Sample Mother

The Bronx

I grew up in a neighborhood in the north Bronx that was across the street from a park. We lived across the street from a park, and we were very fortunate to live there because a lot of people lived in the city – building upon building. We also lived right near the Botanical Gardens. We used to go there, and my mom later worked there too.

We used to run around the park, and play hide and seek, or we’d go up to the schoolyard and play there. But in our years, a lot of times we’d watch the boys play basketball. It was a very good neighborhood to grow up in. It was a mixture of Christian people, Jewish people, a lot of Italian people. It was a lot of fun.



American Bandstand

There used to be a show called American Bandstand with Dick Clark. Every day at 4 o’clock, I’d come home, and I would dance with the doorknob. You’d come with your friends, but sometimes if I was alone, I would dance with the doorknob and listen to American Bandstand.

I heard music from Dion and the Belmonts, a lot of ’50’s music. But then, in the 60’s, later on, it was the Beach Boys and then the Beatles in high school. The Beatles were amazing, and the evolution of their music… I had never seen that before… that they could change – one group not doing the same things over and over again.

But my favorite music in college was Motown and the Temptations. I loved to dance, and I had a boyfriend who loved to dance too. This was before Dad.



Camp Trouble

Well my aunt Catherine was a nurse with very advanced ideas. She would come and visit every once in a while, she was a nurse for a public school in Montana. She convinced my mother that my sister and I should go to camp during the summer…that we should get away, it would help our independence, that we would learn how to swim, that we would learn how to cope, etc. She had this whole spiel. My mother was not good at sending us to strange places or doing anything on our own, but she convinced my mother, so my sister and I went to this camp. This is a church camp.

Alright, we’re only about the second day or so. There was this woman who was in charge of all the students. There must’ve been 18 girls and boys, and she had some teenagers helping her. Only thing she didn’t do was supervise the kids in any way, during the day or night.

At night, we were 6 or 7 in a cabin. We had to be in bed at a certain time. One night in the dark, I climbed out of the window of my cabin. I wandered away, far away. I don’t know where I am. And this is a deserted camp! The closest place you can get help is a ranger station where they look for forest fires in a tower up there. Other than that you’re on your own! We didn’t have a car. We had a couple horses, and we’d fight over who would ride them.

Anyway, I’m wandering around most of the night. Finally I came across a camp, a men’s camp, where they were mining and blowing up things. I said, “Sorry I’m lost. Could you get me back to where I belong, point me back in the right direction?” I’m really old enough to know better at this point, I’m like 10. The man said, “Sure I can do that.” He was really nice and did get me back. Which is Holy Hallelujah! It had never crossed my mind that it was dangerous thing to do… Holy Hallelujah!

But when I got home, my mother never let me and my sister out of my sight. My sister was better than me, but we couldn’t be trusted. That’s not the first time in my life that i’ve done really stupid things. I’ve been just lucky that I didn’t get into worst situations.



Meeting Your Father

I met Dad because I dated his friend. We used to double date, so we knew each other. And then, I broke up with the guy. He broke up with the girl. Then, about a year later, I was living on my own in Riverdale. A mutual friend saw me at the Universal Church on 78th and Central Park West.

Instead of going to a bar, you’d have these group talks, like sensitivity talks and things. And, that’s how you would meet people. It was just a different way of doing it other than the bar, which I had done.

So, this guy, a mutual friend of ours, saw me and then he told dad, “Hey, Colleen’s there, so maybe you would like to go.” So he came later on.

I came out of a car, I saw him and I called him Jeff because they called him Jeff. But Dad didn’t recognize me! This was a year later. He says I changed a lot in that year.

So after that, it was very easy to go out with him because we knew each other. When Dad and I were dating we’d go to Stanley’s and, also Grunning’s Ice Cream, which is also not there anymore. But, it was very good ice cream.




One of the most joyful days, was when you guys were born.

After the two of you were born, we were very, very excited and happy – and tired!

A favorite story about Dan

I remember coming home from work one day, this was when we were in Atlanta, and saying to Scott, “Scott were you a good boy today?” And he said, “Yes, but don’t ask mommy.”

A favorite story about Carter

I always remember you David, being mischievous with Scott. And then when they were older, Mom told me that the TV kept changing channels and Scott was saying, “The TV’s not working.” And Mom said, “Well where’s the remote control?” I asked, “Where’s David?” And David was outside with the remote in his hand, jumping up to the window and pressing the button.

Liette Blum

Grandir en Alsace au-dessus d’une usine

On était à La Mertzau, c’était éloigné du centre- ville. J’étais toute seule. Il n’y avait personne… J’étais tout le temps toute seule, et j’étais sous mon marronnier, à jouer avec le sable. Ma mère regardait par la fenêtre pour vérifier que j’étais bien là. On habitait au dessus des bureaux, dans l’usine.

J’ai commencé l’école à 5 ans. Je crois que c’était une école protestante, mais ça ne me dérangeait pas, à 5 ans ! Mon cousin Francis Rubin m’emmenait parfois sur son vélo jusqu’à l’école.

Je n’ai jamais eu beaucoup de copines, parce que j’habitais loin et qu’elles habitaient davantage en ville, et surtout dans le quartier des villas, qui s’appelait le Rebberg. À Mulhouse, j’avais sympathisé, je me souviens, avec Ginette Schwartz et sa sœur Françoise ; c’était très compliqué de les voir. Je les voyais de temps en temps…

Quand j’avais à peu près 13 ans, et que je passais pour aller prendre mon train pour l’école, il y avait des enfants qui criaient « Die Jude (la juive) !»  Je devais prendre mon train au niveau du cimetière catholique : 5 minutes de marche à peu près : et c’est sur ce trajet que les gosses me criaient dessus. Pas spécialement des enfants d’employés de l’usine…

– Tu m’avais raconté il y a longtemps qu’il y avait des gens qui t’emmerdait parce que tu étais juive quand tu allais à l’école.
– Oh bah qui criaient Die Jude.
– C’est ça. C’était pas tous les jours ?
– Quand j’allais prendre mon train. Quand j’étais en vélo, non.
– Mais t’avais quel âge ?
– 13 ans.
– Par la fenêtre ? Quand ils te voyaient passer ?
– Non bah ils étaient dehors.
– Et c’était qui ces gens-là ?
– Ben tu sais, à la Mertzau il y avait l’usine. Et puis là il y avait des logements ouvriers. Et puis là un jardin.. enfin des pelouses avec des arbres mais ouverts. Et tous les cimetières étaient au fond et moi j’avais le train qui était au cimetière catholique. Alors il y avait le cimetière juif et le cimetière catholique ça me faisait, je ne sais pas combien, 5 minutes de marche. Et c’est là que les gosses me criaient dessus.
– C’était des enfants des ouvriers de l’usine en fait ?
– Pas spécialement de l’usine.
Dans le quartier de La Mertzau, le cimetière juif et le cimetière catholique étaient mitoyens.
Surnommée la “Manchester” française, Mulhouse a constitué l’un des premiers pôles industriels français au moment de la Révolution industrielle, avec ses nombreuses usines textiles et ses filatures. Elle développe également les filières minières et chimiques et aménage, dans la 2nde moitié du 19e siècle, une cité ouvrière ; tandis que sur la colline du Rebberg, les riches industriels textiles se font construire de magnifiques villas. La Mertzau, rue excentrée, au nord-ouest du centre de Mulhouse, accueillait une zone industrielle. Elle a depuis été complètement requalifiée.

Je me souviens bien des grèves en 36. Pendant le Front populaire. J’avais reçu pour mon anniversaire un ballon, et puis… j’avais dû le laisser sous mon arbre ; ils me l’ont pris ! Ils jouaient au foot avec… Moi, j’ai jamais rien dit. Et comme nous, on était au premier étage, au-dessus des bureaux, on avait les grévistes en bas. C’était pas marrant.
Papa n’était pas directeur à l’époque : il s’occupait de la recherche, des labos et de l’usine aussi, mais il était plutôt chercheur. Il dirigeait l’usine du point de vue technique. Il y avait un directeur général et il était sous directeur. C’est après la guerre qu’il est devenu directeur. C’est lui qui a remis l’usine en marche.



