Morris S. Kaplan


This is 2020. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s very lonely, and I’m going to give my life story. 




When I was in grammar school and living at 363 North 12th Street in Newark, New Jersey, I was going to First Avenue School. And going to the First Avenue School at the age of 10, my mother had another child. The child was born with a broken arm and they brought him home, and we had a little brother. 

I continued to go to school at First Avenue. When I was at school, the teacher switched me from lefty to righty and every time I’d try to switch back to lefty, the teacher’s name was Mrs. Redcosson, and she would hit me on the hand and say, “No, you have to use your right hand.” Consequently, it hurt me very much because I became very slow in reading. My parents sent me for remedial reading in Rectors, in Newark, and even until this day, I have a problem. I can read very well and comprehend what I’m reading, but when I try to read out loud, it sounds like a two-year-old child reading. But I do very well on my own reading and comprehending what I’m reading. 

I went to grammar school and when I was in fourth or fifth grade, the guys started to abuse me because I lived in a Catholic neighborhood and I was a Jew. They used to beat me up all the time and my father said, “Well if they beat you up or take advantage of you go home and get a baseball bat and hit them.” So one winter we were sleigh riding and Joe Anjurio took my sled and he wouldn’t give it back to me and he said, “Jew tell your rich parents to buy you another one, this sled is mine.” So I went home, got a baseball bat, went back and hit him in the leg and broke his leg. 

Consequently his father came to my house and wanted my father to pay for the hospitalization and my father said to me, “Tell his father the story.” So I began to tell him the story – that he took my sled, didn’t want to give it back, told me, “Jew you have a lot of money tell your parents to go buy you another one.” His father smacked him in the head, took him home and that was the end of that one. 

I also had to learn to fight because when I used to go to the candy store they always wanted to get the Jewish boy and take his candy away. So I learned how to fight and I also earned money myself. I started to deliver newspapers and my mother used to get up early in the morning, help me fold the newspapers and then I’d go out and deliver them, come home and eat breakfast. 




My bar mitzvah was made, and at bar mitzvahs at that time, they used to throw hard candy at you. And all my friends passed out candy, and they really whacked me on the beamer with the hard candy. We also had a party in a temple in Irvington on Stuyvesant Avenue, on the second floor. And my grandmothers were there. My great grandmothers were there, and we had a wonderful time. And we do have eight millimeter movies, that are in this cellar, in a box, of my bar mitzvah. And there’s a lot of other movies of families, pictures that are down there. And I wish my family would see them, maybe at some other time. And I’m still here. We could see the movies.




When I was in the seventh or eighth grade I liked this girl named Marie Cavallo. I asked her if we could go to the movies. She said she’d have to talk to her parents. Well she talked to her parents and her parents said that we could go to the movies. Only thing is that we had to have a chaperone and that time people would normally have their daughter chaperone if you went out on a date. So we went out on a date and we had her brother tag along to the movies. We had gone out a few more times and we always had a chaperone. I got a little tired of that and we broke it off and a little after that I liked another young lady and her name was Doreen and I asked her out and we were going out without a chaperone and we did very well until I graduated. 




When I graduated grammar school my parents decided that this area was no good for me to grow up because they wanted me to meet girls in my own faith and there was no girls in my own faith in that area. So we moved to 147 Wainwright Street into my grandmother and grandfather’s house. My grandmother lived on the second floor and we lived on the first floor. 

I started high school and then decided that I was going to go to vocational school. I liked working on cars and I was going to take up automotive. I consequently went to Irvington Tech and was studying automotive. In the meantime, living at Wainwright Street and my grandmother lived upstairs. My grandmother came from Russia. My grandfather came from Germany. My grandmother used to drink tea and I always was amazed that she put hot tea in a glass and she had a spoon in the glass and I say, “Grandma why do you have the spoon in the glass?” She said, “Son, why I put the spoon in the glass is so the glass don’t crack when I put the hot water in.” I learned a lesson. Also my grandmother from the old country used to put cubed sugar in her mouth and then sip the tea through the sugar and she got the sweetness. 

My grandfather had cancer and they had him home and I can remember the day of his passing and me seeing him and I’ll never forget the sight of seeing my grandfather in his death bed. It was a lasting experience for me because I love my grandfather. When I was a young boy he used to put me on his shoulder and carry me around. I love him to this day. 




Also going back in my memory I would like to stop here and regress back to when I was living at home at 363 North 12th Street and then moving to Wainwright Street my parents wanted me to go to Hebrew school. There wasn’t any Hebrew school that would take me. So my aunt Essie who lived in Pleasantdale had a Rabbi named Mosesen who said that he would teach me privately so I could make a bar mitzvah up in his synagogue in West Orange. He taught me and I made my bar mitzvah up in West Orange. Also my aunt Essie and uncle Harry had a home in West Orange and all through the years that I was going to Hebrew school and going to West Orange I would cut their grass for extra money. When I cut their grass my uncle Harry had a brother, George Sausen, who lived directly in back of him and their lawns were connected to one another. I would cut his lawn and George’s lawn and I would have money that I could spend on anything that I wanted.

Also, I’d like to add that when I was cutting grass for my Uncle Harry and George Sawson, I met a fellow there, that we became lifelong friends. Tali Lipton was an orphan, and his aunt was running an orphanage up in West Orange. And she took care of him and his sister, and we became lifelong friends until he passed in California, which was a very sad day for me.

I always had a job, always doing something when I was younger. Also, at that age, after I made my bar mitzvah and we were living at 147 Wainwright Street I got a job with Good Humor. I used to pedal a bike from Springfield Avenue to the Weequahic section up and down hills, pumping that bike and selling ice cream. I made a pretty good dollar doing that job. But it also raised havoc with my knees.

The other thing I’d like to partake is that when I was a young boy, I used to go across the street to the shoemaker, Joe. And Joe had a little pinball machine that you’d put a penny in and you’d play. And I loved that pinball machine. I used to spend a lot of time playing the pinball machine in Joe Shoemaker’s shop. I made very good friends with Joe. And when Joe was closing up his shop, he knew I loved that machine, and he gave me that pinball machine, which was mechanical. And I had that for a long time in my cellar. And I gave it to my daughter, Donna, who in turn re-furbished the machine. And it’s now hanging on a wall in her home in Riverdale.

