Abie and I arrived safely in NY, and ate a fabulous dinner prepared specially for us by one of our relatives. Then we figured out how to put the floppy drive into her computer. And now we are sending you a copy of her memoirs.
How did the class go? GIve my regards to my children when you see them.
I awoke from the lethe of infancy in a green metal crib upstairs in my bedroom in our house on Birchall Road in Toledo, Ohio. This must have been 1939 when I was 4. My mother was downstairs playing maj jong with her girlfriends and I was left awake and alone in the crib. I had as a blanket a hand knitted afghan orange, brown, green and yellow. I didn't care for the colors, but it was soft and I tried to arrange it in my bed the way other beds were made. I had little luck first of all because I was in the bed and second because the bed had immovable sides and so I couldn't tuck the sheet in under the mattress. This type of crib no longer exists, I have never even seen them in flea markets or antique stores. While I lay there amusing myself I noticed a mole on my thigh. Its color made me think it might be a drop of chocolate so I tasted it, but it was without flavor. I put my finger in my mouth to wet it and tried again but I realized what I had really already known, that it was not anything to eat. How I got out of bed, who came for me I do not remember.
Later probably during the same year, I had what I much later learned was my existential moment. I walked around our block by myself and looked around. I don't know if my mother knew that I was gone but I was alone and I thought to myself, I am a self I am independent. I am told and I do not remember this at all, that I walked out of our family apt on a busy street in Toledo one Sunday morning while my parent were still sleeping and was found by a policewoman who somehow found my parents. Many times as a child I wandered away from the beaten track and got lost. Once I was really lost and feared that I could not get home when a tough but kindly bus driver gave me a ride to a street from which I knew how to get home. Any other time that I wandered I quickly found the way home.
I was a very independent child and also extremely educable. I learned how to ride a two-wheeler in the following way. My cousin, Dolores, had a small bike that she had outgrown and she didn't know whether to give it to me or to my cousin Zale who was one year older than I and who was a boy. Because I wanted the bike so badly and had no notion that my parents would buy me on I began to practice on my brother's big bike. He, Harland, was 4 years older than I, so you can imagine how big the bike was. I was five at this time. I had not yet gone to any school. So somehow I got on Harland's bike and taught myself to ride. At the contest I rode easily and Zale fell off so I got the bike. Being the oldest child in that family, he did not have access to a big bike as I did so I guess he wasn't able to practice. I just thought he was a spas. I thought my brother was too. More on that later. Winning the bike was my triumph. I felt confidant of my abilities and thought I could do anything. Was this the beginning of narcissim? When I was older and my brother and I went to the same school, Whittier Elementary, One day on the way home I caught him and threw him off his bike and rode it home myself. I so didn't want to walk home. Nothing was ever said about my behavior but it never happened again.
This brings me to the subject of my parents. They were very little involved in our upbringing. My father went to work every day and even Sat, morning and he was otiose anyway and my mother, his slave, was always busy cooking. So we were ignored and basically gained our own wisdom whatever it was. They fed us, housed us, bought us enough clothes, barely, and took us places on occasion. They stayed home most of the time however so we received little stimulation of any kind. Luckily we had an extended family and aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents when they were alive were very important. They were our only social contacts except at school and they helped us a lot in various ways.
