A Harrowing Experience

A HARROWING EXPERIENCE

I attended Pels School of Art from 1970 to 1972 and made a few friends while learning more about commercial art. One, however, became a life-long friend while the others faded away after my time there. Tracey was one of a kind. I’m sad to say that when she first came to classes, sometime after the rest of us had started, none of us embraced her. Instead, there were some who played tricks on her just for meanness. Kids, even ones old enough to know better, can be cruel.

Tracey & Marcia at Riverside Park on the Hudson River

Tracey was a few years younger than most of us and 2 years younger than me. She had her hair dyed blond and all scraggly like she just got out of bed. Her huge brown eyes were highly accentuated with dark liner and mascara, but were her most attractive feature. She had fairly large breasts and did not think a bra was necessary (at least it looked that way). Actually, she had such a shapely figure that she attracted male attention everywhere she went and seemed oblivious to it. I noticed one day that when walking the streets of New York with her that every, and I do mean every, man who saw her turned and stared she was so exotic! I felt that I could have been naked on the street and they wouldn’t have noticed me if Tracey was there. She just had that effect on men. If anything, the other girls in school were jealous of that.

 She also had talent and a flair for fashion which is why she was at the school. I was there because I was sick of academic classes and so dropped out of Queens College after one year, worked to save up my money for art school. So I was happy to be there.

 It was difficult to make friends at first. Everyone was wary and no one spoke to anyone else for weeks at first. One day, I was on the subway platform to go home and one of my classmates, Ray, spoke to me. I realized he was not the devil and we became friendly in class too. We sat together, talked and laughed. I guess this became contagious and soon others began to warm up. Many people gravitated to others like themselves and formed little groups. We had a group of hard core druggies who were into bad drugs, we had a hippie group and then there were the nerds who were very naïve and had never tried anything like drugs and were still very high school. I was in that group.

One day, I was on the subway going home and who should I bump into but Tracey. At this time, no one really wanted to be her friend, but I couldn’t avoid her right there so we talked. She lived in Jackson Heights which was not far from my apartment in Elmhurst.  Tracey was very outgoing while I’m more quiet and shy, but it worked for us and we did become fast friends and still are to this day. While we lost touch a few times over the years, eventually we found each other again even though we have lived far apart – her in New York and then Pennsylvania while I moved to North Carolina.

 Moving forward in the story, I got married and had a son, Adam, in 1979. He is my only child. Later, Tracey got married and after a lot of trials and tribulations, finally had her daughter, Nina Rose. Nina is the light of her life and Tracey has been a devoted mother.

 I was very honored when Tracey picked me as Godmother to her precious bundle and when she wanted me to be at Nina’s christening, I knew I wanted to be there desperately. I made flight arrangements to New York and could stay with my sister while there, but that left another problem. Tracey lived in Pennsylvania somewhere and how was I going to get there?

 To fully understand my dilemma about this, I need to explain why this was such a problem. I’m “directionally challenged” which is to say I get lost. A lot. All the time. Even in places I know well. I have a slight dyslexic problem that causes me to have an extremely hard time remembering left from right, east from west, no matter how many times I try. I’m also not comfortable with highway driving or long distance driving. I like staying on side roads and only go close to home. I hate to go places I’ve never been because I know I’ll screw it up and get lost. My husband always does the driving when possible. Even my son is better at getting around than I am.

 I only drove enough in New York to get my license and most of that was with a driving school. Once I had a license, I didn’t drive a car again until I had to drive my brand new Pinto off the lot in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I was so scared! But I managed and had to actually practice getting on and off the highways, usually on a Sunday morning when there was almost no traffic. I still liked to find side roads when possible, but did okay when I had to on the Big Roads.

 So I asked Tracey about getting to her house for the christening and she said her dad was going to drive there with his girlfriend and it would be okay if I tagged along. I was so relieved! This was perfect. Lynn was going to take me from her place to his so no problem.

 Until I realized that her dad was in his eighties and I had no idea how his driving was. I also found out that he had never driven there before and had only taken a bus in the past. Somehow this was very distressing and I decided that I would rather trust my fate to myself than this old man. Now mind you, he was very sweet and I liked him…I just preferred to drive myself hoping that I could do it, but very unsure of myself. Still, I offered to drive and he was glad. As it turned out, it was a good thing I did drive. You’ll see why.

 Before attempting this trip, I had to study a map to see how to get from Flushing, through Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge. From there, it was supposed to be easy. Hah! Not for poor, pitiful Hopelessly Lost me!

 So I studied the roads on the map over and over and tried to drum it into my febrile brain hoping for the best.

 My sister dropped me off at his place and I got in the front seat of a small Toyota, I think it was, that had certainly had more than its fair share of mileage and to top it off, the air conditioning wasn’t working. This was going to be a very long, hot trip! His girlfriend had never driven and was useless as far as navigation was concerned and Philip wasn’t any better. I was on my own with only some directions from Tracey which weren’t all that clear.

 I had a few scares on the way to the bridge when my exit came up suddenly and I was in the wrong lane, but I managed to move over without hitting any one. The traffic at the bridge was backed up but we finally got through the toll booth and on our way.

 I wasn’t exactly sure where to get off the highway and saw an exit that I thought was correct and so got off. My passengers were clueless and no help. However, when I got off, I realized the area didn’t look anything like Tracey had described and so I got very panicky. Fortunately, I had a phone, called her and told her where we were which was somewhere in New Jersey.

 “Not even close”, she said. “Keep going until you pass some water thingy and get into Pennsylvania.”

 I got back in the car and looked for a way back onto the interstate. Philip thought it was one place, but I realized, even with my issues, that that way would take us back to New York (East) so I kept going until I found an entrance going West and it seemed to be about 10 miles from where we had been and I was really sweating it out. I felt like a wandering Jew in the desert.

