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Serious Pandemic Estate Planning

25 Nov

My husband and I recently updated our estate plan.  We have done this several times to keep things updated to the age of our children and our situation.  The last time we did it was when our youngest child turned 21.  He is 30 now, and our daughter is married.  It was definitely time.

Because we are now in our mid 60s and there is a COVID pandemic, it made sense to make sure we had all our financial arrangements organized, and our living wills and power of attorneys updated. Several people I know did not have plans, and upon their death, complications occurred. I like to be organized!

Our attorney told us that we were not the only ones thinking about estate planning.  Actually, many people are worried and so are doing what we did, updating or starting a new will or trust. (See article below.)

I did not want to leave my children with a mess.  My father and mother were in the process of updating their wills, when my Mom died suddenly.   My father never completed the changes he had planned because then he became ill and died.  I did not want my children to have the long-term situation we had as we navigated through some issues. 

Our biggest crisis came because of a donation to charity.  My parents were not specific.  And this caused a battle between the charity and the State of New Jersey.  The charity wanted the money used as they wanted it to be used.  The State of New Jersey wanted the money to be used only in New Jersey.  We really had no control over this mess as the state and the non- profit battled it out.  Just to let you know, New Jersey won.

Thus, we will not be leaving any money to a non-profit in our estate planning. We set up a separate Donor Advised Fund years ago, our donations will continue to go through that fund, we will make decisions while we live.  I do not want to leave it to lawyers to determine what we wanted. Everything we put in our estate plans is specific!

Almost all of the planning was done through email and phone calls.  This actually was not unusual nor due to COVID. Each time we updated our documents, we used phone calls and email! It took several months to get all the documents completed. Then we had to sign and date all the documents: trust, power of attorneys for health and finance, and the very important living wills that outlined how we wanted our health care to be completed as we neared death.  We are strong proponents of no feeding tubes and to have a DNR order, Do not resuscitate, as we near death.  For this we had to go to the lawyer’s office for the witnesses and notary to do their jobs. 

Last week we completed this final task to get our estates updated and ready.  Not that I am planning to get sick and die, but I am a bit OCD, and I want everything in order.

However, I was not prepared for what our lawyer told us after everything was signed and the notary and witnesses left the room.

To be honest, we have been using the same estate attorney for 25 years.  When we started working with her, she was the newest attorney in this company’s estate department, she now chairs it.  I can honestly say, she has NEVER said this to us before.  We were in our mid 50s last time.

What did she say that startled me? That caused this emotional outburst?

She basically said the following:  When the event of first death occurs, the surviving spouse needs to contact us and provide us with the original signed copies of the will and estate plans of the deceased spouse.  We will then need to re-evaluate the estate of the surviving spouse. 

These are not her exact words, but they are her meaning. One of us would die, and we needed to be prepared.  WOW!

There were a few other instructions, like taking a picture of our living wills and keeping them on our phones in case we ever had to go to an emergency room!  It is actually a good idea.  I already have photos of our medicines on my phone.  But now I will have our living wills on my phone as well.

After we left the office, I turned to my husband and commented on all these instructions. He, of course, was pragmatic.  We had to know.  And I guess we do. 

I turned 65 at the start of this year and did not feel old. But in March I found out that the pandemic is worse for older people of my age. And now I am aware that I could die. And I need to have everything ready for an emergency room visit and for the death of the first spouse.  Sigh.  Being organized is a good thing, however sometimes it is a bit depressing.

No matter the tiny bit of ambivalent feelings, I am glad that we did some serious pandemic estate planning.

https://www.law.com/texaslawyer/2020/07/26/covid-19-has-increased-demand-for-estate-planning-heres-how-to-do-it-right/?slreturn=20201024104622

An Elegant Evening At An Embroidery Convention

15 Nov

Dressed for an elegant evening out, my parents are 28 years old in this photo.  My Dad was the co-owner of an embroidery shop in New Jersey. (See blog below.). In this photo they are at an embroidery convention.  When I look at them, I am amazed at how young they are here!

My mother’s lovely handwriting on the back says, May 1957, Laurel’s Embroidery Convention.  The dress my Mom is wearing is totally embroidered.  It is a fabric made in my Dad’s shop.  I have vivid memories of this dress, as it hung in the basement closet forever.  It was either a pale beige or rose color in my memory. The skirt was perfect for twirling.  How do I know?  Because my sister and I loved to play dress-up with this dress!

