Volume 3, Number 168
'There's a Jewish story everywhere'

Sunday-Monday, August 9-10, 2009

Book Serialization

I'm still here ... Memoirs of Laura Simon, 103

The Diamond Ring ... Read more

Deafness Promised ... Read more

Our Wedding ... Read more

Editor's Note: Today San Diego Jewish World continues the-weekly serialization of I'm Still Here by Laura Simon, a San Diego resident who is still going strong at 103. She wrote this book to mark her 100th birthday.

We will maintain a list of links to the installments of her story on Laura Simon's archive page, which can be accessed any day of the week through the "authors" pulldown tab below our masthead. Laura, who once painted canvases in vivid colors, today is legally blind, so she is unable to read e-mail. However, she says anyone who wishes to contact her may do so through the e-mail of her son, New York playwright Mayo Simon at mayosimon@aol.com The book may be purchased via its publisher's website, www.montezumapublishing.com or via Amazon or Barnes & Noble's websites.

Link to previous chapters

By Laura Simon

The Diamond Ring

“Easy,” he said, flattered by my acceptance of engagement before getting married, had a better paying job already in a junk yard with enough time in between for school. He was told to put weights on the scale and cheat the junk peddlers which he refused to do, knew that he would soon be out looking for another job, while we’re building dynasties in a dream world.

The world was his when he called to say that he went with his mother’s cousin to a jeweler and bought a diamond ring
for me, a carat-and-a-quarter, set in platinum, filigree with little diamonds, breathless in trying to describe the delicacy, the art, the beauty of that ring.

With his joy, with his happiness he carried me along, and this was the happiest day of my life - - when he put that ring on my finger in the presence of his mother.

“Engaged,” she said, embracing me as if I were all hers already. “You are my string of pearls,” her eyes to mine with pride. As if for all of Poland to see, in villages with all her family, sending
them dowries through me, through the Amalgamated Bank, money she saved in an old enamel teapot, and now this -- this joy is for her.

“And you should have naches from all your children,” giving my engaged hand to Mannie’s. “They should give you the pleasure I have now to see my Mannie married to you and your first bris in your own home. Your whole world of pleasure you will have from your children, and I have the best,” she said.

“’She is a beautiful one,’ I wrote to my brother, ‘more than in the picture I send with regards,’” for all her family to see of her Mannie’s happiness, with twenty-five dollars through the
Amalgamated Bank.

I wondered about her thoughts -- her Mannie to marry a sick girl? All his money going to doctors? And to sit at her bedside all his life? The feeling, the fear of marriage sweeping all over me.

My mother opposite. “Married,” she said, as if all heaven is to be hers seeing me married in a joyous and cherished life, to have in me that which she never had, that the hopes she had for herself would come true for me, already planning her oldest sister Sarah would do all the cooking. She cooked for bar mitzvahs and weddings, scrubbed floors after the parties to earn a little more money.

The marriages, the divorces as I have seen them I put in the background. I knew I was very happy, but then happy with sand in my eyes, as they say.

Deafness Promised

That’s how I went to another ear doctor. I was worried.
“You’re so young for such an adventure,” admiring my diamond. “You must know and it’s my place to tell you that you will be deaf, and child-bearing will bring it on sooner. Your second ear will go and they take children away from deaf mothers, you know that.”

That was the news when Mannie came over. “So I can’t marry you,” I said, taking the ring off my finger.

“I love you, Laura,” kissing the palm of my hand, “but I don’t know why I love you – you’re so naive. Another girl would never say anything. Just marry the guy and that’s that. And anyway, is the doctor a God up there? To be so definite, so sure you will be deaf, your children neglected. Without further thought that a specialist is not necessary? Once they said I would lose my arm so badly burned but it’s good as new, and I can push a pencil to be an accountant. Nobody can predict
your future -- besides, you only went to him by chance.”

Telling him what the doctor had said, not really telling him what I really thought, “Who wants to be married? Not me.” But it was an excuse. It was a good excuse. “And besides,” I said, “You’ll be a college graduate and me just grammar school.”

“No,” he said, “I won’t hear of it. College has nothing to do with it.” And I knew that maybe it did. There were so many beautiful girls on campus. What did he want with me?

“We could get married right now, but I have to finish college,” he said. “But once you marry me, you’re never going to work again, Laura. I promise you that.” He took my hand, kissed the
palm, “ I’ll never let you go. I love you,” as he would continue to say throughout our married life.

And he wouldn’t let me take that diamond ring off my finger.
His mother had worked hard in that corn beef store, early morning until late at night, saved the money. She bought me that ring. I was all of sixteen and he was eighteen.

“I’m going to be deaf,” I said.

“No, you won’t,” he said. “You’ll have the best doctors. I’ll send you to Mayo Bros. Just give me a chance.”

How could I tell him I didn't want to be married? I’d seen married women, his mother one of them, getting up in the dark to start working. Whoever her son loved, she loved too. But marriage would keep me in my narrow life forever.

“All my father ever did was take me to doctors.” Sighing heavily.

He said quickly, “There were times when my father wasn’t that important to me. I thought I could tackle everything myself, that supplying us with everything over and over all those years was nothing, that it was easy to design millinery for demanding foremen. ‘Goodbye. Zei gazunt, you're out on the sidewalk,’ and he could never pick himself up again. Now that he’s gone I think of him more than ever -- and why didn’t I show some obligation toward him? He let my mother do all the
work -- and I ran around looking for jobs, resented him sitting

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on a bench in front of the store staring at the old trees as if seeing Plock again, his trips to the Wisla River and Warsaw -- all throughthe branches. Anyway Laura, when you marry me, you will
never work again. We could get married now, but I want to finish college and I'm sending you to Mayo Brothers, just give me a chance. And that ring stays on your finger,” putting it back on, kissing the palm of my hand again.

