January 10, 2016
A couple weeks ago my cousin Craig Blattner sent me a family newsletter from 1987 that featured this long family memoir, written by my Mother, Doris Klepper, who as you’ll see is a wonderfully expressive and succinct writer. While I normally would be abashed to urge others, particularly those outside my family, to dive in, my Mom’s prose clearly describes a different time, filled with the joy and irony and heartache of life.
Doris Weiss Klepper
I will try to write down as much background on our family as I can recall for the enlightenment of anyone who may be interested.
My mother was born literally at the turn of the century, in April, 1900, to Joseph and Esther Rosenfeld Shostak, in New York City. I know very little about my grandfather, a native of Russia. Although my mother spoke a great deal about other relatives, she seemed to conspicuously avoid mentioning her father. I can only surmise that the circumstances surrounding his absence were unpleasant.
Esther raised her two children, Anna and Lillian, on her own. The only Shostak relative whom I ever knew was Anna’s first cousin, Fanny Shostak Shandalow, who was a year or so older. The two girls were very close and remained in touch for most of their lives.
Anna and Lilly had a very deprived, difficult childhood with a hardworking mother. Esther was a talented Hungarian cook and baker and she supported her family by catering for brisses, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Of course, in those days the affairs were much simpler than they are today, usually held in the apartments of the families. Also, she worked as housekeeper and baby nurse for new mothers. At that time women were kept in bed for weeks after childbirth, and those who could afford it hired help to run their homes during their “confinements.” This worked a sad hardship on the Shostak children, who were left alone for long periods of time. Anna had to assume responsibility at a very early age, for herself and Lilly, who was 6-1/2 years younger. I don’t know how they survived. They seemed to move around a lot as they lived in Elizabeth, NJ. at one time and on 4th Street in the lower east side of N.Y. at another. Often they spent time with Esther’s sister and her family in Kenilworth, NJ.
Esther’s older sister, Lena, came to N.Y. alone at the age of 15 or so from Budapest, Hungary. As far as I know she knew no one and I have no idea how she managed. Eventually she married her first cousin, David Stein, and settled in Kenilworth in what was known as a Baron de Hirsh farm. Apparently Baron de Hirsh was a wealthy Jewish man who made it possible for young immigrants to establish small farms where they could support their families. David was the eldest of six children and over the years he and Esther became patriarch and matriarch of a large extended family, all of whom felt free to drop in on them in their tiny home to visit for days. Everyone was always welcome and, rather than feeling imposed upon, which they certainly were, they thought it was so nice that the relatives came to see them! When I was a child we visited there often from the Bronx, so I had a taste of country life. We always joined them for Passover. As a matter of fact, we would go there a few days early so that my mother could help with the preparations. I always enjoyed visiting there, as I got lots of loving attention and pampering. I would sing my repertoire of Jewish songs and show off my reading and spelling while everyone exclaimed at how brilliant and wonderful I was. I liked that!
Esther and Lena left several brothers in Hungary. They knew they’d never see each other again but kept in touch over the years. After Hitler took Hungary, none of them was ever heard from again.
Lena`s eldest daughter was Essie (Esther) Stein Socofsky, whom some of you will remember. Although she was nine or ten years older, she and my mother were very close cousins all of their lives. Her eldest son, Milford, now lives in Delray Beach, Florida, and we see him and Terry, his wife, occasionally. After graduating from high school in 1938, I spent the summer visiting various relatives in New York. l had a great time and was treated warmly by all. But I spent most of the time in Kenilworth, where Milford was my wonderful big brother. He had plans constantly – for sightseeing, for theater, for parties, and so on. I had a ball! Milford was nine years older than me and I’ve never figured out why he was so attentive, but I loved him for it and still do.
Now, getting back to my mother’s girlhood. After graduating from the 8th grade, she got a job in the photo developing department at Macy’s and I think she did that work until she was married. Through much of my younger years she often spoke of having been engaged to someone she must have liked a lot. Her tone was always wistful and I always wondered why the engagement was broken, but somehow I never felt free to ask.
During those years my grandmother had a male boarder. Her health was poor – she had a bad heart – so I guess this was the easiest way to earn an income. Mr. Flakowitz was a very nice man, a baker, who had left his wife and several children in Europe and was saving to bring them to America. He did and I remember attending the wedding of his eldest son when I was 11 or 12. He had a young baker friend whom he wanted Anna to meet. So he brought over Sam Weiss who invited Anna to see “Maytime,” a Victor Herbert (I think) operetta which was a big hit on Broadway. Well, she had already developed the no-nonsense attitude which you’ll all recall. She had seen the show already and it was very good, but she had seen it and there was no sense in seeing it again. However, her mother was standing behind Sam gesturing to her to accept. So she did them both a favor and agreed to go. And they were wed. And Sam Weiss became my beloved Daddy.
How I wish that all of his grandchildren could have known my Daddy. He was a sweet, tender, gentle, loving, dear and utterly selfless man. As I write this there are tears on my cheeks, because I always regarded him as a pathetic figure. His childhood was right out of Charles Dickens – atrocious! For starters, he was born in Czestochowa (pronounced Chen-stok-hov), Poland, the Catholic center of the country and definitely no place for a Jewish boy.
His father, Isaac, became ill as a very young man with “stomach complaint” which sounds as though it might have been cancer. He left his family and went to another city for medical treatment and died there. As far as I know, his body was never even returned. He just never came back.
His wife, Esther (both of my grandmothers were named Esther, and Irma was named for them), was left with four children. Sam was the second son, 8 years old at the time. I have no idea how she dealt with her desperate situation, how they lived or what arrangements she made for the other children.
But Sam was apprenticed to a baker. This meant that he lived with the baker, who could barely provide for his own family and had no room in his household or his heart for an extra kid. The youngster was there to work and work he did. For the rest of his life he suffered with severely painful shoulders and knees, the result of lifting heavily laden pans all day long at an early age. He was overworked, underfed, mistreated, unloved and lonely, and somehow he grew up.
The one good outcome of this miserable experience is that he became a master at his trade. He had an outstanding reputation in the Baker’s Union of N.Y.C. and was always sought after. He worked regularly right through the depression although the Union tried to equalize employment for all of its members by limiting each man to a four-day work week. Obviously he was a better craftsman than businessman. On two occasions that I know of, he and Uncle Abe went into the bakery business together – once in Englewood, NJ., where my sister Edith was born, and a couple of years later in the Bronx. Both times Mother was drafted as saleslady and the bakery became the playground for Edith and me. Of course, both of these efforts were disastrous and everyone fared better when Daddy worked for someone else.
At this point, I am reminded that I deeply regret not having asked my parents more questions. For instance, I’m so sorry that it never occurred to me to ask Daddy about his trip from Poland to NYC around 1912, when he was about 17. Surely there must have been a lot of interesting details. But he never spoke of that experience and I didn’t give it any thought at the time. Even now I find myself curious about people or events in the past. But it’s too late now and there’s no one left to ask. So I urge you all, if you have any curiosity about whatever, ask now while those who may have the answers are still around.
My parents had more than enough heartache as we grew up, I was a sickly child, skinny, pasty-faced and constantly coughing. (Mother occasionally remarked that it was embarrassing for such a chubby lady to have such an emaciated looking kid.) We went from doctor to doctor and did everything they recommended. I remember Mother weeping all the way home from a doctor who said I had “a spot on the lung.” I don’t know what he thought, but she knew it was TB. She was advised to take me to the mountains, so for three consecutive summers we stayed in the Catskills. During the summer of my tenth birthday, it worked. I gained 10 pounds and became a person.