When I was a young man and I was living on Wainwright Street in Newark, I got a job at the RKO Proctor’s on Market Street. I did everything from being an usher to being a footman outside, immediate seating, all parts of the theater. Also, when you came in, I would take your tickets and say, “Take the elevator to the right, immediate seating in the balcony.” And also, we had a second theater and that would show the same picture at a different time. If the movie got crowded, which it did on the weekends, we opened up the second theater and I would say, “Take the elevator to the right and go to the second theater, to see the same picture.”

I stayed at the RKO Proctor’s for a few years. And by the way, everybody might think that there was a lot of money those days. When I worked those days, I was working for 50 cents an hour. That was a great pay. From there, I went to the burlesque show on Market Street and worked in the burlesque show for a good many years. Even after I met Bonnie, I was still working in the burlesque show. And Bonnie always said, “Do not tell my mother that you’re working in a burlesque show, because if you tell her you’re working in a burlesque show, I won’t be able to go out with you.” So my wonderful mother-in-law never knew that I was working in a burlesque show in Newark.

I had many jobs in different things. And I also worked, as a young man, in a grocery store, across the street from 147 Wainwright Street for Joe Pfeffer. I worked for him for a long time while I was going to school. After I got out of school, I went to work in Newark in an Exxon gas station as a mechanic. I worked there for a while. And then Joe said that his son, I used to see him when I went home on Wainwright Street, had Bigelow Motors in Belleville. So I went to work for Joe in Bigelow Motors in Belleville.

One of my jobs also, when I was living on Wainwright Street with my mother and father, they had a friend that had a clothing business in Newark on Prince Street. Prince Street was a predominantly black area, 99% black area. And he had this store there. And I went to work for him in that area.

I worked there for six months to a year and I could not tolerate the way he treated people. He would take advantage of black people. He would sell them a hat at one price one week and then they would go out and lose it. And they’d come back after working a week and sell them another hat, and he’d get more money. Kids come in for mother’s day, I can remember vividly, and want to buy handkerchiefs for their mother. And if it was handkerchiefs that, if people bought, say $10, he’d give them a handkerchief. And he would overcharge them. I said, “Enough is enough. And I have to leave this job. I have to, even if I do without a job, I’m leaving this job.” So I left the job. And also when I was at that job, there was a place across the street that had a speaker outside and they’d put How High the Moon. They played that so much that I can’t stand to hear that song ever, ever again. But I left the job. I’ll sign off for today and I’ll come back with a few more memories.




I went all through Irvington Tech and I graduated from Irvington and my brother started to go to Irvington. Also when we were going there, there was a young boy named Irwin Brovski who was going there. But he was a little slow and the kids used to take advantage of him. So he rode the bus with myself and go to school and this fellow Jerry Snyderton and myself became very good friends at school and we would protect him. When we left high school he had to quit high school because the kids would never let him alone and it was a shame there was nothing I could do. My brother was also taken advantage at high school and Jerry and I had to make a trip over to Irvington High and corner all the hard guys and told them if they kept it up that we would beat them up. So they stopped bothering my brother and that was that for that part.




When I graduated from high school I got a job working for Bigelow Motors in Belleville as a mechanic. I went from Bigelow Motors in Belleville to County Auto Sales in Jersey City. I stayed there until I bought my own business. But I have to regress a little bit by what I was saying. During that period of time I joined the National Guard and I used to go away for two weeks and I had to go away for basic training. They put me in the medics after my basic training, but being a young fellow wanting to have fun, I went out with the boys. We got drunk, didn’t report back to duty and when we did get back to duty a couple days later the officers said, “No more for you in the medics. You’re going to be a cook.” So they sent me to be a cook. Now could you imagine a mechanic with dirty hands being a cook? Well one day I was cooking and a lieutenant came up for inspection. Mechanics get dirt implanted in their hands and you just don’t get them out by washing them. He said, “Let me see your hands.” He had a fit and said, “How could this man be cooking with hands like that?” But that didn’t go anywhere. He reprimanded me. He reprimanded the first sergeant who’s in charge of the cooks.

They decided that they were going to send me to cook and baker school. When I was in cook and baker school there was a cook and it was the first time I encountered a man with an earring in his ear and he said he was a first class chef, that he had cooked in the White House and all over the world. He was in the Army now and he was a teacher. I asked him, “Sergeant, how come every time we cook ham…” – and the way they cooked ham in those days, in the Army, was that they boiled the ham in vinegar and water to get the salt out. Well after boiling it we took it out and we put cloves, brown sugar. If we had pineapple we put pineapple, oranges on it and baked it. After baking it and then taking it out we had to slice it. When we’d go to slice it, it smelled and I didn’t like the smell from the ham. I said to the sergeant, “Why do we get the smell?” He said, “Do you de-bone it?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well you’re getting the smell from the marrow in the bone. Go back and tell your mess sergeant, to de-bone the ham and you won’t get the smell.”

I went back to the sergeant and he said, “I’m not de-boning the ham. You’ll slice it the way it is and you’ll put up with the smell.” The other thing I didn’t like in cooking was cleaning chickens. We used to pull the insides of the chicken out and I detested that and for a long time I didn’t eat chicken. For years I didn’t each chicken. Also, wherever I would carve a turkey because my father taught me how to carve a turkey, I wouldn’t eat turkey. Until this day, if I cut the turkey or carve a turkey whatever you want to call it, I do not eat the turkey. If I don’t cut the turkey, I will eat the turkey. 




After being in the National Guard and working at Bigelow Motors, I met a fellow named Eddie Palansar. He also liked automotive and we talked about going into business. I said that would be a good idea. But I kept working at Bigelow Motors. Then one day a friend of mine said that they were going to go on a hayride and he knew this girl, a friend of his girlfriend Jerry, that would go on a hayride with me and I’d go on a blind date. I said that would be fine and I had bought a straw cowboy hat. Picked up this young lady named Bonnie Strouse and took her on a hayride. Well she made a lasting impression and after the hayride I asked her out. We start going together and she lives on Fabian Place in Newark and I lived on Wainwright Street. Then one day I said to my mother, “I really like this girl. I’d like to get engaged to her and ask her to marry me.” My mother said, “Okay I’ll take you to this jewelry store that we have friends in.” That friend had a store on Broadway in Bloomfield. And we went there and we bought a ring and I proposed to Bonnie. We consequently got married. 

