Whatever Happened to Grandpa Leon?

I have told you what little I know about Dad’s father’s grandparents, so now it’s time to fill you in on Grandma Rita. You all knew her for just a few years because she died in 1993, before any of you really got to know her. Her family has some mystery to it, and the biggest mystery is regarding her father—Leon Schindler (like the list).

Leon and Dad’s grandmother, Anna Schussheim, came to America in 1923, within just one month of Dad’s other grandparents, Misha and Esther. Both sets of grandparents lived within forty miles of one another in the same area of Poland.

Like Dad’s grandparents, Misha and Esther, Leon and Anna did not come here with the intent to settle in New York City. According to their record from Ellis Island, their final destination was Cleveland, Ohio, which was the home of Anna’s older brother Elias, who was known in America as Elmer. I have no evidence that they ever went to Cleveland but settled instead in Brooklyn before moving to the Bronx, where Grandpa Leon was employed as a knitter.

Because of the change in plans of both sets of grandparents, the four of them settled literally around the corner from each other—0.2 mile apart. I just love these stories about how people end up together because of random decisions that places them on a collision course with destiny. Your lives depended on that change of plans.

So did Anna ever see her brother again? Did Dad’s mother know that her Uncle Elmer died in Miami, where his family went every Christmas to visit his other grandparents?

Dad knows so little about Leon because his mother never talked about him. She was angry because he left the family when Grandma Rita was very young—sometime around the age of twelve. Leon is the mystery. I cannot find him after the 1940 census. He has not appeared in the World War II draft records, any local directories, naturalization records, or any news articles. He just disappeared.

Because he is Dad’s grandfather, not just a random cousin three times removed, I am determined to solve the mystery of Grandpa Leon. My first idea is to check on a Leon Schindler who died in 1962 in New York—just a year after Anna. I want to order the death certificate, and see if it is him.

Anna’s family, on the other hand, is not so mysterious. That is a very sad, but not secret story. Many of Anna’s relatives were victims of the Holocaust, but that is a tale for another day.

This and That About Dad’s Family

It was recently pointed out to me that I have talked very little about Dad’s family, which is primarily because his history is more vague than mine regarding both sides of his family tree. So I will do my best to fill in a few blanks, beginning with what I was able to find with my ancestry-stalking skills. There are so many mysteries to your father’s family.

Dad’s grandparents were Misha  and Esther (born Jeska). According to their naturalization papers, Misha was born in Russia, while Esther was born in Poland, in cities which were approximately 3500 miles apart. How did they ever meet?

It is interesting to note that they arrived in New York in 1923 on the Berengaria, which (if you read my book), is the same ship that my father sailed on eight years later when his family emigrated to the Soviet Union.  (Cooincidence or foreshowing?) Misha and Esther’s last known residence was Berlin.

They headed to the Boston area, settling in the town where Misha’s mother had come just three months earlier, joining several of her siblings and possibly her mother (Dad’s great-great grandmother). Dad had no idea that he had so much family living in the Boston area. He only knew of his great aunt Sonia, whose daughter Miriam had come to our wedding. He has been surprised to learn that his great-great grandparents and a plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins lived up there. As someone with a rather big family, most of whom I know, I think this is very fishy!

We always said that the hidden family was because we believed his father was part of the Witness Protection Program. My theory is that Dad’s family was separated from the Boston family because of the mysterious death of his great aunt Carol, whose body was never found after a fire in the house. The only problem with this suspicion is that the dates of her death don’t match with anyone’s move from Boston. Maybe her husband, Uncle Dan, talked in his sleep and said something to someone and word filtered down to Carol who had to be eliminated. (More on that another time.)

Back to Grandpa Misha….

In the old country, Dad’s grandfather had been a musician and his grandmother was an actress. Misha played a Russian string instrument known as a balalaika. Did they ever continue their life of show business here? No one is alive to tell the story. (Hmm… Lots of bodies in this family!)

For some reason, his grandparents, his great grandmother, and two of his grandfather’s brothers moved to New York sometime between the end of 1925 and August of 1927, when Dad’s father was born. Thank goodness for all of you, because I am confident that Dad and I would never have met had he grown up in Massachusetts. I guess it was just destiny.