On our first trip to the Catskills we stayed at Pleasure Lake Farm in Monticello, N.Y. It was a very large boarding house with rooms large enough to accommodate a family. There was a giant kitchen where each lady had a shelf in the refrigerator (ice-box) and a small counter space with a 2-burner hot plate. The custom was for the women and children to leave the city and get some fresh air, and for the men to join the rocking chair brigade on the weekends. Understand that Jewish men of our era did not play golf. Or maybe it was Jewish men of our ilk who did not play. These places were known as “Kuch Alanes,” which is Yiddish for doing your own cooking. All the mamas were obsessed with seeing to it that their children gained every benefit afforded by this splurge. A daily activity which was considered abuse by the kids was “milking line.” Each kid was forced to be at the barn with a cup for the fresh, foamy, warm milk. Ugh.
We arrived in Monticello on a Friday and I spent a happy weekend playing with all the kids. On Monday I came down with measles. For the next two weeks Mother and Edith were confined with me in a darkened room (to guard against damage to measles-weakened eyes). Three times a day Mother had to withstand the hostility of the other women who were not at all subtle in expressing their resentment. Talk about “persona non grata!” They couldn’t forgive her for endangering their darlings. Well I recovered and that very day, Edith developed measles. Again, Mother was imprisoned and had to run an even sterner gauntlet, because this time measles was breaking out all over the place and continued to spread all summer! Don’t ask!!
Just about the time that I turned healthy, Edith began to have mysterious fevers. In due time she was diagnosed as having a rheumatic heart. But the doctors were puzzled because she had no pain. (The pain caught up with her full steam about 25 or 30 years later.) She was admitted to New York Hospital, which in 1931 was the last word scientifically. Only my parents were permitted to see her, for one hour each Sunday. She was under the care of a Dr. Wilson, a lady who later became very well known for her work with children. Later she was transferred to a convalescent center in Mt. Vernon, where Mother and Daddy could see her once a month for two hours. l don’t remember how long she was away but it was many months and she was only 6. I was 10, old enough to realize how devastating this separation was for Daddy and Mother. They cried a lot and lived for Sundays. I felt pretty bad about it too and wrote to her regularly. But for me there were compensations. After all, with Edith away, I was an only child. That introduced me to a few unaccustomed pleasures and privileges, like being taken to the movies at night!! But I wasn’t all bad. I didn’t hold it against her when she came home.
Edith’s illness continued and in desperation my parents applied to Rockefeller Medical Center, the newest miracle hospital. Their representative came to our home to go over the details and they agreed that it was the place for her. Just as they were about to sign the papers, he threw a bombshell. He said they must understand that if the child died while in their care, they had the right to keep the body for purposes of study. That was a shocker! Mother announced that she wasn’t sending her child anywhere to be experimented with and that was the end of that. I heard every word of this meeting from my listening post in the bedroom, of course.
Daddy’s brother, Uncle Abe, was the first of the Weiss family to come to America. I don’t know how that came about or anything about his first years here. I think he had already married his Minnie when Daddy arrived. I believe that Daddy must have lived with them until he married. I know he adored their children, Yetta and Meyer. It was a family joke that Daddy would not permit Tante Minnie to bathe the children until he had tested the water with his elbow. When his American wife joined the family, she informed them that Edith was a more American name than Yetta and that’s what she was going to call her. So Yetta became Edith.
The brothers saved their money and sent for their younger brother, Sidney, who arrived with his wife, Anna, by way of Montreal, in 1921, about the time I was born. It was quite usual for new immigrants to skimp and deny themselves in order to bring their wives and children or their siblings and parents out of Europe. I often wonder how present generations would respond to similar situations. Shortly after that, they brought over their mother, aged 62. I was 8 when she passed away at 70, so I remember her well. She was short and dumpy and wore a chestnut brown wig. We have a very lifelike photo of her. According to Jewish law, women must cover their hair after marriage so that other men will not be attracted by their “crowning glory.” My mother considered the custom ridiculous and thought Buba should uncover her head and show her pretty hair. So she hid the wig, causing poor Buba several days of anguish. It was a smart-alecky, disrespectful thing to do and I doubt that Buba forgave her very readily.
We called my grandmother “Buba,” one of the Yiddish words for “grandma.” Because she spoke no English and because Yiddish was commonly used in the homes of her sons, most of her grandchildren became quite fluent in Yiddish. After years of disuse I’ve lost much of that fluency, but I’ve always enjoyed understanding a second language. My memories of Buba were pleasant. She visited us often and always had little bags of candy or raisins for all of the children. However, Buba didn’t get along with her three daughters-in-law. She lived for brief periods with each one and finally moved to a rented room. Looking back, I’m convinced that she was not that disagreeable but that Mother and my aunts, in their youth, were intolerant of her age and the difference of cultural backgrounds.
Now the three brothers began to save to bring their sister, Faygel, and her husband, Israel Bier Raszkin (pronounced “Sroolbear”) and their sons, Irving and Nathan, to the U.S. Their mother missed her daughter and pressured her sons constantly to send for their sister. By this time they all had families and money was not plentiful, so they did not find it easy to accumulate transportation funds, but they were eager to see their sister and did their best.
Finally, around 1930, they sent either cash or steamship tickets, I’m not sure which, to Faygel and her family. In due time they received a letter from Faygel explaining that she would not be on the ship as she had given birth to another son, Siegmund, and had used the money for “a very genteel bris.” The whole family was stunned! And perplexed! Why had she written so many letters begging to come to America and never mentioned her pregnancy? And why had she spent her brothers’ hard earned money so frivolously? I don’t know whether she ever explained but I do know that she paid a bitter, pathetic price for this caper. Within the next decade the Raszkins were forced to flee Poland and then Belgium and several other uncertain havens. Ultimately Faygel and “Sroolbear” died in a gas chamber. Their middle son, Nathan, escaped from a concentration camp and after joining a group of partisan fighters was caught and executed. Her sons Irving and Siegmund spent many youthful years in concentration camps. Although they survived the Holocaust, both died in their early 50’s of ailments that resulted from the hardships of their developing years. The family stopped hearing from Faygel around the late 30’s. My father often wondered aloud whether his sister and her children had enough to eat. Tales of mistreatment of Jews in Europe were drifting into our country but no sane person could imagine the horrors that were taking place. Daddy died in 1943 and never knew the awful truth.
In 1933 Irma was born. Because Edith was bedridden as often as not, Mother didn’t feel free to leave her to go to a hospital. She hired a midwife to assist the doctor and to help out while she was laid up. Edith and I spent the night at a neighbor’s apartment and the next morning the baby was there. Mother was quite embarrassed to be having a baby at die ripe old age of 33, and she made a point of raising the subject whenever she had visitors. Something must have gone wrong during the delivery because she had constant problems for the next couple of years and ultimately had a partial hysterectomy.
When Mother wasn’t ailing she was busy looking after Edith and so she needed my help. I was almost 12 and she taught me how to help her with the housework and with looking after Irma. If I wasn’t in school I was taking care of the baby. l took her with me in her carriage when I visited my friends in the neighborhood or when l went on shopping errands for Mother. At the same time, Edith made a habit of requiring my attention. If she needed the bedpan she waited until I came home and nothing would do but that I must be her nurse. I understood that she was contrary because she was bored with being in bed and was never allowed to play normally. Also, I understood that Mother needed all the assistance she could get and it was up to me to give it.