When Bonnie and I were married in the Clinton Manor in Newark, the rabbi that bar mitzvah’d me, I had called upon to marry us. Well, we were all gathered at the Clinton Manor, and we were waiting for the rabbi to arrive. And as time passed, no rabbi. We called, and we couldn’t make contact. So, a cousin of mine who was invited to the wedding, Rabbi Klein, was there. And I told him all of our predicament, and he graciously said that he had a license to marry us in New Jersey. So, he went ahead and married us, and our rabbi never showed up. He had gone to a party, and forgot all about coming to our wedding. And for years, I always kid my wife, and told my children that we weren’t really legally married, because Rabbi Klein wasn’t licensed to marry in New Jersey. But that was just a big joke that I used to play on Bonnie to get her goat.




Eddie and I, we kept talking about going into business, and we went into business and bought a gas station on Frelinghuysen and Evergreen Avenue in Newark. We had to borrow money from Bonnie’s mother, and from my father. Bonnie worked and I worked, and we paid my mother and father and we paid her mother back for the amount of money that we borrowed. I stayed at that station for a good many years. And we were going to the national guard also, we were both in the guard, and we tried to get separated. One week, two weeks he would go, and two weeks I would go. But it didn’t work out and I had to leave the National Guard. So rather than me leave the National Guard I transferred into another unit up in West Mountain Reservation. I went there and I was in the National Guard for a long time. 

Eddie and I were in business for quite a few years and then we saw different things in different ways and we couldn’t get along anymore as partners sometimes too. I said, “Either you buy me out or I’ll buy you out.” So Eddie said, “I’ll buy you out.” I said, “Fine.” So Eddie bought me out. 



When I had the gas station in Newark, there was a drug store, Schuster’s, across the street from the gas station. And one day, I decided that I needed something. I can’t remember what I was going there for. But I walked across the street and this young guy comes running out the door, and they were hollering, “He just robbed me! He just robbed me!” So like an idiot, I chased him. And we went down Wainwright Street, and up Wainwright Street. And he tried to hop a fence, and I grabbed a hold of him. And we were wrestling, and a motorcycle policemen was coming down Wainwright Street. And he stopped. And I said, “This guy just robbed Schuster’s Drug Store.” Well, he arrested him. And he went to Schuster’s, and they identified them. Low and behold, I had to go to court.

And when I was up on a stand, they were cross examining me. And I got a little irate. And I said to his defense lawyer, and he had a public defender, “Who’s on trial here, myself, or him?” And the judge said, “Mr. Kaplan, if you don’t answer the questions, I’ll hold you in contempt of court.” I said, “Okay, Your Honor.” And I answered all the questions, and I was dismissed. But it wasn’t a very good experience for a person that didn’t do anything. But that’s the way our legal system, I guess, is structured. That, when you go and you testify, you could be cross examined in that manner. So be it. I guess that’s all I have for today. I will be back with some more tidbits as I remember. And that’s it for today.




After that I had no job, I was married. I had a little girl named Audrey and then I had a little girl named Donna. So I went to work for O’Mara Trucking. When I was in the gas station I learned how to drive a tractor-trailer and at that time you didn’t need to have a CDL. So, I went to work, but the thing was with O’Mara Trucking, who trucked for A&T, you had to shape up every day. I shaped up every day and I couldn’t earn enough money to support a family. 

When Bonnie and I got married we lived in a house on the third floor on Maple Avenue in Newark. The place was so small it had a bedroom and a kitchen and a bathroom on the third floor. Bonnie had to sit on one side of the table and I had to sit on the other side of the table and the table folded down and we had to put the table up. So Bonnie sat on one side, I sat on the other and we had a two stove burner to cook on. Bonnie was pregnant with our first child, Audrey. The people downstairs who supply the heat and they sat in the house with coats on and they never had the heat up. I complained to the landlord to no avail. So I said, “With you being pregnant and a child coming we have to look for something else.” So we looked for something else and we moved to Hobson Street in Newark, right behind Weequahic High School. That’s where we had Audrey and then we had Donna and we lived there for many years. 

I had the gas station on Frelinghuysen Avenue and then when I left Frelinghuysen Avenue and was working for O’Mara Trucking and it wasn’t enough, I heard about a gas station on Lyons Avenue and Schley Street. I approached my brother who’s ten years younger than I and asked him if he wanted to go into business with me on Lyons and Schley. Richie had been working for me on Frelinghuysen Avenue and he liked the business so Richie went into business. He borrowed money from my father, and like I and Bonnie, had paid my father back in full through the business as we earned money on Lyons and Schley. And we were doing very well. 

Also, I used to like to ride motorcycles and I would go home from lunch because it was three blocks away from the gas station. So I’d jump on the motorcycle and ride, and if Bonnie was in the street with the girls she’d duck into a store because she never wanted anybody to know that her husband was riding a motorcycle. If I would holler, “Hi Bonnie” because Bonnie did not want anybody to see her husband riding a motorcycle that she was saying hello to. I’d go home, eat my lunch, then go back to work. I stayed in the National Guard for about 10 years and then I left the National Guard because it got too much with having two children, having a gas station, having to leave my brother and the gas station by himself. 




Getting back to the gas station on Lyons and Schley, I bought a tow truck and we went into the towing repair business. We had a towing and repair business and was there for a good many years. Then came the riots in Newark. During the riots we went through heck in Newark. We had to pack up all our stuff and bring it down to Edison where we had moved because we moved from Hobson Street with the girls because my wife found a house in Edison, New Jersey on Marlin Avenue. When she took me to see this house on Marlin Avenue in Edison I said, “Where are you taking me?” I’m a city boy and this was country, it was all woods in back of us. But she liked the house and I said, “Okay if you like that house that much, we’ll buy the house.” 

We bought the house in Edison and then the riots came like I said in Newark and I had to pack up all the stuff and bring it down to Edison. We stayed away from the place for about three or four days and then when we came back, things weren’t the same. People didn’t come back. The people that were moving into the area were very abusive. I had to walk around with a .38 show the holster because the people used to come in and say, “I’m not going to pay you.” So one of the fellows that worked for us, we’d go out in twos. One boy would park the gas and one stay in front of the car. They would say, “I ain’t going to pay you.” Then you whipped the gun out, stick it in their face and then they’d pay you and they would say, “Oh, that man’s got his stuff.” Never once would they call the police. We went through a lot of robberies. We went through people stealing all the copper out of the bathrooms. We put the copper back in, they’d steal it again. Then Sunoco decided well we’ll put all plastic. They put plastic in and we weren’t giving the keys to kids. We were giving the keys to adults. There was no rhyme or reason for these people doing what they’re doing. But that’s the nature of the beast.

They also defecated in the trailers that we had. There was no reason for that. There was no way of locking them, but they did that. We opened them up and there it was. So we had to get rid of the trailers. They pulled the fence, the boards off the fence. They took the signs off the pumps. They cut the air hose. At that time people would come in and say, “Where’s your air?” I would say, “The jitterbugs.” That means young people at that time. But the hose, They understood that. That was not saying, “Oh, you don’t have the hose.” Well the jitterbugs cut it and that’s that. I would have to take the signs off the top of the pumps because if we didn’t take the signs off the top of the pumps we’d come back in the next day and there’d be no signs. 

Consequently after getting robbed so many times we decided that we had to get out of there and we found a place, well I found a place in Edison on Parsonage Road and Route 27. It was Atlantic Richfield. 

Living down in Edison and still being in Newark I was always interested in fires. I joined the Edison Volunteer Fire Company and I joined the company with Billy Gelfound. We were the two youngest people in the fire company. They taught us about firefighting, taught me how to drive. I liked it very much. I became a lieutenant, I became second lieutenant. I became assistant chief, then chief of the department and I was chief of the department for five years while I was in Edison and I had the gas station on Route 27 and Parsonage Road. The only reason that I obtained the gas station on Route 27 and Parsonage Road was that Don Yackel, who was in the fire company, said he knew that the fellows on Route 27 and Parsonage road wanted to sell the gas station.

So I said to Richie, “Let’s get out of Newark. We’ll go down to Edison.” We bought the station in Edison borrowing money from my father again because we had the station in Newark. We had to fulfill our contract in the station in Newark for the simple reason that they wanted a deposit back then. Instead of giving a cash deposit, I said “I’ll buy stock in Sunoco and you use stock.” They said, “Fine.” So I purchased stock in Sunoco which did very well and they held the stock. So if I forfeited the lease and didn’t serve out my time in the lease I would of forfeited my stock. So we had to leave after we fulfilled our lease. Richie stayed in Newark and I ran the station in Edison. Even after us leaving, I leaving for Edison, Richie was getting robbed in Newark. 

However, we stayed there, fulfilled our obligation and when we were ready to leave we had all the equipment that we had in Edison. As it was people said, “Oh, we’ll come and help you move.” Well it comes the day to move and we rented a truck and it snowed a lot and nobody showed up. So we had to leave one of the fellows that worked for us on Parsonage road and 27 in the Atlantic Station, go up to Edison and clean out the station all by ourselves. We put all the stuff in the truck and we brought it down to Edison, which was a hard job in Newark by ourself. Taking overhead grease equipment down by ourselves, tying ropes, lowering it down. Then loading it into the truck. When we got to Edison I had stopped by the fire house and a lot of guys used to hang out there, and I said, ” Fellas would you give us a hand? It snowed, we have to go up my driveway. We have to unload this truck.”

The fellas jumped in their cars and followed us up in the truck. We got to my garage at 41 Marlin Avenue East and we unloaded all the stuff in my garage. After that, Richie and I were both in Edison. We still had our tow truck and we had to pedal the equipment that I had in the garage. But fortunately enough I was able to sell stuff to distributors, advertising it and we got rid of everything. The grease equipment, all the extra jacks and horses and tools that we had we sold off. Then I was able to park the car back in the garage and I still belonged to the fire department. Right now I have 53 years in the fire department. They don’t let me stay active going into fires, but I belong to the department. I can stop traffic, keep people from going into the fire if it’s a major fire and I go to the fire. That’s basically what I do now. 

Going back to the days in Parsonage and 27, when I got here I met this woman Eleanor Jarris coming into the station and I said to her that I’d like to get the police towing for Edison. She said, “I know Tony Elencis, and my mother and I are very good friends with Tony and we’ll go down there and we’ll see him and see what he says.” So she made an appointment, and Eleanor and myself went down to see Tony Elencis, and low and behold we got the towing for the Edison Police and we got on the list. Whenever there was an accident, whether it was four o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning we got the job with other fellows. It was a rotating list.




During the course of being on Route 27 and Parsonage, and it was right down the street from the fire house, consequently I was making 90% of the fires. I was there all the time. Day, night, holidays, weekends, major fires I was there. 

It was a major fire at the Pines Manor that we were second or third due. It’s the other side of town and we went over to the fire and we started fighting the fire and we try to make inside attack and we were crawling around inside. Robert Campbell who I put on and who became pay chief at Edison Fire Department, not the volunteers and we were crawling around and the fire was roaring inside and it started to make a noise and the noise was like a freight train. Then you’re getting in the back draft. So we backed out and sure enough they got a back draft and we lost the building. I fought many fires, big brush fires. It was one great big fire that where a pipeline burst in Durham Woods Apartments. The fire was going through, we were there all night. There was a major fire that burned down all the apartment buildings and I was there. I have film of that fire, it was tremendous. The only loss of life was a person that had a heart attack. But we had no other loss of life. 

I just remembered…fire department memories and stories. We had a fire reported at a dwelling. When we went to the firehouse, got on the engine and found out that it was one of our member’s house that was on fire, Mack McGrath. We rolled up to the house and the house was fully enveloped. One of the neighbors said Mrs. McGrath went back in the house to get her pocketbook and never came out. Myself and Charlie Colebush went inside and I had a hose and Charlie and I were searching. We found Mrs. McGrath in the bedroom, alongside the bed, passed out.

We picked her up, dragged her out of the house and put her out on the lawn. The first aid squad picked her up. And I passed out from smoke inhalation, and they took me to the hospital. They wanted to keep me overnight at the hospital, but I knew if I stayed at a hospital and if Bonnie found out that I took in a lot of smoke and I was in a house fire and I was at the hospital that would be the end of my career at a fire department. I said, “Let me out of here.” And I left and I went back to work and never brought the subject up to my wife.

The second incident was, we had a house fire on Wood Avenue in Edison. We were in the house working our way around and I made almost a fatal mistake, which all firemen should not do, is walk towards the middle of the room because the fire was in the cellar and burnt the floor. If you stay to the wall, you’re much safer. But luckily Billy Gelfaum, he’s six two, six three, was with me. And I started to go through the floor and Billy grabbed me by the back of the neck and pulled me back up. That was a save.

The other incident where I was driving the fire truck. I was going down route 27, and it was an old Oren, and it held 650 gallons of water. And when you were going down a hill, even if you were going moderate speed, you had a downshift to second gear from third gear to help brake. I tried to downshift and missed, and I couldn’t double clutch or get it into second gear. And I was standing on the brake and I couldn’t come to a stop and we were coming to the intersection. Laid on the siren and luckily nobody was coming through. I went through the gas station, the other side of the gas station and out on to Wood Avenue. And then finally was able to get it into second gear and continue up Oak Tree Road to the fire. That will be the end of my fire experiences that I can remember.




