Tag Archives: memories

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.

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.

img_1484

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.

Oy, An Egg Kichel! Delicious!

9 Jan

Amazing how the taste of a freshly baked egg kichel can bring back so many joyful memories!

It started with a Facebook post by a friend.  She posted something from My JewishLearning.com, entitled “Kichels Recipe: Jewish Bow Tie Cookies.    (See link below, it includes the recipe.)

A few of my friends started commenting on the post about how much they loved these cookies, including me.  I commented: “My grandpa made these in his bakery and continued making them for us.  I loved them.  I would glad to be a tester for you!”

Next thing I knew I had committed to meeting a different friend and making them.  What a delight! She had posted that her Bubbie made these treats.  And she wanted to make them again.  I was all in!  (I do feel a bit of guilt that we did not have the person who posted the article with us!)

You do not bake egg kichel, you fry them.  You do not need much, just flour, salt, vinegar, eggs, oil and powdered sugar.    Mixing bowls, a mixer and a frying pan, along with lots of paper towels are required.  I promise you an hour or so of fun, and then a delicious reward.

img_1609

One of our early batches.  A bit too thick!

We learned something from our foray into making them.  The dough does have to be paper thin!  It is best to have all the dough rolled out and cut into strips before heating up the oil.  And really, you must make sure the oil is hot, hot, hot before you start putting the dough strips into the frying pan.

My friend was in charge of mixing, then rolling out the dough, and making the paper-thin morsels for us to fry.  The learning experience commence with our first frying. The strips were too thick.  So for the next batch, she started cutting the strips and rolling them out again. SUCCESS!

The excitement once we did it correctly was encompassing.  Each rectangle of dough would almost instantly turn white, bubble up and float to the top of the oil.  In a few moments one side would be golden brown, and I would flip them over.  Watch them a few moments more and then out into the towel to soak up extra oil.  Then I sifted the powdered sugar over them.

img_1611

I combined some batches.  But here they are letting the oil soak out!

We had to try one from each batch to taste the difference.  The thinner the dough, the hotter the oil, the crispier the fried kichel, the better it tasted.  We had six batches, so we had to try six. YES!  We really did!

I am so happy my friend not only said that we need to make them one afternoon, she set a date! It was not only the fun of tasting and frying, it brought back the memories of cooking with our grandparents.  We cannot bring them back, but we can in our minds relive happy moments like this!

img_1613

 Mine are on the right!

Even after tasting, we had so much left over.  We divided them up relatively evenly.  I suggested she keep extra as she has a grandson living close by to help in the eating.  But I was happy to bring a plate home for my husband and me.

My husband doesn’t have the same memories.  He never tasted egg kichel.  A Shanda!  Can you imagine never eating them?  I cannot.  But then he did not have anyone to bake traditional cookies and treats when he was growing up.  Both of his grandmother’s died very young.

For me, however, each snap of a kichel in my mouth along with the melting of the powder sugar gives me joy.  Oy!  Egg Kichel!  It is so delicious

 

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/the-nosher/kichels-recipe-jewish-bow-tie-cookies/?utm_content=buffer717d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=thenosher&utm_campaign=buffer

 

Halvah, My Favorite Childhood Treat

26 Dec

Sometimes walking through a store brings back a memory. It happened to me today. One minute I was walking through a grocery store in Holon, Israel, with my daughter. And in an instant I was transported back in time and place. I was in my grandparents’ bakery in West New York, New Jersey.

I am sitting at the counter while my grandparents work. In front of me are three large rectangles of a most delicious treat, halvah. My favorite, marble halvah, is in the middle. And I so want to eat some of this sesame and sugar delight. My grandmother sees me sitting there. “Just take a small piece,” she says. And I do. I carry the love of halvah with me till now.

After some weekend visits, Grandma would send a half-inch slice home with me. My father and I were the biggest halvah fans. We would savor that slice, trying to make it last for a week. A feat that was a bit difficult to achieve!

After my grandparents closed their bakery to retire, my Dad would go to the local deli to buy halvah to satisfy our family’s cravings. My sister also loved the marble halvah. She remembers, “The halvah from the deli came wrapped in wax paper inside the white deli paper, like how lox came. I think because of the innate oiliness.”

