Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fourth Entry

Was that in the Bronx or in Brooklyn? Now I got two things confused. We also lived in Brooklyn, that I remember, on South 3rd Street, for one term. Both neighborhoods were sort of similar. I know on one corner there was a big tenement house that the kids on the block used to call the Jew Flat. All the Jewish people lived in there. The rest of the block was Polish, Irish.... all that, in the Bronx. And the same thing on South Third Street in Brooklyn, mostly Polish and Irish. On one of them, next to us was a church. Sunday morning everybody dressed in their good clothes, shiny shoes, they went to church. There were plenty of black eyes in the crowd from the Saturday night drinking festivals that they went through, but they were in church, all dolled up. And every time they would make fun of us on the count of we were Jews, I 'd say, “Yeah, but we don't beat up our people, they don't go out with black eyes on Sunday morning.” It was fun.
What did we call the Poles, Pollacks? The Italians were Dagos. We were Shimis. You think anybody got mad? Naah. We thought it was fun. The Irish were also Mics. I know in the Bronx where we had the empty lot across the street we used to roast potatoes on open fires... the Jews, the Pollacks, everybody together, did not matter, believe me. The question was, who was gonna go home and steal a potato, which day. “I'll go,” “I'll go,” This one went for a potato, that one went for a potato. We didn't really have to steal, all we had to do was go ask Momma for a potato, which we got these great big baking potatoes. We'd build a bonfire, put them at the end of sticks, and we would bake those spuds. Want me to tell you somethin', nothin' tasted as good. Why? I don't know. No butter, no salt, no nothin'. Just a baked potato on the open fire in the empty lot. We had a ball. So we had a good time. The fact that we were, in a way, antagonistic to each other did not seem to matter. Course, my Mother, everybody loved my Mother. That's the type she was.
On South Third Street, we lived in what had been a one family house. There were a lot of one family houses around, the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, because that's the way the people lived in those days, the people who had money. Then as they got more money and moved away, maybe to Long Island or where ever, these house were then converted. We lived in a two family house. The parlor floor and basement was occupied by one family, and we had the two upper floors which had originally, of course, been all the bedrooms. The way these house were made is the basement was usually the kitchen and the dining room, the parlor floor was a front parlor and a back parlor, the back parlor being sort of a family room. Then there were the bedrooms and the top floor, if they had a lot, was usually like a nursery or the school room or the maids room or whatever.
Anyhow, we had the two upper floors and a German family had the two lower floors, and I want you to know, this was about the war time. World War I. And this was a German family, Christian German family down below. And here moved in this Jewish family. At that time, we had living with us, my Grandma, my Aunt Rose and my Aunt Rifka. They always lived close to us, cause my mother was the one who took care of her mother and her two sisters, the most. The other sisters, I'll tell you about that later, pitched in, but Momma took care of them basically. At this point, they came to live with us. We tried an experiment to see if it would work out.
The house had no central heating. Wood stove first floor in the kitchen, wood stove upstairs on the bedroom floor, and we did our best to keep warm. All I remember is my poor father walking block after block to get sacks of coal, things were scarce. To buy the sacks of coal and drag them from where he got them to the house so we could have a little heat in the house. It was hard times, very hard times. But there again, like I say, we were happy people. And we had a dog, his name was Buzzer. And I'll never forget my Aunt Rifka, who was somewhat retarded, was able to communicate with that dog. He was a big dog, a beautiful dog. “Come down on the chair Buzzer, come down on the chair.” She used to say. She wanted him to get up on the chair and sit on the chair. And he obeyed her. It was a riot to watch them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Third Entry

I haven't posted here for awhile - sorry about the delay. This is all I have transcribed so far. I hope to get more transcribed soon.
A note about these postings - sometimes my grandmother used yiddish words and I tried my best to spell them phonetically. If anyone can help me out on the words and proper spelling, that would be appreciated. A series of question marks means I'm not sure what was said. K.

