This is day 30, the last day of the blogging challenge. It has ruled my life for the past month, and I will feel lost without it. The challenge achieved its purpose: to bring back my love for writing. I haven’t written poetry or my book for the past year and needed an outlet to inspire me. Writing every day for thirty days has shown me that I can do it. And I will do it.
In my blog posts, I returned to events I remember most fondly.
Vacations with my daughters in Wildwood, New Jersey.
Vacation in Jamaica with my oldest daughter and son-in-law.
Vacation with my younger daughter and son-in-law in the Dominican Republic.
Visiting with family.
Happy days when Nounous was healthy.
People I loved and lost.
People I will never forget.
People I respect and have come to love, including the Rave Reviews Book Club members. They have become family to me, reading and responding to my long-winded posts.
Thank you, my new family, for participating in the RRBC Blogging Challenge, and a big thanks to Nonnie Jules for organizing this fantastic event.
I’m returning to my childhood and seeing what my tired brain can remember. It won’t give me the teachers’ names from grade school since I have always been lousy with names, but I remember the names of my classmates.
I spent kindergarten one block from my house at the local public school, which is now called P.S. 209 Margaret Mead School. I played paddle ball in the schoolyard when I was older, but the courts are gone, replaced by fake grass and running paths. My memories include the smell of Elmer’s Glue, construction paper, and the sound of kids’ voices echoing in the long hallways. Happy memories twirl around in my brain. I see flashes of my mother walking me to school, and it might have been possible that she saw enough at that age to accompany me.
For first grade, my parents sent me to Yeshiva of Brooklyn. A depressing school consisting of two houses linked by a courtyard on Ocean Parkway. We played on the strip of land between the busy street of cars and the sidewalk of houses.
Ocean Parkway was where I rode my bike when I was older. Getting back to first grade, I hated the school. They taught us English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. The teachers and students were much more religious than my family, and I felt like an outsider. I refused to learn Hebrew and Yiddish, and my parents and the school assumed I had a learning disability. It was a preview of how stubborn I can be if something goes against what I want or what is right. One teacher was so mean to me that I had nightmares of her wig getting caught on the hook above the blackboard, like a fish caught by a hook. My parents removed me from this hellhole, and I was sent to Yeshivah Ohel Moshe.
I found this picture on Google, and Ohel Moshe hasn’t changed.
I see a traffic light has been installed. A good idea since I had to run across the busy street to catch the public bus. Did I mention I had to take two buses each way for 6 days a week? We had Sunday school. I waited forever for the buses in the rain and snow, and the commute took over an hour. We had school buses through 4th grade and then public transportation. I was proud of my bus pass. Yes, I’m one of those parents who told their children about their long trek when they complained about walking a few blocks to school.
“Yeshiva Ohel Moshe is a Bensonhurst-based, Orthodox elementary school that was opened in 1927. Under the leadership of the late Rabbi Eliyahu Machlis, Yeshivah Ohel Moshe was known for its “Open Door” policy when accepting students and congregants alike.” Wikipedia
I guess its open-door policy allowed me to attend. As soon as I switched schools, I did well and was at the top of my class, where I competed with the cute boy I liked. Our classes were small; we had 12 gives and close to 20 boys. The size fluctuated each year. We gained students after a public school strike, and many kids stayed after the strike finished. The school was religious but more lenient than the other school.
There was little bullying, except for one boy who looked dirty all the time, so people called him Shmutz, which means dirt in Yiddish. I refused to bully anyone and stood up to anyone poking fun at someone. I refused to call him Shmutz, even to my friends, until he got angry one day when I tagged him out in punch ball, ramming me into the fence. My finger got big and swollen. When I found out it was broken, Shmutz got in trouble. He never apologized but gave me ‘dirty’ looks, deserving the nickname.
My high school years were spent at Yeshivah University H.S. for Girls. I didn’t want to attend a girls’ school, but Yeshiva of Flatbush was too expensive, even though I got in. I met the snobby girls who later moved to Long Island and didn’t bother to acknowledge me. Not all the girls thought the world revolved around them, and I made good friends.
Do I see any of these friends? No. It wasn’t easy going to Yeshivah with all the restrictions, and I was happy to graduate and begin my life. I attended Boston University for a year, then switched to New York University, where I graduated. Later, I received an M.B.A. in Finance from Baruch College. I didn’t enjoy learning until my college years. I’ve always loved reading, but college opened new doors for me.
New York University is a quaint college in a bustling city. I had to commute by train, but it was worth the trip.
