Archive | Catskills RSS feed for this section

My Grandmother’s Mysterious Black Notebook

13 May
img_3335-1

The black notebook.

I have a book.  It is small.  About eight inches by nine inches.  It has a black cover.  Inside are 33 lined pages, so total of 66 pages that can be written on.

It seems to be a diary.  Most of the pages, about 40, have entries that are dated in 1921.  So my book is almost 100 years old.  Two of the names I recognize.  My grandmother and her first cousin, Abraham, who perished in the Shoah.  The other names I am not sure about.  But these entries, even though they have different names, seem to be written by the same person.  My grandmother perhaps?  Or are they really two separate handwriting.  Now that I look at this page below, it seems as if two different people wrote. But many of the pages have the same writing and not changes like this one.

img_3332

Entries from March 1921 with my grandmother Tala Szenk and her cousin Abram Prentki’s names.

Some of the entries look like they could be poems.   Did they write these poems, or did they just copy them from some book?  It does show how my grandmother was educated in Poland.  Her father was a teacher. Grandma could read, write and speak in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish.  After she came to America, she went to night school to learn English.

img_3337

See Lipka, her relatives she stayed with when she arrived in America.

In the middle of the book are names and addresses in English.  Names of people living in New York and New Jersey.  Hidden, I think, in the middle of the book.  Her escape plan?   My grandmother came to the United States when she was 16 in 1922.  I see the last name of the aunt and uncle who allowed her to live with them in the United States.  They must have sponsored her as well.  The name is Lipka.

It is all written in Polish.  But I can understand the names, because I recognize them.  And the name of my grandmother and her cousin jump out at me.  Especially since I have written about this cousin and not knowing who he was at first.  And then here he is embedded with her in this book.

img_3338

Who wrote these pages?

After the journal entries, if that is what they are, comes some blank pages, and then six pages written in a different handwriting.  It looks like a poem.  But I am not sure.  I am not sure what any of it is.

The last four pages are in Yiddish. Those I have had translated.  We think it is a story, perhaps not true, perhaps yes.   About a girl who meets non-Jewish man and how it ends in sadness.  The beginning reminds of the story of Tveye and his daughter Chava.  But this story does not end happily.  Did she read a book and decided to write that story?  I don’t know. I don’t know if she is writing about someone she knew or making up a story.   Perhaps the other entries would give me information. Perhaps.

img_3336

Why did she save this receipt as well?

Inside the book is a receipt for registered mail sent on November 16, 1922.  Did she send something back to her father and her siblings after she arrived in America?  I wish I knew.

My grandmother passed away 38 years ago.  I wish I had seen this book when she was alive so I could ask her what all this is!  We found it long after she died and my parents died.  It was hidden in the bottom of a box in the attic of their Catskills home.  Not thrown away, but saved for me to one day find.

This book is a mystery to me.  I need someone who reads Polish and can translate this book for me.  I love a mystery, but even more, I love the solution to a mystery!

 

Two blogs about Abraham Prentki:

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/04/the-mystery-of-abraham-prantki/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/26/amazing-what-information-two-photos-can-provide/

Ring Jells Addiction Started in The Catskills

21 Apr

Sometimes I read a note on Facebook that just touches my soul.  It happened now.  Someone posted about meeting a woman shopping for Passover food in a grocery store.  She was crying while holding a box of Joyva Ring Jells in her hands.   It seemed her mother passed away, and this would be the first seder without her.  Her mother loved Ring Jells, and the sight of this box made her cry.

img_2882

This box is now empty.  But I enjoyed every one.

That should be my children one day.  I love Ring Jells.  While I cook my seder meals and prepare for the long hours ahead, I eat these throughout the day, to me, they are the most delicious chocolate covered sweets.   I am basically addicted to them. The taste of raspberry and chocolate together delights me. Thank goodness I only find them during the holidays.

My addiction started when I was 16 years old working behind the deli and cheese counter at the Daitch Shopwell in Monticello, Sullivan County New York.   It is here that I served the women and men who spent their summers relaxing, cutting their cheese selections and their deli orders.   I worked at this supermarket for three summers, earning spending money and preparing for the costs of college.

