Tag Archive | humor

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!

 

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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.

The Singers’ Worst Christmas Ever

The Singers’ Worst Christmas Ever

 One year when Marcia was perhaps 10 years old or so, she spent Christmas in Pennsylvania and Atlantic City with some of her cousins. She had a great time with them, but they didn’t celebrate Christmas because they followed Jewish customs and while they did give the kids some gifts, it just wasn’t the same as being home with her family and Marcia got homesick.  She vowed that she would always be home for Christmas after that.

This however, is not the Worst Christmas Ever. It pales in comparison.

Marcia at Pels

Marcia at Pels School of Art

In the fall of 1971, Marcia was in her second year of art school at Pels School of Art in Manhattan. She loved it, but there wasn’t “homework” and she had a lot of time on her hands and decided to get a part-time job to help fill the hours. She applied at the Sears in Jackson Heights where her sister, Lynn, worked. She figured that might help get her in.

She was offered the perfect job: night hours in the telephone catalog area. It was a cinch. People would call up with their orders, you wrote down all those little numbers and voila! They would get their merchandise in the mail. It could get busy though with many calls coming in, but it was manageable. There was a regular day person and a few other girls who also worked the evening shift. Marcia became friends with one of them. Let’s call her Jenny, although memory fails and this is not her real name.

One day in mid-December, Jenny remarked, “You do know that we’re getting fired right before Christmas, don’t you?”

What? Fired? Marcia was astonished. “No, they never told me that. Why?”

“This is a seasonal job. Once the Christmas rush is over, they won’t need us,” Jenny told her as she had been through this before.

Marcia was so disappointed, but took it in stride. “Well then, when that happens, let’s go out and get drunk,” she suggested. Jenny agreed that was the thing to do!

On the day before Christmas Eve, both Marcia and Jenny got the ax and so made their plans for a decadent evening.

Jenny had a car and place in mind so they went there and ordered the first round of drinks. Marcia wasn’t much of a drinker, but she could scarf down a Screwdriver. However, she wasn’t prepared for the size of this one! It came in a huge, frosty beer stein, but it was good. So good, in fact, that she had three of them. Yes, three huge drinks on an empty stomach since food wasn’t in the picture.

She vaguely remembers them meeting and flirting with two boys and a ride home in the wee hours, but not much else. Apparently liquor makes you stupid, but they were lucky and nothing happened to them, a minor miracle in itself.

So the next morning, sometime around 11:00 a.m., Marcia finally staggers out of bed in a daze, feeling quite crappy and hung over. She goes into the kitchen where her mother, Martha, was sitting drinking coffee wearing her thin nightgown and a light robe. Marcia sat down, still in her pajamas and a stupor.

Out of the blue, Martha says she isn’t feeling very good at all and is bleeding from “down there”. She stands up, and Marcia watches in horror as blood drips down her mother’s leg onto the floor! She was sobering up fast!

Martha went to her bedroom to lie down. Meanwhile, Marcia was clueless as to what to do and so instinctively called her sister, Lynn, who was married and lived in Flushing, and told her that their mother was hemorrhaging and to get there pronto. She made it in record time and quickly called the family doctor, Dr. Koevesdi.

Martha in her 50's

Martha in her 50’s

These were different times than today and because Dr. Koevesdi was close with the family and his office was only one block away, he hustled over to the apartment immediately and checked on Martha. She was 50 years old at this time.

“She needs to go to the hospital. Call an ambulance,” he told them grimly with no details.

They called one and were told that $50 in cash would have to be paid in advance. Marcia went to her little “stash” and coughed up the money. By this time, panic had set in and both girls were frantic with worry. They waited in agony for the ambulance to arrive.

When it finally did, they bundled Martha onto a gurney and loaded her up. Marcia got in with her to ride along while Lynn said she would follow in her small car.