Une famille éclatée par la Shoah

Mon grand-père maternel est mort quand j’avais 5 ans. Je l’ai très mal connu : il habitait Strasbourg, et nous, Mulhouse. Jamais je ne suis allée à Strasbourg. Maman y allait, et moi je restais à la maison.

Du côté de maman, ils étaient 6 enfants. Une chose normale à l’époque. Il y avait deux frères et une sœur à Strasbourg. L’aînée était a Colmar, je la détestais ! En revanche, j’aimais beaucoup ma tante Fofo. Suzie était gentille, mais la pauvre, elle est morte à 50 ans. Je ne sais plus ce qu’elle a eu. Une maladie que l’on a appris à guérir à cette époque, mais c’était trop tard. Mon oncle avait téléphoné à papa pour lui dire : « Maintenant sa maladie se guérit. Mais pour elle, c’est trop tard ». C’était la fin. Affreux. Elle avait 50 ans.

Et du côté de mon père, ils étaient 5 : Robert. Fernand. Papa. George. Et la petite fille qui était morte de la scarlatine. Il y en avait un qui habitait en face du lycée, dont la femme s’appelait Jeanne. Je ne pouvais pas la supporter, elle sentait mauvais…

– Il y en avait qui habitait en face du lycée dont la femme s’appelait Jeanne. Je ne pouvais pas la supporter, elle sentait mauvais.
– T’aimais personne ! Entre le vulgaire et celle qui pue !
– Non mais elle sentait mauvais moi je ne pouvais pas supporter ça. Et alors tous les ans, mes parents m’envoyaient en vacances avec elle dans une vallée des Vosges, a [Preta]. J’etais malheureuse comme tout parce qu’elle sentait mauvais.
– Et ils t’envoyaient tous les ans en vacances ? Et comment il s’appelait l’oncle ?
– Robert.

Et Fernand, autre frère de mon père : il me pinçait la joue, je ne supportais pas. Et sa femme était sourde. Et c’est affreux parce que sa fille était gentille, Pauline, plus âgée que moi, très grosse. Moi j’étais plutôt sportive, et elle pas du tout. Elle avait des robes, je me souviens, très sophistiquées… Et son frère Jacques, plus jeune, insupportable, je ne l’aimais pas du tout. Ils ont tous été déportés, de Nîmes.

La descendance côté Blum (mon père) : il y a Véronique Barbier, avec qui je corresponds, et y’avait Ralph qui était à Nancy. Je pense que sa femme est morte, je ne sais pas. Les enfants… : un fils. Je le connais pas.

Et côté Gainsburg, je vois Françoise. Elle va peut-être venir ici avec son mari. Et Monique de Vaux, une des filles de Jeannie, qui était médecin. Elle vient me voir. De ce côté, à part Jacques, qui a été déporté, les autres s’en sont sortis.

Il y avait aussi une cousine de maman qui venait nous voir, tante Tine, qui s’appelait en fait Valentine Roos, originaire de La Chaux-de-Fonds ou de Genève. C’était la mère de Marthe, qui m’a appris à lire et à écrire, quand j’avais 5 ans je pense. Le père, je ne l’aimais pas du tout. Un immense gars très ordinaire. Ils étaient juifs aussi



Le 10 mai 1940

Le 10 mai 1940, les armées d’Hitler envahissent les Pays-Bas, la Belgique, le Luxembourg et la France : après la “drôle de guerre”, c’est le début de la “bataille de France”…

On est partis le 10 mai 1940, quand il y a eu l’invasion. Papa avait un énorme bidon d’essence qu’on avait dans la voiture – il n’y avait plus d’essence nulle part. Le mari de d’Yvonne, Jean Dreyfuss – qu’on n’aimait pas du tout… parce qu’il était pas sympa avec Yvonne – est venu dire : « Il faut partir. C’est très mauvais, les Allemands arrivent. » Et c’est lui qui nous a fait partir. La majorité des juifs sont partis.

… et de l’exode : 8 à 10 millions de Français envahissent les routes, soit près du quart de la population !

On ne pouvait pas aller directement à Besançon et on est passé par les Vosges. Je me souviens toute la nuit, papa a conduit pour arriver à Besançon. Là, on a rejoint mon oncle Charles et ma tante Fofo à Besançon et on est tous partis à deux voitures. On est arrivé à Vichy, où maman avait soi disant sa meilleure amie, qui s’appelait Ernestine Dreyfuss : elle ne nous a pas reçus ! Ou à peu près… Donc on est repartis. Maman en avait gros sur la patate… Ils avaient un grand appartement, ils étaient très très riches… Et puis on est partis et on est arrivés… à Aurillac. Par hasard. Je pense qu’on n’avait plus beaucoup d’essence ! À Aurillac, il y avait un tout petit hôtel qui faisait bistrot. Et là, mon oncle et ma tante ont eu une chambre. Est-ce que mes parents ont eu une chambre, je ne sais plus… moi j’étais logée chez des habitants, dans des combles, je détestais ça ! Toute seule. On est resté jusqu’à la première armistice : la défaite de la France.



Au pensionnat

Papa a été nommé à Beaucens. Il avait été copain, à l’école de chimie, avec Fraussart, qui était président de Kuhlmann. Et comme l’usine était une filiale de Kuhlmann, il était très sympa avec papa. Il lui a dit : « Il faut que tu ailles à la poudrerie de Beaucens et tu feras de la recherche pour Kuhlmann. » Sympa mais… Beaucens c’est un trou !
Il y avait un hôtel, quelques maisons et l’usine, où papa avait son labo. Mais le lycée le plus proche, c’était Saint-Gaudens. Pendant un trimestre, j’ai été pensionnaire à Saint-Gaudens chez une bonne femme… je crevais de faim ! Le jeudi et le samedi je rentrais à Beaucens. Et l’hôtelier de mes parents, qui était adorable, me disait : “Mademoiselle Juliette, on va vous faire des bons beefsteaks. » Adorable ! Et il me donnait des steaks énormes !

Au pied des Pyrénées, au bord de la Garonne, Saint-Gaudens se trouve à 100km de Beaucens, dans la vallée d’Argelès-Gazost.


À Toulouse : rencontrer Mayette, passer son bac pendant l’Occupation

Mon père a ensuite été nommé à Toulouse (1941) dans un labo agricole de chimie. Il était tranquille : aussi bien le directeur que les profs qui s’occupaient du labo étaient résistants. On habitait quai Matabiau : c’était des petites villas avec jardins. Il y avait une sage femme, au rez-de-chaussée, et nous, au premier. L’économe du lycée de Mulhouse, mademoiselle Fonlupte, qui habitait juste derrière, m’avait dit que son frère dirigeait les maquis du Sud-Ouest. Et elle m’avait dit: “Si jamais vous entendez à 4 heures du matin sonner, vous sautez dans le jardin – j’avais un drap. Vous sautez chez nous.”
Et à 4 heures du matin, très souvent on entendait sonner : mais c’était des accouchements !