My Mom is also wearing my Grandmothers mink jacket!  In May!  But wearing a mink jacket is the height of elegance in those days.  However, I have to laugh because above her head is a basketball hoop.  So although the party was elegant, they had to walk through a sports area to get to the dinner event.

I remember hearing of the Laurel’s. It must have been a convention center/meeting place in New Jersey, probably in Secaucus, New Jersey, near Laurel Hill, also known as Snake Hill.(See info below.)  Over the years, the hill has been decimated as the highways were built and some of the rock was taken out when quarries were allowed there. But a little bit of the hill still remains!  It can be seen at Laurel Hill County Park and from the New Jersey Turnpike.

My Dad is dressed up as well in a really nice suit.  Dad was an elegant dresser.  He purchased shoes in Europe when he traveled.   He always worked in the fashion industry and looked the part.  He had so many suits and shirts and ties.  When he passed away, many of his grandchidren and I took a few of his ties to keep as a memory.  He had ties of every hue and color. His closet was a rainbow of shirts and ties. Everything organized and ready for the next fashion statement.

The one element of this photo that does offend me is the cigarette in my Dad’s hand.   My siblings and I hated his smoking.  We often had major battles over this.  Like the time I flushed his cigarettes down the toilet.  Or when my brother hid all his extravagant cigars behind the books on the top shelf of the bookcases. Dad never found them!  But cigarettes were a part of life in the 1950s.

My sister was not alive when my parents went to this convention. I was 2 and my brother was 3. Which means, I am sure, my grandparents were babysitting for us, as we were still living in an apartment above their bakery in West New York, New Jersey. (See blog below.)

I have to add an update! Thanks to a reader, I now know that the Laurels was a big hotel in the Catskills. A competitor to Grossingers, it was one of the largest hotels. So I am sure my grandparents were taking care of us, but we might all have been in the Catskills staying at our home in Kauneonga Lake while my parents went to this convention. The Laurels were located near Monticello in Sullivan County!

Photos really bring back memories. It brings back memories of my father’s embroidery shop in West New York, NJ.  Embroidery was a big business in the USA in the early and mid 1900s.  Now there is nothing left of these many shops!  Though I do not remember this event per se, I do remember my parents dressing up for other events.  I do remember the dress and the mink jacket.  Those memories bring me happiness in this time of staying home during the pandemic.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/02/26/a-hudson-county-embroidery-shop-started-my-dads-career/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/02/01/bakery-aromas-bring-back-delicious-memories/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_Hill

Ginger Rogers and My Dad

4 Nov

I recently noticed that in April, the Ginger Rogers Museum in Independence, Missouri, closed.  Based in the home where Ginger was born in 1911, the museum only opened in 2018.  But due to the pandemic and lack of interest of the public, the owners decided to close and put the house on the market. That news saddened me.  I really wanted to see her home and memorabilia.

Why?  Because I met Ginger Rogers once in New York City at my father’s office. 

She was involved in the fashion industry in NYC, doing some designing for J.C. Penney. My Dad knew her and worked with her on a project.  He owned a company that sold prints to designers. These prints were then turned into fabric and sold to make bathing suits and lingerie.   That was my Dad’s niche.  (See blog below.). I worked for my Dad one summer.  And that is when I met Ginger Rogers.

I had grown up watching Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies. I loved them.  I loved the dancing and the songs and the fashion!  I always remembered the saying that Ginger danced better than Fred because she did everything backwards and in high heels!  And it is true.

When I met Ginger Rogers, I had that young and lithe image in my mind.  However, when I met her in the 1970s, she was in her 60s and I was in my early 20s.  And though still an attractive person, she was not the same person I had seen in the movies.  But even though she did not look like the Ginger Rogers in the movies, she did have basically the same voice.  I appreciated that she took time to visit with me before meeting with my Dad. 

After she left, Dad told me that Ginger Rogers was a smart business woman, and that he really enjoyed working with her.

Three of my scarves from Dad.

As part of his job, my dad traveled to Europe several times a year to search for designs and inspiration for new patterns that his artist then modified into patterns for prints that could easily be made into clothing.  As samples, my father would buy silk scarves and bring them back to the USA. 