Eventually, Grandpa Misha abandoned his musical career and moved into something more stable, beginning as an accountant and eventually working as a banker at Merchant’s Bank—the bank which morphed into Valley National Bank of which you are all stockholders.

Well, that’s it for now. There are many sad stories in the family, many of which are related to the Holocaust and Grandma Rita’s family. Stay tuned for more another day.

Don’t be too Quick to Judge

You know about Grandma and you certainly know about Grandpa because I was able to write a whole book about him, which I hope you have all read or will read soon so we can have our own little book-club discussion about what you learned. I have been providing you with stories of my childhood, but I have said little about Dad or his family. I hope to change that a bit.

His first few jobs kid-type jobs were working as a camp counselor and then in the library at college. You may know that his grandfather—his father’s father—worked for many years at a bank in New York City called Merchant’s Bank, which now has become Valley National Bank.

Dad worked briefly as a courier, delivering money and checks from the bank to a money-exchange company in the World Trade Center and several other banks in the financial district on Wall Street. All this valuable paper and foreign currency would be shoved into a manila envelope secured by a string and handed to Dad.

Typically, and particularly in those days, an employee of a bank would be dressed in a suit and tie. That was not the case with Dad, who was specifically instructed to dress casually—which meant jeans and a tee shirt. If you ever saw photos of your father in those days, you will remember that his hair was not neatly trimmed. In fact, he wore it quite long, and I believe he also was not clean-shaven.

He would pick up his envelope at the bank and then head to the New York City subway to deliver his very valuable “stuff.” The value of that envelope could be as much as $45,000, which adjusted for inflation today was about $250,000!

The thought was that no one would suspect anyone dressed in such scruffy attire to have anything worth robbing. It was a surprisingly brilliant dress code for the job and just proves that you truly can’t judge a book by its cover. That poorly dressed person could be a courier, a celebrity in disguise trying to get in character for a movie role, or a spy. You just never know.

It’s the Corky’s Truck

Dad and I checked out the new Kroger Marketplace on opening day, and I must say, it was definitely not a Shrek. It was the most impressive supermarket we have ever been to, and I was particularly excited by the wine and cheese department. I was going to finally treat myself to my first royalty-check bottle of wine, but I need to do some research first. If I am going to spend more than $10 on a bottle of the fruit of the vine, I want the purchase to be memorable.

When we got to one of the frozen-food compartments, I saw something which took me down memory lane to that Memphis vacation again—a box of Corky’s Ribs! I think Dad’s job in Memphis is when he first fell in love with barbecue (He may say it was at the Tunnel Barbecue in Windsor Ontario but let’s go with Corky’s for the sake of this story.)

When we all joined him at his hotel, he was eager to bring us to his new favorite restaurant, which I believe was conveniently located across the street from his hotel. I cannot deny that their ribs were delectable, and their barbecue turkey was tasty as well.

As you remember, we liked it so much that when his job in Memphis was done, we would periodically have Corky’s delivered to our house in New Jersey. It would be shipped FedEx, arriving packed in dry ice, and as kids, you not only had a meal to eat but the ice to entertain yourselves.

I am not certain who first came up with the idea of renaming the FedEx truck, but whenever a shipment of Corky’s would arrive, you would shout out, “It’s the Corky’s truck.” To this day, when I get a delivery from that truck with the familiar arrow, I think first of those ribs from Tennessee. I guess we will have to try them again someday and see if we still feel the same.

Off to Jail

Yodar Schussheim has returned from the dead today. He is very old—probably well over 120 years.

I first learned the story of Yodar on one of my first dates with Dad. He came into Dad’s life when his father decided he would not pay the telephone company to have an unlisted phone number. Your grandfather reasoned that to not print a name should not result in a fee.

Further research led to the discovery that one did not have to have their name, address and telephone number listed using their actual name. Any name was acceptable; thus, your grandfather decided that their family would be listed in the Yonkers telephone directory under the name “Yodar Schussheim.”

When I was told this story, I had no idea that Schussheim was a family name—Dad’s grandmother’s maiden name. It was not until I decided to climb Dad’s tree that I learned this piece of family trivia. I believe the name “Yodar” was invented by Dad’s father.

