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Reupholstery Keeps the Spirit of My Furniture, I Hope

20 Oct

Over 30 years ago a truck arrived at my home delivering my grandparent’s bedroom furniture to my home.  Made in the early 1930s, the cherry mahogany furniture was hand carved. The two chairs were covered in yellow silk and stuffed with horsehair, I knew that because the fabric was beginning to fray and the stuffing was coming out. 

The mirrors and furniture were beautiful to see and to touch.  I had so many memories of my grandparents entwined in the furniture.  From my early childhood in New Jersey, when the furniture was in their apartment above the bakery.  When I spent the night, as a small child, I slept in bed with Grandma.  Grandpa was usually up and baking throughout the night. His bedtime began about 8 am.  In the early morning grandma would leave to go work in the bakery.  I knew that when I woke up. I was to get dressed and go downstairs, where Grandma would make me breakfast.  I was never afraid. I was in a safe place, near the chair where Grandma sang Yiddish songs to put me to sleep and under the feather quilt in the winter.  So cozy.

Later the furniture moved to their home in the Catskills where they lived after they closed the bakery.    They would spend most of the winter in the Catskills, but would return to their home in West New York for a few weeks when it got too cold.   The bedroom furniture, along with their other lovly 1930s furniture, stayed there after Grandma died in 1981 and until Grandpa died in 1989. The only piece that did not make the move, was the baby grand piano. (See blog below.)

The bedroom furniture was promised to me, the oldest granddaughter.  And when my grandfather passed away, about 9 years after my grandmother, my parents packed up the furniture, found a mover, and sent it to me along with a few other pieces.  (See blog below.)

I made some changes.  My grandparents slept in twin beds. I saved the headboards, but I had the foot boards and the side railings made into a lovely television stand that matches the rest of the suite.  We did not need these as we use a king mattress.  The headboards are in my basement.  Too lovely to get rid of, they sit waiting for some future date when they will be used.

I left the yellow silk on the chairs.  All these years.  It was the original upholstery, and I could not change it.  In my mind when I saw the fabric, I could see my grandparents. I could remember sitting in the vanity chair and hearing my grandmother singing to me.   I could see myself sitting at the vanity brushing my hair and trying out her hair adornments.  I could remember Grandma sitting behind me and brushing my hair 100 strokes, to make it shine.  The fabric stayed.

The chairs with the original fabric.

Over the 30 years I have had the furniture, the fabric faced the many challenges of two small children.  It continued to decay, fray and split.  Finally, after 86 years, I decided this fabric was done. I had to reupholster the furniture.

I did it tentatively.  It took me months to find a fabric that I liked. A fabric I thought would go with the furniture, but also recall the fabric that was part of it for almost nine decades.  My Grandmother liked yellow and flowers.  I love teals and blues and geometric shapes.  How could I compromise? 

But then, the perfect fabric appeared. Amazingly it was at Joann’s, the craft and fabric store. And Grandma was watching out for me. It was on sale, 40 percent off!. I also was given the name of a fantastic upholstery, Gearhart Upholstery in Buckner, Missouri.

The mainly blue and teal woven upholstery has a bit of yellowish gold swatches.  And the pattern is both geometric, but there are flowers.  Lovely blue and teal flowers. Even though the colors are different, in my mind I kept the spirit of grandparent’s furniture. 

Purchased by my grandparents in 1936.  Sent to me in 1990.  And finally recovered in 2020.  I hope the furniture is loved by my family for many more decades. I hope the memories I cherish will turn into new memories for another generation

https://zicharonot.com/2020/09/02/vintage-greeting-cards-stir-my-imagination/

https://zicharonot.com/2016/08/02/a-chair-a-baby-grand-piano-and-yiddish-songs/

The Piano Behind the Fireplace

13 Sep

Our house in the Catskills has been in our family since 1962.  It has gone through many changes.

When my grandparents purchased it, the house had been divided into four apartments.  Slowly, slowly it was returned to a single-family home, with an attached apartment.  Rooms that were divided were opened up or reunited with the house.  Small additions were redone. New additions were created. (See blog below.)

In the living room, a stone fireplace is the focal point.  At one time the back side was covered up and behind it a tiny kitchen and bathroom was put in.  My grandparents restored it to one room.  Behind the fireplace they put a trundle bed for grandchildren and, eventually, their old upright piano.

