When I was a boy, living in Asbury Park, we'd pile in the car every third Sunday or so, and drive up to Newark for a family gathering at Grandpa and Grandma Davis' place. "We" was my parents, my sister and I. It took about two hours to go approximately 50 miles. This was long before the Garden State Parkway was built. The first part of the trip was right along the ocean, north to Atlantic Highlands. There was a bluff there where we could stop the car and see New York City to the north. Later on, we'd get onto the main road, US1, and get into the metropolitan area. We'd pass by all the oil refineries and also by the Rahway State reformatory. Gasoline cost about 14 cents a gallon. My father would stop for gas, telling the attendant, "Gimme a dollar's worth!"
We'd get to my grandparents' home in time for a big lunch. Their home was at 69 Mapes Avenue, in the south part of Newark. This was a neighborhood of narrow houses, all very close to each other. 69 Mapes Avenue was a three-story house, with a different family living on each floor. I never found out who lived on the first floor. My grandparents lived on the second. There was a side door halfway down the driveway that led into a stairwell. We'd go up to the second floor and exit the stairwell into my grandparents' place. My Aunt Mitzi and her husband, Bob Kirsch, lived on the third floor. Both apartments were laid out the same, with an open balcony/porch in the front and then, rooms in a row going to the back of the house; living room, dining room, kitchen. The bedroom was off to a side.
Mitzi and Bob had a parakeet in a cage on the balcony. I liked it, but never got to have one of my own until I was grown up and married.
There was a piano in my grandparents' living room and Mitzi would play and almost everybody else would sing, dance and act silly.
"Everybody else" was my Uncle Izzy, his wife Emmy and my cousin Lenny, my Uncle Harold, his wife Edith and cousins Richard and Marian. Eventually, Mitzi had children Susan and Michael too.
I'll tell you a little bit about them, starting with Grandpa.
Grandpa was a little, spry man with a full head of gray hair. He was extremely animated and excited much of the time. He was always happy to see us when we came to visit, and wanted to talk about anything and everything.
The thing I remember the most was when he told me how he ran away from home (in Russia) when he was 15 years old. The reason he did this, he said, was that he didn't want to live in a country where soldiers hit people.
"Then what did you do?" I asked.
He told me that he walked across Europe and got on a boat in Le Havre. When the boat got to Ellis Island, he was asked a bunch of questions. He knew little English so he just said "yes" to everything. Finally, the immigration man asked Grandpa his name. His first name was "Jascha". His last name was something I couldn't pronounce, something like "Shargorupsky". He said it meant that his family had come from a town called "Gorup". The immigration man told him that, from now on, his name was Robert Roy Davis, and so it was. Of course, friends and family still called him Jascha or "Yosh". We grandchildren thought it was funny to call him "Railroad Davis". Sometimes we also called him "Rob Roy".
Whenever Grandpa told of his experiences as a boy in Russia, he talked about his life in Odessa. Apparently, his family owned a store, perhaps a hat store, but I'm not sure.
One time, when he was telling me about the store, he stopped and told me that there was one very important thing I should know. That got my attention. He said "Never do business with a Turk". There was no elaboration given on this. To the best of my knowledge, I have not done that to this day.
Purportedly, Grandpa and Grandma Davis lived near each other as youths in Russia, and somehow met in the US and eventually got married, but I never heard any details on that.
One time, he took me all alone into the basement of 69 Mapes Avenue. He told me I was a good boy, and he wanted to show me a secret, and that I shouldn't tell anybody. Way in the back part of the basement, he reached up to the ceiling, reached into a little hole, and took out some gold. At least, he said it was gold. It was gold in color, and it looked like metal. But he put it back before I got a chance to hold it or examine it.
I didn't say anything about this to anyone until years after his death, and long after the Davis family had left the house at 69 Mapes Avenue. I still wonder if it was really gold, and, if so, how much, and whether it's still there.
During World War II, Grandpa lied about his age and got a job in a factory. I don't know what he did there or what the factory made, but it had to do with the war effort, and it was Grandpa's way of being patriotic. I know he loved this country and, I presume, for one thing, because soldiers didn't hit people here.