My uncle Harold was particularly involved with us. He was my mother's brother and they liked each other. My father of course belittled Harold as was his wont with everyone and therefore was friendless as my mother became after several years of living with him. He had a money problem. He hated to spend it and so even though he earned a good living we lived economically to put it mildly. His cheapness caused severe ruptures with the friends they had had before they were married and they wound up alone except for their families. So Uncle Harold came over frequently and played with me and when he married at the age of 40 his wife, Mary who was childless, took us on. She was a school teacher, first grade and on the second greatest day of my life, the first being the bicycle contest, she took me to school with her. I was 5 and the kids in the class were 6. Well they all doted on me and I was the center of attention a place I very much like to be. She told my mother who was oblivious to us as anything but her progeny that I was smart and I heard it and so I knew I was smart and that I was physically adept at a young age. My parents were the children of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. My mother was born in Toledo the last of four children, two others had died in Europe. Her mother had been left in Europe while my grandfather fleeing the Czar's army came to this country. After some time he sent for her and she crossed the ocean with her two children, Pesah who became Bessie and Heschel, my uncle Harold. He had a beautiful tenor voice although only six or so and during the trip while they were still on land they stopped at an inn. Russian soldiers were there too and for some reason they asked him to sing. And indeed he did, he sang a revolutionary song. My grandmother was terrified thinking she would be arrested, but the soldiers just laughed and that was the end of it. Harold wore a sailor suit like any middle-class Russian child and Bessie and Grandma were dressed in the highest Gibson Girl fashion, according to a picture I have. Grandma said that when she arrived in New York and was met by her relatives she thought they looked like the greenhorns, so well put together were she and her children. She sewed everything they wore and according to my mother she was an excellent seamstress. This trait did not pass on to me or to my mother. I have still embroidered pillow cases from her trusseau, A. E. Anna Eberlin. Mother was the second child born in America, her sister Jeanette was the first, but Grandma had gas for the first time during the delivery and before she went out she said goodbye to everyone fearing she would never return to conscious life. But she did of course and Lillian was born and thrived. She related to me many times how happy her childhood had been. There were some minor problems such as my uncle Harold didn't want to study Torah or go into my grandfather's business. Grandfather was in the barrel and bag business in the days when commodities like pickles and herring came in barrels. He delivered these and large feed bags and bags for flour, grain and whatever to stores around town with a horse and wagon. Supposedly he had done something similar in Europe and had been thrown by the horse and punctured a rib. This was later thought to have been the cause of the lung cancer which killed him when I was six. He had also smoked black Russian cigarettes when still in the old country. They couldn't have helped his lungs either, although failing to find this type of smoke in America he gave up smoking all together. Grandpa came from an even smaller town than Grandma, Ponadel, and my mother said that grandma made fun of him for that. She came from Ponevez a center of Jewish learning and culture totally wiped out by the Nazis in 1941, but more of that later.
My memories of Grandpa are few. He had a large mustache and wore a vest with a gold watch in one pocket and a gold chain and fob connecting it to a buttonhole. We sometimes sat on the glider on his front porch and he would take out the watch and let me listen to it ticking. I have that watch today, but it doesn't tick anymore. In 1939 when my conscious memory begins my parents left me for a few days with my grandparents while they and my brother went to the world's fair in New York. I had a wonderful time.
My grandparents home was much calmer than mine. They seemed at peace with one another. Grandpa must have been retired already because I don't think he went to work. We all ate breakfast together. He drank tea out of a glass with a piece of sugar in his mouth. They both spoke Yiddish so I have no idea what they talked about, but they each wore a kind of cardigan sweater that all old people at that time wore. It was a blend of brown and black and very wooly. Grandma ate an apple by cutting it in pieces with a small sharp paring knife. I can still see her standing by the basement door in her cardigan eating an apple. I felt protected by them as I didn't by my parents. They seemed to be in control and know what they were doing. I always was a tomboy and during this my only stay with them I got a big sore on my knee from rolling around on an ottoman or from the carpet, in any case when I woke up the next morning my pyjama leg was stuck to my knee at the scab. I was very frightened. I thought someone would just rip it off and it would really hurt and it would start bleeding and wouldn't heal for a long time. So I went downstairs and showed them what had happened. I expected they would start screaming and not know what to do, but instead they said I should go upstairs and tell the maid to put warm water on it until the pants came free. This I did and everything worked out perfectly. Halfway up those stairs there was a swinging door, I assume to keep the heat from escaping upwards, but I was fascinated by it since we had nothing of the kind. I liked their house which seemed very big to me. It had an ice room off the kitchen where the icebox had been and which was very cold. The refrigerator took the place of the icebox sometime before I was born, but I still have vague memories of it.
