Category Archives: MISCELLANEOUS

IT SNOWS ON THE CHICKEN FARM – OOPS!

Today’s upcoming first snow of winter on November 13 brought to mind dozens of my childhood adventures with snow. Most of all, today reminded me of my family’s sojourn on a chicken farm in Richland, NJ between 1941 and 1947.

Chapter One: America was not a time of content for my parents. They missed the wide open spaces of their vacation home in Klosterneuburg near Vienna, with its acres of orchards, lush fields, and clean air.

They missed having the closest neighbors hundreds of feet from their dwelling. They missed swimming in the Danube and its mud/sand beaches. They missed riding their bicycles along unpaved country roads – with me in a rumble seat on mom’s bicycle.

Although we escaped the crowded and noisy living spaces of Manhattan by moving to Astoria, New York City, my parents wanted to live in the “wide open spaces of this great country.”
Unfortunately, they missed the courage to go to California or the Pacific Northwest or Vermont to join various relatives and close friends who had felt likewise. The Southeast didn’t appeal to them because of the prejudice against Jews, the control of the KKK, and an insular outlook which is still alive and well.

How ironic life often turns out to be!

In 1941, they made an appointment with the Hebrew International Settlement Agency (HIAS) as suggested by my Dad’s first cousin, Leo.

Leo had developed the same feelings as they did, and wished to move from the city to the wilds of Eastern Long Island to the large open spaces of Huntington, New York. It was a totally rural area at the time, and never became crowded and urban.

He and his various familial groups – through divorce, affairs, and another marriage with three children – and another divorce – lived there until the time of his death. His son from Leo’s first marriage, my beloved cousin Ivan, stayed there until he graduated from college.

So Leo went to the Hebrew International Settlement Agency and asked to be retrained as a farmer. When told of the enormous difficulties of farming life, together with the management and expense of hundreds to thousands acres of land, he decided against it. However, HIAS made him another offer: they would train him to become a chicken farmer – this was in the days before Colonel Saunders ruined the rural aspects of this occupation by raising chickens in veritable concentration camps.
It sounded too good to be true. And, in the end, it was. Leo eventually ended up being a master plumber, but that, dear reader, is another story.

At any rate, he suggested my father go to HIAS, and as a result, the two men were trained for six months in a HIAS facility in Bound Brook, New York.

After graduation, my mother refused to move to Huntington. She and Leo had a hate relationship which both of them cultivated. To me, the ultimate irony for Cousin Ivan and myself is the two of them are spending eternity together in the same cemetery plot.

After a great deal of Sturm und Drang, HIAS arranged for us to move to Richland, NJ so my father could become a chicken farmer.

With few exceptions, it was a dreadful time for us, especially for my parents – the insularity, physical attacks, and prejudices of the area – including the KKK burning a cross on our front lawn – were dreadful. “We should have moved to the New England States.”, was an unending lament.

Eventually, mom made my father attend training classes as an upholsterer in nearby Philadelphia. Then they, themselves – both expert carpenters – built a huge one-story building, the size of a present day Colonel Saunder’s chicken coop, in which my father plied his successful new craft. Mom, after all the years of being a farmer’s wife, returned to her occupation of being a quilt maker. She turned out fabulous and hugely popular  machine sewn down comforters and pillows, as well as hand stitched woolbatt quilts.

The building still stands today.

The former chicken coops and barn were abandoned with glee.

Life is never smooth, is it? After the death of my brother, Larry, in 1947, we returned to Long Island: Jackson Heights, New York, where they opened a successful Upholstery / Quilt store in the shadow of the Elevated Subway trestle.

Chapter Two: Liesl’s Adventures and Joys in Richland. Liesl is my family nickname.

Despite the negative aspects of Richland for the grownups, during the year, I roamed free through the adjacent Pine Barrens. Sometimes my companion was the next door neighbors’ grandson, Richie. He was a year younger than I, and we managed to get into trouble on a regular basis. His grandmother and my mother often punished us for our misadventures, and finally believed they had trained us well. No such thing occurred! We just learned to lie.

But that is … “y’know”, as the Geico commercial says …
My parents would never recover from the flatness of the land. They had to ice skate on the pond of an old gravel pit when it was cold enough to freeze. Skiing was an impossibility: no hills and no snow.

However, Dickie and I had no problems with swimming in Pine Barrens tea water, climbing high tension poles, meeting hermits and ghosts (really! See Annie under the Faith Category)), working with and harvesting various crops for surrounding farmers, and riding our bicycles for miles on the dirt road in front of our homes, which led to a network of more dirt roads. We picked berries and cranberries in season, gleefully worked in our own homesteads’ gardens and chicken coops, learned to candle eggs, kill chickens, hunt with rifles, and cut down Christmas Trees in the surrounding pine forests around us.

In the winter, it seldom snowed, so we had no use for my sled. The few time an inch or so fell, we gleefully zoomed into the old gravel pit until all the snow was demolished. Mud doesn’t work as well as snow.

Snowmen were built, of course – however they were only six inches high.

One winter, there was a blizzard. More than two feet of snow fell. We sledded to our hearts’ content!

Then, the next day, it was so cold, the snow actually turned to ice , and the dirt road in front of our farms lent itself to ice skating until the thaw began.

I had a brilliant idea.

Glancing at the barn at Dickie’s grandparents farm, I pointed out the steepness of the roof and its side penthouse, as well as the steep roof and its full penthouse around the long side.

Dickie was excited with my plan.

We got to work by dragging four inch thick by two feet wide by twelve feet long boards to the penthouse, and laboriously dragged a set to connect the barn roof to the lower addition by jamming it the eave. Then we were able to line up another board from outer edge of the penthouse roof to the ground. There were no eaves underneath.

It took us over two hours to get everything lined up.

Next, we climbed the ladder up the side penthouse and up its next ladder to the peak of the barn roof. We hauled our sled up using a rope.

Carefully crawling along the peak, we placed the sled facing downwards. We fastened one end of the rope to the weather vane, and I held the other end which had been placed sideways between the runners. Dickie got on first and then I mounted the sled.

At the count of “three!” we detached.

What a glorious ride!

Down the barn!

Onto the first board!

Down the second roof!

Onto the second board!

The board had never been weighted down on its lower end where it touched the ground.

We hit the board.

The connector end crashed like a broken seesaw.

Dickie became airborne and was thrown head over heels into a pile of hay about a dozen feet away.

I, unfortunately, stayed on the board as it slammed straight onto the ground.

My coccyx was smashed.

Well, an ambulance ride is not as thrilling as a sled ride.

There was nothing they could do at the hospital.

After three months the pain was gone.

And, then – THEN! – my mother spanked me.

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PERSONAL HALLOWEEN HISTORY – Ragamuffins and Anarchists

>< ~ >< ~ ><  Chapter One   Halloween begins in my life
                When I was a child in the early 1940’s, we lived in a lower-middle-class working neighborhood in a section of Queens – one of New York City’s five boroughs. This area is, still, to this day, named Astoria. Visiting Queens through the last six decades has been fascinating, I might add, because it is mostly unchanged. The seven rental homes in that borough where we lived in over the timeline of my existence are, with one exception, still standing, as are the various schools I attended. Visiting my high school has been eerie!
                 In August of 1940, we moved from the crowded multi-story living of Manhattan to the relatively open spaces of Astoria  and took up residence on the second floor of a two-family home. At last I finally had a bedroom with a window and was delighted. Mom and Dad still continued to commute to work in one of the sweatshops of Manhattan, and, so, at the age of six and a half, I became a Latchkey Kid.
                Parenthetically, most of us were Latchkey Kids! When we came home from grammar school, we had to stay indoors, where we cleaned house, made beds, took care of younger siblings and pets, and folded laundry. We were required to read classics one hour a day … although most of us doubled the time.
                For those whose families owned family businesses, there was no latchkey. Instead, those children would go there after school. When needed, they would work as needed for their parents. Oh, how we envied them and their freedom! When time allowed, they would do their homework.
                Homework did not begin until after supper, which we girls helped our mothers prepare. Before homework began, however, we assisted with the clearing up and preparing of the next day’s lunch for all of us. Then, the homework was done under the eagle eye of our parents.
                Halloween was not a major event for us. We did NOT get dressed up in today’s sense of that word. Rather, we attended a party in our individual classrooms, preceded by a half hour “parade” around the playground. No prizes were given out. Mostly, we dressed in older siblings’ or grandparents’/parents’ clothing temporarily held together with safety pins.
                For both boys and girls, our biggest thrill was being permitted to wear Mom’s or Grand Mom’s costume jewelry and use their leftover lipsticks, which had worn down to the edge of the tube. They were kept for Halloween, at which time it was used on lips, faces, and hands liberally smeared with a thin coat of Pond’s face cream. Popsicle sticks, saved from the warmer days, were used as applicators.
                If our parents happened to have the money to spare, we owned a black Lone Ranger style face mask held on by tied cords. It was a treasure used for several years each October thirty first.
                The religious faiths of neighborhood orthodox families whose children attended either the Catholic or Jewish schools, did not allow participation in the Halloween dress ups.
                 For the rest of us, there were many restrictions. Demons were not celebrated because they were considered real, and they were supposed to frighten people. No Jewish child would dare to dress like The Golem – shades of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings ! (Thank you for your insight, Zachary.) Nor did the Catholics allow children to dress like Satan and his minions! Angels and biblical figures were also out of bounds. Keep in mind, also, the two deeply celebratory  faith days after Halloween  (on November 1st or 2nd, depending on the Christian denomination) were All Saints’ Day and the Mexican Day of the Dead.
                As I began reminiscing with others about the Halloweens of my childhood and the years that followed, various friends, in turn, journeyed back to their own past. Some questions came up which sent me back into the byways of memory: each question deserves its own chapter!

