Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Esther Remembers Lillian

Esther's sister Lillian passed way June 7, 2010, at the age of 91.  These are some memories Esther shared after hearing the news.  If you have your own memories to share, please send them to 1853WoodSt@gmail.com.

    My Arrival, and Lil's First Job 

"I was born at home, we were living over a store at the time.  Lil was just three years older than me, and she was waiting at the bottom of the steps when the doctor came down after the delivery.  He told Lil he'd left her a little doll to play with, and she rushed upstairs for her present.

"Later, when my mother Yetta was too busy, she would give Lil three cents to push me around in the stroller.  In those days that was enough for an ice cream cone."

    My First Haircut

"I didn't go to kindergarten, my first day of school was in the first grade. But I was only 5 years old, Yetta took out an insurance policy on me when I was born, and the policy said I was one year old at that time.  So when she wanted to put me in school she just showed them the policy and they let me in, they didn't ask to see a birth certificate."

"It was a scene, that first day.  Kids were crying, and standing in puddles of water that didn't come first tears.  You know, they just couldn't hold it.  That wasn't my problem, but Lil got in trouble because of my hair."

"It was long and curly, Yetta didn't want me to cut it.  But she had to open her fruit stand early, and it was Lillian's job to get me ready for school, including combing my hear.  And that took too much time, and finally the teacher told Lil if she was late again, she'd need to go to the principle's office.  She didn't know what that meant, 'the principle's office,' but it sounded scary."

"That day when we got home from school, Lil took me across the street to the barber.  It was that kind of mixed neighborhood, homes and shops, and the barber cut men and women's hair, it didn't matter. She told the barber to cut my hair, that my mom would pay latter.  The barber asked for instructions, and Lil said it didn't matter, just cut it."

"When Yetta came home we were doing homework at the kitchen table and she looked around and said "Where's Esther?"  Then when she realized, she wasn't happy, but she didn't say anything to Lil, she just want across the street to talk to the barber.  When she came back she had a shopping bag full of my curls, and she kept that bag with her always, wherever she moved.  When she passed away [over 40 years later] Lil went back to Philadelphia to go through her possessions.  And she still had it."

"For Lil, that event marked a beginning.  After that, she felt more able to make her own decisions.  In fact, all through her childhood, and after, she was known as a force to be reckoned with.  She had her own ideas about how things should be, and she would tell you about them, and most of the time she got her way."


"At that time in Philadelphia, girls of the same age would give parties.  Girls would bring their boy friends, there's be other boys there too, and everyone would dance to phonograph records.  One night Lil went across town to go to a party, further for a party than she usually went.  Marty had come with another girl, but when he saw Lil he forgot about his date, and asked Lil if he could escort her home.  Lil said no, you came with another date, take her home first.  And so he did, then came back for Lil, and escorted her home too"

"After that first meeting, they started to go steady.  But Yetta never asked to be introduced, probably because she assumed he was a gentile based on his appearance."

"One of Lil's jobs when she was a teenager was to bring Yetta supper at her push-cart, or shop, or whatever, when she was working late. One night Marty took her to drop off the food, and the Pickle Man, who worked next to Yetta, said 'You didn't tell me your daughter was going our with the Cantor's son.'  So he was Jewish after all!  Yetta asked Lil to bring him over that next Sunday for dinner."

"As a special meal, Yetta prepared tuna.  The fact that he ate it proves how much he loved her, because she found out after they got married that he really hated fish.  I think it had something to do with some experience he had in the Gerard's Boy's Home -- his mother had died, and his father [Yessel] was known as the blind cantor, so he grew up in a Home."

"They got married at the local synagogue.  I remember making sandwiches and lemonade.  It wasn't like now, where you'd just buy a case of soft drinks.  To tell you the truth, I don't remember the wedding cake, although I'm sure there must have been one."


"Marty was stationed in California during WWII, and liked the climate.  He couldn't find work back east after the war -- that's surprising, thinking back on what was happening then, so many people starting families and building houses -- so he decided to try his luck out west. He convinced my brother Elmer to go with him, but Elmer didn't like it and came back.  Marty got at job making cars [as a machinist], and stayed."

"From what Marty told her when he sent for her, Lil thought Marty had an apartment for them to live in.  But it turned out to be more like a motel room.  And that got her angry, which meant things had to change.  One day when Lil was in line at the grocery store, the woman in front of her said to the checker 'This is the last time I'm coming in here, we're moving tomorrow.'  So she went with the woman back to her apartment, so she could get rent it before it was advertised.  And that's how they got out of the motel, when and where was entirely Lil's decision.  That's how things were done in her family."

"It was only after Charlie and I moved to California that Lil and I become close. That is, in high school we had different interests, I went to Girl's High, the academic school.  And really we had different temperaments.

[As opposed to being a 'force to be reckoned with,' Esther was often a force that finds its quiet way around obstacles.  She says as a girl her guiding precept was 'The world is round,' meaning there's more than one way to reach your goal, there's more than one way to skin a cat.  She sometimes tells this story to illustrate part of their differences.

One day in Whittier, after Lil had hung up all the clothes on the line, the weather got windy and the clothes line blew over. Lil didn't feel like getting involved in a laundry mess, so she left the house, knowing then when Marty got home he would redo the laundry, thinking that he was responsible, and that Lil wouldn't blame it him when she got back if the clothes weren't clean and dry.  In the same situation, Esther would redo the laundry herself.  Charlie was often away travelling, and even when he was home, the laundry was her job.]


"Barry was born first, then Dennis, then Joan, the girl the whole family was hoping for.  When Lil was pregnant that third time, the boys both said they wanted a sister, they already had a brother. Then when Joan was born, they knocked on their neighbors doors saying 'We have a sister, we have a sister!'  Maybe neighbors were closer back then."

"Lil wanted a little girl in frilly dresses, someone she could make all the decisions for.  But she got somebody like herself, someone who wanted to make her own decisions, also a force to be reckoned with.  Joan rebelled in high school, when to 3 different schools in one year.  But in some ways she always remained the girl Lil was hoping for.  In those last years at Lafayette Convalescent Hospital, when Joan and I visited, even when Lil was too sick to talk, and she was used to seeing me, her eyes would follow Joan around the room."

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