In the basement they had an old wind up upright victrola and many opera records. My cousin Zale and I used to play down there and wind up the old box and listen to the records. We were fascinated that without electricity there could be music. Also in the basement were large pottery crocks in which Grandma made pickles and kvass. The pickles were delectable but I never tasted the kvass. Mother told me that when she was a little girl she was sent to the corner bar with a pail to get beer. They also had a three car garage, it must have been a stable at one time. When my mother was in high school she told me she had a terrific party in these garages. I was always fascinated by my mother's life before she married my father. She seemed like another person, a person who had fun, who did things. A person who had a ton of friends. And in fact this was verified by my Aunt Bessie who told me that my mother had been charming and vivacious and full of fun before she married my father. I always blamed my dad for destroying my mother's life.
In those garages my grandfather kept a Packard and when he worked a wagon. The Packard had jump seats in the back and in order for everyone to fit in they put a breadboard between the seats. Mother being the youngest sat on the board. I always think of them going out for a drive in their new Packard laughing and singing and mother on the board. Grandpa did well in this country. He was partners with my grandmother's nephew, the son of her oldest sister who was approximately her age. His name was Willy Horwitz and my mother was very friendly with his daughters when she was growing up. Willy's son and grandson still own the business Horwitz and Pintis Barrels and Bags. Now they sell steel drums and vats. My last memory of Grandpa was at a seder. I was probably six. Grandma was born on the night of the first seder so at seder we always also celebrated her birthday. I don't remember the seder at all although I do remember Grandma dressed up welcoming us to her house. It went on a long time and a cup of wine was put out for Elisha which no one drank. When we left Grandpa was still sitting at the dining room table with his yarmulka on praying. Soon after that he got sick and we used to visit him at his home and I heard that the doctor came and drained his lungs. But we the children stayed downstairs and didn't see him. When he died Zale and I played under the sideboard in the dining room with cars or something. I knew things were going on around me, but I was involved in the play.
After Grandpa died some big decisions had to be made. Where and on what was Grandma going to live. She could not live alone they thought. It was decided that Uncle Harold and his new bride, Aunt Mary who is still alive at this writing, would move into the house. Mary taught first grade and Harold was a furniture salesman. I went to their wedding which was at my Aunt Bessie's house. It was fun and Harold played with me. He sat me on his lap and gave me a tweezers to pull out the white hairs in his eyebrows. At each pull he would make a big scene of how much it hurt and that was the fun. It seems strange to me now that he would do this on his wedding day, but that's how I recall it. He was forty years old when he married and supposedly had been quite the wild kid until then. Grandpa had a monitor installed on the Packard so it wouldn't go over 40 to keep Harold from speeding. He was also a ladiesman . When he was young he had black curly hair and everyone called him Curly, but by the time he got married he was bald. Mary was great and they had a good although childless marriage. Grandma lived with them or they with her only a short time and then Aunt Jeanette, Uncle Sammy and their two kids sold their house in a better neighborhood and moved back to what was called the old west end. Zale was one of their children. They had all lived together before when Grandpa was alive because during the depression Sammy didn't make enough money at the newspaper, The Toledo Blade where he was in circulation, to afford their own place. Zale remembers Grandma and Grandpa much more than I.
In any case mother had a good time as a child. She played with all the other children of immigrants who had Yiddish names that mother in later years found amusing. Still in elementary school she found a hundred dollars under a cobblestone and took it to the police. They told her she could keep it if no one claimed it and no one did. The cobblestone was in a little square where there were public fountains for horses. It was still in existence though not in use when I was a child. She also encountered anti-Semitism. Some boy called her a dirty Jew and she reported him to the principal of her school who reprimanded him. Mother in those days was a feisty little kid. She told me that they had soup and soup meat every night except Friday. She found this terrifically boring. On Friday they had chicken, what else. When she became a wife she always cooked interesting and different meals and baked wonderful cakes, pies and cookies.
