Saturday, December 29, 2007

Miche (the whole miche, and nothing but the miche)

My love of miche has turned me into a neurotic freak! Ahhhhhhhgggggggg!

I've hit the wall. My need for a loaf of bread, even if it is a sublime loaf of bread, has taken over my life. Thanks to Bo for the illustration above (RHB is for Red Hen Baking Co., where I work. If you want to see more great silk screened images (on organic cotton t-shirts, no less) go to eatmorekale and check out Bo's business.

If you want to see what Red Hen says about Miche go here: bread varieties and scroll down to Mountain Miche.

Mountain Miche is a close relative of pain de campagne (bread of Campagne, France). I did a bit of research and found this map here, which I instantly recognized from the (old) break room wall at Red Hen! I can't read this web version, but it made me feel better, knowing I was on the right track.

Tracking the origins of my love of this bread, that is.

This is a long story, so pull up a comfortable chair and perhaps something nice to drink.

In 1983 I became a student at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont. At that point in Goddard's history this was just about the nadir of it's student attendance record, due in large part to a massive retrenchment of the college's programs about 2 years before (it took awhile for things to get really, really bad). One of the silver linings of the retrenchment was the great attachment many of the faculty, staff and students had for the central Vermont region.

A couple of these stalwarts were Jules and Helen Rabin. Jules had been a professor of history (I believe) at Goddard before the retrenchment, and Helen was/is an artist. Sometime between 1981 and 1983 Jules decided to write a book about the history of bread baking in France. And towards that goal he built a little brick oven in his back yard, just like village bread bakers of France have been building for maybe the past thousand years. And started baking a variety of regional breads of France. Maybe the oven and baking came first, and then the book idea came second, but for the purposes of this story, it's not so important.

Sometime before fall 1983 Jules and Helen decided to start selling their breads in some local stores, under the name Upland Bakers (aka Rabin's Bread). They sold a stout baguette, a rye, a whole wheat, rolls, and a pain de campagne. There may have been a couple of other varieties, but these are the ones I remember.

The little convenience store just down the road from Goddard (aka The Red Store) sold the baguettes at the checkout counter, naked as the moment they were pulled from the oven. I don't mind the bags bread is required to be sold in these days, but there was something about these loaves of bread lying bare-ass on the counter which facilited them quickly landing in hungry students hands. Um, also, they were only .99 cents.

I was fully prepared for my introduction to Upland Bakers bread by my mom, who loved, loved, loved a good loaf of home made bread. She spent probably a quarter of her time in the kitchen baking bread, and this is saying something, considering she spent a quarter of her waking hours in the kitchen cooking or baking. But that's another story. All you need to know, for now, is that I inherited my love of food directly from mom.

Many loaves baked and consumed later we come to the sad sad day when Jules and Helen decide to retire. I think this was in the summer of the year 2000. I, along with a good portion of central Vermont, was bereft. What to do? How would we survive without the crusty crunchy chewy wonderfullness of Upland Bakers (insert bread variety here)???

Perhaps not so coincidentally the year 2000 saw a remarkable surge in artisan bread bakers all over the state. When Upland Bakers started there were no other artisan bread bakers in central Vermont. There were, perhaps, several others in the state. By the time the Rabin's retired there were so many artisan bread bakers there wasn't enough shelf space to accomodate them all. Not that any of these other bakers came close in quality. Or at least that's what I thought, until I had a sample of Red Hen Baking Co.'s Mountain Miche at the local farmer's market. Initially it was the memory of Upland Bakers' pain de campagne in Red Hen's Miche that pulled me in, but eventually the miche itself kept me coming back.

About a year and a half ago I started working at Red Hen. One of the first things I recieved as an employee was a bakery t-shirt (see illustration above), with a silk-screen of the infamous miche pictured. Sometime in the past 6-9 months I started getting an employee standing order of one loaf of miche each week. At first I was able to get it on Thursday nights, at the end of my shift. But the bakers' schedule changed and the loaves were coming out hours after my shift end. So I switched my order to Fridays and picked it up at the farmer's market on Saturdays. Miche is meant to settle overnight, so although this sounds unlikely, this was actually an ideal solution. Until I started coming up to the Red Hen booth at the farmer's market looking for "my" loaf of miche first, and visiting Randy, the owner, and the other people who worked at the booth, second. Unghgh. I really wanted my miche. I really wanted to visit. I really, really wanted my miche. Then the farmer's market season ended. But wait! One Saturday each month there will be an indoor market in my town! Oh boy. At about the same time the bakery moved six miles closer to where I live. So I decided to start driving to the bakery on Saturdays (one of my days off) to pick up my miche. Awesome you say? Sort of.