– On habitait Quai Matabiau ; c’était des petites villas, et il y avait une sage femme au rez-de-chaussée, et nous on était au premier, et derrière… donc c’était des villas avec jardin, et juste derrière il y avait l’économe du lycée de Mulhouse et le prof de chant. Juste derrière. Alors elle m’avait dit que son frère dirigeait les maquis du Sud-Ouest. Et elle m’avait dit: “Si jamais vous entendez à 4 heures du matin sonner, vous sautez dans le jardin. J’ai un drap et vous sautez chez nous.”
– Ça, c’est la prof de chant ?
– La prof de chant et surtout l’économe du lycée. Donc je ne sais pas comment ça s’appelle maintenant. Et à 4 heures du matin, très souvent on entendait sonner, et c’était des accouchements !
– Ah l’horreur ! Et donc t’avais trop peur ?
– Tu sais on était inconscient. J’avais souvent peur.
Extrait d’une brochure antisémite distribuée aux étudiants lors de l’examen du baccalauréat le 25 juin 1942

Mon bac, c’était en 1942. Dans un amphithéâtre, au moment de l’appel, quand on m’a appelée « Mademoiselle Blum », tout le monde m’a huée. Je me vois descendant les marches pour aller à mon bureau, et huée : c’était horrible. J’ai passé l’examen, et puis je devais y retourner l’après-midi. Mais j’ai dit à ma mère « J’y vais pas ». Je pleurais. Mayette est venue me chercher et elle m’a emmenée : on y est allées ensemble et je n’ai pas été huée. On n’était pas encore spécialement amies ; c’est après qu’on est devenu amies. J’avais 19 ans.



1944 : séparation

Après le bac, je suis entrée à l’école de chimie et à la fac – je passais un certificat de chimie générale a la fac.
C’était dangereux. On habitait près de la gare Matabiau et souvent, la nuit, on entendait, bizarrement, des sifflets de locomotive, mais pas du tout normaux. En fait, c’était la Résistance. Mais ça, on ne le savait pas. On ne savait rien. On habitait quai Matabiau et au bout du quai, il y avait la gare…

En février ou en mars 1944, mes parents ont dû partir. Parce que c’était dangereux. On avait dit à Mademoiselle Fonlupte, l’économe du lycée de Mulhouse, qu’il y aurait des rafles. Elle savait, par son frère, qu’il fallait partir. Et alors les parents de Mayette ont dit “oui mais Liette va rester chez nous.” Pour que je puisse continuer mes études C’était très risqué, mais on ne le savait pas. Mes parents et les Dupuis, les parents de Mayette, ne se connaissaient pas plus que ça…

Mes parents sont partis et je suis restée trois ou quatre mois chez Mayette. Pour aller au petit coin – ils habitaient au rez-de-chaussée – il fallait traverser un couloir, c’était pas dans l’appartement. Et il y avait des rats ! Je ne supportais pas. Mayette ne supportait pas très bien non plus !
La mère de Mayette était pétainiste. Mais pour nous elle était formidable. Monsieur Dupuis était commandant dans l’armée… Ils étaient plutôt pétainistes, mais leur fils était à Londres.

– Et la mère de Mayette elle t’a hébergée, mais pendant combien de temps ?
– Et elle était Pétainiste. Mais pour nous elle était formidable. Parce qu’ils ont pris toute notre argenterie, tout ce qu’on avait d’un peu de valeur. Monsieur Dupuis était commandant dans l’armée.
– Oui je me souviens qu’il était militaire, qu’elle chantait toujours des chansons militaires, Mayette.
– Et il avait tout enterré dans son jardin.
– Et c’est eux qui ont proposé à tes parents que tu ailles vivre chez eux ?
– Pour que je puisse continuer mes études.
– Mais ils savaient quand même le danger qu’ils couraient, eux ?
– Bien sûr, tout le monde comprenait. Mais leur fils était a Londres. Ils étaient plutôt Pétainistes mais leur fils était quand même… le frère de Mayette.
– Et on aurait dû faire un truc pour que Mme Dupuis devienne une Juste.
– Oui.



Mon cousin Jacques Hirtz : on avait été très proche à Toulouse. Hyper sympa… Il venait tout le temps à la maison. Il venait voir sa tante, c’était sa seule famille.
Il était dans le cinéma, il avait travaillé avec Clouzot… et il avait ouvert un restaurant parce qu’il ne pouvait plus travailler dans le cinéma pendant la guerre. Il a été dénoncé par celle qu’il employait. Son employée. C’est elle qui nous l’a annoncé. Elle m’a mis un mot. Mes parents étaient partis à Saint-Sozy et moi j’étais chez Mayette ; on allait tous les quelques jours relever le courrier à notre ancienne adresse du quai Matabiau. Et un jour, on a eu un mot écrit sur un papier, je me souviens. Quelque chose comme : “Si vous voulez des nouvelles de Jacques Hirtz, venez au restaurant. » C’était une lettre anonyme, écrite avec des lettres découpées dans des journaux.

On l’a montrée à Mme Dupuis et elle a dit : “et ben moi j’y vais. Je vais dire que M. Hirtz m’avait donné rendez-vous”, parce qu’il vendait des propriétés. Et elle y est allée, et elle a dit :
– “Je voudrais voir M. Hirtz pour voir une propriété”.
Et on lui a répondu :
– “Ah bah il est absent.”
– “Quand est-ce que je pourrais le voir ?”
– “Bah je sais pas, il est absent.”
Alors on a compris. Elle m’avait envoyé ce mot à moi, elle voulait que je vienne pour me dénoncer moi aussi… Enfin, moi, je n’y serais pas allée… Cette bonne femme, je crois qu’elle a été exécutée après la guerre.



Les Justes

Il y a énormément de gens qui nous ont aidés. Une année, on a passé l’été dans une vallée des Pyrénées dans un endroit dont je ne me rappelle plus le nom : on a connu un couple dont le monsieur était tuberculeux. Il avait une fabrique de gâteaux secs, Bonnet je crois qu’il s’appelait. Mes parents avaient beaucoup sympathisé avec lui ; toute la guerre, ils ont envoyé à François, qui était prisonnier, des colis de gâteaux secs

Et puis l’évêque de Toulouse, qui s’appelait Monseigneur de Solages et était très actif. Il a caché des juifs : je crois qu’il était dans la Résistance. C’est par lui que j’ai eu des faux papiers. C’est mademoiselle Fonlupte, l’économe du lycée, qui lui a donné mon nom. Son frère qui dirigeait le réseau du Sud-Ouest, c’était un grand résistant. Un jour, elle m’a apporté mes faux-papiers, au nom de « Blanchard ».



Mai 44 : Débarquement et retrouvailles

Je crois qu’au mois de mai, mademoiselle Fonlupte m’a dit : « faudrait que vous rejoigniez vos parents. » Alors j’ai pris le train, paniquée, avec mes faux papiers. J’avais toujours le nez dans mon livre. L’horrible voyage. Finalement, personne ne m’a demandé mon papier. Je suis descendu à Souillac .

Tante Fofo et Oncle Charles étaient à Aurillac. Nous on était à côté de Souillac, à Saint-Sozy. On avait rencontré dans les Pyrénées ce couple de fabricants de biscuits. Le père de lui était le maire de Saint-Sozy. Le fils leur a dit : “il faut trouver un gîte pour les Blum »… qui s’appelaient ‘Blanchard’.
On habitait cette ferme où il y avait des souris et des rats. On allait chercher l’eau à la fontaine. C’était très primitif. Ce que Maman ne supportait pas, c’était les rats et les souris. Elle supportait tout mais pas les rats. Et elle s’est tapée une sciatique paralysante : elle ne pouvait plus bouger. Alors ils ont fait venir un médecin résistant. Tout le village savait qu’on était juifs et qu’on était cachés. Je pense que tout le monde était au courant ; ils faisaient comme si de rien n’était.

Et alors les Allemands ont fui, l’été 44, et ont commencé à remonter. Le maire a envoyé toutes les filles du village au moulin. Ils ont fait grimper toutes les filles dans la montagne : on a toutes dormi au moulin. Moi je ne connaissais personne, mais elles étaient très gentilles avec moi. Et mes parents étaient restés, avec maman qui avait sa sciatique, au lit.

Les Allemands ne sont pas passés par Saint-Sozy. Ils sont passés un petit peu plus bas, je sais pas où exactement. De la montagne, on a vu la colonne des Allemand…
Et c’est là qu’il a eu le massacre d’Oradour-sur-Glane. C’était plus au nord. Affreux. Mais nous, on savait rien.