Listening to him as if just getting acquainted, opening the curtains to some of his feelings, his family and their background while standing and watching others on their way to the movies as we were supposed to, seeing, following illusions, and learning the feelings of a son for his father.

“My father,” I said, “used to say that a little light can take away a lot of darkness. I love you, Mannie.”

Our Wedding

I was all Potomac Avenue. I took Potomac Avenue with me riding the streetcar to work at Famous Players Lasky Corporation. At sixteen, I had to ask my step-father where I pay on the elevated. He said, "Don't worry. They won’t let you on without paying." But I’m eighteen now, and engaged to be married; he’s twenty, soon to be saddled with a wife who yearned to see the outside world, remembering my dumbness and no courage to speak up when the man paid me the three

Mannie prevailed, became an accountant, graduating Walton School of Commerce, and our wedding took place on Troy Street. My mother and Aunt Bessie had a two-flat together, the
wedding upstairs and downstairs the whole family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, my grandmother and grandfather, he towering over her, seven feet kept snapping his fingers. He suddenly stood up from the table and without saying a word to anybody just left, my little grandmother Mary Machle following. He didn't like the way Rabbi Lang said the prayer over the challah.

My mother-in-law saidto me after the ceremony, “Laura, marriage is like eating up a big sack of salt together,” giving me a hug, “You are my string of pearls.” I wore a white beaded dress, a veiled crown, and the floristbrought roses.

After the guests left, Aunt Bessie rocked the boat. Her watch, hidden under the doily in the bedroom, was missing. Gone! Weeping bitterly all over me. I paid her twenty-five dollars for the use of her flat. Two of Mannie’s closest friends, Isadore Stein and Sam Tucker, drove us to the La Salle Hotel, downtown, to a world of hotels. So this is where the streetcars went—I used to wonder when I was a child. If I could only be on one, go to some other place. They led to a hotel. I had never
stepped into a hotel lobby before, let alone stayed the night with a man.

A porter grabbed our suitcases and took them to a front desk. Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel I. Simon, June 26, 1925. We followed the porter and our suitcases, past another celebration in a
ballroom. A Paul Whiteman Band was playing, or something like that. Someone singing “Three O’ Clock in the Morning.”

When I used to ride the elevated to and from work, I watched the houses fly by. I wondered what went on behind those windows. What intimacies in those houses, behind closed doors?

I learned of closed doors.

Aunt Bessie’s farewell to us: “Men and women weren’t meant to live out their years a whole life together. We’re not made like that. If I didn’t have Ikel now, so what? A woman needs a man for a little love sometimes, but never gets it.”

On her wedding night, Ikel threw her out of bed. I’d like to tell to Aunt Bessie that Mannie did not throw me out of bed.

I went back to where I was always trying to escape, to my mother. In the evening Mannie came for me from his job at the lumberyard and we went to our own apartment, already rented and furnished, at the end of the Ravenswood line. We had the great luxury of a big radio in a cabinet, a large tapestry on the wall, a beautiful hunting scene with deer that we loved to look at. Coming home from the movies one night, we came in and stared at a blank wall. The tapestry was gone.

At the time when we should be out enjoying life, as they say, we learned early about the responsibilities and trauma of marriage. I was 20, he 22. Expecting that the love of courtship will just hang on and will be like that all throughout the years. Forgetting that there will be stresses in the outside world
and that we have to keep in step with the power it has over us, and you don’t really realize it while it’s happening, but there it is -- along with the struggle of earning a living and supporting your family, mostly the man's job in those depression days.

We were opposites, Mannie and I. I always outgoing. He inward and many a time I wondered what was he thinking about? In later years, he was gradually being beaten down in energy and spirit by that lumberyard, putting all that he had in trying to be a success as he envisioned it. I always remembered my early beginnings and what brought me up to this point to this marriage and how my life had changed because of him. His love and concern was always for me, better than I had ever
dreamed of. My destiny was not of my doing. It could have been him that had died at birth instead of his twin brother. His mother gave him to a nursing mother to help him take hold of life. He only weighed a few pounds. He was her treasure. I wish he were here now to see the success we’ve all become. We are what he wanted us to be. Educated, hard working, honest and loving.

In my loneliness, I think of weddings. My sister Evelyn and Sam the soldier were married at the Admiral Hotel, remembering how Berdie and I made all the arrangements there for them. How pleasant, enjoyable it all turned out. When Berdie and Al got married, as I remember, I was late. The ceremony couldn’t go on without me until I came rushing in to see their happiness. Syd and Norman were married at the Ambassador. It was a night of gaiety. Music and dancing. Syd wearing the white organza dress that we had bought at the 28 shop in Fields. It was covered with roses and floated as they danced together.

Mayo and Sondra were married at Temple Sholem. Sondra’s dress was the color of sea shells, glistening with sun and sand to match the flower in Mayo's lapel. I wore a white suit. I am now thinking of the garden weddings in Pacific Palisades of my granddaughters, Anne Elizabeth to Clifford and Francesca to Martin. At each wedding accordion music, dancing around the fountain in a garden superior to the Gardens of Babylon. The wedding of Rafael to Lana in Toronto, Rafael insisting that I make the trip. Wild horses could not have kept me away to miss that touching ceremony, that beauty held on the grounds of an art museum filled with paintings. I was asked to dance too, to the Hungarian music. They honor the elderly, having brought with them some of the European culture.

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