In high school she was an excellent student. She particularly excelled in Spanish and went on to take it in college. She had a lot of dates and even went out once with a shagits. She told me that once she was necking in the car with a boy, maybe the shagits, it was so cold that she froze her feet. She met my father at a wedding. He was handsome and well dressed. She was there with her sister, Jeanette who was 18 months older and with whom she was inseparable. My father noticed Jeanette who had on a bright acqua dress so he and a friend went over to meet them and Daddy realized that mother was the more attractive so he concentrated on her and left his friend with Jeanette. After mother died I found her diary for the years, 1927-28. In it she described the period during which Dad courted her. She really didn't want to get married, but he did. She thought she was too young. She was 18-19. She was a senior in high school and a freshman in college. He really pushed her, going with his parents to her parents to arrange the marriage. The parents were in agreement and so my mother dropped out of college where she was studying to by a gym teacher and married Morris Britz whom she referred to as Mor. He was five years older than she and had just graduated from the University of Michigan Law School. He was in private practice with his sister, Sally, Britz and Britz. According to him she was so lively that the judges gave her many cases just because they liked her and that's what really set him up in practice.
This brings me to my father. His parents were also immigrants. His mother, Leah came from Poland from a family so poor that they sent her to live with an uncle in Liverpool, Uncle Asher. Grandpa came from Memel and also wound up in England. He came from a large family all of whom did very well there but he couldn't find work so he came to this country where he finally prospered. He married Grandma in England and they had three children there, Morris, my father the oldest, Sally next and then Max. There had been another daughter, Molly but she died before they came to this country. Grandpa was called Dave but we found out after his death when my parents wanted to name my sister after him, that his real name was Benjamin, so my sister became Barbara. I loved Grandpa. Everyone loved him. He was the exact opposite of my father, although my father and he were very close. Dad must have taken after Grandma. Anyway Grandpa left Grandma and the three kids in London and came here to engage in some kind of business with someone he knew. He didn't contact Grandma and didn't send for her. They were the biggest mismatch you could imagine. She was sour. She was also religious following all the rules for kashrut, but not spiritual in any way that I could ascertain. She would never eat at our house because we weren't kosher and we were never invited to her house to eat. He a was fun loving, hard drinking atheist. Anyway Grandma didn't know what to do about being abandoned so she sought advice from Uncle Asher and he told her to get in touch with her husband which somehow she did and eventually she came to this country. In her youth she was a very beautiful woman, all the Britzes were good looking, but when I knew her she was just an old grandmother.
My father and his family came across the ocean on The Majestic from Liverpool to New York. During the whole voyage Grandma did not allow her family to eat any food except what she brought with them. It was at least a fourteen day trip, but she didn't want them to eat traife. When they arrived at Castle Garden they were met by New York relatives and they stayed in the Lower East Side for a while. My father told me that he was very wild then and used to run up and down the stairs of the tenement with a knife. Grandpa wrote them to take a train to a small town in Illinois where he had a dry cleaning business. They came and as soon as they got there he told them they were leaving and going to Indianapolis. It seems his business had failed. He hadn't known how to dry clean and he washed everything. One man's white flannel suit came back fit for a child so Grandpa packed his bags and left for another venture that he had heard about. All of these arrangements were through relatives and friends of relatives who were also trying to make it in the land of plenty.
They lived in Indiana for six years until my father graduated from grade school. I think Grandpa was in the auto parts business there, but I'm not sure of that. In any case they left there and moved to Toledo where Daddy started high school and Grandpa opened an auto parts and auto glass store where Daddy worked after school and on weekends. Daddy loved to work at the store as we always referred to it and didn't want to go to law school. He wanted to run the store, but his father forced him to go to Ann Arbor going so far as to drive him to the train and waiting while my father boarded. Daddy came home every weekend because he liked his mother's cooking so much and because he could work in the store.
They lived in a big old house where Grandma was the ideal Jewish housewife, cooking and cleaning. Grandpa used to say that when they were going out somewhere they would always have to wait for Grandma who was cleaning the stove. Eventually they moved to a house on Rockingham Terrace where I first knew them. This house was on an oval off a busy street and strange as it may seem my Aunt Bessie lived just around the other side of the same street. Daddy told me that the only way he got through high school was that his sister, Sally or as he referred to her Sarkie, her real name was Sarah, read him all the assignments. She was one or two years younger, but Grandma kept him back so they could be in the same class. In elementary school they had permission to leave the room and go out in the playground when the Lord's prayer was read. Grandma didn't want them contaminated. The big meal was lunch and everyone including Grandpa came home for that. My father was a dutiful son, but I don't think he liked his mother that much. He always said that she had favored Max who continued to eat at her house after he was married. Grandma would cook special dishes for him because she claimed he had a sensitive stomach. I was there, although not invited to eat, for one of these meals.