But it is also where I learned to love Joyva Ring Jells.  We sold them in the dairy section of the deli, along with all the cheese.  We had a large display of them. Hundreds of ring jells for sale by the pound.  I loved them.  I have to admit it, I would snack on them.  Not eating tons.  But at least two or three each shift I worked.   Eventually the manager told me to stop.  And buy some.  So I did.  I would weigh out 3-5, pay for them, and keep them behind the counter with me.  Snacking as needed.  When the weekends were busy with crazy customers, I really did need them to get me through the day.

img_2885

Marshmallow twists live in my freezer.

I did not realize they were a special Passover treat.  In our house, my Mom was a Joyva Marshmallow twist fancier.  She would buy them at Pesach and keep them in the freezer all year to snack on.  Did you ever eat frozen marshmallow twists?  At first you have to be careful not to hurt your teeth, but after a bit they melt just a little and are delicious.  I admit I still have some in my freezer from last year.   Usually you had to get just plain white ones.  However, sometimes we could find the ones with pink insides!

After I learned about jell rings, I had to have those as well.  My sister and I favored them over the Marshmallow twists, which I think made Mom happy.  She would share them with everyone, but now had more for herself.

The ring jells, on the other hand, were the perfect snack.  I would take two  or three at a time, stick them on my fingers,  and get ready to eat.  We do crazy things when we were younger.

When I left the east coast for the middle of the country, I had an issue.  I could not find them in Kansas. But when my parents were alive and visiting, they would bring boxes of Ring Jells and Marshmallow twists with them. So we never suffered during the Pesach holiday.   They also brought Bartons candies, another treat that was nowhere to be found in Kansas City. Eventually these treats came out west, and  I could get them on my own.

Ring Jells are comfort food for my sister and me.  I am going to visit her the end of the week.  I sent her the following text message on the Thursday before Pesach: “So I purchased one box of raspberry jelly rings to bring to you. And one for my home. Cause I have to have some.  But I had three today and I feel better.”

She wrote back: “I bought two boxes for when you are here! LOL”

My response: “LOL I will leave mine at home.  We do not need three.  Great minds think alike.”

A number of years ago we went through a difficult time. We lost our parents and aunt in less than a year.  Five months later, erev Pesach, my sister’s husband also passed. It was a horrible time.   I did not know how we would survive that holiday.  But I have to say, our friends knew of our need and ring jell addiction.  Friends filled the house.

I don’t know how many of them went shopping. But in days we had boxes upon boxes of ring jells.  In the evenings, when most everyone had left, my sister and I ate ring jells and talked.   It was a Pesach that tried our souls.  And I hate to be trite, but the ring jells gave us a small amount of comfort in our first Pesach without these beloved family members.  (And a mighty thank you to all who purchased them for us.  I don’t know if I ever told you how important they were in this horrible time.)

Special foods bring memories and joy.  For me Joyva jell rings helped me through preparing seders and difficult times. They bind me with my sister.   I could see my children crying over them when I leave this world.  But I don’t think they will buy or eat them.  This addiction will probably end with me.

A zissel Pesach to all.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/02/05/my-jobs-behind-a-deli-counter-daitch-shopwell-and-butenskys/

 

The Day A Wooden Swing Almost Killed Me: And Other Catskills Accidents

25 Nov
Grandmas and us

I always had a bandaid on my knee!

I have many lovely memories of summer in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, the Catskill Mountains.  But I also have memories of injuries that came along with summer activities.

My grandparents’ bungalow colony was not large.  We did not have a pool, because we were directly across the street from Kauneonga Lake.  Who needed a pool? The dock and the lake were all we needed to spend hours of entertainment.

We had blueberry patches, where we would spend hours picking and eating blueberries.  We also used the blueberry patches for games of hide and seek, as well as war games that the boys among us organized.

There was also a swing set, which also provided hours of fun.  We would take turns swinging on the swings, seeing who could go higher; who could jump further from a swinging swing; who was the bravest.

