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SYLVIA FUCHS ORAL HISTORY
LYNN YANIS: This is Lynn Yanis, and today is October 25th, 2013. I'm here atthe Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, with Sylvia Fuchs, and we are going to record an interview as part of the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project. Sylvia, do I have your permission to record this interview?
SYLIVA FUCHS: Yes, ma'am.
LY: Fantastic. Can we start by telling me what you know about your familythat you were born into?
SF: My parents were immigrants. They came -- my father came to this countryto escape the draft. And he -- we found out later, when the Ellis Island -- had that system where you press a button and you find out about -- we found out 1:00that my mother came to this country through Ellis Island. My father came from -- through Canada. I don't know why, but he did. But my mother had two children in Europe, and she stayed there until he sent for her, which was a year later. My father did not want to live in the ghettos of New York, Lower Manhattan. So, he went to work for a very, very prestigious shop, The Tailored Woman, on Fifth Avenue. And he was a tailor, and he was a designer of clothes. And then, after the first year, he found an apartment in Harlem. And Harlem was very beautiful then, and he sent for my mother and my older sister and brother. The 2:00rest of us were born here, but we were all born at home. And I was two pounds when I was born. I was preemie, and my mother didn't have incubators or any kind of facility to help her. She once tried to feed me with an eyedropper and I turned blue. (laughs) I couldn't absorb it. But I guess the man up there wanted me to stay, 'cause we are not in control. No. He is. And the only one who's -- only one person who's perfect, and that's God. And my parents were religious, but they -- my mother was way ahead of herself. And when I got older, I lived in 3:00New York, in my own apartment, with another young lady. And, of course, that -- I was considered a very promiscuous woman, because nobody allowed their child to live in an apartment by themselves. But my mother was way ahead of it, and she found this apartment, and every weekend I went home. At that point, they lived in Queens, and we had a lovely family. Six children. Three boys, three girls. I was the youngest, and my mother, as I said, was very proud. Bathed me in a fruit bowl, and she told them all -- how beautiful I was, and I said to her -- my mother was a wonderful person -- "Look, mom, why are you telling these people how gorgeous I was? Did you ever buy a chicken that was two pounds? It's 4:00pretty ugly." And she wouldn't have any part of that. (laughs) I didn't even have my nails when I was born. And I was born at home. But my father believed that if I had yorn, years to live, I would live at home. And if not, the man up there makes the decision. And fortunately, I was a very strong baby. And, as a matter of fact, among the six children, I was the only one who didn't have measles, the mumps -- none of that. No. I was a strong little girl. And I started to gain a little weight, and then I got chubby. Nice. And unfortunately, 5:00in those days, my parents didn't have a camera. They didn't take any pictures. So, I don't have any childhood pictures that I'd like -- was only one picture, when I was -- I guess I was about three, two -- that my mother had done professionally. And I was standing and I had a duck in my hand, but I don't know where that is. I guess one of my sisters had all the family pictures, and I just don't know where it is. But I had a wonderful childhood. My parents, wonderful people. And then, I went on and I had a career. And I was very fortunate. I worked for the downtown art galleries -- the woman that owned -- the director. And my brother, one of my oldest brothers, who was a professional artist worked 6:00at the Metropolitan Museum of -- with Metropolitan Opera, because he did not work during the day. He painted his paintings and stuff. So, I used to go, and he used to sell the libretto, which is the story of the opera. And I used to go with him, and then he would say, "You wait here. At the end of the first act, you'll see all these people that are dressed up so fancily -- they really don't care about the opera. But they want everybody to see their fancy clothes, their dinner clothes, and there'll be lots of empty seats." And that's when he took me in and said, "Here, sit here. Now, nobody'll -- they've gone home or they've gone to dinner or they've gone to have some drinks, and you won't be bothered." And that's when I started with the opera. The opera house was, at that time, was at Fortieth Street. It was square, a square, the full block. And, of course, 7:00special acoustics. And then, went to Carnegie Hall to hear music there. And I've -- I have learned that, as far as I'm concerned, music is a part of your soul. It stays with you, it helps you think, meditate, and so -- that's on Saturday. I occupy my time with those two men that do the "Car Talk." Do you ever listen to that? Click and Clack? I think they're hilarious. I haven't had a car in twen-- but I still listen. And then there's "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" and then the opera comes on. One o'clock. And I have enough of that to keep me satisfied. I don't -- I have my radio, I have my instrument that does my books 8:00on tape, and I've learned how to use that gimmick that puts the bed up and down. I don't see it, but I know -- I feel it. And nobody ever calls me on Saturday between one and five. (laughs)
LY: Did you grow up with music in the house?
SF: Yes. My parents, on Sunday -- when it's Sunday, the -- NBC had a --music. I heard Toscanini and Serge Koussevitzky, Leonard Bernstein. My mother always served us dinner, early, so that we all sat in the living room and we listened to the music.
LY: After dinner.
SF: And it was great. We all -- my brothers were sitting on the floor, thisone -- but we had to listen to the Philharmonic. Was a wonderful, wonderful 9:00upbringing. And even though my parents -- nobody -- they didn't play any instruments. But they loved nice music. And by osmosis, we inhaled it. And so, we all -- and they used to call me a longhair, but I say to my children and my grandchildren, I like -- there's a program that comes on at night, at eight o'clock, and it's a jazz program. And I say, "But I knew good jazz!" Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, those -- that -- they were jazz musicians. Today, they can't sing and they have one line and they keep repeating that one line over and 10:00over and over. No voices. I said, "If you want to listen to good music" -- I bought that tape that the whatchamacallit -- opera was selling on the radio. And I -- it's a two-cassette player, and if you contributed 150 dollars at that time -- it was -- couple years ago -- they sent you the set. And it -- I bought one. And recently, I just bought one for one of my children who enjoys that kind of music. And the trouble, I find, with older people -- and, of course, my kids, they tease me with older people -- what -- "You're old, mom!" (laughs) I find that they don't have, if I may say, other interests. Their interest is only 11:00within themselves. So, they are all they talk about, and then they wonder why their grandchildren and their great -- don't come to visit. Well, a twelve-year-old or a fourteen -- don't want to hear about the fact that you got a pain in your toe or your back hurts or -- no, no, no, no. They don't want that. If you want to be in their generation, as I said -- I'm a dinosaur. I'm four generations behind you. You are going to carry on for me, 'cause I can't do that anymore. And I think it's important to have other interests. Now, I don't like the news today. It's very sad, what's happening in all these countries. But I listen, because I want to know what's happening. And then, as I said, I listen to -- in the middle of the night, yeah, when I -- if I waken, which I do at this stage. I turn my radio on, I hear wonderful classical music. The only station 12:00that has it. And I have my radio set, because I can't see it, my daughter has it with Velcro, and I just press this piece of Velcro and it goes on. And then, I press it and it goes off, because she has blocked out all the other things, 'cause I can't handle it.