Looking back, I am amazed that I never resented or objected to my many duties and responsibilities. It was not until many years later, when I had children of my own, that it occurred to me that I had been a very docile and obliging child, and that I could not recall ever having been praised or commended for being so cooperative. An occasional pat on the back or an unexpected little gift would have been well deserved and rewarding. But Mother’s attitude was that I had nothing better to do anyway and I accepted that.
One of my chores was to give the baby a daily sunbath. I don’t know why. Probably the doctor recommended it. Irma was a pretty, active baby and I adored her, so I never thought of it as a chore. I would undress her and place her on the windowsill inside our fire escape for whatever length of time it was, then I’d turn her over and do the other side and dress her again. The window faced our back yard and those of several other large apartment buildings. One hot summer day I was busy with the baby and I heard a woman screaming. I looked up and saw that she was pointing down to the yard. There I saw the body of a woman who had just jumped from the roof of a five story building. It was dreadful. All of my life I’ve been very frightened of high places. I’ve often wondered if this incident could have caused my phobia.
At an earlier time I witnessed the aftermath of another suicide. These were depression days and perhaps that accounts for those deaths. This woman had turned on the gas. All the neighbors were assembled in the hall when the ambulance came to remove the body and of course I was right there. One of the ladies kept wringing her hands and chanting with a Yiddish accent, “Such a happy family! Oh, such a happy family.” Daddy thought this was very funny because obviously if they were so happy the woman wouldn’t have killed herself. For a long time afterward, whenever the subject came up, Daddy would clasp his hands and mimic the poor lady.
As I write this, another hallway incident comes to mind. It was a hot day, long before air conditioning, and all four of the apartments on my grandmother’s floor had their doors open to get a little more air. l was playing in the hallway because it was the coolest spot. Mother was visiting with her mother and playing with Edith who was an infant. Suddenly, Mother yelled, “Oy, gevalt und geshriggen, I love this baby!” A loose translation of the Yiddish might be, “Oh World, I’m crying out to you!” Immediately all three of the neighbors came rushing out of their flats to see what had happened. Mother had to explain sheepishly that she’d been playing with her baby and got carried away. The annoyed ladies returned to their own apartments and I heard one of them remark, “A meshuganer!” meaning, “She’s crazy!”
Mother had her hands full, raising three little girls, one of them so sick, doing all of her own housework and washing the clothes in the built-in double wash tubs provided for that purpose. I can still see her boiling diapers on the stove. Each apartment of that era had a clothes dryer rack attached to the ceiling. It could be lowered and raised with pulleys for drying clothes in bad weather. In the school that I attended, girls took sewing in the fifth and sixth grades and were required to make a pinafore apron, a cooking cap and a drawstring bag to carry them in. In the 7th grade we donned this finery and took cooking lessons. We were required to have our cooking uniforms freshly laundered, starched and ironed every week, so in case my mother and all the other mothers didn’t have enough to do, they also laundered our cooking costumes. The only thing I learned about cooking was how to make applesauce with one fourth of an apple, but I got an A+ in cooking because Mother was such a good laundress.
Edith’s health was a constant problem. The doctors suggested that we move to a warmer climate: Florida or Arizona. I suspect that my parents had no idea of how to go about making such a move. It would take time, money and ingenuity to find a location and a job. I believe that they would have stayed in N.Y. if they had not had a little push. The push came in the form of a phone call from Daddy’s boyhood friend, Koppel Meyer, who was also a baker. He had been on a Florida vacation and somehow had learned that there was a hearth oven bakery for rent in Jacksonville. Possibly he had searched it out with Daddy in mind because he knew of Edith’s condition. He gave Daddy all the necessary information and Daddy decided to take a trip to Jacksonville to look the situation over. This was at the end of April, 1934. He did not return to New York but sent for his family to join him.
The bakery was in a black neighborhood which had once been the heart of the Jewish community. There was an abandoned synagogue close by and also a building which had been the YMHA. The bakery was a small, square building with a tin roof. It was strictly for baking. There was no space for a store. The property belonged to a Mr. Jake Safer, who was quite well-to-do and prominent in the Jewish community. Mr. Safer was very kind to Daddy. He was older and more experienced and he gave Daddy the guidance he needed to establish himself in Jacksonville. Daddy was very grateful and ever after spoke of Mr. Safer with much admiration and respect.
It fell to Mother to dismantle our apartment and pack, arrange for our belongings to be shipped, and also arrange for transportation for herself and three children. She decided that instead of travelling by train with a sick child and a 14 month old infant, it would be easier to go by steamship. There was a ship that took three days to make the cruise from NYC to Jacksonville, and three weeks after Daddy had left we were on our way.
The trip was a nightmare. The ship, the SS Cherokee, was very nice, but fifty-three years ago there were no stabilizers as there are today. Fifteen minutes after the ship sailed, Mother and I were deathly sick and we stayed sick until we reached Jacksonville. I recovered as soon as we landed but Mother couldn’t get her land legs going until a week or so later.
The house Daddy had rented for us was another disaster. Of course, he didn’t know how successful his new endeavor would be, so he had to make an economical choice. We moved into a two family frame building on West 7th street in an area known as Springfield. Most of the Jewish population of the city lived in Springfield. This place was a far cry from the pleasant, comfortable home we had left and cry was what my mother did – a lot! The worst part was the bugs! Insects were a problem everywhere in Florida but this house was particularly infested. It was impossible to eat a meal without ants crawling all over the food. And of course, if an ant touched anything on the table Mother dumped the food.
After a while, the neighbors told her to put the table legs into cups of kerosene, which prevented the ants from crawling up the legs. Everything edible had to be kept in tightly sealed containers. Another problem was hard water, which Mother had not encountered before. Soap left a sticky deposit on everything and hair was left gummy. Again the neighbors came to the rescue by telling her how to use vinegar or lemon juice as a rinse to cut the curd formed by soap.
Another thing for all of us to learn about was the position of the blacks. We were shocked to see “Whites Only” restrooms and water fountains. A full time maid was paid $2.00 per week. A really well-trained woman who cooked, served, cleaned, laundered and took care of the children might get $7.00 a week. The Negro homes were ghastly unpainted huts with dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity. If a white person walked down the street, the Negro approaching him would step into the gutter to let him pass. All this was new and appalling to us as we tried to adjust to our new life.
Daddy plunged right in. He bought several trucks and hired people to deliver his wares to the customers’ homes in time for breakfast. A one-pound loaf of rye bread was 10 cents, 3 rolls were a nickel. Many women came out to the truck in their robes and selected an assortment of rolls: 1 bagel, 1 kaiser roll and 1 crescent roll, for example. And they charged the purchase. Of course, there were many deadbeats who failed to pay their bread bills. In most cases they were the ones who had the largest families to feed or could best afford to do so. Of course, the delivery people had to be paid a commission. On this basis, it’s no wonder that our family lived on savings for several years.
Meanwhile, Daddy’s work was brutal. He was on his feet constantly and always in pain from his shoulders and knees. But the heat was the worst! The weather was stifling for everyone; no one could hide from the humidity and high temperatures. Daddy had that to contend with that in addition to the blasting heat of the brick oven and the uninsulated tin roof. He worked at night and couldn’t sleep in the daytime because of the unrelenting heat. I don’t know how he survived, but l never heard him complain about it, When Mother prepared to move to Florida, she blithely gave away almost all of our blankets and winter clothes. Everyone knew that Florida was hot. The rude awakening came during our first Florida winter. Our home heating system was a small oil burner which held about a gallon of fuel at a time and held the place of honor in our living room. The fuel container was outdoors and it was no pleasure to replenish on a cold day.
