Tag Archive | history

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.



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.


Sam Singer and his Russian Roots


 [Author’s Note: These stories about my family are being written so that our generation and those that follow will get to know these people as more than just names on a family tree; so that they will be remembered for both their good traits and deeds and their bad. They were people who lived, loved, worked and died, but these memories of them will live on.]

Meyer and Esther Wedding Photo

Meyer and Esther Wedding Photo

Sam Singer’s parents, Meyer Singer and Esther Shpeen, met, married and had a family in America. However, their story truly begins back many years ago in Russia.

In the mid 1800’s in different small towns in Russia, two families worked and lived.

The Singer family’s records begin with Seymour Singer and his wife, Miriam. They had two known children: Anna

Etta Bella Singer and daughters

Etta Bella Singer and daughters

Singer and Louis Singer. Louis met and married Etta Bella Levine and they had three children: Meyer and two sisters whose names are not known.

Schlemel Speendock grew up and married a local girl, Rifka. They had 6 children: Louis, Isaac, Yonkel, Herschel, Gussie and another girl whose name is not known.

Louis Shpeendock became Sam’s grandfather on his mother’s side. Meanwhile, his brother Isaac shortened his last name to Spen and married Anna Singer, sister to Louis Singer who was Sam’s grandfather on his father’s side. This was no doubt how the two families became acquainted.

Both families lived in the outskirts of Kiev, a larger city in Russia, in what we would call a ghetto today and was comprised of Jews who were not allowed to live in the city of Kiev.  Louis Shpeendock, however, was such a fine cabinet maker that the Russian government needed his services and allowed him to live in Kiev as a boarder in a rented room.

Louis & wife Rose Shpeen

Louis & wife Rose Shpeen

Louis Shpeendock married Rose Chizik (her Jewish name was Shana Raisel Chizik) who was born about 1872 in Zhinkov, Russia. Their first baby girl was brought into the world on June 11, 1890. She was named Esther and would become Sam’s mother.

Louis spent the next five years in the Russian army, so their next child, Morris, wasn’t born until Oct. 17, 1895. Two more children eventually followed: Isaac Milton in 1896 and Sara in 1899.

In 1903, Louis decided that life in Russia was so hard and that he could do better for his family in America, the Land of Opportunity. He made his way there and began to find work in the city of Philadelphia as a builder and carpenter. There he  shortened his last name to Shpeen.

Louis and daughter Esther Shpeen 1904

Louis and daughter Esther Shpeen 1904

A year later, 1904, he was able to secure passage for his daughter, Esther, to join him. She was only 14 years old, but found work in one of the infamous “sweat shops” sewing dresses. They worked hard every day and saved enough money to bring the rest of the family over later.

Meanwhile, back in Russia, young Meyer Singer was conscripted into the Russian Army and was sickened by the deplorable conditions soldiers were forced to endure. Even in his home, which was likely a wooden cabin structure, the north wall on the inside would be covered in ice due to the extreme cold weather of the area.

“Meyer”, his mother, Etta Bella, said to him, “You should leave here. Go to America. You have cousins there. There is work too. You are a fine carpenter and Louis Shpeen needs help.”

“But what about you and my two sisters?” Meyer asked.

“We’ll manage. Perhaps your sisters will be able to leave this place too someday. But you must go and have a better life than the Russian Army has to offer. You are only 18 and have your whole life ahead of you.”

While reluctant to leave his family, Meyer knew his destiny was somewhere else and so he followed his dream of a better life. Packing a suitcase with a few clothes and possessions including some of his best tools, he deserted the Army and began a 1300 mile trek across Russia all the way through Europe until he reached England. There he boarded a ship that took him and many more refugees across the Atlantic and deposited them at Ellis Island, the gateway to the New World.

(Meyer’s sisters did also make their way out of Russia, but they ended up in South America somewhere and the family lost touch with them.)

Meyer was exhausted and dirty from his long, arduous journey from his homeland to this frightening new land where he didn’t know the language and couldn’t read any of the signs. He spoke and could read only Yiddish and Hebrew. Suddenly, he was thrust into this huge building, full of other people much like himself, all disoriented and scared for themselves and their future.

His cousins were supposed to meet him here and so he had to wait for them as he knew not another soul. He had to use the bathroom very badly, but here was a big dilemma! He didn’t see one nearby and couldn’t even ask anyone as the people here spoke English and he didn’t.

“If I walk away to hunt for a bathroom, my cousins could come for me and not find me. They’ll leave, never to return and I have no way to contact anyone! I’ll be stuck here all by myself. I have all of my possessions in this suitcase. Surely, if I leave it, someone will steal it and I will have nothing. But if I take it and am gone from this spot, my cousins won’t find me. Oy vey!” Meyer said to himself.