 Remember: no air conditioning, so I had to have the windows open which creates a lot of wind noise which is annoying and distracting. Also, this car had absolutely no get-up-and-go no matter how hard I hit the gas pedal. Basically, I cruised along however fast it would go (much slower than everyone else) and kept my eyes on my lane and let them all pass me by. I didn’t care. I was determined to get there matter how long it took.

 Finally, we found the right exit and got off. We parked in a large bus parking lot and Tim (if I remember correctly, but probably not) came to meet us there so we could follow him to the house as it would be almost impossible to find any other way. I was grateful for that!! I was an absolute wreck by the time we arrived. My nerves were shot, as I guess you can imagine.

 We made it there and had such a great time with all of the other guests Tracey had for the christening of Nina Rose. We all shared so many memories of Jackson Heights and the area. I was so pleased when I found out many of them had been into my family’s luncheonette, Singer’s.

 We all attended the beautiful christening at a church and feasted afterward. It was a great time for all. Tracey was a wreck trying to make sure everything was perfect and it was!

 Somehow the drive home was not as bad for me. I had made it there it one piece and now I just had to do the same on the return trip. This time, though, I drove to LaGuardia Airport where I was taking a flight home and relinquished the car to Philip at that point. Whew! It was actually a major undertaking for me, but I was very proud that I did it in spite of my fears.

 I’ve found that when you have something you really want to do, you’ll find a way no matter what obstacles are seemingly in the way.

The Double Date Gone Seriously Bad

THE DOUBLE DATE GONE SERIOUSLY BAD

 I’m sure a lot of people have Bad Date Stories and I’m no exception. This one was a doozy and I’ll never forget it.

My friend, Tracey, met some guy (I’ll call him Octopus – you’ll see why) and wanted to go out with him but for some reason wanted to double date with this guy’s friend (I’ll call this friend Jalubbo since he was one and I have no idea what his name was). She literally begged me to go out with the yet unseen Jalubbo and I kept resisting. I really wasn’t interested in a blind date with some gumbah. Tracey persisted and finally wore me down and I reluctantly agreed.

It was decided we all would go see “The Godfather” which had just come out as a movie. I had read the book and absolutely loved it. It was a great story and so I did look forward to seeing the movie adaption.

The guys had picked up Tracey and they came to my apartment for me. Her date, Octopus, was a fairly nice looking guy and I could see why she wanted to date him. The friend, however, was an ugly, fat guy who obviously couldn’t get a date on his own which was probably why I was roped into this goat rodeo. It was too late to back out now.

We arrived at the theater and I suppose we made small talk. I don’t remember much about that. We later found seats upstairs in the balcony section, Octopus, Tracey, me and Jalubbo. The movie plays and the groping began.

I sat as far away from Jalubbo as I possibly could which put me smack up against Tracey. I don’t think Jalubbo understands body language, but eventually he got the hint he’d better not even try to touch me. I could have killed (not literally, of course) Tracey for putting me in this mess.

Meanwhile, Octopus, true to this nickname, was all over Tracey. His hands were everywhere! She kept trying to slow him down and slap his hands away to no avail. I was getting more annoyed every second and it just went on and on. I couldn’t even enjoy the movie from all of the distractions.

Finally, we came to an intermission and we went to the lobby.  I don’t quite remember what was said, but I think I told Octopus to keep his hands off Tracey and of course, he didn’t like that. Something in me snapped and I did the only thing I could think of: I bit him hard on the arm.

He howled, not expecting this sort of behavior and needless to say, he wasn’t pleased. We were all yelling and it was decided that they would just take us home. Octopus especially was pissed off and ready to dump both of us as soon as possible.

So we piled back into the car, but this time, Tracey and I both got in the back seat, frightened of these guys because we had no idea what they might be capable of doing to two girls who had pissed them off so badly.

For some reason, Tracey decided to pretend that we were lesbians so they wouldn’t bother us. It was very strange but I played along.

The next problem was that they were going to have to drop us off one at a time like we had been picked up.

“No way,” I told Tracey. “I’m not going to let you be alone with those two. I don’t trust them and they’re very angry.” I dreaded to think of the possible consequences. In the end, Tracey and I both got out at my house and the car’s tires squealed as they peeled away in a major huff.

It was quite late and Tracey said she would just walk home by herself. I didn’t like that idea much either since the streets of New York were potentially dangerous too. She called her mother and told her she was on the way home.

“Call me when you get there so I know you’re okay,” I told Tracey. She did and we managed to get ourselves out of the situation.

We never did get to see the ending of the movie.

Much later, I did see all of “The Godfather” and its sequels, but frankly, they weren’t as good as the books, in my opinion. In the book, you fully understand why things were happening as it was very detailed. In the movie, it was just the scenes with less explanation.

In any case, every time I hear about that movie, all I think about is the Double Date from Hell!

 

Sam Singer and the Sunday Schleps

SAM SINGER AND THE SUNDAY SCHLEPS

[schlep: Yiddish word meaning to carry, tote or steal]

Sam Singer worked hard every day from early in the morning to prepare food for the luncheonette until closing time on many days. However, in that day and age, Sunday was a “blue” day and most stores were closed. That was their family day.

Marcia in front of the Store

Marcia in front of the Store

Sunday was also Chinese dinner at various places they liked. One special place was “The Dragon Seed” which was a little more upscale than other local joints and Sam was friendly with the owner. This required a car trip even though it wasn’t all that far from our home. The food was delicious though even if a little more pricey than other places. It was always a treat when Sam would tell the family that’s where they were going.