The fireplace in the center of the living room.

That piano was the bane of my summers.  Over 100 years old now, the piano was purchased second hand for my Mom to use when she was a child.  But Mom’s abilities outpaced this piano, and in the late 1930s, when Mom was about 10 years old, my grandparents purchased a baby grand piano for her use in their New Jersey home. (See blog below.).

Mom eventually became a special student at Julliard.  She studied music there all through high school and had hoped to go there for college. But my grandparents thought a music career was not a good choice.  So Mom went to Douglas University in New Jersey and studied education.

When the baby grand piano arrived, my grandparents had the old upright taken up to the Catskills to their bungalow in the small colony they had created.  Their bungalow was one of the bigger ones, with two bedrooms, a kitchen sitting area, and an enclosed porch.  The piano was put on the porch.

As little children, before my sister was born, my brother and I actually stayed in this bungalow with my parents and grandparents. But once my sister arrived, we started staying in our own bungalow.  The piano stayed with my grandparents.  Whenever Mom wanted to play, she just went over there.  

When I started piano lessons,  I was expected to practice….even during the summer when I had NO lessons. At first it was not a problem, I just showed up to my grandparents and went in and played.  I got treats and lots of positive reinforcement for practicing, even though I would rather be outside playing.

However, my feelings changed after the 1962 summer.  My grandparents moved up to the new “big house.”  We moved up there as well, to live in a bungalow behind the house.  That freed up two bungalows at the colony that now could be rented.  The piano stayed down at the bungalow for at least a year.

Here is where my angst began.   I was expected to go down to the colony, which I wanted to do to see my cousins and my friends. But instead of playing, I was expected to go and practice the piano.  It was no longer my grandparents’ bungalow.  It now was rented by my sort of aunt and uncle.  They were actually the brother and sister in law of my uncle by marriage.  My Grandma Rose and their son, who I considered a cousin, lived there as well.  (See blog about Grandma Rose below.)

The last thing I wanted to do was practice the piano.  Two reasons, first I felt like I was invading their territory.  I now had a set time when I had to be there to practice.  Also, I wanted to play!  Everyone else might be in the lake, but when my set time came, I had to go over to their bungalow.  There were many fights over this with my Mom.  But eventually she let me stop.  It was just not fun.

My angst ended then.  The next summer a space was made for the piano.  That little kitchen and bathroom behind the fireplace were gone, as was all the plumbing and fixtures.  The walls were cleaned and wood paneling was put in.  In the area that was once a bathroom, the upright piano now stood, back in my grandparents’ house.

So now, I could practice anytime of the day.  I left my music in the house.  On a rainy day, I could practice for as long as I liked.  While, on a beautiful day, I could just run in after a day at the lake. A low note chord broke when I was young, and we never replaced it.  I used the note so rarely, that at the times I did, I would be shocked when no noise came out.

Over time, I went to college, got married and moved away.  The piano was rarely touched and soon went out of tune.  When I started going up with my children for two weeks each summer, I wanted to get the piano tuned.  But the person we called said it was impossible, it had sat untuned for so long and it was too old.  That made me so sad.  But we left the piano there, and occasionally I would still play even with the discordant sounds that came out.

But in this time of COVID-19, the piano has been revitalized.  My nephew, who also plays the piano.  Needed a place to stay.  He had planned a long trip to Europe and had not renewed his big city apartment lease.  He asked to stay at the Catskills home.  We all agreed.  It was perfect for all of us, because we have used his time there to get some chores done and things fixed that were benignly neglected as we are usually there only on weekends.

Thanks to my nephew, we now have internet in the home and we have tasked him with meetings with an electrician, plumber and other workers.  He got a dock put in at our lake front section of Kauneonga Lake.. 

However, his greatest success, for me, is the piano.  My nephew plans to spend the winter there as well. As it is a four-season house, he can. It was my grandparents’ full-time home. So he decided to get the piano tuned!!! He found an old-time piano tuner, who has restored the sound!  This gentleman slowly got it back into shape, by doing it correctly. Over several months he came and tuned the piano just a bit until the sound board and strings could accept a full tune.

But besides tuning it, the piano tuner has dusted it and oiled the wonderful old wood.  The piano looks better than it has in 20 years. It brings me joy that the piano behind the fireplace is now a working piano giving my nephew a chance to practice his hobby as he experiences the cold winter months in Sullivan County.

