Tuesday, January 8, 2008

More on Sally's Letter

There were four pages of letters in yesterday's post, so I want to make sure the letter my grandmother's sister, Sally, wrote at Papa's request doesn't get lost in the shuffle. My grandmother, as we'll recall, had just gone up to Columbia, Connecticut for some kind of spring retreat, and here's what Sally had to say:

Just a few lines to let
you know how nice & quiet it is
since you went away believe me
kid, it's a pleasure. The Throop
Ave. Chaazin & his wife are over
the house now & we are all drinking
tea. I just can't wait to go to
bed as I will have the whole place
for myself.

Take care of yourself &get fat
as it costs money.
I am not any to anxious to
write but being that Mr. Sheurman
asked me to write it don't look
nice to refuse.

Hmmm. Not exactly a warm outpouring of sisterly affection, though Papa wasn't totally inaccurate when he wrote that Sally was "overjoyed to hear of [my grandmother's] safe arrival" in Connecticut -- she would have been glad to hear of my grandmother's arrival anywhere, as long as it was nowhere near Brooklyn. My grandmother always claimed that Sally tried to kill her in the crib by stuffing toilet paper down her throat, and while this claim might score an 8.5 on the Freud-O-Meter for its conflation of scatology, infanticide and sibling rivalry, it also might be true if Sally's letter is any gauge of her hostility.

I don't think Papa's presence did a lot to improve Sally's attitude toward my grandmother, either. As the story goes, Papa was originally introduced to Sally for matrimonial purposes, but in the regular course of meeting her family fell instantly and completely in love with my grandmother. My grandmother was eighteen at the time and in no hurry to marry a man who was twelve years her senior, but Papa declared that he would wait for as long as he had to for her to come 'round to loving him. (Sally watched all this happen and, no doubt, dreamed of a world in which toilet paper came in larger, deadlier rolls.)

Papa's vow to wait for my grandmother indefinitely was rather remarkable, despite what Sally might have thought, but not out of character for a young man who so passionately believed in romance, who enjoyed feeling thunderstruck, and didn't mind a little soulful pining here and there. At some point in early 1925, my grandmother's father, Samuel Pollack, asked Papa to reconsider Sally (who also went by the nickname Sadie). Papa's answer is near-legendary, and often quoted, on my mother's side of the family: "Sadie is a wonderful woman, but don't I have a heart? My heart knows what it wants." He meant it sincerely, and held on for five more years until my grandmother agreed to marry him.


Update 1/10

My mother has consulted with our cousin Shirley, who was a flower girl at Papa's wedding and also happens to know everything there is to know on Earth, and learned that Columbia, Connecticut was the post office address of the farm owned by my great-grandmother's cousin in Chesterfield, Connecticut. My grandmother, her sisters and especially her sickly brother used to go up there frequently to take in the country air. One of my aunts once described the farm's milk as "so fresh that hair from the cows' tail was still in it," so I assume she only drank it once.

A couple of other details: the letter Papa forwarded to my grandmother was from her cousin, Irving Bernstein, the child of one of my great-grandmother's two sisters who lived in Toronto, Canada. The "Throop Ave. Chaazin" may refer to a cantor (chazin) who lived on Throop Avenue in Brooklyn, though we can't be sure.

I've digressed a bit here to talk about my grandmother's family, but I think it's worth noting that they were well-established in North America and, in the case of my grandmother's immediate family, relatively well-to-do. Papa, of course, was not, and the question of whether he was worthy of my grandmother would remain a significant consideration throughout their long courtship.


  1. "Don't I have a heart?" Could there be a more perfect way to sum up Papa and his romanticism?

  2. Oy! It happens again (or did). After fory years, who remembers that my husband (also a Harry) met my sister first? (He is, incidentally, twelve years older.)

  3. Your web site is outstanding!

    Here is the url to the blog from the Archives of the Sandusky Library, if you would like to take a look: