My father came over to the United States as a ten year old boy in steerage with the rest of his family from Grodnoh, Poland. My grandfather had run away years before, because he was going to be impressed into the Russian army and he fled to the United States. My grandfather, a carpenter, found work in the US and almost every year he made the trip back to the shtetl in Poland where his family lived. Each time he returned to his home in the US he left a little gift. So by the time he had enough money to bring his entire family over it had grown from a boy and girl to three boys and two girls.
My grandfather was a bull of a man when he was younger, but when I met him he was wasting away in the Biolystock nursing home. My grandmother was the unfortunate victim of a laundry accident. She had to hang her wash on a line and one day she hung out of the window too far and fell to her death. Of course, my parents named me for her as a memorial to her as is the tradition in the Jewish religion. All I remember about her is her kechel, which is a kind of hard pastry like a biscotti, only without any additions to it.
My father experimented a lot when he was younger getting involved in some unsavory occupations which I won't go into now. He grew up on the Lower East Side, and since my grandparents were very Orthodox Jews he had no idea of the variety of foods and experiences he could have. When he grew a little older he got involved with boxing and boxed as a welterweight. He was a scrappy guy, but eventually he caught the eye of certain people and started driving for one of them. When I was younger, before my father passed away, I knew nothing about this chapter of his life. It was only afterwards, when we were sitting shivver - a Jewish custom where you stay in your house for at least three to five days after the funeral and pray each day with the prayer for the dead, the Kaddish, that I learned about this part of his life.
When he met my mother my father was almost forty. She had almost given up on finding anyone, and she was older than most women at that time when she married him. My father was a great mechanic and he was in the Air Force during World War II servicing airplanes in the south. Before that he drove a cab in the city and that's how my parents met. He the cab driver and she the slightly overweight daughter of a prosperous merchant. My mother worked in her parent's material and dry goods store, Dimm's. The store had a great reputation and my mother, who never went to college, did the books for her father. My father needed a family, since his was so distant to him, and my mother was drawn to him. He had the gentlest manner and he was also artistic, but he only had schooling to the eighth grade.
They married in the middle of the war, 1942 and had me a couple of years afterward. Both of them worked constantly. My father took a job after the war in the Welbuilt stove factory and my mother worked in the store. They lived with her parents in her huge apartment on the second floor of a two family house. Soon after we moved to Williamsburg when I was three, but still my mother continued to work in the store and eventually my father joined her. That would continue until 1959 when they finally sold the store to an insect exterminator. We moved to Kew Gardens, Queens and my life changed one hundred per cent.
The story of my mother's life is a little different. My grandfather came from Austria and my grandmother was born here. My mother was a working mother before it was popular. We lived down the street in a railroad apartment, but she had it decorated by a professional decorator. We always had slipcovers on the furniture so I never really knew what color the fabric was underneath it. In the spring she would take them off and put on her summer slipcovers. At least she didn't use the plastic that many people used then. I was an only child until I was nine and then my brother was born. At that time the little bit of time I used to have with my mother disappeared. Though she had help at home for my little brother, she was busy from the time she came home. She also sewed all of my clothes, since she was a very good seamstress. In fact, until I was eleven and demanded a new dress for my elementary school graduation, I had never been in a department store to buy clothes. She made all my school clothes and that made sense since she got the material and all the other sewing supplies free.:) She made her own clothes too. Until we moved to Queens she had her sewing machine in her bedroom and I would hear her sewing every night. The other clothes I wore came from my richer cousins and I got used to wearing hand me downs.
I also got used to my mother not showing up for a lot of things. She was always busy in the store. I had to learn to get along on my own a lot. I had lots of friends to go places, because my mother could never take me anywhere. Kids roamed around a lot on their own in the fifties in NYC. We went to the movies on Saturdays without parents, because you could walk there. I never went to the movies at night except for one time I remember my mother and I saw "A Star is Born" with Judy Garland and James Mason. I was so excited to be going to the movies at night with my mother and it was also the first time I looked at her as more than a mother. By the time I was a teenager we had almost stopped talking to each other and this continued until I was thirty when we reconciled.
Both of my parents are gone, so Mother's Day and Father's Day have been only for my children for over twenty years now. My father went in 1969 so my mother spent until 1990 when she passed away, without him. She lived her life by a set of rules. Everything had a time and she did it when it had to be done. But we didn't get along. We would get into screaming matches and she could scream. Her voice could cut glass. I would leave the house to go to a friend's house so I could get some distance between us. She had a good heart, but she was hung up on only her way. When I was younger I had my father's lap for protection, but when I lost him I felt like I was alone. Though we reconciled when I was thirty I never really considered my mother a friend until I had my children. Then we got to know each other as mother to mother. It was a real eye opening moment.
Mother's Day is coming and I always remember her and wish that I could tell her how much I miss her. She was a strong woman and she taught me how to deal with people. When I was a girl I used to work in the store after school and on Saturdays. I learned about how to sell things and how to be outgoing with people. I never felt as confident with kids my own age. Though I had a lot of friends, I never felt I was popular. This feeling combined with my own daughter's adjustment problems and bout with bulimia were the basis of my young adult novel, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, coming in September from MuseItUp Publishing. In my book my main character has two parents, though they are a little offhand with her. I'm sure this comes from my experience with my own parents. Maybe some day I will flesh out their story and put it in a novel. I'll call it: The Story of Sam and Helen.