Friday, January 2, 2009

March 21, 1930 - New York City


March 21, 1930


Isn't it funny, just about when the time
was approaching to cease work a heated argument
started between Mrs. Surdut 1and one of the cutters,
the entire place was in uproar.

It was my lot to settle the argument
between the two but I did it even if it took me an
hour to do so thereby avoiding a crisis at the place.

It just had to occur at a time when I was
so anxious to talk to you, and when I finally had
time to call you up a mans voice informed me
that you were gone.

I missed your sweet voice so much,
but I will with the Lord's help have the pleasure
to listen to it tomorrow after you'll have read these lines.

It is 7:50 P.M. now I am at the store
and already registered job #1. I hope there will be
many more before I leave tonight.

Auf Wiedersehn Sweetheart

Your Harry


In recognition for settling the argument
Mr. Surdut told me a nice little joke, it was
the first time in a long while that he was in good
humor. Please pardon the hurry up scribble.


Matt’s Notes

1 - Mr. and Mrs. Surdut, owners of the Lion Costume Company and Papa’s employers, have appeared regularly throughout Papa’s diary and letters. They had taken an interest in Papa as early as 1924, inviting him to their home for holiday dinners, giving him sales work on the side, setting him up with women, and, in Mr. Surdut’s case, traveling with him to Zionist conferences. (Mr. Surdut may have been a member of Order Sons of Zion, a.k.a. B’nai Zion, the Zionist fraternal order to which Papa belonged.)

I have speculated before that Mr. Surdut was a sort a father figure to Papa and may have eventually placed Papa in a position of authority at Lion Costume, which could be why it fell to Papa (who was also a union activist) to resolve a dispute between Mrs. Surdut and a worker.

2 - I think Papa often worked into the evening at Lion Costume, but I’m not sure what “it is 7:50 P.M. now I am at the store and already registered job #1” could mean. Was he working the sales floor for some kind of pre-Spring seasonal push or trade event that featured lots of nighttime buying and selling? (Such pressure might account for flaring tempers at the shop.)

Then again, Papa’s shorthand term for Lion Costume was usually “the place” and not “the store,” so “the store” might have been a different establishment where, eager to make some extra money and prove his viability as a husband, he did piece work after hours. Papa also hoped to buy a dress store in partnership with my grandmother (provided she finally married him). Could this have been “the store” he meant? Was he working there in preparation for taking it over?

3 - Papa wrote this letter in March of 1930 when the Great Depression was gathering steam, so I’m sure purveyors of ladies’ dresses like Mr. Surdut had little to keep them “in good humor” at this time. Things must have been troubling indeed if the “nice little joke” Surdut told Papa “in recognition for settling the argument” (I expect it was a casual quip and not a self-contained knock-knock joke or the like) seemed so important. Perhaps Papa’s own worries about the the economy, and his need to reassure my grandmother of his ability to provide for her, made his employer’s rare lighthearted moment seem particularly welcome and worth reporting.

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