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Downsizing After 35 Years

5 Mar

It has been a wacky five weeks in my life, which has left me without the energy to write. But finally, I think I can articulate my mixed-up emotions. We are moving. Leaving the only house we ever owned. Leaving the house that we brought both our children home to. Leaving the neighborhood we have lived in for 35 years.

And it is my fault!

I told my husband several years ago that we needed a smaller home. We needed to be living on one level. That he needed to stop mowing the lawn, raking leaves and shoveling snow. It was part of my wise aging plan, we would chose! Last summer he acquiesced. In August I started the search for a reverse 1 1/2 story that had some maintenance free accommodations. At the end of a January I found the house.

Bringing my husband to see it when he was not feeling well might not have been fair as he lay on the floor of the empty great room and told me if I love it get it. But I took him at his word. Also he knew I had seen a multitude of homes before getting that feeling of home I felt in this one.

The house became ours on March 2. Before that was inspections, arrangements for buying, and me coming down with the flu even though I had the flu shot this year as always. The flu for me is always horrific! And this was the same. Five days of fever was followed by an unhappy asthma attack. I have basically been feeling ill for over three weeks. But a second round of steroids seems to have finally moved me forward from my malaise.

But all this has been happening as I started packing for the move while I, along with my husband and children began sorting through the shrines of this home and discarding pieces of the past. My son comes when he is not working to clean out his room and his stored items in the basement. He and his girlfriend are also searching to buy a home. They will take some of the furniture and items that are not moving to our new home.

What my current house looks like

My daughter, who lives overseas with her husband, surprised us on her birthday showing us her ticket home. She arrived two days later for 8 days of intensive sorting. She and I went through our immense library of books, taking just 40-45 boxes and leaving the rest behind.

My children and I went through the house with different color tape as we chose art work. I had first choice, but then they chose what they liked. My heart swelled as the amicably made their selections. I thought how happy I was to do this with them while I was alive and could see what they liked and how well they got along. That is a parents joy. And after cleaning out my parents’ homes after they died, I was determined to make it easier for my children!

At the same time, we were finding paint samples, running to plumbing stores and remodeling companies as we planned the updates in the new home. And I was still dealing with my asthma. I think I was in a state of suspended reality the entire time. She also packed up her entire room, while also ridding it of the residue of her 34 years. She came with three empty suitcases that flew back across the Atlantic and Mediterranean filled with pieces of her life. When she left, I felt a bit bereft, but thankful she came.

But finally this morning I woke up after sleeping an entire seven hours feeling like I could really breathe! Our new house has a swarm of workers busily updating. Yesterday nine people were painting, hammering, removing, and updating. And with the painters painting away, new hardwood floors are being installed, the electrician fixing all the issues, the plumber ready to come, the alarm company updating, the tree service and roofer and gardener all set up, I can relax. All I have left to do is to keep packing and sorting. I honestly cannot have an outside company pack. Downsizing means things have got to GO!

Pre work great room
Carpeting gone.
Floor going in.
You can see the new color off to the left!

However, I have to admit one more event probably eased my anxiety. I was supposed to go on a mission to Europe with a group. I did not fear getting ill, but the timing was so bad with the move less than a month away. And I would be gone a week as the remodeling continues. I woke up at 4 am each morning uneasy. Going through all that still needed to be done at home, while at the same time trying to get my work completed at my job. High anxiety on top of excitement. On top of trying to breathe. But yesterday the trip was postponed due to the Corona virus. It actually is a relief!

I am thankful for my friends and family who have pitched in to help! Our realtor, who has been in our lives for over 25 years, has gone beyond her role to help me in the remodeling. My walking artist buddy has Helped me chose colors. My son’s girlfriend, with her great mind for detail, was with me during the inspections. Offers of help to pack. Allowing me to put some of our extra trash in their garbage cans for pickup. Looking through things as I try to decide what to keep. And being there. My husband and I are blessed with family and friends.