He also purchased other scarves as gifts! My sister, mother and I had scarves from all over Europe, but Mom had the best collection.  We wore our scarves over our coats and to enhance a sweater. People ask me all the time how I learned so many ways to wear a scarf.  I had years of practice! I still have several scarves my Dad purchased, even though my Dad’s business has been gone for over 30 years.

Note from Ginger Rogers!

Among the people Dad purchased and presented a scarf to was Ginger Rogers.  I know this, because I have her thank you note written on stationary from The Carlyle on Madison Avenue in NYC.  The Carlyle is one of the most exclusive hotels in NYC.

“April 11, 1974

Dear Don –

What a super surprise upon my return from Springfield, Mass. To find your very lovely present of that scarf. Just love it and I adore hand-rolled scarves – and especially one that represents thanks in return for naming a fabric. Hope you kept the name Treadaro? I’ll be interested in its name acceptance!”

(The letter goes on to discuss their business with choosing a print to use in a J.C. Penney’s product. The ending made me happy, because my Dad was a kind soul.)

“Thanks again for this lovely scarf and for your genuine kindness too.

Ginger Rogers”

I love the letter.  When we were cleaning out my parent’s home, I had to keep it.  It is a memory of working for my Dad and meeting Ginger Rogers. 

Even to this day, whenever I watch an older Rogers and Astaire movie, I see her in my mind’s eye.  And during my many years of taking ballroom dancing lessons with my husband, it is Ginger Rogers talent that inspired to keep trying. Whenever we danced a foxtrot, it was Ginger Rogers I was envisioning and trying to emulate. And whenever a song from the that era plays, it is Rogers and Astaire and my parents I see dancing in my mind. (See blog below.)

It is also a memory of the many scarves that arrived in our home.  There were others who received gifts of scarves over the years. But this is the only thank you letter that my Dad saved.

So the closing of the museum touched my soul. I lost my chance to connect one more time with Ginger Rogers.

https://zicharonot.com/2015/01/15/working-for-my-dads-firm-in-nyc-lead-to-my-love-of-lingerie/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/05/03/ballroom-dancing-relaxation-reflection-and-exercise/

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/

Vintage Greeting Cards Stir My Imagination

2 Sep

When my grandfather died almost 31 years ago, my mother shipped some furniture to me.  My grandparents’ cherry mahogany bedroom set, a lamp, an old radio cabinet and a few more pieces.  My grandfather had not removed my grandmother’s clothing from the dresser nor the items she had left behind in the radio cabinet that served as a closed bookcase.  My mother did not empty them out either.  She sent the furniture filled with my grandparents’ personal items because she just could not deal with them.

I emptied out the dresser drawers when I received it, donating most of the clothing to charity, the $10 bill I found hidden away, I still have for emergencies.  Although I used the radio cabinet, I left my grandparent’s items inside alongside the items I stored in it.  But recently, when I moved, I emptied out the cabinet and repurposed it as a curio cabinet.  I had looked at the items before this move.  In fact, I wrote a previous blog about my grandmother’s ledger books. (See blog below.). But the other piles I just ignored for 31 years.  Procrastination in dealing with sorrow is strong in my family.

But now I had no excuse.  I had to sort through the piles on the shelves.  My findings included letters that my sister, cousin, Mom and I all wrote to my grandparents. I must admit, most of the ones saved were from me. I think that I wrote the most because I moved to the Midwest.  There were also three letters in Yiddish.  I think they are from my Grandmother’s brother and sister in law.  I have to get them translated.

The antique radio cabinet.

Included in the piles were 116 unused vintage greeting cards from the 1940s, 50s and 60s:  sympathy cards; cards for birthdays, weddings, anniversary; get well cards; birthday cards for grandchildren; holiday cards. 

There was one sister birthday card.  My grandmother was able to save her sister from Poland in 1936 and bring her to the United States. They were extremely close. My great uncle was a baker with my grandfather.  But Grandma never sent this card to my Tante.  I thought, “why waste a good card.” I recently sent it to my sister, whose birthday is this month.  I think she will like it!

Card I sent my sister.

Among these vintage cards were two that really touched my heart. Created by American Greetings, these 25 cent cards were birthday cards for twins.  Why would Grandma buy birthday cards for twins? We knew no twins; we had no twin cousins; why?

I think I know.  I my theory with my sister.  We will never know, but it could be.  I honestly wish I could ask her.  But when I was a teenager, I learned her story.

The two twin cards.