>< ~ >< ~ ><  Chapter Two Being a Ragamuffin and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Didn’t you feel deprived with this lack of Trick Or Treating? 
                 Many areas of the Northeastern United States adopted Saint Martin’s Day on November 11, as a religious celebration day coinciding with Thanksgiving Day in the 1870’s. It was a holiday that addressed the poor and disenfranchised throughout the Christian world. However, few communities took care of the real poor. Rather, it was a time for children to dress up as dirty ragamuffins and go door to door on Thanksgiving morning, begging for treats, coins, and other foodstuff. Often, informal parades were formed, and our treasures were waved over our heads. 
                (FYI: Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November as a national day of thankfulness. In 1963, Congress made it a legal holiday.)
                Off we traipsed, often covering ten square blocks. We rang doorbells. We knocked on doors. We showed up in stores. When the residents or store employees responded, we would chorus “Anyt’ing for T’anksgivin’?”
                By the by, in 1930, the New York City Superintendent of Schools succeeded in having a law passed against the Ragamuffin excursions and “parades”, but most New York City communities, especially on Long Island, merrily ignored the law.     
                I soon became the envy of the neighborhood children because neither of my parents had to work on Thanksgiving Day. So, after I returned home around 11 am and changed my clothes. Then my parents and I traipsed via subway to downtown Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 
                To this day, as I watch the parade on TV, I sink into a reverie of fond remembrances. Who NEEDED Halloween, anyway?