In the summertime we could always get halvah at the bakery in Monticello or the deli. Halvah was always part of our life. But moving to the Midwest took me away from this treat.

In Kansas I never see full chunks of halvah. If I am lucky I find packaged process halvah By ‘Joyva’. However it is not the same. I have not tasted this treat in at least four years, since I don’t like the taste of the processed packaged squares of what should be a delectable treat that melts in my mouth.

The sign says “Halvah and sweets.”

But there in the large supermarket, Hetzi Hinam, was an entire counter of halvah with many different flavors. It called out to me. It took me back in time. I craved it. My daughter told me to get some. But I decided no, I just took a picture. I have been regretting that decision since we came home.

I have been going through every instance of halvah memory when I was denied my treat. When my husband, then fiancée, and I were in school, I kept my halvah in his refrigerator wrapped in a plastic bag with a handwritten sign saying this was mine, “Do Not Eat”. I would bring the halvah back from New Jersey to Missouri for those moments when I really needed cheering up. You can imagine my furious anger when I found out my husband’s roommate, David, ate my halvah without my permission. Let’s just say he never did that again.

My disappointment that day was overwhelming, I can still feel my anger even now 40 years later. So although my angst is not that bad today, I keep thinking, why. Why did I deny myself this treat? I could have purchased just a small chunk. But I said no.

Part of it, I think, is that I have such high expectations of halvah. I know what I remember it should taste like. But after eating those packaged chunks I have been disappointed. So I think seeing all those lovely rectangles made me a bit afraid. What if this halvah’s taste did not match my memory?

When I had it four years ago, I also purchased it in Israel. My daughter was living in Tel Aviv then, and I purchased a piece at a little shop. It was delicious. Perhaps my fears are unfounded. I should have purchased some! I could be eating a piece right now!

Instead I am here writing about halvah, remembering the taste, and wishing I had purchased just a bit of my favorite childhood treat.

Perhaps we can go back or find another store!

For those who wonder, according to Wikipedia, “The word halva entered the English language between 1840 and 1850 from the Yiddish halva(Hebrew: חלווה‎), which came from the Turkish helva (حلوا), itself ultimately derived from the Arabic: حلوى ḥalwá, a sweet confection .

Grandma’s Crystal Debacle

1 Oct

img_9370

Recently I had a women’s event at my home and I decided it would be nice to use some of my nicer, crystal pieces to serve the desserts. So early in the day, I went to my breakfront to remove the items I wanted in order to rinse them off and plan my settings.

I have to admit, whenever I open the door to my glass-shelfed cabinet, I feel a sense of dread.  Will something fall and break?  Will the shelf break?  Will all my crystal pieces — Waterford, Mikasa, Lenox — and other family heirlooms fall to the ground in a giant glass, crystal and ceramic mess?

Sounds a bit bizarre and as if I am over reacting, I know I do.  But I have a strong evidence that this type of disaster can happen in an instant.  It happened in my family.

Many years ago, when I was young and married, but not yet a mother, I received an extremely stressed out phone call from my mother.  It seems my paternal Grandma had decided to clean all her crystal and china in her curio cabinet.  I know that cabinet well.   It had glass doors and shelves, so you could more easily see all lovely pieces. Many piled one on top of the other.

Grandma was in her 80s, I cannot tell you her exact age.  Grandma lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with my grandfather in Co-Op City in the Bronx. I cannot remember if my Grandpa was still alive.  And I don’t know why she decided to clean on her own, without any help, I don’t know. Except I will say she was an extremely independent person. I assume a holiday was coming, so she wanted everything to shine!

No matter the reason, the crux of the story is that after she had cleaned all her pieces and put everything away, the very top glass shelf fell!  It must not have been put back in properly.   Does not matter.  What does matter is as it fell, everything under it was destroyed in an instant.  It was probably one of the most agonizing moments, which she watched in horror. She could do nothing but watch.