 Sometimes, they went to an Italian place. Another favorite was La Bilbaina, a Spanish restaurant in Manhattan. This was definitely a car trip and it was up a flight of stairs. They loved the authentic food and after dinner looked in the gift shop window down below it. Martha would often order a dish that had a green sauce that was ripe with garlic and they would all laugh and tease her on the way home about her terrible breath!

There was also, at one time, a huge Swedish Smorgasbord that was in a hotel in Manhattan and they went there sometimes also where it was impossible not to find something for everyone.

Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut

They especially loved the Sundays when they would go to Times Square and just walk around looking at the sights. It was a thrill when they saw Mr. Peanut, a guy in the peanut suit and cane who walked around greeting people. They loved looking at all the schlock shops that lined the street and Sam bought Marcia these little realistic mice holding a piece of corn. She had a number of them over the years and still has one left in her miniature collection.

Mouse

Mouse

East Side

East Side

Another special trek was when they went to the East Side which is an area in lower Manhattan where Jewish vendors had small shops or vendor carts full of wholesale goods of every kind imaginable! It was a fascinating place and they bought things there if they needed them. Marcia’s enjoyed it because Sam would get her a bag of red pistachios. By the time she was finished eating them, her fingers and mouth would be bright red from the food coloring. She still loves them and they remind her of this special time, but she opts for the plain ones now. Much less mess!

Marcia at Chisolm Park

Marcia at Chisolm Park

It’s likely that Martha was the one who suggested many of these outings, but Sam had no problem shlepping everyone to them. They often went to Chisolm Park in Queens which was near the water because there were rocks between the path and the water and Jeff and Marcia would walk on them trying not to slip and fall. There was a hill leading down to the path with places you could slide down. Many of the trees were huge with many low branches that Marcia was able to climb up on them! Jeff, being the monkey he was, could climb to the very top of the trees. They would also get Button Candy from a little shack at the park. It’s hard to say why they were so much fun to eat, but they were. They also liked those little wax bottles that had colored sugary water inside. Shops also used to have chocolate candy cigarettes! They wouldn’t fly today.

They had their choice of beaches too. Rockaway Beach in Brooklyn was small, but close and they often went there in the summer. Sometimes, they would take the car out to Jones Beach which was out on Long Island. It was a huge beach and it seemed the water was a mile from the parking lot. They all had to schlep the blankets, chairs, umbrella and coolers with food all that way! Still, it was a fun  time.

Sam and Marcia a Whitestone Pool

Sam and Marcia a Whitestone Pool

Another popular place for fun in the sun was Whitestone Pool. They had a large pool for adults, two tiny pools for babies and one medium sized pool for in between kids. They would arrive early because they loved to get a spot underneath a shade tree that faced that medium pool and that was the one Marcia swam in because she wasn’t big enough for the big pool where Lynn and Jeff would go. Sometimes, Jeff would play with Marcia in the big pool so she could go down one of the slides they had and he would catch her. There was also a small playground they could play in. Other areas had picnic tables and grills for those who wanted to do that. They would get lockers and could change clothes in the locker room so they wouldn’t have to be wet on the drive home. They spent many glorious Sundays there and enjoyed it immensely.

It was a fun time going occasionally to Aunt Adele’s place for a cookout. She was a beautiful, special person and everyone loved Adele. She had a huge bell collection and took up the guitar and played us songs and sang. They also played games at the Singer get-togethers. It was always fun. The kids loved when their cousin Alvin joined the festivities because he was a ‘little person’ who was their size! He was only about 3 ft, 6 in. tall, but a grownup and would smoke cigars. He too was a smart and special person who they all enjoyed being around.

The Danbury Fair in Connecticut was an annual event they attended for many years. We have a lot of photos from that time. Marcia recalls one year in particular. She was only about five years old and that year they were selling blow up dinosaurs and she wanted one badly. However, her parents told her no. She was disappointed. As they were walking around, she saw a person coming at her dangling a cigarette in his hand and didn’t see her. The cigarette touched Marcia in the neck and she screamed! It hurt terribly, and she told her parents what happened in between sobs. They searched for a first aid station, but it took a long time to finally find it. They put something on the burn, but it was too late. Marcia still has a circular scar there. For some reason, no one else seems to remember this incident and Martha said the scar came from a bout with swollen glands. Sorry, Mom, but it looks just like a cigarette burn. The upshot was that since they felt so sorry for her ordeal, they bought her a green blow-up stegosaurus! She kept it a long time until the rubber became rotten.

Howe Caverns

Howe Caverns

One year in the 1950’s, they all took a trip upstate to visit the Howe Caverns and the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. It was a long drive in their Studebaker with no air conditioning. Once they were out of New York City, they saw nothing but cow farms. Cows after cows. They had never seen so many dairy farms!

Marcia can remember the dark caverns and Sam holding her on his shoulders at one point so she could see. There was a small river of water that ran through the cavern and small boats they rode on. Marcia was too young to remember much more than that.

Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame

Sam went into the baseball museum, but Martha, Jeff and Marcia waited outside and they watched a group of roosters peck the ground.  Jeff tried to annoy them and probably succeeded.

They also had their yearly trips South to visit Martha’s relatives. Often, Sam couldn’t leave work except for one week, so the others would go by train and spend a few weeks. Then Sam would drive down by himself to stay the last week.

When the World’s Fair came to Flushing, New York in 1964, it was just a short subway ride from Elmhurst. Sam bought a large packet of tickets so everyone could go over and over. Some of Martha’s family made the trip north during this time so they could experience this wonderful entertaining extravaganza. Nothing like this would ever be near Smithfield, NC. Marcia, 13 years old at the time, often went with her friends. They all went to the best pavilions time after time. It was a once in a life time event for everyone.