Mother was not a club woman but in order to meet some people she made it her business to join some of the women’s organizations associated with the Jewish Center. I made no friends during our first summer, but after school started and after I enrolled in Sunday School, I got to know the kids. Belle lived just around the corner and we walked to Kirby Smith Junior High together every day. She was always early and I was always late and we started each day bickering. We’re still at it, 53 years later.
Before long we moved to a much nicer house less than a block away where the whole family was more comfortable. Mother could not adjust to Jacksonville – too many people and too many things were left behind. She went back periodically to visit Aunt Lily, Essie and others, but after about the 3rd trip she admitted that the pace of NYC bothered her and she could never go back there to live.
Irma enjoyed a very pleasant status in our family. She was a bright and appealing baby and was petted and loved by the whole family. She was lucky enough to be considerably younger than all of her siblings and cousins, so she was everybody’s baby. Daddy was her slave and his death was probably even more devastating for her than for the rest of us.
Irma was a miserly racketeer as a kid. She saved money in a glass jar and loved to count and recount it. She received a weekly allowance and after a couple of days she’d approach either Mother or Daddy and ask, “Did you forget about my allowance?” and they’d pay off. Then she’d go to the other parent and say, “I think Mother (or Daddy) forgot about my allowance,” and she’d collect again.
So we settled into living in Jacksonville. Edith’s health did not improve as hoped. Of course her schooling was a disaster. She was absent so often that I don’t know how she learned anything. I give her a lot of credit for accomplishing as much as she did, in gaining an education. During our first several years in Jacksonville, she had several really serious bouts. There were several times when our parents kept all night vigils because she was not expected to make it. As she grew older, though, she did improve and ultimately Mother and Daddy felt that coming south had saved her life.
When I was 14 I joined a Young Judean club and made friendships which have lasted all of my life. Edith Michelson, who was 4-1/2 years older than I was, was the club leader. I doubt that Young Judean headquarters would have been satisfied with our achievements, but we had a lot of clean-cut fun together.
When I was 15, I had my first Saturday job as cashier in a supermarket on Davis Street, the black center of the city. We worked until midnight or whatever time the management decided to close and I got $2.50 less Social Security whether I deserved it or not. Later on, I worked at Furchgott’s, a women’s clothier, as a part-time salesgirl on Saturdays and holidays. I’m not sure but I think the salary was the same but working conditions and location were a lot nicer. At the time Furchgott’s was located at Main Street from Forsyth to Bay. Believe it or not, Furchgott’s did not close on Christmas Eve until customers quit coming, usually after midnight.
A year or so after our arrival in Jacksonville, Uncle Abe joined us with his family and became a partner in the bakery business. Meyer became a bakery truck delivery man and so did his friend Herby Harris. Mother worked in the store and the younger family members were recruited to help out. Prior to that time, Mother did the bookkeeping at home. The drivers would come to the house at the end of each working day and settle accounts either with Mother or me.
I think it might have been around 1939 or 40 that Daddy’s youngest brother, Uncle Sidney, moved to Jacksonville, with Aunt Anna, Isador and Nathan. Uncle Sidney was a very accomplished tailor and his wife was an equally capable furrier. In N.Y. they both worked very hard operating a dry cleaning and alterations business. In Jacksonville, they opened a second hand clothing store on Bay Street near Broad. They altered their wares to fit. When the war came along shortly afterward, their business increased and they prospered.
I had always been interested in nursing. For one year in high school I was on a work-study program and worked at St. Vincent’s Hospital four hours a day. I’m appalled when I think of the things they allowed an untrained 15-year-old to do for patients, but that was more than 50 years ago! It was a wonderful learning experience for me and I believe that experience has been helpful to me ever since. When I finished high school there was no money for me to go to nurse’s training school and also I was not yet 18. So there went my career – but anyway I doubt that I could ever make myself give anyone a shot. So for almost 2 years I worked for N & L Auto Pans Co. on W. Adams Street at 25 cents/hour. I eagerly looked forward to the end of the month – statement time – when I made time and half for overtime – 37-1/2 cents. I left eventually and worked downtown as a bookkeeper at a loan company, where I was paid considerably better. I stayed there until I was married. Ray did not approve of loan companies and was embarrassed by my job.
I will try to impart to you the terrible, wonderful atmosphere on the home front during World War II. The terribleness speaks for itself. There was unspoken terror and desperation everywhere. Young men interrupted their lives and their plans to go into the armed forces and face who knew what! Families were so fearful that their sons would have to go. Very soon young husbands and even young fathers were inducted. The draft started early in 1941 and the first draftees were supposed to serve for one year. After Pearl Harbor that limit was cancelled, of course.
Ray was among the first to be called and he spent five full years of his life in the army, as did many others. A private was paid 521.00 per month, less optional life insurance premiums. Many men who went overseas were gone longer than 3 years. Everyone lost friends and classmates and so many lost sons or husbands or fathers or brothers. Many families suffered more than one loss. A lot of homes displayed little flags in their front windows with a star for each member of the family who was gone, and sometimes gold stars for the ones who would not return. The fellows who were not claimed by some branch of the armed forces were considered lucky, but of course they were regarded with scorn, even though their reasons were legitimate. It was pretty awkward to be apparently healthy and a civilian.
The army accepted many mildly defective men for “limited service,” which meant no battle training but jobs that would release able-bodied men to fight. There was a women’s branch in the Army and the Navy, which also offered limited service. And of course, the nurse corps. There was a nagging fear of attack and/or invasion and very rapidly volunteer services were set up for that possibility. The majority of civilians involved themselves in something. Many people took first aid courses. Women knitted warm clothing for their soldiers. Many spent several nights a week rolling bandages. Children collected aluminum pots and pans in their neighborhoods, to be melted down for the war effort. They also bought savings stamps each week in school to be convened to War Bonds to help finance the war. Movie stars and other people of note ran War Bond Drives and I believe that most people dutifully bought as much as they could afford.
Both Edith and I participated in the Civilian Air Patrol. “Spotters” were placed on rooftops all over the area. Their duty was to report to a central station each time they saw a plane. At the station was a giant tabletop on which a great map was marked off into squares identified by numbers. Each “Plotter” was equipped with a rake and a telephone and each time a call came in the plotter would locate the plane and move it to its latest location on the table. This way the CAP was able to track every plane in the air and would be alerted if an enemy plane entered the region. Since I worked during the day I did this job at night and was delivered home by a police car with lights flashing. I’m sure this gave the neighbors something to think about but I never explained.
While Ray was in Italy I became a Red Cross Nurse’s Aide and worked in all three of the local hospitals. Belle Harris and my cousin Edith Michelson did this too. We were given a rather extensive training course. The object was to replace the nurses who had joined the Army and Navy. Also our training included measures to be taken in the event of an attack.
During the war years the beaches were completely blacked out. Every home had blackout curtains and many volunteers saw to it that no light shone through. We did not have this problem in the city but we did have blackout drills occasionally. “Big Jim” would blast and everyone would sit in the dark until another blast indicated “all clear.” Everyone cooperated and took those exercises very seriously because we never really knew whether or not they were “for real.” Irma likes to tell about the time she intercepted a kiss in the dark when we had a blackout during one of Ray’s visits.
