Sunday, May 27, 2012

My brothers made my mother look like she was at "Heaven's Gate"

I'm sure this true story "WAR STORY" will make you laugh 
on Memorial Day.
 It is one of the stories in CAN WE COME IN AND LAUGH, TOO? and you'll find many more amusing stories between the covers. Kindle and paperback on Amazon.
Rosetta in 1932 - 23 years old

Let me look back for a moment. The year was 1918 and I was nine years old. That was the year World War I was declared. We were still living in the same apartment on Ogden Avenue. My brother Meyer was drafted into the army and was sent to France. He was an M.P. and was there about three years. He got really lonesome for home and wanted to get a furlough, so he invented an excuse and said that my mother was very sick and he wanted to see her before anything serious took place. He hinted that she could die.

It was a luxury to have a telephone back then and we knew they would send an inspector to check out his story in person. We didn't know when the inspector would come so we had to be ready to react at a moment’s notice to make sure our mother looked very sick.

One day the doorbell rang and sure enough it was the inspector. Thank God for the three flights of steps to climb. In the time it took him to make it to the top, we had enough time to prepare the scene.

My mother was in the kitchen cleaning a chicken. In my day when someone bought a chicken, it had to be cleaned from scratch, feathers and all, before you cut it up to cook. Now-a-days you go into the market and purchase a chicken, or parts of a chicken, and it's all ready for use. That’s progress.

The boys grabbed her just as she was, dress, apron, shoes and all, and dusted some flour on her face. Then they each grabbed one of her arms and hurried her down the hall to the bedroom.

They practically threw her in the bed, clothes, shoes and all, and told her to groan and moan—above all they prompted her to act like she was on Death’s doorway.  There was no electricity at that time and all of the fixtures were the gas light type. They turned the gas lights up and covered her right up to her neck so the inspector couldn't see she was fully dressed. The light from the fixtures cast a sickly greenish glow all over the whole room and between the flour and the green light she looked ghastly.

My brothers led the inspector into the room and said in hushed voices, “I hope Meyer can come home soon.” Hearing that, my mother took the cue and began to groan. She kept up a chant of "Oy Vey" the whole time the inspector was there. It was an award-winning performance, and I remember it to this day. The poor inspector took one look at Ma and said "Oh my, she is very sick, isn’t she?"  He gave her a comforting pat on the arm and said, “We’ll bring him home to you as soon as possible. Don’t worry, Mrs. Schwartz. Just hang on.”

After he left, my mother got up and went back into the kitchen to finish cleaning the chicken!

And, as for Meyer? They granted him a two week furlough and he came home a week later.

Saturday, May 26, 2012



 In 1949 the family moved to Miami, lured by her sister-in-law's offer of a free apartment for as long as they needed it.

It took almost a week for us to drive to Florida, and when Al pulled up in front of the address his sister Helen gave us, I thought he made a mistake. The building looked so small I couldn’t imagine how it could hold three apartments.

We quickly discovered what his sister hadn’t told us—her “apartments” were only efficiency units. In just one room the living space was combined with a kitchen space, if you can call it that. A sink with a drain board took up one wall. Under the drain board was a small refrigerator and a few cabinets overhead. We had a tiny bathroom, and as far as sleeping arrangements, closet doors on another wall in this room hid a bed on hinges known as a Murphy bed. It was built into the wall and at night you opened the doors and pulled down the bed. Once the bed was down, you barely had any space between the couch and the bed.

These efficiency units were furnished with a few sticks of furniture, and it just took one glance for us to realize they were only meant to accommodate a single person or a perhaps couple in a pinch, but certainly not four people. Al and I were pretty upset that Helen hadn’t explained what kind of apartments she had, but we couldn’t say anything to her. She meant well. With no children of her own, she probably didn’t have a clue what it would be like to live in that one room with two kids.

We tried to make it work, but it was just too tight. Since we didn’t have much money and Al didn’t have a job yet, we had to make the best of it until we could find better accommodations. Phyllice had to squeeze onto the Murphy Bed with Al and me and Morgan slept on the sofa. We felt like we were living in a sardine can.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Thing in the Corner

Today I had lunch with my cousin Sandy (Rosetta's brother Charlie's son) and gave him his copy of Can We Come In and Laugh, Too?. I showed him where his contribution is in Part II and then we reminisced about Rosetta.

Somehow we began to talk about modern appliances. My mother Rosetta was certainly all for keeping up with modern technology although she never learned to use a computer and didn't embrace some of the things we use every day to make life easier.

That brings me to the "thing in the corner."

