Friday, March 21, 2008

August 1, 1926 - Brooklyn

[Note: To see large scans of Papa's letter, click the thumbnail images on the right of this page.]


New York Aug 1. 1926

My dear Jeanie. --

I was really so dissappointed
when the guard wouldn't let me
through the gate to the station
platform, which kept me from bidding
your farewell in my way. --1

I called up Rose this afternoon
she says that Herold is feeling
better but he is a little hoarse.

Nothing new has occurred in the
few hours since you left this village.2

I already feel a little lonesome
since I know that you are over a
hundred miles away from [heart] street3
and I cannot see you when I want to.
(I always want to see you)



I am anxiously awaiting mail
from you, telling me how the effect was
of the change of environment, the kind
of fun you're having,4 how mother is.

I consider myself so intimate to you
having your best interests at heart,
that every bit of good news from you
will make me so much happier.

I shall write to you every day
and if there should be any news
I shall report to you like a faithful
reporter to his boss.

With kindest regards to your

I am as ever




Regards to Mrs. S. and to Gertie if you see her.


Matt's Notes

1 - Papa wrote his previous set of letters to my grandmother from Buffalo, where he attended a Zionist Organization of America conference in late June. Now it was August and it was my grandmother's turn to leave New York for her regular summer trip to the country.

Papa's disappointment over not seeing her off at the train platform in his "own way" may have reflected a greater anxiety about her destination. The Lakeside Inn was located in Ferndale, New York, also home to Grossinger's, the ultra-popular Catskill Mountain Jewish resort. The previous summer, my grandmother had vacationed at her cousin's farm in Connecticut, and even though Papa visited and kept tabs on her, he still imagined her surrounded by suitors. ("You are bound to have a lot of fun," he wrote, and expected she would "find the country hicks regular sheiks beating old Harry".) With my grandmother now headed off to the very epicenter of the Borcht Belt social scene (the Lakeside Inn was in such close orbit to Grossinger's that Grossinger's purchased it for employee housing in the 1950's) terrible thoughts of her inevitable participation in singles dances, poolside flirtations and campfire snuggling must have driven Papa to distraction.

Perhaps an unwanted goodbye at the train station held other associations for him, too. I cannot help but remember the passage in Papa's 1924 diary, written in the wake of his father's death, in which he describes his departure for America from his home town of Sniatyn:

A beautiful Spring night at the
foot of the hill where my hometown
Sniatyn lies, at the Railroad station
early in June 1913, my father went
to bid me farewell on my long Journey
to America.

The train is waiting, a long
embrace a kiss, tears streaming
down from his eyes,

Did he have a premonition that
we would see each other no more?

The train is moving out slowly
and by the light of the moon I
could see through the window in the
distance my father weeping
and wiping his tears.

This incident may have happened in 1913, but Papa still felt its full force when he wrote about it in 1924. Is it unreasonable to think that such a powerful, lasting memory subsequently shadowed moments of departure, difficult farewells, and last looks at train stations throughout his young life? In 1913, the Sniatyn train station was where his boyhood ended, where he suddenly lost a world he would long for but never recapture. In 1926, did he think he'd witnessed, at Grand Central Station, the loss of a future he'd hoped for but might never know?

2 - I know Papa means to be ironic and playful here when he refers to New York as a "village", but I wonder, in the same vein as the above note, if he unknowingly chose the word because he had his village of Sniatyn on his mind.

3 - Then again, though I believe I'm on to something with the above notes and I do think Papa was genuinely worried about my grandmother's trip to Ferndale, I don't mean to say he was overtly depressed when he wrote this letter. In fact, I think he was in a playful mood, hence his boyish urge to write "Hart Street," where my grandmother lived, in this way:

While we're looking at a closeup of Papa's writing, it's worth pointing out that he wrote this letter on a heretofore unseen type of blue-gray paper densely lined with blue fibers. The sheet is about 10 1/2 by 6 1/2. Papa folded it in half on the vertical and wrote on the front and inside right pages, greeting-card style, after which he folded it horizontally to fit it into a matching envelope.

And speaking of the envelope, the back of it has what seems to be the remnants of a long-ago Yiddish penmanship lesson. The word "Jeanie" (my grandmother's name) written in childish English handwriting, runs along the middle left of the envelope flap and the Yiddish transliteration of the word -- "Djean" -- runs along the right side between two hand-drawn horizontal guidelines in what appears to be Papa's Yiddish hand.

It looks to me like a child got hold of this envelope after it was in my grandmother's possession and, while playing with a messy fountain pen, wrote "Jeanie" on it. Perhaps Papa saw our youthful scribe in action and decided to show him or her how to write the same word in Yiddish. Who was the child, though? Was it my mother? Was it one of my grandmother's nieces or nephews? Maybe it was little "Herold", the son of my grandmother's sister Rose, whose name appears in this letter.

4 - When Papa asks what "kinds of fun" my grandmother was having, it betrayed, I think, a bit of his anxiousness over the way she was spending her time in Ferndale. As noted above, in a letter from the previous summer he had nervously joked about what a "lot of fun" she would have with the "sheiks" in the country. Now he can't help but start worrying about the same thing right away; remember, he wrote this letter while she was still on the train and therefore technically incapable of having had any fun yet in Ferndale. She probably wouldn't have had any fun by the time she received the letter, either. (Nor, for that matter, did she seem to have any fun in the 75 years after she received the letter.) I think Papa was headed for a worrisome few weeks.



  • The fate of the Lakeside Inn gets a mention in Phil Brown's In the Catskills: A Century of Jewish Experience in "The Mountains" (via Google Books).

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