(Exact dates of when of when the piano moved to the house and when I practiced at the bungalow are somewhat unknown, as it was many many years ago.)

https://zicharonot.com/2015/05/30/remodeling-my-bathroom-reminds-me-of-our-catskills-house-the-house-which-always-changed/

https://zicharonot.com/2016/08/02/a-chair-a-baby-grand-piano-and-yiddish-songs/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/07/24/movie-night-in-the-catskills-was-a-wonderful-magical-night/

Loving My Mother’s Wedding Memory Book

28 Jul

Spring and summer are usually wedding time. Although COVID-19 has altered many wedding plans, I believe we should still celebrate weddings.  About once a week I see photos on Facebook of an outdoor wedding in a backyard or a park, where a small group of people gather for a family wedding.  Other weddings, I know, have been put on hold.  But with all that going on, weddings are on my mind.

In June I wrote about finding my in-laws wedding album during our move.  Among the other items I discovered in my move, was a wedding memory book that my Mother filled out after she and Dad were engaged.  Funny how you grow up hearing family stories, but some important facts were left out. Those facts are chronicled in this memory book.

For example, I knew my parents met on a blind date set up by my Dad’s Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny.  They shopped at my grandparent’s bakery and liked my Mom.  So they arranged for their nephew, my Dad, to meet Mom.  I guess she liked him, because she loaned him the book, Animal Farm, and he had to come for a second date to return it.

What I now know is that first date was held on July 4, 1949.  Dad always said how difficult it was to go from the Bronx to West New York, New Jersey.  Now I truly believe him. It was a holiday. It must have been nuts using mass transit to go on a date.

But Mom must have liked the date. She remembered: “We went to the Roxy and then to Roth’s for supper.  I wore my black silk print and Don wore a tan sport jacket with dark brown pants.”  Can you imagine a blind date now on the Fourth of July with the man wearing a sport jacket and the woman wearing silk?  It would be perhaps a summer dress and the guy would wear nice slacks or shorts and a polo shirt. I think.

Mom was still in college.  They were both 20 years old on their first date.

They announced their engagement 19 months later on March 23, 1951, in Santa Barbara, California.  Amazingly they married just three months later.  I knew it was a quickly planned wedding. But I did not realize how quickly!

I never knew the exact date of their engagement. But it answers a question I always had.  I got married on March 22, a Saturday night. But my Mom pushed for a while for a Sunday afternoon wedding on March 23, which would have been the anniversary of their engagement! I am sorry I did not ask her why that date was so important.  I will just believe that March 22 still counts!

The story of their engagement I had heard many times. Mom and my Grandma Esther, my Dad’s mom, flew to California where my Dad was in basic training before going to Korea.  My Mom’s parents were extremely upset and worried that they would get married there. In fact, there is a photo of my parents by the courthouse in Santa Barbara that created a stir.  But no, they did not get married then.  They waited till Mom graduated college and Dad had a two-week furlough before going off to war.

They even got a few engagement gifts, mainly from close family.

My Mom even had a surprise shower on May 27, 1951.  I have photos and even a movie of the shower.  Dad was still in California.  I assume my uncle recorded the shower. My Dad’s sister, Leona, and sister-in-law, Mickey, hosted the shower at my paternal grandparent’s apartment, for 50 guests!  My Great Aunt Minnie, who was part of my childhood and even came to my wedding, gave my Mom the bridal book, I am looking at now.

My Mom, Aunt Leona, Grandma Esther and Great Grandma Ray at the surprise shower.

But the memory book had another surprise that was important in my genealogy research. I knew almost all the people at the shower.  A few I know basically who they are, but do not remember them.  And a few were a bit of a surprise, they are my grandmother’s first cousins and aunts for the Lew family. (See blog below.) These women have shown up in my genealogy research before.  It was actually these names in reference to my great grandmother that confirmed that my great grandmother was in fact from the same family in Russia as other members of the Tracing the Tribe Group I belong to.  And connected me with distant relatives here in Kansas.   This wedding memory book makes the relationship very clear.  It states, “Aunt Rose, Grandma’s sister”.  With this shower list, I am able to realize how closely in contact the family was in the 1950s.  