– Je ne sais pas pourquoi, ils ont fait grimper toutes les filles dans la montagne à un moment donné. Tu sais, tous ces gens là, ils communiquaient, nous on ne savait rien. Et de la montagne, on a vu la colonne des Allemands, qui n’est pas passée par Saint-Sozy. Je sais pas où, il faudrait que j’ai une carte. Et c’est là qu’il y a eu le massacre d’Oradour-sur-Glane. C’était plus au nord.
 – Ces Allemands-là, ils ont fait le massacre après. Quelle horreur.
– Affreux. Mais nous, on savait rien.
– Mais tu savais pour les camps de déportation ?
– Si, on savait qu’il y avait des gens qui étaient déportés.
– Mais on savait pas ce qui leur arrivait. Et t’as appris quand?
– Après la guerre.


Après la guerre : retour à Mulhouse, puis Paris

Après la guerre, avec le diplôme d’ingénieur chimiste que j’avais passé à Toulouse, j’ai travaillé à Mulhouse. J’allais au labo de l’usine. C’était des filles très très sympas, qui m’avaient vu naître, et qui m’ont appris des tas de choses de base. Parce que moi, j’avais été uniquement à la fac, je n’avais jamais travaillé.
Et puis ensuite, je suis partie à Paris ; parce que je ne pouvais plus supporter, c’était tellement restreint. J’en ai eu marre ! À La Mertzau, j’étais loin, j’en avais ras le bol. Je n’avais même plus mon amie Juju, qui s’était mariée à Paris…

Papa m’a trouvé un travail grâce à M. Lantz, qu’il connaissait. C’était une usine Kuhlmann, à Saint-Denis. Il m’a trouvé du boulot immédiatement. Papa était plus tranquille, il s’est dit : “Si elle travaille là, ça ira…”

Les Établissements Kuhlmann, entreprise industrielle française de chimie fondée en 1825, sont devenus aujourd’hui le groupe Péchiney-Ugine-Kuhlmann.

Tous les ingénieurs, on avait le même âge, tous très jeunes. Et on mangeait à une table ronde. Il y en avait un bacillaire et un autre tuberculeux… Et c’est là que j’ai fait une infection rapide ! Le médecin de l’usine m’a expédiée, il ne voulait plus me voir à l’usine. Mais je ne suis pas allée au sanatorium. Je crois que je suis allée quelques jours à l’hôpital et puis ensuite dans les montagnes, dans les Vosges : une petite pension de famille, où ils me chouchoutaient. Mais j’étais toute seule.



Mon mariage, le mariage de mon frère

– Ils sont venus à Paris quand tu es partie à Nantes. Et François il était déjà à Paris ?
– Il n’était pas à Paris, il était à Creil.
– Bref il était dans la région.
– Alors, c’était un mariage impossible. La famille de Jacqueline était hyper antisémite.
– Ça c’est dingue… Et ton père il a pas voulu aller à … Il s’est marié à l’église c’est ça ? Ça quand même, ça a dû vous faire bizarre. Ta mère y est allée ?
– Oui et moi aussi. Parce qu’on s’est dit : “ce pauvre François”. Mais Papa, il ne pouvait pas.
– Quelle idée quand même. C’est bizarre quoi, d’épouser une fille comme ça.
– Il s’est toqué d’elle. Alors à l’époque tu sais il y avait des “marieuses”. Moi, on a voulu me marier je sais pas combien de fois. Et quand je suis partie à Paris, ma tante Fofo a dit : “Bon, ben elle se mariera jamais”.
– T’avais quel âge ?
– 25 ans.

À l’époque il y avait des “marieuses”. Moi, on a voulu me marier je sais pas combien de fois ! Et quand je suis partie à Paris, en 1948, ma tante Fofo a dit : “Bon, elle ne se mariera jamais…”
Je me suis mariée en 1955, et puis je suis partie à Nantes. Mes parents se sont dit que Nantes-Mulhouse, ça faisait trop loin. Alors ils sont venus à Paris. Mon frère était déjà dans la région parisienne, à Creil.
Il s’était toqué de cette fille, mais la famille de Jacqueline était hyper antisémite ! Et il s’est marié à l’église ! Ma mère y est allée, et moi aussi, parce qu’on s’est dit : “ce pauvre François”… Mais Papa, il ne pouvait pas…



My mother never spoke English. She knew how to speak English, but spitefully she wouldn’t. I got to tell you, she was very spiteful. It was her will or no will. Growing up, where my mother had a lot to say and a lot to do with us. And we obeyed her. No saying no to Nana. She didn’t know that word. Her word or no word. She lived to be a hundred. Her name was Assunta, which means “risen”. When Nana was born, everyone had a religious name. All my siblings too.

Nana and her siblings, 1942

My two aunties – Little Aunt, and big Aunt, one was Matilda and one was Clementina. Even though they had different names, we would always distinguish them as Little Aunt and Big Aunt. Big Aunt didn’t have too much to say. Little Aunt had a lot to say. They would talk about something and Little Aunt would say, “Well, this is this!” – and that would be the end of the sentence… But, remember, my mother was boss! My mom, the last word. My mother was the oldest. Then Clementina, then Matilda, and then Uncle Joe.

We would see them at family events. The family would come over to the apartment. We had a very small apartment, we didn’t have a lot of money. That was definite, we didn’t. And the playground was the street. That’s where we learned how to ride a bike. And oh my God, it was loaded with Italians.

Children playing in street
Image Source:
Library of Congress



The Eggplant Festival

When I was a child, we used to have big family dinners. In the summertime, we had the cookouts, and we used to have the cousins from Portland, Maine. Well, everybody knew we loved eggplant

Trays and trays of stuffed eggplant

And we’d have an eggplant festival with the cousins coming down from Maine…[Judy: And my Auntie Mary would make trays and trays of stuffed eggplant, and all the cousins would come down. They had a big backyard. Auntie Mary had a big backyard. It was really fun. Yeah, we did have a lot of fun.

Aunty Mary’s original stuffed eggplant recipe


Cooking with Grandma Assunta

My grandmother also used to live with us. I used to do so much with her. I would say, “Grandma, can we go to the store?” She was Italian, and I spoke Italian with her, and we used to go out together and go shopping.

I used to help her with cooking. That’s what made me a great cook today. I saved mostly her pasta recipes. My favorite childhood food was pasta!

My favorite pasta dish to make is lasagna. We used to make it layer by layer, with sausage filling, or meatball filling. You baked it until it was high. You’d cut it piece by piece. I really didn’t have a recipe, I would just cook on my own.

I just cook what I want to cook, and how I want to cook.

The pies she used to make, I could never make. She used to make a lot of pies for Easter. Grain pie, egg pie, sausage pie. She’d do at least 4 pies and she’d do them all herself.

Assunta’s grain pie recipe

For Christmas, we used to make chicken, ham, and a roast beef. And of course all types of vegetables and potatoes. We’d make some feast. Our holidays with the family, they had to be done the right way. We did so much cooking, when you have to cook for a whole family.

It’s because of my grandmother too that I became who I am today. She taught me respect. That was the most important thing. I taught my children the same values. I also grew them up to respect each other and all people.

Christmas at Assunta’s, 1999


The Feast

Religion was a great part of my life. I kid a lot around how Nana was very religious. Always had rosaries in our hands and everything. But she meant her religion, and so did I. It meant a lot to me. I went to Catholic school, and it was not just Catholic school going, it wasn’t just being Catholic – it meant something to me.

We used to have a feast every year in the summer. It was called the Saint Anthony Feast. That was the big one, and that was known as, “You don’t leave town on that one.” The streets would be full of Italians. With bands, and food, and stuff like that. Some people from New York, some stars, they’d come in and perform. It was a three-day feast, it was huge.

When your mother was a little girl I took her every year, it was in August. I didn’t like going, but I didn’t want her to miss out on!