Today I picked up my miche. I'd asked the packer to set aside a loaf of Friday's bake for me to pick up on Saturday, instead of switching out a loaf the wholesale manager would set aside for me on Thursday (switching a day-old loaf for a fresh loaf). The packer wrote "(D)Eva - me miche" on the bread bag he'd set aside for me. Diva? Oh man, I thought, this is getting bad. But the real corker came just a few seconds later.

Randy, one of the owners, was at the bakery when I stopped by. He asked me if I wanted to have breakfast at a restaurant off the regular delivery route, if I could deliver bread there for Red Hen first. I agreed. But I got all flustered on my way out and left one of three bags of bread (holding probably 20 loaves) behind. I didn't realize this until I arrived at the restaurant. I delivered the two bags I had, collected payment for the three bags, and turned around to collect the third bag to finally deliver, which I did without mishap.

Then I ordered some lunch, as it was getting late for breakfast. I went for the catfish gumbo and home made biscuits. Tasty, but way too hot for me. I seated myself near the door (silly, I know), and as I was finishing the gumbo there was a delivery, and then a bunch of people coming and going, and the door got left open. Brrr. One of the people coming in and leaving the door open was David Mamet, who lives nearby part time. I recognized him instantly. I tend to stare (it's an artist's burden, I can't help it, really) and this case was no different. Between feeling unnerved at his arrival (lots of his family and friends as well) and the door hanging open (and asking someone to catch the door on their way out) and finishing my gumbo, I decided it was time to go. I got up from my seat and instead of waiting for the check I walked up to the cash register counter and waited for the waitress to take note of me. The chef was paying for the aforementioned delivery and asked if I'd been helped, so I explained. Eventually, between him, the waitress who took my order and the one who served me, I paid my check and left.

I'm thinking I may have to give up the miche, if restaurant mortification is what is becoming of me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The pink and green truth

Full disclosure: I used some white-out (!!!) in this version of the wall-washing drawing.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Where Mom Left Off, part 2

My parents are second from the left 
(Mom standing, Dad sitting) in this Richman family portait taken in 1961. 
They got married about six months later.



Here's a couple of photographs commemorating Dad's promotion to Lietenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, in 1969. That's my brother with the bow tie, and my mom and I with matching dresses for the occasion. Dad's got on a nice silk tie.

Friday, December 21, 2007


It's Friday. I woke up at 6:21 AM. I had been dreaming I was telling my friend Gina all about a crush I was recovering from. It was true to real life detail for detail (except I haven't talked with Gina about any of this, yet). The only thing that was different (than real life) was following Gina from room to room while I told her what had happened between me and my crush-ie.

Thursday morning my therapist asked me to think about how dreams effect real life, and vice-versa. Or, did he ask me how dreams and waking life interact? Or what it means to have dreams, and how they effect us, whatever is going on in our waking lives? Now I can't remember.

I do remember responding to his suggestion with sarcasm, as he knows I have issues about this subject, since my late mother was a Jungian psychoanalyst. Dreams and all that hoo-ha. Interestingly, my dream life seems to be effecting my waking life, despite my mistrust of psychoanalysis. But when my dreams act like my waking life one quarter step removed? I'm sorry, that's just weird.

My weekend is on Fridays and Saturdays. I spend a fair amount of time wandering around the internet during my time off, and today I've been spending some time on Maira Kalman's blog: here

I also ran into an aquaintance who is a bookbinder, who also has a blog and a website: maydaystudio

Both very cool, in totally different ways.

At 7:45 AM I tried getting my car out of my snowfilled driveway. It's only December 21st and I've already gotten stuck three times (front wheels spinning on ice under the snow). My next door neighbor took pity on me and helped me back out. But she said she's gotten stuck just as many times. WTF?! Winter is less than 12 hours old.

