Tag Archives: grandparents

A Trolley Car Stops, Too!

12 Sep

Holidays always make me think about my grandparents.  We spent all of our holidays, when I was growing up, at one of my grandparents’ homes.  My paternal grandparents in the Bronx were in charge of Passover and Hanukkah.  We went there every year and celebrated with all my cousins.  One year, at Hanukkah, I had to have a tooth pulled and could not eat all the treats. But Grandma made me my very own potato kugel!  I still can taste it!

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My store bought rugelach and honey cake, and candies. Still wrapped in plastic like Grandma would before the holidays.

Every so often something happens that sparks a memory and bring me back in time to the apartment in the Bronx.  During Rosh Hashannah, such a moment occurred.  As I was preparing my dessert plates and covering them with clear plastic wrap, my mind flashed to my paternal Grandmother. She was a great home baker.  One of the high lights of going to her home for the holidays was her magnificent dessert table covered in her treats!

Before dinner, the dessert platters were covered with plastic and put high on a cabinet in the spare bedroom.  We, all the grandchildren and children, knew the desserts were there. But also knew the penalty if we took snuck in and took some.  My Dad and Uncle, known noshers, often snuck in.  But the grandchildren were more careful.

Several of my boy cousins and my brother were eventually tall enough… and sneaky enough… to climb up and reach the sealed plates to get a few treats before dessert.  But we were very careful.  There was always a cousin on guard duty.  We were never greedy, we never took too much in fear of being caught by the sight of an empty plate.

The best part of the holiday was when the dishes were cleared from dinner and food was put away.  Then out came the desserts.  My Mom and Aunts and Grandma could bring all the home baked treats out and put them on a long table against a wall.  Among my favorites were the rugelach sticks and the thimble cookies.  But my all time favorite were the apricot candy.  So thick and gooey.

There were cookies and cakes and even homemade candies.  During Passover there were also Barton’s candies.

Thanks to one of my cousins, I have the recipes for three desserts.  I was bemoaning that I miss them years ago. I found out that my cousin had the recipes.  So smart.  His wife emailed three recipes to me…in 2006!  At the time she told me that they had high calorie count.  And she was right.  Each recipe is chuck full of sugar.

To be honest most of my desserts are store bought.  But for you bakers, here is one of Grandma’s recipes:  Apricot Candy:  Wash ½ pound of apricots.  Boil in 1 cup of cold water. When water is boiled away, mash the apricots.  Add 1 ½ cups sugar, ¼ pound almonds.  Cook for 1 hour, stirring constantly.  When thick, pour out into a pan, and when cold, cut into squares and dip in sugar to prevent sticking.

If you have crowns on your teeth, do NOT eat this!!. It is delicious.  I love apricots and dried apricots and this apricot candy.

One dessert they did not have the recipe for was Taiglach, a mixture of nuts and honey mixed together and baked into a gooey hard mess of deliciousness.  You had to be careful biting into this dessert.  I remember one year my Dad actually broke his tooth biting into this!  He was not so happy that holiday.

My grandfather had a role at all these family events.  He would sit at one end of the table and guard it.  Seriously!  If any of the grandchildren (or his children) took too much dessert or came back too often, he would intone, “A Trolley Car Stops Too.”

When I was little, I had no idea what he was talking about.  But when I got older, and found out what a trolley car was, I realized he meant we were eating too much.  That even a trolley car, which ran constantly, would stop occasionally.

My brother, and my boy cousins were often the recipient of this advice. I heard it as well, but not as often.  It really did not matter.  We all would conquer our fear of Grandpa, in order to have a sweet delectable dessert.

As for his saying, we use it often, especially when something is happening that we think needs to end.  I still can see my Grandpa nodding at me and saying in a deep voice:  A Trolley Stops Too!

 

 

A 1920’s Car Ride

30 Jun
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My grandparents are the couple sitting together in the back seat.