>< ~ >< ~ ><  Chapter Three What was your most UNIQUE Halloween experience?  A Halloween Trip To the ER
                By the time I had begun teaching in 1973 in New Jersey, Halloween practices had begun to change dramatically. In the early 1980’s, and the beginning of the electronic age, a revolution occurred. The moirés of the “old days” were gone. Living and working in middle class neighborhoods meant there was too much ready cash available. Parents began to outdo each other in providing costumes. The heroes of old became passé. New heroes killed, shot, burned, and karate-ed others to death. Women wore fewer clothing. Whoever would have thought that Wonder Woman looked drab and overdressed? 
                When I began teaching in Mount Laurel, NJ, Halloween in the United States had embarked on an exercise in greed and outdoing others.
                Today, ironically enough, the practices which appalled me then seem relatively harmless. 
                Every year, the schoolrooms had more elaborate parties for the students. The parents endeavored to outdo each other with refreshments and games. Teachers and principals dressed in costumes. An hour-long parade happened after lunch, and prizes were awarded to both teachers and students … and finally, to parents. The children left school at the end of the school day, determined to fill their shopping bags to the rim with loot. Alas! By 1982 (at which time I had applied for a position in another district school), I got caught up in the fever. Each year, I had developed more and more amusing but wacky costumes. 
                Finally, my most glorious Halloween Day arrived. I would dress in a billowing gown decorated with brightly printed rainbows, and puffed out with a half dozen petticoats.  I would have a gilded soldier helmet on my head, and clump around in along in hiking boots with gilt laces. In addition I carried a gilded toy rifle to “shoot” birds flying overhead. I figured I would have the teacher prize “nailed down”. I now suspect God must have been appalled and decided to take action. 
                Since we had to have our regular morning classes before lunch, I settled my students into their groups and began teaching. The first group of students sat at the reading table and starting reading about an Olympic swimmer, who persevered in winning the backstroke swimming gold medal. She was quite a heroine. One of the students asked me what a “backstroke” was. The other five students in the group nodded their heads. 
                I tried to explain with words. No one quite understood me. So, still sitting in my chair, I demonstrated.
                “Oh, now we understand,” chorused the students.
                Gleefully pushing with my feet on the carpet tiles, and enthusiastically back stroking, I slid myself and the chair around the group while the children cheered me on to an imaginary finish line.        
                There was a sharp snap in my lower back, and I was unable to move. The pain was excruciating. Quickly I sent a student to the nurse’s office for two aspirin. Within minutes he returned with the two tablets, and I took them with water. 
                Twenty minutes later I still couldn’t stand up. It was approaching lunch time.
                After another twenty minutes, I sent him back to the nurse’s office for two more aspirin. Nurse Joan Cornew arrived with a dosage container and stood about five feet away from me, holding it up. The principal came in, too. I told them what had happened. Still standing in her position, Joan looked at me and said, “Come and get it.”
                Alas! I was unable to move. She nodded her head sagely. 
                The principal said, “I’m calling the first aid squad.”
                A temporary substitute teacher took the students to the lunchroom. 
                The first aid squad arrived, accompanied by the full fire department. I could not stand to be lifted onto a stretcher. So the paramedics lifted up the chair I was sitting in and slid me onto the stretcher on my back. They used inflated cubes to support my legs. It was humiliating.  The students, with trepidation, watched me being loaded onto the ambulance. 
                On the ride to the hospital, I had to tell the medics about the situation. They called the ER and explained about their patient. The ER doctor said, “I didn’t know there was a swimming pool in Countryside School?” Tersely, the medic snapped, “There is NOT.” 
                All the employees in ER – of course – were in full Halloween regalia. The head nurse – a friend of mine – was dressed like a witch with a green-painted face and her favorite set of fangs, rushed in and exclaimed, “Oh! My heavens! It’s John’s mom!” As she looked at my position, and heard the story, she said, “I didn’t know your school has a swimming pool?” The entire first aid squad chorused: “There isn’t any!” Explanations were rapidly made. 
                 I was admitted to the hospital. Within 24 hours the doctors had straightened out my body, although I still couldn’t walk, and I was sent home.
                By the way, my son John was, at that time, a nurse in the ER. It was his day off. When he heard what had happened, he rushed back to work, took a look at me, patted me on the head, and said just one accusatory word: “MOM!?!”      
                Recuperation time was awful. It was three weeks before I could return to school. Workman’s Compensation covered my expenses. “Only,” said MaryAnn Kirvan, our secretary, “because I didn’t volunteer extra information about our school’s pool.”           
                Anyt’ing for Thanksgivin’?