Mercifully this didn't take very long, so I made my appointment at the mechanic right on time. He replaced the purge valve, but first listened to another customers's engine, and then, while working on my car, took two or three phone calls and a visit from a potential business insurance provider (who he apparently knows personally...he kept making references to some awkward voice mail messages from someone they know in common). All this in less than an hour, and no more "check engine" light on my dashboard!

I park my car on the other side of my apartment building (where the traction is better) and walk downtown to mail a birthday present to my niece, who will turn 11 on December 24. I got her a little leatherette covered blank book and a graphite pencil. Last year I got her 12 Prismacolor markers and a big sketchbook. I am the art aunt.

I wander into my beloved independent bookstore, which can also be accessed at Bear Pond Books and I page through the 2nd edition of the cream of the crap, "The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker" by Matthew Diffee and Robert Mankoff. It's awesome, partly for the cartoons, but mostly for the seriously silly questionaire all the artists fill out (or ignore, or cover with graffiti, depending). They also have all been asked, apparently, to provide a photograph of 1. a self-portrait; 2. the inside of their refridgerator; 3. drawing a cartoon; 4. their feet; 5. their studio/work space. I love seeing all these artists riffing on the posibilities in these requests. The guy who photographs himself drawing a cartoon, with a handcuff attached to his wrist, also abligingly provides a photo of his foot drawing a cartoon with a (foot?)cuff attached, made my bookstore visit. It's 9:45 AM.

On my way home from downtown I start thinking about posting more of my mom's story on the blog, but first I pop some biscuits and chicken in the oven (I kind of skipped breakfast). I usually check out my main e-mail account, Doonesbury, dykestowatchoutfor, Found Magazine, my hotmail account, alas, a blog, and drawn!, before doing anything else on the web, including look at my own blog. And look at the personals hosted by my local free alternative weekly, Sevendays Personals.

Yeah, that's where I saw the ad for the guy I've had a crush on. He's the sweetest, but not for me. Oh well.

I did a little shopping at the food co-op a few hours ago, which was pretty busy at 3pm, but I knew it would be even busier later. Holiday frantic energy. Two advantages to being single and a Jew at the end of December: a short gift-giving list and it's all done before Dec. 25th.

I did write a bunch of holiday well-wishing cards to my co-workers earlier this week, though. I work at the Red Hen Baking Company, which just moved to Middlesex, VT (from Duxbury) a little over a month ago. I also work for Anne Davis, who is the artist who creates the greeting cards, calendars and now children's books for her company Anne Made Cards, which I used for the aforementioned holiday greetings.

Time to log off and relax on the couch with the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine.

Happy Solstice everybody!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Taking Up Where Mom Left Off, part 1

In January 1994 my mother and I planned a trip to New York City to celebrate my birthday. My mother wasn't feeling well, but decided to make the trip anyway. She lived in Boston, I lived in Vermont, so we met at the hotel in NYC. After a few hours together we realized we needed to do something, because mom was sick, really sick, and could barely stand or walk on her own. I took her to an Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat specialist, because mom complained mostly about something feeling like it was stuck in her throat. But the specialist said we should go to the hospital, because she (the doctor) couldn't figure out what was wrong. At New York hospital my mother ended up in the ICU, because sometime that night she went into insulin shock.

Mom had had diabetes for 10 years by this time. She had chosen to treat her diabetes without taking insulin, or other medical intervention. She ate well (loved to cook), walked everywhere and went to the Y religiously, and loved what she did for work, as a Jungian Psychoanalyst and Psychiatric Social Worker. I don't know what kind of medical advice, if any, mom was getting before that trip to NYC, but whatever it was it did not prepare her for almost a week in ICU at New York hospital.

After that she had to start taking insulin, and within six months she started to lose her eyesight. She had a number of laser surgeries, which maybe slowed things down a bit. By 1997 her eyesight was completely gone.

In October 2004 Mom fell down a flight of stairs while visiting a friend, ending up in the hospital.

The hospital people would only let mom out if my brother and I agreed to help her get services set up at home. I took time off from work and stayed on the couch in mom's apartment that first week, while my brother ran errands. My brother John and sister-in-law Kirsten lived 45 minutes from Mom, had already been running errands for mom for years. Since I lived 3 hours away I hadn't been doing much of the leg work, so I decided I would stay with her and provide some relief for John and his family.