I’ve reached Day 21 of the challenge and received a 20-day banner. This banner has the mighty responsibility of pushing me to finish the challenge.
Today, I will go back in my memories to the brief time that impacted my life the most by helping me grow into an adult away from my parents. In the summer of 1976, I traveled to Israel with a group called Yavneh. I subtracted and realized it was 47 years ago, and I was 17 years old.
This is our motley group. Our leader was the Israeli woman at the back standing beside the tall man, who might have been her husband. There goes my spotty memory again.
Here we are at the Kotel, or Western Wall. It was never crowded like the pictures I’ve seen in recent years. I returned to Israel with my parents the following year since my brother bought us a vacation, where we stayed in 5-star hotels, not youth hostels or sleeping on the sand like with Yavneh. I haven’t been back, but I hope to revisit Israel one day.
At the Kotel, the men and women pray separately, with a divider between them. There is a custom of placing your wish on a piece of paper and shoving it into the cracks between the rocks. I can tell you my wish since it didn’t come true. I had asked for my mother’s vision to return and my family’s health. Lately, there have been breakthroughs in Retinitis Pigmentosa but too late for my mother. The disease causes the retina to degenerate, and I heard of a man having a lens implanted to help him see.
I spent most of my life afraid I’d go blind. My brother didn’t, and I didn’t. My mother always told me it was a recessive disease, so I was hopeful. Then one day, when I asked about my relatives, my mother told me her parents shared relatives. I was confused and asked how that could be. That’s when she told me her parents were first cousins. A light bulb went off in my brain: that’s why my mother is blind. I’m not afraid anymore of becoming blind, but I still hate the dark.
I’m standing at Maarat Hamachpela with my friend from home.
I Googled to explain the holy site:
“The cave of Machpelah, in the West Bank city of Hebron, is the burial place of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. According to Jewish mystical tradition, it’s also the entrance to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve are buried.”
I went to Yeshivah for 12 years but never heard of Adam and Eve buried there. It might be true since girls didn’t learn Gamarrah or the Torah through word of mouth when I attended school. I wanted to know what the boys were learning since I always wanted to do what I was told I couldn’t.
I was sitting here thinking Jacob had two wives, Rochel and Leah. Then I remembered Rochel was buried separately at Kever Rochel or the Tomb of Rachel.
“Located just outside of Bethlehem, along the road of the forefathers that connects Nablus and Hebron, Rachel’s tomb is where Jews and Muslims believe the foremother Rachel was buried. Rachel was the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin, and the burial site is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.” Google
I also stole this picture from Google. I don’t remember if we visited the Tomb; it could have been one of the places we couldn’t see because it was too dangerous, even though we had armed soldiers.
This is the cave where I learned I had claustrophobia. Dark and small places terrify me. I’ve walked out of 2 MRIs, 1 Catscan, and even a bone density test. I’ve never been able to jump into a swimming pool since I always need to feel the bottom with my feet. So, here we are, walking into the narrow opening of a cave. We go some way, and one of the soldiers announces we’ll have to stoop since the cave gets narrower. I start feeling dizzy and yell for everyone to back up. I hear a lot of grumbling behind me as people back out. Finally, I ran into the daylight. Everyone returns but me. I’m left outside with an old Arab man and his goat. Now that I think about it, how safe was I with no soldiers? Our two soldiers, with their rifles, returned to the cave.
Israel is a beautiful country, and Jerusalem holds a special place in my heart.
Tomorrow I’ll continue my journey through Israel, where I will face and conquer another fear.
Today, I heard Macy’s is closing more stores. This saddens me because Macy’s played a significant part in my life. My excursions into Manhattan with my friends always ended with a stop at the big store. Macy’s brought a smile and a lift to your step no matter what was happening in your life at the time.
And who doesn’t remember the rickety wood escalators? They had them until recently at the back of the store. They rumbled and shook as they took you to shoppers’ paradise.
The holiday season wasn’t complete without Macy’s lighted windows.
I spent the day with my daughter, Ashley, at Macy’s a few years ago. We had coffee at the shop behind the women’s clothing that I didn’t notice before.
There was a flower show that day where we took pictures. Memories like these can never be duplicated but taken out and remembered on rainy days.
Now, I remember where I took pictures of the colorful flowers I used for my book banners.
Another trip to Macy’s is needed before the flagship store closes. I pray it doesn’t.
I will now share my most significant find: pictures of my mother when she was young. Since she left Poland before Hitler invaded, these photos must be of her early life in the United States. After my father passed away, I cleaned out their apartment and unearthed a few old photo albums. You can’t imagine how much stuff my father stored in a two-bedroom apartment with only four closets. I must search for his box of memorabilia from WWII; he saved every pay stub from the Merchant Marines.