Swedish Good Luck Horses

Swedish Good Luck Horses

At the fair, which had an international section, there was a Swedish pavilion. Marcia was so excited when she discovered they sold the famous orange, wooden good luck horses there and there was a basketful of the tiny, tiny ones she loved. She already had a few and they were among her prized possessions. One time long before the fair, Martha took Marcia to a Swedish store in Manhattan and bought her the biggest horse they had! It was 8 inches tall while her tiny one was 1 ¼” tall. They became her favorite toys.

Martha also joined Marcia’s class on field trips and they went a few times to the Brooklyn Museum and lo and behold, they sold those Swedish horses! Marcia was so excited to be able to add a few more to her collection each time they went.

In her later years, Marcia found more Swedish horses on the internet being sold on Ebay! Not only were they different sizes, they were different colors: blue, green, yellow and pink. She went a little crazy over this fantastic find and now her collection of horses numbers 22 which includes one soft, stuffed one. The smallest is 1” tall, but the biggest is still the one that Martha bought for her.

Joe King autograph

Joe King autograph

Another time Martha took Marcia to the Hammer Galleries in Manhattan when the internationally known artist, Joe King, known as Vinciata, was going to be there. Joe King was a native of Winston-Salem, NC which made him all the more special. His paintings of people include the Queen of England and he was quite famous. They all met and he graciously gave Marcia his autograph which is very special to her and is in her scrapbook.

Sam and Martha later on went on a number of cruises, but the first one was in 1967, when Marcia was sixteen. She, along with Sam, Martha and her brother Jeff, took an Israeli cruise ship from New York up the coast and down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal where the Montreal Expo was being held. The ship docked right there so they only had to walk a short way to attend the events. They had a fantastic time not only on the ship and at the Expo, but they also toured the City of Montreal, Canada.

Expo 1967

Expo 1967

As the kids got older and were doing their own ‘thing’, these Sunday trips stopped. However, they still attended Mets games at times and Sunday was always Chinese food day. Even after Marcia moved to North Carolina where her parents had also moved, they found Chinese restaurants to eat at although they were, sadly, not quite as good as they were used to. In New York, Marcia always ate the roast pork appetizer with white rice, Won Ton Soup and sometimes egg rolls. The Chinese places in North Carolina did not have this style pork so eventually she learned to eat other dishes and enjoyed them.

Another special memory is their New Year’s Eve tradition. Martha always fixed dinner rather early in the evening, usually around 5:00 p.m.  So late in the evening on New Year’s Eve, everyone was going to stay up late to see the ball drop and they would get hungry, especially Sam. That late at night, the only thing open was Chinese take-out and maybe pizza, but he didn’t eat pizza, to take-out it was. They didn’t get a full meal, but soup, fried rice and egg rolls were no doubt a staple for a late snack. It became a tradition after doing it for so many years.

Marcia introduced this tradition to her husband Phil and he too became a big fan of Chinese cuisine. His family had never eaten it! Now, even after all these years, they have Chinese at least once a week and always on New Year’s Eve.

There are many languages of love and not all of them are verbal. Case in point, Sam never told his kids he loved them, but he showed them love every day he got up early to go to work at the Store. No one ever asked him if he liked it. He did it because he had a family to care of. He showed his love every time he took them places so they would have a good time. Was he often really too tired for this? Probably. They all saw how exhausted he would be after a long day at the Store. Still, he made the effort and they had a full and happy childhood and no one ever questioned his love. He showed it every day. All they had to do was see it. Perhaps at the time, they didn’t, but now it is so obvious. They can only hope that he knew how much they loved him also.

CULTURE SHOCK: BAGELS VS. BISCUITS

CULTURE SHOCK: BAGELS VS. BISCUITS

Love knows no religions, no country or state boundaries or even different upbringings. Love can just happen to the most unlikely pairs and somehow, someway, it works for them. My parents were such an example. Theirs was a marriage between a Yankee Jew and a Southern Belle.

Sam Singer came from a family with Russian Jewish roots. His parents were both from the Kiev area of Russia and had immigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s so Sam was a first generation American who grew up in Pennsylvania and New York City, the heart of the North. He quit school early to help support the family and so did not have much of an education.

Martha Sugg could trace her ancestry back hundreds of years and her line includes some famous people. Her ancestors came originally from England and Scotland, but lived and died in North Carolina for generations. Their roots grew deep in the Southern soil and her family was steeped in the Southern culture and lifestyle. While Martha did not attend college, she did graduate high school, but loved to read and reading is always enriching in so many ways. She was also a talented artist and even wrote a book which I published for her posthumously: “Aquilla, Indian Captive”.

World War II changed the lives of millions of people and set about events that would not have happened otherwise. It was due to this war that Sam, in his army uniform, happened to be stationed in Durham, North Carolina, in the early 1940’s.

Martha was there too, working at a job, possibly also in connection with the war effort. There was a dance they both attended. They met and dated. Often, the uncertainties of war and all that it implies, heightened senses and made people more aware that lives could be changed all too drastically and quickly. Perhaps it was this or whatever reasons, Sam and Martha were married on February 6, 1943.

Can you imagine the shock experienced by her family when she announced she was going to marry this soldier none of them had met? Not only that, but he was a Yankee. In the South, this was still a dirty word and DamnYankee was all one word. They weren’t still fighting the Civil War, but the memories of the atrocities done to their people and land at the hands of the Northerners were not so easily forgotten. Add to this the “Jewish” factor and they had to be totally perplexed. After all, they had never actually ever seen or met a Jew. What were they like? Did they have horns? A Jew was as foreign a thing as an alien from outer space and probably just as frightening. ‘What was Martha thinking?’ had to be going through their minds.