A few months ago my cousin searched through her mother’s trove of photos and found several that she sent on to me.   One of the most intriguing ones for me was the photo of my grandparents in the back seat of a car, in front is another couple and in the back seat, a third man.

What were they doing?  Where were they going?  Who were the other three people?  I have no idea.  But that photo of my grandparents in the car has to be from when they were engaged or just married in the early 1920s.

My grandmother used to tell be stories about growing up in the New York City of the early 1900s.  She was born in 1898, before the day of cars.  It was not until 1913 with the advent of the Model T that cars were mass produced and easily seen on the streets.

Grandma told me that the first time she ever saw a car it caused a ruckus. All the horses were startled and tried to run.  At the time there were no traffic laws for cars, which added to the chaos.  But change came, and the cars eventually took over from the horses.

Although Grandma told me wonderful stories during our summers in the Catskills, she never told me about her first time in a car.  I do know that Grandma never learned to drive a car.  She had her children and eventually her grandchildren to drive her to and from the Catskills and to the store.  And when she was in the City, she always took buses or the subway.

In this photo, my grandparents look comfortable.  The man in the driver’s seat looks older than the others.  Perhaps he is driving the two couples somewhere for a date night?  I wish I knew because my grandfather is almost smiling, and to be honest he did not smile very much at all.

Whatever was happening, it must have had some significance because they took a photo.  But the best part is that they look happy.     I am so glad my cousin shared this photo with me.

https://zicharonot.com/2015/10/10/12-delancey-street-and-my-family/

Working on An Ancestor Mystery

20 Jun

You would think that with my niece’s wedding in two days my sister (the mother of the bride) and I would focus on the wedding. But not us. After a day of running wedding related errands, my sister and niece were putting together a display about our family weddings, when my sister and I got into a mini dispute over a wedding date.

This lead to my sister logging into her ancestory account to check the date, which of course led us into a lengthy look into our family mystery: our paternal grandfather’s family.

Once again we started searching for his family on the census documents and in other areas. We know his birthdate and the names of some of his siblings. And we think we found his family. We knew of six siblings in his family. We are now up to eight in the 1905 census. But there is one brother not yet listed. And we cannot find another census with the family listed. So we honestly do not think this is our family. We need to investigate more.

But that is not our only mystery. Sometimes the documents have all but one child born in the USA. Others show all but one born in a Russia. Some say the father, our great grandfather came in 1880 or earlier. Others say 1890. We know he was born in 1859 and his wife in 1865 we know they married in 1883 and started having children in 1885. The biggest problem is their very common names. If only we could find documents with the original last name of Grau instead of looking for Rosenberg.

We know our great grandfather abandoned the family when our grandpa was about 13. It is now looking as if grandpa might have been a bit older.

The names are so common that we have to be careful we are staying with the right family when we search. And it is difficult and confusing.

In the midst of this research, while I was looking for a post relating to my paternal grandfather’s family, I found a post I put up a while ago of two young girls which was never translated. This lead us down another path and, thanks to a Tracing The Tribe member, connected us to a relative on my maternal grandmother’s family. I need to do a bit more research before I can write about this photo.

But we have found a photo of my grandmother and what looks to be this woman. We know my grandmother visited family in Breslau in 1931, where this woman lived. And we know her mother has the same name of our great grandfather’s sister. So we are pretty sure she, this women murdered in The Shoah, is grandma’s first cousin.

My sister and I love mysteries and searching for our family in Europe. Identifying our family who perished in the Shoah is important to us. We want their names to stay in our memories.

So at my niece’s wedding, I sat with my mother’s first cousin and showed her some of the information. Sometimes she remembers a name or knew someone that my siblings and I never met.

My grandmother left Poland when she was 16 in 1922, while my great aunt stayed until 1936, when she was 22. So she had stronger connections with the extended family in Poland right before the war.