My sister and I had decided to buy her a portable microwave oven  in the late 1980s. We figured it would make it easier for her to heat things up quickly instead of waiting for the oven. We put a big bow on it and presented her with our wonderful gift.

She said, "Honey, let's put it right in the corner. See that space on the counter?" That's where it went, and she was right. It was a perfect space. However, when I'd visit her, I noticed that she still turned on the oven and the protective clear covering was still on the door of the microwave. Finally one day about a year after we'd given it to her, I said, "How do you like using the microwave?"

"Well, I haven't actually used it yet." 

"Why not, Mom? Look at all the time it will save you."

"Honey, why would I want to save time? At my age, (she was around 80 then) I've got lots and lots of time on my hands. In fact, sometimes I have to figure out things to fill the days. What would I do to fill the time the thing in the corner would save me? Maybe I'll try to use it one of these days, but not right now."

She never did use the thing in the corner, but from that day on, that's what she called it. Eventually, after she had mini-strokes and had to move to an assisted living residence, I inherited the thing in the corner. In fact, that old thing in the corner, now about 23 years old, has rarely been used and sits on a cabinet in one corner of my guest casita in Las Vegas. And it still works.

Her dishwasher was rarely used for anything more than keeping dirty dishes out of the way until she could fill the sink with soapy water, then wash and dry them. One time we had a big dinner at her apartment and after I loaded the dishes I said, "Where do you keep the dishwasher soap? We might as well just run the load now."

She looked at me for a minute, then said, "Why, I don't have any."

"Did you run out?"

"No, I've never had any and don't even know if the darned thing works."

Monday, May 7, 2012

The art of making people believe in themselves

If you have read this blog before, you know that I'm Rosetta's daughter Morgan St. James writing on her behalf. Rosetta had an uncanny ability to make people believe in themselves and what they could do. Everyone who contributed to Part II of CAN WE COME IN AND LAUGH, TOO? basically said the same thing. Even though she's been gone since mid-2006 her encouragement lives on.

Do you have to do something tough? Listen for a minute and maybe you'll hear an inner voice say, "You can do it, honey. I know you can." And you know what? You do. It was her undying belief that you were capable of anything that seemed to give any person she touched the ability to reach beyond their limits and come out the victor.

I keep her photo, the one on the cover of the book, above my desk and so does my sister Phyllice. Often we trade stories with each other and it wasn't surprising for either of us to discover that in times of stress we look at that smiling face and believe we can leap buildings in a single bound, just like Superman.

If you have a Rosetta in your life, you are one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately so many don't. Just reading her book is inspirational and if she could find a way to instill that indomitable spirit, she would do for you what she has done for us, even after life on this earth ended, in a New York minute.

Back in 1988 when I asked her to write her memoir, she said, "But, honey, I'm not a writer. You're the writer."

I looked her square in the eye, the way she used to look at me when she was about to impart her message, and said, "Know what, Mom. You can do it. I know you can." I threw her wisdom back at her, and the result was a wonderful tale of her early years and the way humor got her through many of the curves life sometimes throws at you in later life.

I have a busy week ahead, so thanks for giving me the key to accomplishment. The book got it's first Amazon review today. Check it out

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

One of Rosetta's passions was geography and she loved to travel and see new places. Age never slowed her down until she had mini-strokes in the mid 1990's. Until then she was the best traveling companion anyone could ever want.

She was quite a walker and constantly kept humor and good spirit alive. She was also ready for any type of adventure, filled with the curiosity of a much younger person.

I made it a point to take her on at least one trip a year, and often more than that. One of my favorites was one of her birthdays in the early 90s. I told her I wanted to take her out for a special lunch and said I'd pick her up about 9:30 in the morning.

"How come we're leaving so early to go to lunch?"

"Well, Mom, we're going quite a distance for good seafood. You'll love it."

"Okay, honey, I'll be ready."

What she didn't know was that we were going to fly to San Francisco from Los Angeles so we could have lunch at Fisherman's Wharf. Like I said, she was always ready to go. So I picked her up and on the way to the airport she asked where we were going. Always a "weather bird" she'd made sure to bring an extra sweater -- just in case...

When I told her the airport, she looked a bit confused. "Airport?"

"Oh, yeah, forgot to tell you. We're headed for a full day in San Francisco."

Well, she loved it and loved the restaurant. I'd rented a car so we drove around San Francisco a bit, stopping at Chinatown and Union Square. When she was younger, they never had the money to travel, so it always warmed my heart that I was able to fill that desire with trips to New Orleans, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Montana, Alaska and more.

On the way back to the airport she said something like, "Honey, this must have really cost you a lot, but it's a great birthday gift."

I kissed her and said, "As long as you enjoyed yourself, Mom, it was worth every penny."