LY: Can you tell me some more about the -- you painted a beautiful picture ofyou and your brothers and sisters and your parents at home, listening to music.
SF: Well, you mean the one with the fi-- the steps, my brothers and sis-- mysiblings? I'm not on that picture.
LY: Oh, no, no, when you were a child. I meant a word picture, kind of avisual story picture --
LY: -- when you were at home and you would listen to music with your family --
LY: -- can you describe -- what was the room like? Where did everyone sit?
SF: Oh, well, we -- at that time, we lived -- let's see, where we lived13:00then. We lived in -- we must have lived in Manhattan, and they -- and it seemed -- the nice thing about that era was that nobody discussed their religious obligations. We had a -- we lived in this house, had six families, and it -- the -- we used to call them railroad flats, because everything was on the -- one side. And we grew to enjoy some of these very fine musicians. And we would listen and we would learn, and -- but I'm sixty-six, and I still -- I'm learning. I heard a program the other day and found out that the conductor, 14:00Serge Koussevitzky, did not start out with a piano. 'Cause most musicians start out with the piano as their base, and then they go onto some instrument. He started out with the -- at -- the big instrument, what is that? The --
LY: The cello?
SF: No, no, bigger. The big -- the bass.
SF: The bass. And he found out that the bass never had any solos in the --he always-- the bass, the bassoon, and -- the bass, the bassoon, and one other instrument, they -- oh, the tuba -- and they could never -- they always had to play in an orchestra. There was never a solo piece for them. And that's when 15:00he changed and played the piano. Now -- but most musicians play the piano first, and then from there, decide what instrument they want to play. And that's the way -- and I don't play any instrument, but I have very acute hearing when it comes to music. And I always wanted to be a conductor, 'cause I knew all about the viola section, the percussion section. I know where they sit in the orchestra, and I always wanted to be a conductor. And I always felt strongly about people like Beverly Sills and Dane Sutherland. Now, they were smart. They left when they were ahead. I mean, they would -- they were at the top of their 16:00work, instead of continuing. And Robert Merrill has been singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in -- at the ballgames for a hundred thousand years. Now, he has no voice, he can't sing anymore, and I feel embarrassed when he gets up to sing! Let some young person who's got a voice sing it, and you step out of there. See, Beverly Sills quit while she was ahead, and then -- I'm very upset now, the New York City Cent-- opera company is closed down because they need funds. And I'm just hoping some rich person that has some wherewithal will pick this up and put it back on, because I went down to New York at that time and Beverly Sills had a program where she took visit-- tourists, and we went through the whole stage, downstairs, and -- the instruments and how they had their hair 17:00fixed and all that. She was a wonderful person. Unfortunately, I don't know whether you know, she has two girls, both of them stone deaf and have never heard their mother sing.
LY: I had no idea.
SF: Wasn't that sad? Very sad. But she was a wonderful, wonderful performerand one of the finest voices at the Metropolitan. One of the finest voices. And she -- when she left, she did this New York City Opera. She was the director, and it was where she should be. And Dane Sutherland did the same thing. Now, a lot of them won't let go. They keep on singing, and they don't -- they -- but then you take Placido Domingo. He did a program two weeks ago that he did forty years ago. But he says, "I can't sing that range anymore." So, he 18:00drops it two octaves, and he was able to sing -- a beautiful voice. He was -- wonderful, wonderful voice. You have to recognize the fact -- it's the same thing -- have to recognize the fact that every day, I'm getting older, and you don't have the same reflexes. You don't have the same attributes as to how this should be done. So, you have to back off and let the next generation come in. We need young voices. We need new -- now, that program with the -- Placido Domingo, what's the name? Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, that was a wonderful piece of music. Wonderful. I have a recording of that. You have to be able to relate to what this generation is if you want to keep in any kind of contact with them. 19:00And I -- and the thing that I am upset about is they want you to introduce the young people to the opera. There are lots of operas where they don't die at the end. I -- when I give my kids a pair of tickets, I don't give them a pair to "La Traviata," "La Bohème," no. I give it to "The Magic Flute," 'cause at the end everybody's happy. And I always tease my kids and say, "I don't know why, in 'La Bohème' and in 'la' -- they take -- and 'Othello' -- they take a half hour to die, (laughs) until they do -- go through this performance." And they like jazz -- they may like hip-hop or whatever the devil it is they're doing over there, or reggae and all that. But, to me, that isn't music. No. No.
LY: This appreciation of music is a value that your parents really --20:00
SF: Inculcated in us, yes.
LY: What other values did they really support and share with you?