Between October 2004 and March 2005 I think mom was in the hospital three or four times. Mom had several diabetes related health issues, including the loss of eyesight. Her kidneys were only functioning at 20 percent. Also, she had advancing neropathy in both her feet. The pain in her shoulder was initially diagnosed as a rotater cuff injury, but after exploratory surgery it was discovered she also had arthritis. She also had high blood pressure. My mother got a new doctor sometime after the October hospital visit, who put her on a low potassium diet. This was supposed to help her kidneys function better, but it killed mom's morale, since it severely limited what she could eat. Mom loved to cook (and eat) and having only a few ingredients to work with (and ones she didn't like that much) was no way to live.

In March 2005 Mom was found unconscious in her apartment, after accidentally taking too much insulin. During the ensuing hospital visit we (the doctors, John & Kirsten, me and very reluctantly, mom) determined mom needed physical rehabilitation before she could either come back to her current apartment, or move into an assisted living apartment. In April 2005 we all decided mom wouldn't be coming back to her current apartment. In the next six months she spent time in several rehabilitation centers and at least one nursing home.

We were all hoping she'd move up the list on the assisted living apartment and be able to move in before winter, but mom's health never recovered. Mom had a heart attack and died in the hospital in September 2005.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

More achive drawings

I started drawing musicians at Farmers' Markets and cafes a couple years ago...much more fun than going to a life drawing class, and musicians don't mind being drawn, as they're already expecting people to stare at them...these two were at the market.

P.S. Agnes, thanks for the encouragement!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The origin of Eva's Icons (Greeting Cards)

Four years ago I created a set of greeting cards: Eva's Icons.
I drew them, had the line drawings printed on glossy cardstock and hand colored them with Prismacolor markers. Love them still.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

more drawings (from archives)

I love drawing people. Here's a few examples of musicians I've drawn in the last couple of years.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Please note - my art is not free for the taking

Since I'll be posting more drawings I thought I should post my logo and copyright above.
More to come.

Keeping out of trouble with Tara and Brian

I did a couple of drawings at the closing party for these two artists Tara Jensen and Brian Ziegler. I usually draw someone or something when I go down to the cafe. It keeps me out of trouble, usually.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mom's Story


My mother, Jackie Schectman, who passed away two years ago, wrote this family history in 2002. She was spurred on by a slightly different version her sister (who died about 6 months after my mom) wrote. Below is my mother's preface to the Richman/Kanofsky family saga: "My sister feels this story should be told. She is no doubt correct, and with a long, slow summer before me, I’ve decided to take up the challenge. Will my telling please her? Who can say? I can only write what I recall so well from my own, personal, memories, and from the stories I was told by those who expected me to commit them to memory. Is it all true, in a factual sense? I cannot say, but if family mythology makes up a large part of one’s identity, something I’ve always maintained - this story is part of who I am."


First, there was my grandmother Helen Krieger Richman Greenetz, the "shayna Helena, the toast of 19th century Poland." Standing barely five feet tall, she boasted that she’d never weighed less than 200 pounds and that her neighbors had always called her beautiful!" She was born circa 1870, the daughter of a successful businessman, the grandaughter of talmudic scholars.

She’d accompanied her arthritic mother to the spas of Europe, learning several languages along the way.(In her old age, she recalled only the profanities and a few odd phrases of these seldom practiced languages, and she was not shy about using her fund of international curses at appropriate moments. She was married young to a wealthy, elderly businessman, her beauty and intelligence making her a prize match for such a gentleman.

Predictably, the old man soon died, freeing his widow to marry again, this time to a traveling cloth merchant, Mordechai Riechman. There were family rumors of another wedding (and subsequent divorce) sometime before the marriage to Riechman, but no one knew any details of this. The third early marriage remains in the realm of family myth; how many husbands had Bubba outlive?

I do know that she had the words of the traditional wedding ceremony committed to memory. She’d been through the nuptial rites often enough.

While Riechman traveled, Helen tended her own family’s business, a substantial restaurant and tavern in Lodz, an industrialized, Germanic city in central Poland. I learned, later, that her family name "Krieger" could refer to either warriors or tavern keepers. While the latter was certainly, literally, appropriate, the former may have been equally descriptive of her personality. I have an image of her standing behind her tavern bar, carving knife in hand, fiercely slicing roasts and fowl. Occasionally, she might hand down a scrap to her youngest child - my father - who’d nestled himself below, in the bar’s inner recesses.