However, with this family member, my cousin had no memory to share. In fact she did not seem to know about the cousins my grandmother visited in Breslau in 1931. However she reminded me that my grandma was 8 years older than her mother.

We have one last link. The Yad Vshem testimony was submitted in 1999. I have a contact name and address. I know the person who submitted it would probably be in her 80s now. But I plan to send her a letter with our information and copies of the three photos I have. Perhaps we can make a connection.

My Grandpa’s Voice Can Still Be Heard

15 May

On November 7, 1981, my cousin made a cassette tape of my grandfather singing his favorite songs in Yiddish.   It sat in my house for all these years. I could never listen to it after he passed away.  Grandpa had a wonderful singing voice and used to sing to us all the time in Yiddish.

Two months ago, I took the cassette tape to a company that turned it into a CD.  I got it back on Friday.  On Mothers’ Day, I listened to my Grandpa sing in Yiddish and listened to him speak about his life in Europe and coming to the United States in 1920.

He passed away in 1989, so it has been a long time since I heard his voice.  It was just as I remembered it.

Listening to this tape was interesting in many ways.  Most of the stories he told, I have heard before.  I had spoken to my Grandpa about his life in Europe many times.  I just never recorded him.  I am extremely grateful that my cousin made this tape.

He sang six songs.  Tumbaliaka, Hativah in Yiddish, Ofin Primpinchick,  Yiddisha Mama and two others I had not heard before.  He left out some I remember him singing. But it doesn’t matter. Hearing him sing these favorites is a gift.

Grandpa left his home in 1918.  He was the oldest of five children who lived on a 16-acre farm, that they owned, in Austria.  He said if he had stayed in Austria, he would have eventually had two acres for him and a place to build a house.  (I wrote about Grandpa leaving Europe in an earlier blog, see link below.)

When he first arrived in the USA, he lived with his uncle Morris and went to work as a butcher.  A farm boy, he knew about animals.  He worked for $4 a week.  He did not know English.  It was a job he did not like.  A month later, he switched to being a baker for $20 a week on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn.  (I never knew the address in Brooklyn. ) He was lucky. He had relatives who were both a butcher and a baker.  And they provided him with jobs.

Grandpa was brought up to follow the rules of Shabbat, although they were not extremely religious. He had no beard or payos.  But when he first started working at the bakery, he had to light a fire on Shabbat.  “I sat there and cried,” he said, “because my Mother always told me that if I light a fire on Shabbat I would die.”   He did not die, so the following week he lit the fire without crying.

Grandpa excelled at baking.  But he said he was very bashful.  People would say to him, “Do you want to meet a girl,” and he would say yes.  But they did not work out.  Then, by accident, he met our Grandma in Brooklyn.  He went to deliver a gift to someone, and there she was.

“Before Thelma, I did not look for someone. But when Thelma came it was different.  Something drew me to her,” he said.  “I was 25, she was 18 or 19.  To look at, she was nothing.  But it is the person she was. Someone made for you.”  (I disagree. I think my young Grandma was lovely.)

They got married in September 1925 and lived in Brooklyn, till my uncle was born. Then Grandpa opened his own business in the Bronx, where they lived for five years. And my Mom was born. In 1929, they moved to Linden, New Jersey.  My grandparents opened a new bakery.

But they had it for only about 18 months.

My grandmother was ill.  Grandpa said she had to go back to Europe to see a Dr. Lapenski in Krakow.  He could help her.  She was sick from the fumes from the gas in WW1.  I honestly had never heard that story before.  (I wrote about her time in Europe in earlier blogs, see links below.)

When Grandma came back, they moved to West New York, New Jersey, and opened the bakery they would have for almost 30 years.

“I wanted my children to have a better life,” Grandpa said.  “My Mom did not know that I had to learn to read.  I worked on a farm.  I had no education.  My parents said, you know how to work in the field that is enough.  My Mom thought I would stay in Europe.  She did not know that I would leave.”

