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.