Hy, Ed, Sylvia, Irving, me and Abie.  I was a twin.  Irving was my twin, and he died before he was 12.

My father deserted my mother when we were infants.  I think I was 3 years old at the time.  We lived on the Lower East Side—no, on E. 4th St. near 3rd Ave.  My father felt he was too young when he got married.  He wanted to see other women, etc.

Table of contents

2            Earliest memories

When I was a child, the farthest back I can remember was our living on 4th St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.  We may have been somewhere else before then.  It’s a walk-up.  The toilet was in the hall, shared with other apartments.  We had a bathtub in the kitchen, with a lid on it, next to the sink.  You could wash dishes and put them on the lid.  Then you had to take everything off to take a bath.  We had running hot water, but we had no central heat.  We had a potbelly stove.  In winter, we’d stay in the kitchen.  When it was time to sleep, you’d go to bed; it was cold.  When we moved, we lived on Eldridge St.  We had a bathroom!  Big thing!  Toilet, a tub where my mother washed clothes.  My mother was on welfare.  She also worked for awhile, as a sewing operator.  She earned something.  But whenever she got sick, she would end up going on welfare.  She got sick a lot; she had TB.  That’s why we ended up finally in the orphanage, because there was no place else.  At times someone would come in and stay with us—when they knew she wouldn't get well. 

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I didn’t like food.  I remember sitting in the high chair, and my mother would say, “Fress, fress.”

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The first sound I ever heard from my father was banging on the door to try to get my mother to open it so he could come in.  He was in this drunken stupor, and she wouldn’t let him in the house.  I must have been very young, maybe less than 3.  I never remember my father hugging or kissing me or taking me somewhere; I remember my mother doing this.  But I don’t remember my father ever living with us.  So it must have been at that point that once he came home like that, she was afraid to let him in, and that was the end of it.

He went away.  I don’t remember exactly.  I just remember being frightened, and he was banging on the door trying to come in and she said no.  Hy and Ed were there at the time.  We were all very young.  It’s just the thought in my mind that I remember his banging.  I don’t even know if my brother would remember it.

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I took a trip to Allentown, Pennsylvania, with my mother when I was very little.  I remember the train ride, and it was wonderful—first time I was on the train.  I don’t know how my mother did it, but she took one of us at a time.  I think Eddie writes something about this, too.  (Probably the oldest stayed home and took care of the others.)  Somehow it worked out.  I know I was the only one who went with her—it’s not like you went with your brothers. 

My grandmother lived there.  She was a little woman. She wore a shaitl, a marriage wig.  She was very religious.  I remember her going out to the back yard.  She lived over a shul.  I would sleep with her because there was no real room.  Besides, you sleep with Bubbie because it’s wonderful.  My grandchildren think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, so I figure I probably did, too.  I don’t remember—I was 3 or 4 years old.  She was affectionate.

I don’t know if my grandfather lived there.  I never remember him in any way.  I know some man came out and killed the chicken for us—it had to be a shochet.[1]  I remember watching the rabbi kill a chicken, cutting the head off.  First time I saw that.  It was a normal thing.  Some people get upset.

[Ricky: “I remember seeing my father kill chickens that way on the farm.  He must have learned it from seeing it done.”]

Well, he learned it because he was a farmer and he had to.  He used to hang them up by their feet and go bang-bang-bang.  One day I was on your farm and one of the chickens had pecked another chicken, and it was dying.  He had taught me that if that happened you had to kill the chicken, so I had to wring its neck, which I just did because it had to die.  These things didn’t bother me.  I cleaned the chicken and it never bothered me; a lot of people couldn't stand to clean a chicken.  Today you don’t have to; it all comes eviscerated.

Table of contents

 

3            Parents and their relatives

I have pictures of my mother and father—I think one.  I had a picture of my mother sitting down, and your father mentions it, but I don’t have that picture.  I only have the one of her with her hair curled on the top of her head.  She was a very pretty woman, and my father was a very handsome man. 

Whoever I love becomes gorgeous.  I have pictures of Hy where he was good-looking.  It’s hard to believe, because Hy was not good-looking.  But I have pictures of him; he looks like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  Or Senior.  I don’t remember which.

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It was very common for families to split up.  Whole families.  You didn’t have a job, you ran away from responsibilities.  You got married because people came over from Europe, didn’t want to stay with their spouse any more, and left them. 

My mother was Litvack, my father was Galizianer.  Their dialects of Yiddish were different.  I think they met here in the US.

My mother, she came from Latvia—but he was...I don’t know.  They met here in the United States.  I’m not sure where.  He came over when he was about 6 years old, my father.  I spoke Yiddish as my first language; English was my second language.  I don’t speak it any more.  I can understand a lot, but not enough to speak. 

I really don’t know their story, how they met.  My mother was a beautiful looking woman, and my father was a very handsome guy.  But I never heard the story of how they got together.  They came here at different times. 

I don’t know any stories of what it was like to get here or what life was like before they came. 

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I didn’t know my father the way some people knew their father.  He wasn’t around that much.  Years later, when I saw him with you and Judi and David, he was very lovable.

I don’t know how old my father was—his birthdate is probably on my birth certificate.

He would come to visit, and he’d give my cousins $5 and $10—Aunt Mae’s children.  And I’d say to him, “I need money for stockings.”  At that time you could get silk stockings for 50 cents.  He said, “I gave you money last month.”   I didn’t get the money; he would try to show everybody he was such a big shot.  He was always very, very good to my cousins.  They thought he was wonderful.  I never liked my father.

I don’t know if my father hit us kids.  He was gone before I could remember that much.  He probably did hit my brothers.

Before he deserted the family, my father made a good living.  He was a furrier. 

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Aunt Bertha was my mother’s youngest sister.  Everybody used to tell me that I was Aunt Bertha’s favorite.  She was very sweet.  She brought me an outfit, a plaid skirt and a velvet blouse, which I loved.  Until then I had very little clothes except the clothes from the home, and nobody worried about getting me any clothes.  It wasn’t important.  This is what goes on when you come out of a home and you're the orphan in the family.  I had hand-me-downs, I think from Elsie.  I had an uncle who, when I got older, would bring me fabric so I could make myself some things.  Because he worked for [Oscar Renta?].  The Rentners that are now called Oscar de la Renta.  He was their cutter.  Renta is a relative of Uncle Dave’s, Aunt Mae’s husband.  At the time it was Oscar Renta, the father.  Now it’s Oscar de la Renta, the son or the son of the son, for all I know.  I don’t know how old he is.  After all, I was a kid.

Aunt Bertha died of blood poisoning.  She was sweet, but she died.  And Eddie tells you that she had been a very sick person.  She got blood poisoning.  She was sewing, and she got a needle in her finger, and they didn’t take good care of it.  She lived with my mother in New York and she got sick, and they didn’t do anything for her, and she died after that.

Before that time she was living with my mother, with 6 kids at the time.  My father wasn’t there.  And she wasn’t well enough to work most of the time.  One night, as Eddie tells you in his, one of the gas jets turned on by accident, and we had gas coming through the whole apartment.  (In those days we didn’t have electricity; we had gas.)  She woke up to go to the bathroom, and she fell down and realized something was wrong.  So she woke us.  The police came, and the fire engines came.  We were in the newspapers.  We once had our picture in the newspaper.  It was probably the Daily News.  I was eleven, ten, nine, born in 1923, and it was after the Depression started.  It was due to her, my Aunt Bertha, that we’re still alive.  If she hadn’t woken up, we’d be dead.  There was one person in the building who died that day—Eddie’s tells about that.  I remember being in the newspaper, I remember being rushed out of the house.  I was a little kid—I couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 probably.

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My mother was a very sick woman—she had TB, though I don’t remember how young I was when she had it.  I remember her taking me once to see her parents in Pennsylvania, and I remember going on the train.  You know, there is no more train to Allentown.

Julius in Allentown was my mother’s brother; he was married to Aunt Sadie.  They had a grocery store.  She had a daughter, no other children.  They doted on her.  As far as I know, the daughter is still alive.  When Julius died, they got in touch with me.  He died in Allentown but was buried in Queens somewhere.  I last saw Sadie and her daughter when I was married to Leo.  My mother had sisters: Aunt Helen, Aunt Bertha, Aunt Sadie—not Julius’ wife.  She also had brothers, but I can’t remember their names.  There was an Uncle Joe, probably dead by now.  His son got in touch with us about five years ago because he was building a family tree.  I told him to call Ed, who doesn’t remember this anymore, but they did talk.  I don’t remember his first name—he was a Greenberg, my mother’s maiden name.

My mother’s side of the family was estranged from my father’s side, probably because he used to run around with other women. 

Some family relations: Stevie is in my family.  From Mae’s (Mary’s) family.  Her daughters are Ruth, Flo, Elsie, Harriet, Sylvia.

Ruth had Bunny, Francine, Merry and Mike.  These are people I lived with for years.  Flo had two children.  Her son died.  Elsie had no children.  Harriet had no children—she died from an overdose.

Elsie was married to Miltie.  When she died, he married his third cousin.  Harriet died; we used to call her Terry.  Sylvia’s son, Butchie, was a very very bright student.  He married young, and he had 6 or 8 children.  His wife died, too—she had phlebitis.  I don’t know his children’s names.  He had twins, too.  One of them became pregnant and had children before she was married.  One of his children was born the same day as his grandchild.  It’s like any family—they all have problems.

Table of contents

4         Deaths in the family

I was 12 when my twin, Irving, died.  I remember him pretty well.  He was in the hospital.  We were in the home, the two of us, Abe and I.  Before that, Eddie had taken us out for the day, to see a movie or whatever.  My sister was with us.  My sister pulled me aside and said, “I will tell you something, but don’t tell Eddie.  If he hears I told you, he’ll kill me.”  So I said, “What?”  And she said, “Irving died.”  When she told me he died.  I was in shock.  I didn’t cry out or anything.  Eddie brought us back to the home. I was 12 years old—I had to keep my mouth shut and not scream or cry.

I heard about my mother’s death and Abie’s together.  And I passed out.  I think I did that three times in my life.  I went on vacation, and when I came back, I was looking for Abie.  I couldn’t find him.  I had gone to a camp for two weeks.  I’m looking for Abie, and nobody knows where Abie is, and no one will tell me anything.  All of a sudden, I’m called to the office, and Hy is there.  Maybe it wasn’t an office—it was one of the school buildings.  Hy tells me that Abie and Mama died.  Ha!  Then I fainted.  What I couldn’t do for my brother...  I had to carry it.  Hy and I were very close—Eddie was a little jealous, I think, of that.

[Do you still feel like part of you is missing?]

No.  At the time, yeah.  I didn’t feel differently when my twin, Irving died, from when Abie died, because they were very very close, a year apart.  Abie and Irving were the best of friends, and I was the sister.  We were close.  Irving had more a special bond with Abie than with me. 

The first time I passed out was because of Eddie.  He scared me.  I thought he was going to hit me.  The second time was when I heard about my brother and my mother dying.  My twin had died already.  I couldn't pass out then; my brother[2] would have beat up my sister.  The third time is in here somewhere.

My mother’s death.  That was a real tragedy.  She had TB.  That’s why I ended up in the orphanage, because there was no place else.  At times someone would come and stay with us until they knew she wouldn't come home again.  There was no real treatment for tuberculosis.  They kept putting her in the hospital and they sent her to the sanitarium.  It was care, but I don’t know if they gave her anything.  I don’t know if they had anything in those days, like they have for asthma.  (Nobody dies of asthma today if it’s caught.  Because Iris has asthma, and Sammy had, and Rebecca had.  She has bronchial; hers isn’t bad.  Iris is the worst.  They live normal lives.)

I was in the home.  I didn’t know too much about it, except what my sister told me.  I had gone to visit her, and Irving was there at the time, and Abie.  I think it was at the beginning when she was in the hospital.  After that, they wouldn't let us in.  We had all visited her in this great big room with a lot of other beds and people.  It was very sad.  She was very sick.

She would stay with us, period.  And then, when they knew she wouldn't get well, they put us in the home.

Table of contents

5            Growing up

When I was little, my friends and I would play jacks, or we’d jump rope.  We didn’t wander very far.  You were scared to go further than your corner unless you were with some adult.  I went to school after my twin brother, because I was in the hospital when he started school.  I had St. Vitus’ Dance.  I would twitch.  I’ve known people who had it all their lives; I outgrew it—I was very lucky.  My hand might suddenly jerk; if that happened, I would jerk on the other side, too.  I think my father yelled at me and said, “Try not to do it!”  I had it for many years.  I lost it after my mother died.

I had friends, very close friends at one point.  One was Beatrice.  Her mother was alone, no husband.  She had a brother named Murray who finally became a doctor.  Another friend, Lily, was very pretty.  She had a mother and father at home.  That was unusual compared to what I’d seen around.  I didn’t know many people with fathers.  It happened.  I knew them until I grew up.  Lily moved to Brooklyn, near the beach.  We were kids.  We played dolls, and we played jacks, and we played whatever little girls did.  Jump rope.  No imaginary friends.  We’d walk down the block.  You never walked very far.  You walked from one corner to the other.  Lily lived on Second Ave., but very close to 4th St., so we’d go there and come back again.  We lived on 4th St. 

My mother always wanted to do something for me, but she never really had money.  At that time Shirley Temple became very popular, and all I wanted was a Shirley Temple dress.  She took her dress that she had worn once, twice—a white dress.  She got some piping. Shirley Temple used to wear this little white dress with piping around it, red or blue.  Very fancy.  And she made me one.  I didn’t see the movie; I saw it in pictures.  You would see pictures all over the place about Shirley Temple—very important.