>< ~ >< ~ ><  Which of your costumes caused the greatest reaction?  The Anarchist and the Prostitute 
                Several years after getting married, my husband and I were invited to a friend’s house for a Halloween party. They lived a half hour subway ride away from us, and we were delighted to come. Another friend was driving back to the city from a work-related trip in New England, and told us he would gladly drive us home.
                I asked him about his own costume, and he said he would dress as a living spirit. After he arrived at the party, we discovered his gift of understatement. The “sheet” was a large white bedspread bespattered by rips and tears of all sizes, accentuated by red paint. He wore the spread over his head and had cut out eye holes so he could see. Once he got there, he could not partake of the refreshments, so I slit a mouth hole for him, and he wore his handkerchief loosely tied over his hidden mouth, in bandit style.
                The late afternoon of the party, my husband said he wanted to surprise me; and in turn, I wanted to surprise him. We both had all we needed for our costumes. Then one of us holed up in the bedroom, the other in the bathroom. A half hour later, we called out “Ready!’ and came out.
                One stunned look, and we collapsed in helpless laughter.
                Hubby had cut a bristle hairbrush into tiny pieces, put glue on his cheeks and chin, and spread the bristles on his face. What an unshaven mess! Then, he spread hair gel in his hair and rumpled it into hills and valleys. His clothes were ragged. He wore only one sock. He had painted large concentric circles on the soles of his shoes that looked like holes. His shirt was missing buttons and was only partially tucked in.
                In his hand he carried a black rubber ball to which he had taped a half inch diameter, ten inch long cord. It looked like a bomb.
                There was an (empty) pistol in his other hand.
                Choking with laughter, I immediately identified him as an anarchist.
                He looked at me and laughed hysterically. I had taken a bright red, tightly fitting dress and its inviting false leopard skin belt, and had cut the hemline to midway up the thighs. My hosiery was held up by extra long garters extending below the hemline. They were fastened to my black sheer stockings. My brown hair was streaked with blond and red highlights, and was almost as wild as my husband’s, thanks to my own tube of gel. I had enough so much makeup on my face, I could barely smile. When I open , my thickly smeared red lips, one front tooth was blacked out. My shoes had four inch heels. Of course, I had the foresight to bring newly purchased flip flops being sold in boutiques,  in a pocketbook bought for the occasion: silver sequins, folks. Silver sequins.
                Choking with laughter, he immediately identified me as a prostitute.
                It happened to be a warm evening, so we didn’t bother to wear coats.
                Merrily, we walked the five minutes to the subway station and soon boarded a train. Most of the people were on their way home from work. Everyone stopped talking and stared. No one said a word.
                At each station, people emptied out and people poured in. The newcomers stared at us in stunned silence.
                By the time we reached our third or fourth stop, most of the passengers had begun to laugh and started to banter with us. We played our roles to the hilt.
                Some invited us to ply our obvious “trades” in their neighborhoods. People in the 1950’s of New York City were quite aware of the realities of life.
                As soon as the doors opened and a new crowd came in, the same patterns of silence and laughter reoccurred.
     Our stop came up, and as we left, most of the passengers spontaneously sang, “For he’s a jolly good fellow”.
                 Fortunately, our friends lived only a minute’s walk from  away from the station. More fortunately, we had an auto ride home.
                Oh, yes. We won 1st prize.
                It was two days before we could get all the gunk off our bodies.
Happy Halloween.

 

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POLISH MUSHROOMS OUTSMART COMMIES – Ya Gotta Do …

            The history of Poland, homeland of my mother’s family since the 1500’s, tore through that unfortunate nation during the 20th Century. The beginning of the Second World War saw both Nazi and Russian invasions as the realm was shredded. In 1945, the eventual Russian “liberation” of this war-torn nation led to the ultimate nadir during the Communist takeover, which was finally broken in 1989.

            An unknown number of my family members – all Jewish – died in the concentration camps and many mass executions during the nightmare. Family lore puts the number at more than six hundred murdered souls.              Before the First World War, four of my mother’s family had emigrated and settled in the United States. Also before World 1, my grandmother and grandfather, as well as several of my grandmother’s brothers, along with my two uncles and my mother emigrated to Vienna, Austria. Some few, including my grandparents, mother, and both uncles made it to the United States by 1942. Two other relatives ended up in the United Kingdom, four to Australia, one to China, three to the Netherlands, and three to Israel during the beginnings of the War.

            By the end of WWII, all of them  – including five concentration camp survivors were able to contact each other throughout the world.

            Then, in 1945, the Russians closed Poland, and we were unable to search for awhile. However, even Communists need funds to run a nation, so Stalin decreed war survivors could connect with relatives throughout the world and ask for food, money, necessities, tools, clothing, and “appropriate gifts, but no jewelry”. The survivors were officially warned “gossip” – i.e. truth – about their political restrictions would lead to immediate execution and their family’s land would be confiscated.

            Several relatives, who had been hidden during the Second World War by Christian neighbors, came to light. Two who were educated and had liberal outlooks perished under the Communists. Some others walked through a living hell during the nights to reach Western Europe and its seaports and ended up in Israel or Australia. Several may have come to the United States. But we have never able to find them because their names were changed. All in all, our family’s WWII survivor generation count was up to a dozen.