Later on, when he was probably over seventy, he got a job as a ticket taker in a movie theatre. I think he lied about his age then too. He could get away with it. He never looked or acted his age.
Grandma Davis was the calm, compassionate, and efficient partner. From my parents and Aunts and Uncles I got the impression that Grandpa, charming as he was, was also somewhat irresponsible, impulsive and apt to go off on ridiculous adventures. They were never specific as to what these were, although, apparently, he would sometimes be away from home for long periods of time. It was said that Grandma was the stabilizing element and the primary influence on the children. I think Grandma and Grandpa Davis had a store, again, maybe a hat store, but I'm not sure.
Grandma's first name was Sophia, and from the pictures I saw, she was once a lovely, dark-haired young lady.
From my perspective, though, her main function was to cook and serve the food at the family get-togethers. Often, the meal included kreplach soup and turkey. The soup came first, and the three sons, Dave (my father), Izzy and Harold would constantly demand more.
"Mom, this is all soup and no kreplach. Give me more kreplach", or "Mom, this is all kreplach and it is so dry. Give me more soup!"
They would argue too when the turkey came.
"How come Harold always gets the pupik?" I don't know how to spell this, but it is the rear part of the turkey. It never looked to me like something you would want to eat.
Nevertheless, these meals were great, and I always looked forward to them.
In general, I will discuss my immediate family only in passing, i.e. where they appear in anecdotes about others, or where I'm reminded of anecdotes about them as I go along. An extensive recollection of immediate family stories would be too large an undertaking to attempt.
My father was the oldest of four children. He was born about 1895 and was a year or so older than Izzy (formally - Isadore). Izzy lived to 100 years old. Like my father, he was a lawyer, and practiced for many, many years in Newark. I think he worked mainly on title searches, and was therefore able to spend must of his time walking all over the place. I don't believe he ever drove a car. He chain-smoked cigars and wherever he was living, the cigar smell was overpowering.
One time, I was told, he didn't show up at home after work, and, of course, his wife, Emmy, was very upset and everyone was calling police, hospitals and so forth trying to locate him. He was missing most of the night and eventually walked in the front door as though nothing unusual had happened. When asked where he was, he said, "I took a walk". When asked where to, he said "Perth Amboy". That's pretty far from Newark. You can look on the map. Did he really do that? Who knows?
I find this story suspiciously like one Izzy himself told me. He said that his Uncle, named Moishe (or something like that) disappeared from his home. This must have been my great-uncle and, I think, his home was in Russia. The last anyone knew, Moishe had said he was going to the store to get a loaf of bread. Years passed, and everyone assumed he was either dead or had deserted his family for good.
Twelve years later, Izzy told me, Moishe showed up. Astounded, everyone asked him where he'd been.
"Egypt" he said. He then handed his wife a package.
"Here's the bread," he said.
Is this true? Who knows?
Izzy also told me he had spent his youth in Russia working as a newspaper reporter. I'm sure that wasn't true.
I asked him what newspaper he worked for. "Two of them", he said, "The Minsk Churchman and the Stanislavov Couturier.
I always looked forward to seeing Izzy. He was one of the funniest persons ever.
One time, when I was about eight years old, Izzy was visiting us at our house in Asbury Park. I was very sad because my dog Teddy had run way. During the visit, Izzy, as usual, would go off on walks and he said that he would look for Teddy wherever he went.
He didn't find Teddy on these walks and, one day, we were all sitting on the front porch. The porch was up a few stairs from ground level and was enclosed with wooden sides about three feet high. The ground was about six feet down.
Without warning, Izzy leapt up and screamed, "There's Teddy". He jumped right over the porch side to the ground, alit running, and disappeared when he turned a corner a couple of blocks away.
Later, he returned, sadly, without Teddy. "I wasn't able to catch him" Izzy said, "but I know about where he is. And I'll get him back before I leave."
And he did.