It was Christmas Eve. Traffic in Queens, New York was horrendous all the time but today it was worse with so many people out doing last minute shopping and errands. The ambulance didn’t put on the siren for some unknown reason and so just inched its way along to the hospital to which she wanted to go. The trip seemed interminable to Marcia and Lynn.

Right across the street from their apartment was Elmhurst Hospital, a large pink-bricked structure, but it was not where she went. They were taking her to some other huge place that had a better reputation.

Martha asked where Lynn was and Marcia looked out and told her, “She’s right behind us. There’s no way she’ll lose us, even in this traffic.”

Martha quipped back, “If this driver stops short, she’ll be right up our ass!”

The guy in the ambulance and the driver too, laughed out loud at that, but that was Martha: joking in the midst of adversity. She would do this again much later when she was battling cancer: make funny remarks to diffuse the tension.

Martha was admitted and Marcia and Lynn eventually went home. Martha had a bleeding fibroid that had to be removed. However, while in the hospital, she also had a gall bladder attack and was quite deathly ill over the Christmas and New Year holiday. It put all of them in a very somber mood.

Needless to say, Christmas at home was non-existent. No one could muster up any enthusiasm. Everyone was worried about Martha. After about three weeks, she came home and life eventually resumed its everyday normalcy.

Young Martha

Young Martha

Christmas that year was the worst ever for the family, but what they remember most is Martha, in that ambulance, in pain and no doubt scared out of her wits, being her outspoken self and worrying more about everyone else. That’s what they loved about her.

Sam Singer Wreaks Havoc on the House

SAM SINGER WREAKS HAVOC ON THE HOUSE

 Around 1975, while living in their home on Crestwood Drive in Winston-Salem, Martha took a trip to Smithfield to visit family for a few weeks.

Meanwhile, Sam was alone in their house and having to fend for himself.

It was an unusual situation because Marcia had rarely spent any time with her father, just the two of them, but this time offered her that opportunity. They met and ate out for dinner a few times and had good visits. Marcia was now grown and not afraid of her father like when she was little. Sam had also mellowed out when he moved South and no longer had the stressful job of working in the Store. He was truly a different person and fun to be around.

However, some things don’t change. Sam was still messy.

Just a short time before this was a very sad time. In 1974, Martha’s mother, known to all as Mama Rose, became deathly sick with cancer. The family was trying their best to keep her at home and so the siblings were taking turns caring for her. Martha went to Smithfield to do her part and be near her beloved mother. A few weeks passed with Martha holding vigil by her mother’s bedside, but she was finally ready to come home. Surely it was a tiring task.

Marcia decided to go to the house to make sure it was in decent enough shape for her mother’s arrival. It wasn’t. There was much cleaning up that had to get done and so she did it.

During this time when Martha was away, Phil and Marcia became engaged and decided to share it with Sam and then they called Martha to tell her also. They were both thrilled and happy for them. This was in April around Easter time.

Mama Rose Gordon Sugg died June 6 of that year. It was a sad day for the whole family.

Marcia and Phil were married on August 4, 1974.

So this time around, Marcia had a pretty good idea what she might be up against with her mother gone for so long. She knew her dad well enough to know he wasn’t the neatest guy around. However, she was not quite prepared for what she found!

She walked through the house and each room was worse than the one before. The kitchen was a total disaster. Dried out flowers in a vase had curled up, died and fallen on the table. Newspapers were piled up. The countertop was adorned with egg shells and was crusted with dried egg that had dripped on it. Toasted bread crumbs were scattered around. One look in the fridge told her that food in there had rotted and turned moldy. Ugh! An assortment of dishes was piled up in the sink, unwashed.

The den where Sam watched TV had remnants of peeled oranges lying on the table and general messiness. His bed had obviously not been made and the coverlet was all over the floor along with various items of clothing. The bathroom had not been cleaned and was just plain nasty looking.

Marcia just about fainted, but realized that if her mother came home the next day to this disaster, she would probably want to walk back out the door! She couldn’t let that happen so she got to work.