My cousin asked if he was afraid to come to the USA by himself.  He started to laugh.  He was not afraid.  “It could not be worse than where I was,” he said.  “It had to be better.”

He told us a bit about his younger siblings and his parents. But the main discussion was the fact that none of them survived.  “I could not convince them to come,” he said.

As for his wife’s parents, my other great grandparents, Grandpa said, “From the day I got married I had to support her family.”  Which is true. Her mother had died during WW1.  And her father, was an educated man.  He studied.  “His wife made a living for him,” my Grandpa said.  When she died, there was not much income.

The tape was made just over three months after my grandmother died.   It was strange to hear Grandpa say her name.  He never said it when she was alive, to keep the evil eye from getting her.  He was still in deep mourning.  They had always thought he would die first as he was six years older.  But instead she died.

“You struggle and you pay for those things you did,” Grandpa said.  “Maybe I did something wrong.”  This was his explanation on why she died before him.  It made me so sad to hear him say this.  I remember how desolate he was without her.  (See Autumn Leaves blog link below.)

My cousin asks questions. Some Grandpa answers.  But he made his point.  He loves his family.  “I accomplished my mission.  I would have my own home.  And I did more than that,” he said.  He got to see four of his five grandchildren marry.  He saw the arrival of six of his eight great grandchildren.

Before he ended the tape, he sang one last song.  He sang of traveling the world, always  wishing he could go home and kiss the stones where he was born.  My cousin asked if he would want to go back to Austria.

His answer, Yes and No. (Grandpa told me that he never wanted to go back there.)

Hearing my Grandpa talk about his family; his children, and his grandchildren was bittersweet.  I made CDs for my siblings and cousins.  I think they need to have this experience as well.

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

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/25/how-world-war-i-saved-my-family-or-my-grandpa-was-a-draft-dodger/

https://zicharonot.com/2015/02/23/the-melody-of-autumn-leaves-haunts-me/

https://zicharonot.com/2017/12/04/the-us-passport-a-matter-of-life/

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

Your Heart Just Gets Larger

26 Jan

Recently my cousin uncovered a photo, I had never seen before. When my Grandma Esther died, my Dad and his siblings divided up the family photos.  My cousin is now investigating the ones in her Dad and Mom’s album. This photo actually had something written on the back of it.  And I am the one with the story, because of my story.


When I married, I never expected infertility. I was in love, we were healthy, there were no problems. So when decided to get pregnant, I was devastated when we seemed unable to have children.

After the first year , I was sent on to a specialist and started on years of tests, surgeries and medical treatments.  Throughout this all, I had one major supporter, my Grandma Esther.  In her late 80s, Grandma was not one to let me give up. During a time when long distance phone calls cost extra before 11 pm, Grandma became my late night phone call.

I lived in Kansas, so when my phone rang after 10 pm, I knew it was an East Coast call. If it was not my parents, it was Grandma Esther with advise!  Her first calls were to tell me that she also had problems when she first tried to have children. She told me to stop stressing and go to the ocean. She and grandpa went to the ocean and she got pregnant with my uncle.

Well, I could not go to the ocean from Kansas. But I felt the love. Over the next few years Grandma’s phone calls came with more involved medical advise. I could see in my mind’s eye, multitudes of grandmas sitting around and coming up with cures.

Eventually I did have a healthy baby girl. My Grandma was so excited. At age 88, she flew to Kansas to be here for my daughter’s naming. Grandma’s advise did not end. Having nursed three infants, she was an expert. She announced one day that I was doing it all wrong. “If you are going to nurse, you need to do it the right way,” she said. With in minutes she had placed cushions and a footstool around me, and nursing became so much easier.

I wish I could say that was the end of my struggles, but it was not. I was unable to have another pregnancy. But I was not done with motherhood. My husband and I turned to adoption.