There really was a niche for everyone, regardless of age, and almost everyone pitched in. This is part of the “wonderful” that I mentioned a while ago. The whole country pulled together for victory and the effort was almost unanimous because our loved ones and our way of life were threatened. We had food rationing and shoe rationing. Stamps were issued to each member of the family for each rationed item. Usually it was the mother who had to budget the amount of meat and dairy products her family’s stamps could afford. Parents of small children with fast growing feet did without new shoes so that the kids could be fitted. When I became a Nurse’s Aide I was issued an extra shoe stamp for nurse’s oxfords. We all knew that our inconveniences were slight compared to what civilians in other countries involved in the war were contending with and there really were not many complaints or cheats.
There were three items which became scarce as the war progressed. Bobby pins and needles, which had always been expendable and handled carelessly, vanished from the stores. In each home these articles suddenly became highly respected and most families hung onto the same ones all throughout the war. The third item was nylons, which caused considerable controversy. We sewed up runs and preserved our nylons for as long as possible, but pretty soon they disappeared and were replaced by thick unattractive rayon stockings which all the girls hated. Many girls began to go barelegged in warm weather, something which had not been done before. Some of the more fashion conscious put pancake makeup on their legs for camouflage. A cosmetic known as “liquid stockings” appeared on the market. Large corporations put out bulletins to clarify their positions on the stocking issue for lady employees – yes or no. A boyfriend who had an aunt in the business wheedled three pairs of nylons which he gave to me. I happily saved them to use for my wedding, in case I ever had one. And I did wear one of those pairs when I was married.
Churches, synagogues and the U.S.O. ran Saturday night dances for the soldiers and sailors. All the girls attended with the OK of their parents, as we were very well supervised. Mother was one of those who made sandwiches and chaperoned. There were servicemen who came in from Camp Blanding, the Naval Air Station and various other military facilities, and all of them were lonely and eager to meet girls. There were 2 main rules for the girls. They were never to tum down a fellow who asked to dance and they were not to leave a dance with any of the boys. The girls learned to get around both rules and literally, there was not an unpopular girl in town! There was someone for everyone.
The dances for the Jewish kids were held either at the Center or the Temple and many, many couples who met there were later married. Jacksonville was a great place for single girls. Understand that these were respectable parties. I don’t recall any incidents where anyone drank or misbehaved. These were all nice youngsters away from home, many of them for the first time. Of course this kind of entertainment was going on all over the country, but Jacksonville happened to have an exceptionally large number of military men stationed in the vicinity.
I knew of Ray Klepper, as we know of lots of people in the community, but I’d never really met him. Probably in 1940, twin girlfriends of mine came to Jacksonville from Savannah on a weekend visit and stayed at our house. They knew Ray and called to say hello, so he came over to see them and discovered me. We dated quite a lot and I enjoyed being with him but I was dating a few other people at the same time. So when he quit calling I barely noticed. After a time I heard he’d been drafted and was stationed in Texas. A very long time after that I walked into a downtown restaurant for lunch and there was Ray with Hal Lietman, whom I had also dated. They asked me to join them and from that time on Ray and I saw a lot of each other although I was still seeing other boys as well. He had been transferred to Jacksonville and was working in an army office across the street from the Florida Theater. He had requested a transfer to the Air Force and expected to be admitted to flight training school, a very rigorous course which lasted about 9 months. We corresponded after he left and when he came home on leave in February, 1943, we became engaged. From then until we were married, we were together only twice. I visited him once in Montgomery, Alabama and again in George Field, Illinois. I was very surprised, and I still am, that my parents permitted these trips. Before the war nice girls didn’t get together with their boyfriends, serious or not, unless there were others with them. But a lot of conventions were broken down during that era and my parents trusted me to behave.
Mother and Daddy had very mixed emotions about our forthcoming marriage. They hadn’t really had a chance to get to know Ray well but thought he was a nice young man. I think they were uncomfortable with the fact that he had been raised as a Reform Jew. Reform people were usually considered to be socially superior and so they were not too highly regarded by others. Anyone in the Conservative community would have told you that those snobs were like goyim. However, Mother and Daddy had no objections on that score. They were justifiably concerned about his safety in the war, especially since he was now an airplane pilot. My father pleaded with me to postpone the wedding until the war was over, but l wouldn’t even consider it. There was no way of knowing how much longer the war would continue and we agreed to get married as soon as Ray completed his cadet training in October.
While Ray was home there had been no opportunity for me to meet his parents. In March of 1941 his mother had suffered a serious stroke which left her paralyzed and unable to speak. There were no nursing homes for such people at that time and they just stayed home and the family coped as best they could. The Klepper household necessarily revolved around Mrs. Klepper, who spent her days in a wheelchair. They had a live-in practical nurse, or rather a procession of them, and a wonderful full-time maid who cooked and also kept an eye on the nurses, who were not always as kind to a helpless person as they should have been.
In view of the conditions at home, I guess no one was concerned with Ray’s social life. By the time we made arrangements to meet, Ray had returned to camp, so l had to go it alone. We made a luncheon date and Mr. Klepper was very cordial and friendly. After that we met frequently for lunch as we both worked downtown. Eventually I had to meet Ray’s mother and that was an ordeal for me. She was very ill and inarticulate but she was a warm, loving person and showed clearly that she was pleased with me. I learned to communicate with her by asking questions which she could answer by shaking or nodding her head, or by telling her about different things that were going on. She had comprehension but couldn’t speak. I often met Ray’s father after work and went home with him to have dinner and spend the evening.
I don’t remember whether it was Rosh Hashonah or Yom Kippur of that year, 1943, but Daddy noticed a lonely looking sailor at the synagogue and invited him home to dinner. His name was Milton Berman and he promptly became interested in Edith. He became a regular visitor and we all liked him. A month later Daddy passed away suddenly and Milton was a gem. He was so kind and thoughtful and supportive that we fell in love with him. Milton was scheduled to ship out of Jacksonville but he was saved by a mishap. He had an impacted wisdom tooth removed by a very inept Navy dentist who tore up his mouth so badly that Milt landed in the infirmary and the ship left without him. In June, he and Edith were married.
As Ray came closer to graduation we tried to make wedding plans. At best we were limited because of his mother’s condition, but then it turned out that Ray was unable to determine whether or not he would get to come home for a wedding. Of course, there was endless discussion and finally we all agreed that Mother and I would fly to Ray and we would be married in the chapel. Daddy was distressed that he couldn’t get away to join us but he understood that we wanted to be married as soon as possible. We had been separated for a long time and knew that Ray would eventually have overseas duty, so we wanted as much time together as possible.
Ray went into the closest town, Vincennes, Indiana and looked for a shop with a Jewish name. He stopped at Fox Drug Store, which belonged to Fanny and Harry Dansker, and asked if they could tell him how to contact a rabbi. When he told them why, they got all excited and insisted that they would give the wedding. Ray said he didn’t think so but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They said it would be a mitzvah for us, as their Jewish community consisted of only 15 families and they did not often have the pleasure of attending a wedding. Ray called me and naturally I said absolutely not. But after he explained and I talked it over with my parents, we agreed to it and Daddy said he would send some baked goods from Jacksonville and provide wine, liquor and whatever was needed.