I remember I was cold one day, and my mother still had a fur coat, seal skin.  My father was a furrier, so she probably had one from then.  And she had these big cuffs on it, and I would put my hands in them to keep warm.  She never minded it.  I don’t remember her too well.  I only remember that she was a sweet person, a very gentle person.  I don’t remember her ever hitting me.  My kids’ll tell you I hit them, but I don’t remember her ever laying a hand on me.

My mother was very poor.  Even when she worked she didn’t make much money.  We were six kids.  Six kids—whatever you make, it’s never going to be enough.  She would buy a quarter pound of chicken and this chicken she made soup out of, and then we’d each have a piece.  You know what a quarter of a chicken is?  Like the white meat with a wing?  She’d share it among us. 

We’d have a pail to go down to get our milk or our cream.  These were the days you didn’t have deliveries, in glass bottles even.  Everything had to be siphoned out from a big container.  These were quart buckets.  They were made so you had a cover on them and you could walk with them.  Or you'd get some sour cream.  None of the stores would give you a container.  You had to bring your own.  Then you had an ice box that you had to put it into.  The iceman came.  For ten cents you could get ice.  He came very often because an ice box doesn’t hold ice that long.  I don’t know if it was every day or every other day.  But I remember that we once forgot to change the pan under the icebox, and we had a flood.  You had to take the pan out and spill it out.

My mother kept kosher.  My aunt kept kosher somewhat.  You couldn’t bring tref in the house, but she did mix dishes except on Passover.  She would kosher pots for Passover.  You put them in the oven til it gets very, very hot.  Then you have to put a hot, hot stone in it.  You get a stone in the yard, wash it, and put one in each pot.  I’m not sure if you heat them separately.  It could be that you just heat the stone.  I used to think it was so funny.  She knew her kids ate bacon, but they had to eat it outside.

When I lived with my mother, I was very young and didn’t do anything.  Hy and Eddie did the koshering of the house.  We had to cover everything with white paper from the butcher, and we had separate dishes for milk and meat.  I never kept kosher for Passover.  Once I ate tref, I didn’t feel I needed to be kosher any more.  The first time was when my father took us to a Chinese restaurant.  I was living with Aunt Mae, after my mother died.  I was maybe 14.  Oh—I did eat shrimps.  I used to go with Sylvia’s sister-in-law.  We used to go to a Chinese restaurant.  You know what it cost to have shrimps?  25 cents, for a whole meal!  It’s so hard to believe.  When I was 16 I was making $4 a week, so that was a lot of money.  Everything is relative.  At one time you got around New York for a nickel.

I never sneaked under turnstiles.  I was a very honest person.  Maybe it was common for the boys to sneak under.  Today girls are more brazen in what they’ll do and how they’ll carry on.

I didn’t do naughty things.  When I went to work, I would take off a day and go see plays—when I was 16 or so.  When I was younger, I was too well-behaved, a goody-good.  Eddie scared me so once.  I don’t remember what it was, but I passed out.  Hy went to work.  Eddie was still in school.  Hy would get paid and pay my mother money.  He would give me a dime—that was a lot of money.  You could buy so much candy for it.

I adored Hy.  Ed was a lot of fun.  He used to play games with us.  My sister, Sylvia, was a very selfish person.  She’d scream until she got whatever she wanted.  If my mother couldn’t give it to her, she’d have to find a way.  My brothers and I, the little ones—Irving and Abie—were closer. 

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I remember going out with my mother on 2nd Ave, because we lived between 2nd and 3rd.  All of a sudden there was a woman there, and my mother and she started screaming at each other.  I found out later that this was my father’s sister, my Aunt Mae.  When my mother died, she took me in.  I never hated her.  I resented her at times, because people when they came to the house used to think I was the maid.

Anyway, on 2nd Avenue, when I was very young, my mother and Aunt Mae saw each other, and they yelled at each other.  My mother was already not with my father.  My aunt thought my father was the most wonderful person in the world.  You know—it depends on what side you want to believe.  This was the first time I had ever seen my aunt.  I had never encountered anybody in the Yanowitz family at that point (the Glicks—that’s Aunt Mae).  She had children, too.  I never saw her again until after my mother died.  At that time, I didn’t remember that she was the one my mother yelled at.  I don’t know how I remembered that.  It just came about for some reason.  My cousins, Aunt Mae’s children, had been talking about how they used to live on 2nd Ave.  That’s how it came to pass, talking about what I went through with them.

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When you’re behind everybody in school...  I’m behind my twin brother in school—he’s bright, I’m stupid.  I never felt I had the brains until I finally realized when I went to work, learning all the things I had to learn compared to what the other workers would do, that I had more brains than them to try—to go ahead and learn different things so that when I lost one job, I could go on to another one.  I wasn’t afraid of using different sewing machines.  Some people are.  They stay on one single machine the rest of their lives.

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My mother once heard somebody say, “nigger,” and she got very angry.  She didn’t believe in people talking against other people.  She was a socialist. 

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Did I say much about the Hebrew Orphan Asylum?  I went in there.  My mother had gotten sick, and we went to the asylum—sounds awful that word.  The home.  We were put in quarantine for the first couple of weeks, I think, to see if everything was all right.  Mostly for tuberculosis, because my mother had TB.  We were there for awhile, and we met other kids.  That was my first boyfriend I met there.  I was a whole 10 or 11 years old.  He liked me.  It’s very good for the ego—a young girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty.  Nothing happened.  It’s just that he paid attention.  And then we went on to the home, which was in the next building.  While I was in quarantine, somebody said to me, “Do you like niggers?”  And I said, “Why?  I never tasted them?”  I never knew what that was supposed to be. 

I have to put that in because I can never forget when I found out what it was.  I was playing with some black kids.  The home was not sectarian (even though it was a Hebrew asylum).

Then I went into the main building.  You stayed in a room with like 20 other girls.  You had your own bed, and you had to change the sheets.  We’d have to take the top sheet and put it on the bottom.  Every week we would change.  You kept your top sheet for your bottom, and you'd get a clean top sheet.  It left a real memory on me.  Certain things do. 

They gave you clothes.  Eddie used to come and visit us very often.  One day he came in and he kept looking for me, and he couldn't find me.  He finally asked somebody, “Where’s my sister?”  And she said, “There she is.  She’s been there all along.”  I was standing at a window, looking out, looking for him.  But my body had changed so much that he hadn’t recognized me.  It isn’t how long he hadn’t seen me.  He never realized from the back of me.  I was a skinny kid, and all of a sudden I had matured.  I had breasts, I had a behind.  Didn’t look like the same person.  It happens almost overnight.  I was 12.  This is before my mother died, just before.

After quarantine, Irving, Abie and I went to the main home, but not Eddie.  He was left in quarantine and sent somewhere else.  I was 12 and he was 16, something like that.  17, I think.  They put him someplace where he could go out and look for a job. 

When my mother died, my father took me out of the home.  Hy got in touch with him after my mother died, and my father took me out and put me in with Aunt Mae.  I went there when I wasn’t 13 yet.  I know I was there when I was 13, because one of my other aunts brought me a gift, which I remember very well: I didn’t receive many gifts.

There was a time when they would shush and hush.  I once shouted at my aunt for doing that.  They were talking about my mother, and I started to yell and scream at Aunt Mae.  I was a very docile child until something hit me.  I let them get away and get away, and then all of a sudden they’d just hit the wrong spot, and I’d sit up and scream at them, and they’d have to hear me.

Aunt Mae had daughters.  Harriet (they called her Terry) and Elsie were home.  The others were married and out of the house.  Mike, her son, was home.  On Friday you had to clean.  She had this great big old-fashioned wood table in the dining room, and you had to polish it.   You had to wash all the wood walls.  The others were supposed to help, but they always found something else to do, especially Elsie.  Harriet helped, but she was younger, so she got away with things.  I was called Mickie at that point.  My cousin, Mike, called me Mickie, which I hated.  I didn’t cook—my aunt did the cooking.  She used to brag: she was going out one day, and she was in her gown, and she didn’t like the way the floor looked.  And she washed the floor and didn’t get a bit of dirt on her...so how come I couldn’t do this??  [Chuckle]

Cousin Flo, one of Aunt Mae’s daughters—the oldest one—would wait for me to come home from school, and she’d leave right away and I’d have to watch the kids.   I wasn’t even a reader then.  When I got used to it, I realized it wasn’t my life I was living. 

One day she had company, and I understand it was cousins of mine.  I was 13, I think.  I’d been living with Aunt Mae for 6, 7 months.  This child said to her mother, “Does Aunt Mary...”—Aunt Mae is Aunt Mary, too—“does Aunt Mae have a maid?  Is she the maid?”  That made me sit up and think what the hell is going on here?  Even at that age, I didn’t want to be a maid.

I wrote to my father who was in the South, and said I don’t want to stay there.  People think I’m a maid, and I’m not a maid.  This was when I was 14 or 15.  So he came back and took me down South for awhile.  I lived with him and Jean and Ed for a time.  They had a little place where they sold knick-knacks, all these pretty little things that people buy.  In Memphis.  I really had a good time with Ed.  It was just the two of us.  He didn’t have a job.  He went to shool.

According to my father, when I was still with my Aunt Mae, we were up in the country.  We took a coupling, a country place where you can cook, but they have many stoves in the kitchen, 2-burner stoves for families.  We stayed up there, and we had the whole kitchen.  My Aunt Mae made one of the Jewish holidays up there then.  I was fourteen, fifteen—something like that.  I had gone up with my aunt.  It was in the summer.  I had a very bad asthma attack, so I had to sit up all night long.  My father would come up with Jean, and I would have to sleep in the living room, because my uncle came, my aunt.  Up to then I’d sleep with my aunt. 

It turned out my aunt made this big dinner for the holidays, and my father and I got to talking.  He said to me, “You know, don’t think so badly of me.  I was very young when your mother and I got married.  I was too young.

So why did he have six kids if he was that young?  [Brief chuckle]  And your father’s story tells that every time he had a child, he would dare to make the child, but then he would leave.  There was one time that she gave birth, and he was sitting at the table.  You know, all these neighbors bring food?  And one of the women told me later, and my aunt told me later, he sat there eating like a pig while she was screaming in the bedroom giving birth.  I think it was to me, because it was twins. 

So it was his explanation that he couldn't take it because he was too young.  I think he was  pretty young—in his early twenties. 

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Before Hy and Eddie went into the CCC, they had no money.  They'd come to visit, and every once in awhile my aunt would let them eat.  But then she got tired of it.  Hy, it seems, used to go to Ruthie’s, and Ruthie would help him.  But Ed would come to see me.  One day he came and he hadn’t eaten.  He wanted to take me out for a walk.  So I sneaked back in the house and I made him a sandwich.  I felt terrible.  It’s my brother, he’s starving.  He was thankful; he was hungry.

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[3][Did the Jewish kids have gangs?]

Not that I recall.  But individual kids would come running back.  It was a tough area, like it always is in such places.  I wouldn't call it a slum.  We had our own bathroom.  How could you call that a slum?  We had lights, we had electricity, we didn’t have gas any more.  So this is a big thing.  I don’t know what kind of stove we had.  Eddie and Hy did the cooking when my mother...  Especially Eddie did most of the cooking, because Hy got to work and Eddie was still in school.  I was 12 years old when my mother died, and it was before that when we moved to Eldridge St.  Your father was a teen-ager.  A young teen-ager.  He’s 5 years older than I am.

I remember seeing a fight there on the street, a gang of kids.  I don’t remember too much about it.  These were my young years.

Table of contents

6            Theater and film

I wasn’t a reader in those days.  I was a poor reader.  I didn’t like movies; they scared me.  There were no talkies at the time, so I didn’t enjoy it.  Even when I got older and lived with Aunt Mae, and she went to the movies every day, she said, “Why don’t you come?” but I said no.   Movies were a dime then.  If I babysat, I’d get a dime for babysitting all night.  Or they’d give me money and say to go to the movies.  My friends weren’t scared of the movies.  (I don’t remember having many friends when I was living with Aunt Mae.)

People around me loved the movies.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t want to get so involved in other people’ lives.  I didn’t even read so much at that point, so it was a lot to deal with.

I remember Harriet even would go to the movies and I wouldn’t go.  I don’t remember how that fear started.  I was probably afraid something on the screen was going to come out and get me; I don’t know.

It started with piano in the movie.  You went in and they had a piano playing and subtitles.  This was before the talkies.  I’m 72 years old, you know!  So they had a piano going, and you never knew what they were really saying.  And I couldn't read well enough to see what was on the screen.  I couldn't read.  That was probably it. 

I didn’t see movies until my mother died.  When I moved to Aunt Mae, this was the thing.  The house was on Simpson St., and the movie theater was on Southern Boulevard, just a block away.  And she went all the time.  She went practically every day.  I wouldn't go.  She wanted to take me a lot of times.  Her daughters would go.  Movies were like a nickel in the afternoon.  It was no big deal.  On a Saturday or something.  But I didn’t like movies.  It took me a long time before I really enjoyed it.  I liked plays.  I did go with Aunt Mae a couple of times because she kept insisting that I have to go so she could get the dishes.  They gave dishes out.

They were talkies now.  I kept thinking it would be the same way.  I just remembered that I didn’t like them, and why should I bother?  People used to tease me, but I didn’t like it.  My brothers were enamored with movies.  They went crazy over movies.

But I liked it better.  I understood. 

With my mother, when we lived on 4th Street, she would take all us kids to Wanamaker’s on a Saturday.  Saturday or Sunday, Wanamaker’s always had a theater, and they sometimes had ballets, sometimes other things, like plays.  That’s when we started to see things like plays.  Wanamaker’s was on 8th Street and Lexington Ave, I believe.  It’s not there any more.  It’s right near where David had a play.  It’s diagonally across from the Shakespearean theater.  We could walk there, because we wouldn't ride on a Saturday.  And this was free, so there was no money involved.  We couldn't ride on Saturday but we could see the play because we didn’t pay for it.  There’s a difference because you didn’t spend money and you could walk.  It could have been Sunday; I may be wrong about what day it was. 