SF: With us? My -- when I -- my legacy, I hope, will bring what my fatherdid for us, and that was: it's so easy to be nice to people. It isn't difficult at all. And don't forget two words in your vocabulary, and I've taught to my chil-- please and thank you. No matter what the man's job is, whether he's here to keep this place clean -- that's his job, and he's to be respected for that. And I always, when they -- I get a new person that comes on that's learning, I -- first thing I say is, "What's your name?" 'Cause I answer them -- and they'll tell me. And then, I'll talk to them and I'll treat them as a person! They're people! I used to say to my sons and my daughter, "Would you 21:00like anybody to treat your mother in a subservient manner?" I worked for twenty years for a big aircraft company. I was secretary to the president, and I don't like those titles, you know? But -- so easy. It's so easy to be nice. Doesn't make any difference whether he's from Pakistan or Uganda -- my -- this one grandson who's online at Morgan, he's been to Uganda -- to Rwanda three times. Now, his sister was -- she's graduating from Simmons College in June. She spent the summer, three-month class, in Rwanda. And I have -- this grandson's been to Ghana. He's trying to direct a school there. They don't have 22:00books, they don't have lots of things. And when he went back the third time, my daughter filled up a carton with toys and some clothes, and I said -- she said, "You have too much of that. You have all that stuff. Let them have some so they know what a pencil is, what a pen is, what" -- you know, it's very sad! People in this country -- and I have friends who say, "Well, there's plenty of people here in this country that need the money." No. There are plenty of poor people, and I do feel for them, and I will help them. But remember, they do get help from us: their welfare or giving birth and all those things. They are getting help. But these help people -- kids that are not getting anything. They have no water, they have no electricity. They have no -- Morgan made a beautiful 23:00presentation at his graduation, and he had told about Rwanda and what it was all about. That's his thing. He wants -- he connected up with a priest there who was very good to him when he came, because he wanted to live with a host family, and he lived with this man. And then, we worked on it so that this priest came -- we got him -- he came here, he stayed with my daughter for the two weeks he was here, and then he had to go back. And he and Morgan -- see, he will be the director of the school over there, and Morgan and he will connect. He will do things for them here. And that's the way it should be. You have to help them. They need the help.
LY: Do you --
SF: But -- and the unfortunate part is, Lynn, that it's basically a religious problem.24:00
LY: How is that?
SF: It's a religious -- it all goes down to religion, unfortunately. ButMorgan is dedicated to doing this, and he is helping. And he -- right now, he's in San Diego, and he's going to the university there. He's taking a special class on how to handle certain things. That's wonderful, that's good.
LY: You said when you were growing up in the nineteen-teens and twenties --
LY: -- in your apartment building, that the religious obligations were not --
SF: No, no.
LY: -- spoken of?
SF: We never thought of it as that. If it was a Jewish holiday, they would-- the people in the building would say, "Happy New Year." If it was Christmas -- see, we didn't have a tree. They -- we'd say, "Merry Christmas," is -- we'd 25:00go to -- and Thanksgiving, I used to have at least twenty-five people at my table, because the -- some of them were in from England, some of them -- and they didn't have that holiday and they didn't have any place to go. And there was always room at our table for somebody else. And we had -- don't forget, the -- just among ourselves, we had eight in the -- six in the family, and then my husband and myself, and we always -- if someone didn't have a place to go for the holidays, we always had them at our house. We always could make room. And -- it was just a natural thing for us to do that.
LY: How were the holidays -- how did you celebrate the Jewish holidays?
SF: The Jewish holidays? Well, we made the traditional foods, and I used to26:00make a date nut bread in -- and I used to put it in a can, and I used to bake it in that can. And then, I would dump it out and wrap aluminum foil around it, and then some Saran Wrap and a little ribbon. And I used to put one of those loaves on every desk in my office, all the girl-- you see them -- put it on their desk to show them that's what we had at certain holidays. And my mother made certain things, I would share it and tell them, "This is our culture. Now, we have to know something about yours." Now, it wasn't hard.
LY: This was at Avitron?
SF: At -- well, at Avitron, yes. And at Avitron, I -- the president, beforemy boss became president, was Scandinavian. And the Scandinavian flag is the same color as the Israel -- Jew-- blue and white are their colors. And I used 27:00to decorate the office with Christmas trees and all that kind of nonsense. And on my desk, I used to have this little plant. And when the president came by, I'm -- I was always the oldest. I was older than the president. When the president came by, he said, "Oh, Sylvia, what is that on your desk? It's not a poinsettia." I said, "No, it's not. It's a little" -- it was a little bush, and I said, "And it is not a Christmas tree. It's a Hanukkah bush." And he would laugh, he would think that was so funny. I said, "Just remember, that's not a Christmas tree. It's a Hanukkah bush." And I always wanted them to know that that's what it was. I didn't -- we never had a tree at home. My mother didn't -- and father didn't have a tree. But I have three children, and none of them married in their faith. And it's Christmastime, they have a tree from the 28:00ceiling to -- the biggest tree you can find, and -- but they also have a menorah and they will light the candle and they would call me on the phone, even this past year, and they'd sing the little Hanukkah song. I have it -- it's in that book. And that was wonderful. You've got to know where you belong. You have to do that, and people will respect you for it.
LY: When you were a young woman --
LY: -- your mother -- your parents supported you in living on your own, beforeyou were married?
SF: Oh, yeah.
LY: Was that --
SF: Well, that was unusual, 'cause as I said, that -- if you -- and not onlythat, but in that time, if you weren't married by the time you were nineteen or twenty, oh my God, you're definitely an old maid. But my mother, when her 29:00neighbors -- it was a lot -- always a little bit of gossip -- my mother would say, "She's not ready yet. She's having a wonderful time." And she used to say, "And when she gets engaged, I'll tell you about it. Don't worry. We'll let you know." (laughs) No, it was funny, at that stage, I -- if a young man became interested somewhat and then he started to get a little bit too interested, I would -- that was the end of him. I was not ready for that, and my mother was wonderful about it -- my father, my mother -- and we were brought up that there's -- people are people no matter what they do. Just respect them for what they do. And I used to say to my children, too -- "Would you like someone to treat me in a subservient manner?" "Oh, my goodness, mother." "Well, then you 30:00have to learn their culture, too. They have reasons for doing things."
LY: Where were you living bef-- when you left your parents' home and beforeyou married?