Do you remember the angel?…

Saint Andrew’s Feast 1945, North End, Boston.
Image Source:
Saint Anthony Society

Saint Anthony’s Feast has become the largest Italian Religious Festival in New England since 1919. It is celebrated annually on the weekend of the last Sunday of August. 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the feast.



Rosary Academy

In Watertown, I was very involved in the kids’ elementary school, Rosary Academy. It was a private Catholic school right down the street from the house. There was another Catholic school in the area, but I just looked around, looked at the curriculum and all, and it was so close. It seemed like a good fit.

I did a lot of volunteering there. I washed dishes every Monday, and I ran the fashion show and the Christmas Bazaar. It closed when my second daughter was a junior. She had to graduate from somewhere else.

Many of my friends came from Rosary, and we volunteered together. It was hard, hard work, but we did have a lot of fun while we were doing it. My other friends were a group from church and my neighbors, of course.

Situated on a Lexington Street estate that the parish purchased for $9,000, Sacred Heart Academy, later renamed Rosary Academy, began as a boarding school for elementary and high school girls. Rosary Academy was in operation from 1913-1980s.
Image Source: Massachusetts Collection Online



Measles in the basement

When I was growing up, my eldest brother had a tremendous wedding celebration. Our house had several rooms and they devoted one side of the whole house for them after the marriage. There was a small room and a big room. Then, the system was when a man married a woman, you’d pay a dowry. But more modern people would buy furniture for the new home. And they did that. One big room and the smaller one next to it was devoted for this young man, his wife, and their future children. And they had kids and they grew up there, up until the kids were 12 or 13, supported by my father. Because my eldest brother was working with my father.

The wedding was for outside the family. This was a custom, and you can rent a stage, and construct the stage in the courtyard. Our courtyard now had a stage, like in the movies, where it was all furnished and an orchestra, not a full orchestra, but a small group would play music. In the courtyard, the men would dance the Dabke, in a circle. The women would make this sound, “Yeyeyeyeye!” very loud. My sister can do it, not everyone can.

The trouble with that wedding, was that me and my older brother had the measles at the same time! We were having a problem with that disease, and we couldn’t join the crowd. They put us in the basement! But before it was a basement, it was a storage for charcoal – I mean, it was clean at the time. We hardly knew what was going on, except the noise from the celebration. And here was some people with measles and fever. It had happened at the same time, me and my brother, measles is very contagious. It wasn’t easy life…

Dabke is a Levantine folk dance, which means it originated from a region in the Middle East that includes the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. … Today, dabke is seen all throughout the world at weddings, family gatherings, and celebrations.


Adventure in the Hills

When I was growing up, we used to do boy scouts. And we used to go camp somewhere almost every summer. As a result, we learned a lot about the Middle East. One year we went to the north, to what became Turkey later, and Lebanon, and then Palestine before trouble started. All these were done with us as boy scouts! Then we also used to have camps organized by teachers and so on, from different countries. In some suburb in Damascus, you’d go through a large area, where groups of boys that came from all over the Middle East. Like Jamborree in Europe, a worldwide boy scouts get together and camp together. I was not rich enough to go to Europe. My friend’s brother did, he went to Jamborree. But we had a local one like that but for Syria, for about a week or two. We went to Damascus, in a mountain village.

Scouts of Syria, The Damascene Scouts of St. George reaching the top of Hermon Mountain on foot in August 1933. From the book “Syria” by Amer Badr Hassoun. 
Image Source: Pinterest Rimi syrian

It tasted like kerosene

It was really great, we would learn together, work together, camp together, cook together. Apparently the group leader had brought some guy who used to be a cook from a school, so instead of us wasting time cooking, he would cook. This guy one day spilled the kerosene in the food! And there was no food. It tasted like kerosene. That was terrible. No matter how much you cleaned it…


We camped in the mountains, where there was a hill and a fountain down below. Usually when you’re a boy scout, you would take turns and guard at night in the freezing weather. Everyone is sleeping except for this one person guarding at night night. There was one guy who couldn’t stand it, so he went back to bed!

The emotional part of it, was a year or so later, we went back to this particular hill after we finished camping. We went back up the hill, to reminisce. It was a really emotional time, to go up the hill and only a few months ago you were there with the whole boy scout. I started crying, it was so emotional to remember. In the pre-Islamic Arabic literature, there was a poet who wrote and started the poem, with an opener describing these kind of things. 

Syria 1958 Pan-Arab Scout Jamboree MNH Set 
Image Source: Coventry Stamps & Sci-Fi


My best friends

I can tell you right now, I never forgot my best friends. That question, of who my childhood best friends were, always comes to my mind, that same question. Second year elementary school, my best friend was just a regular child, a student. And I had two other ones in second year. They happened to be twin brothers. These were my earliest good friends that I remember. I don’t know how you would describe friendship at the age of 7 or 8 years old. But it was so strong that it is still with me now. I remember when I asked myself the same question, I wondered how it can be that strong. The names of the two twins were after Arabic heroes. The heroes themselves were brothers. The last time we were in touch was many years ago.

There was a time, when I was older, we were adults… There is always some trouble in the Middle East, and there was some trouble with colonial powers and local leaders. We had trouble in Iraq. What happened in Iraq affected students everywhere in the Middle East. There was an internal revolt in Baghdad. A new government came in. At the time England was the occupier of Iraq. The French were occupiers of Syria and Lebanon. The British were occupiers of Jordan, Palestine…

There was some kind of revolt in Baghdad by a young man to try to get rid of the British. We as students or young people, got excited in Aleppo. So we run away with some ten friends, we organize a team to fight. Of course our families wouldn’t allow that, so we had to run away. I left a note for my father that I’m going to be fighting…and we run away! We went to Baghdad. The thing that’s interesting, we took a truck to go to one city along the Euphrates, and all the way down to the bottom of the Gulf. There is a city, called Abu Kamal, at the border between Syria, Iraq and Palestine. And well, we wanted to go further, but the governor of that city was quite smart. He never allowed us to leave the city. We tried to get permission every day to cross the boundary. He told our ambassador, I have knowledge of today and yesterday. But I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. He kept telling these kids who were trying to go, trying to tell us, you better watch out!

What we did was, we had a few dollars in our pocket, so we went ahead and rented a boat and took it up the Euphrates, all the way to Iraq. We got to a place where there was a war! We couldn’t cross because there was a battle right there. Guns and everything! We were in the dessert. I had a pair of binoculars that my father had given to me as a gift because something I did for the house. I used it and then I lost it there. I really feel bad about it. So we sat down there and we didn’t do anything. The city wouldn’t allow us to go. The people there, the villagers, were very generous. They hosted in their homes, good food, good treatment. And here we were, there was a battle going on, and we were enjoying life and the generosity of the rich people.

Then finally, we decide to keep going, and we get to a point where we were returning home, coming from Iraq back to Syria, horizontally. Apparently was so upset, crying that we were gone. Apparently he heard where we were, and he didn’t waste a minute, took a taxi, and rushed to where we were. I was with my friends at the edge of the river, washing clothes. It was hot and dirty, you know. One of my friends goes, “Look behind you!” And I see my father above my head! Anyway, that was the end of it. He took me to a friend’s house to stay. Then the next day we went back home, and I felt relieved! For the first time, we had someone who was responsible, a father.

Before there was a revolutionary man who was trying to recruit high school kids to join a revolt against the British. It was stupid, but to us, we were heroes! We were stupid, young people, emotional activists… We were at least 10 friends from high school, out of 30, who managed to keep together to travel from Syria to Iraq. Before that there were about 30 high schoolers before we went who were excited. We wanted to fight, but fight who? It’s not easy to raise kids, in an area that’s not stable.



Journey to the United States

I was dreaming about becoming a doctor. But again, I couldn’t afford it. I was not rich enough to do anything on my own. After high school, after the baccalaureate, there was a competitive exam in the summer after I finished. It was asking students to pick up and send them to Europe for education beyond high school. But Europe was closed because of the war, so instead they sent us to Egypt. And I was one of those four from Syria, to be picked up. So I was sent to Cairo. And the door was open for education beyond high school.