My Aunt Mae used to take me to plays, and those didn’t scare me, because they were people up there.  And you knew they were performing.  Besides, they were funny.  They were Jewish[4] plays.  There was Yiddish theater up in the Bronx.

When I went to school, in first grade—I have to outdo my brothers, that’s why I have to give you this one.  I was in first grade, and they asked me to be Betsy Ross.  I think I was the first one in the family to act.  Your father acted in school.  I don’t know if it was before me or after me.  But I always said I was the first one in the family.  I never acted after, but that’s all right.

As an adult, I used to play hookey, when I went to work and I knew there was a good play on Broadway.  All of a sudden I got sick, at three o’clock.  Two o’clock.  To go to a matinee.  I saw Oklahoma that way.  I saw a lot of good plays that way.  I found out that if you go to the office just before the show began, you could get in.  I went over to the office and said, “I haven’t got more than $25.  Do you have a seat?”  And I would get in the orchestra.  This is when I was still working.  I worked until about 6 years ago.  They would let me in, as long as there were seats available.  They'd rather fill it up than have it empty.  I learnt it as something that happened, to see if I could get in for $25, and then I realized you could do this.  Sometimes I’d stand on line and get tickets.  Lately I haven’t seen any plays. 

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7            Sylvia

Sylvia had to be sent to Craig Colony.  That’s a hospital, or a place for people like her.  Her elipepsy was grand mal.  She was very bad.  She would have her fits, and she’d get banged up with them.  It would be very awkward.  There was one time years later, when Eddie and Mae were married, they took Sylvia home.  They were still in the city, lived on the west side in the Bronx.  They took her out of the home, helping to be able to help her.  Mae was pregnant with you.  I came home one day.  Mae was very upset.  I had gone to work, she was home, Eddie was out working.  She told us that Sylvia had tried to beat up on her.  So they couldn't keep her under those conditions.  You can’t keep somebody that way.  Mae was very tiny compared to Sylvia, who was about 5-6, 5-7, and Mae is no more than 5-2.  And Sylvia was big, and Mae is very petite.  It’s hard to believe we were all petite at one time.

Anyhow, they decided it was no good.  It was too dangerous to keep her around.  I tried one time to take her out, and it didn’t work at all.  She became very nasty and abusive.  It didn’t work.  She had grand mal, and as far as I know it’s much worse than normal epilepsy to live with the person.  I have an aunt who was epileptic.  All her life she raised a whole family.  She never had this.  She had petite mal.  She would have a fit, it would go past.  I’ve known a couple of people who’ve had petite mal.  But when you have grand mal, you bang your head so often, you're bound to do some damage, I guess.

[I sense a lot guilt in the family around Sylvia.]

Yeah, you always feel guilty.  We went up to visit her, Leo and I.  Sammy was a baby at the time.  And all she wanted was pennies.  Sylvia had this thing that she had to count pennies.  She gave her dollar, she would change it into pennies.  The bulk of it was important to her, not the actual money.  Everything had to become something she could carry.  There were times when I worked for Uncle Irving that I bought her clothes, and I would send it to her; and when I would visit her, I found out that she had sold it so she could have pennies.  To me, I spent $7 on one of the skirts I sent her...  It was so beautiful, I had wanted it.  But I had to send my sister something.  It cost $7, and when I came up, she didn’t have it.  I was about 17.  And she had turned it into pennies.  I don’t know what happened to the pennies.  She didn’t have that much money; she didn’t get hold of that much money.  She didn’t turn $7 into pennies.  She may have turned it into a quarter of pennies.  It wasn’t the value of the thing, but how many pennies could somebody give her.  She would take the pennies instead of the garment.  It wasn’t the value that she used.  For me it was $7, and I worked for it for a week.

She was fixated on whatever she wanted.  She used to want different things, and my mother would go and buy it for her.  Like a doll.  She saw something.  Or she wanted a hair ribbon. 

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Sylvia was always disturbed.  Then she became religious.  She became Catholic.  She believes in Christ.  You know, you don’t tell people, “Don’t believe,” just ‘cause you're a Jew.  You say, “If that helps you...”  She was a very pretty girl, and she was very strong, and very capable.  I don’t think she ever had dates.  She went to school, but there were problems because if she had a spell, she’d have to come home.  A spell meaning a fit.  I don’t know when she actually got violent.  That time she got violent with your mother is the year you were being born.  So she was about 22. 

Sometimes she had fits, sometimes it would be days, and then all of a sudden it could be every day.  It was never more than several days between fits.  When she had a fit, she was out.  She had to be put to bed.  She was exhausted.  The violence was something else.  The only person she hit was your mother.  I don’t what happened.  We don’t know what happened with other people because she wasn’t living with us until that time.  I don’t remember her losing her temper or speaking abusively.  I have no idea what led up to that incident with your mother.  All I know is that your mother was pregnant and she had been crying, and she had been hurt.  That was enough.[5]

We always felt guilty.  We did.  We tried, but you still felt guilty.  There was a time when your mother and father first got married—she was pregnant then, too.  I don’t know if your father puts this into his, because he stopped before this, before he knew your mother.  There was a time he and Hy had gotten hold of a car, he and Hy.  And I was with them, and Mae was with them, and we picked Sylvia up from the Craig Colony and went up to Niagara Falls.  That was an important time.

I tried once to find my sister Sylvia.  In fact I was up there, but they told me they moved her.  She was in Craig colony.  I pass it when I go visit some friends.

Table of contents

8           Teen-ager and young adult

Hy was very enamored with a cousin of mine—Ruthie—at a point, and she with him.  First of all, Hy was an intellectual, and she was trying to be one, which is very important to some people.  She read and read, and Hy would direct her what to read.  She wasn’t interested politically.  I never heard her say anything.  That whole family wasn’t political.  But they weren’t anti-anything.  I never heard them say anything very nasty. 

By the way, I don’t know if you want to put this down.  I saw my cousin, Francine, the one I told you about.  Her husband had died a few years ago.  She’s very depressed about it.  She took care of his children—8 kids, all went to college.  They're all professionals.  Her own son, from her first marriage, also went to college and is doing very well.  (She was Hy’s—Ruthie’s youngest daughter.  Ruthie is my first cousin.)  And even if she reads Eddie’s thing, he mentions something in there—he doesn’t think Francine was Sidney’s child.  I told her that I wanted to introduce her to her cousins.  She said, “No, Sidney was my father.  I have a lot of people, a lot of children, I don’t need any more life with anyone I don’t know.”

I told her about Hy.  She took it.  In fact, we were talking and she said that her oldest sister was always very embarrassed by her mother’s affairs.  Her mother always had affairs.  So they knew of all these boyfriends, and she was a little bummed.  I love Ruthie.  I told her if she wants to change, she could get in touch with me.  I doubt it, though.  She’s got MS.  And it’s been fine all these years.  She has to watch it.  The doctor said to her, “If you feel like running, walk.  If you feel like doing any big exercises, take it easy.  Don’t over do it.”  And she’s been doing very well.  She has a wonderful sense of humor. 

She says to me—we were talking about family—“You know I always really thought you were the smartest one in the family.”  [Chuckling] I said, “You kidding me?  I’m the dumbest.  Or at that point anyhow, I always thought I was the dumbest.  But I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut.”  You know, it’s a good thing.  They thought I was smart.

I told her she had two brothers.  But she has no interest in meeting them.  I know Henry would want to meet her.  That’s Henry. 

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Hy and Ruthie made me a birthday party.  I can’t remember what year.  I know I didn’t know Evelyn until I was like 18 years old or something, and they asked her to get my friends.  She didn’t know my friends.  So she brought two black guys to the birthday party that I never knew.  Those are the only people that were at my birthday party.  [Laughs]  I know it was Evelyn who brought the guys because nobody else I knew would have done that. 

I had loads of friends in the Bronx, but nobody knew who they were, including Evelyn.  I met her in Brooklyn.

That party, I had a cake.  I think they had music.  I don’t remember.  Just the five of us.  We went out to the candy store or something and had a soda later.  That was it.[6]

Nobody made me a birthday party when I was a kid.  I still don’t have parties.  My mother couldn't afford them.  If anybody would have done anything, it would have been Eddie.  Eddie always tried to make big things out of all the holidays and all.

The only present I remember is when my aunt, Irving’s wife, gave me the present.  I was 13 years old at that time.  I don’t remember any of the kids in the family getting birthday presents.  We knew it was our birthday.  Probably we said happy birthday, but that was about it. 

Anyhow, I don’t remember birthday parties at all.

I always gave birthday parties for my kids.  I always baked a cake, and if I didn’t bake a cake they would get very angry.  They didn’t want a birthday party from a bought cake; they had to have a Mama cake.  I loved to do it.  Poor Rebecca.  Her girlfriend was on the same floor.  She had the exact same birthday, so I had to have her name on the cake, too.  It was cheating Rebecca a little.  But my kids always had birthday parties. 

When I was grown up, my family would be very nice to me on my birthday.  They would push Leo to buy a present for me or something.  I don’t remember any big deals for me.  I always made something for Leo, but he never reciprocated.  Men are very funny.  You have to tell them to do it.  I’m sorry, but it’s true.  

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In Roosevelt’s time, before 1936--when he started in with the CCC camp, in his first term—my brothers both joined the CCC.  My father had money to a certain extent because he worked—and this was the depression: a lot of people didn’t work, and he had a car.  He was a salesman and went South, selling chances to the farmers and people in the villages to buy things.  You could get blankets, or you could get dishes.  It was a mail order house.  My father worked for his brother, my Uncle Irving.  He was the head of a crew that went to poor people

Eddie and I used to get along very very well.  We used to do the dishes and sing The Mikado and all the Gilbert and Sullivan songs, and some other songs.  We had a very good time.  I was going to school.  I flunked English because I couldn’t understand the English teacher.  Her accent was so deep; it was like she did it deliberately.  English was a good language for me; here in NY I had no problem, but there [chuckle] I couldn’t speak English.  I failed.

I had friends there, and they were black, and you’re not allowed to do that.  At that time. 1937, many people there were still very anti-black.  I don’t know what they are now.  But at that time, “What do you mean, you have black friends?”  People don’t want to know you.  Whites.

Being Jewish was an issue to a certain extent with my father.  He used to call himself Mr. Louis [7] I never hid anything.  I didn’t have a hard time.  He had a hard time sometimes.  But I don’t think they knew what a Jew was.  Some people just don’t know.  They’re not brought up to discriminate against somebody they never see.  They’re brought up to discriminate against blacks because those they see.

I had no problem.  They lived behind us.  Blacks lived in the alleyway.  You were on the street side, and they were in the back.  There were no blacks in our school; the ones I knew were from the neighborhood.  I didn’t know about discrimination until it hits you.  There was no reason I shouldn’t know blacks—there weren’t that many where we lived.  When I was in the home, I was very friendly with an Oriental girl.  My father wouldn’t say anything, because it would only come back.  He may have said he had a different name, but he wasn’t about to...  They could be customers, too.  And he wasn’t anti-black.  We never talked about it.

My brother, Eddie, worked in the store.  He was going to school down there.  I think he had some problems in school because he was Jewish, but I don’t remember what they were.  We used Yanowitz when we were in school.  You had to register.  My father didn’t deny being “Yanowitz.”  He used “Mr. Louis” because, he said, it was easier for people to remember.   Jean picked up a Southern accent and never lost it.  Even I had a little bit of something when I came back, at about the age of 15.  I wasn’t there long—a year or two.

Then I moved in with Flo when I came back, about 15, and when I was 16, I moved out again and found my own apartment.  I went to work for Uncle Irving, and as soon as I found that job, I moved out.

While I lived with Flo, I went back to school.  My brother, too, went back to school.  We both went to a school in Brooklyn where you had to pay.  He needed only one course.  They said he had to do history.  (This is late 1930s, before he knew Mae.)  He had a teacher who was a real reactionary.  This was before the US was in the war, but the war was on in Europe.  The teacher believed the Germans were right.  Try to learn something under such a teacher!  Ed didn’t get his diploma then, because he couldn’t take the teacher.  I understood far less.  I was a very naive person compared to other people that I know today.  People at that age today are so much brighter and know what is going on.  I didn’t.

I didn’t finish high school at that point, but I did after I had children.

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Some time after my mother died, my Aunt Helen (my mother’s sister) wanted me to go live with her.  She lived in Rockford, Illinois.  But I was already 18, 19 years old by this time.  She had wanted me earlier, while my mother was still alive.  My mother had 6 kids, and Helen felt if she took me, it would unburden my mother.  But my mother told her no.  She wouldn’t give up any of her children, although we were very, very poor, we were on welfare, and she was a very sick woman by that time.  So some time after my mother died—I was about 18—my aunt again offered to take me.  But I said no.  I was already working, I was very independent.  I don’t know what happened, but I don’t think she knew for maybe 5 years that her sister had died.

She had children—two or three children that died in a tornado where they lived in Illinois.  Two were killed in a tornado, and the other one died fighting in the war.  She lost all her children.  I think that’s when she decided she wanted me to come and live there.

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There was a time when I needed pajamas.  When I had come out of the home I had some clothes from them, but I didn’t have much.  So my father said, “You’ll make your own.”  I didn’t have a sewing machine.  Everything had to be done by hand.  He was very stingy when it came to me.  He was stingy period—when it came to Jean even.  For her birthday, he’d go out and buy himself a box of cigars.  This was typical of him.  He’d say, “I bought you a present.  I’m smoking them.”  It sounds funny, but it became a joke.  You just didn’t expect him to do any better than that.  That was a big story in our family.  He always did it; he thought it was funny.  He would do this every year.  “She wants something?  Let her go out and buy it herself.”  He wouldn’t worry about giving Christmas gifts.