Some give away stories. My daughter and I found a box of remnants from my son’s bar mitzvah. Kelly green visors with the word celebrate imprinted. We first thought trash. But then I thought friend. My walking buddy teaches catechism at her granddaughters’ school. Would they like 100 Kelly green visors for St Patrick’s Day. They are donated and at the school ready. And our 100 extra Kippur from our children’s b’nai mitzvot and friends’ life cycle events are at our synagogue in the kippa box where they are being used for services. Other items are also finding new homes. Sleeping bags we no longer use are going to the homeless through a friend’s church ministry. A Halloween ceramic plate is going to a friend who loves that holiday. And my daughter’s 25 year old Barbie camper is going to a friend so her two granddaughters can play with it. I love seeing our cherished items get a second life!

But most of all, for me, I am happy that I finally had the energy to write.

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.)

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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/

 

Reading My Parents’ Eighth Grade Autograph Books

4 Jan

It used to be when you graduated eighth grade, you had your friends and teachers sign your autograph book.  The idea was that you would keep this book forever to carry the memories of these friends, who you thought would always be your friends, with you wherever you went.

I remember my autograph book.  Most people wrote silly poems.  Some wrote true hearted messages.  The teachers would mainly sign their names.  And of course, our parents, siblings and grandparents would sign our books as well.

So imagine our wonder, when we cleaned out our parent’s apartment, to find both of our parents eighth-grade autograph books!  I recently spent an hour going through these books from the 1940s and thinking about the people who signed them.  Most have passed away.  Some I did not know.  But others bring a face and a memory and love to my mind.

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Dad’s autograph book.

My Dad’s book is green and torn.  It looks like it has been battered. My Dad graduated eighth grade in June 1943.  He was 14 years old, would turn 15 in a few months.  He attended Joseph Wade Junior High School in the Bronx.  I know that his next stop was DeWitt Clinton High School.

The messages that mean the most to me are from his Mom: “Hope you climb the ladder of success, Mother.”  I have seen her handwriting many times.  I wonder why she did not sign it with love.   From his Dad: “Good Luck and Happiness, From Father Harry.”

The most exciting note for me was from his grandmother, I have no knowledge of her handwriting.  She was born in Russia. The note itself was written by someone else: “To my grandson.  Congratulations on your graduation from Junior High. Best luck in your High Schooling.”  But the signature is my Great Grandma’s:  Ray Goldman!

There are notes from his brother and sister, a first cousin and his Aunt Minnie.    His brother’s note is a typical brother note: “Well, you finally graduated – Congratulations.”  His sister’s note was a silly poem, but then she was just 11 or 12 years old. “I never thought you would make it, “wrote his cousin David,” “but I am very glad I have to eat my words.”

The final note that has meaning to me, is a silly poem from Willard.  Willard, Willie, was Dad’s best friend.  They were bar mitzvah a few weeks apart and studied for their bar mitzvahs together.  They had many stories of how they misbehaved for the Rabbi or anywhere else. Willie and his wife were part of my parent’s lives, and so our lives, forever.  There was not a family event or special occasion without them with us.  My Dad’s 60th birthday party was at Willie’s house.  My ketubah, Jewish marriage license was signed by Willie as one of two witnesses.  This is a friend who stayed a friend forever.

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Mom’s autograph book.

My Mom’s book is different in style and condition than the book my Dad used.  Mom’s book is still in its box.  Its’ blue leather cover is immaculate, sort of like my Mom.  Even though she was six months younger than Dad, she graduated earlier.   Mom graduated from No. 4 school in West New York, New Jersey, in January 1943.  The school building she attended no longer exists as it was replaced with a new school.   She went on to attend Memorial High School in West New York.

The interesting part about Mom is that she actually taught in No. 4 school for many years before being transferred to No 2 school in West New York.  Mom taught in the West New York elementary schools for 30 years, from 1964 until 1994.

Mom’s book is different in another way.  My grandparents came from Europe.  She had only her Mom and Dad, and my grandfather never really wrote in English.  Her grandparents and many aunts and uncles were still in Europe, many of them did not survive the Shoah.  One of her grandfathers and one aunt had made it to the USA in 1936 through the efforts of my grandparents, but I believe by 1943 my great grandfather had already passed away.