The first picture boggles my mind since I’ve never seen my mother wearing anything but skirts or dresses. She didn’t go to the beach, so no bathing suits. But here she’s wearing shorts. It must be when she first arrived in the U.S. since after she married, she lived in an apartment with my father in Williamsburg. She told me she lived with cousins, but where I had no idea.
My mother arrived when she was 16, so this must be her as a teenager before she began to lose her vision. She looks happier than I remember her. She wore a bow in her hair, and my daughters loved wearing bows when they were small.
I wonder who this woman is with my mother. She might be Rabbi Lamm’s mother, who was her first cousin. They remained close after my mother married, and I walked with her to Peppy’s house on the Sabbath. Or she could be a close friend, a cheerful-looking friend.
And who is this? My mother’s friends or relatives appear friendly and fun.
More unknown people.
And look what I found: a baby picture of my brother. If you haven’t noticed by now, I always mention my brother whenever I speak of my family.
This is the last picture. My mother appears younger in this one. I don’t know if she brought any photos with her from Poland. No one expected The Holocaust, except for Hitler himself.
I’m relieved my mother had happier times than her experiences later in life.
Welcome to the 1964 World’s Fair. I was five years old, and my memories are primarily of crowds of people, music, and magic. I found my brother’s black-and-white photos, and I’m sharing them with you.
“The 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair was a world’s fair that held over 140 pavilions and 110 restaurants, representing 80 nations, 24 US states, and over 45 corporations, with the goal and the final result of building exhibits or attractions at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in Queens, New York City.” Wikipedia
The World’s Fair was a huge event, but I maybe thought so because I was a little girl. I have foggy memories of products from different countries and prehistoric animals. When I visited Epcot with my daughters, it triggered memories of seeing something similar. Epcot is my favorite theme park in Orlando, Florida, and this has led me to wonder why I used Disney World in my vampire books, not Epcot.
This picture symbolized crowds of people to me when I was a kid, but I didn’t understand crowds until I worked in Manhattan.
I wonder what the audience was watching. Was something happening in the water?
Maybe there were pavilions on the water since there wasn’t enough room for 140 in the park.
The last photo is of my brother. He’s wearing a hat because he became more Orthodox before attending college. After Yeshivah University, he wasn’t religious anymore, which is strange since it’s a religious college. If I was 5 years old, he was 16. I believe he was born mature and wise. And then they had me.
My earliest memory is trying to reach the window sill in the living room and saying that one day I’ll be tall enough. My next memory is when I was a few years old, maybe 3 or 4, and playing with my Barbie doll, using the radiator as her house. I always wanted a Ken doll, so Barbie had a friend, but my parents never bought me a second doll. I assumed it was too much money and better spent on clothing for my brother and me. I Googled old heating radiators but couldn’t find one with a door on the front, and I used the door as the door to Barbie’s house.
I remember my parents taking me to Marine Park, near Kings Plaza Shopping Center, where I later loved to shop with my friends. My mother sat on her folding chair at the park while I played with my father. I don’t remember what I did, but I loved my egg carton where I placed my little toys. Yes, a regular egg carton after we used the eggs. I’ve included a picture of Marine Park from 1965 since I found a few small albums in my drawer today.
I found a picture of my mother and me standing by the water in Sheepshead Bay. And yes, I had to wear those funny glasses for a few years to correct my left eye from drifting sideways. Thankfully, the eyeglasses were off by the time I began kindergarten.
I have few memories of my brother, who was 11 years older than me, but I remember loving him and hanging out with him in our apartment. If I couldn’t finish my food, he would take my leftovers. Since the apartment had two bedrooms, Neil slept in the foyer and gave me his bedroom after I was born. Later, I would paint this bedroom pink to match the dark pink carpeting. Now I know why pink isn’t my favorite color.
Below is a picture of Neil at the bay in 1966. He was a great photographer but not the person who had taken the picture.
The following picture is of me in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
My mother standing in front of our apartment building.
This photo shows my mother in front of the two-family house used for our temple and a glimpse of the next picture in the album of me in the living room.
I have one picture of my father munching on his breakfast.
The last picture is my grandfather, who had deserted my mother when he came to the U.S. I was afraid of him, and he still looks a bit scary.
Thank you for joining me on my journey down memory lane. These pictures were in a tiny album, and I hope to remember more after opening the other albums.