Of the 50 people at that shower, I only know of three still alive today. My Aunt Mickey, who hosted it; and my Mom’s two best friends Wini and Judy.

My parents married on June 17, 1951 at Talmud Torah in West New York.  My Dad’s sister was the maid of honor. My Mom’s brother was the best man. My Mom wore my Aunt’s wedding dress. As this was a quickly planned wedding, there was no time to order a wedding dress.  And my aunt, the maid of honor, wore the gown my Mom wore when she was in the bridal party of her brother’s wedding!  Sixty-seven years later, my niece married her husband on the same day.

I even have the list of everyone who attended the wedding.  Sadly, as was the time, everyone is listed as Mr. and Mrs., so I do not have many names of the women who were there, unless they were single and came by themselves.  But many of the names I know.  Many are family members. Many are people I knew throughout my life. 

The Lew/Wolf Family members who came to the wedding.

Those first cousins of my grandmother, who came to the shower, were also at the wedding with their spouses.  I met them a few times as a child and quickly forgot, as children will do. But I know I met them, as my grandmother’s family had a Cousins’ Club for many years. And I remember going and running around with lots of children in a big room. But like many children, my memory of the adults has slipped away.

After the wedding, my parents went on their honeymoon to New York City, spending two nights at the Waldorf Astoria!  They then went to the Catskills and spent five nights at Grossingers!  A true destination spot for honeymoons.

My grandparents owned a small bungalow colony in the Catskills. My Dad always joked that his in laws came to be with him on his honeymoon.  And they did. They had dinner with them one night.  And with that dinner, my Dad had a funny story to tell for the rest of his life.

This tradition continued when my daughter and her husband got married. She wanted to show her husband our Catskills’ home. So they spent three nights of their honeymoon at our home in Kauneonga Lake. My sister went with them, as my daughter had never been there alone as an adult and did not really know her way around. But I like to tease my sister that she was continuing a family tradition.  (My daughter also got married on the anniversary of my husband and my first date.)

I am so glad my Mom kept records of everything in her beautiful and precise handwriting.  Reading through this book brought back stories and memories.  And brought back the joy of the wedding season that we are all missing.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/09/10/a-kansas-wedding-with-a-catskills-honeymoon/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/12/19/the-descendants-of-esther-lew-and-victor-avigdor-wolff-wolf/

Beautiful Feet, A Shoe Store and My Dad’s Sage Advice

20 Jan

My Dad left this world almost eight years, but in my mind, I hear his voice and I think about him daily when I get dressed and put on my socks and shoes.

Dad had a thing about keeping your feet healthy!  It dated from his time served in the infantry during the Korean War.   He would tell me and my siblings about the men he knew who did not take care of their feet and ended up with gangrene and amputation.  Many men in the military end up what is called trench foot.  And my Dad, having seen victims of this, was always emphasizing good foot care.

I cannot tell you how many times he told me that “when your feet hurt everything hurts.” This was always emphasized when we got new shoes. My Uncle Jack was the manager of a shoe store in Yonkers, New York.  Whenever we needed shoes, we would make that journey from New Jersey.

Uncle Jack was insistent that our feet fit correctly in the shoes.  He would measure and remeasure and check our toes.  When my Dad’s embroidery business failed, Dad worked in the shoe store for a while.  He became as crazy about shoes fitting as Uncle Jack.  As a teen and young adult, when I went to buy shoes, Dad always cautioned that the shoe’s toe bed should be big enough for my toes; never cramped; and never ever wear shoes that were too small.

The shoe store was important for other reasons, besides providing jobs and teaching a skill.  In fact, my oldest cousin and my brother eventually worked in a shoe store in Monticello during the summers. (See blog below.).

The stacks of the store’s storage room have additional importance for me.  When my husband and I became engaged, my Dad and Uncle told my husband to be not to buy a ring, they would help.  Uncle Jack had a great friend, or perhaps distant relative also named Jack, who was a diamond dealer.   He met us in the stacks of the shoe store carrying a shoe box filled with diamond rings. No one knew there were diamonds there.  When he left it looked like he purchased a pair of shoes. For me the shoe store in Yonkers provided shoes and diamonds,  and provides a great story on how I got my engagement ring.

I digress, so back to feet!