It was not easy. We had two strikes against us. One, we already had one child. Two, we were Jewish. Agencies in Kansas were basically religion based. We were told we could register, but when a better qualified (Christian) family came, we would be put to the back of the line.  We tried private adoption. But two weeks before the baby was born, the mom changed her mind. Again difficult.

Finally we found the Adam’s Center, a local agency that helped Jewish families.  No longer in existence, it helped about three dozen families adopt babies. Not all were Jewish.  We were one of the fortunate ones, and our son arrived.

My Dad was a bit nervous about this. On his way home from a business trip in California, he stopped in Kansas to meet his newest grandson. My sister called in advance, “Dad is nervous that he won’t love him the same.”

No worries. Dad arrived. I put the baby in his arms. My Dad looked up and said, “how could you not love that punim, that face.”  And then he told me, “With each child and grandchild, you do not split the love you have. No your heart just gets bigger and bigger.”  My parents had big hearts.

Dad was still nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92.  She did not fly out, but she called. She was so happy and told me the story of her cousin, Messuganah Esther.  She told me  in the old days, early 1900s, people, who had no children,  often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  So when Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshugganah Esther. (See previous blog, Too Many Esthers.)

The photo is touching. It shows Chamka (Champy) holding Meshugganah Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.


Needless to say, when I brought my son back East for the first time, my Grandma Esther showered him with the same love she gave every great grandchild. She had a handmade afghan waiting for him as she did for all 18 of her great grandchildren. Because in my family, with every child, grandchild and great grandchild, you do not divide your love, your heart only gets larger and able to hold more love.

Are There The Ghosts At Holiday Celebrations?

21 Sep

Another holiday.  A festive meal. Visits with family and close friends. Celebrating. But as I entered the room for dinner, for a moment I saw my Dad the last time he celebrated a holiday at my friend’s home. And next to him was their mother.  Both passed away years ago. But I saw them smiling and talking. 

This is not the first time I saw a vision of a loved one who has passed at a holiday table or at a special event. I am sure some think it is just my imagination or a vivid memory.  Perhaps it is both. 

But I am not so sure. 

How can a vivid memory describe the moment at my daughter’s wedding when, for a brief moment, I saw my parents standing to the side smiling. Was it something I wanted to see so badly, that my brain produced the image for me? Perhaps. 

But what about those times when I can still hear my mother’s voice as I am preparing a holiday meal. I do not use recipes, I just listen to that inner voice telling me what to do next. But that voice is always my Mom or one of my Grandma’s.  So are they there?

Or when I went to purchase holiday challah. At first I thought I would just get one round raisen challah.  We really do not need two challah. But then there was My grandfather’s image pointing to the plain challah as well. Yes I purchased both. Grandpa was a baker, so I had to follow his advice. 

At our Catskills home I have the most vivid images.  One day this summer, as my sister stood at the kitchen sink, I saw two images next to her.  Both my Mom and Grandma stood there and each was superimposed on the kitchen that existed in their time.  It was just an instant, but for a moment I was in a time warp. My sister, my Mom and my Grandma all standing at the sink speaking to me. (They were probably all giving me instructions!)

We have spent over fifty years in the house in Kauneonga Lake, and the memories are so strong there.  We spent many Rosh Hashannah holidays eating a festive meal and preparing for the new year. But there are also so many summer memories infused in the being of the house.  It is not difficult to imagine a loved one walking in the rooms along side me. 

There are ghosts of people I knew in my synagogue as well. Since I go regularly, I am used to people sitting in certain seats. They are not assigned. But people seem to find a place that is comfortable and so sit there every week. I have my seat and from my vantage point I can close my eyes and envision the room filled with those who passed. 

Recently a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor passed.  When I turn quickly I still see him smiling as he sits in his seat, his walker close by. Other survivors who passed fill the seats as well. When I see their children and grandchildren still coming to synagogue, I feel their spirit of joy in the congregation. 