At our colony, there were just three girls.  The rest were boys.  And of the boys, one was my brother and three were my cousins.  And they would urge me on to disaster sometimes.

Another fact about swings in the late 1950s and early 1960s is that the seats were made of wood.  Thick wood to hold the bodies of wilding swinging boys and girls.  Today swings are made of thick fabric.  So much smarter than wood.

Why am I so in favor of fabric swings?  Because a wooden one almost killed me when I was about six years old.

It was a beautiful sunny day.  We were all around the swing set, playing and spying on our neighbors, something we often did.  Looking over a small mound of dirt into their yard.

My brother was swinging higher and higher and then jumping off the swing.  I believe my cousins were doing this as well as the other boys.  I decided I wanted to do it as well.

I started to swing.  I remember my brother telling me to go faster and faster and to jump when the swing was as far forward as possible.   I thought I was fine, but I did not quite make it.

I jumped.   I fell to the ground.   The swing passed over my head.  I sat up.  I heard yelling.  And then nothing.

I woke up in my bungalow with my aunt and mom staring at me.  I was sick to my stomach.  My head was pounding.  I now understand that I had a concussion.  The swing had come back and hit me in the back of the head knocking me out.  I had to stay in the bungalow for the rest of the day.  Ice on the bump on the back of my head.  My aunt, Mom and Grandmas checking in on me.

To be honest, I stopped swinging after that. I would get nauseous just looking a swing set.

I would like to say that was my only adverse summer adventure.  But you know that is not true.  I remember the summer my Dad taught me to ride a bicycle.   For some reason every time I made a certain curve in the colony, where there was a little hill, I flew off my bicycle.  I was determined.   I would get passed that hill.  My knees tell the story. There are many photos of me with skinned knees all thanks to the bicycle and the hill.  But I did learn.

One injury was truly not my fault.   The Dads pitched in together to build us all a club house.  I remember sitting in it, when everyone ran out.  I was about three.  My understanding is that someone climbed on the top of the clubhouse…. I tend to think it was my brother as he was extremely active.

As the club house began to fall, everyone ran out, but me.  I was once again hit in the head. But this time, I had a deep, open wound.  Mom took me to the doctor, where I was given a tetanus vaccine and a butterfly on my scalp.   I really wanted to see that butterfly, but never did.  I still have a scar on my scalp and a tenderness.  I hate when any one tries to touch my head without notice.  It caused lots of aggravation as small child.  Especially since my other brother loved to see me scream as he pretending to go to touch my head.  Brothers and sister know how to push all the buttons!

I was not the only one to suffer from injuries during the summer.  I think everyone had at least one emergency visit to the doctor each summer.  But it was part of the fun and the excitement. The injuries became part of the summer stories, part of the memories that bound us together.

Woodstock Revisited in August 1998

17 Sep
fullsizeoutput_89b9

Photo #4: Monument at West Shore Road and Hurd Road, looking to Woodstock site.

Before the Bethel Woods Museum opened, a concert was held at the Woodstock site in mid-August 1998.  Alan Gerry, who had purchased about 2000 acres of land around the Woodstock site, and eventually started the museum and the Bethel Woods Music series, sponsored the three-day concert as a pilot program for his eventual summer series.  Now the Bethel Words Center for the Arts and the Museum, opened in 2008, are known throughout the Catskills community. Then it was just a dream.

My parents took a ride up to Hurd Road from our home on West Shore Road to check it out.  They eventually became season ticket subscribers to the music series and visitors to the museum.

When we cleaned out their home, I bundled up a bunch of photos and papers to take home, and I slowly have been going through them.  Today’s find was 20 photos from the 1998 concert site, before Bethel Woods was built.  I share a three of those photos here.

The monument area is very different now, with shrubs and landscaping.   Just over the hill and ridge is the site of the museum and the music festival.  The actual site of Woodstock has not been used for a concert for years.  It is kept as an historic site.

But it still rains in August.