Another rule was: “Never wear wet socks.  When your feet get wet, dry them and change your socks as soon as possible.”  This one was often said when we ran around outside in the Catskills, especially after a rain or when the dew was thick in the mornings. Dad would rather we ran around barefoot in the rain, then wear sneakers and wet socks.  It was wet socks on soldiers that led to the trench foot conditions that impacted their lives.   To this day, I would rather wear sandals in the summer and waterproof boots in the winter to keep me away from wet socks!

When my Dad was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, he started visiting a podiatrist once a month to keep his feet in good shape.  On my Mom’s side, we had an elderly relative who lost his legs due to diabetes.  That was not going to happen to my Dad.  (see blog below.)

This emphasis on feet came to mind because of a chat I had with three friends.  We were at one friend’s house watching an important football game, when the topic of bunions came up, as one had bunion surgery and another was contemplating the same surgery.  My three friends were talking about their feet and the aches and pains and shoes that they were concerned about.

I said nothing at first. But I was thinking about a recent experience.  I had been on a cruise that entailed much difficult walking. As a reward to myself, I had a foot massage and reflexology on the ship.  The young man who provided my service, kept commenting on my beautiful feet.  He told me was expecting really ugly bunion ridden feet because of my age.  My feet astonished him. (See blog about walking below.)

img_7493

My beautiful feet enjoying Florida.

So finally, I joined the conversation, “I don’t have bunions.  My feet are in good shape.  In fact, they have been called beautiful.” They insisted I take off my shoes and show off my feet.    Which I did.  The friend who just had her foot surgery said, “You do have beautiful feet.  Your feet look like the photo the doctor showed of how feet should look.”

I told them that I owe my beautiful feet to both genetics and my Dad’s constant reminders about foot care.   Each morning, I dry my feet and put a healing lotion on them.  Once a month I get a pedicure and a massage.  I never wear wet shoes or wet socks.  I make sure my shoes fit correctly.  I do not wear high heels or pointed toes.

In my mind, I see my Dad smiling at me as I continue to follow his sage advice and remember Uncle Jack’s shoe store.  And feel blessed that I do not need foot surgery!

 

 

 

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/03/18/the-great-shoe-catastrophe/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/12/05/childhood-events-definitely-impact-my-adult-choices/

https://zicharonot.com/2015/07/10/walking-my-way-through-the-perils-of-stone-pathways-in-europe/

 

Sisters: Grandma Esther and Aunt Minnie

19 Oct

Esther and Minnie 1

Today I found a photo gem.  I love this photo.  I see my Grandma Esther and her sister, Aunt Minnie.  I see the fence around our bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake.

The photo looks out to what we called the “front lawn,” and in the background I see the lake.  You might not notice it, but if you look through the fence, you can see a bit of blue surrounded by trees.

There are several things that make this photo special.  First, I love how my grandmother is standing.   She had a habit of holding her foot up like that in photos.  I guess she liked to stand that way.

Second, she has her sunglasses off to the side, and I remember those sunglasses!!  Although I usually think of them on her face.  She wore them all the time.  Third, their hair!  Neither of them are totally white yet.  Later Grandma would put a rinse in her hair which gave it a blue tint!

Also, they are dressed up! All I can think of is that they were going to a show that day at one of the big hotels.  Otherwise they would have been in shorts and shirts and sitting in a chair either playing canasta or knitting.

This has to be in the late 1960s.  I might have taken this photo with my Brownie camera.  Once I got a camera I started my life long habit of taking photos of everything.  It might have been someone else, but for now I will claim it.

I have written before that we spent every summer in the Catskills.  I had all four of my grandparents and many other family members together all summer long.

Grandma Esther, Grandpa Harry and Aunt Minnie shared a bungalow!  How that worked, I never asked.  It was just the way it was every summer. I assume their love for each other overwhelmed their annoyances!

In the winter they lived in the same building in Co-op City, NYC,  but in different apartments.  Uncle Al, Aunt Minnie’s husband had passed away years before.  From that point on the three of them were always together.

I cannot imagine them apart. The sisters were always together in my mind, loving and fighting.  Many times, I think back to them when my sister and I squabble.  A vision of the two of them fighting over a canasta game, they were always partners, flashes and sometimes I just want to laugh.