While still in Indianapolis my father his Max with a bat accidentally when they were playing baseball. As a result Max who was the exception to the rule that Britzes were good looking had a broken nose all his life. Max and Morris all named after the same person, Malcha Baraks Grandpa's mother were very infrequently friendly. They had an animosity that really surfaced when they both were practicing law and competing for the same clients. Daddy always said that Max was unscrupulous and I really never knew who was at fault. On the few occasions when they were friends, they were the funniest team around, but these occasions were rare in the extreme. Max's wife, my Aunt Toots, who is also still alive, told me recently that Grandma didn't think she was Jewish because she wasn't eastern European, didn't speak Yiddish and called the synagogue a church. Once when she complained to Grandma that Max didn't know how to put in storm windows, Grandma replied, "I didn't send him to law school to learn how to put in storm windows." Grandpa sent all his children to law school even Aunt Sally. They also all had violin lessons. None of them were very good and Daddy was politely asked to absent himself from the school orchestra when he was a boy. Grandpa wanted his children to prosper and not have to do menial work. Toledo was kind to him and his store really took off and he even opened another one in Monroe, Michigan. But Grandpa spent all his money on others and when he died really an untimely death he was sixty-five he didn't leave Grandma very much, but then they hadn't been living together for many years. He lived in Miami, had a bar and motel in Opa Loka and she lived on the beach. He did keep in touch with his relatives in England, however, and he and Grandma went to visit them in July, 1934. By then he was an American citizen. I have their passport in my apartment and he looks well to do with a gold watch chain in his lapel. He was very short according to this passport, 5'1", but he did not have the usual short man's macho syndrome. He coughed a lot and had a throaty voice. I think he had asthma or something and he smoked. In 1942 we took a bus down to visit him in the middle of the winter because we didn't have a good car and couldn't get one and he had a pretty new Oldsmobile which he didn't need because he was alone and could use a smaller car. It was the middle of the war and one couldn't get cars or gasoline for that matter. The bus trip was interesting. I met a very cute sailor on the bus and I slept on his lap. I loved him. We had to get off the bus somewhere in the South and there was a huge crowd waiting for this one bus and the bus driver motioned to us to get on the bus even though we were in the middle of the crowd and no where near the front. The rest of the crowd was Black. It was my first exposure to institutionalized racism also. I drank at the colored fountain, not realizing that there were such distinctions coming from the north. We were really happy to get on that bus also because it was very cold in the station. We stayed with my grandfather in one of his cabins and I slept on pillows on the floor. Every night as I was going to bed a cute soldier from the airbase nearby would bring me a Squirt from my grandfather's bar. This was the most delicious drink in the world to me. I was also happy for the attention which I didn't get much of at home.
The servicemen at the bar loved grandpa too. They all talked about what a great guy he was. The car was a blue Oldsmobile sedan with a kind of hatch back. The paint on the roof was burnt a bit because grandpa said it got very hot there in Sept. and Oct. This was a new fact for me and I loved knowing it. Somehow I felt my parents never gave me any facts. Grandpa had a black coupe with only a front seat so I had to lie on the shelf below the back window Grandpa used to call it the self. He'd say okay Myrna get on the self. It was very cute and we all laughed over it. For some reason I don't remember my brother on this trip. Grandpa made oatmeal for us every morning and I was very surprised because I had never seen a man cook or serve food. He had cockroaches too but he explained them away by blaming it on the tropical weather.
We drove home in our new car and stopped on the way to pick up a palm frond. Unfortunately with it unbeknownst to us came a swarm of red ants. They covered the whole back seat and we didn't know what to do so Daddy took the frond which had a rough edge and brushed them all out. He was my hero that day.