Such tastes of meat must have been truly welcome to the boy. He often recalled, with some bitterness, a war time diet of potato skin soup. Later in life, he considered a meatless meal both a painful reminder of these hard times, and an insult to his manhood. Words like "cholesterol" were not yet in our vocabulary, and my father thought of red, fatty meat as health food.

The war brought the family all sorts of grief. Helen had had ten children, and two sons had died as soldiers, fighting on opposing sides of the Great War. Jewish boys were simply swept up by any passing army, mindlessly drafted as human fodder by the combatents of the day. Three other children died young, and when my father, Michael, at 8 or nine, woke one day from his under-bar nap in great pain, they discovered he’d been stricken with Perthes Disease, a necrosis of the hip joint. His older sister carried him from doctor to doctor, but there was no help for him. He grew up with a short leg and more or less constant pain.

As an adult, he learned that surgery, followed by a year in traction, might still help, but he was a married man by then, and did not have the time or money to follow through with this treatment. He stacked the heel of his shoe on the short leg, and went on walking cutting room floors.

Aside from the loss and illnesses of her children, Helen had her own wartime woes. As the heavily disputed city fell under martial law, she was forbidden to sell alchohol to soldiers, a restriction that would cut deep into the tavern’s profits. No one could tell this warrior how to run her business, of course, and she proceded to sell drinks as usual, in defiance of the law. Soon, she was challenged at her bar by military police, and claiming that an obviously visible glass of vodka was only water, proceded to drink it down, neat. Unimpressed, the MPs took her off to a military prison, and she was scheduled to be hung the next day. Before the sentence could be carried out, however, the city changed hands, and the liberating army released all prisoners. She lived to tell the tale.

When the war was over, Riechman having died Helen felt it was time to leave for America, the "goldena Medina", the land of promise and opportunity in which her brother Israel had a firm foothold. In 1921 he sponsored a passage to Philadelphia for her and her four remaining, unmarried children. Married son Joseph stayed behind to mind the store, so to speak.

His death, in the Holocaust, is a sad and telling piece of family lore. In the thirties, as tales of Hitler’s excesses filtered through, Helen and the American siblings decided to bring Joseph out of Europe. According to my mother, however, they argued so long among themselves about their respective shares of his passage that the cash and papers arrived in Poland too late. He missed the last ship out and was lost. His son, who escaped in one of those miraculous tales of chance, daring and deception, remembers things differently. His father could have left, he told me, the money had arrived in time, but he stubbornly held onto the restaurant, waiting for a good price for the business. He refused to leave, and then it was too late. Both versions speak volumes about The Holocaust, not about the six million, but about individual hopes, miscalculations and regrets.

Cousin Michael

As my cousin and I exchanged stories in my Jerusalem hotel room we hung our heads in mourning and bewilderment. How could this have happened? Finally, we had to shrug, and move onto our plans for the evening.

The family’s journey to Philadelphia was neither easy nor uneventful, and whenever I’ve had to travel or move house with my children,I thought of Helen, in middle age, leaving for another, entirely unknown world with a crew of unruly adolescents. The thought has always filled me with awe, and shored up my flagging courage. If she could make this journey, thus assuring my existence, I could surely move my kids from Allentown to Worcester.

At the European departure site, 14 year old Michael lost sight of his family and was separated from them. Far from panicking, he simply boarded a larger, faster liner loading nearby, and arrived here some time before the rest. His greeting to his mother, sisters and brother, a family who’d imagined they’d lost him forever, was to ask what had taken them so long.

Upon arrival, all went to work for Uncle Israel in his embroidery shop. Florence and Bernie were to labor in the shop for the rest of their
working lives (Bernie would ultimately inherit the business, becoming a capitalist in an ironic finish to his Worker’s Circle, union-steward life.) Oldest sister Rose worked there as well, until she had two children, and died delivering a third. Michael (he would change his name to Martin, lest he be called Mickey, and be mistaken for Irish!!) worked there after school, but showed little inclination to take orders from his uncle. He was overcome by envy of his cousins, Israel’s children, who, encouraged to finish high school and college, eventually became physicians.

Helen and Israel circa 195o

Martin’s formal education was stopped at eighth grade, a never-ending source of bitterness to him. He did eventually go to a union sponsored trade school, learning pattern-making and cloth cutting.