SF: When I left my parents' home, I lived with a friend in -- down in --Fifty-eighth Street, right near Bloomingdale's, where I used to spend all my checks, and where -- it's very funny, because we used to get paid bimonthly, and as soon as we got our checks, everybody went to Bloomingdale's and to all these places and did their shopping. And it was -- and I didn't have a car, I mean, and I used to go up to see my parents. I always went on the weekend and spent the weekend with my mother and father. Was -- it was just a natural thing to do. 31:00You never questioned -- I don't know what your relationship was, but you never -- when your mother told you something, you did not say, "Say it again." Maybe if -- my friend used to -- "Ask for again -- maybe if you ask for again, she'll let you go." And I used to say, "When my mother says no, she doesn't mean maybe. She means no." And I would never ask her again on that subject, or I never qualify -- that sort of thing. I knew that that's the way it was. And then, I went along with it. We -- my brothers and sisters, too.
LY: How did you meet your husband?
SF: Oh, well, his sister worked for Avitron, and she went -- this was veryfunny -- she went to -- she's an older sister, and you know in the Jewish religion -- I don't know -- you cannot marry the youngest brothers and -- until 32:00the older person gets married. Yeah, I'd still be waiting 'cause she never got married, but -- which -- we just went along with -- we didn't have any problem. I'd go home every weekend, see my parents, and I'd come back and go on a date. And one of the parties was -- my husband's sister, the oldest one, she had -- she worked with me. She sat right in front of me, and she went to Aruba for a holiday. And when she came back, she brought a whole bunch of rum and stuff like that. We didn't drink very much, but she did -- brought stuff. And she invited several of us from the office from -- to a party. And I was living in New York then and -- the Fifty-eighth Street, right? And my roommate -- I said, "Oh, 33:00I'm not going. For God's sakes, I work with these people all day. Who wants to spend a weekend going up there?" She says, "Well, if you don't go, Sylvia, they're gonna think you're a snob. So -- as it is, they think you're pretty snobby with your music and stuff." And so, I dilly-dallied and, about nine o'clock, I said, "Okay, I'll go." I had to take a subway to get there, because I didn't have a car. So, I was there to -- a very nice evening, very nice party. And one of the young men from my office said, "Sylvia, don't worry, I'll take you home." He'll take me to my -- where I lived. "Oh," I said, "that's fine." Well, lo and behold, just as we're -- I'm getting ready to go, this very handsome young man, whom I didn't think -- I -- he was just nice-looking -- came over and he said, "I'd like to take you home." And me, I was a rip, I said, "Take me home? You are home. Why would you want to take me home?" I said, "No, 34:00I've already been spoke-- one of the men from -- one of the fellows is gonna take me home." It took him about six weeks to get hims-- the courage to call me for a date. That's how I met him, through that party.
LY: And then he called you.
SF: He called me. He -- no, he called his sister and she transferred thecall. She said, "Syl, someone wants to talk to you." And, "Hello?" And he told me who he was. I didn't know that -- I didn't know him from a hole in the wall. I didn't know what he looked like, I didn't know what he was dressed like. I didn't know anything. And so, he said he'd like to take me out to dinner and -- or to the theater. And Fifty-eighth Street, going across town, there was lots of theaters and different places that you could go. Bars and 35:00stuff like that. I wasn't a drinker. So, I said, "I don't think so." I said, "I never fraternize with anybody that's in the office, because if it doesn't work out, it's very embarrassing. You see these people every day and you have to work with them." And he kept it up and kept it up, and finally, I said, "Okay, I'll go out with you." So, since I had no idea what he looked like, I said -- gave him my address, he -- Fifty-eighth Street, 231, and he came. And, oh, my roommate -- "Oh, he's so good-looking!" He was very Irish looking. Had blue eyes, very blue eyes, very fair skin and dark hair. And, well, the neighborhood he lived in was mostly non-Jews. And so, he came and we were getting ready and 36:00we're going out. He was taking me to the theater, he was taking me to dinner. And he says to me, "Oh, come on, my car's over there." It was his father's car. It wasn't his. And I said, "What's the matter? Don't you know how to walk?" I said, "There's everything right here. We don't have to walk very far." I said, "We don't need a car. Leave your car here." And that's how it started. And it was funny, because we went out to dinner, and if he said it was red, I said it was blue. It was constant bickering, and I figured oh, boy, this is gonna be a great night. But we had a very nice time, and he brought me home. And then he says, "Can we have a repeat on next Saturday?" I said, "Uh-oh, let's not rock the boat. We had a very nice evening, everything went very well. Goodbye." (laughs) But he was very -- he persevered and we started to see each other. And lo and behold, I said, "Look, we're not twenty-one. We're not kids, and I'm 37:00not waiting until your sister finds somebody. And you better tell your mother that we're gonna get married." Well, I was twenty-eight. And he never crossed his mother. He -- we lived in Queens, they lived in the Bronx. They had a -- they were in the hardware business. And they owned the building and they had their apartment, my in-laws, and then they had a vacant apartment, which they rented out. And I said, "No, you either make this decision now or don't bother to call me or to come, because we're -- I'm not gonna have one of these long engagements." And it -- he -- I said, "And if you don't come up" -- see, I -- we -- my mother and father and my sisters had a place in the country where they 38:00took the kids swimming. They had a little cottage, and I used to go up there for the weekends. And the man, he used to come and he stayed the night, and then we'd go back home. I said, "And if" -- he says, "Oh, I don't think I can come this Saturday," or something like that. I said, "If you don't show up this Saturday, don't bother showing up at all." I said, "We're two grown people and we know -- it has to do with us." And my in-laws didn't meet my parents until the day I got married, because the -- their business -- my mother-in-law was in the hardware business, and that was first priority. And we -- I had a very small wedding, just my sisters and brothers, and his two sisters. But the oldest sister, the one I was telling you about, she arranged -- she went on a trip, on 39:00a boat trip the day before we were gonna get married. And she called up and called me at the office, and she's crying. She says, "Oh, brother" -- they used to call him brother. That used to drive me nuts -- "won't talk to me and" -- I said, "Look" -- her name was Dorothy -- I said, "Dorothy, I couldn't care less whether you came or you didn't come. My sisters and brothers will be there. My mother and father will be there. And if you choose to do something else, that's your privilege. I don't care whether you're there. I want my sisters and brothers to be there." And I always wanted, as a kid, to be married at Temple Emanu-El. I don't know whether you know New York. It was right -- about a couple blocks down from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And I'd -- I just -- I got married there in the rabbi's study, 'cause I only had this small group, and I 40:00didn't want one of these big hoopla wedding-- so, I got married in Temple Emanu-El on a beautiful, lovely sunny day. My father made my outfit. I didn't wear a bridal gown or anything.