I’ve decided to search back through my memories and see what I remember of my childhood. I’ve spoken about my family and shared the most dramatic events on my blog. I will start at the beginning, at least as far back as my memories will take me.
First, I’d like to tell you about the neighborhood where I was born, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. “Sheepshead Bay was named for the sheepshead, an edible fish found in the bay’s waters. Originally an extension of the town of Gravesend to the west, Sheepshead Bay was a secluded fishing and farming community early in its history.” Google comes in handy.
Sheepshead Bay was a peaceful place to live. I loved watching the fishing boats return in the afternoon with their catch, displaying the fish on the ground near their ships, the smell of fish wafting in the air. Swans and ducks filled the outlet between Sheepshead Bay and the other side leading to Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach. Countless times I crossed the footbridge to reach Manhattan Beach, a much smaller beach than Brighton Beach, but I found it much prettier.
Lundy’s Restaurant is the most famous landmark in the neighborhood. “Lundy’s was founded in 1926 by Irving Lundy as a restaurant on the waterfront of Sheepshead Bay; five years later, the original building was condemned to make way for a redevelopment of the bay. The present building opened in 1934 or 1935 and closed in 1979.” It is now replaced by a mini shopping mall and restaurants.
Shopping malls and condos have replaced the small stores and restaurants, taking away the neighborhood’s unique and quaint look. But nothing has taken away from the beauty of the bay and fishing boats. Although small cruise shops now line up along the water searching for people to take day trips around the bay.
My last picture shows how the neighborhood has changed, where you can see the taller buildings encroaching on the original shops. You can’t stop progress since it finally finds the forgotten areas.
Sitting with Nounous in the living room while my cleaning lady washes the floors, I ponder what to write today on my blog. So far, I’ve written about painful experiences, and I’d like to revisit my memories and reflect on the happy times I had with my family after my daughters were born. I stayed home with them and took loads of pictures and videos while journaling their milestones. I’m close with my daughters, and I expect we’ll always be best friends.
Stephanie is my oldest. She had boundless energy as a toddler and loved to run, tripping and falling if I didn’t warn her of cracks on the sidewalk or steps. Stephanie always sported a huge smile and was an easy infant and toddler. Ashley was born three years later. She enjoyed sitting in her stroller, watching the world go by. Ashley still observes everyone with a quiet mien, and I believe she has my personality.
I was lucky in the draw for children. I love having daughters and wonder if I would have been as close to a son. Stephanie is close to her two sons and stopped working after she had them. Ashley gave birth to a baby girl this past September, a week after my oldest had her second son. Ashley is lucky she and her husband have jobs where they can work from home and continue working after hiring a nanny for the daytime.
I have their baby pictures in albums and in frames around the house. So, this afternoon’s activity will be to find ones to share with you, take photos with my phone, and store them on my computer. I will have them ready for the blog tomorrow.
I found two pictures of my daughters in Wildwood, New Jersey, on my computer. We vacationed there many summers since we loved the beach, boardwalk, and amusement parks. We tried different hotels along the boardwalk, some nicer than the others, but we always had a great time.
For my last article about my family, I will write about the person who was my role model, my hero. He was my brother, Neil Leist.
Neil was the type of person who lit up a room when he entered it. He was 6’2”, but not his height drew people but his dynamic personality. Sparkling gray eyes mirrored his great intellect and future capacity for greatness. When my father wasn’t home but working long days and nights driving a taxi, my brother cared for my blind mother and helped raise me. Neil protected me from life and responsibilities, shouldering those burdens himself.
After college, Neil traded on the Commodity Exchange until he acquired enough money to take over a Fortune 500 company, becoming the majority stockholder in American Bakeries. Taystee Bread was never going to be the same. The picture above shows Neil with Mayor Koch as they negotiated for a factory in Queens. Neil had taken me along on his ride to stardom. I’d worked for him during my summer vacations from college, first in his Madison Avenue, Manhattan office, and then later on the Exchange. I majored in Finance at New York University, preparing to join him. Life was perfect until the phone rang in the middle of the night.
The lights went out for me, trapping me in darkness as dark and deep as the one where my mother lived. Neil had been in a car accident in the Hamptons. Even though he was a great driver with quick reflexes, his Porsche hydroplaned on the wet roads, and he drove the car off the highway and onto the grass. Luck wasn’t with him. A truck was parked in his path, and the Porsche crashed beneath it.
Neil was in a coma for two years before he passed away. His brutal ending wasn’t appropriate for the great man he was. He will always live in memories, and when I need comfort, I picture myself wrapped in his arms.