He pursued the latter, as it was the highest paying position in the garment workers’ hierarchy, but this highly skilled intensly physical labor involved miles of walking pushing heavy, finely calibrated machinery through thick layers of cloth. Despite what must have been constant pain, he cut dresses, blouses and skirts for 40 years, until a coronary forced his retirement a few years before his death.

His fervent dreams of higher education were transferred to his daughters, and I was never unaware of this burden I carried on his behalf. In my drive to learn, I’ve always been acutely aware of his presense. When I walked down the long aisle of Philadelphia’s Convention Hall, to collect my Temple BA, in 1971, I saw him in the audience, standing on a chair, the better to wield his ever-present movie camera. I grimaced in annoyance, then turned to smile at the camera. At that moment, it occured to me that he’d been dead for five years! A brief hallucination, perhaps, but I’m still convinced of his spiritual presence in that hall. One of us, at least, had the prize in hand.

The family settled in Philadelphia, the older siblings attending night school to learn English, eventually meeting their spouses there. Helen learned the difficult new language from her children, as young people in school were instructed to speak nothing but English at home, and to insist their parents do the same. Helen later recalled, with a laugh, her initial confusion in asking the grocer for a pound of unions. She also remembered how much she’d paid for those "unions".

By 1928 the family had their citizenship papers, and made two discoveries: one, they could vote in the presidential election, and two, their votes were worth cash on the open market. Republicans bid high that year, and the family cast their first American ballots for Herbert Hoover. They came to regret this lapse so bitterly that they were fervent Democrats forever after. (My parents had a portrait of FDR over their bed, the family’s secular, patron saint!)

Bernie became an active organizer (FOR THE ILGWU) and the others followed suit. The Union was always a huge presence in our lives, providing assimilation skills, health care, weeks of summer vacations, college scholarships and my parent’s retirement pensions. When my parents spoke of the President, they were generally referring not to Truman, and certainly not to Eisenhower, but to David Dubinsky, head of the ILGWU. Another Lodzer, he was The Man.

While Rose, Bernie and Florence married and began raising families, young Martin pursued his new, very American passions for organized sport. He particularly loved basketball, worshipping the tall, agile players as only a short (5’2"), lame man might. Years before professional leagues, the Jewish Ys sponsored endless tournaments, Sunday night games followed by dances on the polished wooden court. It was at one such game that my father met the tiny, shy girl, Rebecca Kanofsky whom he would ultimately marry.


My grandfather Jacob was a tailor in the Czar’s army, which is to say, he was drafted. My mother would later dramatize the tale into a romance, picturing her father astride a fine calvery stallion, but the truth lay in the small factory in which he turned out uniform trousers for the troops. She described him as tall (perhaps 5’4") and handsome in his uniform, irresistible to my grandmother, Lena Bressler. They married, and settled in the city of Ekaterinaslav, in the southern Ukraine.

Post-revolution, The city was renamed, at least once. Jacob, too, had to be renamed, as Lena’s father was also a Jacob. The coincidence of names implied symbolic incest and made the proposed wedding decidedly un-kosher. Jacob became Noah, for the sake of a good marriage, and retained the name, if only when addressed by his wife. Their first born, a son was followed quickly by Rebecca, in 1910. Jacob had served his time with the army by then, but the European peace was fragile, and a forced re-enlistment could happen at any moment. The couple settled down, waiting for the next boot to drop.

Relief came in the form of an unexpected gift. Lena’s sister was engaged to an adventurous sort, a man who’d saved and planned for immigration to America. Their papers and passage were in hand, officials properly bribed when the young bride found she could not, would not leave her family. There was nothing to do but sell all of it to brother-in-law Jacob. The young Kanofskys left Russia weeks ahead of the Revolution and the Great War.

Landing in South Philadelphia, Jacob opened a tailor shop, and
little Philip and Rebecca went to American schools. Joseph, Sarah and Ben were born in quick succession, citizens from the first. Lena, neither as quick nor as flexible as the older more sophistacated Helen, and burdened with five small children, made a difficult adjustment to her new home. When her children came home from school, insisting upon English, she responded with bewilderment and anger. Then she fell.