LY: What did you wear?
SF: I wore a suit. My father made me a silk -- like a suit. And it waswhite, all white, but what I did was -- I wanted -- he made me a bright green jacket that I wore over it. And it was very attractive, it was very nice. And I didn't have any -- I didn't go in for diamonds or anything like that. That wasn't my -- as a matter of fact, my mother had called Manny once -- aside once and said, "Look, I have three diamonds for my girls. If you would like one to give to Sylvia, make it into a little ring." He said, "No, I want to pick the 41:00one out myself." And next to Carnegie Hall was a jeweler. Antique. Carnegie Antique Jewelers. And Manny went in there and he bought me this lovely -- I'm a garnet freak. Bought me this lovely garnet ring. And do you know, I acted like it was the Hope Diamond. I was so thrilled with this. And, oh, my mother-in-law was very upset that her son didn't buy me a diamond, because that meant he couldn't support her or whatever it -- I had the -- I gave it to one of my grandchildren. But those -- I was -- those are all superficial thing-- they're very superficial, and that's not -- makes for a good marriage. The thing is to listen to each other, to have an individual life, too. I was a very active figure skater and ice skater and all that sort of thing, and my -- and Manny was 42:00a big reader. He was amazing with the information, the knowledge that he had. And if we had to go to a book club or -- we just went. We didn't have to be with each other every minute. We -- and I always taught my children, "You have to have -- especially women -- have to have a second income, because a man can pick himself up and say goodbye, and you're left with the baby or whatever it is, and that's no good. You have to be an individual unto yourself." And that's the way I've conducted my life.
LY: How did you become involved in skating?
SF: Oh, when I was eight years old, I -- years ago, I don't know, they used to-- in the city, they used to -- or where your house was -- they used to flood the tennis courts and make a rink. And they had the -- we went -- you could go 43:00skating every night from 5:30 to 8:30, and then it was -- and my mother -- well, as I said, was -- I always wanted to skate. I was a speed-skater, too, but I didn't like to go into competition. And my mother -- I said to my mom, "I have to" -- she bought me a pair of skates. 'Course, she bought me figure skates, and I -- she said -- I said, "Well, you wait here. I have to go inside, mom, and I'll put my -- the skates on." And, "Okay." So, she's waiting and waiting and looking at all of this -- they're skating. You could skate around like this, and where am I? She didn't know. She's waiting for me to come out. The meantime, I had come out at -- went right on the ice and skated. And, oh, she was so shocked. (laughs) So, no, I used to love -- I loved the winter sports, anyhow, 44:00and I liked the fall -- the winter months. So, I -- she -- and I was, I must say -- my roommate always said I was terribly spoiled by my sisters. I must say that I was, in a way, that -- I didn't make it the object of my relationship, but I was an individual unto myself. If I wanted to go skating over -- my husband always recognized that. He didn't -- he wasn't a figure skater or anything like that. And my husband never wore a pair of shorts or -- because when he was two, he had infantile paralysis, and he was put on an island in New York. They -- where all these little kids and grownups were stored, because they didn't know whether it would be contagious. And my in-laws, my mother-in-law, they didn't 45:00even know whether he could speak, 'cause he was there when he was just two. And what happened was they called -- he -- she was able to take him home. And when they were in the car, she's saying, "Oh, he didn't say anything." All of a sudden, he saw a truck or something and he said, "Oh, a truck!" And she was so relieved that he could speak. It was the left side. He had -- one leg was very thin, and so he would never wear -- see, with a man, it was easy 'cause he wore slack-- but in those days, the women didn't wear slacks, you know what I mean? There was -- women that had this disease, but they could -- they had to wear a skirt. And he -- my mother-in-law and my father-in-law -- and I respected 'em for it -- they never treated him as though he had a handicap. He played football 46:00-- I mean, he wasn't the top-notch player or anything like that. And he went swimming and -- no, he -- they treated him as best they could as a person. And that was what saved it, because he had quite a difference in his legs, to -- and the first -- after the first date, I went -- you know me, I wanted to go swimming at night, there are these pools around and everything. And he was very reluctant to go. And I said, "Why not?" He says, "Oh, I have to wear a bathing suit and I don't like to wear bathing suits." He says, "I'm very self-conscious." So, I said to him, "Who cares what you look like? They'll come down, they'll jump in the water, they won't even know anything." And -- but he was very self-conscious. It could be ninety-five in the shade and he would not put -- wear a pair of shorts. And I said, "Well, I want to go swimming." And so, we did, and nobody paid -- he just came down and I was -- and we jumped in 47:00the pool. I mean, nobody looked at him and said, "Oh, look at him" or something like that. No. And so, he realized that he can do certain things that he didn't do before. But it isn't easy growing up, and especially now. It's not easy. These young people today, all they know about is shooting and killing, and there are youngsters -- would see their parents shot right in front of them. I mean, that's horrible, terrible. Terrible. And I don't know how this is gonna get resolved. I know these -- going back to work now. But I'm willing to bet that in six months, they'll be back in the same position they were before, 'cause nobody -- Netanyahu, the president -- they don't want to give a little bit of compromise. Give a little here and you give a -- and everything could be 48:00resolved. It's not that hard. But no, nobody wants to give in, 'cause everybody wants the power. They want to be the ones. So, we're the ones that are suffering, not them. So, it's a tough life, and I feel very sad for these young people. Can't get a job. When my children were college age, when they were in high school or when they went to college, these schools used to have -- what'd they used to call -- a college week, and they'd -- the different colleges would go to the school and set up a table, and you could go and ask them about the curriculum and learn a little bit about what the school is all about. And basically, when my children graduated, they all had jobs. Everybody had a job in -- graduating class, because they had been interviewed, they knew what the school was about, and they applied before -- just before graduation. And all my 49:00children had -- they had jobs. Now, they don't have anything. Awful. Awful situation. But you do the best you can. I know I try. I try to help them wherever I can, and I'm very proud of what they're doing, and I always say to them, "Don't take the job that's five dollars more in pay. Take the job that's a challenge." I said, "That's what I did." It's a challenge. My boss was a tyrant. He was a tyrant! And I would say to him, "Go into your office -- when you cool down, I'll come in." And today, it's very -- it is very difficult. The competition is tremendous. So, they're all --
LY: Did you have your children very soon after you married?50:00
SF: Yes, I had -- let's see. No, let's see, I had Aaron -- I guess I wasright -- couple of years after I got married, 'cause already I was in the thirties and you didn't -- now the women are having babies when they're forty!