That summer before I passed the exam, was really an uncertain time. I had just finished high school, I didn’t know what to do. My father and mother couldn’t send me to Europe. Someone said, look go to your high school, there is a letter for you! There was a letter from the minister of education in Syria. They said we elected to send you to Europe for education. That was great. I went to Damascus, and that the door is closed for Europe. But we can send you to Lebanon or Egypt. I selected Egypt. I went to Egypt for four years at the expense of the government. I couldn’t afford it so I was lucky to do that.

When I finished the four years, I came to Columbia University. I was at Havemeyer Hall. When I came, the first thing I did was I had to go to general studies. I had to convert from one degree to the other. Ultimately I wanted to go to engineering. In any case, my application was accepted. I had to pay tuition for the first year.

Havenmeyer Hall, Columbia University
Image Source:
Library of Congress

My brother Abdul, younger than me, who did very well and went to Brazil, he told me he would support me. He did, and he sent money to me for the whole first year. But then he applied for a U.S. visa when he was Brazil and he got it. And of course he wanted to drop everything and come to the U.S. He came to the U.S. with whatever money he saved, not much. Although we had the impression that he made a lot. But it takes a lot of money to live in New York. He came, and he supported me the first year, but then he went bankrupt. We were so hungry… We used to go to the Cedar Restaurant and live off of bread. You order a dish, but usually the basket of bread is free.

There was this research project that we needed to do for our degree. The project consisted of extracting oil from cotton seeds. Then in the government, there was something called the Atomic Energy Commission at the time. They were offering scholarships. So I got one. Instead of getting $100/month, I was getting $300/month. That was great!

Jitto, student at Columbia

Then through that, I had a chance to take the qualifying exam for the doctorate. I passed. There was this Egyptian guy in the program. We had teachers who were really biased against this Egyptian guy. No matter how well he did on the exam, he would always get a bad grade. This poor Egyptian fellow, took the exam 3 times! He felt he did very well, but every time he flunked. The system at the time was loaded with individual interests. If you liked someone, you could help…

Anyway, once I got my doctorate, I worked for DuPont. The work for DuPont was interesting. They usually send a scout to various schools looking for people they want to hire. Dupont interviewed me the first round, and nothing worked out. Then this second round, they said we don’t have a guy from Persia. And the Dean said, we don’t have a guy from Persia but we have this guy! …and that’s how I got hired. I’m not from Persia, but close enough! It’s amazing how life works out. So I went there, and they immediately gave me an offer.

That’s how I ended up in Chattanooga. They sent the technical and creative people like him to experience the plant-level. They were making this beautiful fabric that was going on the market. They thought they should  know something about plant problems. So we were sent here for 3 years to get some experience. We were supposed to go back, but in those 3 years, everything happened at Dupont. All the patents gave out, or were about to give out. Nylon and other fabric, all these fabric patents gave out and everyone could make them. And also, cotton was finally getting its act together. It used to be awful because cotton was difficult to iron, to get the wrinkles out of it. Cotton would wrinkle so badly. They had finally fixed the wrinkle problem with cotton and so cotton was coming back while these patents were giving out. So Dupont needed some new patents.


They went into building material, all this stuff that you see, Tyvek, that’s one of them, but not fabric anymore, which was I was working on. We were basically doing quality control for what was coming out of that plant. Gradually, Dupont got worse. Now that plant is closed and Dallas has taken over Dupont, and it doesn’t even exist anymore.



The North End

I was born right in the heart of the North End, where all the action took place. I was born right in the middle of everything – at North Square.

The North End, 1930s
Image Source:
German Federal Archive

That’s what the North End was

If you did something at 9:00 in the morning, I would tell you, by 12 noon, everybody knew it! And that’s what the North End was.


I couldn’t skip school because my Mama would find out. How? I don’t know. But I couldn’t even skip school. When you’re followed all the time, you get rebellious. I skipped school to go see Frank Sinatra.


Don’t go near the newspapers

Frank Sinatra… had come to the Metropolitan or one of those… And a whole bunch of photographers were there with the newspaper. And I was telling my friends, “Don’t go near the newspapers.”… I skipped school… So naturally, Andrew, she went near the newspapers, and we were all in the paper… the next day… [And then your mom found out?] Not only my mother, I had a whole bunch of nuns from my high school that I have never forgotten.

Frank Sinatra. 1944: Bobbysoxers run to camera
Video Source:
Clips and Footage

We had nothing to worry about. We were protected… By other families, and especially by the men. Supposedly, the gangsters that they were called… the gangsters. But they were there and they protected us… We had no fear at all. From anything. From drugs… One day, I was having lunch, and my friend and I were… sitting at the counter, and this person named Danny came out with something in his hands, and he went up to the person sitting next to me, and I heard him say, “If you come in with these…” and I won’t tell you what he said, “again, you’re going to be carried out.”



Prince Macaroni

After I finished high school but before I got married, I worked at Prince Macaroni in Lowell, in the Greater Boston area. This was around 1953 or 1954. They had a big pasta factory here where all the cardboard was made.

This is where they packed the pasta, and this is where the trucks went out. They had blue boxes at the store, but it’s more of a local pasta. I don’t think you’d find them in California or anything. Each floor had its own manufacturing, packing, and all, but I worked in their advertisings.

We would get letters complaining about how customers opened the package of pasta and they found bugs in the package. Well, actually, where the bugs came from was from the pasta being stored in a place that it wasn’t supposed to be. And the semolina itself would cause the bugs.


Here’s a prize!

We would get the letters. I would go out to the place where the letter came from with one of our prize packages of pasta, the magic fork, and a little cheese grater… Here’s a prize!… Actually, that’s what it came down to. And you’re laughing to yourself, because … I mean, they’re not going to get anything, because this is something that does come from this product. So, I had a lot of fun with that. Many of the people were very nice. Many of the people threw me out, but it was a lot of fun.

Nana, age 20 in 1953


Winning the Volvo

I drove to my job at Prince Macaroni in my own car – a small Volvo that I actually won in a contest in the late 1950s.

My friends and I went to the theater and found out that there was a contest. In the first round, you had to guess “Who do you think would win the Academy Awards?” And you’d have to pick, I forgot how many. I won the first prize! I answered 14 out of 15 questions correctly. The first prize was a diamond ring.

And then you had to go onto the next round where you had to write a statement too – 25 words or less on why I go to the movies.


I still remember what I wrote: ‘The only place where you could get a million dollars worth of entertainment for the price of a ticket.‘”


The prize in the second round was a Volvo automobile. I didn’t know what a Volvo was. I thought it was a motorcycle but came to find out it was a car, which was right up my alley.

Gene Brown, the dealer of Volvo and I were the only two in Massachusetts that owned a Volvo. I won the first Volvo that was registered in Massachusetts.

Well, my husband worked on Saturdays. He was actually the only one that was able to bring tulips in from Holland. He went to work one Saturday morning, and he totaled it. The car was totaled. Someone ran a light and ran right through the car.

Volvo Advertisement Playboy August 1978
Image Source:
Flickr SenseiAlan


Meeting & Marrying Nono

I didn’t know Gerald when he was in the war, but later, around 1958, both Gerald and I were in an Italian-American club at the International Institute in Boston. I had gone out to a picnic with my girlfriends the night before and I was tired, so I fell asleep in the car… And it happened to be his car! I went and took a nap in someone’s car, and it happened to be his.

We all knew each other, though we weren’t dating. But we were dating after that.

On our first date, we were at his house, and they were talking about someone named Gedo. They called him Gedo or Gerry. I thought it was another brother that I never met! Gerald’s family weren’t as religious as mine were, but that was never an issue between our families. That was good, too. They were religious up to doing what they had to do, but not as religious as we were brought up.

I was living with my mother at the time I met Gerald. We’d lost my father a long time ago, and my siblings were married (I was the youngest). My mother liked him.