My Grandma’s Favorite Photo

7 Jul

Grandma's Favorite photo

This is my Grandma’s favorite photo of herself.  She loved it so much that she took another photo taken the same day and cut her head out to put on an membership card. It caused a major fuss that summer in the Catskills! A fuss that lasted several days!

We (my Mom, sister and I) asked why she had cut up that photo of her at 17 or 18, when she was already in her 60s when she used it.  Her answer:  It was her favorite photo and she wanted to use it!

Grandma Thelma

Here it is!  You can even see the staple holes in the photo where she stapled it on to the membership card!  I am not sure what the card was for.  It was not an official government ID.  It must have been for some local group.  I honestly do not remember. (My sister reminded me that the card was for a local senior center.)

I do remember that my Mom was so angry when she saw that Grandma had used this photo and destroyed the original!   I believe it was also my Mom’s favorite photo of her mother as a young woman.  My Mom and Grandma actually got into a major discussion, read that as argument, over this.  But it was too late, the photo was already destroyed. Grandma had thrown away the pieces.

My Mom never knew, because I guess Grandma never told her, that there were several other photos from the same day upstairs in an album the attic.  Unfortunately they both had died before we found the album that had these photos taken of my Grandma and her first cousin, Katie.

If you look at it carefully, you can see in the image we have, Grandma is not wearing the pearls. I assume that the pearls belong to my Aunt Gussie, Katie’s mom.  In the photo that Grandma truly loved, she is wearing the pearls.  A telling gesture. As an adult, pearls played an important role in my Grandma’s life.  Eventually she had many strands of real pearls!

Grandma favorite photo

I think my Mom would have been much happier if she knew that other photos existed.

I understand why Grandma used this photo.  I do not think she ever felt pretty.  She told me many times that growing up they called her Luchen, or noodle or string bean, because her arms and legs were too long for her body. She hated being called that nick name.

My Grandfather, on an audio tape we have from November 1981, a few months after Grandma died, even said that Grandma was not pretty, but she had something special about her.  And so he fell in love with her.

Grandma was bright, intelligent, spoke, read and wrote in several languages.  I thought she was lovely.

Now as a woman in my 60s, I think I understand why she used this photo.  When I look in the mirror, I do not always see someone my age.  I expect to see a much younger person. Sometimes I am surprised.  Recently I said something about it to my husband.  And his response made me think of this photo, as he said,  “You will never look 25 again.”  Sigh.  That was the age I was when we married.

This photo of Grandma was taken a year or two before she married my Grandfather. Perhaps she felt as I, and was remembering the young Thelma. That is how she saw herself, and so that is the photo she used.

(I am thinking about Grandma now, as her birthday was in July.  We will soon mark what would be her 112 birthday.  Although she is gone, her memory continues as a blessing.)

Welch’s Jar Glasses were a Catskills Classic

22 May

Our Catskills home was the depository for mismatched dishes.  Any set that had lost pieces to breakage over the years soon made its way to the summer kitchen.  Same with glasses and mugs.  If a set was no longer complete, then there was a home for it in the Catskills. I think we were all used to using whatever came out of the cabinet. No worries about everyone having matching plates!

Among the glasses that made their way upstate were all those Welch jelly jar glasses. They were our favorite juice glasses; the perfect size for orange juice or a quick drink of water. I especially loved the Looney Tunes and Flintstones ones when I was a child.  I know there were bigger glasses as well, from sour cream jars.

I was born in the height of jelly jar glasses.  Welch’s started making them in 1953, just a few years before I was born.  I remember going to the store and looking for Welch’s jars we did not already have at home. We wanted as many different ones as possible.

I know they stopped making them for a while because the new way of manufacturing glass made the glass thinner, and the glasses would break when the lids came off.  Thus, for years Welch stopped making these glasses.

I do not know what happened to the ones that were in the Catskills.  I believe they all broke.  Or perhaps my Mom in one of her cleaning sprees decided to give them away. They are no longer in the cabinets in our Catskills home.

img_7508

I found out that in 1989, Welch started making these glasses again.  Actually, I did not find out until about the year 2000.  My son is not a lover of Welch jelly, he is a JIF fan. But one day in the grocery store he saw a Pokemon jar of Welch jelly and had to have it.  So I purchased for him.  We still have that glass.  He did not eat the jelly, so I did not buy the other Pokemon glasses that were made.