However, once they actually met Sam, their misperceptions changed and they embraced him when they realized he was just like any other man, except perhaps for his accent.

Meanwhile, just to show that ignorance and prejudice wasn’t just on that side, Sam’s family were at first quite aghast when told that he was bringing home a Shiksa from Tobacco Road! [Shiksa is a Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman. Tobacco Road was a play derived from a novel that was popular around this time, but depicted the South as nothing but dirt roads, shacks and poor white people]. Martha did get quite annoyed with the ignorance of so many people in New York. She felt quite insulted when they would ask her if they had schools or things like washing machines or even indoor plumbing. Many had never been to the South and were clueless. However, she would just say that yes, they did have all those wonderful modern contraptions.

So Martha was just as much an “alien” to them as Sam was to her family. Again, once they met her, they too came around. Still, there were so many differences between them, how could they possibly make it work?

Not long after their first child, Lynn, was born, Sam had to go overseas. Martha took Lynn back to her home in North Carolina and stayed with her family for the five years it took for the war to finally be over and Sam could come home for good. So Lynn had a very Southern upbringing for her first five years. After that, she and her siblings, Jeff and Marcia, were reared in Elmhurst, Queens, New York. But every summer, all or some of them would make the trek down South for a visit. Whether by train, bus or automobile, Martha had to return to her roots to soak in good times with her own family and rejuvenate herself for the rest of the year she spent in that foreign culture of the dreaded North. She stayed there for Sam because she loved him and that is where he made his living, but she never truly belonged, like a captive wild animal having to live in a zoo. While her physical being was there, her heart was always in the South.

This odd couple did, however, create some very entertaining verbal experiences for us kids especially. When misbehaving, we were often threatened with a “potch in the tuchas” which was a slap on the butt. Sam would say “stood in bed” when he meant he was sick and didn’t get up. He mentioned a place we thought was fictional, “Pennsyltucky” but I later learned there actually was an area that was called that. He bandied about many Yiddish words learned from his own home life that we too learned long before many of them became mainstream. A “clutz” was a clumsy person; a “kvetch” was a whiner or as a verb: to complain; “meshuggenah” meant crazy; “mespocha” was family; “shlep” meant either to steal or carry as a heavy load; “alter kocka” was an old man; “kibitz” was to kid around; “schmatte” was an old rag or dress; “schmo, schmuck, shmegege” were words for fools or idiots and “shnoz” was a big nose. These were just some of the words we learned. He would sing a little ditty about “feet up, pat him on the pippick, let’s hear him laugh”, “pippick” being the stomach.

Sam would call my boyfriends “Chaim Yankel” instead of their names (not to them directly of course). It means basically Mr. Nobody. I could only assume it was because he didn’t much like them and couldn’t even bother to remember their names. He called my girlfriend Tracey “Dickless Tracey”.  He thought that was funny. I did too actually.

Because Yiddish and German are similar in many ways, Sam could understand the German spoken in old World War II movies and we enjoyed that he could translate for us.

In later years, I dubbed the TV series Bonanza as “Ben Yenta and the Whole Mespocha”. “Yenta” in this sense meant busybody more than matchmaker because Ben Cartright and his family were always getting involved in everyone else’s predicaments.

On the other hand, we grew up hearing many quaint Southern expressions: “in the short rows”, eating “high on the hog”, “as slow as molasses in January” and more.   My favorite one of her sayings was when she was very annoyed at something and she’d say, “It just makes my a$$ want to chew tobacco!” It defies explanation.

When faced with a situation Martha didn’t much like, she would often say, “I can’t be bothered with that!” It reminded me of Scarlett in Gone With The Wind who puts off hurtful things by ‘thinking about it tomorrow’.  It was definitely a discussion ender! Sadly, I find myself using that expression at times also. They say we turn into our mothers so I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.

On those years when we would all travel in our car to North Carolina, Sam would wake the kids up in the wee hours of the morning so we could get out of Manhattan before the traffic picks up. So around 4:00 a.m. we would have to eat or drink a little something before being loaded into the backseat of the car where we usually went back to sleep. Unfortunately, this created the perfect situation for carsickness and Sam would often have to stop the car to let a sick kid puke by the side of the road. Marcia was especially prone to this and so hated that part of the drive.

FRESHLY SQUOZEN

FRESHLY SQUOZEN

FRESH SQUEEZED

FRESH SQUEEZED

On time, we were in southern New Jersey and the sun had finally risen in the sky and everyone was ready for a real breakfast. As we turned off the highway, Martha exclaimed, “Oh, I can’t wait to get some freshly squozen orange juice!” No, that’s not a typo. She said freshly squozen and we all laughed riotously over this obvious malapropism and then had to figure out what the real expression should have been. After some discussion, we decided “fresh squeezed” was correct, but frankly, we loved her way so much better. After that, it was always freshly squozen for us!

Another time, also on one of our road trips south, she came up with another jewel that just shouldn’t be forgotten. At a certain point, the billboards begin proclaiming the upcoming business establishment of Stuckey’s, a well known roadside store in the South. The name probably rhymes with ‘lucky’, but my mother pronounced it as if it rhymed with ‘cookie’.  Every mile at least, there is another billboard: “Stuckey’s – 5 miles!” “Stuckey’s – 4 miles!” “Stuckey’s – 3 miles!” “Stuckey’s – 500 feet!” They wanted to be very sure you didn’t miss this place and it wasn’t even all that great. We did actually stop there once. No one was very impressed. Sorry, Stuckey. Once you pass this Stuckey, they start advertising the next one: “Stuckey’s – 50 miles!” You get the picture. Apparently they had a HUGE advertising budget. Finally, Martha was so tired of these signs, she proclaimed, “I’d like to stick a stick up Stuckey’s tooky!” [Tooky being her Southern pronunciation of tuchas]. We all cracked up and remember this every time we think about Stuckey’s or long road trips.