Gerald in his army uniform

He’d talk to anyone

Because Nonno was very diplomatic… he’d talk to anyone, and my mother liked him…There were previous ones that… Well, she never said she didn’t like, but she’d make these motions that I knew that she didn’t like.


We got engaged pretty quickly after we met – about 6 months. And I was 28 when we got married in 1960, which was considered older, then, to be getting married. Gerald was much older. He was 37 we got married.

We lived in Brighton for one year – exactly one year. And then, in 1961, we found the house in Watertown on Highland Avenue. It was only supposed to be a starter house. We wanted to start a family in that house. We moved in July, and my daughter Lisa was born in August.

At that time, Gerald was working, and I was at home taking care of Lisa. When Lisa wasn’t quite three, Judy popped up, and my life was full.

Gerald and I were married 45 years.  He was such an easy-going person, and it took that type of person to get along with me. We had opposite qualities that made for a very good match. He was a very good father to the girls, and that also helped. Where I was strict, he was not. That meant a lot. That’s why I think we were together for 45 years.


I hope you do

I’ve had a very good life… A few glitches here and there… But I’ve had a very good life. I’ve been very lucky with my children and my grandchildren. So, what more could I ask for?… [Andrew: Well, I hope to have something similar to say when I am in my 80s.] Let’s put it this way. I hope you do.


School Days

Punishment today for children is very mild compared to what the school principal would do when I was in elementary school! Back then, for a mild punishment, the principal would double twist your ear! In those days, physical punishment was not forbidden. It was just normal.

One time, I had this teacher, he was very nice. He never used the stick, he would just talk to us. Most of the other teachers would use bamboo sticks. Usually you open your hand, and they would hit you, three times. One winter time, I was coming in from outdoors. It was freezing out, no gloves, no nothing. I go into the classroom, and the damn teacher, one of the bad ones, I don’t do something right. I don’t give the right definition of the right vs. the left river bank or something. He hit me three here, and three here. I was crying all afternoon. It was so bad, with my hands freezing and he hit me, it froze the pain! I never hit my kids. My father never touched anybody either.


One time, it was second year elementary school, and we were laughing for some reason. The teacher punished us by spanking us. My turn came, and the spanking would be either to hit you with a stick on your hand, or with younger children, hold you and bend you and hit you on the bottom. It was a hot summer day, in the afternoon after a big lunch or something. Every time they spanked me… I farted! So that was a good lesson for the teacher.

Grandfather age 7 in 1940


Young Love

There was one time I got in big trouble as a child. I’m maybe five years old, not yet school age. Our family had lots of children, and so they tried to get rid of us and sent us to local schools. We had an old fashion, religious kind of school across the street from our house. So they sent us there. The owner was a misanthrope.

The windowsill of our house is wide and square, so you could sit there as a child. This neighbor girl, about my age I guess, we were playing together, sexually… Then this damn teacher, no, this older student from the religious school passed by and saw us.

Boy that was a big deal! She reported us! On the way to report me, I ran away home. I opened the door, and guess what, I couldn’t find my shoes! I was such a conservative child, I can’t go home without shoes. So anyway, I finally ended up going home. I was so worried that my family, especially my father, would give me hell. I go home, and they had already heard about the story, but they said, “Don’t worry.” That was one of the most exciting experiences I had at that age.



Working Days

When I was of age to go to work, I worked in a candy factory. It was a big candy company at the time. I did the packing of the orders that need to be shipped out. It was 9 to 5, with a lunch break. You’d get 10-15 minutes in the afternoon and then you were back on the job.

If you work on the belt, you gotta be fast. Packing that candy, I would think, “Why can’t I take a piece?” But don’t be caught eating a candy because you would be fired! On the spot! You had to be smart enough not to touch that candy.

I Love Lucy show- The Chocolate Factory, 1952
Image Source:

I liked my job, I didn’t want to lose it. I discovered that I was very good at my work. My foreman would tell me I was doing well, and I enjoyed my job. He wasn’t one of those tough guys, he was lenient and made our job easy .

Who you work with means a lot. We were only about 3 guys. There weren’t too many working there, but we used to go out for lunch together. We also helped one another. We would go out bowling after work. We used to get out on Fridays at 3 o’clock, because it was a Jewish company. I really enjoyed working, believe it or not. It was very nice. I had a good time when I was young.

But, I worked for money. Money plays an important role in your life. If you don’t have money, you can’t buy a loaf a bread. During my time it was terrible because you went to work, made maybe $25 a week. And once they took this out and that out – union, state tax, city tax, I would come home with $20. That doesn’t go a long way, even in my time. It was very hard during those time. 



Making her laugh

I would always try to make your grandmother laugh. I remember when we were on our honeymoon. It was April Fool’s Day. I was sure she didn’t remember it was April Fool’s Day. She’s sleeping in bed, and I say to her, “Hurry up! Jump out of bed! There are bed bugs in there!”

She jumped out of bed, screaming “Oh my God!” I said, “It’s April Fool’s Day you know!” And she said, “You scared me to death!” It was so funny, so great. I always think about that day when April comes! I think she jumped into the ceiling! We had a good laugh.

We’ve been together over 60 years now and I still always make her laugh.

We do everything together. We walk together, we shop together, we go to church together, and we sit down and eat together. Our old hangout was Dunkin’ Donuts. We used to go maybe two or three times a week. Usually we split a donut and have coffee.

Vintage Dunkin Donuts in Quincy, MA.
Image Source: Flickr Meaghan O’Malley

Now we watch a lot of television together now. The thing we used to watch over and over again was M.A.S.H. Every time it was on, because it was funny. It was both comedy and drama. It was the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. It took place during the Korean War.



My Father

He taught me honesty. He was born on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, and he was just like Honest Abe – that’s what we used to call him. And he taught us to be very honest. I wouldn’t take a penny from anybody. Never, never, never. That’s what he taught me. He wouldn’t necessarily say a life lesson like that in words. I think you try to emulate your parents. But we all knew how honest he was from different stories that he’d tell us, where he worked and stuff like that, and I knew he was so honest. We all did.

My father was a doll, very comical, very funny man. Everybody loved him. Oh I could tell you some stories about him, he’s was so funny.

Portrait of great grandfather in 1904

Watch This

“The three of us used to come home from work together. So he’d be sitting down and he said “Watch this.” He’d start yawning, put his hand on his mouth yawning. And he’d say “Watch watch watch.” And everybody started yawning on the train and he thought that was very funny.”

1962, Concourse from the south. – Pennsylvania Station
Image Source: Historic American Buildings Survey


My Mother

My mom was a beautiful woman, and she was the sweetest thing in the world, so sweet.

My mother, early 1900’s

She worked like a dog. My mother’s mother died when my mother was only 13 and there were her three brothers and a sister. My mother had to take over the job of being a mother to her siblings and take care of her father…when she was 13. And so she worked so hard at 13. Her sister wanted to work and so didn’t want to do anything in the house. So my mother did everything, raised her brothers and sister and took care of her father.

And then she had four children of her own and worked like a dog taking care of us, being poor and everything. And she used to have her brothers come to visit and she’d go around the corner and get bags of food for them so they could bring it home ’cause they were either out of work or something. I was so young I didn’t understand why she was doing all this. She was so good to them all the time, you know? But owing money to the person around the corner, to the grocery store, just to give them bags of food, all of them.

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 246 Third Avenue, Manhattan, 1936
Image Source: New York Public Library

So I didn’t realize until I got older that these brothers and sisters, they were like her children because she raised them, you know? And that’s why she was the way she was, so good to them. And I’m thinking, you know, we’re your children – take care of us! Well, she always did anyway. But I’m just saying, I didn’t understand why she was doing this until I got older. I realized that they were like her children and that’s why she took care of them the way she did.

She taught me everything I am, cooking especially. She was a fantastic cook and I became like her, always cooking like a fiend, always cooking. And she gave me her big cake pan. That was her famous cake pan, she gave it to me ’cause she said only I was like her, cooking and baking the way she used to. I lost it, it was in the garage when we moved and I don’t know what happened to it, I’m so upset I don’t have it.


The Nuts!

I was about 5 years old, and I was walking with my sister Gloria. She took me some place I don’t know where, and I was coming home with her… So anyway we came into the house, my mother was bathing me. She gave me a bath and while she’s drying my hair I said, “Mommy, you know what I saw today? Two nuts walking down the street.” She said “Nuts, what are you talking about?..You mean …” I said, “You know the nuts!” She said, “You mean peanuts? You know, walnuts?” I said, “No, you know the nuts mom!” She said, “You mean two crazy people?” I said, “No, not two crazy people.” And she kept asking me and I kept saying “No, that’s not it mom. You know the nuts that walk down the street.” Finally I said “You know Mommy, the ladies that wear the veil over their head, black veil over their head?” My mother said “Oh, you mean the nuns?” I said “Yeah!” And I was so happy and I wrote that story in my English class in high school and my teacher loved it so much he made me read it in front of the class and they were all laughing! Oh, you know the nuts that walk down the street…”



Growing Up In Brooklyn

My mother and father had no money, we never went any place. I couldn’t even go to the Statue of Liberty. People were going to the Statue of Liberty or the World Fair. And I couldn’t go ’cause nobody would take me, they didn’t have any money. I remember being jealous that other kids around the block were going. They came home with like a little figure of something.

We never ate out for dinner, never went to a restaurant. I didn’t care. But we were poor. And my father also lost his job and I remember we had to eat a lot of potatoes and eggs for dinner. He lost his job at the time…God, another one. I don’t know how long it lasted. He had to use all his bonds that he had saved, I remember. My mother was so upset that he had to use the money saved. He worked for Bethlehem Steel Company. It was a big shipping company, and they used to get bonds. Then they fired everybody, you know, let go, and he had to get another job.

USS San Diego slides down the shipways during her launching at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 26 July 1941
Image Source:
Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.


Working Days

I worked at 303 Fifth Avenue. My father had gotten a wonderful job in the city from somebody that he knew on Fifth Avenue, and so he got me and my sister a job there, an office job.

The Empire State Building from 41st St. and 5th Ave. New York City, July 4, 1933.

Image Source: Photo by Theodor Horydczak.

That’s was my first job when I graduated. My father knew everybody in the building ’cause he was chief engineer of the building. He used to repair things, you know electrical things. He was an electrician first of all by trade and he’d take care of everything, elevators, so what would you call him? Really a maintenance man right? But he liked the sound of chief engineer of the building.

And he knew the office, he knew everybody, so he found out that they could use some girls to work in the office and he got my sister and I a job, we worked together in the same office. 

My sister was in the entertainment field, so it used to bother her that she was doing office work. You know, my father wanted her to bring home real money so he made her get a job in the office. But she was bad at it. Then she was fired because she was always late and always angry.

And then my father was so embarrassed, so insulted that she was fired, he wanted me to quit. So I told my manager, I said “I’m quitting. My father wants me to quit, I’m quitting the job.” I was a secretary and biller. And he said “Oh, Pat, I don’t want you to go.” He said “I’ll give you a raise, I’ll give you a $5 raise, I’ll put curtains in the room, you don’t even have to do the billing anymore, just make sure the other girls in the office do the billing.” And I said “I don’t know, I’ll ask my father.” And my father said “You tell him if you stay you want a $10 raise.” So I went up there and I told him I have to have a $10 raise… and he said “Okay.” So he gave me a $10 raise. And I stayed ’cause they wanted me to stay, ’cause I was a good worker and I didn’t carry on like my sister.

Grandma, age 20

I got paid weekly. And when I left there I was making $74 and when I started it was $45 a week and that was a lot of money in those days, nobody was making $45 a week in an office job. So I already started high.

I finally left that place after four years. Afterwards, my father made me take the first job that came, you know that? I told the new job I wanted $74 and they said $64 or something like that. And I took it, I had to take a cut in salary because I had to take the first job. My father needed the money. He couldn’t miss out on my check ’cause I gave him a lot of money when I was earning $45. I came home with $39 after taxes and I had to give my mother and father $25 and I kept $14. That was to eat lunch, take the train to work, eat lunch, buy clothes, $14. But I figured they needed it and that’s why I didn’t complain about all that.

But of course I kept getting raises there too so I don’t even know how much I earned when I left. I went four years at the new job where I took a drop in salary, ’til I became pregnant (I married when I was at that job).  I was at the front desk and greeting people and I started showing and wearing maternity clothes, and they didn’t want that anymore. So I had to leave. That’s okay, I wanted to anyway, so I quit. But, they’re not allowed to let you go now because of that… And then I never worked again.



Raising a Family

I worked harder raising four children and taking care of a husband. That was my life. But I had a nice life with my children, I love them so much, the four of them. They were so adorable. I was a little over-protective, but you know, I don’t know, I didn’t know how else to be. I think I was told that by my children as they grew up. I don’t remember my parents being like I was. Maybe they were, maybe they sheltered me, I don’t know.

But that’s what I’m most proud of – my children. ’Cause I raised basically good kids, you know? I know a lot of troubles other people have had with their children. I had a little trouble. But all in all it was fine. Put a lot of work into it.


I Sucked At Driving

“Fourth try I finally got a license. I was too fast, too slow, too something else. The fourth try I did it. Oh, that was funny. Oh, gosh. And then when my children were little, they had to tell me where to go. Do you believe it? They told me how to get to places ’cause they would remember how grandpa would drive them around, how they got to these places. Me, I said “You’re always going a different way. I’ll never learn how to get any place.” He’s always trying a different way, like trying different ways, he said, just in case I get stuck and I can’t go one way I know another way to go home, go some place, you know what I’m saying? But me, I would get all confused. So my children had to guide me. “Take this street, mom.” You go this way and that way. Oh, they were cute. I love my children so much like I love my grandchildren.”

1976 Chevrolet Nova and Concours Advertisement Readers Digest November 1975
Image Source:
Flickr SenseiAlan


To My Grandson

I used to make a big cake when you used to come over. Remember that big round cake I used to make when you’d come over? You don’t remember, sometimes I’d make half and half, you liked chocolate and you didn’t like icing on the cake so I’d leave half the cake without icing and the other I’d put icing either chocolate or vanilla for your brother. You don’t remember?

Grandma’s Handwritten Chocolate Cake Recipe
Grandma baking her famous chocolate cake

What about Halloween? I used to have a little Halloween party for you. I baked a special kind of cake, oh it took me so long, I don’t remember what kind of cake it was. A man or something with a hat on. Oh, it was just a big job. And I think your mother took a picture of it. And I used to give you little bags of Halloween candy and a little gift inside and once you made fun of what I gave you, you said “You gave me a nail clipper.” Remember, I gave you a nail clipper?


Nieces to Pieces


We’d go to the… I forgot the name of that store. We’d buy a toy down in the basement. We used to go down a big staircase. Don’t you remember down to the basement, and you’d walk around. I’d say, “Only one toy!” And you knew exactly what you wanted, and then you said, “Can I have two grandma?” I said, “Okay,” so you got to pick out two.

They had a bunch of books on a table down in the basement there, and they had all the toys, I said, “You’re gonna buy some books now hunny.” So I sat down on something, I don’t remember what the heck, I was sitting waiting for you, and you sat on the floor and started looking through all the books. And I said, “Well, which one do you want? And you said, ” I don’t want any of them, I read them all.”

Oh gosh, you are so funny, so funny, so determined. You want what you wanted. You knew everything. Yeah, you looked through the pictures, you called that reading, but you were only a little boy. I think you were five. Four or five. No, you must’ve been three. ‘Cause I took care of you only for three years. The first three years, and then when your mother went to work she put you in a daycare. So you must have been three years old, gosh. Only three looking through all those books. Gosh. Three years old…