Tag Archive | nostalgia

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.

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 in his Younger Years

SAM SINGER IN HIS YOUNG YEARS

Sam as child

Sam as child

Sam Singer was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 24, 1914 and was a preemie weighing only about 4 pounds. In 1933, the family moved to the Bronx, New York and later to Elmhurst in Queens, New York.

Not a lot is known about Sam Singer from his youth, but here are a few stories that came from Adele, his youngest sister. Adele was the keeper of the family history for a long time and kept a number of letters and items that she passed down to Marcia who made a scrapbook of the history of the Singer family by piecing together all of the info collected from Adele. She repeatedly tried to get Adele to write or record some of her great anecdotes that Adele would relate by telephone, but alas, she was not able to and so only a few of the stories remain. Adele died with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007 at the age of 87.

Adele: When I was about 2 or 3, Sam was giving me a piggy-back ride in the kitchen. When I toppled over his head onto my nose, I broke my nose for the first time and naturally started to bleed and scream. My father (Pop) was so angry! I recall he took off his belt and beat Sam with it, probably not too hard. I broke my nose another time, as did Sam during his teen years, but fixing of noses was not considered a necessity in those days.

At one time, Sam worked in the garment district of Manhattan in the hat industry where he was an expert in matching ribbon colors.

Sam at 18

Sam at 18

Sam was famous for his “Slow 55”. During the depression, money was scarce for entertainment. Sam would have been in his early 20’s at this time. If he and his friends had dates with girls, it was generally to see a movie. They would all take the subway to Times Square at 42nd Street in Manhattan. The movie theaters were up in the 50 numbered streets. Each theater at that time had a stage show plus a movie for $1.10 admission. If you missed the stage show and came in time to see only the last showing of the movie, the admission price was only 55 cents. So the goal for the guys was to walk very slowly from 42nd Street along Broadway, looking in the shop windows and stopping at street vendors to always just happen to miss the stage show and pay only 55 cents each for the final movie. This was jokingly referred to as the “Slow 55”.

Sam Singer Faces Down the Mob

SAM SINGER FACES DOWN THE MOB

Pop & Sam at the Store on Broadway

Pop & Sam at the Store on Broadway

Sam and his brother Al operated a luncheonette (the Store) first on Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens, New York and later moved to one on 82nd Street in Jackson Heights. The one on Broadway was across the street on the next block from where the Singers lived at 80-20 Broadway. This building was also known as “Robinwood”. They had a 2-bedroom apartment on the first floor with one small bathroom and a tiny kitchen as described in “Sam Singer and the Thanksgiving Gravy Fiasco” story.

At one time, before Sam’s kids came along, Mom and Pop had that apartment and their son Al and daughters Ruth and Adele lived there too. Mom and Pop also used to have a store in the Bronx before moving to Elmhurst.

The family often ate their dinner meals at the Store and just hung out at times. Many kids don’t get to see what their fathers do for a living, but all we had to do was cross the street and sit down on one of the stools and watch! Sam got up early every day to go in to cook the meats and make the salads like tuna and egg salad. They only used the best ingredients and everything was fresh. Marcia and her brother Jeffrey would hang out and Sam would give them each a quarter to “dry the utensils” which didn’t really need it, but it kept them busy and they liked getting paid for it.

Before Marcia could even read, she loved to take the comic books that were sale (along with newspapers and other magazines) and look at the pictures and try to understand what the story was about. She was always careful not to mess them up at all so someone could buy them later.

One day, the suppliers of the newspapers and magazine told Sam they wanted him to also start selling certain “naughty” magazines. These suppliers were a large, powerful company with “connections”, if you get the drift.

However, Sam didn’t like that idea at all! This was a family restaurant and not only did his kids came here, but other kids from the neighborhood as well. No way!

No stranger to cussing, Sam boldly and blisteringly told them, “You can shove your papers up your  a..!” and he refused from then on to sell any of them.  So that was why papers, magazines and comics disappeared from the Store.

Sam at Store in his "whites"

Sam at Store in his “whites”

At the time, Marcia just missed being able to read the comics and only learned the truth much later on. Still, she was proud of Sam for standing up for what he believed was right and didn’t let anyone bully him! Fortunately, there were no consequences. Actually, many people thought Sam was in the Mob himself as he looked a little Italian, but wasn’t. However, he did instill fear in those who tried to cross him!