Graduation was to take place on Thursday, and Mother and I were to leave on the preceding Monday. On Sunday evening the whole family, my aunts and uncles and cousins, gathered to tell us goodbye. Daddy came home from the bakery and announced that he was feeling very sick. We helped him up the steps and into bed and in a few minutes he was dead! Obviously this was a terrible, tragic shock. He was only 48 and had just passed a checkup with flying colors. It was a horrible time for all of our family.
Aunt Lily and her two boys, Monroe and Donald, came to stay with Mother for an extended time after Daddy’s death. Her visit was very helpful and I think it aided in Mother’s adjustment. Aunt Lily and the boys visited often over the years. She spent several winters with them in Miami and would stop here for prolonged visits en route. Both boys were close in age to Irma. Donald was a very mischievous kid, always showing off and a real pest. He used to go to school with Irma and she would cry because his misbehavior embarrassed her. Monroe, on the other hand, was quiet, sedate and bookish. Perhaps he was thinking up the witticisms with which he entertains us now.
Ray did get home about a week later, and on Sunday, November 7, 1943, two weeks after Daddy’s death, we were married. lt was such a sad, pathetic wedding. Rabbi Kaplan performed the ceremony at Ray’s home. Present were Ray’s parents, his sister, Bunny, and her husband, Jay, and Mother and my two sisters. In the next room, Bunny’s 4-month old Warren screamed all through the ceremony while my family wept. It was a nightmare. Afterward the Kleppers’ wonderful maid served a fried chicken dinner, and Ray and I left for a two-day honeymoon in Daytona Beach. Then we departed for Austin, Texas in Daddy’s car, as no one else in the household could drive at the time.
Mother prepared a food packet for us to nibble along the way. She included pickled herring and hard rolls, but she was sure that a refined Reform person wouldn’t touch the smelly stuff. Little did she know that he could hardly wait to dig in. Years later he learned to prepare it himself because he liked it so much and I didn’t prepare it often enough to suit him. He still pickles herring when he can find it in the stores.
Afterward I learned that my uncles were insulted because they had not been invited to our wedding and they assumed that Ray’s relatives had been there. Ray’s relatives, on the other hand, were insulted because we’d invited all of my relatives and left them out. I had enough burdens at the time without assuming guilt for their imaginings and never bothered to explain to anyone, although I suppose Mother must have set my side of the family straight.
For years I brooded over our dismal wedding and to this day I feel a twinge of jealousy when I attend an elaborate wedding. I’ve wondered why I wasn’t entitled to memories of a happy wedding. But I’ve had the best of compensations, a wonderful marriage.
Ray and I were together for exactly a year before he left for Italy. During that time we lived in Austin, in Columbus, Ga., Water Valley, Miss., Alliance, Neb., and Vincennes, Ind. We lived in rented rooms, with or without kitchen privileges. When we learned that we were going to Vincennes, we contacted the Danskers, the people who wanted to give a wedding for us. They found our first apartment, furnished, and adopted us along with all the other Jewish personnel at George Field. They were amazingly kind and generous, wonderful people. When Fanny Dansker passed away a few years ago, Ray flew to her funeral in St Louis. Both of them are gone now.
The first year of our marriage was absolutely idyllic. We loved each other dearly and our love grew deeper as we learned more about each other. We were together almost all of the time. It was almost like being retired. Ray would leave at 4:30 or 5:00 most mornings to put in the required flying time. He was generally home by mid-afternoon and we had no duties or obligations except to each other, no family to answer to. It could have been a wonderful, carefree time except for the threat of war and separation. On our first anniversary he was at his port of embarkation, which was secret, and I was home. He sent me a bottle of French perfume, Worth’s “Je Reviens,” which means, “l will return.” Wasn’t that romantic! It’s still my favorite scent! He also sent me a gold capped Parker fountain pen which I used every single day for over a year to write to him. I still have the pen. Ray wrote to me daily too, and we still have all of those letters – hundreds of them.
So I came back home and joined Mother, Edith and Milt who were now married, and Irma. I helped around the house, helped at the bakery, worked at the hospital and tried to pass the time.
Ray and I were more prosperous at this point than we would be for the next 40 years. Ray earned a good salary as an officer plus a subsistence allowance for his wife, plus extra for longevity in the army, plus flight pay, plus overseas pay. I carefully hoarded this money – I really had nothing to spend it on. In those days all the girls came home to their parents. I didn’t know one girl who did otherwise. The thought of getting an apartment never occurred to any of us. So I carefully saved our money to buy a house after the war, but I had never heard of inflation. After Ray was released from the army it was several years before we could afford a house.
In May, 1945, the war in Europe ended. We were all hysterical with relief. I recall that I cried all of VE Day. I couldn’t stop. Of course we thought all the boys would be coming home pronto, but it didn’t work out that way. Many were shipped from Europe to Asia, where the war raged until August. The army had a point system by which they determined priorities for sending soldiers back to the states. Points were issued for length of time in the service, time served overseas, being married, for each child, for medals, etc. Ray did not return until sometime after our second wedding anniversary.
Meanwhile, back at the home front, Edith delivered Charles on August 24, 1945. Mother and I stayed at the hospital until after the baby was born and then we left. We were so thrilled and excited and it seemed that we should have been doing something special to celebrate but we didn’t know what. So we went to Uncle Abe’s house to share the news and then we went home. Charles became everyone’s darling. We all vied to take care of his needs and he truly brightened our household. He and his brothers still do.
One day there was a call from the overseas operator to tell me that my husband had made an appointment for a transatlantic telephone call and she gave me the date and the hour. She also gave me a list of verboten topics and warned that I would be out off if they came up. Was I excited! Ray had been gone about 8 months by then and I longed to hear his voice. I asked the family to leave the house so I could be alone with him and they politely accommodated me. I was a nervous wreck by the time the phone rang. We had a terrible connection with all kinds of noises and Ray’s voice was very faint. Apparently my voice was also distorted and the conversation was pretty much as follows: “How are you?”…”I can’t hear you!”…”I love you.”…”What did you say?”…”I miss you”…”What!”, and suddenly the operator’s voice came on loud and clear. “Time’s up!” It was a frustrating call but I was grateful for it.
Shortly before he came home Ray was sent to a rest camp in Switzerland. He wrote me that he and other fellows had made recordings, personal messages, to be short-waved to the states on a certain date. He told me to call the local radio station to find out how to tune it in. They couldn’t help me and I missed the broadcast, but I received postcards from ham operators all over the country who had taken down the message for my benefit.
I knew very little of Ray’s activities in the war, only that he was flying to many other countries (17 in all) on varied assignments. Only after he came home did I hear that he had been dropping paratroops, transporting supplies, dropping supplies to partisans, flying and towing gliders, picking up stranded troops, etc. Much of this was dangerous, so it’s just as well that I didn’t know the details at the time.
Well, gradually, the boys came home and took up civilian life again. Ray and I took a lovely vacation in Miami and he returned to work with his father at Hotel China and Glassware Co., in which he was a 50% partner. It was quite difficult to re-establish oneself as a civilian. First all these men had to have jobs. Some people were able to resume their old jobs but many had to adjust to their wives and children, who had become strangers. There was a housing shortage and shortages of everything in a country that had spent 4 years at war. We had to stand in line to buy shirts and sheets and many other necessary but scarce items.