We were so fortunate to have our summers in Kauneonga Lake surrounded by people who loved us.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/01/25/the-grandmas-forever-canasta-game/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/02/13/knitting-and-crocheting-brings-love-and-memories/

 

Bells Chiming Make Me Feel Better

15 Jul

When I was a child, and home sick, my mother would give me a little bell to ring if I needed her.   My brother and sister also had the use of the bell when they were sick.  I loved that bell.  I knew as long as I had that bell, my Mom or my Dad would come into the room and make me feel better just by being there. Its sound brought me comfort.

img_4176

Space shuttle bell on the left; Tinkerbell bells in the back.  Chilean bells in the front.

So, of course, when I had children, I also wanted them to have a special bell to ring for me.  I tried many.  For my daughter, I tried a little plain bell first.  But the sound was really dull.  With her bedroom upstairs, I needed something that would sound better and stronger.  We found one in Disney World.  A little Tinkerbell bell that was perfect, as my daughter loved Tinkerbell.   In fact, my Dad would call her ‘Tink’ all the time.  Although in reality, she thought she was Tigerlily.  That is a story for another day!

When that Tinkerbell bell eventually broke from use, we purchase a new one. It was not the same for her.  Too bright, not darkened with use.  But luckily, we were able to rehang the original bell, fixing it and reclaiming its tinker.

For my son, I purchased a bell from the Kennedy Space Center.  I am not sure why the space center sold bells, but the sound was good.  Since my son liked space ships and rockets, this bell was perfect for him, with its dangling space shuttle.

Whenever they were sick, I would give each of them their special bell to call me when needed.  Did it always work?  No, not often.  Usually they would just call me, and I would come. But for me it was a comfort to know they had a bell.  In my mind, having a bell was about continuity and love. By giving them a bell, I was giving them the power to bring me to them, like a magical wish.

I always have been attracted to the sound of bells. I love listening to handbell choirs. There was even a Hershey’s television commercial that used chocolate kisses as bells.  I loved it.  So when I travel, if I see an interesting bell, I am attracted to it.    I did fine some lovely bells in Chile a few years ago. To be honest, although they are lovely to look at, they do not sound good at all.   In fact, no bell quite sounds as good as my mother’s bell.

Actually, I have my mother’s bell, so I really need no other.   I believe my Mom brought to me when she came to visit one time because she knew my attachment to it.   I keep it in my family room.

It is a small brass bell, with a bit of red trim, set in a holder.  On the bottom it says “Made In India.”  But 60 years ago, when my mother first had this bell, I do not think there were many things from India for sale in the USA.  I now know that it is called an elephant claw bell, because of the shape of the bottom.   I have seen several similar bells with base for sale on line.  Sometimes they are called “antique ceremonial meditation bells.”

I can see it being a meditation bell, as It has the loveliest of tones. My bell has the same tones as those used by my yoga instructor to indicate the end of class.  But for my bell, when I ring it, my soul and heart returns to those happy memories. And I see my Mom in my mind — my young mom, the mother of three small children.

Another bell was important to my family. We used it only in the Catskills, my Mom and my Grandma used a large metal dinner or cow bell to call us to come in.  The bell hung outside the door of my grandparents’ house, facing the back towards our bungalow.  We had four acres of land including woods, so they often did not know where we, the children, were playing. Sometimes we were at our neighbors’ yards playing. It did not matter, when heard that large bell ringing, we knew to come.

Grandma would also ring that bell when she wanted one of us to come down to her house to get something or do something for her.  My mother would ring to bring us in, yelling our names along with sounding the bell.  It was used daily.  When she had grandchildren, my Mom used the bell to call them in as well.

Th bell is still at our Catskills’ home waiting for another generation to be called. Its loud clanging, not so beautiful in tone, but beautiful in memories.

The sound of bells chiming almost always puts me in a good mood and make me feel better.

 

 

 

https://www.thetabernaclechoir.org/videos/carol-of-the-bells-mormon-tabernacle-choir.html

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe4IZ7aGikw

 

For My Grandpa, Being a Kohan Was His Joy and Duty

27 Jun

Inside Shul in Kauneonga Lake

My Cousin took this photo from the women’s balcony, at least 30 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima.

My maternal Grandpa was a Kohan, a descendant of the Priests of Israel.  Even today, Kohanim have roles and duties that are part of their lives.  Grandpa was born in Galicia, an area of Austria/Poland that often changed borders.  He came to the USA in 1920.  And eventually owned his own kosher bakery in New Jersey, as well as a small bungalow colony in the Catskills.  But he always kept the rules of the Kohanim.