However, buying that glass reminded me of the glasses we used when I was small.  About ten years ago, I was in an antique mall with a friend.  I was looking for Depression Glass in my pattern when I came upon five Welch’s juice glasses: two Flintstone, two Looney Tunes and one generic one.

I had to have them.  Memories from the Catskills and my childhood are so strong, that sometimes I need a physical touch.  Having the Welch glasses gave me that touch.  The five glasses were purchased; they are not that expensive, just a few dollars each.

I use them for juice and for a quick drink of water.  For a moment I am back in the Catskills during the summer; and all is good in the world.

Lake Swimming is the Best!

1 Feb

I did not swim in a swimming pool till I was in college.  We always had the lake: Kauneonga Lake.  I learned to swim and spent many summer hours perfecting this skill in our lake.  As I spent many hours relaxing on our dock with my family and friends.

Kauneonga Lake

My family and friends in Kauneonga Lake.

I never swam laps, I just swam as fast as I could to get away from my brother and my boy cousins who tried to push me into the mushy gush…the yucky seaweeds that lined the bottom of the lake in the areas where we did not swim as much.

Sometimes we swam back and forth between our dock and the dock that the people in Cooper Drive used.  But that meant keeping our legs up.  The gush was thick between the two docks.  And it wasn’t just the gush, there were also fish and turtles that would snap and nibble at your toes if you got too close.

I could stay afloat for hours.  We did not have life jackets.  When we were little we had brightly colored tubes. But eventually I out grew those and just swam.  If we stayed within the area designated by the adults, then the water was not over our heads.  It was when we tried to swim too far that danger lurked.  But we knew how to tread water and make it back to the sandy area with no effort.

Lake water swimming was the best.  The water was cool and fresh.  There were very few boats on the water when I was a child, except for canoes and rowboats.  It was not until I was in my teens that speed boats in large numbers showed up on the lake.

The only negative about lake swimming?  We always knew when someone went to the bathroom in the lake!  If you hit a warm spot, you knew that was disgusting.  Warm spots were sure signs of accidental lake peeing.

There was a pool at the bungalow colony up the road from us, where my grandparents’ friends owned, Kauneonga Park.  But I never swam there.  I know my brother swam there when he worked at the colony’s camp during the summer. But I never went into the pool.  It seemed odd to get into a cement box filled with water and chlorine.  I did go and look at it.  But I never got in.

When I got to college, I had to go into a pool for the first time.  We had to pass a swimming test and show that we could swim four laps and jump into the pool.  I was not happy. But to get my college degree from Drew University, in New Jersey, that was a requirement.

Ugh.  I did not own water goggles.  In the lake, I just opened my eyes to look around.  In a pool, this is much more difficult.  Your eyes burn from the chlorine. Ouch.  So, during my test, I had to close my eyes.  Swimming laps with your eyes closed is very difficult.  I could not stay in my lane.  In any case, I never swam in a lane in my life.  Lake swimming is much more haphazard. Not being able to see made it worse.

I did go four laps, but they were not pretty.  The coach called me out several times for crossing into someone’s lane.  She told me to go buy a pair of goggles for my next pool experience.  But I never had one.  I passed the lap test.

I passed the jumping in test: arms across your chest, feet first into the pool.  “Why?” I asked.  In case you are ever in a cruise ship and need to abandon ship was the answer.  I never thought I would need that talent, but I will admit I have been on many a cruise and I have thought about learning to jump!

To this day, I do not love pool swimming.  I do not like the chlorine or the feel of concrete.  However, I have learned to enjoy the beauty of water aerobics in a pool and the ease of floating on noodles.

To be honest, I much rather go to the lake in the Catskills, and slowly walk in.  First testing the water with my toes to feel the temperature and finally sinking to my neck.  I do not do it very often, but when I do I feel great.  Lake swimming will always be the best!