Jean worked in the store with him.  I guess she had access to the money.  She’d been a bookkeeper at one point.  She could have gone out and spent if she wanted. 

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Eddie worked in Idaho.  Eddie, according to what he tells in his story, worked chopping down trees and things, and because he knew how to drive, they made him a driver.  Then he had to cook, because a driver had to cook for the crew.  Hy must have gone somewhere else, because I know the story with Hy is that while they were up in the CCC camps, he was helping people to learn how to write and read English, because they were very uneducated.  I don’t know if this was his job or just something he did on the side.  And one of the guys that he taught to write English ended up to be a crook, and when he stole something he wrote a beautiful note,  [Laughing]  I don’t know what he did, but he wrote it.  Hy told the story that this guy who didn’t know how to write English all of a sudden became a writer. 

Hy had like s photographic mind.  He never finished high school.   But you couldn't compete with him in knowledge because he read anything and everything. 

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9            Work and unions

At one point I wasn’t working for some reason.  I went from my uncle’s place when I was 16 or 17.  I can’t remember these dates.  I quit school at a very young age—I think it was 16.  I went to work for my uncle.  The war in Europe had already started then.

It was a mail order house, and I was filling envelopes.  My uncle was giving me $4 a week, and I said, “I want an increase.”  He said, “Go ask Sokoloff,” who was his partner.  Sokoloff said, “Yeah, sure,” and he gave me an increase.  But a few weeks later, I said this is ridiculous—from $4 to $6, something like that.  I was working 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week.  (But it was only a nickel to get a hot dog, a nickel to go on the subway.  It’s all relative.)

And then I went out and found myself this job working on table cloths.  I was a sewing machine operator.  It was a sweat shop, but it was clean and nice and neat.  I don’t think I belonged to a union yet.  It was in the West 30s in Manhattan.  I got $17 right off the bat.  I was making tablecloths—decorative tablecloths.  There was no pattern, and I would know in my head that if I held the tablecloth in a certain way the decoration would be right.

From there I went out and found other jobs.  Underwear and different things.  Everything was seasonal.  I’d work at one job, maybe several months, until they laid you off.  I’d find another job right away.  I didn’t collect unemployment, not because I couldn’t but because I didn’t want to.  I would always find a new job.  I’m the type of person who, if they showed me one machine and somebody else was working on a different type of machine, I had to learn it.  Not because the boss said learn it.  I wanted to learn everything.  That’s why I was never out of work—because I knew everything.  I learned so many different things.  These were all garment industry jobs.  The salary kept getting higher and higher.  Especially during the war, it went into the 40s.  That’s a lot of money, when you’ve started at $4 and a few years later you’re making a lot more.  And even after the war you still made.

I worked on parachutes.  Not parachutes for men, but parachutes for supplies that were dropped.  I’d sew the parachute.  I had a 4-needle machine, and it flops over and makes...it would have a seam—on your shirt, that’s only 2 needles, but ours was 4 needles, so I’d be sewing 4 lines at a time.  You’d just hold it, and it goes.  This was the parachute itself.  The parachutes for men were silk, but these parachutes were nylon; they weren’t worried about a person’s life, but just to send down ammunition or whatever.

After the war, I still worked in the garment industry.

When I was working during the war, they used to say, “Loose lips sink a ship.”  And people would say, “Oh, that’s a lot of baloney.”  And I said, “Wait, I’ll show you.”  Now we had a 4-story building where I was working.  And I said, “Watch this.”  Somebody passed me by, and I made a statement—I forget exactly, something about, “Oh, we’re going to be laid off.”  In 20 minutes, it came down, “Did you hear we’re going to be laid off?”  I mean, this is the way rumors can go.  I was trying to prove a point to somebody: “Watch, if you say something here, the 4th floor is going to get it, and then we’re going to get it.  It will go through the whole building.”

I was just saying there are certain things you don’t talk about, even in your own private life.  You keep your mouth shut about certain things.  But some people go overboard with it, too—I had a friend who did that.

What else did I do?  I even did dressmaking.  I worked in non-union shops to try to help organize them.  The trouble is, the ILG is such a horrible mess, that I would help out to try to organize, and then I was in a place where they literally had me fired.  The ILGWU had me fired.  [David] Dubinsky, no less.  They felt that everybody should contribute to the Labor Party, and there were a lot of people who weren’t Labor Party people.  And I don’t feel you had a right to force people to contribute.  This is after the war—the American Labor Party, Henry Wallace’s party.  I just felt that people were complaining, and I don’t think the union had a right.  We had to give one day’s earnings to the Labor Party.  One day for the year.  You have about 50 people working, it’s a lot of money.  And they insisted you had to do it, and I talked about not doing it.  Then I got in trouble, and then they had me fired.

The shop was now a union shop.  I had organized this place.  They didn’t fire me—they had the boss do it, and they wouldn’t defend me.

Another time I irritated them because the ILG decided that instead of us having 2 weeks vacation, they would take our vacation money and split it with everybody.  All the union members who were working had to split their money with people who weren’t working.  But I didn’t believe them.  I believed they took it and put it in their pockets.  I never found anybody who didn’t work who ever got anything from the union.  So I fought it, because I felt it was just another thing that the union was doing.  The ILG tried to say that they were a liberal union.  They were far from liberal.

I was in the Communist Party at the time and I realized—a lot of people told me, “Hey, the ILG stinks.”  The ILG claimed to be a communist union, but with Dubinsky, you had to be very careful.  I knew enough, because I was in the Party, that you don’t just accept people because it’s a union.  Like my union that I ended up in—the last one (at GHI), I used to fight with them.  I knew that they were only going to fight as hard as you want to make them fight.  You don’t accept unions because they’re unions.   Somebody even told me this, whom I didn’t agree with at the time, but she was right: she hated the union.  This was the first union she ever was in.  But it’s true.  You just can’t ignore what could be happening under your nose, because they don’t want you to know.  You have to be careful even with the more progressive unions.

I don’t know if they were all this way.  My father was in the Furriers, and he believed in them.  And yet my father was a sceptic, because he used to say to me when I was in the Party, “Remember, nobody is a god.”

People would get up and sing, “Browder is our leader.”  I couldn’t do it, because I remembered that, although I never liked my father, I felt what he said was true.  Never put anybody up as a god.  There is no such thing.  So I would never be able to sing the song.

I wasn’t what you would call a good communist.  I didn’t believe in everything.  Hy was a much better communist than I.  He and Leo were very much Stalinites.  I didn’t know enough to be a Stalinite, and I couldn’t bring myself to do certain things.  I was in the party, I recruited people, it’s true.  But not on the basis of Russia.  Rather: you’re a worker, and you have to understand what’s going on.

Hy was in the party when we still lived in lower Manhattan.  My girlfriend even joined.  I got in early 42/late 41--around Pearl Harbor.  I lived with Eddie and Mae, but just before that I lived with some people, I boarded there.  (We lived in a basement apartment near Jean and my father in Brooklyn.  I don’t remember the street—it’s a long time ago.)  I was just 20.  My joining had nothing to do with Hy.  It had more to do with these people, these friends of mine.  I ended up living with them, being very friendly with them, and then when Ed and Mae found an apartment, I went to live with them.  They were party members.

I never really resigned from the party.  I don’t agree with it any more.  Basically, I agree with it.  I just don’t believe in men being honored to the point where they could do no wrong.  Like Leo still believes in Stalin no matter what he was.  I know a number of people who are like this.  You prove to me that something’s wrong, then something’s wrong.  Nobody is an idol.

I’ve always been in unions.  I believed in unions.  My mother believed in unions.  My mother was a socialist.  My father was in the Furriers Union.  He had to be careful because he had lost his [American] citizenship.  He was a naturalized citizen.  He was a big man with very big hands.  They would go into open shops at night, where they had workers working at night.  He was caught banging heads around.  So he went to jail, and he lost his citizenship.

He actually beat people up, with other people.  He was a strongarm guy.  The object was to make people scared so they’d join the Furriers Union.  The union sent him and these people out as a conscious organizing activity.  Who was head of the union at the time?  Ben Gold?  When he was running away from the police, I understand that he stayed at our house to hide.  I was probably still a kid.  It was before my father was with Jean.  I don’t know if Gold got caught.  There’s a book we have somewhere on the Furriers Union.

When you go to an open shop, you can’t just walk in and say, “You can’t work here.”  They’d call the police and throw you out.  So you have to go in and be sneaky.  I didn’t know what he was doing.  I only heard these stories later on.  The police may have come while he was there.  I know he was arrested.  But he told me he had lost his citizenship.  If you go to jail, you lose your citizenship.  It was brought up on TV recently.  I was watching a show.  I don’t know how long he went to jail.  Maybe it’s that you can’t vote any more.  But he couldn’t go out of the country.

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I had no problem when I went to GHI, which was the first job I had in an office.  Before that, I worked for Head Start.  This is after I went back to school.  I volunteered: all my kids were either in school or day care.  This was in a Methodist church.  I got along very well with the minister.  The girl who got me into the work was the educator.  She did everything, except she was afraid of the minister.  It was her minister, but she was afraid he wouldn’t do what she asked, so she used to send me to ask him for things that she wanted.  He asked, “Why doesn’t she come and ask me?”  He was an easy guy to get along with.  He was black, and she was white, although she didn’t discriminate.  I got along with her and all the mothers.  The only thing is, I had a very bad memory for names.

When they closed this head start and opened it where I was living in the project up in the Bronx near 233rd St., they asked me to take over as the main homemaker, for $100 a week, which was a lot of money.  I said I can’t take the job because I have such a bad memory that I’m embarrassed not to be able to know the mothers’ names.  They said, “But you’re so much better than the one who’s there.”  The one who was doing this work in the church was a black woman, very aristocratic, and the mothers didn’t like her because they couldn’t talk to her.  She always had a smile, and she was sweet, but they felt no rapport.  Most of them were black.

The whole idea at the beginning of the Head Start program was to mix children of different ethnic backgrounds and different financial backgrounds.  Some of the kids we had were very wealthy.  Now it has become really for the poor.  I think they’d like the ethnic background to be there, but they’re having a problem with that.  There are places I’ve been out of town where the children are all white.  They have them everywhere, but they don’t have rich kids in there.  The rich kids are the hardest to deal with.  They want more than you could give.  Our children were very good, very bright.  The next step was to go into school, and we felt they didn’t need to go into kindergarten because they’d already learned a lot of things, more than most kindergarten children.

I enjoyed the work there, but I found it was a little much.  I had a bad inferiority complex.  I was unsure of myself, didn’t think I was worth anything.  It was awful.  When I finally got this job in GHI, my doctor called the boss up there—the president—and told him she wanted me to work 3 days a week.  But they didn’t have 3 days a week—they had part-time work, but it was 5 days a week.  She felt I shouldn’t be working too much, because it was after I’d been ill.  This was 25 years ago—I started there in 1969.

When I took the job there, I realized I wasn’t stupid.  I became a shop steward.  I knew a little more than somebody else.  I realized my memory wasn’t that bad.  There were times I fought, not just for my workers all the time, but I fought for people who came in for claims.  I had memory about what was right and what was wrong.

Do you know what Jobst hose is?  They’re a stocking that people with phlebitis wear.  Their leg is measured, every inch, so it only fits them.  When I first came in, I was taught by somebody who was working on this all the time, and she had told me that the insurance paid for this.  Months later, or maybe a couple of years later, somebody came in and they were being rejected for Jobst hose, and I said, “You can’t reject the claim.”  Nobody remembered that it’s payable.  It’s a medical service, like a cane.  Hose at $100, or $55, or whatever it was.  They’re expensive because they’re made for just one person.  I finally won out.  We finally found it.  There are books and books and books and books in these places.  One of my friends finally found it for me.  She was a correspondent and sort of remembered.  But I felt so sure of myself about certain things, which gave me a lot more to be proud of.  I wasn’t the way I had been.

When I worked at GHI, I was very proud of myself.  I realized that I had a better memory than I ever gave myself credit for.  I had a temper that when I sat down at a negotiations table, they listened.  There was a time that I fought for certain things.  We had a 4-day week.  We didn’t have to fight for it.  The union and the boss decided the city needs to have a 4-day week, with 35 hours over that time.  Even management wanted it, but the workers, both men and women, didn’t want it.  They said, “We’re going to have to work so many hours!”  It came out to 8 ¾ hours a day.  “I have a baby at home.”  “I have a sitter, and she’s going to be angry.”  Eight and three-quarter hours on the phone is a long day, after all.  And you got less of a lunch to make those hours and get out at a decent hour.  You only took a half-hour lunch.  With the 7-hour day, you had an hour lunch.  When you looked at it, it didn’t sound right.

But I got up, and I spoke so eloquently; I didn’t know I had it in me.  I wasn’t in on negotiations of that nature at that point.  Only a handful of people were allowed to sit in towards the end when you negotiated.

I said, “Listen, a 4-day week is a very great step.”  People were booing me.  I looked around, and I said, “You know, I didn’t boo anybody.  I didn’t agree with people, but I didn’t boo them.  I think I should have a right to speak.”  And I spoke.  I couldn’t believe what came out of my mouth, because I convinced everybody we should have a 4-day week.  I told them the history of how people in labor used to have to work a 20-hour day, or a 10-hour day, and then they came down, and they finally got the 8-hour day.  “Now look at us: we have only a 7-hour day.  This is progress.  We don’t want to go back.  Think about what you could do with an extra day at home.  You can go away for a long weekend.”  I did a terrific job, because by the time I had spoken, we had 100%.