Martha would often ask me to get her a pin (rhymes with sin). I would dutifully look around her sewing items and bring back a pin out of the pin cushion.

“No, I need a pin,” she would tell me again and I would say, “This is a pin!”

“I need a writing pin,” she clarified.

“You mean a pen,” I would correct her pronunciation making it rhyme with ‘men’.

“That’s what I said, pin,” she would answer saying it exactly the same as before. I shut up and found her a pen. This happened often.

Sam could be much the same. When he came down South, he had to learn a whole new language almost. My husband and I were talking with him one day and he was ranting about the Kudzee vines that were taking over. Phil gently said, “It’s Kudzu” (pronounced correctly with a zoo on the end).

“Yeah, that’s what I said, Kudzee,” Sam replied and kept talking. We gave up trying to get him to see the error of his ways and so to this day, it’s Kudzee to us and we remember Sam fondly because of it.

Growing up in this multi-cultural home had its effect on me also. While in North Carolina on our yearly vacations, I would say something to my cousins such as ‘dawg’ for dog or ‘bawl’ for ball. They would laugh hysterically and says it’s ‘dahg’ and ‘bahl’. I was so embarrassed and it made me feel so out of place. But then, it got worse. One day in art school in New York, I said something about a foster home pronouncing it like ‘fahster’.

“You mean ‘fawster’ don’t you?” one of my classmates asked.

“That’s what I said, foster.” Everyone laughed at me. They wanted to hear what other words I said wrong (in their eyes) and ‘chocolate’ came up. I said ‘chah-co-loht’ to their ‘chaw-co-lawt’. I couldn’t win no matter where I went. My words, like so many other things, were a mish-mash of Northern and Southern.

When I first moved to North Carolina, people would often say, “You’re not from around here, are ya?” I would have to ‘fess up that I was indeed from the notorious New York. “Yeah, I thought so,” they would say. “You talk funny.” Now that I’ve lived here a long time, I rarely get that question anymore. I’ve changed my ways.

While we were still dating in North Carolina, Phil and I went to the movies to see “Blazing Saddles”. It is full of Yiddish words and sayings, most of which I knew which was funny in itself to me. However, they got to one part that really got to me because I thought it was only used in my own family. Mel Brooks and another person were dressed up as Indians and were sitting on their horses on a hilltop looking down at the last wagon in the wagon train trailing the others with a black family in it. Mel simply says, “Hmm. Schwartzes.” Well, I was laughing so hard at this I couldn’t even answer Phil when he wanted to know what was so funny. I was also the only one in the entire theater that was laughing at this. I was almost on the floor with hysteria.

Later, I explained. While I was growing up, the adults would talk in whispers about ‘the Shwatzies’ as I heard it which may have just been my mother’s southern pronunciation. It just means black in German or Yiddish and it was used to talk about black people without them knowing it. I don’t think it was meant in any derogatory way and I quickly figured out what it meant. But I had never heard it used anywhere else until that movie. Anyway, I thought it was amazing that it was more common than I realized.

Another great story we have is this one about Martha again. Lynn married a man whose mother, Katie, was also from Russia and while she had been in this country since she was a young girl, she still spoke with a very heavy accent and was difficult to understand, much like my grandfather, Pop. So one day, Katie meets her son Seymour’s betrothed and her family. Later, he told us what she said about Martha.

“Mahta iz veddy nice, but she spicks mid a hacksent!” Seymour roared with laughter and said to her, “And you don’t?” It’s all about what you’re used to.

Martha may have lived a long time in the City, but she never relinquished her accent either.

Differences in speech weren’t the only ones between my parents. There was also food. New York is bagels, pastrami, Chinese, Italian and more. The South is fried everything, vegetables cooked with fat back, country ham and biscuits. The food at our Store was strictly New York, but my mother tended to cook food like she had grown up with and he had to learn to eat it. Biscuits were fixed at most meals. However, to her credit, Martha did learn to cook many dishes that Sam liked. She fixed corned beef and cabbage at times, blintzes, arroz con pollo and matzo ball soup. My mother came to love Chinese food and on many a Sunday we had that. I’m pretty sure she never got Chinese food in Smithfield, NC!

Fortunately, I asked my mother to show me how to fix a few of the dishes she made that I especially liked and pimento cheese was one of them. So many times I would drop in to her house and she would have fresh pimento cheese made and it was so delicious especially on fresh bread. I later learned to make matzo ball soup and fed both of these to my husband and son who grew to love them also. One of our favorite meals now is just that: a combination of pimento cheese sandwiches and matzo ball soup – what a culture clash that is, but boy, it’s so good!

For me, it was so strange to go from the city environment to a place where grass and trees are everywhere, where you go barefoot the whole time, where there’s a lake to swim in, where people have horses, cows and chickens right down the street, where the town is only a few blocks long and everybody knows everybody else and their entire family history, where no one locks their doors or cars, where you catch June bugs and tie a string to their legs, where you wind through acres of tobacco or cotton to get to the forbidden river where you weren’t supposed to be, where some of your cousins worked in the fields to make money, where the movie theater cost $.50 which included popcorn and a drink, where Fred’s was the best place for a hot dog, where you had to snap the peas and beans that were going to be served for dinner, where you hung clothes outside to dry, where you could climb the chinaberry tree, where the days were hot, but the evenings cool, where the sky was Carolina blue and the air pure, where the tallest building was maybe three stories, where you play cards all day sometimes, where mosquitos, bees, wasps and spiders abound, and where there was an abundance of love from all your family that lived there.