After my father died (when I was about 17), Izzy was always there for advice and help. When I graduated college and was in the army in Washington, DC, I would take the train to Newark most weekends, stay with Izzy and go out in New York City. Whenever I left to return to Washington, Izzy would slip me a twenty-dollar bill. That was quite a bit in those days.
Izzy had three wives. He outlived the first two. Emmy was the first, and she was the mother of my cousin Lenny.
From my childhood, I remember Emmy as serious and bossy. She seemed the opposite of Izzy in many ways. Once, when I was very little, maybe six years old, I had been reading about how to play football, and I was fascinated by the concept that you could tackle anyone around the ankles and get them to fall down if you did it right.
Emmy and Izzy were visiting us at the Asbury Park house, and when Emmy walked in the door, I lunged at her ankles and tackled her. I would have gone after whoever came in the door next. Emmy crashed to the floor. As always, she was immaculately dressed, and the fall caused her to become somewhat disheveled. I thought I was really going to get it, but luckily, everyone was so astounded by what I had done that all I got was a quiet lecture.
I also remember Izzy's second wife, Lil. They visited us at the house on Valley Road. I think his third wife was named Billie, but I never met her.
In the first years of our marriage, Mom and I visited Izzy a couple of times. Emmy's mother, who we called "Grandma Zimmerman", lived with him. Although not really part of our family, she's worth mentioning. She was a German Jew, and, at least in those days, German Jews tended to look down on Russian Jews, which, of course, is what the Davis family was. I was told that, initially, she objected to the marriage of Izzy and Emmy, but it was obvious that, over time, she became very fond of Izzy. She was a little, white-haired lady with a thick accent, and she took an immediate liking to Mom. She was nice to me, too, feeding me endless amounts of chopped liver, which I loved, but she especially liked to talk to Mom, whom she called "Chain".
My cousin Lenny was a few years older than I, but was younger than my sister was. He was extremely good to me always, and, as a little kid, I looked up to and admired him. He is a lawyer. I haven't seen him in many years nor have I ever met his children. I do remember his wife Carol from years ago, though.
One time, Lenny and I were home alone in the Asbury Park house, the four parents having gone out. We were playing catch with a football in the living room and I unintentionally threw the ball through a window, shattering the glass. I knew that this time I would really get it. But Lenny wouldn't let me take the blame. When the folks came home, he said that he had done it, was properly remorseful, and got off with no punishment. After the visit, I told my parents I had broken the window, and, instead of getting punished, I got commended for my honesty. I learned something about both honesty and loyalty from Lenny that time.
One more Lenny story. A little background is needed before I get to the Lenny part. After my sister went off to college and I was old enough to pretty much take care of myself, my mother went back to work. She started out as a salesperson at Steinbach's department store. This was the biggest department store in Asbury Park. She eventually became the buyer for the women's clothes department. The store was open every Thursday evening and she had to work. So, I came to look forward to Thursday nights because I would meet my father after he finished work and we would go out to dinner.
Often, we would go to Larner's drugstore, which was in the big Kingsley Arms Hotel, about a block from the ocean. I always ordered the same thing: two roast beef sandwiches, pickles, and a chocolate milk shake.
When Temmie and Arnie got married, it all took place in Chicago, so my parents set up a big reception in Asbury Park so that Arnie could meet all the Davis and Herman (more about them later) relatives. The big dinner and reception was held in the fancy ballroom of the Kingsley Arms Hotel. The main course was roast beef.
Lenny and I were sitting together. After the main course, but before dessert, Lenny remarked that the roast beef was very good.
"It's ok," I said, "But not nearly as good as Larner's drugstore."
Lenny seemed dubious.
"It's so good," I said, "That I wish I had a Larner's roast beef sandwich right now!"
"Let's go" Lenny said.
Larner's was right across the hotel lobby.
"I'm gonna buy you a roast beef sandwich" he said, "But you'd better eat it all up".
I did eat it all up, but it wasn't nearly as good as I thought it would be.
When we got back to the table in ballroom, everyone was eating dessert. They asked us where we'd been, and Lenny explained.
Because of Lenny, I got a lot more to eat and a lot more attention at that banquet than I ever expected.