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It becomes part of our family: we’re not afraid to open up when we have to.  When we had the 4-day week, management realized it wasn’t good for them, but I wouldn’t let them take it away.  I again had to stand up.  This was not that big a meeting, but I was in it.  I was one of the speakers, and when they kept saying we have to do it, I got up and yelled, “We’re not doing it!  We’ll strike before we do it.”  This happened at the end of a 2-year contract during which we had the 4-hour day.

We used to have shop stewards all over the place, and they said they didn’t want so many.  To sit at the table, you had to be chosen.  After that, I was always chosen.  Once you sit at the table, you’re still not allowed to open your mouth.  They tell you that only the union representative and the chief shop steward could speak.  But I had learned already that management and the union are in cahoots to a great extent.  They’ve made decisions before you even know it.  You’re fighting it, and they’ve already decided.  So you have to open your mouth.  I learned this over years.

Now, I’m not there any more, but they don’t try it any more—to take away the 4-day week from those people who have it (which are the old-timers).  If you’re there a certain amount of years, you’re allowed to go on the 4-day week, but the new people come in on 5.  When I was there, everybody came in on 4.  They took that away; they always get something.  Some would get Monday off, some would get Friday off.  I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish.  It’s impressive.

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The last union I had—it worked for office workers: When I went to one of my first meetings, someone told me that GHI, whom I worked for, was buying a hospital and a building, and we were kept in the dark about this.  Now the union knew this, but they didn’t do anything.  And when we came to negotiations, they gave us like a 10 cents increase.  10 cents or 10%--I know it’s a big difference.  I went to them and said, “I hear they’re doing this and that.”  And they said, “Yeah, we know.”  And I said, “How can we go with such a little increase?  We can’t do that.”  I wasn’t on the board.  I was just sitting in.

There’s many times you fight your union more than you fight your boss.  I’ve done this a number of times.  My bosses understand what I want; my union doesn’t want to fight.  Anyhow, we got our increase properly.  I think we got 10%—the union representative wanted us to have $10.  After that, we had a couple of incidences...  I’m very pro-union, but I won’t let the union screw me, either.  I’m not blind.

The head of the union, who died just recently, he and I got along.  This union gave me a gold watch.  I had retired already, and they had my girlfriend take me to Atlantic City to one of their big meetings.  I felt that was very nice.  My girlfriend was sick, and she took me to Atlantic City.  She knew I was getting an honor; I didn’t know why.  Normally, they don’t ask retirees unless they’re active, and I wasn’t active.  Not any more, because I hadn’t been well.

The head of the union got up on the stage and said, “I have to honor one of our members who is no longer working”—I had no idea who he was talking about; I was talking on the side—“I have to honor her, although we didn’t always see eye to eye.  We fought on certain issues.”  He’s right.  We did.  I didn’t let him get away with it.  If I knew I was right, I insisted I was right.  Then they called me up to give me my watch.  Which they didn’t have with them, because it’s being engraved.  I have it now.  I think that was very nice, to acknowledge...  That was at least 5 years ago.

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A lot of industries have disappeared.  Progress. 

Table of contents

10        Eddie and Mae

Your parents bought the farm.  I was still in New York.  You were born in Bronx Hospital.  At that time they called in Bronx Hospital.  There was Fox St., then Bleecker St.  Your sister wasn’t born yet.  Then the one in Borough Park was the next.  From there I think they went to the farm. {Editor’s memory: We went to the farm in 1946, when I was 4 and my sister was 2.]

I thought from Fox St. they had moved to the farm because I remember that I was away and my girlfriend took over the apartment in Fox St.  For some reason, I remember, she was having a problem keeping it.  Your mother had to come in from out of town to save it for her.  She came in, I thought, from Jersey, to go to court with her so she could keep the apartment.  Cora, that is.  Cora and I lived in the apartment together for awhile.  Then I left.  I went to Europe, then came back.  It’s a bit muddled now.  Your mother may remember this better.

So they went down to the farm.  I came back.  I remember when I came back Judi was like three years old, sitting on the couch.  She was delicious.  I adored her.  But you know, I adore babies, I adore children.  I stayed because your mother was pregnant with David.[8]

David got very sick.  You got sick too at the time.  He got pneumonia.  You got Scarlet Fever.  Your brother was almost dying, you got very sick, and I told your mother, “I think we better go look at Ricky.”  When the doctor came, he said it was a very good thing they had a dishwasher.  Otherwise we all could have caught it.  He said without the dishwasher, we would all have been sick. 

There was one point that your mother got very angry with me because I said I want to go back to New York.  It’s no place for me.  I mean I wanted to meet people.  I was young.  I wanted to live my life.  And she said, “Well if I’d known that, I wouldn't have had another baby.”  Inside I boiled.  I didn’t say anything more.  They tried to talk me into not moving.  I had just read [Lestantio?] de Moro’s book, A Place of Splendor.  I was very taken by it.  She had opened a place in Mexico.  Your parents had read this in one of the books or papers or something, and they offered to send me there for a vacation.  But I said, “No.  I want to go back to New York.”

I was there on the farm quite a number of years.  A few years.  But your mother took it for granted I was staying.  You get to a point where, “Hey!  Eventually I want to get married, eventually I want children.”  I had to have friends.  I had no friends there.  It’s a farm.  How many friends?  You had a couple of friends that were your mother’s or father’s friends’ children.  But who did I have?  There was nothing. 

They needed me because they were so worried about David.  He was so badly sick that Dr. Ernst said he needed some penicillin, and it had just come out.  Ernst sent Eddie to Atlantic City to pick up the medication, but Ernst had no idea how to use it, and he poured it into David’s mouth.  The baby’s mouth was burnt, and he couldn't even drink a bottle.  It was horrible.  I think they had to give him intravenous at the time.  I don’t know how it worked.  But he was in horrible pain.  With the pneumonia, he had to have this.

He finally recuperated.  He had been a big fat baby, and everybody said he shouldn't have been that fat.  Thank God he was fat!  He had enough fat to lose.  He may not have existed if he was a skinny baby.  I always get annoyed when people say a baby’s too fat.  “Leave him alone!  They outgrow it!”  They do!.

I may remember some thing wrong a little, but I thought you had scarlet fever, and I remember I told somebody recently who (their boiler broke): “Well you can still wash your dishes in the dishwasher.”  She said, “No, no.  You have to have hot water!”  You don’t.  The dishwasher has its own mechanism to make hot water.”  Did you ever see the bottom of a dishwasher?  What has it got down there?  A coil.  It’s got coils.  I mean, she didn’t have hot water for two days.  She had a dishwasher full.  I said use it.  Whatever it is.  All I know: the doctor had said if she didn’t have a dishwasher, we would have all been sick.  So I assumed it had to wash them, too.  It couldn't have been just the hot water.  We could have used the hot water in the sink  You take out your dishes, they're burning hot.  You burn your hand.

[Did Judi and I feel abandoned when you left the farm?]

I don’t think so.  You still had your parents.  I would come and visit.  It’s not that I stayed away completely.  I would still come out. 

I found a place to stay in New York.  I had friends, and I ended up staying with Paula.  I had two friends.  One, I think she may have had the apartment.  I went back to Fox St. maybe?  Then I went back and I lived with someone else I boarded with; I didn’t know the woman, I just paid rent.  And then I lived with Paula.

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Once when you were little, your grandfather was telling you something and said, “Now you repeat this.”  You said you couldn't.  He said, “Why not?”  You looked at him, and you said, “Grandpa, when I’m as old as you, I’ll be able to remember these things.”  You were, I don’t know, 6 years old, maybe 5, maybe less.  He was reciting a poem and thought you should know it.  He didn’t get mad; he knew it was too much.

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Your father used to have very very close friends.  Three of them.  He was married.  Mae didn’t like one of their wives.  She didn’t like...  I don’t remember.  Benny was married, Sammy was married.  Joey was the Italian guy that I had a crush on once.  They were very close.  They did everything together.  Then all of a sudden, they stopped having them.  And then when they moved to the farm, they had some friends.  When Hy was out there, he made friends one-two-three. 

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Even with you kids—I don’t know if you recall—but even when Judi was young, when she got pregnant with Heidi, she came to me and I said, “Judi, don’t get married.  You really don’t care for the guy, and it’s not that terrible today.  You'll manage.  You'll stay with me if you want.”  “No, it’ll hurt my mother and father.”  So she got married.  She was miserable.  What the hell did she have to marry somebody and be miserable?  Then she had another kid, and she finally decided, ok, I can get a divorce now.[9]

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Do you know what happened with me and your mother?  With GHI?  I once said to her, “When I get a teacher on the phone, they ask me to take them because they're so arrogant.  They're teachers, and we’re just workers.  What do we know?”  We happen to know the contract better than they know.  The fact that I said that they were arrogant, she never forgave me.  So one day I said to her something about Sammy, telling her about his problems [as a teacher].  “Oh!  Teachers are okay because your son is okay, right?  Because your son is a teacher.”  It had nothing to do with that.  I didn’t say teachers were bad.  Lawyers are the same as teachers.  You get on the phone, and you have a contract to read, and they read it the way they want to read it.  You know you can’t forget the comma, you know you can’t forget the period, or the paragraph.  They intend to do whatever they want and change the whole composition.  And I’ll read it to them, and they'll say, “No, you're wrong,” and I say, “I’ll tell you what.  You get one of your friends to read it to you, ‘cause I’m not going to make any difference to you.  And if you want to take it court, it’s your prerogative.  Period.”  I’m not going to argue.  “Really,” I said, “You forgot the period, you forgot the comma.  Hey.  It’s not what you said it says.  It’s different.” 

This is my job.  I had to know it.  And if I didn’t know it, then I was in trouble.  And they don’t let you get on the phone and talk to people if you don’t know what you're talking about.  You can’t.  But she took it very very personally. 

The last time I went to see them, I said to Rebecca—Rebecca takes me out—“Rebecca.”  She said, “Ma, I want you to go, because you want to see your brother so badly.”  I said, “Yeah, but I don’t want to get into anything with my sister-in-law.”  She says, “Don’t worry.  I’ll keep her away from you.”  And I sat with your father, and we had a wonderful talk and a wonderful time, reminiscing.  We have a good rapport.  And she kept Mae away.  She said she didn’t say anything to Mae, but Mae calls up later and said to Rebecca, “I’m sorry.  Tell your mother I’m sorry.”  I’m there, mind you.  “Tell your mother I’m sorry.  I won’t do that again.”  Because every time I saw her, she brought up the same thing about teachers.  I said it once, she never let me forget it.  She didn’t apologize to me.  She told my daughter. 

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Your mother is an intellectual.  I can’t deal with intellectuals like that.  I mean, you're an intellectual in your own right, but you're not.  You're so down-to-earth.  You are basically, on my end.  You've always made me feel great.  You're my love.

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When your mother met your father, she decided she was going to marry him. 

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My brother[10] I used to count on.  He was like the one with the tough shoulder to cry on. 

Table of contents

11        Hy and Mahty

I had gone back to New York from your parents’ chicken farm, and when I came back to visit, Hy and Mahty were there.  Eddie and Hy had had a big fight.  Do you remember Jimmy, a black guy, he became David’s godfather?  Jimmy Wilson.  Jimmy had some friends who needed a place to stay.  Next to your house was a small house that was attached to a barn.  But it didn’t have toilet facilities or running water.  You could sleep there.  People were sleeping in boxes at that time, anywhere.

They would come in to use the place.  They would walk in and use the water and use the bathroom, and Eddie got sick and tired of what they did.  I don’t know what happened, but he was very angry, and he told them they couldn't come in any more.  And Hy got very angry when he told Hy this.  Eddie said something like, He’s a master of his castle; he has a right.  And he said it to me.  When I went to visit I went to Eddie first, because he picked me up.  And he told me the story, and I sort of took Hy’s side.  Because it was the dead of winter.  Where were they supposed to go now?  The inconvenience is one thing, but where do these people go?  He finally got rid of them, but it was sad.  I could understand his side, and I could understand their side, and I could understand Hy.  If it was Hy in reverse, he would have accepted them, period.  He said, yeah I have to accept.  Because Hy was that type of person.  It doesn’t mean he was right.  He was that way.

Anyhow, these people were homeless.  He gave them a roof, but he felt they should find another way or use a bucket and not come in and out constantly like that, whatever.  Anyhow, Hy and Eddie became friends again before Hy left.  I don’t remember for how long they were estranged.  I wasn’t there all the time, but when I came to visit, I found out this had happened.  Then I went back to New York.  I had a job, I was living my own life then. 

Hy decided to go back to Europe, and he and Mahty and the kids stayed overnight with me in New York, and then he realized he hadn’t taken the tickets, they're still on the kitchen table.  So he had to get up.  I don’t think he slept.  He just got up, went back to South Jersey to pick up the tickets, and then came back to New York, and then went down to get his ship.  He took the Queen Elizabeth, I think. 

Hy came to South Jersey to be a chicken farmer because your father talked him into it.  He didn’t want to.  I don’t know if he actually talked him into it.  It was a lonely life for Mahty.  Mahty was treated like...they had friends, and the woman would talk to Mahty like [slow, labored speech], “You-have-to-do-...”  You know, like she was a moron.  And Mahty understood English.  You talk to her like you talk to anybody.  She was very upset, and she didn’t feel that close to your mother.  I don’t know if I ever said to you in this thing: my brother and I were very close, Eddie, and when your mother came on the scene, she was very nice in the beginning.  Then when I lived with them, when I came down to Jersey, I felt like she resented it at times, Eddie and my friendship. 