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My grandmother wrote in the book:  Dear Frances, Luck and Success. Your Loving Mother.”  That was the only family member who wrote it in.  Her brother started to write something, but did not finish it.

But there are several names in the book that I know well.  The first is Doris Chesis. She wrote: “Work for the Character and after a while the Character will work for you.”    She and her family lived in the same building as my mother. They rented an apartment from my grandparents.  Her brother, Murray, also wrote in the book. He graduated with my Mom, and they actually dated in high school.

Although I never met Murray, I have seen photos of him.  As for Doris, I remember her from throughout my childhood.  Her oldest daughter and my brother were the same age.  Her son and I went through high school together. And her youngest daughter and my sister were about the same age.  I am still friends with Doris’ children on Facebook.  Shocking how long that friendship has lasted.

The final name is as important for my Mom as Willard was for my Dad.  Wini Anoff and my Mom were friends from kindergarten (see blogs below).  I do not know life without Wini!  Her daughter and I have been best friends forever.  And I mean that as we were born two months apart and do not know life without each other.  Our grandparents were friends. We spent every summer together in the Catskills.

So Wini, this is what you wrote in my Mom’s autograph book:  In the four corners of the page : For Get Me Not.  “Dear Frances,  Needles and Pins, Needles and Pins, When you get married your troubles begin. Your sister grad-u-8, Wini Anoff.”

I so wish she had written something more personal.  But Mom and Wini were both just 13.  They would be turning 14 in a few months.  Since Wini is still alive, I should ask her what she would write now, knowing all that has happened in the 77 years since she wrote this note.

For me, seeing someone’s handwriting brings them back to life.  The autograph books perhaps did not contain many signatures and notes from people who continued to be a part of my parents’ lives.  However, I get joy seeing names and signatures of the people I did know.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/08/11/mr-anoff-and-the-sardine-sandwich/

Sentimental Musings: My Parents And “Animal Farm”

25 Dec

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I have to start this blog with a confession to my siblings, “I have Mom’s copy of Animal Farm.”

To be honest, this is a big deal.  When our parents died nine months apart, and we cleaned out their homes, we searched for certain important, sentimental items.  The 1946 edition of Animal Farm fell into this category.

In my family,  Animal Farm is not just an allegory about communism using farm animals.  Instead it is the basis for our parent’s relationship.  Dad lived in the Bronx.  Mom lived in New Jersey.  My Dad’s aunt lived near my Mom and shopped in the family bakery.   She decided that my Mom and Dad had to meet.

In order to appease his aunt, my Dad took the train, the subway, the ferry, who knows how many types of transit to travel to meet my Mom. (The timeline it took to get to meet her and the numerous transits increased over the years.)

It went well.  Mom loaned Dad her copy of Animal Farm to read.  Of course, after he read it, he had to make the return trip back to New Jersey to deliver the book back to her and discuss it.  This was the start of a great love story that lasted the 59 years they were married.

Obviously Animal Farm holds a place in all of our hearts.  And it was missing.  But maybe not so much.   I sort of remembered that Mom gave me the book when I was in college.  As an English major I had to read many books, so I often went home to see if we had any in our family library.  Animal Farm came back to college with me and has stayed with me for the next 40 something years.  However, I did not know exactly where it was in my house.  Actually, I just hoped it did not get lost in one of my moves before settling in my current home of 34 years.

So why am I writing about it now?  Two reasons. I have been thinking of this book a lot lately.  I have been focusing on how it starts off with the saying that all animals being equal, but ends with /the new dictate that some animals are better (or more equal) than other animals.  I have also been thinking about pigs running the government, not that I have any intention of making a political statement here.  I decided I wanted to reread it and wondered if I did still have it.

Reason two, I have been on a cleaning binge, which includes sorting through and giving away some of our thousands of books with the idea that we will downsize our home.  Since I am on winter vacation from work, I decided to continue my house cleansing and search specifically for this book.  Well I found it. There on a shelf, tucked between two larger books, was the green cover of slim book: Animal Farm. 