So, in spite of his mounting discomfort, Meyer sat with his suitcase in his spot and waited. And waited. The cousins did not come for him that day. Perhaps there was a mix-up about the date Meyer was to be at Ellis Island. Perhaps the ship docked a day early. At any rate, they did arrive the following day and located Meyer with his suitcase. Deeply relieved, Meyer’s first question in his new life was probably, “Nu, where’s the closest bathroom!”

Meyer worked with Louis Shpeen as a carpenter and so met his daughter, Esther. They were married on June 11, 1911 when she was 21 years old and he was 25. They had 4 children: Adolph (called Al), Sam, Ruth and Adele. Meyer received his citizenship papers Dec. 10, 1917 at 31 years old.

Blanket Chest made by Pop for Marcia

Blanket Chest made by Pop for Marcia

Esther died July 10, 1955 at the age of 65. After this, Meyer went to live with his daughter, Ruth, and her family which included her husband Eddie Pascal, and sons Richard and Phillip. Meyer was no longer working full time as a carpenter, but worked at the Store taking cash and was known to everyone, including the customers, as “Pop”.  He still occasionally made items out of wood such a large blanket chest for Sam’s wife Martha, a smaller one for granddaughter Marcia and a desk top for grandson Jeff. Marcia still has the last two items in her possession.

When Marcia was in her senior year of high school, 1967 to 1968, she got out of school in the early afternoon and was paid to go to the Store to relieve Pop from taking cash so he could eat lunch. He ate breakfast at the Store everyday also. It was an easy task and Marcia got to eat a good lunch herself as she didn’t like what the school served up.

At some point around this time, Ruth and her husband moved to Florida. Sam and Martha went to visit later, but the heat and bugs convinced them this was not going to be where they retired!

Pop then lived in a small apartment on his own and while he wasn’t very religious, he did leave work early on Fridays as was the Jewish custom. However, he did have to work on Saturday because the Store was open.

About 1971, Sam and his brother Al decided it was time to sell the Store and move on. When that happened, Al and his wife moved out to their home in Patchogue, Long Island, Sam got another job and Pop moved to Florida to live once again with Ruth. He stayed with her until he began to have more problems than she could handle and he was put in a secure facility for his own good.

Ruth told of us of some of the problems and one is especially funny in a gross way. Pop became something of a pill addict at this time and took something to help him sleep, then wanted another pill to help him get through the day. It got to the point where he would take any type of pill or medicine he could find and Ruth had to keep them locked up away from him.

One day while Ruth was out, Pop found a bottle of laxative and not even knowing what it was, drank it all down. Well, you can easily guess that the result was…overflowing. Ruth came home to a huge stinking mess of feces just about everywhere! He would also leave the house and wander off and not be able to find his way back until someone found him. She didn’t have it easy, but she took the best care of him that she could. Still, he was safer in a place where professionals could keep an eye on him.

While Pop was physically fairly sound for a man his age, his mind wavered in and out of reality and it seemed like just one day he decided he’d had enough of life.

Meyer “Pop” Singer lived until March 29, 1977 when he passed away at 91 years old. Ironically, Sam Singer died only two months after his father, at the young age of 63, on May 27, 1977 due to a heart attack caused by diabetes and emphysema.


Sam Singer and the Army Lieutenant


Sam Singer

Sam Singer

The following poem, written by family friend Kathryn M. Fisher, was inspired by Marcia’s portrait of Sam in his army helmet with the cross on it that he wore when he was in the Medics. Sam never talked to the family about the war days so little is known except he did have some medals which Marcia has in a box frame created lovingly by Richard Young, the second husband of Sam’s youngest sister, Adele. Marcia also has the flag provided by the military that was draped over Sam’s coffin when he died on May 27, 1977 at the age of 63.

Sense of Courage

By Kathryn M. Fisher

I heard the cannon shout at the devil

Felt the sting of lead shred my flesh

A salty, coppery taste filled my mouth

And mixed with the smell of my own blood and sweat

Then a gentle touch, strong as an iron hand

Dragged me back from the battlefield

And I saw the white cross on the helmet.


One story that was told about Sam’s army days was when he was in charge of the kitchen and preparation of the meals. It is not known where this was, but Sam was in the vicinity of the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most famous battles of World War II. Martha’s brother, Burton Sugg, was also there. Perhaps it was here in the heat of the last days of the war.