            As soon as the  Communist decree went out, my grandmother the Polish survivors were able to touch base. She and my grandfather did indeed send most of what was asked for, but drew the line at a tractor. The “supply choo-choo” as my grandfather named it, continued into the 1970’s,

            In Poland, all mail to the United States and from here, was, of course censored.

            Desperate for news, and aware the Polish relatives were in the same mind, Oma Feld started to reminisce in her letters and packages about the childhood days of the family. She complained long, often, and bitterly about American food:  the “tasteless mushrooms” for sale in the United States, the lack of “decent” smoked salmon, “kielbasa and other divine sausages which are worse than tasteless, which is an obscenity!” she groused.  She offered to send money if “these foods, especially large 5-6 inch diameter  heavenly mushrooms” were sent to her.

            Her “complaints” to Poland were not censored by the Russians. Oma’s sister sent a letter to the United States which started off with “I hear what you are saying, dear sister. Let’s try to rectify this. But do send not stop sending money for us to purchase the supplies.”

            Soon a thriving exchange of Polish food and American money became established on a broad basis between other families. This system is called capitalism. Capitalism and its connecting greed will eventually destroy Communism.

            One afternoon, while visiting during the summer, I was sent from my grandparents’ store to pick up the mail, and there was a package from Poland. I brought it to her, and she immediately opened it. There was a beautifully decorated Polish wildflowers enameled box, eight inches by four inches by four inches high.

            Opa Feld was brought into the office. Both were excited. The two of them began to laugh with delight.

            I wondered what was in it, but was told we would have to wait until after dinner and the ensuing quilt deliveries to clients that evening.

            Finally, the work day ended, and we went home.

            We sat around the dining room table, found a key taped to the bottom, and the box was unlocked.

            It was full of shriveled, dried mushrooms, each about three inches in diameter.

            “There are no stems!” I shouted, as I picked them up and smelled them. “Oh, they smell so good!”

            Both grandparents laughed merrily, then told me to sit down and watch.

            Carefully Oma and Opa began to break open the dried mushrooms.

            I gasped in amazement. “Aren’t you going to cook them? Those pieces are so small!”

            Both Opa and Oma smiled at me, and put their fingers to their mouths. Tiny pieces remained there.

            To my total amazement, each mushroom had a small three inch by two inch strip of crumpled paper in it. There were about fifty such. The paper had been placed into the fresh mushrooms, which were then permitted to dry and shrivel.

            My grandparents carefully smoothed out the paper wrinkles and began to read messages written in tiny print for which they had to use a magnifying glass.

            News of the family and their fortunate or unfortunate status had been smuggled past the Russian censors! A letter from my grandmother’s sister was opened. She said she had brought a “similar box” to the post office as a treat because “The Communists are really changing this nation for the better, and they deserve a reward.”

            Opa snorted. “I hope the monsters enjoyed their mushrooms!”

            The three of us joined hands and danced around the dining room table, singing and kicking our heels in the polka step. Then we all had a sip of wine and toasted the mushroom family.

            Until the 1970’s the mushrooms were a regular gift from Poland, and enabled my grandparents to keep in touch with the family. They, in turn notified the other survivors throughout the world.

            When I visited the Australia in 2006 for the New Year’s celebration, Polish Mushrooms were part of the many dishes. A toast was always made to the mushroom family.

            Oma Feld often said, when discussing this important part of her life – in Polish – a phrase similar to “Ya gotta do what ya gotta do!”

           

           

 

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POLAND’S MUSHROOMS – Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do