It is the Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946 edition.  Not sure if it is a first printing, because it does not note that on the page.  However, it was in 1946 that it was published in the USA.

Finding it also confirmed my belief that I used it in school, because tucked inside was a mimeographed sheet explaining who all the characters represented. It is a great cheat sheet that was presented to us by our teacher.

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My true confession is over.  I hope my siblings will be happy to know that the book is safe.  Its pages intact and its importance to our family will live with this retelling.

Personally, I will now reread Animal Farm and compare the fate of the world now with the way the world was moving in the years after World War Two.

 

Back to My Grandfather’s Mysterious Brothers: First Jacob

10 Dec

My paternal grandfather had two brothers.  One disappeared when Grandpa was a young man.  I am still trying to figure out where he went and what happened to him.  Samuel’s story will have to wait to another day.

I plan to focus on my Grandpa’s younger brother, Jacob.  He was an interesting and upwardly mobile man.   Jacob came from nothing and became an attorney, lived on the upper east side of New York City, and then in the 1950s moved to England.  Those are all facts I know from my grandmother, father and aunt.

What I have been told.  Jacob was married to Dorothy.  She was, in the words of my grandmother, a person who did not really want anything to do with the poorer members of the family.  And that was mean, my grandma said, because my grandfather is the one who helped Jacob go through high school and college by being the main support of the family.

Jacob had two children:  Delilah and Rupert James.   My grandmother would say, their names say it all, “Who names their children Delilah and Rupert!”  Those who remember my grandmother can probably hear her say that.

My aunt, my father’s sister, had slightly different memories because she took piano lessons at Jacob’s home, with her first cousin, Delilah.   I think they had separate lessons as my aunt was several years younger.  However, the fact that she was provided these lessons makes me think my great uncle and his wife were not horrible. This is what they did to help.

But I am thinking that perhaps he went overseas to be an international lawyer. He would have been in his late 50s.  Either at the top of his career, or ready to retire.  I am not sure.

I found two articles in the August 24 and 25, 1953, European edition of “The Stars and Stripes,” the Unofficial Publication of the US Armed Forces in Europe.  And it has an article about an attorney, Jacob Rosenberg, and a case he was working on about an American citizen” imprisoned for 17 months in a Communist Hungarian prison after a conviction for espionage.”  Could this be my great uncle?  See link here: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1136/miusa1942d_066165-01008?pid=54273&treeid=&personid=&rc=1458,3094,1604,3119%3B128,3283,262,3306%3B1210,3430,1357,3454%3B1214,1079,1353,1101%3B1180,3095,1305,3119%3B1342,3093,1421,3115&usePUB=true&_phsrc=axO536&_phstart=successSource

As far as I know, after they moved to England there was basically no contact with the family in the USA.  Or at least our branch of the family.   He left right around the time I was born.  I have no memory of him or his family.  Just the names.

What I have found out and have not found out.  I have no marriage record for Jacob and Dorothy, but I know she was born in Russia somewhere between 1901-1903.  From a 1925 census, I know that he was still living at home when he was 29, so I know he married when he was at least 30.

From the 1930 census, I know that he was already an attorney at 34, married to Dorothy with one child, Delilah.  They lived at 881 Washington Avenue.

From the 1940 census, I know that both children were born.  Delilah was 12, (but as she was born in 1929, she was really 11) and Rupert (misspelled Rugsert) was 8.  Now they are living uptown on East 88th Street.  And there are two women living with them, a Jeannie Goldstein, who is older than Dorothy.  And a much younger woman, who I think was a maid.

I do not know why they moved to England or the exact date they moved.  I don’t know when he or his wife died.  But I do know a bit about his two children.

Delilah traveled back and forth between the USA and Europe/England many times in the 1950s.  She was on the Queen Elizabeth several times, the Noordam, the Wosterdam, the Flandre and more.   On one ship manifest for entering the USA, her profession is listed as pianist.  So all those years of piano lessons paid off for Delilah.   I remember my aunt telling me that Delilah played beautifully!