Grandma was hysterical.  These family heirlooms that she had purchased over the years, and a few that were her mother’s (my great-grandparents always lived with my grandparents) were destroyed.  They could not be fixed. They were just shards of glass. Grandma was distraught.

I believe my aunt, went over as soon as Grandma called.  But there was nothing to do but to clean up the mess as carefully as possible.

Eventually everyone knew about the great disaster.  When my mom found out, she called me and told me to call Grandma.  That Grandma needed emotional support now!  It was at a time when long distance phone calls cost money.  But Mom told me it had to be now. As soon as we hung up!

I did as ordered. But I did not mind.  I spoke to my Grandma weekly anyway.  I called Grandma.  I acted as if I knew nothing.  That I was just calling to say hello.  Usually we would speak for about 15 or 20 minutes, as I told about what was going on. And she told me about her week and gave me wonderful advice.

That tactic did not last long. As soon as Grandma heard my voice she started to cry.   I heard the entire horrible story.  She had planned to pass her crystal on to her grandchildren. Now there was NOTHING LEFT! NOTHING!  (Grandma’s emphasis.).
“Grandma,” I said.  “We don’t need anything.  It is not like someone died.  You are fine.  It is fine.  We have you.”  I thought that would help.  But it did not.  The crystal items all had memories attached to them.  Each piece had a story that needed to be told.  And memory of loved one to never forget.  But now with the destruction of her crystal was the loss of these memories. These pieces that when held brought back the essence of a person.

I just cried with Grandma. There was really nothing else to do.

Years later, when Grandma died, my parents selected a set of six glass plates for me to have from Grandma.  I have them on the bottom shelf of my breakfront.  I do worry about Where they are placed.  In fact, I worry that my children will have no idea what memories these crystal and ceramic and glass pieces have intertwined in their existence.

I have decided to tell the story of my breakfront and all its many heirlooms.  Then,  even if a crystal debacle occurs in my home, at least the memories attached to the items will not disappear. Their memory, tied up with the memories of loved ones will continue.

China Pieces Connect Two Grandmothers

22 Sep

It amazes me that two women living a 1000-miles apart, who never knew each other, could have such similar tastes.  Perhaps it was their age, the world they inhabited.

My maternal grandmother grew up in Poland and moved to the United States when she was 16 years old.  She was born about 1906. With my grandfather, she built a wonderful business and life. And she loved china tea cups and other items.

Among my maternal grandmother’s items was a lovely little Limoges leaf.    I always loved the gold edging and bright flowers decorations that adorned it.  When I was asked what I wanted, I chose this little dish, and added it to the collection in my breakfront.

I assumed it was a little candy dish. In later years, I looked on line at antique Limoges pieces, and found a similar shaped dish described a trinket pin dish.  Which makes it perfect.  I love trinkets!

Grandma also had an English china bouquet of flowers that seem to be sitting in a bowl or basket.  Handcrafted in England, this little piece also intrigued me.  And I chose to have it in my home as well.

Meanwhile in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, another woman was born about 1903.  This woman was the mother of my husband’s step mother.  I knew her for a few years before she died.  My daughter was a toddler, who loved to sit in Gretchen’s lap and visit with her.

When Gretchen died, my mother-in-law, asked me to choose something from the collection of items she inherited from her mother.  She felt that since we knew Gretchen, we should have some pieces.

In the basement were several boxes filled with pieces wrapped in newspaper. Imagine my surprise when I found a small Limoges Leaf that was an exact match to my grandmother’s leaf.  I chose it.  It seemed to me that I was meant to take it.

img_9321

Among the other wrapped items was an English china bouquet of flowers in a basket…handcrafted in England.  It called out to me as well.

I brought both pieces home and set them with to the items from my grandmother.

My mother in law told me she wanted someone to look at her mother’s pieces and remember her.  I try.  I close my eyes and I see my daughter sitting on Gretchen’s lap and petting her arm.  My daughter never knew my maternal grandmother.  I have no images of them together, but I have many memories of my grandmother.

My grandmother passed away in the early 1980s.   I met Gretchen a few years later.  Through these two pieces of china, I imagine that they would have been friends.  For me these four china pieces connect them forever.  May their memories continue as a blessing.

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.