You know, people don’t have to say anything and you could feel the resentment flowing?  Sometimes I said to myself, “No, no, no, you're imagining it.”  And other times I said, “Schmuck, you're not imagining it, it’s there.”  I decided not to be that close.  I moved my space back.  We hadn’t been that friendly.  As I got older, we became friends.  As a kid he beat me up.  But as we got older, you know, Hy was over there, and I was over here, and Eddie was a little jealous of my attachment to Hy.  That made him even closer to him, when we went down South and we lived with my father down there.

I don’t know if I told you that, because I’m reading his,[11] and I’m mixing it up.

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 [How did you hear about Hy’s marriage to Mahty?]

They let me know.  They wrote me.  Of course.  I couldn't afford to go over at the time, they couldn't pay for it.  But I went over once.  What happened with my going over there was that I was working, and it was time for a layoff.[12]  I could have had another job.  I didn’t want to.  I decided I’m going there.  The trip was $350 round trip to go to Paris by ship.  The fare itself was not expensive, and I was going to stay with them.  But I couldn't get back because I was on the Ile de France, and I wanted to stay for 6 months. 

I had a 3 month visa.  When I got there, Mahty wasn’t there yet.  They had been in Tunisia, and when they were there, Hy got very very sick.  He tells the story, how they used to swab him in oil to pull out the sickness.  He got very ill.  He came back to Paris before Mahty.  She came back after him.  He met me, not at the boat; he met me in Paris, at the Gare St. Lazare.  

When I got in there, he took me home, he got my luggage and all.  We had to go home by cab.  We went up to St.-Cloud.  I stayed with them about 6 months.  Jai-Jai was born.  Mahty and her sister were there.

[Me: “You hung out with your brothers when their wives were having children, didn’t you?”]

I was always there.  I don’t know why.  I’m just that type of person.  [Chuckle]  They make sure I’m around.  Mahty was scared stiff of the baby.  She wouldn't give him a bath.  Her sister Papoon, Collette, was in Paris and her brother was there.  She was afraid to handle the baby, and Mahty was afraid to handle the baby.  Jai-Jai tells everybody that I’m his first mother, ‘cause his mother couldn't take care of the baby.  She was scared stiff.

I showed her, “Mahty, you can bathe him.  He can’t drown.  He just came out of your womb, which is full of water.  He won’t drown, believe me!  He goes under the water for a minute, nothing’s going to happen!”  She finally conceded and accepted it.  But she was very naïve when it came to babies.

She adored having a baby.  But she was scared stiff.  It’s a good thing I was there.  Papoon wasn’t much better.  They made baby clothes, but the baby didn’t even have warm clothes.  Like we have undershirts?  They made silk undershirts.  They come from a hot climate, but in Paris it wasn’t hot any more at that point.  It got hot later, and that’s when I kept saying, “You don’t overdress the baby.  Take some of the clothes off.” 

Then I came back after 6 months.  In order for me to get my passage okayed, Hy had to get—in order for me to get my passage okayed—you know, I could get the passage, but I couldn't get out.  I needed the visa.  For the visa, so I could stay another 3 months, he had to buy it.  With cigarettes and stuff.  That was the exchange.  His brother-in-law used to get the cigarettes and sell them so that he had more money for his education.  Cigarettes were a bribe to everybody.  American cigarettes were at their height. 

I didn’t bring cigarettes when I came.  I brought cream cheese.  My brother only wanted cream cheese.  Now they have cream cheese.  But for years you couldn't get cream cheese in Paris.

The destruction in Paris from the war wasn’t that bad.  I saw some of it, but I don’t remember too well.  The poverty was bad.  The people who owned the house—Hy would bring them soap, and he’d bring them some canned food.  He was in the PX.  He was working for the government.  He came out of the army and he got a job with the government to find housing for their personnel.  So he had access to the PX all the time, and he knew a lot of soldiers and generals and this one and that one—you know, no problem.  So he would get things for them.  He got soap, he got all sorts of things—and yet when I washed clothes, they would come up and ask me to leave the water so they could use it to wash their floor.  They wouldn't use the soap.  They were still afraid another pogrom would happen, or whatever you want to call it.  Another war.  These weren’t Jews. 

They owned the house, and we rented the top.  We had to go downstairs to the toilet.  Mahty used to have to carry her pail of whatever she did at night, pee or anything, to throw into the toilet.  You were always afraid that you'd drop it on the steps.  Because we had no toilet up there.  It was just a two-family house.  We were on the second floor.  There was a bathtub, and there was a sink upstairs.  But Mahty insisted on putting all the groceries in the bathtub, so you couldn't use it.  So what I would do once a week, I would get to one of Hy’s friends who had a toilet with a bathtub, and go there.  Everybody else would just wash themselves.  So I would go into Paris.[13]  I just didn’t like sponge baths.  My brother used to yell, “It won’t kill you!  Learn how to use the sponge!”  [Laughs] 

I had clothes there.  My sister-in-law used to have all her clothes made, ‘cause Hy made a good living compared to Parisians.  She would have these beautiful clothes made.  But I made my own, not bought it.  I had a steamer trunk, so when I came I didn’t need drawer space or anything, because a steamer trunk has drawers and a place to hang clothes.  We had a little room.  There was only heat in Hy and Mahty’s room.  And that’s where we hung out all the time.  The baby’s crib was there, their bed.  The next room was a dining room, which we would freeze if we ate in there, so we tried not to unless it was warmer.  They had a stove in their room.  There was no other stove.  The room that Papoon[14] and I slept in, we slept together.

They felt that I was very wealthy to have all these clothes.  Most of it I had made.  And when I got to Paris, I had made myself a purple suit and a yellow hat—yellow and purple.  A hood, not a hat.  Mahty thought it was horrible.  She says, “My God!  Such colors!”  The next week, all of Paris were wearing purple and yellow.  She swears that I brought the colors to Paris.  It was springtime already.  So she tells everybody, “Millie brought the colors.”  I thought it was cute.  I may have for all I know.  Who ever thought of the combination?  Me!  I also thought of the combination blue and green.  At that time nobody wore the color green with a navy suit.  I did.  If I could do it, I did.  I had a nice figure in those days.  We all did.  Everybody had nice figures when they were little—young.  Mahty was gorgeous.  Your mother had a lovely figure.

I didn’t speak French.  I understood a bit.  I understood certain things.  I learned one thing that I tell all my friends when they go.  The one thing you have to know is: be polite.  The French may not be polite, but you have to be polite, and if you want to know anything, you say, “Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait, je ne pas parler français.”  Then you could speak English, and they will help you.  But if you go up and said, “Hey!  Do you know where this is?” they won’t say a word.  They'll walk past you.  ‘Cause I did it once without thinking, and they looked at me like I was crazy.  You don’t talk like that.  And yet when they're here, especially when I worked downtown and I’d have people stop me, they'd never say excuse me.  They just say, “Je parle parler français.”  I said, “No, but maybe I could understand.”  ‘Cause usually they speak a little English if you speak it slowly, or they understand.

I loved Paris.  I went back a number of times.  When I go now I visit other places.  I’ve gone to London since.  I’ve taken a tour around France.  I’ve gone to Israel.  Gone to Italy.  Gone south.  Did you ever go to Mahty’s boyfriend’s house?  [Conspiratorial]  They don’t invite people.  Me, he invites.  He thinks I’m wonderful.  Mahty said he never invited people before.  He doesn’t speak English, but we have our own way, and we laugh.  I have a feeling he understands some more than he admits.  But we get along.  Mahty translates for us.  The thing is, when I came the first time that he was there, I brought him a present.  A scarf I think.  And he was so delighted because nobody ever did that.  He was amazed.  And Mahty said, “Nobody ever brought him a present.  So you've won him.” 

When I went over there with Louise, my girlfriend, about 10 years ago, we first went to London and Amsterdam, and then we came to Paris.  She stayed with them for a whole week.  Then they took us out to eat.  Before they could take us out to eat, I said, “Louise, you're here a whole week!  You've saved yourself a hundred dollars a day.  Let’s face it: you went to a hotel, right, and had to eat out?...”  I said, “You buy food.  This time you pay in the restaurant.”  “Oh no, no, no, I’ll pay with you.”  “I said, “Oh, no, no, no.  I’m family.  They won’t accept from me.  But you are a friend coming with me, they'll accept.”  They wouldn't accept from me.  They wouldn't allow me to spend a penny.  Wherever I go, Henry insisted on paying.  His friends insisted on paying. 

Your mother gave me money to spend on dinner.  We all went out to dinner.  She wanted me to treat everybody.  They know it came from her and your father.  And I had like $20 left.  I handed it to Henry.  The last time I was there and I had money left, I handed it to Jai-Jai’s daughter, Claire.  Oh is she gorgeous!  She takes after her grandmother.  Very much like Mahty. 

Table of contents

12        Adult life

There was my girlfriend I lived with for awhile, Paula.  She was very very active in the Party, and then she met this guy, her first marriage.  He was completely the opposite.  She was active in everything.  And then she married this guy who was anti-everything she believed in.  I could never understand it because I couldn't do that.  I couldn't marry somebody who was a reactionary, and this guy was.  I don’t know what attracted them to each other.  She was very sweet, a lovable person.  She was.  She’s dead.  She was generous and very good-natured.  And I guess by that time she may have slowed down anyway.  She was in her sixties.  So maybe she had slowed down enough to relax and meet somebody who could care for her.  She had a crippled hand, so she always had that which kept her from wanting to date.  Leo once got her a guy from the Maritime Union.  They were very close for a long time.  They broke up; I never knew why.

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Evelyn and I went to camp on vacation.  And this gorgeous hunk of a man, six feet tall, blue-eyed, blond hair, liked me.  I don’t remember his name.  But he was so sweet.  I was about 20.  He insisted on dating me.  You were an infant at this point.  We were dating up there.  We were having a very good time.  He was a lover boy, and he made me feel great.  I said, “Why did you pick me out of all the girls.  You’re not going to get to bed with me.”  He said, “I don’t care.  I want to be with you.”  Very gentlemanly.  I wasn’t in love.  I was enamored with him, not in love.  There’s a difference. 

That’s when I got the call from my father to come home and take care of Mae.  She had hepatitis.  I get a call from my father saying, “You have to come home.”  I said, “Why?”  He said, “Mae has hepatitis.  Your mother.  You have to come back and take care of her.”

So I had to leave.  I had a week’s vacation, and I was called back after a couple of days.  We didn’t get back together after the camp.

I got back to the house.  I guess I got in by train.  The camp was upstate New York somewhere.  Camp Unity.  Not as high up as Albany.  So I got back, and your grandparents (your mother’s parents) were sitting there like this, like they're going to die.  They were both sitting there like they were going to pass out.  It was very, very hot.  There was no fan in the house.  Your mother was in bed.  It was Fox Street.  There are other reasons I remember that.  I think maybe you were sleeping in the crib at the time, but you were there already.  They were so glad to see me.  They couldn't breathe any more.  They just wanted to go home.  They couldn't help Mae.  So my father called me because they couldn't take care of her, their own daughter.  And I had to give up my vacation.  It’s true, I resented it for the rest of my life.  Because they weren’t old.  At my age, I go to help people who are sick.  I’m 72.  What the hell was wrong with them?  What was wrong with my father? 

Your grandmother wasn’t pleasant, and neither was your grandfather to me.  But when that thing happened, afterwards, I was so angry that Mae was sick.  I couldn't blame Mae.  I blamed my father, but there was nothing I could do.  Because he wasn’t there.  They must have called him.  And she has two sisters: they didn’t come.  I was very resentful for a long time.

When this thing happened, I lived with your mother and her sister,[15] and my brother was in the Merchant Marine.  You can put this on tape.  I’m annoyed.

When I remembered this, I said to myself, “What the hell are you hiding?  You're the one who’s the victim?”  After that, Mae got well.  It was ok.  We moved to Bleecker St., with her sister.  Her sister had a room, and Eddie and Mae had a room.  Well, Mae had to have a room, with the baby.  We were supposed to share the rent three ways and the food three ways.  Virginia resented it because you were there, and Eddie was coming in on weekends, and why should she pay for you or Eddie?  She was very selfish. 

Your mother didn’t make that kind of money.  I went to work at night so that she could work during the day.  I watched you until you got old enough to go into a day care, which you did as soon as you were accepted.  But Virginia resented having to put out one penny more.  She made more than both of us, I think.  Not together, but either one of us. 

For instance, we had ration coupons.  She made sure hers were only used for what she used.  She would tell us how to cook vegetables because she wanted you to boil the water first and then put them in because they would lose their vitamins.  So we did it her way.

She and I were friends.  We used to go out together.  This one day you were sick.  You had a bad cold or something.  You were sitting in the high chair, and Eddie was in, and her bedroom window and the kitchen window had a line between them to hang clothes.  She came in and opened the window in the kitchen.  I don’t know if your mother or Eddie said to her, “Virginia, the baby’s sick.  Close the window.  Go through your room.”[16]  “It’s my house, too!”  So Eddie got up and got mad and pushed her out of the kitchen.  He did not hit her.[17]

She went to her room, got dressed, and went up to Mount Vernon and told her parents that Eddie had hit her, or beat her, or shoved her.  They came down, furious.  I opened the door when they rang.  They rushed into the house.  You were sleeping.  The door was closed to your parents’ room, or your room, and they opened it.  Now listen: he’s on home leave.  [Chuckling]  You don’t just rush in!  Knock!  They weren’t there anyhow.  So they proceeded to beat up on me.  Both of them.  Both of them assaulted me.  I couldn't believe it.  I don’t know if they knocked me down, but they did hurt me.  I was more hurt mentally.  I got no bruises.  It isn’t that they're so strong or anything.  They may have been young in our eyes.  He’s your age?  They acted like two old farts.  They always did.  They always seemed to me to be old people. 