I do have information about a Delilah Rosenberg getting married in 1961. But I do not have the marriage record, so I cannot confirm it is her.  However, I cannot find her traveling back and forth after that date.  So perhaps she settled.

As for Rupert.  I found his high school yearbook.  In 1948 he was a senior at the Columbia Grammar and Prep School where he was on the Dean’s list four times, on the Debate Council, a member of the History Club, on the Literary Board of the school newspaper.  To see his senior photo, go here:  https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1265/43134_b191888-00000?backurl=&ssrc=&backlabel=Return#?imageId=43134_b191888-00036

It turns out Rupert was voted best student in his senior year: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1265/43134_b191888-00000?backurl=&ssrc=&backlabel=Return#?imageId=43134_b191888-00045

I had to find out about this school because I was sure it was not a public school, like DeWitt Clinton High School, where my Dad went. I found out that Columbia Grammar and Prep School is the oldest private non-sectarian school in the USA!  It was founded in 1764 by the forerunner of Columbia University.  It separated from the University in 1863.  It moved to its current location at 93 street near Central Park West in 1907, so Rupert would have gone to this building.    A women’s school, The Leonard School for Girls was opened in 1937.  ( I could not find yearbooks for the years Delilah would have been in high school.)   And in 1956, when they both were graduated, the two schools merged. (Wikipedia, see link below.)

He started using the name James Rupert Rosenberg.   I know he got married on December 19, 1953 to Elizabeth Ann King.  There is a small newspaper article which states: that he was married at Our Lady of Victories Chapel in Kensington, London, England.  This is a Roman Catholic Church, which might have upset his parents.

It is a centuries old building dating back before the 1500s! It stopped being a Catholic Church after the Reformation, but in 1794, when French Catholics fled France during the French Revolution, it once again became a Catholic Church.  The Church was destroyed during WW2.  The rebuilt Church did not open until 1959, so I assume my cousin and his wife married in a temporary space? (Information from the church website, see link below.)

His wife was the daughter of the late E.A. C. King of the Indian Police.    I wonder if the King family lived in India or Burma before her father died. Her mother is just listed as Mrs. King (I hate that.)

In any case, his father, Jacob, was in the United States when James Rupert got married.  So perhaps James is what brought his parents to England.  James died when he was only 59 years old in January 1991.

I still have many unanswered questions about the family of my great uncle Jacob.  But at least he is no longer just a name.  And his son, my father’s first cousin, now has a face.

Once again, thanks to my distant cousin, Evan Wolfson, who has helped so much in my research.   Here is an earlier blog I wrote about finding out the mysteries of my grandfather’s family:  https://zicharonot.com/2019/07/18/some-of-my-paternal-family-mysteries-solved-but-not-all/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Grammar_%26_Preparatory_School

https://www.cgps.org/

https://www.ourladyofvictories.net/history.html

 

Childhood Events Definitely Impact My Adult Choices

5 Dec

When I was a child, I remember going to my grandparents’ cousin’s candy store on Bergen Boulevard near Journal Square in Jersey City.  My brother and I have discussed their names, as it is a memory from long ago, over 50 years.  He remembers the wife as Anna, and I remember the husband, as Morris.  We will go with these two names.

Like my grandparents, they were from Europe.  I believe that Morris was my grandfather’s second cousin.  That is a connection I have yet to finalize.  But I am pretty sure he was not a first cousin.  However, in the area they came from in Galicia, Mielec, my grandfather’s family was large and very intermingled.

The best part of going to the candy store, of course, was the candy.  We could eat whatever we wanted, within the reasonable constraints of my mother. The other part was seeing Morris and Anna, who were always excited to see us.  They never had children of their own, but they loved us.

Sometimes, my Mom would drive my grandmother, my brother and I to visit them in the candy store.  I have good memories of being there. My grandmother and Anna always had a good time visiting.  So even though it was my grandfather’s cousin, my grandmother often went to visit without him.  And since she never learned to drive, my Mom had that job and we got to tag along.

Morris always sat behind the counter and ran the cash register. He sat there because he no longer had legs, he lost them to diabetes.   Anna ran the store.  She was tiny and very energetic.  That is why what happened is so sad.

