Thursday, October 2, 2008

January 20, 1930 - New York City



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Monday 4:30 P.M.

Dearest: -

This is the only paper that I
have on hand so you will have
to excuse me. 1

I have spent all day serving
on two cases and being empaneled
on a third one,

It looks like I'll have to lose
full days while serving on
the jury.

Out of 150 people trying to
get exempted only 2 succeeded
the others including myself
will have to stick through the
2 weeks.

I will have to take advantage
of my evenings to make up for
part of my lost time. 2

As far as the "Roseland" is
concerned they won't be ready
to start for another week and
when they do its full swing it
will be at the end of this month. 3

In case I'm a little late tomorrow
night at Rose's, know that only urgent
work at the store can detain me.

As you will note by the enclosed
everything is attended. 4

Everything being O.K. I am as ever

Your Loving

Harry.


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Matt’s Notes

1 - Papa wrote this letter on a torn strip of paper, the other side of which bears the letterhead from “THE LAW OFFICES OF HARRY GRAYER” at 44 Court Street in Brooklyn, New York.



I’m not sure why Papa was still carrying a letter dated November 20, 1929 as late as January 20, 1930, but its importance obviously did not supersede his need to write my grandmother a report on his jury duty status. This leads me to think...

2 - ...we should, at this point, pause to discuss why Papa was writing to my grandmother at all in 1930. Remember, when he wrote his last letter in September of 1929, it was to beg my grandmother not to throw him over, after five years of intense courtship, for another suitor. He was frustrated, angry and sure his dream of transforming his life through partnership with my grandmother was about to dissolve. Yet here he was, just four months later, sending my grandmother a casually scribbled, familiar note to tell her he might be late for dinner at her sister Rose’s house. So what’s going on here?

As the family story has it, my great-grandfather, Samuel Pollack, died unexpectedly and relatively young in late 1929 or early 1930. He had been successful in business, counting at least one factory and an array of Brighton Beach properties among his assets. Unfortunately for his family, his wealth was tied up in a byzantine system of debts and credits that he had not yet, at the time of his early death, started to explain to anyone. My grandmother and her brother, Bob, tried to decipher his books, but it wasn’t long before they’d sold off everything and could no longer count themselves among the wealthy.

It was during this time that my grandmother, convinced of Papa’s good character and stability, announced her decision to marry him. Some members of her family objected, citing her father's feelings about Papa (remember, her father introduced Papa to my grandmother’s less desirable sister, Sally, for matrimonial purposes and was dismayed when Papa fell for my grandmother instead) and tried to change her mind. As my grandmother used to say, though, she would not be dissuaded because she knew that Papa would “take care” of her.

The psychologist in me shouts "aha!" to see how my grandmother, faced with the loss of her real father, chose an older, paternal figure like Papa to fill the role of protector and provider. The death of a parent can lead to such decisions. In fact, we've seen it before in the course of Papa's Diary Project: For emotional reasons I have previously discussed in detail, Papa had real trouble accepting America as his home until his father, who was back in the old country, died in 1924. After that, Papa seemed to realize he wasn’t going home again, and he became single-mindedly compelled to start a family of his own. (Ironically, this single-mindedness led to his exclusive commitment to my grandmother, who kept him in limbo for six more years.)

What should we make of Papa and my grandmother's courtship, triggered as it was by the death of one father and resolved years later by the death of another? Is it sad, or odd, or more typical than we think?

3 - Though the famed Roseland Ballroom was in operation in 1930, Papa probably wasn’t referring to it here when he wrote about “the Roseland.” It was more likely a dress store he’d hoped to buy and run with my grandmother (Papa mentioned in his last letter his dream of marrying my grandmother and building a retail empire with her) though, according to my mother, my grandmother “chickened out” after they’d put a deposit on it.

4 -This letter contains a Brooklyn Edison Company electric bill that Papa must have paid for my grandmother while he was on jury duty.



The bill is addressed to my grandmother’s family’s home at 226 Hart Street, but it’s in her name. It shows a charge of $2.17 for the December-January billing period and an arrears charge of $2.22 for the previous month. It’s pretty clear, then, that at this point she’d lost her father and was having trouble managing his business affairs.

If you’re interested in such artifacts, the back of this bill contains an especially intriguing marketing message designed to get Brooklyn Edison customers to use more electricity:



Here it is transcribed:

MODERN AIDS TO COMFORT
ELECTRIC HOME APPLIANCES REMOVE DRUDGERY FROM THOUSANDS OF
BROOKLYN HOMES
TOASTERS - PERCOLATORS - TABLE STOVES - COOKERS
WAFFLE IRONS - FANS - VACUUM CLEANERS - WASHING AND IRONING
MACHINES - REFRIGERATORS - IRONS
PORTABLE LAMPS - MAZDA LAMPS
ON DEMONSTRATION AND SALE AT ALL DISTRICT OFFICES
OR A REPRESENTATIVE WILL BE GLAD TO CALL AT YOUR REQUEST
LIBERAL TIME PAYMENTS ARRANGED

Perhaps this is an appropriate way to begin 1930 and, as it happens, our final set of Papa's letters. At long last, Papa has officially started caring for my grandmother and entered the world of electric bills, Mazda lamps, and dinner at his soon-to-be sister-in-law's. In a way, this mundane bit of domestic correspondence could be the most satisfying letter he had yet sent.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, what I'd give for an electric bill like that!

    I've commented before, that *I* don't know who saved those letters from Papa. I can understand his keeping is journals himself, but he didn't have the letters after he sent them, meaning it was your grandmother who must have saved them.

    With one thing and another, there could easily have been some that she discarded, intentionally or not. I can't believe that such a faithful correspondent would have stopped writing, unless by that time he was seeing her every day.

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