Marcia worked harder that day than she ever had in her own home! She picked up everything that needed it, made the bed, cleaned and scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom, threw out the flowers and papers and even tackled the fridge. Most of that stuff went right into the trash, container and all! The contents were beyond putrid and she wouldn’t even open them up. Out they went. When all that was done, she dragged out the vacuum cleaner and was sucking up the dirt when Sam came home.

“I was going to clean up,” he calmly told Marcia.

Yeah, right, she thought. He let it go this bad for weeks! His idea of cleaning up wouldn’t have been too great either. At least this way, her mother would not come home to a complete mess. She was exhausted, but knew she’s done the right thing.

“I know. I just thought I’d help out,” she told him so as to not hurt his feelings. “Why don’t you finish the vacuuming?”

Sam Singer and the Pea Incident

SAM SINGER AND THE PEA INCIDENT

 The evening meal, whether you call it dinner or supper, was one of two entirely different scenarios in the Singer family. If Sam was home that evening, which was usually about every other night off from the Store, then Martha cooked a home style meal which usually included a meat, a vegetable or two, salad and biscuits. She often made corned beef and cabbage, blintzes, a special macaroni and cottage/cheese/sour cream dish, chicken dumplings, Spanish rice and chicken and matzo ball soup and other delicious meals. Pizza was never eaten as Sam didn’t like cheese. The family usually went out to eat on Sundays which was a special treat and most of the time it was for Chinese food, but occasionally Italian or something else for a change of pace.

On the nights that Sam worked the evening shift, the family ate at the Store which meant you could just go whenever you wanted and ate whatever you wanted. For Marcia, this was always a hamburger, fries and Coke with chocolate ice cream for dessert.

She was quite a picky eater though and one day two very stubborn people butted heads over peas.

It was a Sunday, Sam’s only day off and the family had planned a trip out to Long Island after lunch which Martha had cooked. Marcia had eaten whatever she wanted of the lunch, but balked at the peas as she didn’t much like them. She loved lima beans, but not these and they were left on her plate and getting colder by the minute.

She was probably only about 5 years old and was sitting at a small red table set up in the hallway because the kitchen eating area was so small. There she sat waiting patiently to be excused from the table.

For some reason, Sam was not pleased and demanded that Marcia eat the dreaded peas and declared an ultimatum that weren’t going anywhere until the plate was clean.

Marcia was afraid of her daddy’s anger and knew he could erupt at any time, but she stood firm in her resolve that those nasty peas were NOT going to end up in her mouth and he couldn’t make her. So there she sat, not budging.

Sam got angrier and angrier and the time got later and later. Neither one was going to give in. No one else in the household dared to interfere.

Eventually, though, with the situation at a total impasse, the peas were taken away and the trip did not happen because of the late hour. Sam learned the hard way that trying to force Marcia to eat anything she didn’t want was a waste of his time. He did, however, resort to bribery!

Every once in a while, in an effort to expand her palette of foods, Sam would actually bribe Marcia with a toy or comic book in exchange for ordering something different at the Store. He would suggest mashed potatoes instead of fries or roast beef instead of the burger. Because she liked those things anyway, Marcia would agree and thus be the proud new owner of said bribery item. Everyone won!

There was another time when Martha served country style steak and Marcia took a taste, but didn’t like the gravy much, so wouldn’t eat anymore. Sam got angry and ordered her to bed without any more dinner! She went to her room, secretly glad because she didn’t want any more food anyway. She was, frankly, relieved! However, Martha must have felt badly about this and wasn’t going to let her baby go hungry so later that evening, she snuck some bread into Marcia’s bedroom for her to eat. Marcia appreciated the gesture and even though she wasn’t exactly starving, she ate the bread pleased that her mother had brought it.

When grown, Marcia would recount this incident and Martha didn’t even remember doing this.

Sam Singer and his Russian Roots

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.

Q

Sam Singer and the Army Lieutenant

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