Further down on the East side, down Ludlow, Essex, that area of streets were more the Polish and Western Jews, the Lithuanians, what we used to call the “lithvox.” We used to call them the herrings cause they ate a lot of herrings, just as they called the Romanians the “pressas” or the “chassas” because Romanians were know to be great eaters, which we were.
So the area was sort of like divided into little enclaves, and yet everybody was together in a way. Because they had synagogues, but even they were divided a little bit into areas where people went to. Oh I remember we went to one on Eldridge Street, magnificent. The pews were beautiful, beautiful wood, dark polished wood and the pews were all red velvet. Of course, the men sat downstairs and the women sat upstairs, that's the Jewish religion.
And I'm gonna tell a tale out of school now. We all went to synagogue. My mother was very religious, God knows, I'll talk about her more later. My Father knew everything, he knew every prayer by heart, read the Hebrew, knew the book backwards and forwards, but he wasn't quite as fussy as my Mother was about the religious things, the things you should or shouldn't do. For example, how could he stay in “schule” all day on Rosh Hashanah or Yum Kippur, and not have a cigarette? Excuse to take me out for a walk, 'cause dear sweet little Blossom shouldn't spend the whole day in that atmosphere, it was so close, you know. Take me out for a breath of fresh air, ha ha. We'd take a walk under the bridge there, on Eldridge Street where the bridge came over, and behind the things were no body could see us, and Papa would smoke a cigarette. He knew I would never tell and of course I never did. So I got my fresh air and Papa had a cigarette, then we went back in again.
That was an interesting phase of life on the East Side. There were a lot of interesting phases of life on the East Sides. We lived in tenements. Apartments house they called them later on. Tenement houses. They were walk up, flats. In the early days, they didn't have hot water, the toilets were out in the yard, sometimes in the hall. We didn't have Frigidaires, naturally, we had the old ice boxes in those days, which Louise knows about where you had the wooden ice box and you had a brick of ice in the top and in the bottom is where you kept the food and underneath it all you put a pan to catch the water as the ice melted. And if you didn't remember to empty that pan, you had lots of problems, you had a flood. But that was part of our life. I remember wood stoves, I remember that old ice box, in the winter we didn't even use that. In the winter we had a box built on the outside of the window sill in which we put the butter and the cream and stuff like that because it was nice and cold and it froze. And the milk in those days was not homogenized so the cream would rise to the top and pop out of the top of the bottles, pure cream!
Those are things indigenous to the way we lived, everybody lived the same way. Little later on they had toilets in the apartments, and then eventually hot water and stuff like that. But I lived through them all. I remember one apartment we lived in where there was a bath tub in the kitchen, an old fashioned tub covered with a large wooden board. My mother put a fancy cover on it and we used that as a table, as a study table, as a whatever, and when anybody had to take a bath, everybody scooted out, you took the board off, Mama filled the tub with water and you took your bath, and then you covered it up again.
I don't know, we lived through it, it didn't bother us. We were real clean, my Mother was.. nobody could be cleaner then my Mother was, God was she a pain in the neck, she was so clean. And it was hard to keep clean in those days, it wasn't easy because you didn't have what you have today. We didn't have the cleansers, we didn't have the lovely Formicas, the dishes or anything. It was tough on these women, they worked real hard. Did their own sewing, their own mending, their own everything, They worked so hard. Sewed all the children's clothing. It was fun, but it was a hard life. And we were not rich, but we didn't consider ourselves poor.
Well, maybe we were poor, maybe we weren't poor. We always had enough to eat. We may not have had steak every day, that's for sure, we wouldn't want it anyhow. And they way they cooked, especially the way my Mother cooked, I know, it didn't matter what she made, it always tasted great. The simplest foods she would use. Nobody every threw anything out, you had potatoes left over, you made potato latkes. You had something else left over you made something else out of it. So, as I say, we never really knew we were poor, though I'm sure by other standards, we were.
But we were largely happy. I know one thing, in our household, Papa came home at 6:00 for supper. Every one of us had to be washed, hands washed, face washed, at the table, clean and ready, not a minute after six. Six, on the button, on the dot, and we were there. And we all ate together.
Mama made full meals, I was just thinking the other day about the kind of meals she used to make. An appetizer, a soup, a main course, a salad, mostly for dessert, fruits and nuts, there always was a bowl of fruits and nuts on the table. We always had salad with every meal. Not too many sweets, not too many desserts, but for special occasions, especially holidays, we had all the fancy things Mama used to make so beautifully. The strudel, the Saturday morning crescent coffee cake that my Mother made, God if I could only taste it today. Full meals. But we weren't fat, none of us were fat really, except my brother Meyer, but he was just naturally a fat guy. So, as I said, we ate well.
Some people were more enterprising. We had a friend, my father's friend. A friend or a relative, I don't know what he was. ???? He couldn't do anything, again he was just a learned man but not skilled in any trade. He started by buying handkerchiefs, you could buy handkerchiefs I think, like say, two for a penny. Stand on the street corner and sell the handkerchiefs, linen, beautiful pure linen handkerchiefs sell them for a penny a piece. No he had two cents, so he bought four handkerchiefs, then he had four cents so he bought eight handkerchiefs. And that's the way he did it and he worked until he worked himself up and he got into the linen business. Then he started to go from door to door selling damask, gorgeous. We had... all the table clothes and napkins we had in our house, don't forget, were linen, pure linen that Mama used to wash and starch and iron, beautiful. No wash and wear stuff that you threw in the machine and threw in the dryer! Everything had to be starched and pressed and the table was always set like that, beautifully set.
So we sat around the table, we ate our wonderful meals, we talked politics, whatever. The only time we didn't talk controversial subjects was when we ate fish on the count of there was bones in the fish, we shouldn't choke to death. Papa said, “no talking during fish!” And we were happy.
We lived most of my life that I can remember we lived in the same area around Forsyth and Broom Street. We moved frequently because in those days, if you were willing to sign a two year lease on a flat, you got one months free rent. So you signed the lease for two years, you got your free months rent, at the end of two years you moved to another house. Across the street, around the corner, but at another house, another flat and again you got your free month. Well, that was important to us that free months rent. So we moved around. I know we lived at 109 Forsyth Street, we lived in 113 Forsyth Street, we lived across the street at 110 Forsyth Street, we lived on 242 Broom, where else do I remember. That's the way we jumped around. A couple of times we tried moving out of the neighborhood. My father was like me, I'm like my father. I spent my whole life in the same area, I was perfectly happy with the East Side, I loved it. My mother always wanted to get away. I think she would have liked to live in the country, I really do. Of course, she said, you know, you did what your husband wanted, you did what you had to do, and you did it. So we moved... once we moved to the Bronx. For two years we lived in the Bronx, I cannot remember the street. But I do remember there were house on one side, the other side was practically all empty.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Second entry