We did not have living twins in our family.  But in 1930 my grandmother was pregnant with twins.  She already had two children. My uncle about 3 or 4 and my Mom was about 18 months when my grandmother was pregnant again.  At 24, she was not in good health.  Her childhood in Poland and surviving WWI had left its mark on her health.  Her kidneys were failing.  The doctor said she had to terminate the pregnancy or she and the baby would die (They did not know it was twins till after.).

And so the pregnancy was terminated.  Abortion was illegal in 1930.  However, Grandma was able to have the abortion by a physician.  Could it be that she was so sick, they had to do anything to save her life?  I assume so.  After the abortion they found out that she was carrying twins.

How do I know all of this?  My grandmother and my mother told me.  My sister knows as well. It was not a secret.  My grandmother was always open about how terminating the pregnancy saved her life.  She never got pregnant again.  I assume my grandparents were very careful.  

But after the abortion, my Grandmother was still quite ill. Her kidneys were still failing. She was so ill that she decided she had to go back to Europe and give her children to her in-laws as she was sure she was going to die.  She did not die and she returned to the USA with her children and then worked to get the family out of Europe.   (I wrote a blog about this as well, see below.). It was the abortion, the illness and this trip that led to my grandmother saving her sister’s life! 

When I saw the birthday cards for the twins.  My memory of my Grandmother telling me about this lost pregnancy came into my mind.  Did she ever think about all that happened because she ended the pregnancy? Did she buy these cards for the children who did not live?  Where they often on her mind? Did she celebrate their birthday privately?  

I will never know. 

https://zicharonot.com/2015/12/07/my-grandmas-ledger-books-remind-me-of-her-financial-lessons/

https://zicharonot.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

Dealing With A Speech Impediment is Not Easy!I Get Joe Biden And Brayden H.

22 Aug

In the last few months, I have had people ask me about Joe Biden.  Does he have cognitive issue?  Are you sure?  He seems to hesitate when he speaks sometimes.

My response is always, Joe Biden has a stutter.  People who stutter often have to stop to think about what they say before they say it.  It helps with the flow.

Why am I an expert?  Because it is an action I know well.  From the time I was 4 until I finished eighth grade, I had a weekly session with a speech pathologist. The year before kindergarten and in kindergarten, she came to our home and worked with me.

I was fortunate.  My Mom had a degree in elementary education and had worked as a teacher before she had children.  She knew that the way I spoke was not going to fix itself, and so she made the necessary and important calls get me the help I needed as soon as possible.

Once I got into first grade, the sessions continued. But now I left my classroom for a half hour, once a week to meet privately with the speech pathologist at the school.  I had tons of exercises to do.  And tongue twisters to say.  For me, “Sally Sells Seashells at the Sea Shore,” was not just a saying. It was a difficult and painful exercise, which I said over and over again in mirror.  W’s and Rs were so hard to enunciate.  I would look at myself in the mirror saying, “Ring, Wing, Ring, Wing.” I had to watch as my face moved. The speech teacher had me hold her face and she moved the muscles around her mouth, so that I also could move my muscles the same way.

I still do these exercises sometimes when I am alone, especially if I have to do public speaking.

People made fun of me.  A friend of my grandmother’s once told me that I should go on “Laugh In” because I spoke so funny.  At eight years old, I was mortified. And I did not want to go out of our house for a while.  My grandmother was furious. But that did not help. It was said and it hurt.

I hated going to restaurants because I had to say my order out loud.  I always wanted my Mom or Dad to do it for me. But at a certain point Mom insisted that I do it.  So I fought with my might NOT to go to a restaurant. There were many battles, where my anger and desire to stay home wrecked family events.  But the fear and shame of how I spoke made me defiant and added to my desire to stay home. 

I hated talking on the phone, for fear the person on the other end would laugh.  But my Mom would make me answer and practice phone skills with me.  My Mom never backed down.  I was going to learn to talk!

There were people who helped.  The Good Humor man in the Catskills was my buddy.   He always listened to me and knew what I wanted to order.  When he retired, the new ice cream man had a chocolate sundae waiting for me, ordered by our old ice cream man.  I called it a “yorchlet undae.” But the Good Humor men had compassionate, and always waited while I ordered.

My cousins and my good friends who knew me from early childhood, never made fun of me.  They waited and let me talk.  They understood what I said. But even if they didn’t, they helped me find the words.