They didn’t come to beat me up.  They came to beat up my brother.  He wasn’t there, so I was the next best thing.  After they left, and Eddie and Mae came home, I told them what happened.  They got very upset, and Eddie called my father—I think to borrow the car.  But my father came along, and they all went up to Mount Vernon.  The next thing I knew, they came back and they said it was all settled.  Everything was ok.  I think eventually I got an “I’m sorry” from your grandparents.  I don’t know what form it took; I don’t even remember if it happened.  Mae said they were sorry. 

I never spoke to your aunt after that, Virginia.  When Judi got married, I saw her again for the first time.  I was pleasant but I wasn’t friendly.  “Hello, how are you, bye.”  Mae’s other sister, Sylvia, was a much nicer person, but I didn’t get to know her that well, either. 

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I dated one of Ed’s friends, Sam.  We dated only once. 

I dated a guy who was an artist, Harold—I was so in love.  I was about 25.  When I went out with him, at the restaurant, who should be there—somebody I hadn’t seen in years and years and years: Bea.  That was a wonderful night.  That night I went out for my first meal of seafood.  With my father I’d had some seafood, but never a complete meal.  Everything was delicious.  We went to City Island outside of the Bronx, near Orchard Beach (20-25 minutes at the most), where everyone goes for seafood.

I had everything.  I got violently ill that night.  Mentally—because I was taught I wasn’t allowed to eat this.  I was brought up very religiously.

I went out with Sam only once.  He’s a cheapskate.  He asked me for a date.  I had heard from Lily, who wanted me to come out to the beach.  We went out.  Sam had been working; he wasn’t unemployed.  He took me out here, and these kids—the young people—were going for soda or something.  We ended up eating something, and Sam walked out of the restaurant so other people had to pay, which was very embarrassing to me. So I never went out with him again.  I think I sent him home and I stayed with Lily that weekend, because I remember sleeping on a couch that was very, very uncomfortable.  Sam was Eddie’s friend, and they were very good friends.

Harold was a guy I met who wasn’t a party member.  He was an artist.  When I met him I fell in love with him, and we had an affair—my first.  I was 25 already.[18]  We had a wonderful evening, only I got very very sick.  I threw up all over the place.  [Chuckle]  You know, it was all mental, because I’ve eaten seafood since but nothing ever happened.  At that time I got so sick that I had pulled my esophagus in such a way that I couldn't eat unless I had medication before each time I ate.  I had to go to a doctor because that was so sore, it took me three weeks to get over the wrenching, the soreness in my esophagus.  That was a very trying time; it was horrible.

Harold I dated for about two and half years.  I even brought him out to the farm—you don’t remember.  We broke up because he found someone else.  At that point he loved me.  I went to work and played hookey from work.  He had a studio.  He was still an artist, a commercial artist.  He made money at it.  I never really did anything.  He at least made a living at it.  He wasn’t a great artist.  He didn’t do any painting.  He painted me, which was very nice of him.  He kept that; it’s a big painting.  Wish I had it.  I did see him once.  We had gone out to Jones Beach.  I saw him and his wife and his daughters, but he didn’t see me.  I didn’t make an issue. 

With Harold, I went out to the farm.  Your mother and father put us in separate rooms, thinking that was fine.  [Laughing]  Your father is a real puritan.  When we left there, we stopped in Atlantic City and stayed there over night.  Did we stay in separate rooms?  Of course not.  We had been together for quite some time already. 

Your parents didn’t say anything.  I went back to the other bed, that’s all.  I think we were in separate beds, not separate rooms.  In the living room.  We stayed in Atlantic City overnight, then we traveled home.  He took me to very nice places.  We went to the airport where we had dinner one day.  It was lovely.  Kennedy Airport.  It was Idlewild in those day.  They had a place to sit and view the airplanes.  They even had those in my kitchen growing up, because we used to stay outside and watch the planes go.  That was a big thing for kids. 

We’d go to the beach.  We went all the way out to Jones Beach.  We were there at night to see the play.  We always had interesting things.  He had a car.  It was such a small car that one day he couldn't find a parking.  There was a parking that would fit the car, but you couldn't get into it.  So he had some kids lift it up and put it into the parking space.  (You once had a tiny car.[19])  I forgot what this one was.  But it was fun.  There was even one time when—I don’t know if we got hit—the wind was so bad, we spun around in a circle.  This was on the highway.

We never lived together.  I lived with my girlfriend, and he had his own little room, which was very tiny, so there was no sense in moving in together.  And he had a room in his parents’ house with all his art supplies.  Where did he paint?  When I met him, he had his own studio.  I saw him there. 

We met each other again after I’d had children.  It’s very funny: I was going to work—I was on a subway train—and sitting next to a friend of mine.  We lived in a co-op then in Queens.  And all of a sudden, this guy stands in front of me and says, “Hi!”  And I looked, and it’s him.  Then he walked me to work.  It was after one of Leo’s big affairs; we had no relationship, he and I.  I was like 40, I think.  Harold was 5 years older than me.  And we had another affair.  He was a free-lance artist.  He didn’t have any specific times.  And he met me that day after work, and I called Leo and said...  I had an excuse.  That I was going to do something with a friend.  In the second affair with Harold, he lived in the city, not far from where I worked.  I had to take off half the day.  And we’d meet, go out to dinner—lunch at that time, go out to dinner later.  It was very pleasant.  He was a nice guy.  Harold was living separately at that point, but he went back to his wife.  This affair lasted a few months. 

Leo never questioned me.  How could he question me?  I never knew where he was.  As long as he was willing to take care of the kids, at that point I could have my little affair.  I threw this at Leo when we broke up.  Because he had, like, 5, 6 affairs, and I finally got one.  I said to him, “You know, I also had an affair.”  He said, “You did?”  I said, “Yeah.  Harold.”  It killed him, ‘cause he always accused me of still seeing him.  He was very jealous, but he still had what he wanted.  But that’s all right.  That’s Leo for you.  I don’t know about all men, but that was him. 

Anyhow, that’s my love life.  I had boyfriends...  Harold was the great love of my life.  He was.

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When I got married, I got married on the farm.  I remember Lou and Jean were fond of David.  Jean was very nice to my children.  But I don’t remember my father having anything.  When I moved to a new apartment they bought me a vacuum cleaner.  When I got married, my father wanted to make the wedding, but Ed insisted on doing it.  They loved you.

I feel like such a schmuck about marrying Leo.  It happens.  I was only as good as I could be.

I was drawn to Leo because I wanted children.  Leo was very good with children.  My girlfriend had two children, and he was wonderful with them.  And he was wondeful with any child I ever saw him with.  To me, Leo was going to be the ideal father.  You can’t tell these things.

Who’d believe Leo could be the way he is?  They eulogize him, his friends.  I mean, he’s still alive, but you’d think he was the most wonderful person.  He had an 80th birthday and everybody came up and told Sammy and Rebecca, “Oh, your father is so wonderful, he must have been a wonderful father.”  Sammy felt like hitting out.  So did Rebecca.

My neighbor can’t believe that the Leo she knows can be the one I told her about.  “He’s so sweet!”  He’s always nice to everybody.  But his kids...  Iris won’t even call him Daddy.  She calls him Leo.  He treated her worse than he treated the other two.  At least Sammy had love from him before Rebecca was born.  Once Rebecca was born, he didn’t bother with Sammy.  I got so mad that I couldn’t be good to Rebecca.  I felt very guilty about the attitude I had towards her.  How could you do this to a child?  How could you ignore him?  The minute she was born it was like he didn’t have a son.  Sammy knows it.  He felt it.  I’m not saying Leo never played with him.  But he wasn’t important to him any more.  She was.  When Iris came along, she was cute, but everything was Rebecca.  He doesn’t even remember what Iris does for a living.

I didn’t finish high school until after Iris was born, in 1958.  Then I went back to school.  You go to night school, it’s different.  I had to take everything.  I went back with a friend of mine, Hedie, who’s Hungarian and lives in Arizona now.  She is very, very bright, and wanted to have her diploma from America.  She came over just before the war.  We got very good marks—the teacher told us, “You have the highest marks I’ve ever seen from a student.”  I don’t think they were very high, but at night you don’t get the brightest students.  I took English and math and history.  The tests were not the way they were in school—they were multiple choice, for reading more than anything else.  They gave you the story, and then you had to answer the questions.  If you read and know what you’re reading, you really don’t have a problem; but some people skip along and are not really understanding what they’re reading.  When I was very young, I didn’t read, but by that time I was an avid reader.  I was used to reading, and comprehension was a very big part of that test.

The thing I liked in math was square roots.  I loved them.  I can’t do it any more.  That was my forte.  Naturally, they gave that on the test, so I had no problem, whereas a lot of people don’t understand it to begin with.  The thing I can’t do is type.  I went back to school to learn how to type, but I can’t.  I have a block.

I went at night, so Leo was home.  Then I went to art school at night.  I went to North Pelham Parkway.  I went off and on for a few years.  I got my high school diploma.  When you go for a job and they ask how far did you go, I don’t say I have a GED; I say, “Yeah, I finished high school.”  GED still doesn’t mean something when you go for a job.  GED means I went back at night and took the tests.

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Lily and Diane were Jean’s sisters.  Lily was a very nice person.  She told me that my father made a play for her.  She rejected him.  Lily at that time was a good-looking woman.  After that she had psoriasis.  She had rheumatoid arthritis, too, so she was becoming very disfigured as far as her body, her hands in particular.  When she died, Diane didn’t want me to come to the funeral.  But my Aunt Mae insisted I should go.  We went to Diana’s house after the funeral.  When I got there, somebody said to Diane—and Aunt Mae was sitting right there, and Jean was still alive at the time—“Who’s that girl over there?”  Jean didn’t answer.  My aunt piped up, “What do you mean that girl?  That’s Louis’ daughter.”  Diane never wanted anyone to know Jean had married a man with children.  They couldn’t say anything.

I was married to Leo at the time.  I’d had my second miscarriage—I had a miscarriage just before my father died, and just before Lily died.  This miscarriage was before Sammy, so it was at least 42 years ago--1953. 

After that, when Jean died, again it happened.  My kids were grown up already.  Diane didn’t call to tell me that Jean died.  Diane called my cousin Mike, Aunt Mae’s son, and told him, and he called me.  I was on vacation.  I left the country where I was on vacation and came back to New York and went to shiva call.  She had a tremendous house, with a grand piano in one room.  The room was so tremendous.  The piano looked lost.  There were people sitting there.  Diane put Leo and myself in the kitchen.  “Stay here, stay here,” she kept saying.  “We’ll talk here.”  One of her twins walked in—both finally came in—and they gave me a funny look and walked out.  Like I had done something wrong.  We talked for awhile, and then we left because I felt I was being kept out.  She walked out of the room for a moment, and I said, “You know, Leo, she doesn’t want us to go inside.  She doesn’t want anybody to know who I am.”  This is an old story with her, to keep her sister protected, although her sister was dead now.  I never heard from her again.

Jean stayed with Diane before she died, and I kept telling Diane I want to come and visit her.  Diane kept saying, “No, no, no, she’s not well enough.”  At one point we finally went over to vist her.  Diane was out of the house.  No one was there except for Jean.  We sat in the garden—whatever it was—the back yard.  They kept me isolated from her, and she kept me isolated from them.  It was a very uncomfortable feeling, so I finally stopped calling and stopped trying to be nice.  We only lived 5 minutes from each other.

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Sylvia (Aunt Mae’s daughter) had Stevie.  She was very domineering.  He stayed with me when she moved to New Jersey.  He was in college then and wanted to finish.  He lived with us for three years.  His daughter in Israel had asked me to do a family tree because she had to show it, and she wanted something a little more than what her father could say.

One day when I was 15, I was babysitting with Ruth’s children, and she was out.  I turned my back, and they were in a room that faced out on the street.  I walked in and saw them both sitting on the window sill with their feet dangling.  I think it was the 2nd or first floor.  They were very young—like 2 and 3.  I crept up on them, and I grabbed them and banged their heads together.  I pulled them in from the window, and I shut the window.  I yelled at them, “Never, ever do that again!”  A couple of hours later, Sid, Ruth’s husband, came home, and I told him that they had their feet dangling out of the window—and then I passed out.  I was so upset—they might have gotten killed.  In those days they didn’t have laws—like nowadays if you have children that age, you have to put on window guards.  It was real scary.  I can still see it—two gorgeous kids.

Another time, Steve had $10,000 in the bank, and I co-signed so I could take it out.  They lived in Israel, and Steve wanted to be able to get the money when he wanted it.  When he did this, his wife called and said, “Please take the money out and send it to me.”  Meanwhile, his brother, Joel, who was living in NY at the time, told me that Steve was gay.  Now Ava called for money.  This was money that Steve had earned.  She had a right to it, too, but I didn’t want to be the one who makes this decision, so I told her there was a problem, and I couldn’t take it out.  She and Steve got back together.  I told him that I didn’t know what to do, and he said, “it’s all right, you did the right thing.”

Steve and his wife lived in an apartment in Israel that’s very, very expensive.  It has 4 bedrooms, and a terrace that’s as big as the roof of an apartment house. 

My kids don’t like Ava.  I’m the only one she talks to.  I’m the only one she’ll confide in.  She never told me about Steve’s extracurricular activities.   But everybody likes to confide in me.  His brother died.

At one point, Stevie was going to college, a number of years ago.  Rebecca was about 17—20 or 22 years ago.  Stevie stayed with me in New York because his mother had moved to Jersey, and he was going to City College.  He stayed with me about 4 years while he went.  The last year he was with me, my Rebecca wanted to go away; she didn’t want to stay in high school in New York.  So I sent her out to my cousin, Stevie’s mother, Sylvia, in New Jersey.  She enjoyed it to a point.  Sylvia was an ill person; she had a bad heart.  We sort of exchanged: she used to pay me something for Stevie’s stay, so when she took Rebecca we just didn’t pay each other.  That’s where Rebecca met Larry.  She had another boyfriend before Larry, but Larry fell in love with her.  He decided to chase after her when she moved back to me, just before she graduated from high school.  Her last term was in Lakewood.