The history of Poland, homeland of my mother’s family since the 1500’s, tore through this nation during the 20th Century. The beginning of the 2nd World War saw both Nazi and Russian invasions as the realm was shredded. In 1945, the eventual Russian “liberation” of this war-torn nation led to the nadir with the Communist takeover, which was finally broken in 1989.
An unknown number of family members – all of Jewish – died in the concentration camps and mass executions during the nightmare. Family lore puts the number at more than six hundred murdered souls. Before the First World War, four of my mother’s family had emigrated and settled in the United States. At the same time, my grandmother and grandfather, as well as my grandmother’s brothers, along with my two uncles and my mother emigrated to Vienna, Austria. Some few, including my grandparents, mother, and both uncles made it to the United States by 1942. Two other relatives ended up in the United Kingdom, four to Australia, one to China, three to the Netherlands, and three to Israel during this decade.
By the end of the war, all – including five concentration camp survivors were able to contact each other throughout the world.
Then, in 1945, the Russians closed the country, and we were unable to search for awhile. However, even Communists need funds to run a nation, so Stalin decreed war survivors could connect with relatives throughout the world and ask for food, money, necessities, tools, clothing, and “gifts”. They were officially warned “gossip” – i.e. truth – about their political restrictions would lead to immediate execution and their family’s land would be confiscated.
Several relatives, who had been hidden during the entire war by Christian neighbors, came to light. Two who were educated and had liberal outlooks perished under the Communists. Some others walked during the nights to Western Europe, seaports and ended up in Israel or Australia. Several may have come to the United States. All in all, our family’s survivor generation count was up to a dozen.
As soon as the decree went out, my grandmother was able to contact the Polish survivors. She and my grandfather did indeed send most of what was asked for, but drew the line at a tractor. The supplies continued into the 1970’s,
All mail to the United States and from here, was, of course censored. So Oma Feld started to reminisce about the childhood days of the family. She complained long, often, and bitterly about American food: the “tasteless mushrooms” for sale in the United States, the lack of “decent” smoked salmon, kielbasa and other sausages which are worse than tasteless, it is an obscenity!” She offered to send money if these foods were sent to her.
Her “complaints” to Poland were not censored. Oma’s sister sent a letter to the United States which started off with “I hear what you are saying, dear sister. Let’s try to rectify this. But do send money for the supplies.”
Soon a thriving exchange of Polish food and American money became established on a broad basis between other families. This system is called capitalism. Capitalism and its connecting greed will eventually destroy Communism.
One afternoon, after work, I was sent from their store to pick up the mail, and there was a package from Poland. I brought it to her, and she immediately opened it. There was a beautifully decorated Polish wildflowers enameled box, eight inches by four inches by four inches high.
Opa Feld was excitedly brought into the office. The two of them began to laugh with delight.
I wondered what was in it, but was told we would have to wait until after quilt deliveries to clients that evening.
Finally, the work day ended, and we went home.
We sat around the dining room table, and the box was unlocked.
It was full of shriveled, dried mushrooms, each about three inches in diameter.
“There are no stems!” I shouted, as I picked them up and smelled them. “Oh, they smell so good!”
Both grandparents laughed merrily, then told me to sit down and watch.
Carefully Oma and Opa began to break open the dried mushrooms.
To my total amazement, each mushroom had a small three inch by two inch strip of crumpled paper in it. There were about fifty such.
My grandparents carefully smoothed out the wrinkles and began to read the messages written in tiny print with a magnifying glass.
News of the family and their fortunate or unfortunate status had been smuggled past the Russian censors. A letter from my grandmother’s sister was opened. She said she had brought a similar box to the post office as a treat because “The Communists are really changing this nation for the better, and they deserve a reward.”
Opa snorted. “I hope the monsters enjoyed their mushrooms!” The three of us joined hands and danced around the dining room table, singing and kicking our heels in the polka step. Then we all had a sip of wine and toasted the mushroom family.
Until the 1950’s the mushrooms were a regular gift from Poland, and enabled my grandparents to keep in touch with the family. They, in turn notified the other survivors.
When I visited the Australia in 2006, Mushrooms were part of many dinners. A toast was always made to the mushroom family.
Oma Feld often said – in Polish – a phrase similar to “Ya gotta do what ya gotta do!”

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An Exaltation of Larks ~ A Group of New Veneries Each Month

Please see An Exaltation of Larks, James Lipton, Viking Publishers for if you don’t want to wait for me every month. Then you, too, can become a bona fide Grope of Groupies.

June, 2012
A pride of lions
A herd of elephants
A nest of vipers (keep politics out of this!)
A generation of vipers
A barrel of monkeys

May, 2012
A catch of fish
A pack of dogs
A litter of pups
A month of Sundays
A mountain of debt
A hill of beans
A dose of salts.
You know these? How about A consumption of Yuppies? A relish of connoisseurs?

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2011~2012 in review ~ wordpress official statistics ~

 

 

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