He proved my hero on one other day back in Toledo. My aunt Sally and her husband, Heinie went away for a weekend and they left my cousin Alan with us. Alan was maybe five. He was very attached to a blanket which he called his 'bankie' and he couldn't fall asleep without at least some remnant of it. But aunt Sally for some reason neglected to leave 'bankie' with us and when it came time to go to bed Alan started crying for 'bankie' and we didn't know what to do. So Daddy said okay you don't want to go to bed, well we all are and he turned off the lights and we all went to bed including Alan. I think that was the night that he gave up 'bankie'. But aside from these occasions when the rest of us were helpless Daddy was not much fun. He was terrifically ego-centric and would regale us every night with court doings and cases. None of us ever got a chance to say anything and if we did it was just a quick quip. I owe my inability as an adult to talk in paragraphs to this autocrat at the dinner table. He was also very vain and loved to be complimented, but I don't remember his ever complimenting one of us. After Grandpa died of some kind of cancer, I think it was renal, I never enjoyed being with my father's family preferring my maternal side for socializing.
When I was very young, maybe 3 or 4 at my grandparents' house on Rockingham terrace in which there was a very large living room my father picked me up over his head and threw me around to the glee of the assorted relatives. This is the only time I remember his giving me any affection. It was there that I experienced my first social humiliation. I was 5. I was sitting on the couch nestled in my mother's arms sucking my thumb happily enjoying the company of adults when my aunt Sally out of the blue said something like how come a big girl like you is still sucking her thumb. I started to cry and nothing could stop me. I cried and cried for a very long time. Finally aunt Sally came up to me and told me she had something very nice for me in the kitchen. She picked me up and carried me to the kitchen placing me on the tile counter which felt cold to my tush. Then she brought out a delicious chocolate cake and gave me a big piece. She asked if I was still mad at her and I said no but I thought why hadn't she offered the cake to all of us. Pretty good for 5. But I never really trusted her again as she had a habit of making fun of people. Only much later when she was in her 90's did I forgive her for my first betrayal. In the hospital two days before she died she told me she loved me and I felt the same.
Nothing could stop me from sucking my thumb. My mother tried everything. She put pepper on it, she bought a rubber thumb and attached it to my thumb, but I got it off right quick. My parents were afraid that my teeth would stick out if I kept sucking, but suck I did until I was 12, then I just stopped on my own. But in truth they made my life miserable over it and when my own youngest son turned out to be a thumb sucker too, I just ignored it and he stopped at 12 just as I had. Anyway I used to hide my thumb sucking behind a book I was reading. There was no greater pleasure for me than reading and sucking. I did this in school, at home and even in shul where I concealed my book inside the Hebrew prayer book which interested me not at all. I remember reading, Freddy the Pig right through the high holy days. But I haven't explained how I learned to read.
The year I was five 1940 the Toledo school board decided to eliminate kindergarten. My mother who didn't want to spend the money to send me to a private kindergarten, enrolled me in first grade without any documentation of my age. She told me to tell the teacher and anyone else who asked that I didn't know when my birthday was, but that it was around Christmas. This was a huge embarrassment to me because I certainly knew when my birthday was and I didn't like pretending that I didn't. So I went to first grade. My teacher was a very old woman whom I did not like. I learned something about reading, but not much. I was there for only a short time and then I was kicked out and my mother sent me to Miss Mirsky's school in our neighborhood to which I rode my newly acquired bike. I hated this school, it was entirely too juvenile for me. All I can remember of it except for the trip on my bike which I enjoyed very much, was coloring grapes on a preprinted sheet of paper. I thought this was eminently stupid and I don't think I stayed too long at that school. But the next year I entered first grade legally and I had a wonderful Jewish teacher, the only one in the school, who loved me and patted me on the head just out of affection. From her I learned to read in five minutes. But the old teacher was still around and we went to her for music and every time I saw her I tried to hide so she wouldn't see me. That was the second trauma of my life, the first being Aunt Sally's remark.