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A respectable woman
Ina, my grandmother, is a very special woman. I look up to her in so many ways, but what I didn’t know was that she had a very interesting past. I choose to interview my grandma because this is an excellent way to learn about my family history and because she is very close to my heart.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: My father was from Russia and my mother was from Poland. When my father was in Russia it was called the USSR.
Q: When did they come to the U.S.?
A: My mother came when she was just a babe in arms in 1906 or 1907. And my father came when he was 17.
Q: Who came first and how did they come?
A: My mother came first with her parents, and my sister and I were born in the U.S. They came on a boat.
Q: What languages did they speak when they first came?
A: My mother wasn’t really speaking but I guess you can say she spoke English and she learned some Yiddish from her parents. And my father spoke Yiddish and Russian.
Q: Where did they settle?
A: My mother settled in Williamsburg, New York. And my father settled in Newark, New Jersey.
Q: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A: Um let’s see… I never really thought about it until I was in high school. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer or in charge of something.
Q: You mentioned a sister, do you have any other siblings? What was your relationship with them?
A: No, I have one sister who was born after the Depression. She is seven years younger than me. She was born at the beginning of World War II. We weren’t very close until we were older.
Q: How is your relationship with your sister now?
A: Very good, very good. I try to see her once a week if she’s home. We don’t live that close to each other. But it’s not like we are on different sides of the country.
Q: How did the Depression affect your family?
A: Very much so. My father was a carpenter and things weren’t being built so he could rarely work. The government had a program called the WPA-The Works Project Administration, which employed skilled workers to build buildings. Many libraries, post offices and public buildings were being built. My father worked for them. As for my mother, back then women didn’t work so she was home with me.
Q: Did your dad speak any English? If not, how did that affect his job?
A: No he didn’t, he learned here. He always had a thick accent. He was a carpenter so he used his hands mostly. It didn’t really affect him. But he picked it up. He had a big vocabulary.
Q: How did the Depression affect you alone?
A: Well me alone didn’t even know there was a Depression. I didn’t realize we were in bad a time that was my life. I never had vacations or camps; I didn’t have it so I didn’t miss it. You would come home from school have a glass of milk or a piece of fruit. You would go out to play, there were no play dates back then. Then you would come home when it was time for your
supper. And if you didn’t, your mom would come out and scream “Ina” or something.
Q: How did World War II affect your family?
A: Well with World War II my dad got a job at a defense plant, where they would make tanks, weapons and things. If you weren’t in the army or navy you worked in a defense plant. He worked everyday even holidays and weekends. It was good for us because he was making more money. Even women started working for the first time. In school we did a lot. We had mock air raids, where we had to hide under our desks and put our head between our knees. We had food rationing; we couldn’t buy as much meat. We used food stamps to buy certain food we needed. The grocery store was a small one. When they had sugar or coffee my mother would give me the stamps and tell me to wait on line at the grocery store. You had to have heavy blinds, you still could have a light on in your house but it had to look like you weren’t home in case a plane flew over your house. There was an air raid warden. One man would volunteer to walk up and down the block with a flashlight. If he could see light through your blinds he would blow his whistle to warn you. The Depression started before I was born and the war ended it because the war gave everyone jobs. The war lasted for several years, from 1941-1945. The war was, quote a â€˜good war,’ no war is good.
Q: Do you have a childhood memory that stayed with you?
A: The biggest childhood memory I have was when I was in grammar school. I would walk two or three blocks to school and I would come home for lunch everyday and I would pass a synagogue. And one Friday when I was coming home from school a man came out of the synagogue and said, “Little girl would you like to make ten cents,” or something. I didn’t know much about religion, my father being an atheist, and ten cents was a lot back then so I said sure. It was already the Sabbath and when you are Jewish you weren’t supposed to turn on the lights. I had pigtails and for some reason I didn’t look Jewish to him. So he had me turn on the lights or something. So from then on every Friday he would have me do that and I didn’t tell my mother. One day when I finally told her she laughed and said “he thinks you’re not Jewish.”
Q: Did the man ever find out you weren’t Jewish?
A: No he never did. After that I stopped doing it, I was embarrassed that my mom never told me that’s what religious people do. You know I don’t really remember…maybe he asked and I said I couldn’t, or I told him I was Jewish.
Thank you for letting me talk to you.
Oh it was my pleasure. We should do it again sometime.
My grandmother is a child of immigrant parents who had to work hard to build a life in America. From these humble beginnings she rose up, and put herself through college, graduate school and she raised a family. She will never forget her childhood; it helped shape her into the respectable person she is today.