She loved it, but she didn’t have any freedom.  I’m a much easier going person.  Sylvia felt responsible.  To the point to really restrict her.  She had a daughter, Rita—Stevie’s sister—and Rita decided that Rebecca was under her thumb.  She had two children who were little tubbies.  Rita had been married, and the guy left her shortly after she had her second child.  When Rebecca lived there, Rita made sure Rebecca cleaned.  This was the old story again, with me cleaning and me doing, and now my daughter was doing this.  Ok: you’re living there, you have to help a little.  But she couldn’t go visit her friends until she’d cleaned this and she’d cleaned that, and if there was any dirt left, Rita would yell and tell her mother, who would say, “Go back and clean it again.”  They were quite strict.

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13        Relatively recently

Iris works in a hospital and does EEGs.  She has a very hard job.  When she was pregnant, the doctor called up and said of a baby on whom Iris was to do an EEG, “Don’t bother to do it, the baby doesn’t have a brain.”  And she’s pregnant. 

She’s very important.  The hospital gives her increases because they say they wouldn’t make the money without her there.  They have nobody to take over.  She carries a beeper with her, and can be called in the middle of the night.  There’s no union, but she fights.

Rebecca was a shop steward for a short time while she was at GHI.  Then she worked at other places that didn’t have unions.  She’s an excellent worker, but living with her husband, forget it.  She teaches aerobics.  She would do it 5 days a week.  But she says, “I’ve got 3 kids, I run here, I run there.”  Iris has no sympathy because she works an 8-hour day, 5 days a week.

The only thing Larry can’t get into Rebecca’s mind is that she should vote the way he votes.  He’s a Republican, he’s a very reactionnary-type person.  And with me, she’s had to tell him off.  I was invited over, he invited his secretary, and they were baiting me, calling blacks “niggers,” and the like.  To me, this is stupid and very ignorant, and he did it to offend me.  He doesn’t like me.  Ask me why.  I’m alive, and his mother is dead.  He can never accept his mother’s death.  I never let it get to me.  His father was a schmuck.  He’s still alive.  I won’t interfere.  I don’t go there unless he’s away.  I might be there and he’ll come back and say, “Oh, hi, Millie.  Bye.”

She once said to me, “I know you love Larry.”  I said, “Listen, Rebecca.  I love my children, I love my grandchildren.  I don’t love your husband.  I can’t love your husband.  So get off it.”  How can you love somebody who can be like that?  He’s very ignorant.  He may make a lot of money, and he does, but that doesn’t mean he’s a brain.  He’s a salesman.  So big deal.  Like my father. 

Larry wants her to wear $150 to $300, $400 dresses, and Rebecca doesn’t know from these things.  I can’t say anything.  He thinks she’s wonderful to a point.  He just had surgery on his knee and will be home for 6 weeks.[20]  She can’t stand it.  He’s normally home weekends.  She makes him get involved with her sons because she feels he needs it.  He’s home sick, he’s still doing work.   To him his job is the big thing.  But she screams and yells and says, “You have to do these things.”

She says she loves Larry.  I said to her that I’d like to see her before I leave[21].  She says, “No, Ma, I’ll see you when you get back.”  I know what that is.  That’s because she doesn’t want me in the same house as him.  He probably still resents me.  And she doesn’t want to have to listen to him.  I don’t blame her.  She had said to me, “I’ll go crazy if he’s here for six weeks.  He demands so much.”  She stands up.  She fights him on some things.

You know, because of the money involved, people don’t get divorced a lot of the time.  Like my girlfriend is living with her husband, she hates his guts, but she won’t let him out of her sight because she knows he screws around.  But she won’t divorce him because of the money.  They both own the stores.  That’s the way she wants to live.  Me, I could never do it.

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Do you think it’s possible that Sammy and Rebecca could get close?  They're so different.  She lives with a reactionary.  If he knew half the things that go on, he’d really get mad.  She told me recently, Larry has no real friends.  Larry doesn’t like people.  His family is the only important thing to him.  If that’s the way it is, that’s closing himself in a box.  Larry could be very sociable.  Just stay off politics with him.  I’m the one he treats the least nicely.  His brothers thinks I’m wonderful, especially his older brother.  I cook like his mother cooked.  He comes and I’m cooking.  They treat me very nicely, his family.  It’s only he doesn’t.  One time she said, “He’s like this because when his mother died, he resented anybody else.”  His mother died, just before he started going with her.  So she has a mother, and he doesn’t.  It’s ridiculous, and at this point in his life he should be over it, but it’s his problem.  I’m not comfortable with him, and she knows it.  And finally she admits, he doesn’t like people.  What she’s trying to say is, “He doesn’t like you,” but she can’t say it that way. 

Whereas Donald, my daughter’s husband, he loves me more than my daughter loves me I think sometimes.  Don is a very nice basic guy.  I get alone with Don and Élise.  It’s only Larry.  I’m not really a mother-in-law.  Rebecca wanted somebody who makes a lot of money.  That had a lot to do with it.  She would have been able to do much more for herself, because she’s a very bright girl.  She never used it.  She says, “No, Ma, I wasn’t that bright.”  Wellll, she worked in my place with me, and the vice-president, I had to sit at the table with him once, said to me, “Is that your daughter, Rebecca?”  I said, “Yeah.”  And he says,“Oh God, is she bright!”  It’s her own make-up that makes her feel, like I felt.

She told me recently, “Ma, I’m not as smart as you think.”  Whereas I didn’t realize how smart Iris was, and Iris has much more on the ball.  She feels she’s very brilliant.  She’ll argue with anybody.  She’s a real nice kid, my daughter.  I get along with Iris very well.  We’re more friends than we are parents. 

But all my children think they're my parent at one time or other.  Do you do that? 

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I recently went to Florida to visit a friend of mine that I used to work with.  I didn’t know her well except to go to dinner or lunch with her.  We liked going out to eat, so we got very friendly that way.  At one point we were working together to get people to vote.  It was done in the building, and we had tables downstairs, and I said to her, by accident—thinking that she had voted, because she’s an American flag-waver—“Are you registered?”  She said, “No, I never voted.”  So I convinced her to vote.  Guess who she voted for?  Reagan!  It’s like throwing away my own vote.  I never would do that again.  Then recently, she’s retired, and I’m retired, and she’s down in Florida and she had open-heart surgery, and she called me, and I said, “Okay, I’ll come down to visit.”  I mean, you have a place to stay, you think it’s wonderful. 

So I went down to visit.  First of all, she has a kitchen with everything in it, including a dishwasher.  Her dishes are covered with plastic so she never uses them.  She does not cook.  She does not use anything in her refrigerator.  I said to her, “I have three meals a day.  I am a diabetic now, and I must eat my three meals.  I can’t go without breakfast.”  “Oh, we’ll go to...”  One of the places that’s very cheap for breakfast.  But she doesn’t want to go before 11:00, because this is her breakfast-lunch.  So we went out and I bought some cereal and some milk so I can have breakfast in the morning.  I got my milk and cereal so I had my breakfast every morning instead of coffee.

I was only there four days.  The second day I’m there, we drive, and she says to me, “Isn’t this wonderful, there are no blacks around!”  And I looked at her.  She says, “Well, they used to know their place.  I wish they knew their place now.” 

And I said, “You know, Carol, they were here way before you or I.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.  My mother was born here.”  She’s 62.  This was this year.  She only went down to Florida this past year.

Anyhow, I met a number of people very similar to her there.

I would not go see her again.  After that comment about blacks I said, “Carol, let’s not discuss politics, because you know we’re not going to agree.” 

She’s the type of person who thinks everything’s a big joke.  So I never knew when she was kidding me when she corrected me constantly, or debated with me.  You got to a point where I didn’t say anything.  I couldn't talk.

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NOTES

[1] A rabbi who does kosher slaughtering.

[2] Eddie.

[3] After one break from taping, I forget to turn the tape recorder back on while Mimi speaks, and when I realize this, I turn the recorder on and re-cap: “ You were playing potsie, which was hop scotch.  You really liked Jacks because you were very good at it.  You grew up coordinated.  When you lived on 4th St. there were no gangs, but when you moved to Eldridge St. there were gangs.  You didn’t have to worry about them, but your brothers did.  The gangs were Italians; they picked on the Jews.  There were Jewish kids on that street, and the Italian kids lived down the block a little further.  So would they come up to the Jewish area and pick on the Jewish kids?”

[4] Yiddish.

[5] I say: “I remember my father talking about her when I was a child with this tone that she was somebody you didn’t talk about.  He mentioned her in a tone of, ‘We don’t talk about her.’  So she’s a little bit of a mystery to me.”

[6] The same story told at another time: “I didn’t like birthday parties because I’ve had some fiascos.  One year, Hy made me a party but he didn’t know any of my friends.  So he asked Evelyn—but she didn’t know any of my friends—so she came up with two black guys.  I didn’t know them.  It was very uncomfortable.  I’d never met them before in my life.”

[7] Pronounced “Lewis.”

[8] David was born September 27, 1948.

[9] I say: “My memory is—I didn’t know Judi had talked to you—but my memory of my parents is, I called up to say I was going to Mississippi, like minutes after Judi had told them she was pregnant.  And my memory is that my father said to me that he had asked her if she loved Joe, and that he wouldn't let her marry him unless she did.  Which I thought was rather remarkable.”

Mimi: “It is remarkable coming from your father, ‘cause he’s such a square.”

Me: “I remember I flew up from Mississippi for the wedding, and coming down the aisle Judi was so pale I thought she was going to faint.  She looked sick.”

Mimi: “Well, that’s also because she was pregnant.”

[10] Eddie, who has been sinking into dementia since about 1996.

[11] Eddie’s memoirs.

[12] This is before Hy and Mahty came to the U.S.

[13] From St.-Cloud, presumably for the baths.

[14] Mimi at this point says it is spelled Poupone; I keep my spelling only because it indicates pronunciation

[15] Virginia.

[16] To get on the fire escape?

[17] He says in his memoirs that he slapped her.

[18] Unexplained reference to seeing a bee in a restaurant with Harold.

[19] Editorial note: A German Isetta (http://www.google.com/search?q=isetta&sourceid=groowe&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8)—one seat, door opened in front, rear wheels were close to each other.

[20] Since these interviews, Larry has had cancer and recovered.

[21] For a visit to Iris a week after this interview.

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EDITOR'S CONCLUDING COMMENTS (written in 2000)
To avoid interrupting or influencing the flow of the preceding narrative, I’ve put the following material at the end.  I call my aunt "mimi."  She is also known in the family as Millie, Mink, Minkie.

I am very aware that there is no such thing as objectivity and that despite my efforts to the contrary, as a transcriber (and occasional editor) I have surely sometimes subtly changed exactly what Mimi says.  And sometimes not so subtly: simply by re-arranging and grouping thematic stories, I change the way Mimi’s mind roamed from one story to another and back again.   I’ve made that choice because I believe the re-ordering will help most readers.

Indeed, I have often not made “corrections” to many speech patterns because I think part of the integrity of the accounts is Mimi’s style of speaking.  It’s too bad that I cannot capture her actual voice fluctuations, emphases, musical quality and the like to give a full sense of her tales.

Aside from thanking Mimi for taking the extensive time to reminisce and her patience as I asked questions, I want to thank Élise for her contributions, which have enriched the materials.  No one but myself, however, is responsible for the final content, and any mistakes or distortions are my sole responsibility.

Why did I do this with Mimi?  It’s quite selfish.  I have always been fascinated by the role of memory in our lives, and I have long had a yen to know my past.  My father had already written what he calls his memoirs, and that triggered my desire for more (and, I expected, sometimes competing) accounts of family history.  I’ve also always felt especially close to Mimi (a fact greatly contributing to my guilt at taking four years to transcribe the second half of this material: guilt itself is an interesting family trait worthy of discussion). 

Then, too, there’s the academic in me.  Mimi’s and my father’s memories are not just tales to hand down the generations (and I trust that at least some of our descendants will treasure them); they also reflect a time and may offer a few nuggets for historians of social culture.

No doubt vanity is also a motive: by being the initiator and transcriber, I thrust myself into the story.  My son, Jason, has asked me to recount certain parts of my own past, and I shall indeed try to do so.

The major problem with a living and family history is how far to be honest and complete, especially about those who are still alive.  Not everything that has happened in the past is pretty.  Not everyone who appears in the story was virtuous—or, more accurately, some unvirtuous behavior is part of all our pasts, and few of us like to be reminded of it or like to think that after we’re dead others will know about it.  On this theme, I commend to people Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, the third book of a compelling science fiction trilogy.  A major theme of that book is truth-telling in funeral orations, even when unpalatable.  The principle—and I believe this (though I myself will likely go kicking and screaming before admitting some facts of my own life)—is that we gain nothing by censoring history, that in fact we lose something when we do.  (When I visited New Orleans a couple of years ago, I learned that only one of the ante-bellum plantations open to tourists includes a visit to slave quarters.)  Facts are inevitably subjective, but when prejudice and fear corrupt honest subjectivity into self-serving myth-making, we’re all in trouble.

Since ultimately this is Mimi’s account, I have cut a few sentences she has decided not to include.  But I must say that this has been very little, and I am impressed and pleased by her willingness to retain as much as she agreed to.  I hope that those who feel uneasy about the may Mimi has characterized them (my mother, whom I love, does not always come across sympathetically in Mimi’s eyes, yet I know from direct experience that they have often united in both personal and social causes) will honor Mimi’s personal truth and know that not everyone will necessarily see matters the same way.


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