But it was my father’s first cousin, David, who stuttered, who made the biggest difference.  I will never, ever forget.  We did not see him often. But at every big family event, he was there.  And it was at one of my cousin’s bar mitzvah that David decided that it was time.  Perhaps my Dad spoke to him.  All I know, is that he helped as only he could. 

I was so shy. I was standing up against a wall, not speaking, when David came over to me.  I don’t remember everything he said, but his message was clear.  IF he could do it, I could do it.  He still stuttered sometimes, but I needed to know that I was a good person. And that the speech impediment did not define, SHOULD not define, who I was and impact my life anymore.  We spoke for a long time.  He told me his story. He told me how he got through with his speech impediment, went to college, got married and had a great job. He expected me to do the same. He gave me the confidence my parents could not give me as they did not understand. 

I remember my father came up and asked if everything was ok.  David say, “More than okay.” He hugged and told me if I ever wanted to talk again, that my Dad would call him. That he would always speak to me. And he did!

As a child, the show and movie, “The Music Man,” was my favorite because I understood Winthrop and I appreciated the Music Man, Harold Hill, who helped Harold, just as my cousin helped me!

So when I saw Brayden Harrington speak at the Democratic Presidential Convention.  When I heard his story of how Joe Biden helped him.   I had tears, but more, I nodded in understanding and support.   It was my first cousin once removed, David, who was my helper.  Who change the path of my life.  Who helped me out of my shell and helped me find my voice.

From a girl who was afraid to order at a restaurant, or speak on the phone or talk to strangers, I ended up with master’s degree in journalism.  I speak to strangers all the time.  I speak on the phone, to groups and even taught high school.  No one in my adult life knew about my issues. All that work in elementary and middle school paid off!  By high school I sounded like everyone else, because I learned to compensate!

Joe Biden; the king of England George VI, so finely illustrated by Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”; Winthrop, in “The Music Man,” my cousin, David:  all overcame a speech impediment by learning skills to compensate, as I do. I know when a word is coming that I cannot say that day.  Yesterday, or even a minute ago, it would come out. But at that moment I need to quickly find another to use.  But I am slick and quick and I learned over the years to avoid multisyllabic words in my spoken language.

So NO Joe Biden is not slow, or demented.  He, in fact, is amazing to me.  That he has gone so far and learned to speak out.  But more, he has become a role model of good to young people who also suffer from speech issues.

If you need help with stuttering: https://www.stutteringhelp.org/

A Quest Completed! Thanks to My Cousin!

19 Aug

In my quest to discover more about my ancestors and my family’s immigration to the USA, I have enlisted the help of my family.  My sister, an attorney, was given the job of research. When I could not find something, I often sent her an email and said ‘try to find this’.  And she did. Sometimes we argued about whether we really found who we thought we found. But in the end, we would determine the truth.  She is named for my paternal great grandmother, Raisha.

My cousin’s son, when he graduated college, and before he got a job, became interested in family as well, and created a marvelous family tree of my paternal side. I still send him updates when I get more information. He keeps it current as cousins marry and babies are born. Other cousins have sent me photos as they search through their parent’s albums. We have had great discoveries through these albums, including the only known photo of my other paternal great grandmother. (See blog below.)

For years I have wanted to find the graves of my paternal great grandparents.  I knew they were buried in New York somewhere. I actually remember my great grandmother.  Before COVID, I found what I thought was my great grandfather’s grave, and sent it out to my cousins, asking what they thought.  It was not the grave. Two of my cousins remember going to visit the grave with my grandmother, to see her parents.

My Great Grandfather Louis and Great Grandmother Rae in 1894 around the time of their wedding.
My Great Grandparent’s grave!

They said, it is in Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn.  OY, I really wanted to have pictures of the graves.  But I live in Kansas. I just needed this photo, to complete a desire in my quest to answer questions. Where were they?  Were they with other family?  No one wanted to make the journey out to the cemetery. They were all busy.

But, I have a fantastic cousin.  I call him the king of the cemeteries.  He does not like that title. But I give it to him out of love.  He is the one who makes sure the family plot where all my grandparents, my parents, his parents, my uncle and others rest, is always cared for by the cemetery.   When we have gone and seen something not right, we have emailed him. And he makes sure it is fixed. He is named after this great grandfather.  And they are both Baruch Lev, blessed hearts.