Edith and Milton found a rickety apartment which was actually unsafe, but they stayed for a year or so until they moved to 45th Street. Eric was born exactly 3 days after Charles’ first birthday. He was so tiny and frail that I used to tease that he looked like “unborn baby.” Poor Eric had a hard life. Charles was too young to understand that this interesting creature was a person and he’d poke his fingers in the baby’s eyes and generally treat him like a toy. Once Edith was interrupted by the phone while she was painting a table. When she came back, Charles had painted Eric. lt was a hectic household, especially after Alan joined the group. When Edith’s boys and mine got together, the din was unbearable. All the children were adorable, though, and the kids had a wonderful time together.
Ray and I lucked into a beautiful river-front apartment on Riviera Parkway in Riverside. We had to buy the furniture from the previous tenant to have a chance at it, so we wound up with $300 worth of garbage which we promptly discarded. Many young people paid under the table for places to live. Others lived with their parents until something became available.
When we moved to the Riverside section of Jacksonville, Mother was left alone with Irma in her large house. She and Daddy had purchased a beautiful red brick house on W. 25th Street in the Springfield neighborhood shortly before he died. Business had improved as a result of the war but poor Daddy didn’t get much time to reap the benefits. Anyway, Mother sold the house and rented an apartment just about 3 blocks from Ray and me. Mrs. Rosenkranz and her 2 boys lived across the hall and the two women were good company for each other and got along very well. Mother and Irma lived there until Irma was married. Since Mother had moved from a large home to a small apartment she had a lot of excess furniture which she passed on to Edith and me. I didn’t like it but was happy to have it until we could buy our own. As it turned out, it was more than 20 years before we could replace it. We did buy some living room furniture. Our first purchase was a very fine sofa which has been reupholstered countless times and still stands in our living room, so it’s at least 41 years old.
Scott was born on February 1, 1947, a year to the day after we’d moved into the apartment. And a new chapter in our lives began. He was a beautiful, lively little boy and he lit up our lives. I was very surprised at Ray’s interest in the baby. He was devoted to all of our children and fed, diapered, bathed and fretted over them as well as any mother. In fact, all of our next generation have been the same with their children.
It was nice living so close to Mother. l often walked over to her house with Scott in the stroller and visited there. Mother had been my baby nurse when Scott was born and she stayed with me again when Russell came. Of course she did the same with Edith. By the time Brian was born she no longer felt equal to the job so we hired a nurse. And Irma did the same.
Mother stayed with my children many times while Ray and I went out of town, usually on business trips. One time when Russell was a very young infant there was a bad hurricane while we were gone and she was stuck with two little ones and no electricity for several days. I was fanatic about sterilizing bottles and boiling drinking water but I never asked her how she managed. l didn’t want to know.
Another time Ray and I went to Chicago by car. We called home when we arrived and Mother said the children were cranky and maybe we should come home because it was getting on her nerves. I knew she had to be hiding something so we turned around and drove home. We found Edith in the hospital with a heart problem. She was expecting Alan at the time and her lungs had filled with fluid. She was very sick but somehow she recovered and had a gorgeous platinum blond baby. Ray swears that some Swedish family who used the same hospital is wondering how they got such a Jewish looking kid.
Late in 1947 my uncles had a phone call from their old friend in New York, Koppel Meyer, the one who had led us to Jacksonville. He had seen an ad in the Jewish paper by Irving and Siegmund Raszkin, who were asking their uncles Abe, Samuel, and Sidney Weiss to contact them in Munich. Daddy was gone by then but my uncles answered the ad and brought the two boys and Irving’s wife, Cele, to Jacksonville. On the day they arrived the entire family gathered at Uncle Sidney’s house to welcome them. It must have overwhelmed them but we wanted to be as supportive as possible. Uncle Abe and Uncle Sidney found the newcomers an apartment in Springfield and everyone in the family contributed bedding, kitchenware, all kinds of household equipment, everything we could gather to help them get started.
Siegmund was probably 17 or 18, his brother may have been 27. Siegmund was a very likable boy. Somehow he had learned tailoring and he got a job doing alterations at The Young Men’s Shop. He worked there for the rest of his life. After a while he became a salesman. He was a natty dresser and was probably good at his job. His employer, Louis Moss, was a very nice person and he liked Siegmund and was very kind to him. Irving was a barber and his trade had saved his life as he served as barber to German officers in the concentration camps. As far as I know, none of the three ever spoke much of their experiences. We all wanted to know more about them but we didn’t ask them to recount the horrors. They may have misinterpreted our reluctance as indifference – we’ll never know.
Siegmund married Evelyn, who came from New York City. They had a boy, Steven and a girl, Fay, who now have children of their own. About a year and a half ago, Evelyn Raszkin, Siegmund’s widow, gave me a tape that was made of Siegmund addressing a high school group and telling them of his Holocaust experiences. We were delighted to see how beautifully he told his story. We had never heard that he had been asked to do this, so we were really surprised. Also we finally learned the answers to the questions we’d wondered about for so many years, about his parents’ and his brothers’ fates and what had taken place in their lives.
Our family increased. We had Russell, Edith had Alan, Edith’s health improved, all the babies were well, all of us were in pretty good shape and we were truly happy. On September 21, 1951, our precious, harum-scarum Scott ran in front of a speeding car and changed our lives forever. Ray and I have lived with this loss for 36 years, and the pain never leaves us. I know that the rest of our family and many of our friends have ached with us over the years. It touches us deeply and l we appreciate their empathy.
After Scott’s death in front of our house, I felt that I couldn’t continue to live there. Our kind, good friend, Joe Bloom, expressed his sympathy by offering to build us a new home, and build it he did. He supervised every aspect of the construction, saw to it that we had the best quality materials, and the most qualified workmen. We wound up with a lovely home and we still live here. Joe made this possible and we are eternally grateful to him and love him for his generosity and understanding. While the house was being built we sold our other house and moved to an apartment in Lakewood temporarily. Brian was born on July 29, 1952. l used to tell him that he was my birthday present and he liked that. When he was eleven days old we moved into the new house. The house was not quite complete and it was havoc for a while with workmen, a new baby, a nurse and a three year old, but it all worked out.
Irma started to work for Ray while she was in high school and continued on a fulltime basis, as I recall. She had known Sheldon since childhood; they were in Hebrew school together. Sheldon had also lost his father very early, when he was about 8, I think. He had been ill as a child and also received a lot of familial attention, so I guess they had a lot in common. Sheldon is a sentimental softy, full of love and with a strong sense of duty toward anyone who requires a helping hand. Irma shares his inclinations and between them they have achieved many more mitzvahs than their fair share. Sheldon also has a wry, subtle sense of humor which is very much noted and appreciated by our youngsters.
Irma, like Edith, was a very young bride. She was 19 when she and Sheldon were married on November 16, 1952 in our new home. Twenty-live years later we gave them an anniversary party and placed a large white satin X on the floor to mark the spot where they were married. Ten more years have passed and they celebrated their 35th anniversary with their two children and their spouses.
After Irma and Sheldon were married they moved, first to Tampa and then to Orlando for a time, and then finally back to Jacksonville. With Irma gone, Mother was left alone and became very depressed and miserable. She moved from her apartment to a small garage apartment a few blocks from where Ray and I lived. She wouldn’t have a phone or go anywhere although she was very lonely. She made a series of unhappy moves and we began to be concerned about her health. So Ray and I invited her to move in with us. She flatly refused but we insisted and finally wore her down. So she came to live with us.
After Daddy’s death, Mother stayed on in the bakery but eventually Uncle Abe made a settlement with her and took over her share of the bakery business. After that she worked intermittently on an assortment of part time jobs, mostly bookkeeping. Eventually she was hired by her dear friends, the Davids, to work at the Silk Shop. She did this for years and enjoyed the stimulation as well as the income.