We stayed at Parsonage at 27 for 38 years that we’re there. It got to be a point in time where Shell took over from ARCO. We went from Atlantic Richfield to ARCO and ARCO got bought out by Shell. Shell steadily increased our rent to where the rent was $8,000 a month. We worked like dogs and we earned money to make the rent. Once they pulled the rent because they took the money out automatically from the checking account, it went all the way down to zero. We worked like dogs the whole month and then it went up. I made a conscious decision that after 38 years we have to close up the station. At that point Richie and I closed up the station. We sold off all the stuff. We sold the tow trucks and a substantial loss. We sold the tools, the equipment at a substantial loss. Then we had to go out and get jobs. Richie got a job delivering tires for BC Tire and I got a job in security working for Middlesex Tobacco in Perth Amboy for the Katz family. I stayed there for three or four years. 

I really enjoyed working for the Katz family. After that the Katz family went belly up and one day came out and said that, “Morris this is the last day you’ll be working because we’re closing up.” I was very saddened at that happening to them because they were a very, very nice family and I enjoyed working there. I left and was out of work for awhile. I decided I would stay in security and I looked in the paper for jobs and I went to work for security outlet that had a contract in Perth Amboy for food company. I worked for them for about three years until the woman that I worked for in security got very abusive. But as it turned out, the company wanted to make a change in personnel because at the post that I worked at, the people would come in and I’d have to look even in the women’s bags when they left the premises that they weren’t taking anything out or any food out. 

So they wanted to make a change. Instead of saying, “Morris we want to make a change and we’re going to have to put you some place else.” She just got very abusive to me and I said, “Okay, I’m leaving.” I went to leave the position and they noticed that my big mistake was that I gave her a written notice and she used that against me when I tried to collect unemployment. 

She offered me another job later on, the day before I was ready to leave and she said she had another post that she could give me in Sayreville. So, I went to Sayreville and I looked and it was a Middlesex authority, which was a storage authority. It smelled there and I would have to be handling papers and there would maybe be bacteria on that. I couldn’t bring that home because during the course of the time that I had the station and then left, Bonnie had a transplant and we thought that we were going to lose her. I loved her very much. She was in the hospital and she didn’t want to get the heart transplant. I said, “Oh please” and I started to cry. Bonnie said, “I’ll do it for you.”

I really wanted to say, “Do it for yourself” but as long as she was going to do it, I let her do it. We went to the hospital the day of the transplant, well let me regress. I was going to the hospital while she was there and she was in ICU and she used to call me up at night and I used to run back to the hospital and keep her company and then come home and wasn’t getting much sleep. Then one night I came home and the phone rang and the nurse practitioner said, “We have a heart for your wife, come over.” I called Audrey, Donna, Gerald and Barbara and we all headed over for the hospital. We got to the hospital and Bonnie was in the ICU and they were preparing Bonnie to get the heart transplant. When Bonnie got the heart transplant we were there all night and we saw her before she went in and Dr. Anderson did the transplant and we were all very emotional, her going in. She went in and they made the transplant and she did very well. We were all very happy. Kevin and Glen and Donna and Audrey and myself were all at the hospital and then we were very much relieved, and we couldn’t see her until the next day. 

Then going in to see her the next day she was in ICU and I went in to see her and when I took a look at her I cried. I said to myself, “What did I put this woman through?” I don’t know to this day whether I made a mistake or I did good by her getting a transplant and going through all that time. I want all my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren to know that woman never, ever complained about her hurting or anything else, even up to the time that she was passing she never, ever said, “I am hurting. I don’t feel well.” She did well. She was a rock. It was unbelievable that she was a rock. Anyway, I couldn’t take the job in Sayreville because of the bacteria. I told the woman that I couldn’t take the job and I couldn’t bring home that bacteria. I tried to collect unemployment and I went on unemployment and I think I was collecting for six months and she put a stop to it and sued me and I lost and I had to pay back unemployment $6,000. No matter what I tried, we got a lawyer and I couldn’t win. 




When I had the gas station in Edison, and Danny was a young boy, I used to take him on a tow job. And I don’t think my daughters or my wife was too happy about me taking Danny with me. And one particular night, we were coming up 27th with a car on top of the flatbed and the truck stopped. And I was right on 27th, in the middle of the road. And there’s Danny in the truck with me. And a man that worked for me, Bob Valiant, lived one block up. I picked Danny up and carried him up to Bob’s house. And I said, “Bob, take Danny to my house, please. Then go to the station, get the other tow truck and come and tow me in.” So he took my grandson, Danny, to the house and then came back and towed me in. 

Thereafter I never took another one of my grandchildren in any one of my tow trucks or had them at the service station because it was too dangerous. And also, I didn’t want my grandchildren to get interested in automotive because it was a hard life. Had I been smarter when I was a young man and not a boulder-head… My aunt, Estee, wanted to send me to college. And all I wanted to do was work on cars and run around with all the boys.

Sad state of affairs, because you have to work very hard if you want to give your family a good life. The only regret that I have is that I worked too many hours, too long hours, and didn’t spend enough time with my children and my grandchildren. Going back, when I first got married, I worked a lot of hours to make a good living so my family would have a good life.

I worked in Bigelow Motors. I would come home and I would go to work in the movies, five days a week. On the weekend, I used to go to a gas station in South Mountain Reservation and work there for two days. And then start back and work at my regular job in Bigelow Motors. And I did that for quite a while. Also when I had the gas station, I worked many, many hours to do for my family and I sort of regret it. I love my children. I love my grandchildren. They are the world to me. And the only regret is that I worked too long and too many hours. I did the best I could to give them a good life.

And here’s also a story, that my wife worked very hard to send my daughters to school. We decided that neither one of us went to college and we regretted that. We decided if our daughters had the ability, they were going to college, period. There was no excuse, that they were going. We took out loans for our daughters to go to school and we were paying off the loans.