This week, when I got a call from him, I was worried.  He doesn’t call me that often.  And with me in Kansas, and most of my family in New Jersey and New York, I wondered did anything happen.  “Do you have Facetime?” he asked.  The next thing I know he was calling me back, and I was walking with him in Washington Cemetery seeing the graves of my great grandparents.  I have tears in my eyes now, but at that moment, I was elated.  “Take pictures.”    Of course, he was taking pictures.  He said, with nothing to do right now, he thought he would take a ride out and find the graves.

He could not find the grave of their child who died as an infant.  He did not see the graves of any of our great grandparents’ siblings.  And although my cousins thought that my grandparents were not buried together, the memory was wrong. They share a grave site.  

My cousin took pictures of the grave and the entrance to the section where they are buried, in the Bialystoker area.

Above the gate it says: Bialystoker. And under it UNT VEREIN SOMACH NOFLIM.  My grandfather was the president of the Bialystoker Free Loan Society, the Somach Noflim. This is the area where he was buried.  He was also a vice president of the once famed Bialystoker Home for the Aged, which he helped establish.  The blog below explains the goodness of my great grandfather

Above the Gate: Bialystoker Unt Verein Somach Noflim

Baruch Lev ben Yaacov Zev, died July 24, 1941, just a few months before my father’s bar mitzvah. He was 71 years old. And Rushka, or Raisha or Rae, or Rachel, she has all those names: Rushka the daughter of Avigdor, who died on November 29, 1956, on my brother’s third birthday. I was not quite two. I actually have a memory of her.

I once told my Dad, that my memory was Grandma Ray sitting in a chair in my grandparents’ Bronx apartment. She was not moving very much and she had lace on her head.  Later I told Dad it must have been a doily on her head.  And my Dad laughed. He said she had very little hair, and her scalp showed through, making it look like lace.

I consider myself so fortunate to have a family who appreciates my desire to have the history of our family written down for the next generations.   I appreciate my sister who does research; my cousins who send me photos, especially the ones with inscriptions on the back; my cousin’s son who does the family tree; and my cousin, Baruch Lev,  who took a day to go to the cemetery for me and give me this gift of our great grandparents’ graves.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/03/08/louis-of-the-blessed-heart/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/11/23/the-gift-of-a-photo-becomes-a-gift-of-genealogy/

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/

Rediscovering My Husband’s Parent’s Wedding Album

15 Jun

As we have been unpacking since our recent move, we found items we did not even know we had.   Among them was my husband’s parent’s wedding album.  It makes sense we had them.  At the time his mother died and their father moved, one brother was living in Europe and the other brother was busy with four little children.   That meant that my husband and I did a lot of the sorting and cleaning.   Especially since his father was moving to live with his new wife.  A wedding album with his deceased wife would not have been a good idea.

I should also say my husband’s mother died when she was just 59 years old from lung cancer.  It was a painful time for her and for her family.  She was way too young. Smoking three packs of cigarettes a day was not the best for her health.   (See blog below.)

I digress.  We found the wedding album as we were packing boxes in the old house. The album was in an old box of items important to my husband.  We were sorting through the box to see what we needed to move with us.  Of course, the photo album made the move! We did not have time to really look through it when we were getting ready for the move. But now that we are here and unpacking, we took a break to look through a bundle of old photos.

Lee, his mother, was one of ten children in the Matassarin family. I knew eight of them. One died before she was born. And one passed before I joined the family. In this photo, most of her siblings and their spouses are in the picture. I am assuming the one that is not in were still serving in the military. It was soon after WW2.

Her parents died long before she married.  Her mother died when she was only five or six years old; her father died when she was a senior in high school.  (See blogs belos.)

Her oldest brother walked her down the aisle.  Her youngest sister was her maid of honor.  In some of the photos, she looks pensive.  I wonder if she is missing her father?  Her mother?  Even though she had so many siblings with her, I have to think she missed not having either parent.

My husband’s first cousins planned to have a family reunion next week. They planned a trip to Leavenworth, Kansas, to see the family home and to visit the Jewish cemetery where their grandparents were buried. It has all been cancelled due to the virus. I had planned to share the wedding album then. Instead, I share it here. Not all the photos, but at least this one that shows all the family together on a very happy day.

https://zicharonot.com/2015/05/06/remembering-my-mother-in-law-with-a-manicure-and-pedicure/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/04/06/more-family-legends-confirmed/https://zicharonot.com/2019/01/11/cemetery-records-impacts-family-stories/