Harold was my father's youngest brother. He was several years younger than Izzy. He was always very nice but not colorful like Izzy. He was the richest one of the bunch. I don't know business he was in, but he had a beautiful home in South Orange, way up on the mountainside, facing to the east. At night, you could see Newark just to the east and New York City off in the distance. Harold's wife, Edith seemed to me like she was always all dressed up. But Harold and Edith didn't spend time with me at family gatherings the way Izzy and Mitzi (I'll come to her next) did.
After I had graduated from college and was in the army in Washington DC, I was surprised to get a phone call from Harold, saying that he was in DC on business and wanted to take me out to dinner. He took me to a really fancy restaurant and I really enjoyed myself. It was the only time that I ever got to talk to Harold, one-on-one for any length. I found out that he was an interesting and nice man, and I'm glad I got the chance to do so.
Harold and Edith had two children, Richard and Marian. Richard was about the same age as me and Marian was a couple of years younger. Although I saw them and played with them at family gatherings, it was when we were all small children, and I never got to know them as adults.
Actually, when Marian got married, I knew her husband a lot better than I knew her. She married Steve Grossman, who was a friend of mine in school in Asbury Park. Steve's older sister, Marcia, was in the same class with me and was one of my better friends. She and Steve and I often hung around together. Also, my father and Mr. Grossman (Steve's father) were friends, and there was a period of time where the two fathers would take Steve and me to the weekly professional wrestling event in Asbury Park. I remember wrestlers such as the Swedish Angel, Milo Steinborn and the like. It was just as silly then as it is today, and we enjoyed it immensely.
When Marian got married, Mom and I had been married only a short time and we both went to the wedding.
Grandpa was still alive then and I was thrilled that Mom got a chance to see him dancing and cavorting about.
Mitzi was the youngest member of the clan, and was much younger than her three brothers. In fact, she was only a few years older than Temmie. They were close enough in age to be great friends.
To me, Mitzi seemed impossibly bright, funny and talented. Unlike her brothers, she was tall, with dark hair, and her presence always commanded one's attention. She was outgoing and vociferous. She was talented in so many ways that I found it mind-boggling.
She could paint and draw. She could sing and play the piano. She could write. She could compose music. She not only could do all of these things, but she was outstanding and creative at them all.
When we'd go to the family gatherings on Mapes Avenue, she would play the piano and sing her original songs. Some of them were uproariously funny and others were beautiful and uplifting. It was probably then that I first became fascinated with songs, and with music in general, and knew this was something I wanted to be involved with from then on.
She, Izzy, and my father were my all-time funniest people.
One afternoon, she took my cousin Lenny to a Dracula movie. She started narrating the movie to him, using a thick Jewish accent.
When Dracula appeared, she said, "Comes a cloak and suit man!"
Eventually, the usher came by and told her to be quiet. However, when this happened, the theatre audience objected, saying thing like "Let her go on. She's better than the movie".
So, she went to front of the theatre, and narrated the rest of the movie from there. At the end, she was generously applauded and the local paper wrote up the incident as well.
She had many jobs and avocations. She worked in a museum retouching and preserving old paintings. She was a census taker.
One time, she said, she was about to knock on a door when it was suddenly opened, and she lost her balance and tumbled forward into the people's living room. Her briefcase and papers flew out of her hands and scattered all over the room. She ended up on her back amidst a sea of papers, pencils and other paraphernalia.
The people living there looked at her in amazement and puzzlement.
Without getting up, she spoke.
"How do you do" she said, calmly, "I represent the US Government and I am here to conduct the national census."
Whenever she traveled by car, she would eschew the main highways and drive through all the small towns, taking pictures of bargeboards. These are decorative inserts that many older houses have up under the peak of the roof. This resulted on a compendium of bargeboard photographs.
Her husband, Bob Kirsch, seemed always to be changing jobs, and the Kirsch family was always moving, often to remote places. They spent a couple of years in Alaska.