And a funny story is, that Bonnie came to me one day. And at that time, the bank gave you a book. And the book would have tear-outs and you’d mail that in with your payment. And Bonnie came to me and said, “We don’t have any more coupons in the book. And I don’t want any late charges.” So I said, “Listen, call the bank. Go to the horse’s head, not the horse’s tail. I’m the horse’s tail. Don’t tell me, call the bank.” So she called the bank and said to the lady, “Listen, I don’t want any late charges. I don’t have any more coupons to send in for payments.” She said, “Mrs Kaplan, your loan is paid off. That’s why you don’t have any more coupons.” Bonnie came to me and said, “Guess what? We don’t have any more coupons because the loan is paid off. Do you think that I could spend my first paycheck on me?” I said, “Absolutely, dear. You spend that first paycheck on you because you deserve it.”

But we did all that we possibly can for our children. And we want our children to do the same for their children, and their children do the same for their children. Word to wisdom, is when you earn good money, always put a little money away on the side so that you have a backup. If anything goes wrong and times get hard that you have a backup. We were lucky that, when Shell made us close down, that we had a little backup and we were able to survive. And Bonnie had an annuity that I made her take out. When she was working, I suggested to her that, “You take out this annuity. I’m working and I’m making good money. You take the annuity out. And then when you retire, you can start to see it.”




Then I stayed home with Bonnie and kept Bonnie company. I didn’t work after that. I retired and stayed home and watched my grandchildren grow into wonderful, beautiful men. I get very emotional when I say that. But Bonnie and I loved them very deeply. We had a great time when they were younger. We watched them when they came over to the house when the girls would go away. I watched Glen go into his father’s business. I watched Kevin go into business and do very well. I saw Kevin buy his first house in Metuchen. I saw Donna and Glen buy their first house and I used to go up to Donna and Glen’s and we were painting the house for them to move in. That was their first house. We were having a good time and Bonnie was doing well.

Bonnie started to get worse and we had a woman working for us. And she stayed for a little while and then she left. And when I was working for US Food, we had a woman working for us. She was the sister of my daughter, Donna, a woman that worked for her. 

And one day, when my grandson came to the house and he was here to visit his grandmother, she decided that she was going to leave. And that was that. So my grandson called me at work and said to me that the woman had left. And I said, “Ryan, can you stay there with her? I can’t leave this post. I’m doing security. And I can’t leave.” 

I talked to one of the girls that was working there, a Spanish girl, and she did all the cleaning there. And I said, “I need somebody to watch my wife.” She said, “I have somebody for you.” And she put me in touch with a woman. I called the woman. She met me after work and I hired her. She started the very next day. She came before I went to work. She met my wife and she continued working for us for about two or three months.

And then she left and I had to interview another woman. Her name was Natasha. And Natasha was hired and worked for us for about five years until she went back to Russia. And then I didn’t have anybody after Natasha left. And I was trying to take care of my wife by myself, which I succeeded to do, but it was getting more difficult every day. And I went through a year of taking care of her by myself. And then one night I got a phone call and Natasha said she was back.

Natasha came back and stayed here for another year. And then she decided that she was going to get nasty to my wife. And I told her she would have to leave if she was going to be nasty. So she went upstairs, packed up her stuff and left. Then I was without anybody and a friend of mine, recommended a woman that took care of his wife, and I interviewed her and hired her. Her name was Bea. And Bea stayed with us for about four months until Bonnie’s passing, April 30th, 2019. It was a very sad day for my daughters and myself, my son-in-laws and my grandchildren.

Bonnie was a wonderful woman, never complained all the days that she was sick. And the only bright spot was that she knew that she had a granddaughter. And when I showed her a picture of her granddaughter, Kendall, the biggest smile would come on her face. No matter how sick she was, she gave a big smile. And till this day, I can see the smile on her face when I showed her a picture. She also knew that my grandson, Gregory, was having a little girl. I only wish that my wife was still alive to see all my granddaughters. Because Drew had a little girl and my wife wanted nothing else in her lifetime, but to have little girls. And we had six wonderful boys and she loved each and every one of them. But she always wanted that little girl so she could buy dresses and Mary Jane shoes. But I know she’s looking down and seeing her grandchildren and there’s a big smile on her face.




Another regret that I have is for my wife… And I get very emotional. She compiled all her sick days, and when she left, they paid her for that. And she saved the money. And she said that she was going to… I’m getting this all mixed up. When she left, they paid her in cash for her sick days. She put it away in the safe. And she said that she was going to buy something for herself with that money. And then Bonnie got sick.

And I looked at her… And I remember looking at her in the hospital the first time, and I cried and said, “Wow…” She didn’t hear me, I don’t think, “That you have this money and you never spent it. And you worked hard for.” But she came out of it. She was a survivor. She came home and still, she didn’t spend the money. And then she got sick again and she passed and she still didn’t spend the money. Now I’m spending her money and I feel like a thief. I spend her money. It’s very funny.

And when I go to the woman and talk to her about my problems, I always bring it up. And she said, “Bonnie would want you to enjoy that money and do what you have to do.” But you don’t want to regret anything in life. Do what you want to do, enjoy your life and don’t hold back. Because one day, it’s just going to be too late.

I don’t know if there’s any other stories that I can think of that pertain to my life. But I think I’ll come back another time because I am very emotional, especially about the money that Bonnie didn’t get to spend. And we’ll come back another day and talk some more. And hopefully, that my children, my grandchildren, will get some fun or some insight on what my life was like. And I’ll get back to you another day.




I had a young childhood with my grandfather, my father, who used to save… My grandfather saved stamps and coins, and he had my father interested in it. And my father got me interested in it. And they passed on the stamp collection and the coin collection from my grandfather to my father. And then I saved coins and added to the collection. I gave the stamps to my daughter, Audrey, and I really don’t know what they ever did with it. The coins, when Bonnie was sick, I sat down in the cellar. And I got six notebooks and I broke the coin collection from my grandfather, my father and myself into six notebooks. And the notebooks, I gave to each one of my grandsons with the notation on the front of the book that it was from Michael Kaplan, ________ Kaplan, Morris Kaplan to, let’s say Danny Ferraro. And each one got a book and a copy.




Also, I’d like to add that when we were, when I was, when I was young, I used to go with my Uncle Gilbert on a pie truck that he had. It was already cooked. Coby toasted pies. And we used to ride on the truck, and my Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Tommy used to take me every place they went. And I’ve had a very, very happy childhood with my aunt and uncle. 