He went to Pennsylvania to the coal mines cause he had heard so many stories about making money. The problem he found there was that you owed your life to the company, because you were always in debt to the company store. Instead of paying you wages, what they did was you bought things from them, your food, your clothing, whatever you did, you got from the company store. By the time you got through, you had nothing left. And the work was hard, it was arduous, the hours were horrible. Didn't take long before he came back to New York.
Then what did he do. At one time, he had ... The greatest time of my life was when he had that coffee store. He had a retail shop on Forsyth Street where we sold coffee beans, teas, all kinds, all brands of teas, coffee, he'd get the beans and grind them. We had this great big grinding machine where you got different grinds, like to use for making coffee in a pot or to make the Turkish or Romanian coffees, like very fine, fine ground coffee, we had machines that did that. And the place smelled beautiful. We also sold chocolate, we got big blocks, oh... how big, 20” square maybe, maybe bigger then that, huge blocks of chocolate and we had a little knife that we clonked it with to break it into pieces, not neat. And weighed it that way. And it was so delicious. And as I say the smells were so wonderful. That we liked.
My father finally wound up at the end owning a Romanian Coffee house. They had Russian Tea houses - they had Romanian Coffee houses. These were places, sort of like, in a way like a club where, women didn't go.. well it was a different life. Women stayed home, the men went out in the evening. The Irish guys would go the bar, the pubs, whatever. But the Russians went to their Tea Houses and the Romanians to the Coffee House, where they drank this coffee that my father used to make, this Romanian coffee. And he also had food, he made wonderful food. Steaks and chops. A minimum. A variety, it was a steak and a chop and a baked potato maybe, and they ate and the also played cards, they also played billiards. It was, like I say, it was a sort of a club type thing, where the men would gather in the evening and discuss politics and whatever... state of the Union, making money, not making money.
And that's what my father wound up doing. I mean it wasn't something you could rave or brag about. He wasn't a college professor, but he made a living. And it kept us in food and in clothing, and it paid the rent, let's face it.
A little bit about the area and the people. When people came from Europe in those days, they came on the big ocean liners, but they all came in steerage on a count of because they didn't have any money. Steerage was the only thing they could afford. Of course it was a horrible way but they were so glad when they got here. And it wasn't like today, it was hard to get into this country. In the first place you went through a physical examination. If you had anything wrong with you, bingo, you did not come to this country. If you had lice in your hair or things of that kind which were prevalent on those ships, I think they had an area where they kept you while they tried to get rid of some of that stuff. If you had a real serious illness or any kind of a contagious thing, you know, you went right back to Europe again. And mostly they had to come to someone, like a sponsor, which is why so many of the families where we lived on the East side had borders or lodgers. Somebody came from the old country, you put them up for a while until they got on their feet and could find a place of their own. For that reason the same kind of people lived in the same areas, it was almost forgone. For example, the Romanians lived around the Forsythe, Chirstie, Broom street area, those were all Romanians. Eldridge Street, a couple blocks of Eldridge Street were German Jews, I'm talking about Jews now, German Jews.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

