Wednesday, April 9, 2008

August 5, 1926 - Brooklyn

[Note: Papa wrote two letters in a half-hour span on this day, so I've posted them both here.]


August 5, 1926

8 P.M.

My dear Jeanie:

Sally just told me that you were not
feeling well which made me worry.
Please dear be careful as you are
not accustomed to the foods they serve.1
There is nothing new at home, everyone
in the family is enjoying good health.
Sally made supper tonight for dad.2

I would enjoy immensely to hear
from you in detail of how you are
spending in the country. Won't you dear
spare a few minutes and write me a
nice long letter.

I regret that to my dissappointment
your dress is not in yet, write me whether
I should mail it to you if I should get
it before Monday. --

Today the city was able to catch its
breath in the soothing breezes that came
rather unexpectedly.3

Remember dear that my thoughts now
are of you only, it would perhaps be selfishness
on my part to ask you to write me daily
but please keep me informed often enough
during your brief stay there of your welfare,

Loving regards to Mother.

Your Harry


August 5, 1926

8:30 P.M.

My dear Jeanie:

5 Minutes after I mailed to
you the letter my next door neighbor
brought in your letter where you
inform me of your sickness which
alarmed me greatly and causes
me much worry.

I am sending you the stamp
which I have at the house now
I will send you some more.4

I pray that your health be
quickly restored.

I tried to call Rose and tell her
to write to you, but there was nobody
at home.

Trusting to hear of your
well being,

I am as ever

Your Harry


Matt's Notes

1 - The Jewish resort region in the Catskills had a lot of nicknames, but "Borscht Belt", the most time-tested and definitive, is clearly the most fitting because it makes a reference to food. People like my grandmother may have fanned out across the area each summer to breathe the air, make romance, and enjoy the region's soon-to-be eponymous entertainment genre, but they were also there to eat huge quantities of kosher cuisine.

Hotel menus from the Borscht Belt's golden age offered a Greek diner's worth of choices at every meal, and guests at most hotels could sample as many and as much as they could handle. Borscht was ubiquitous, of course (and always served with a potato, according to my mother) but any hotel kitchen worth its salt offered, in addition to traditional Jewish fare, "Continental" dishes with names fancied up by French-sounding suffixes. Like many Yiddish words, "Borscht" seems like the punch line to a joke that's never been told yet everyone knows; taken together, a listing of Borscht Belt menu items has, I think, a similar effect:

  • Baked or Fried Herring with Potato
  • Heart's Delight Prune Juice
  • Cream of Sun Ripened Tomatoes
  • Cold Shav (a sour, sorrel drink, rooted like Borscht in Eastern Europe)
  • Plain or Omelette Confiture
  • Fresh Mushroom Pie Jardiniere
  • Spaghetti Italienne
  • Cheese Blintzes, Sour Cream
  • Cauliflower Polonaise
  • Fillet of Matzes Herring in Wine Sauce
  • Cantonese Style Vegetable Chow Mein
  • Gefilte Fish Balls, Mother's Style, Casserole
  • Individual Greek Salad, Herring Tidbits (Jewish style "Greek" salad had a foundation of greens, olives, onions and herring; my mother tells me that Papa liked to order it for lunch at Garment District eateries)
  • Fluffy Plain or Jelly Omelette, Garniture
  • Heavy Sour Cream with fruit
And that's just breakfast and lunch. For dinner, my grandmother might have had liver steak with onions, a nice stuffed chicken, boiled beef flanken (a.k.a. short ribs), brisket, corned beef, steak, chopped egg salad, pickles, Linzer torte, sponge cake, and perhaps a little pudding. Though my grandmother was conditioned to such stuff due to my great-grandmother's mastery of fatty cooking, Papa's letter implies that the onslaught in the Lakeside Inn's dining room had caused her some kind of gastrointestinal distress.

2 - My grandmother may have been vomiting her brains out, but it was still important for her to know that her father eating properly. (My great-grandmother was vacationing with my grandmother at this time, and, as we've learned, my great-grandfather often went out to eat under such circumstances.)

3 - As Papa noted in a previous letter, New York had been in the grip of a deadly heat wave for several days.

4 - In his last letter to my grandmother, Papa displayed some frustration with her continued indifference to his romantic overtures, and in previous letters showed how worried he was about her finding new boyfriends on her vacation. The two letters above are, I think, the most overtly anxious he's written, not just because they discuss my grandmother's illness but because Papa reveals how badly he wants to know how she's spending her time, and with whom. His requests for letters sound more like pleas than usual, and when she writes him with news about her illness his first reaction is to send her a stamp so she can write again. That's not to say he wasn't really concerned about her health, but his concern over losing her seems to be the real subject of this letter.


I'm not sure why I've had trouble finding photos of the Lakeside Inn until now, but at last the Internets have coughed up a couple. One appears on page 78 of a book called Catskill Hotels, by Irwin Richman, and is viewable here through Google Books. The other, shown below, comes from a site called "The Catskills Institute," and shows the Inn's "Pool, Sun Deck and Patio."

Hopefully my grandmother got to spend at least a little time there between bouts of whatever symptoms her illness caused.


Additional References:

  • A number of Borscht Belt menus appear in the book Catskill Culture: A Mountain Rat's Memories of the Great Jewish Resort Area by Paul Brown.


  1. I thank you for the references to Ferndale. My only knowledge of it up to now was a photo of a little girl with the word Ferndale and a date on the back. The photo looks a lot like one of my daughters and I know the child was related to my husband, but there's no one who can tell me more.

  2. I love your diary project-- how cool! I'm sure that your grandfather would be very proud and thrilled that you're doing this.

    Now your great, grand grandkids (and everyone else) can share in decades-old experiences. I wish my family had more memoirs, letters, and such to share. I look forward to reading more and more.