My Aunt Muriel and my Aunt Eileen, who was my mother’s sisters by another father. They took me all over also. One time, my Aunt Eileen and Muriel took me to the shore. And I went out with Muriel, and she started to flirt with some soldiers who were playing horseshoes. And I walked in back along the soldiers as he was swinging back. And he hit me above the eye with a horseshoe, and I got a big cut. And I started to bleed. My Aunt Muriel had a fit. She said, “Oh, your mother’s going to kill me!” And my mother who was my grandma. Oh, she’s going to kill me. So we went home after I was bandaged up, and they saw me, and they had a fit. But I calmed them down, said it was an accident, that I walked in back of a soldier who was playing horseshoes. And it wasn’t my Aunt Muriel’s fault.

My Aunt Eileen passed away at a very young age. And I was a very young person. And I took it very hard because I loved her. And for years, when I lived in Edison, she was buried about Lebanon Cemetery, And I went to visit every Tuesday that I was off. I would go to visit. And I just hope that some of my relatives will go and visit my grandmother, my father, and my mother, and my Aunt Muriel. Also, Jack and my stepfather George, who was buried over at Mount Lebanon Cemetery, after I pass. Also, my aunt and uncle, Eileen’s father and mother, Doris and Al, are also buried over there. And I would like to get in touch with their grandchildren, to see if they would like to see where their grandparents are buried, so they could visit maybe once a year. And somebody will go to see them. They have two sons that have never come to visit their mother and father’s grave, ever since they’ve been buried. It saddens me that that has happened.




I’d like to add that when I had the gas station and we’re doing very well, and my parents had moved from Wainwright street to Elizabeth, and they were living in Elizabeth and my father retired and they had friends that were in Florida in Century Village. And they used to go down to Century Village and they liked it very much. And my mother said to me she would like to buy a place down in Century Village, but they couldn’t afford to buy one. I said, “Mom, pick out a place in Century Village and I’ll buy it for you with Richie.” And we were at Route 27 at Parsons Road in business, and we were doing fairly well. And it was okay with Bonnie that we did this.

And my mother bought a place in Century Village, 68 C Sussex, Century Village, West Palm Beach. My father wasn’t that keen on moving to Florida, but he went to Florida and my mother and my father, they had a great time living there. They enjoyed themselves and Richie and I got a mortgage on the property and we paid it off, and we paid it off in full. And my father, one New Year’s Eve went to a New Year’s party, and he said to my mother that he would like to have a drink. And my father hadn’t had a drink in years. And my mother said to his friend, “Give him a drink.” And he had a drink and he said, “Let’s have a dance.” And he went out on a dance floor with my mother and he passed away right on the dance floor. And that was New Year’s Eve. And I was at a party at Eleanor and Artie Cole’s house, when I got the phone call that my father passed away.

I flew down to Florida the very next day, arranged for my father to be flown up to Edison, took my mother on a plane and brought her up to our house, and we had a funeral. My mother stayed up here a few days after the funeral, and then went back to Florida.

After some period of time, my mother met a man named George Elser and they started going together, then living together. Then they decided at the ripe old age of 94, 95, that they were going to get married. And my mother said to me that she wanted to get married to George. I said to her, “You’re the mother, I’m the son. If you want to get married, you get married. That’s fine with me as long as he takes care of you, that’s fine.” And George and my mother got married and they lived in my apartment at Century Village for many years. Then my mother got sick and my brother and I flew down to Florida and we left one of our fellows to watch the station, and we stayed there for a few days and came back. Before we went down, my daughters Audrey and Donna went to visit my mother in a hospital.

She was a very sad and emotional thing for us to go down there and see my mother in that state. My mother was a very wonderful woman. I wouldn’t do anything for anybody and always had a prayer for me and a prayer for the family, had a prayer for friends. And as a child, she did everything for her sons. She went beyond and above doing things for their children. George Elser lived in the apartment for about a year, and then he got sick. He went into a nursing home, Bonnie and I went down to Florida. We visited him and said we were going to close up the apartment. And he said he took all the stuff that he wanted out of there. And Bonnie and I had to get a dumpster and we paid for a company to bring a dumpster. We brought a dumpster and filled the dumpster.

My grandson Ryan and his girlfriend came and helped us on a second or third day that we were there, empty out the house, and a lifetime of my mother and George’s belongings went out into the dumpster. It was a very sad time. We also put the house up for sale and Bonnie and I worked very hard on cleaning out that house. And then we hired a cleaning girl and the cleaning girl came and cleaned the house. And my mother used to use that cleaning girl. And she said to me, “Did you look upstairs above the drop ceiling?” There was tiles that came down or would pop up. And they used to put stuff upstairs, jars and stuff. Maybe they hid some money up there. And we had a flight in a couple hours after that and I wasn’t going to clean up more anymore jars. So I said, whoever buys the apartment and whoever looks up there is going to be in for a windfall if they find any money that was left up there. We left the furniture in there, we did not junk it. The place was going to be sold as is.

We put it with an agent, Bonnie and I flew back to Edison and I was thinking, it was about three months, we sold the property and we only got $21,500 for a property. You can’t even buy a car for that. But it was a drain and we weren’t going to use it, and there were so many memories there for us to go there. And the apartment needed a lot of work and we just let it go. And we just have a lot of fond memories and not going back to the apartment anymore.




When we sold my mother’s apartment, and I had to get Richie to sign at that time, I wasn’t talking to him again only because his, he doesn’t talk to his children. He has three wonderful children, he’s got grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And he doesn’t talk to them. I talked to him now only because Bonnie was very sick and sitting next to me in our den. And I happened to say out loud, “You know time’s getting short and maybe I should call my brother and tell him that things, time is getting short, that we should talk.” But I was the one that wasn’t talking to him because he wasn’t talking to his children. So Bonnie was not very verbal at that time. She said, “I think you should.” Well, I almost cried.

I called my brother and said to him, “I left a message, because you didn’t answer.” And he had a habit to let calls go to the answering machine. And I said, “Richie, it’s about time that we talk again. That time is getting short, we’re getting older. And I think we should talk.” And Richie called me up and we’ve been talking ever since. I still get very upset, when I talk with him that he doesn’t talk to his children. And I want to say to him, “Your beautiful children, beautiful grandchildren, you have great grandchildren. You don’t know what you’re missing,” but he is a very stubborn man. And he’s the one that’ll leave this world not knowing wonderful people, his children. And it is so, so sad that he doesn’t do that.