First entry

I'm starting this blog to share the memoir of my grandmother, Blossom (Bee) Saxe Brady. She spoke this memoir into a recorder with my mother, Louise Almy and I'm transcribing it here. I'm not editing it at all, just trying to type faithfully what she said, as she said it. My hope is that those who knew her will be able to hear her voice as they read. Here is the first entry.

I was born on August 14th 1903. A trouble maker from the start. That's really not fair, but how could I help it if my father was superstitious. Anyhow, I took a lot of ribbing when I was a little kid about the fact that I had really been born on the 13th of August. My father being superstitious, but I mean superstitious, you know the black cat, don't walk under a ladder, Friday the 13th, that variety of superstitious. Naturally, even if it were true, he would not have me born on the 13th, especially since this was his daughter after four boys, forget it! My father always insisted that I was born on the 14th, not the 13th. It was after midnight so it was legit.
Anyhow, despite all the ribbing from the boys, I was born on August 14th to a – I guess you could call us middle income, maybe we were poor but we didn't know we were poor – family who had come here with the hordes of immigrants from mid-Europe in the late 1800's to get away from the hardships, the tyranny, of the czars, the kaisers, the kings, the princes, the whatevers, to come to the land where the streets were paved with gold. Of course they weren't, but compared to what they had in Europe, I guess it was. As my father used to say, at least one thing they had here, you could walk down the street and not have to worry that someone would come along, put his hand on your shoulder and take you away for who knows what reason. Might not be rich, but you were free. My father worshiped this country. He was a patriot from the day he got here, and no one could say one bad word against it. As far as going back to Europe was concerned, never would he go. I remember when my Uncle Morris decided to take a trip back to Romania my father told him, “Don't go Moishe, you'll be sorry. What are ya going for?”
“Oh, I'm going to see the family, whoever's there, blah, blah, blah.”
So he went. He came back – and this is not an exaggeration – he actually did get down on his knees and kissed the ground. And my father of course said, “I told you so, I told you so.” It was horrible, he hated every bit of it. Of course he never wanted to go back again and none of us ever did. What did they have there? Poverty? Worse than poverty. No opportunity, hardship. So they came here. It was hard here too.
Especially for those who did not have a trade.
People like my father in law who was a painter, or who were carpenters, builders, whatever, came here at that time when they needed these people, they were building and building. And if you had anything that you could do with your hands, you had no trouble making a living. That's why my father in law was able, with his painting... he was a house painter. He could make a living. He made enough money so that he bought himself a tenement house, and then he bought his own home in Brooklyn.
We didn't make that kind of money because our people did not have a trade. They were more the people who had been sort of scholars in Europe. They were people who, they studied the Bible, they studied the Torah, they went to the synagogue, they know all that. But they did not learn to do things with their hands, that was the common people. As a matter of fact my father's family, people of that type, looked down on people like my father in laws family, they were beneath them, they were a different class because pff, they were only, what, laborers, workmen. But as I say the way it was here, the economy here made it possible for those people to be the ones to make the money where people like my father, my uncle, what could they do? My father did a lot of things. He was a conductor on the streetcars, which were then horse drawn street cars in New York City. You didn't have to have any special training for that. He did that for a while.