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Morris’ rocking chair. Now owned by my brother.

Anna died first.  I don’t think she was that old.  But when she died, Morris could no longer stay alone. The store was closed; their belongings were sold or given away, and Morris went into a nursing home.  I remember my parents speaking about it, because we were gifted his rocking chair.  It did not go to the nursing home with him.  My brother still has the rocking chair in his home.  The tangible evidence that Morris and Ann were part of our world.

The nursing home Morris lived in for the rest of his life was in Bayonne, New Jersey, close to where our family dentist had his office.  Usually we all went to get our teeth done at one time.

But on this day, it was just my Mom and me.  As we drove away from the dentist office, she turned to me and said, “I want to go visit Morris.  I know he lives near here.”I don’t remember how old I was, somewhere between 10 and 12.  To be honest, I thought we were going to the candy store.  But I was in for an unpleasant and emotional surprise.

When we arrived at a large one-story building, my mother and I entered and went to the desk, where Mom announced that she wanted to see Morris.  The woman stopped what she was doing and called to someone, a nurse/supervisor/care giver came out.   Both were so surprised that we were there to see him.  The supervisor said, ‘Oh my, who are you? You are the first people who have ever come to visit him.”

My Mom was stunned.  “Are you kidding me.  He has nieces and nephews.”  But she was not joking.  No one had visited Morris in the year or so he had been living there.

The nurse walked us to his room.  In fact, by the time we got there, I think three or four nurses or caregivers were following us.  Mom walked in first and knelt down beside Morris.  “Morris, It’s me Frances, Nat and Thelma’s daughter.” She said in Yiddish as she reached out to him.

Morris started cry.  He put his hands on either side of Mom’s face and sobbed, “Frances Frances.” Her name was like a chant.   While Mom hugged him with one arm, she put out her other arm, I knew that meant I needed to come over.

“Here is Ellen,” she said.  My face was now embraced by his hands as he cried into my hair and stroked my face.  I was crying by then as well, as were Mom and the nurses/caretakers.  We stayed and talked to him for about an hour.  It felt longer.  He spent most of the time crying and hugging us. And asking about all the family. I have never forgotten.

As we went to leave, the supervisor asked Mom for her address and phone number in case they needed to reach someone.  They had no contacts for him.

We went and sat in the car.  My Mom cried for an additional half hour or so.  Just sobbing, with her arms crossed on the steering wheel and her face down in her arms.  I cried with her.  It was one of my saddest moments as a child.  When we got home, my Mom called her parents.

I never went back to the nursing home.  I think because every time I thought of him, I started to cry.   But I know my Mom and my grandparents went.  To be honest he did not live long after our visit.   My sister, who is four years younger than me, does not remember Morris or Anna. But what she does remember is my grandparents and my mom talking about him.  And my mother always talking about what happens to someone when they are all alone in the world.

For the past ten months I have been a Spiritual Care Volunteer at an elder care facility.   Over and over again people have asked me:  How can you do that?  Doesn’t it bother you? Isn’t too difficult when someone dies?

The answer to all these questions is an emphatic NO.  Each week when I go, I am greeted by smiles and joy.  I speak to each one of them.  Some days I give them hugs.  Sometimes someone cries, especially if they have recently lost a loved one.  Most of them have family members who often come to see them.  Most important to me is that I know that I am going every week.  I am giving them the attention that Morris so deserved and did not receive.

This childhood event definitely impacted my adult choices. Each time I go, I feel a little lift to my heart, knowing that I have helped to brighten someone’s day.  It is the best feeling, because each time I go, a little of the sadness that has followed me for over 50 years, whenever I think about Morris, dissipates.

Life Is An Adventure; How Key People Changed My Life

21 Nov

I think everyone has at least one person in their life that makes a comment or a suggestion that changes the course of life.  I know I do. Below are three of my important people.  Two were educators, to which I am sure many can relate.

I grew up in New Jersey, but now live in Kansas.  I did not get here by happenstance.  Rather, it was a series of people who made the right comment at the right time, that changed the direction of my life.