Bob was a big man, loud and hearty. He loved to sing. Among other thing, he was a professional photographer. During World War II, he worked for the USO, the agency created to entertain the military. He would drive from one military installation to another in a van filled with movie projection equipment and films of first run movies. One time he stopped by our house in Asbury Park, set up all the equipment and showed us a new movie. It had sound and everything! This was before television came into the home. I don't remember what the movie was or even if I liked it, but having it shown in our living room was one of the highlights of my youth.
In the 1970's, Mitzi and Bob were living in Toms River, New Jersey, and we drove down from Wappingers to visit them. We went out into Barnegat Bay in Bob's boat.
Some years, later, after Bob had died, Mitzi remarried. I never met the guy. The marriage didn't last long. Her second husband, she said, was an impotent abattoir salesman. Apparently, she found this combination unappealing.
Mitzi and Bob had two children, Susan and Michael, both a few years younger than me. I knew and liked them as children, but haven't seen them in many years, and never got to know them as adults.
My mother was named Sari Herman. Her first name was pronounced Shari. I don't know how or when the discrepancy between the spelling and the pronunciation came to be. I don't know if she had a middle name. By the way, my father was David H. Davis. I remember the middle initial from the name on the door of his law office. I think that the H stood for Herman, and that the match to my Mother's maiden name was coincidental.
Like my father, my mother was brought up in New Jersey, in the Newark area. Her parents lived at one time in Verona, where they owned(?) and operated a hotel called, I think, the Idle Hour Inn.
She was the youngest of four children. The others were Abe, Jenny, and Rebecca, who was called Beck (or Becky).
I believe Grandma and Grandpa Herman were also immigrants from Russia. I never knew them. I think Grandma Herman died before I was born, and Grandpa Herman when I was very young. I have a vague recollection of going on a visit and seeing an old, gray-haired man in a bed. I think this may have been him, but I'm not sure. Temmie might be able to fill you in on this stuff.
My mother was a couple of years younger than my father (i.e.: born circa 1897) and I do not know how they met. She did not go to college but went to business school. I think that meant secretarial training. By the way, my father went three years to Cornell. During his junior year he went to a Cornell-Michigan football game in Ann Arbor and liked it so much there that he transferred there for his senior year. He told me that Michigan was more down to earth, less snobby, and had a more diverse student body. I don't remember where he went to law school. Again, Temmie might know.
My mother told me that she worked at the laboratory where Marconi invented the telegraph. I know no details of this.
I'll tell you what I remember of the Herman family, starting with Abe.
I knew Abe less than I knew Jenny or Beck. The few times I do remember seeing him, I remember a kindly, friendly gray-haired man. I don't know what Uncle Abe did for a living. His wife, Aunt Fanny, seemed pompous and self-centered, but I really didn't get to know her well enough to be sure. I remember that she decided she wanted to be called "Fran", rather than "Fanny", and that this annoyed my mother.
Abe and Fanny had two daughters, Joan and Barbara Herman. They were both a little older than Temmie.
I met Joan only once or twice. She came to visit us in Asbury Park once when I was around nine years old or so. She seemed to be a very nice person. I remember going to the beach with her, and I was impressed when she told me that she was a friend of Joan Caulfield, the movie actress.
I don't think I ever met Barbara Herman and know nothing at all about her.
Aunt Jenny was my mother's oldest sister, by, I think, several years. Jenny was the widow of Harry Slavitt, whom I never knew. In the 1940s, Jenny was an executive for, as I remember, a large paper company. This was at a time when few women held such jobs. She was always very nice to me. I remember her as serious, authoritative and sophisticated.
She eventually lived in an apartment in New York City, just off of Central Park West, and only a block or so from the Museum of Natural History. I remember us visiting there, perhaps when Curt was little, and also going to the museum.
It was sad, later on, taking my mother to visit her in a nursing home in New Jersey.
Jenny had three children, all much older than I, Norman, Ruth, and Rita.
Norman was also much older than Temmie. I remember him as a kindly, gentle, man. He and his wife, Mary, lived in the North Jersey suburbs. I think they had a couple of daughters, but I'm not sure.
Jenny's next oldest was Ruth, who was married to Bunny Aron.