Then, after a week or two of this, I would return to the land of skyscrapers where the air was filled with soot, the sidewalk hard and hot in the summer along with the roads, where grass and trees were hard to find, where pigeons crapped everywhere and were about the only wildlife you saw, where many of the people were foreign from different countries, where it was hard to make friends, and where the streets were considered dangerous.

I was always glad to be back in own little room, but I was often saddened and depressed when first arriving back in the city. Having seen both places, I always felt that I wanted to get out of New York one day and eventually I did. It was the best move I ever made. I returned to the South, my second home, met the best husband and have had a great life. No regrets.

Don’t get me wrong: I had a lot of good times in New York and will talk about them in another story, but I didn’t belong there in the long run. I appreciate my Jewish cultural history even though I don’t practice the religion. I think I’m lucky to have experienced both sides of the coin so to speak, but in the end, I opted to be thrown into the Briar Patch and I love it here.

When my sister’s husband heard I was leaving New York, he said to me, “Why would you want to leave here? [He hated the South and was a die-hard New Yorker]. “New York has everything! Museums, Broadway plays, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty!”

I’d already been to all of these things and they were great, but how many times can you do it? Besides, all he ever did was work and go bowling. That’s it. He’d never been to a museum or play in all his life! When I pointed out that he didn’t take advantage of any of the things that the city offered, his answer was, “But it’s there if I want it!”

Maybe so, but where I am now has everything I want.

Sam Singer and the Impromtu Birthday Party

SAM SINGER AND THE IMPROMPTU BIRTHDAY PARTY

 In New York City in the 50’s, snow didn’t cause the schools to close unless it was so deep that the teachers couldn’t make it out. We’re talking maybe three feet of snow at one time. Otherwise, the kids lived close enough to walk to their neighborhood school and did so regardless of a small amount of snow.

One year, a hurricane was blowing hard on the first day of school. Marcia still ventured out in the wind and rain and bravely made it the six blocks to P.S. 89 only to be told that school was finally cancelled. The school required that a parent come to escort their children home, so more walking in the wind and rain along with a parent. How ridiculous! Everyone was soaked by the time they arrived at home.

Marcia’s birthday was February 7 and it was often cold and snowy on that day or close to it. As a matter of fact, there was a blizzard the day she was born. Sam had taken Martha to the hospital in Manhattan from their home in Queens, but she wasn’t quite ready yet to give birth. The doctors told Sam he should just go on home and come back when it was time. Due to the inclement weather, he declined and stayed. It turned out that had he left, he likely would not have been able to drive back as the blizzard began in full force stopping most traffic. So snow was not a stranger to New York in February.

Marcia had a close friend in elementary school, Marcia Prager, who not only shared the same name but was, coincidentally, born on February 8. Most years they had to coordinate when they would have a party since they shared the same friends. It wouldn’t make sense to have one on the same day and they usually had them on a Saturday.

One year, Marcia’s birthday was on a weekday and it snowed enough that the schools shut their doors. Marcia was so disappointed that she would not be able to see her friends on her special day and became mopey. She decided that she didn’t want to sit at home so she went over to the Store. The snow wasn’t bad enough to keep a kid home!

She was hanging out when suddenly three of her best friends showed up at the Store! She was ecstatic to see them. Apparently they had gone to her apartment only to find she wasn’t there and no doubt Martha told them where she was and they trotted over.

Sam told them to take a table which was special in itself because Marcia generally would not use up a table, but would sit at a stool at the counter. He then offered all of them their choice of whatever ice cream concoction they wanted! It didn’t matter that it was freezing cold outside. They all feasted on the best ice cream around and had a good time. Marcia was so happy at this unexpected party and appreciated her dad making it an occasion!

This was just one example of how Sam Singer showed his love. He never told his kids he loved them in words, but his actions said it loud and clear. He was always there for them when it counted. He also never complimented his children directly, but bragged about them to others and eventually it got back and so they knew how he really felt. They never doubted Sam’s love and only hoped that he knew how much they loved him also.

Our “Don Cardwell” Connection

OUR “DON CARDWELL” CONNECTION

 

Don Cardwell Mets card

Don Cardwell Mets card

For those who don’t know or have forgotten, Don Cardwell was a Major League pitcher and was with the New York Mets when they won the World Series in 1969. He was most famous for pitching a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals when he made his first start as a Chicago Cub on May 13, 1960.

But let’s backtrack and learn of a special connection the Singer/Byerly family has had with the famous Don Cardwell.

Don was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on December 7, 1935. He began his career in baseball in 1957. If you want the details of his career, just Google him.

Don Cardwell portrait

Don Cardwell portrait

It was about 1960 (it isn’t known if this was before or after his big win mentioned above) when Don was visiting his hometown and family. A cousin of his, Mrs. Greer, was a fourth grade school teacher at Griffith Elementary in south Winston-Salem. Don went to visit her at the school and during recess, pitched to her students for a while. One of those students was Philip Byerly. He and his classmates were excited and thrilled to have a real Major League Baseball player there in their midst.

Don Cardwell Mets card 2

Don Cardwell Mets card 2

In 1967, Cardwell began pitching for the Mets and stayed with them until 1970 when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves. It was during these years that Marcia Byerly lived in New York and attended or watched many a Mets game and no doubt watched Don Cardwell pitch. Sam Singer was at the final game of the 1969 World Series when the Mets won. Don Cardwell was there for that too. A dubious connection, but there’s more.

In January of 1973, Marcia’s parents, Sam and Martha, moved from New York to Winston-Salem. Sam found employment and they rented a house for a while until they later bought one.

Later that year, Marcia also also decided to leave the big metropolis of New York and moved to Winston-Salem. She worked at a bank as a teller for a while and had her own apartment.