According to my mother, the fall was down a steep flight of stone steps, Lena went down head first, and fractured her skull. She was never properly treated, and was never the same thereafter, memory and cognitive abilities having been permanently damaged. My mother, at seven, was now by default, the housewife-caretaker for the brood. There were no grandparents or extended family to lend assistance, and the six were on their own, to do the best they could. Rebecca, called Bea, would have to depend on what she’d learned from her mother before that defining fall.

After her marriage, when Helen tried to teach her a thing or three about housekeeping and kitchen skills, she responded with stubborn resistence, thus launching a thirty-years war between the two. My grandmother’s weapons were shame and intimidation, battles in which everyone lost. I vividly recall my 80 year old grandmother hanging out our second-storey windows, washing their outer panes. The neighbors were horrified, and gave my mother considerable grief over this apparent abuse of the old woman. They’d never know that the window-washing was done entirely on Helen’s initiative, to teach my mother to "do it right".

But this would be years in the future. Jacob kept his tailor shop going with fine ladies’ work, but his gambling and more than occasional drunkeness hardly provided family security. Oldest son Philip contributed as a Western Union operator, and Bea was asked to leave school after 8th grade, to help support the family. This would prove to be a problem. While she’d sat at her father’s knee for many years, she’d never learned to sew, neurological problems having affected her eye-hand coordination. Unable to do, she could only recognize the errors of others, and work as a spotter, checking over the final product of the factory or knitting mill. There were few such positions available, but she did manage to stay marginally employed - until the depression made itself felt in the garment industry.

Thus, when Martin and Bea met in 1930, they required a long engagement to put aside even a minimal nest-egg. They also had to face opposition to the marriage from both sides. Jacob and his sons saw past Martin’s good looks and surface charm to his unbridled anger and bitterness, likely to erupt at the slightest provocation. They heard him order Bea around, and feared for her safety. Seeing what she wished to see in him, she defied them. Later, when she realized the wisdom of their advice, she could not admit her error and ask for help. She had no place to run.

Few women, I suspect, would have been good enough daughters-in-law for Helen, and she had little tolerence for Bea’s large and small weaknesses. Nonetheless, her youngest child was no more ready to bend to his mothers’ will than his mother would have been. The wedding was planned for November, 1933. (My mother, in fact, proved to be among the stronger of the Richman mates. Florence’s husband, Harry, suicided; Bernie’s wife, Tyana, spent most of their marriage confined in a series of mental institutions. Rose’s husband remarried shortly after her early death.)

Martin’s beloved older sister, poorly treated for a miscarriage in a public hospital died six weeks before the wedding. This placed a pall on the celebrations; music and dancing were cancelled, and the entire Richman family arrived for the nuptials in mourning clothes. The bride and groom, each barely over five feet and looking like wedding cake miniatures in their posed photo, were off to a most inaspicious start.


Both worked hard, and Bea longed for a child and motherhood. Martin, remembering his sister, hesitated, but finally agreed to a one child family. Their little girl was named for Rose and Bea’s Aunt Ida, the names elided into Rosadele. Dark and pretty, she was the light of her father’s eye, a child who could do no wrong. As she grew, she became more and more difficult for her mother to handle, reporting her mother’s attempts at disipline to her father when he came home at night. Martin punished Bea, thus undoing any corrections she’d made.

Marty and Rose

Bea, caught between her child, on the one hand, and her mother-in-law on the other, felt completely outnumbered in her struggle with her violent husband. Hoping to improve the odds, she campaigned for a second child, promising her husband a son. Six years after Rosadele’s birth, she concieved again. It was 1942; this child would be a war baby. When Jacob died in a sudden heart siezure, she knew her son would be named for him.

I heard this story all through my childhood: When Dr. Arthur (Israel’s son) delivered me, and announced the birth of a girl, my father could not contain his rage. He hired a horse at a nearby stable, and rode the horse hard for several hours in an effort to calm himself. He blamed his wife, his cousin and anyone else he could find for his disappointment. A girl! He’d been promised a son! He needed to get away, he needed an object - Hitler would do - for his overwhelming anger. By 1943, Martin was 36 years old, lame and diabetic. He had two young children. Nonetheless, after a year of gathering false documents, he managed to enlist in the infantry. He was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia for basic training. There, he would encounter the shadow side of the Land of Opportunity.