I know, that, my children, my grandchildren, and maybe great grandchildren, will hear this, but never ever not talk to family. Don’t leave this world not talking to your children. The saddest thing was, that my nephew came to do a favor for me in the house. We had to take a bed in order to room out and put it to cellar so we could put a hospital bed from the hospice in that room. And we moved the bed to the cellar, and he said to me in the cellar that his daughter was going to get married next year in the winery. And he said that he asked his daughter, “Do you want to invite your grandpa Whiskers to your wedding?” And she said, “No, I don’t know.” That was so sad to me. And I’m a very emotional person. It made me cry to think that that stupid man did want to miss the wedding of his granddaughter.

It is a very, very sad thing. But it also a lesson to my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. Don’t ever not talk to your family, love them. 


Feb 28, 2019


My father was Emilio, and my mother was Rose. My father came from Italy, and my mother was born here. My father was a grainmaker for animals. My mother was a housewife. 

I remember my parents, how good they were, they raised me up to what I am today, and I thank them for it. They raised my 3 sisters and my brother. They were a little bit on the strict side, but I’m grateful for it because they grew me up to be respectful. When you were told something, you would have to do it. It had to be done. My father was very good for enforcing respect! If we didn’t behave, oh you got a good spanking. Back then you could do it, but you can’t do that today! I didn’t get a beating, I’d just get a small slap. 

My grandmother also used to live with us. I used to help my grandmother a lot, I loved her so much. I used to do so much with her. I used to say, “Grandma, can we go to the store?” She was Italian, and I spoke Italian very well then, and we used to go out together and go shopping. I used to help her with cooking, and that’s what made me a great cook today. She was a wonderful person. I saved mostly her pasta recipes. The pies she used to make, I could never make. She used to make a lot of pies for Easter. She used to make grain pie, egg pie, sausage pie. She could do at least 4 pies, and she’d do them herself. It’s because of my grandmother too that I became what I am today. She taught me respect, you had to have respect for your elders. That was the most important thing. My mother was a sick woman, and it was hard for her to take care of me, my sisters, and brother. She tried. But my grandmother was there for us, and I thank her so much for being there for us. She was a wonderful person and may she rest in peace today. 

I taught my children the same values. I also grew them up to respect each other and all people. If there’s no respect, then there’s nothing. And you know, you want a person to have the same feeling that you have, understanding your way of life and your people. I’m really thankful for what I’ve learned as a young girl. 


March 11, 2019


The greatest historical event you lived through was the bombing of the twin towers. I lost a lot of friends, and I almost lost my daughter. She was on the 95th floor at the time. There was no way of her of getting down because the stairs were gone. It was dark, there was no way of getting out. So what they did was they picked her up by helicopter. She was four months pregnant at the time, and they put her down onto the street. But then after they did that, my daughter had to find her way home! She had to walk all the way home, from there to Brooklyn. When she came home, we had to put her to bed, she was just out of it. We were all waiting for her, all around the television, to hear good news about her. When we saw her coming down that street, that was the greatest day of my life – that I have my daughter. I lost a cousin, and I lost friends. They were all on the twin towers, they all worked there. It was almost like a family affair, everybody worked there, everybody knew everybody and it was like a family. When you’re losing friends and losing family, you have no recollection of anything anymore after that day. It was a horrible day. But I thank God my daughter was safe and they got her home. The baby was safe. It was a day to remember and not to remember. I must say the firefighters, the police, and the aides all did a great job. We had to live through the loss, but luckily I was able to wait for the day my granddaughter was born.


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. You know what, if you worked 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 because your job was in jeopardy. And I liked my job, I didn’t want to lose it. I liked my people, I liked my foreman. The foreman was very lax with his people. We were all young – he was good-lookin’ too! Man was he good-lookin! I had very good days working. I really enjoyed working, believe it or not. 


March 18, 2019


To me, it was the day I got married. I had a wonderful husband, God Bless him, and we had 3 wonderful children. I have 4 grandchildren, and 1 great granddaughter. The day I got married was a beautiful day. That was on March 31, 1951. I remember my day well. It was the greatest day in my life. I had a beautiful white gown. We had a nice house wedding, we couldn’t afford a venue. All my friends and relatives had a good time. I had plenty of food, plenty of soda. No liquor, because me and my husband didn’t drink. You want liquor, you bring it because I got nothing in my house! I had a beautiful cake ordered. Beautiful cream all around, a sponge inside, with strawberry filling. 


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 wanna cook, and how I wanna cook. My daughter cooks, my son of course, no! My daughters would cook when I was cooking, now I think they just have food brought in.

For Christmas, we used to make chicken, ham, and a roast beef. Everyone had a choice of what they want, 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. The food had to be the right way. All the family got together – it was so nice. We did so much cooking, when you have to cook for a whole family. 

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…


Satish Duggal

Childhood Memories

Once, I don’t know what grade I was in, I didn’t turn my papers for math, so I got zero. I thought I would do good, and when they started asking me, I said “Oh, here’s the test paper.”

They said, “Why do you have it?”

I said, “I don’t know, I just brought it with me after the test.”

They said, “You’re supposed to give it to the teacher after the test!” But I just brought it with me.


I didn’t know that I’m supposed to turn it in, I said I know the test, I know the questions, I know the answers, and I wrote the answers, but I kept the paper because I didn’t know that I was supposed to hand it in so they could look at it. I got in trouble because my mother found out I got zero. She went back to the school and explained them, but they said ‘No, no. Still zero.”


Duckback School Bag Ad from Indian Vintage Print Magazine (1980)
Image Source: Abhisays


Pride and Joy

My greatest achievement is my two kids. And where they are, what they are doing. How successful they are. They still…If they have any questions, they come and ask me. I think they are going to do so much greater than I ever did.” 



My Advice

My second greatest achievement is those people that I helped to move up in their career. Some took my advice, some didn’t. But those that took my advice and did good was my achievement. There are those that continuously ask for your advice but don’t take it. They still keep coming back and still don’t believe what I tell them. So I guess there was one guy who always wants my advice but never takes it. He’s very smart, very knowledgeable, very creative, but his financial situation is a mess. He doesn’t think he has to fix it. So he assumes somebody is not giving him what he deserves. So he keeps going after them rather than thinking ok what do I have to do to fix it. 

And there are some people, when I was in India working with people, who did well and they moved on. Most of the advice I gave them was more generic rather than more specific. Explaining to them simple things, for instance, you have to do your homework every day. Not just ok, I did it yesterday so I’m done for the rest of my life. So these things keep coming back and the learning never ends. So think about it, things that you do all the time, not just things you have to do one time.

When you think about things you have to do all the time, then you really find ways to learn it. When you find ways to learn it, that’s when it becomes an ongoing experience as opposed to doing it one time and then you do it and forget it.