Ruth and Bunny were among my childhood favorites. When I was eight (or so) years old, they were living in a Washington DC suburb. It may have been Chevy Chase. I went to visit them and they showed me all around Washington. It was very exciting.
I spent a lot of time on that trip listening to phonograph records (that's what they were then) with Ruth and Bunny's children, Judy and Danny. At the time, my favorite music was from Dumbo, but Danny was hooked on Gilbert and Sullivan. This was something I liked too, though, because my father liked Gilbert and Sullivan a lot, and he had even performed the role of Koko in the Mikado.
Judy eventually married a guy named Herb Ruben. I think they lived in Pittsburgh. Danny ended up in the music business, and, Curt, about that time he was getting his Ph.D., spoke to Danny on the phone to get some career advice.
I haven't seen either Judy or Danny for many years.
Ruth was a very sweet person, and someone I felt very comfortable talking to, even when I was a child. We last saw her when she visited us at the Brewster house, but by that time she was quite ill with emphysema and was not her usual self.
Bunny was the great and funny character of the Herman family. He was incredibly outgoing, with a booming, gravel voice, uproariously funny and very warm and affectionate.
He either owned or was an executive (or both) in a men's shirt company.
Later on, Ruth and Bunny lived in an apartment on Manhattan. One time when we were visiting there (I think it may have been when Curt was a baby) he gave us a couple of Babar books. Having been brought up largely on the Oz books, I didn't know about Babar. Subsequently, we bought lots more Babar books and records.
Jenny's youngest daughter was Rita, who is just a couple of years (I think) older than Temmie. Rita was also always lots of fun to be with, witty, bright and friendly.
She and Temmie have always been close.
Rita is married to Norman Ward, and they live (I think still) in North Jersey. Norman is also very nice.
I think they have a couple of daughters, but I'm not sure.
The reason I remember so much less about the Herman family than the Davis family is that, since my father was the oldest of four children, and my mother the youngest of four, the Davis Aunts, Uncles and Cousins were all younger than the ones on the Herman side.
My mother's other sister was Aunt Beck. She was only slightly older than my mother. She was a small woman, and she too, was always very nice to me. She looked a lot more like my mother than Aunt Jenny did.
When I was in college, my mother and I lived in Chicago, and she owned a little children's clothing store, called Young Folks. I hated having to help out there when I was home on vacation. For a time, Beck came to help my mother run the store, but it didn't work out. They squabbled a lot. Eventually, Beck went back to New Jersey and she and my mother were mad at each other for a long time afterwards.
Beck was married to Lou Freund, who was a judge. He was also a nice man. They had one daughter, Sue, who was one year older than Temmie.
The Freund's had a lovely home in West Orange, New Jersey. I remember it being somewhat out in the country and there was lots of land around the house. They had a grumpy little Scottie dog that barked at everyone. There was a natural spring not far from the house and, for some reason, it was a big deal to go there and get water.
Later on, after Sue grew up, Beck and Lou moved to an apartment in East Orange. Whenever my parents took me there on a visit, I was usually bored by the conversation and there wasn't much for me to do there by myself. The one thing I did enjoy, though, was shuffling across the living room carpet and then, with my finger, touching a metal railing near the front door. A blue spark would crackle from the railing to my finger, and it would sting a little. I thought that was neat!
Sue married Bob Lauter, who was an executive in one of the big New York City department stores. They eventually split up and Sue was single in her later years.
Sue and Bob visited Ann Arbor one time while I was in college there and we spent a nice day together. We went canoeing. I took a date, a girl named Lila Deutsch, who had a condition that made her fall asleep all the time. I found that very relaxing and enjoyed not having to worry about keeping her amused on dates.
One time later, perhaps when I was in the army, I visited them in their house in lower Westchester County. I think it was in New Rochelle. It was a lovely home and the trip was nice. It was the first time I really got to know Sue as an adult.
They had, I think, two or three children. In her later years, Sue had a condo on the ocean in Lighthouse Point (the same place where the Vecchiones now have a condo) and we would see her occasionally. I don't think she was very happy during this period. She would also spend time in Boston, where at least one of her children lived.