LY: And did you continue to work while you --
SF: I didn't work until -- I did not work until Barbara went to school. Andthen, I told my husband, who was a wonderful person, "I will not go back to work unless I have full-time help at home. I do not want Barbara or the boys to come home with a key and have to let themselves in," I said, "because when I was here, as their mom, as soon as they opened the door, they'd yell, 'Hey, mom!' You know? I don't -- I want that to be" -- so, I did get -- I had a woman that took care of my children while I worked, and she was there all day. She had a 51:00little boy, and I said to -- and she was very hard-wor-- a won-- I -- we're still in touch. I know her. She worked for me for thirty years, and I -- she had a little boy. She's German. And, of course, everybody was aghast that I hired a German. I said, "I don't care if she's from Hindustan. If she fits the bill, she's getting the job." And I -- it worked out fine. She had a little boy, and she lived in a two-family house, and she drove -- at that point, she was driving -- and I said, "Look, Margaret, bring your little boy. There's a pool in the back" and he had his bicycle and -- see, we were -- we lived on a dead-end street. So, when cars -- when people from our street came up, they knew that there are young children, so they slow down. But, no, I -- that's when -- 52:00I went back when Barbara started school. I did not want them to come home to an empty house, and especially when I was working, this tyrant, at five o'clock, he's calling me in for dictation. And my husband was very tolerant. He was -- I'd call up at, say, five of -- quarter to five, and -- he got home early on. "Hi, hon!" "Oh, you're not coming home, right?" "Right. (laughs) I'm going in for dictation now, so wait until I get there." But he was very good -- my husband was wonderful. And Dick Williams was very nice to my husband. Whenever he traveled, he used to bring me beautiful gifts. He always brought something for my husband. He's very nice. We had a very nice relationship. And that's the way it should be. It can be very easy if you just realize that they're people. 53:00I don't care whether he's sweeping up this room or my room or whatever it is. He's a person, and that's what counts. And the -- he's a challenge, and that's why I'm working for him, because I'm certainly not gonna look for another job. I mean, I'm already settled in. You know, these young people have resumes, they -- they've had five or six jobs. But I didn't go back until -- and then, I had one -- this -- Alison's mother, living in a furnished room in a house near us. She had no car, and I picked her up every morning, took her to work, 'cause we worked in the same place. And I -- one day, I said, "Oh," I said -- see, my 54:00children were away by then at college, and I said, "Well, what's your apartment like?" And she says, "Oh, come on, I'll take you up." It was one room she had with a little hotplate where she could cook something, and she had to wash her dishes in the bathroom. I waited till she'd come out, and I said, "Pack up." She's looking at me. I said, "Pack up, you are not staying here another minute." I says, "I have four empty bedrooms, you know that? And you're gonna occupy one." And she was married from my house.
LY: Where was your house?
SF: I lived in Westchester County.
LY: In Mamaroneck?
SF: Do you know anything about New York? Westchester?
LY: Oh, yes.
SF: Yeah, I lived in Mamaroneck, and there was White Plains, Mamaroneck,Larchmont, New Rochelle. Yeah, I lived in Mamaroneck and we had a lovely 55:00house, and it was perfect. Was on a dead-end street, and I worked there for twenty years with the same man. (laughs) No, you can make it work if you just give a little bit. Give a little bit of yourself, and try each day to do one good deed. Just one good deed, each day, and you'll feel better for it. You will. I had -- as I said, I was fortunate. I had a good beginning. I don't know, the end seems to be sort of all right. I -- the worst part is -- of giving up your home is -- very difficult thing to do. But I had to do it. So, I realized that this is the way it has to be. And I'm doing fine. I have -- my daughter -- 56:00as I said, I have a wonderful daughter and wonderful son-in-law, and great in-law girls. So, I just take it day by day, do the best I can. It's not easy. I have friends that are making it so hard for their kids, I'd like to boot them one. I -- we went to see a couple of places, Barbara and I, but it wasn't good. First of all, they were not -- didn't have the facility for a blind person. And then, it was too far. I wanted something closer. Now Barbara -- if I call Barbara now and -- she'll be here in five minutes.
SF: It's close, and it's -- she comes by every night, and we -- puts myoutfits, my clothes out for the next day. And we discuss little things about 57:00the children, about the family, and the -- what they're doing. And it's a comforting feeling, and I -- as I said, I have my books on tape. As soon as I finish one, I get an -- I got a whole stack of them that I haven't read yet. It's fine. I don't mind. The only thing I miss is I like to walk. I'm a -- I was always a big walker, and now I -- first of all, I get very tired. And I can't walk alone. I have to have somebody with me. So, that's what I have to do, that's what I have to do.
LY: Do you have any other advice you could offer future generations -- how tomake a good life?