Shop windows near the base bore the legend :"No niggers, Jews or dogs allowed." Away from the cushioning familiarity of family, union and neighborhood, Martin was truly alone, with no outlets for his habitual explosions of rage. The disiplines of training had him in constant difficulty, and up to his elbows in potato peels, KP being a typical punishment for insubordination. Finally, his foot became infected during a long march, and he spent the next months in an army hospital, where doctors managed to save the foot. He returned home less than a year after his enlistment, frustrated in his desire to kill a nazi or two. Thence forward, his aggression would be primarily directed toward his family.

Jackie, Rose, Bea and Marty

The rest of the story?

Helen married for the third (or fourth ?) time to a man named Greenetz, and moved to Camden, New Jersey. After the war, she turned the large house into a boarding house for refugees. Her backyard garden kept her well supplied with fresh herbs and vegetables for her soups, while nearby streams provided fresh fish. Sadly, the easy-to-catch catfish were not kosher, and she had to throw them back, lifelong observance overcoming habitual thrift. Still, it was a good life for her, even after Greenetz died. She had a home. When Bernie defaulted on a loan on her property, she lost the Camden house and was left to wander from one relative to another, moving her pots, pans and kosher dishes with her.

Helen and Rose

Thus, by 1950, she was part of our household, adding another layer of richness and conflict to our far from peaceful home. The primary battle was over household management. Helen had been a professional cook; Bea did her best, but had little interest in the food she served. Her kitchen was neither organized nor clean, her meal choices based solely on her husbands demands. In the end, Helen gave up Bea as a hopeless cause, and looked around for someone else to take up the household responsibilities. My sister, for a number of reasons, was neither willing nor available, and I became my grandmother’s designated apprentice. When Helen took me in hand - I was perhaps nine - she declared that my education must include the making of a good chicken soup. Lacking such basic knowledge, she told me, I would never marry.

This messege was no doubt meant more for my mother than for me, but I took it very seriously, and learned. Another conflict arose around the issue of religion. Helen took her rituals and observances most seriously, weeping and praying over her tattered siddur morning and evening. Martin, on the other hand, would have none of it. His mother, he said, made up the rules as she went along, inventing more as she grew older. He declared all rabbis bloodsuckers, and refused to join any of several local congregations. My religious education was out of the question, but I was expected to escort Helen to the Orthodox shul on the high holidays. I soon learned to hate the chore. I had no understanding of what was happening there, and there was so much that frightened and mystified me. Why did they make my aged grandmother climb all those stairs to the balcony? Picking up cues from my mother ("We don’t have the money for new outfits to show off...") I thought the balcony was for those too poor for floor seats. It was years before I learned that Helen’s segregation was based solely on gender, not economics. The balcony was for women.

In any case, Helen’s trips to the shul became less frequent as the years went on. The young rabbis, she declared, just did not know what was what. She required no intermediary in her ongoing dialogue with her God. As her health became more precarious with age, she refused Friday night trips to a hospital with the following arguments: If she were to die on shabbos, it would be a mitzva. If God wanted her to live, she’d live until Sunday. She was to live a very long time. My father was not so fortunate. Weeks before his sixtieth birthday, he had arterial by-pass surgery, a procedure very new in 1967. It did not go well. In the weeks before his death - his doctors were optimistic - he asked to see a rabbi, shocking everyone who knew him. A rabbi was found for him, they talked, but none of us ever knew what they said to one another. We can only presume that his mother’s "nonsense" had some meaning for him in these last days of his life.

The third source of conflict was around conflict itself, that is, the response to my father’s violent temper. Helen urged compliance to his demands, however unreasonable, and left my mother with no support for her own needs, nor for ours. He was to be treated as the king of the household: he was to have the softest chair, the best food, the last word. For all her strength, he terrified her, and she passed her terror on to the rest of us.

Lena Kanofsky fared less well after Jacob’s death. Diabetes rendered her blind, and, in despair she attempted suicide. Her children, each struggling to raise families of their own, could not adequately care for the helpless woman. If there were institutions dedicated to care of the blind, the Kanofsky’s were not aware of them. She was consigned to Byberry State Mental Hospital, just northeast of Philadelphia, and died in one of its back wards sometime in the early fifties. I never met her.

here's something to munch on (illustration from Riding The Bus)

Monday, October 8, 2007

gotta start somewhere


Come back soon.

I'll have more to share soon.