Not long after arriving there, she met Philip Byerly at the bank. They got married soon after and began their life together.

In 1977, their world changed. Sam, only 63 years old, died instantly from a massive heart attack one night. Marcia was not employed at this time but was trying to find a job related to her art talents. She had not succeeded at this so far. When the dust cleared and the funeral over, she worried about her mother, only 56 at this time, and how she was going to make it without her husband. For some reason, this made Marcia decide to find another job of any kind so if her mother needed financial help, she would be in a position to do that.

Phil was working at a Chevrolet dealership at the time and Marcia landed an office position at a Ford dealership. At the interview she asked the lady if his working at the competition would be a problem, but apparently it wasn’t. So she began working there in Winston-Salem at Parkway Ford.

Don Cardwell with Chicago Cubs

Don Cardwell with Chicago Cubs

Can you guess who also was working there? Don Cardwell! He had retired from baseball in 1970 and no doubt wanted to do something else with his time so he was a car salesman. He was very tall, extremely personable and friendly. He and Marcia talked some about his baseball days and he still wore the 1969 World Series ring he got from that time. It was quite impressive! Phil came to visit at Parkway Ford and met with Don again. They talked about the time when Don had come Phil’s school.

Marcia later left Parkway Ford to work in the printing industry and never saw Don Cardwell again.

Sad to say, Don Cardwell died January 14, 2008.

Cardwell on the mound at no-hitter game

Cardwell on the mound at no-hitter game

However, the connection didn’t quite end there! While at a Winston-Salem Dash game in 2010, Marcia and Phil heard an older lady talking about Don Cardwell and their ears perked up. They brazenly asked her about it and it turned out she was his wife, Sylvie! We told her of our connection and she enjoyed hearing about it.

It just goes to prove, it’s a small world.

Sam Singer Takes the World Series Seriously

SAM SINGER TAKES THE WORLD SERIES SERIOUSLY

Mets charm

Mets charm

Sam loved a good baseball game and especially a “pitcher’s duel” where the runs were low and the two pitchers fought for strikeouts. He was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they moved to Los Angeles in 1957 along with the New York Giants who moved to San Francisco the same year. Both teams deserted New York leaving them with only the Yankees in the Bronx. In 1962, the New York Mets were born and reigned at the now defunct Shea Stadium in Queens which was replaced by Citifield in 2009.

While he enjoyed football on TV also, Sam became an avid Mets fan and when the Store was profitable enough, he and his brother, Al, bought two Season Box Tickets to all of the Mets’ games. They used the tickets themselves but also treated customers, family and friends to the games.

Shea Stadium Postcard

Shea Stadium Postcard

The seats were in the first row of the first tier above the ground level seats and looked from the home plate down the first base line. They afforded a spectacular view of home plate and the field.

Shea Stadium was only a few subway stops away from Jackson Heights where the Store was, so getting there was easy and affordable. Martha, Sam’s wife, often accompanied him to games mostly just to be together because she wasn’t an avid baseball fan. One time, the game went into so many extra innings that Martha, exhausted, gave up and took the subway home alone. You couldn’t pry Sam out of the seat!

Marcia especially enjoyed the times she got to go with Sam, just the two of them. He would make up sandwiches and other snacks for them to eat at the game. Even though the Mets lost often, they had a strong, loyal base of fans and they were among them. The game is so much more exciting at the field with all the hoopla, fans and noise going on. There was the famous “Yellow Poncho” guy who wore one all the time and was often featured on the television broadcast. His seat was not too far back behind Sam’s seats. It was almost like being near a celebrity.

Sam would also watch baseball on TV or listen on the radio to broadcasts, sometimes both at the same time. As he lazed back in his recliner, he would often fall asleep and begin to snore. Woe be unto those, however, who then tried to quietly change the channel to something else! Sam would wake up and exclaim, “I’m watching that!”

“But you were snoring!” that person would reply, but put the game back on never-the-less. You didn’t argue with Sam.

You’ve heard the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Marcia did just that. It was either go somewhere else other than the living room, or try to figure out just what was going on out there with those men in the white uniforms running around hitting a ball. She began to ask questions and Sam would explain the rules and the plays. She learned baseball that way even though she never played it.

When October came around, it was time for the long-awaited World Series. It didn’t matter much what teams were in it, it was the culmination of the baseball season and truly a Big Event.

Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium

Back then, many stadiums didn’t have lights for night games, but even if they did, many games were still played in the daytime. Sam worked days so he and Al swapped off shifts so they could each attend many of the games. But they didn’t want to miss even one minute of the World Series, so for that time only, once a year, a small, black and white television was plugged in and sat in the back of the Store with the volume up so that all of the employees and the customers could hear it. Apparently, no one minded this. It was a big deal to everyone!

Shea from the air

Shea from the air

In 1962, the Mets posted a record of 40 wins to 120 losses, the worst record since Major League Baseball went to 162-game season. They never finished better than second to last and were often “in the cellar”, but Sam stayed loyal and was rewarded in 1969 when the “Miracle Mets”, as they were dubbed, beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series. Baltimore won the first game of the series and the Mets took the next four for the decisive win.

Can you imagine the whooping and hollering that went on in that luncheonette that day? Employees and customers alike were cheering with unbridle joy that their underdog Mets had proven they could be the Top Dog.

Everyone, but not Sam. Why, you ask?

Game 5 Ticket Stub

Game 5 Ticket Stub

Because Sam was actually at Game 5 along with his son-in-law, Seymour.  Nothing was going to stop either of these fans from that last wonderful game, not even the birth of Seymour’s daughter that day, also Sam’s granddaughter. Andrea was born on October 16, 1969, the day the Mets won the World Series.

Now, that is a true baseball fan. What a special day it was that day!