First comment came from Professor Jacqueline Berke at Drew University.  I was taking one of her classes when she told me that I should become a writer.  She loved how I wrote and told me that I had talent.  Up to that time, I never thought of being a journalist.  I did work on the school’s newspaper, “The Acorn,” and I had been an editor of my high school newspaper, “PawPrints.”  But I had not thought of journalism as a career.  Professor Berke’s comments set me on to a path that has guided me for over 40 years.

I applied for graduate school in journalism. I was only going to apply to Columbia University in New York City.  A visit to my high school changed that opinion. I visited with Celia Whitehouse, my English teacher and the advisor for both yearbook and newspaper at North Bergen High School.  I was one of the editors for both these publications.   I told her I was thinking about journalism.  She thought that was a great choice and suggested I apply to the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Journalism as well as Columbia university.  She had been a mentor throughout high school and college, so I listened and applied to both schools.

I got accepted to both schools!  Now I had to decide.   My Mom’s comment sealed the deal.  My parents made it clear that they expected me to live at home if I went to graduate school in New York City.  Then my Mom commented, “How will I sleep at night knowing that you will be going to Harlem every day.”  My answer was sincere and to the point.  “I am going to Columbia, Missouri, that way you will not have to worry about me, as you will have no idea what I am doing at night.”

Which is why I attended graduate school in Missouri.  I will admit, it was a major change for me to move from New Jersey/New York to Missouri.   But I survived.

My second day in Missouri, I met the person who would become my husband a few years later.  Being a St. Louis boy, he wanted to remain in the Midwest.  My fate was just about sealed. But one more person had to make an important comment.

We married while he was in medical school.  Then moved to Kansas City where he was a intern then a medical resident. I got a job at a Girl Scout Council working half time as their public relations director and half time as a field advisor.  In this role I would go to different areas within the Council to train Girl Scout leaders, meet with leaders and give advice.  But in reality, I learned as much from the leaders as they learned from me.

One of the areas I was in charge of was Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.  I went monthly to the military base to meet with all the Girl Scout leaders providing information about what was going on in the Council, camping and other activities.  The woman in charge of Girl Scouts at the base was Jane Stilwell, the wife of the base commander.  I can still see her when I close my eyes.

In any case, after three years working for the Girl Scouts, I was going to have to quit my job, which I LOVED, and move to Michigan, where my husband was to begin a fellowship.  I was unhappy.  I wanted him to accept an offer as a general pediatrician and stay in Kansas City. I was miserable and I let everyone know how unhappy I was about moving.

Jane was not happy with me.   At the end of each year on the base, we had a luncheon at Jane’s home, a lovely Victorian home right on the river.  As everyone was leaving, she told me to stay.  Jane then gave me the most important lecture of my life.

She explained that being a military wife, meant you packed up and moved on a moment’s notice.  That not moving could destroy a career.  That I needed to think about what my husband wanted to do in learning more; how my decision, to be unhappy, could change the course of his life and mine.

She then told me that I had a choice in life.  I could look at this move as a prison or as an adventure.  If I chose to look at it as a prison, it would become a prison. But if I looked at it as an adventure, I could have a wonderful time and marvelous life.

She was RIGHT.  From that point on, I decided that Life was an adventure to be lived.  Her words touched my soul. I loved my two years in Michigan.  We traveled to Canada, Chicago and around Michigan. We made new friends. My husband completed his fellowship and we moved back to Kansas.  Jane Stillwell was gone. But her words continued in my mind and heart.

I still live in Kansas.  My husband has had a wonderful career that gave us the opportunity to travel as he gives lectures.  I have had so many adventures!

I still think of Jane’s most wonderful advice.  I tell that to people all the time.  You chose!  You decide if your life will be happy.  You cannot change other people, but you can change your reaction to what happens.  And if you chose to be happy and go on adventures, then you will enjoy the ride.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/05/11/end-of-the-school-year-has-me-bringing-out-my-old-yearbooks/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/01/19/my-days-in-the-english-department-office-at-nbhs/