SF: Oh, how to make a good life, as I said, be kind to people. It's notdifficult. And help where you can, because you are us. You are my genera-- you are taking care of me. I am a dinosaur. And, of course, they laugh when I say 58:00that. I said, "I can't do these things anymore, so you have to do them for me. You're voting -- don't ever give up your vote." And just remember that women are still the underdog, no matter how they try to name it, talk about it -- no. Women don't -- they don't get the place that they should. I read the autobiography -- what's her name -- Sandra Day O'Connor. You know the judge? Wonderful, wonderful book. And she really pioneers a lot of things.
LY: I understand that you --
SF: You have to have the courage to do it, and -- like the other night, I saidto Barbara, "What did I start? What did -- what does -- what am I, crazy?" She 59:00says, "No, everybody thinks it's a wonderful thing." I said, "Well, I'm not up to this anymore." So, she -- (laughs) I said to my son, my oldest son -- he calls up and he said, "How are you, mother?" He lives up in northern Maine, so he can't get down too often. I said, "Aaron, I've finally gotten old." And he starts laughing. "You've gotten old? What are you talking about?" I said, "Well, now, I'm deaf, dumb, and blind. I used to be able to do certain things. Peripherally, forget it." He said, "Mother, you may be deaf. You may be blind. But, mom, you ain't dumb." (laughs) That made me laugh and it was a fun thing to say. And they always -- they'll always ask us -- when my husband -- (coughs) was 60:00alive -- my youngest son lives in Denver, and we'd go out once in a while. And they used to say, "You know, dad, we don't have any old people there to ask questions, to ask them certain things. Everybody's so young here!" And my sons never did anything without bouncing it off their father. They always ask us, always. They might not have agreed with something or they may not have done it the way we would, but they have to find for themselves. They -- we cannot -- I told one of my granddaughters the other day -- she was a social service worker and worked very hard, she did Peace Corps, she -- I always say that, "You can't -- you have to do the best you can. Nobody can expect anything else from you. You do not have to get a hundred. You do not have to go to Princeton or Yale or 61:00anything. No. But you have to make the decision, not us. Your mother, me, your -- no. You are the one that has to make the decision." And they've followed the rules pretty well. They're doing fine. And that's the -- now, we have this new generation of great grandchildren, wonderful. I mean, I'm so proud of this little girl. And she's such a wonderful little girl. And I have to go along with her, but I want -- I do want her recognized. I do. I'm -- that's what I'm pushing for. You've read the book, haven't you?
LY: Yes, yes.
SF: I mean --
LY: How would you like her to be recognized?
SF: With her book.
SF: I would -- I'd like to have something said about her, I don't know, on the62:00internet or on the radio or on a -- whatever it is they do, because I think she's done something very noble, that she's had a lot of courage. And I think she will encourage her generation of kids to do something. And that's important. Very important. So, I don't know how we're gonna connect up with a -- I'd like to connect up with someone that's connected with the -- reporter, like someone that reports the news and someone that -- from the town. I mean, this is a family that's here. They -- my son-in-law, my daughter, they're not rich people. And when people say, "Oh, they have their own business" -- "What do you think this is?" my son-in-law says, "This isn't (UNCLEAR) in New York City. This is 63:00Amherst. I can't raise prices." Meantime, butter is a little more expensive, flour is more expensive. Everything is more expensive. He says, "But I cannot do that. These people aren't rich people." And that's true.
LY: What is your family's business?
SF: My daughter and my son-in-law? They -- where is -- you -- where do you live?
LY: Close by.
SF: Oh. The Henion Bakery --
SF: -- that's their bakery. They do very well, and they -- they're very goodto people and -- I mean, when you go to their bakery, you walk inside, it's like old home week. It's like everybody -- it's part of a family. I remember the time that the -- every -- you remember, was a blackout and there was no -- you got no gas stoves and all that sort of thing. David still -- he went in at 64:00four o'cl-- he gets up at four, went in four-thirty, made a big urn of coffee and tea and invited people that were walking around to come on in, have something to be warm. And the place was jammed. And the people, they don't forget that. They know that he was there for them. And I think that's very important.
LY: Would you like to say a little more about Kaija? What is Kaija's full name?