Mother was very helpful to me in the early years of her living in our home. She rarely went out in the evenings so we had a live-in babysitter. We were the only couple among our group of friends who were free to go out in the evenings. She did some of the cooking and it all worked out fine. Several years later, when she was 60, she had a heart attack which changed her lifestyle a lot. She was quite restricted in her activities and eventually the doctor decided that she must give up working. I always regarded that as a mistake because the job was so undemanding and it gave her a reason to get up and out.
Over the years she had a lot of illness and surgery. Right after our arrival in Jacksonville she’d had a partial hysterectomy and shortly after Daddy’s death she had a complete hysterectomy. Which reminds me of a typical “Anna Weiss” incident. Ray was stationed in Nebraska during the war and of course many letters flew back and forth between us and our families. One day I remarked to Ray that things must really be dull at home because I had received a series of the emptiest letters from Mother. A few days later Ray got an unexpected leave and we drove home. Il was a long drive in those days of limited speed and inferior roads. When we arrived, no one was home. So I called Uncle Abe and he told me that Mother had had surgery and was in the hospital. It turned out that she had written us a series of post-dated letters so that we would not suspect that anything was amiss. She had the operation and developed such serious complications that her survival was in question. Aunt Lily had come to be with her and the whole family insisted that I should be notified but Mother wouldn’t permit it. She meant well, of course. She felt that I had experienced a lot of upheaval and she didn’t want to add to it. When I walked into her hospital room she literally fell apart.
After Mother’s heart attack, I was afraid to let her do anything around the house. She wasn’t pleased about this, but I was concerned that any exertion might have ill consequences. This caused some unpleasantness from time to time. Years later the Jacksonville Jewish community erected a high rise apartment building, Mt. Carmel Gardens, for the needs of the elderly. Many of Mother’s friends moved there and enjoyed it. When her two closest friends, Adele Rosenkranz and Pearl Moss, moved there and started telling her about the planned activities and other advantages there, she decided that she might like it, too. I didn’t blame her. While our children had brightened her life considerably, they were now gone from home. Ray and I were on the go a lot and she was often left in the evenings with no companionship. In a place like Mt. Carmel, one needs only to step outside of one’s apartment to have a social life. But I had many misgivings about her health. Even with assistance from Edith, Irma and me, she would have a certain amount of housekeeping, cooking, shopping, etc., and I didn’t think she had the stamina for it. Well, she lived at Mt. Carmel for the next 10 years, stayed active and enjoyed her independence. Her worst problem was her failing eyesight which in time became very serious.
In 1961 the whole family was surprised when Edith and Milton announced that they were adopting a baby boy. And we were very upset to learn that he was a “blue baby,” meaning that his heart and arterial system were defective and he was unable to receive sufficient oxygen. Randy was a beautiful infant, platinum blond and blue-eyed and very endearing. He looked enough like Alan at that time to be his blood brother. He was a pathetic baby as even bending to pick up a toy caused him to gasp for breath.
l was very fearful that the older brothers might resent this new family member but I’m happy to admit that I couldn’t have been more mistaken! They adored him and pampered him all of his life. Randy was a sweet natured child and we all loved him. Our hearts ached for this terribly ill little fellow who took it all with a smile, patience and incredible courage. When he was 3, Randy had open heart surgery at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. It was a very new and untried procedure at that time. Even at the age of 3, Randy was unbearably stoic.
The doctors did all they knew how to do and he improved noticeably, but as his body grew he still lacked enough oxygen. When he was eight he went to Houston to the famous cardiac surgeon, Dr. Denton Cooley, who operated then and twice more in later years. The last time Randy didn’t make it. His doctors had been brutally frank with him in December, 1976. His condition had deteriorated so that he was headed for a stroke and only surgery could help. For once Randy rebelled and raged at what he knew was inevitable. A rabbi at the hospital calmed him somehow and he went home to wait for surgery in April. He asked his parents not to tell the family so that we wouldn’t worry, and before he left in April for his “check-up,” he came by to tell us goodbye.
Randy had been a sadly lonely child – healthy children are not usually considerate of chronically ill peers – but in the last year or so of his life he became involved in Temple Youth Group, was very popular with the kids and loved it. We were amazed that not one of his friends knew that he had an ailment. He had never mentioned it to them because he wanted to be on equal footing. Accepting his death, which we had always known was coming, was very difficult, but knowing the bravery with which he had faced it was shattering. Even now, ten years later, the thought of it cracks me up. He was 17.
In 1967, the first of our next generation, Charles, was married. He was attending the University of Arkansas at the time, and Eleanor, his Jamaican bride, joined him there. After graduation, the U.S. Army beckoned and on March 11, 1971, in Ocala, where Charles was stationed, Rochelle and Rebecca made their appearance, not necessarily in that order. We were delighted with them. Babies are always fun and twins are even more so.
They were still babies when Charles went to Viet Nam, a very scary time for all of us. Happily, Charles returned in due time and then Eric went. I know that both boys had very difficult times in Viet Nam, but I’ve never heard either of them talk about it. I consider that one of the luckiest things in my life has been that my boys did not have to go.
Russell and Brian always loved going to the Berman’s to spend the night or the weekend. All the kids got along well together and my boys always regarded a visit as a treat. Irma’s children were younger, but Craig and Gail spent a lot of time at our house and Craig and Brian are still close. All of the boys seem to be fond of each other and to enjoy family gatherings. My sisters and I derive great pleasure from this, and it pleased Mother very much as well. I haven’t written much about my children in this history, mainly because anyone who reads this knows all about them. They are achievers, as most of their generation in the family are. They’ve given us a ration of aggravation, but they’ve given us a very large portion of pride as well.
My mother often mentioned that she was very fortunate in her daughters’ choices of husbands. They all treated her with affection, respect and consideration, which she truly appreciated. Mother lived in our home for 19 years and never once did Ray raise an objection or hint at any annoyance or resentment. There must be awkward times in any household and we were no exception. Mother and I had our share of disagreements and arguments but not once did Ray enter into any of them in any way. As far as he was concerned she was welcome in every sense of the word, sick or well, and he always approached her with utmost kindness. He was actually quite often nicer to her than I was. Milton and Sheldon also were affectionate and concerned at all times and Mother basked in their attention. It seems to me that it’s quite unusual for a mother to be so satisfied with her sons-in-law but Mother was and often expressed her feelings in the matter. All three of our husbands had financial struggles which must have caused her considerable chagrin, but she was never critical. Rather, she was supportive and encouraging with each of us. I’m pleased that she lived long enough to know that all of us overcame our many problems. She took great joy in our pleasant homes, our travels, and just knowing that we had attained a good degree of security. She was delighted that we had access to material things she had never had and she was very grateful to our husbands for making all this possible.
l have told this family story at Brian’s request and with his encouragement. I’ve told it all as I remember it. Some of you may remember it a bit differently and you may be right. But I have the advantage of having been around considerably longer than most. When Mother passed away in 1984, Edith’s maid of long standing, Juanita, remarked “Miz Doris is Big Mama now!” As Big Mama, I have the oldest memories in our branch of the family and I’m pleased to share them with other family members who might be interested in the past. I’ve written what I can recollect, and while I remember best what involved me, I hope l’ve filled in a few gaps or at least stirred your curiosity a bit. Love to you all.
Doris Weiss Klepper