Grandpa often served as the Kohan during the Pidyon ha Ben ceremony.  This ceremony is also called the redemption of the first born.  In biblical times the first-born child, if it is a son, of an Israelite family had to be given to the Kohanim.   The family needs to present five silver coins to a representative of the Kohanim.  My grandfather was often asked to serve as this representative.   He would lead the ceremony and take the silver coins, which he kept until the boy was bar mitzvah, when he would return the coins as part of the child’s bar mitzvah gift.

I remember as a child being at a Pidyon ha Ben service.  I was so intrigued by the ceremony.  But I think more by the money.  I asked what Grandpa did with all the silver coins.  My Grandma told me that Grandpa did not use that money.  He saved it in a special place to return to the boy when he was older.

I wonder how they could keep track of that money.  But then my grandparents owned a kosher bakery, and my grandmother saved every silver coin that came into the store.  When she died, we found 900 silver coins, from dimes to silver dollars.  They were divided up so that everyone one of their descendants had some.  I still have mine.

Grandpa rarely went to a cemetery.   In fact, I don’t remember him ever going to a cemetery. He always paid shiva calls, but not the funeral.  Kohanim do not go near the dead. He did not go into a service until my grandmother died.   Kohanim do not go near the dead.  In fact, some Jewish funeral homes are built with two foundations, so that Kohanim can stay in the outer area during a funeral. There but not in the same structure.  I can still see my Grandpa during my Grandma’s funeral, even though it was almost 40 years ago.

Grandpa went to services on Shabbat.  He made so many Kohan aliyot at Shabbat services.  When they moved to the Catskills full time.  He was often the only Kohan at shul.  It became his responsibility to go every week and be the Kohan.  He took this honor seriously.

When he was in his later years, over 80, he would drive partway to shul and then walk the distance that he could walk.  Although he was brought up not driving on Shabbat or working, in the 1980s at his shul in Kauneonga Lake, people drove to services, even parking on the grounds of the shul, Congregation Temple Beth El. But not Grandpa.  He would park by Sylvia’s clothing store, up the hill from the main part of Kauneonga Lake and easier for him to walk.  I once asked him why he didn’t just park at the shul.   His response, “I walk as far as I can, because I can do that for Shabbat.”

On the high holidays he was often the only Kohan at the Kauneonga Lake shul.  On the high holidays he would sit in the men’s section with his tallit wrapped over his head covering his eyes.  When I was little my favorite time was sitting with him in shul with his tallit covering me as well.  He kept his hands over his eyes under the tallit as he davened.  His emotions during the high holidays was overwhelming.  My sister said it was her strongest memory, how upset and emotional he would get them, as Grandpa usually had a great sense of joy.  But then as an adult she realized that the pain of the Shoah came to him then.  He was the only one left of his family.  All perished in Europe, while he was already in the USA.

Sometimes he was the only Kohan at shul to perform the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessings.  Grandpa had a beautiful singing voice.  He often sang to us in Yiddish. During the Priestly Blessings, he sang for everyone and blessing the entire congregation.  At times there were other Kohanim present, especially if the holidays were early in September.  Then Grandpa would be joined by others on the bima.

At some point, another Kohan moved to the Kauneonga Lake area and also went to services.  Grandpa was thrilled.  Sometimes he would not go to services on Shabbat.  He would say, “Let the other guy have a chance.”

It was this statement that brought this story to my mind last weekend..  My husband is a Levi.  He goes to minyan every Wednesday, but to Shabat services about once a month. He almost always gets Levi.  Our congregation only has three Levis who come weekly.  They, like my grandfather, are happy when another guy comes. This week the Gabbi came and said, “Do you want Levi?” “Sure,” was my husband’s response.  “Good because the others say they don’t want it today, you should take it.”  During this short conversation, in my mind’s eye, I could see my Grandpa’s smiling and laughing.

Grandpa took his role as a Kohan with joy and fulfilled his duty.  I know he would be happy seeing my husband fulfilling his duty as well.

 

 

 

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1008437/jewish/Birkat-Kohanim-Melody.htm

 

My Grandmother’s Mysterious Black Notebook

13 May

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.