SF: Kaija, I don't think she has a middle -- Acheson, A-C-H-E-S-O-N. And hername is K-A-I-J-A. And she's very maturely developed for her age. She's only 65:00nine. She's a -- she's very active in gymnastics, and she goes -- she has a book club. And they moved down to Atlanta, and her mother is in this very big hospital. Her floor, where she is, my granddaughter, is the pediatrics ICU. And that's a rough one. But that's -- she belongs there, 'cause she has the temperament. She says she goes home and she's so sad. She feels so awful. But we don't control that. I told you the story about the Indian lady who was weaving this beautiful rug? And I took this class in New Rochelle College when I was -- I was into weaving. I had a loom and all that stuff. And one of the women in our class said -- whatever her name was. She was Indian. She said, "You 66:00have a mistake right there." Yeah, yeah, so the woman said, "Yeah, yeah, I have a mistake." So, she says to -- "How can you make a mistake? You just get on that loom and you do" -- excuse me -- "do these beautiful things." She said, "If you look in any carpet made by the Navajos, the Sioux, there's one little mistake. You may find it in the bottom, you may find it over here. But it's a very inconsequential thing. But it is a mistake. So, why did I make that mistake?" The girl said to her, "Well, why do they make that mistake? They know how to do" -- "Because only God is perfect. We're not perfect. Only God is perfect. And that's why we always put one little mistake in the rug." And I thought that -- I've never forgotten it. She -- and she was a wonderful lady. 67:00But I -- never forgotten it. It's true. We don't make these choices as to when you're coming, when you're going. It happens when it happens, and that's it. But enjoy what you have here now. Don't be complaining about every damn thing that's going on. We have this woman that -- oh, what's her name? Kathleen. It's sad. She complains, she's always complaining, "This is wrong, that wrong, I don't want this, I don't want that." She won't let them give her a shower. You know when they have to drag that whole thing in to -- by her bed and bathe her, because they keep her spotlessly clean. And she doesn't -- and if we say no -- like, if I say no, they can't do it. Your (UNCLEAR) can't do it. And she -- so, this one aide, Esther, she's great. She used to take care of me, too. But 68:00they'd be moving them all around. So, when Esther comes in at night -- 'cause she bring her -- ready -- gets her ready for her evening meal. And she'll say, "How are you?" She -- and while she's walking in, Kathleen is complaining about this and about that and doesn't get her coffee with a milk and she -- so, now when it would -- when Esther goes in, she starts at my place, where my bed is, and she'll say, (laughs) "No complaints! No complaints!" And she'll go into Kathleen, "No complaints!" And so, now when she comes in, I start her off with, "Oh, Kathleen, no complaints! We're not having any complaints tonight." (laughter) So easy -- and you know, it's so easy for people to complain about something. I -- my theory is why don't we tell people -- now, listen -- why 69:00don't we tell people when they do something nice? We only tell them when they do some -- that something's going wrong. I mean, everybody likes to have a little pride in themselves or do thing-- and I've told that to several of the girls. I said, "It's not fair. You -- we have to tell them if they do something good or they give her a bath or they wash her socks or whatever they do." And I've been -- I tell that to them. Every day, I tell that to somebody, "Tell her that she did something good." I do. If they do something and -- I always say, "Oh, that -- you're wonderful. That's great." And they let -- they tease me. And, no, I think people like to know that they've done something nice and that they're appreciated. I think that's very important. And so, that's what I'm -- that's 70:00what I do. I tell them to tell people their worth, they have worth, no matter what it is they're doing. And I feel very strongly about that, and I feel that it's not given enough in this place. They don't tell 'em anything. They never say, "Gee, you did that" -- I used to tell my boss, when he used to say to me -- sometimes I -- he'd ask for a file that was ten years old, and I'd find it for him. And I'd get it and, "Oh, Sylvia, you're a genius!" I said, "Write it in blood." (laughs) I said, "Write it out in blood, would you please?" (laughter) And he'd go on and on and on. I'd say, "I don't want any titles. I don't want any accolades. Put it in my envelope at the end of the week. That's what I want." I said -- and he'd always -- he always laughed, but I said, "You put that 71:00in my envelope at the end of -- I -- 'cause if I come in five minutes from now and something isn't right, you're going to say, 'You know, you're very stupid.' I know that, so you tell me when I'm very genius. I'm a genius." (laughs) And it -- you can make light of it and you can do it in a way that it can be fun. And it's just fun.
LY: It's been so marvelous to have this time to talk with you.
SF: Well, I'm so happy that you were able to and I was able to meet you. AndI think you're all doing great. Now, what is the procedure? I would like to know from you. What is the procedure now for getting this book of -- did they --
LY: Oh, I'll take care of that. But before --
SF: Oh, you did?
LY: -- before we close, I wanted to ask if there's anything else that youwould like to say?
SF: No, I don't think -- I think I've --72:00
LY: Any other stories?
SF: I think I've said it all, and -- lots of fun stories, I -- (laughs) I haveto tell you this one story, and then I'll let you go, 'cause you have other things. I go into the bathroom, right? I don't see the toilet bowl, but I know where it is. I'm gonna to sit down, and all of a sudden, I -- that's not right. They had the seat up.
SF: Oh, great. So, I didn't sit down, because once ahead of this, beforethis, this happened. I did not see it up and I fell into the toilet. I had my rear end in the toilet and I had my foot up in the air, and I couldn't reach that jiggama-- the -- but I'm laughing. I'm thinking that's so funny. I said, "Well, I can't stay here for -- there -- somebody's going to come in to wash their hands, to do something." Well, when they came in, they could not believe 73:00it. And I said, "You better get me out of here, because my arse is very cold and it's wet." (laughter) And so, we had a lot of fun with that. But do you know, I have to tell them at the -- the other -- yesterday. See, they have a new girl that's being broken in as a cleaning person. And when I went in after she was finished -- she did what she had to do, and I was there, and the seat was up! Now, if I didn't know that, I would've fallen in again! So, someone has to -- they -- someone has to train her and tell her you don't leave the seat up, because -- mostly men leave it up, because they're stupid. They don't know enough to put it down. But she's a youngster. She's a young girl. I don't know what she looks like, but I know she's young. I can tell by her voice. And I think that we have to alert the person that's training her that she should -- is 74:00not to put the seat down -- up.
LY: That's important.
SF: It is! Somebody could -- I'm telling you, I fell in! I fell in! Andthere I was, foot up in the air, (laughter) arse down in the toilet bowl. (laughs) I thought it was very funny, but they didn't. They were very upset that I was sitting there that way. I said, "I knew eventually someone has to come in here," and that's what happened, 'cause I couldn't reach that call thing. And, well, I just sat there. I don't ever bother them with that, because I know they have a lot of very important things that they're doing. And the paperwork is outrageous for everybody. I still don't know, and I tell this a million times, why, when they're entered here -- and to take the dossier up, how old they are -- I must have -- tell twenty-five people that I was born 8/2/14. My 75:00name is Sylvia. My grandmother's -- they ask the -- well, what's my mother's name? My mother's been dead for so long. But they have to have a better routine, and they have to have someone go with these people and teach them what they're learning. They're new! They haven't the slightest idea. So, that's my next project, is to get ahold of somebody and tell them to tell her that she's not to -- now, I know that she's the one that picked it up. I -- I'm aware of it, so I won't fall in.
LY: Well, I really want to thank you personally for sharing your time. Itwas such a pleasure --
SF: Oh, it was a pleasure for me, too.
LY: -- and also on behalf of the Yiddish Book Center, thank you so much forsharing your stories.
SF: I'm glad. I'm glad --
LY: This has really been marvelous.
SF: -- I was able to do this.
[END OF INTERVIEW]76:00