One day, a perfectly decked out young Lieutenant came with some underlings into the hallowed halls of Sam’s kitchen. It is likely this was more of a tent than a building, but that is not known. This young man had probably just been promoted and was feeling like he was “All That”, as the saying today would go. Perhaps he wanted to throw his weight around just a little and show everyone who was in charge. Again, these are suppositions, but let’s go with it.

He strutted in wearing pristine white gloves and proceeded to touch the surfaces of the stoves and countertops. He frowned as he inspected the gloves for any sign of dirt. Knowing Sam, there was probably plenty of dirt or mess to be found, but he wasn’t having any of this!

Sam was well known for his quickness to anger and consequent yelling so what happened was not really a surprise to those who knew him.  Sam exploded and told that Lieutenant, “Get the Hell out of my kitchen and never come back!”  The young soldier left in a huff.

One can only assume that in the absence of a court martial, no bodily contact was made and also that the Lieutenant never reported such insubordination. Most likely, others told him it was quite foolish to mess with Sam especially because he was the cook and the food was good. Don’t rock the boat!!

Here is a notation in one of the Army bulletins about Sam:

Hq. 78th Inf Div, APO 78, US Army, GO 47 dtd 7 February, 1946

Staff Sergeant Samuel Singer, Medical Corps, Company C, 303 Medical Battalion, for meritorious services in connection with military operations against the enemy during the period from 9 December 1944 to 38 April 1945 in Germany. Staff Sergeant Singer, as company supply sergeant has displayed initiative and resourcefulness in maintaining a steady flow of medical supplies and equipment. On numerous occasions he has traveled roads which were under direct enemy observation and shell fire to carry plasma, penicillin, and other medical supplies to the forward units. His sustained efforts and devotion to duty are in accordance with the highest military traditions. Entered the military service from New York.

By Command of Major General Barker:

Joseph A. Nichols

Colonel, General Staff Corps.

Deputy Chief of Staff

Sam in uniform

Sam in uniform

The Big Blackout of 1965 in New York City

I wrote this story when I was only 14 years old.

Tuesday, November 9, 1965 was the night New York, among other places, had a blackout.  Of course, it was a serious thing but most of the kids didn’t think so.  Everyone who wasn’t caught in a train or elevator or some such think like that, had fun.  Most people thought the dimming lights and darkness was in their immediate area because things like that, blown fuses, etc., are always happening.  In our house, fuses blow all the time.  It was for that reason that my mother bought a real kerosene lamp and stocked up on candles.  In other words, no one in their home were alarmed at first.  We just lit the lamp and finished supper.  We could hear neighbors in the hall and upstairs so we thought our main fuse had gone.  It all seemed simple enough.  After lighting a few candles, we waited, thinking the superintendent would fix it soon.  Someone chanced to look out the window and saw the hospital across the street was dark. Now this was something.  It was then we knew something more was wrong.  We had a lamp that ran on batteries just for this purpose too.  I went out in our lobby, after fumbling around for my shoes in the dark.  It was pitch black.  If I hadn’t known there were three steps there I might have gone tumbling onto the hard floor.  There was a weird, science-fiction feel about the air.  You kind of waited for some strange space creature to grab you suddenly.  Well, my brother was going to the store to see what had happened there.  I was not to be left behind.  I had shorts on because I hadn’t planned on going out and since my dear brother was too impatient, I couldn’t change but put on a ski jacket.  Needless to say I was quite cold outside.  Strangely enough, it was brighter outside than in the lobby even though there were no lights save headlights.  The moon was full and in all its glory.  For the first time in ages, you could actually see stars.  Anyway, we went over to Jackson Heights which also was in darkness.  Other people were scurrying about with flashlights and such.  Associated ( al local store) had mobs fighting their way to the Hannakah (sic) candles which sold out of everyplace immediately.  We got to Singer’s and it was dark and the door was locked.  We, being privileged characters, were let in. Customers were cozily sipping coffee by candlelight.  It was all very atmospheric. Someone had a transistor which we were listening to, which was about all one could do.  I just wandered from place to place.  Here we found out what had happened and how far it had been, from Canada to Pennsylvania.  Some parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island were not affected.  I tried to call home but couldn’t get anything.  We were there quite a few hours although it seemed like minutes.  Anyway, when I got home there was nothing to do but sit around and listen to the latest from WNEW radio.  Imagine how many kids didn’t do their homework because of this.  I had two tests the next day.  (They were postponed, however, so it was all right if no one studied). On Broadway, there were people directing the traffic.  They say the people of New York co-operated very well and crime was less than normal which is amazing.  Subways were really fouled up and many kids didn’t get to school.  Many parents never got home either.  Well, there really isn’t much else to say about what happened to me so I guess that’s all, folks.