But the most poignant for me happened about two months ago. I noticed a young man come in to shul with his wife and newborn son. They walked directly to the seat where his grandfather always sat. He sat in his grandfather’s seat holding his son, whose name was a memory for his grandfather. I really thought I could see Sol smiling at his grandson and great grandson filling his seat. It is one of my new favorite memories.  

I believe when someone dies they do not totally disappear.  A bit of them, an essence, stays behind. A smell, a sound, a place can bring their memory and their spirit/presence  back to us. I hope I always see and sense the ghosts of the ones I love at my holiday and other celebrations. 

Grandma’s Ceramic Strawberries Were Meant To Be Mine

13 Sep


My Grandma had two ceramic strawberry shaped jam jars that she never kept jam in.  They were filled with thumb tacks, safety pins, buttons and other little items that she needed to keep corralled in a safe place. She kept the jam jars on her kitchen window sill along side her plants. 

I remember them always being in her home. When she moved out of her West New York, New Jersey,  apartment up to her home in Kauneonga Lake in the Catskills, she took the two strawberries with her.  And they once again graced her window sill. Always there.  A beacon in the kitchen. 

I don’t know why I loved them, but I did. They were a shine of color that brightened up the kitchen. Perhaps I loved them because the red strawberries look like two hearts sending a hug of love. 

When my grandmother died, my grandfather left the house basically how Grandma had it. The knick knacks stayed where they were placed by her.  So even though Grandpa lived about eight years longer, the Catskill’s house still felt like Grandma.  And the strawberries stayed in their place in the kitchen. 

The house in the Catskills went to my parents. Mom and Dad remodeled the kitchen and packed up many of my grandmother’s  tchotchkes and placed the boxes in the garage. 

Eventually my Mom had us go through the boxes. She wanted us to take what we wanted before she donated the rest to charity. So my sister, my cousin and I searched the boxes. I focused on finding the two strawberries. I wanted them. I did not know it, but my cousin wanted them as well. 

“I remember seeing them at Grandma’s!” My cousin said…whined…pled. She knew when I wanted something I was one minded, so she made her case to have them as well. 

I was the older cousin, so I should have them was my first thought.  But there were two. And she really wanted one. So we did the right thing.  We each took one. We shared.  I always say, I gave one up for her because I love her. 

My strawberry returned with me to Kansas, where I put it on my kitchen window sill. It looked lonely without its mate. No matter, I knew my cousin deserved one as well. 

But I think Grandma was looking out for me. I think she knew that I really wanted to have two. I am sentimental. Having one was great, but two would be better. I should have known fate would intervene. 

About a year after I brought the strawberry jam jar home to Kansas, I went out to lunch with a work friend on a summer day. I do not remember the exact day, but Grandma’s birthday was in July. 

  We parked near a small antique/trinket store.  After lunch, since we still had time, we decided to browse in the shop. We had never been there before and honestly, I never went there again. But it ended up being a magical place! 

I still remember the moment I saw it: a small ceramic strawberry jam jar.  It seemed to be exactly like my Grandma’s strawberry. EXACTLY!  I knew I had to buy it.  

The owner wrapped it up in brown paper.  I carefully carried it to my friend’s car. I was so excited. She tried to calm me down a bit by telling me it might not be the same.  But in my heart I knew it was a match. 

Later that day, when I  put it next to my jam jar, I was not disappointed. It was a perfect match.  To this day I cannot tell which one I purchase and which one was Grandma’s!  

Do I believe Grandma had a hand in my finding it?  Is it even possible? I am not sure, but sometimes events happen that have no explanation. I think the jam jar falls into this category.  

As for my cousin, the strawberry jam jar she so wanted, she no longer has in her possession.  She told me that she moved so many times since Grandma died about 36 years ago. At some point the strawberry was lost.  I only moved twice across the country, always taking my strawberries with me. 

But it really does not matter whether she kept hers, for I have the two strawberry jam jars that were meant to be mine.