Once that name was listed in the telephone book, applications for credit cards and magazine subscriptions began to arrive at Dad’s house. Your grandfather would fill out the applications, explaining that Yodar was in great debt, spoke no English, and was unable to sign his name. One of his relatives was filling out the application for him. Then he signed it with an “X,” and the credit cards began arriving at the house!

No charges were ever made on the card. That was not the point. The point was just showing that anyone could get a credit card. That is how stupid those banks issuing the cards were.

Yodar “lived” for many years and probably died sometime around the time of your grandfather’s death I suppose.

Every once in a while, Dad would repeat the legendary tale of Yodar. Today, Yodar rose from the dead when we received a call from “the IRS,” telling Dad he was going to be arrested because he owed them money.

When they asked for Dad’s name, that is when Yodar rose from the dead. “Yodar” explained to the “IRS agent” that he did not have the $4986 to pay the taxe bill, which allegedly spanned a five year period from 2008-2012. They admitted we owed the money because of an error. Failure to pay today would result in accrued interest payments of $19000.

The “IRS agent” suggested  that Dad could pay $2000  today and then the rest via monthly payments. Yodar said he had only $56. That is when the “agent” gave up and hung up the phone. The lesson learned is that you don’t mess with Yodar Schussheim!


Wow People I Have Met

We all know Jamie loves her celebrities. Looking back on my life, I have met some interesting people, but none that were Hollywood celebrities. One of the first on my list of memorable individuals I have met was a a distant cousin of Dad named I.J. Wagner of Salt Lake City.

Some of our earliest trips together were company trips to interesting places, and in the very early years of our marriage, Dad was able to bring me along at minimal expense to us. On two occasions, I accompanied him to Salt Lake City. On our second trip there, we met his cousin Izzi and his very interesting wife Jeanne. (To this day, I have not figured out how he was related to Dad, but he knew Dad’s father.)

I. J. Wagner was a very well-respected man in his community, and shortly before we met him he was named one of the twenty most influential men in Utah. He made his fortune in a family business, Wagner Bag Company, that began recycling years before it was the norm. He told Dad that his business bought burlap bags used to hold grain from farmers who were going to throw them away, and then resold them to the company that made the original bags at a lower cost than the new bags. His company was later sold to a company called St. Regis paper.

The legacy of Izzi Wagner was that he cleaned up Salt Lake City of oversized signs and billboard, he created a major shopping center called Trolley Square, was a major donor to the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, and he made significant contributions to the Jeanne Wagner Jewish Community Center as well as several hospitals, an industrial park, and the University of Utah.

The day we met him, he showed up at our hotel to take us out to breakfast for what he called “the best French toast in Salt Lake City.” He drove a Rolls Royce, which he bought his wife as a gift on a trip to Los Angeles, and I recall that the carpet on the floor felt like a fine fur coat. His wife told us that she preferred driving her old Ford Pinto because the wheel was nice and slim and so much more comfortable than the Rolls.

They were very nice and down to earth. Everyone knew him and treated him with great respect.  That was my first introduction to people who lived the high life and showed me that not all of the rich were showy and ostentatious.

That is how I would like to be if I ever won a big lottery. I was very impressed and I will someday figure out where he fits on Dad’s family tree.

Mom and Dad’s Primary Adventures

When you were in college, I advised you to take advantage of living in early primary states by going out and seeing some of the candidates and you all did. This is something none of us could do when we lived in New Jersey when the primaries were so late it hardly mattered.

Kelly, you did it as a photographer for the Daily Gamecock, taking photographs of Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and John McCain. I know Casey saw Hillary Clinton and then Senator Obama. Jamie saw Bill Clinton at a rally at Elon to add to her album of celebrities.

Now that Dad and I are living in this early primary state, I knew I had to take my own advice, so a few weeks ago, when the Republicans were roaming around the state, Dad and I  visited Duke’s Barbecue in Orangeburg, where we heard John Kasich speak. The venue was casual. We were seated at a long picnic table with a politically eclectic group of people all doing their primary research like us.

We met a Democratic transplant from Michigan who had a secret crush on Joe Biden. At the end of the table was a woman giving the stink eye to the CNN cameraman (“The only thing worse than CNN is MSNBC”, she told Dad), and across from us was a conservative couple who mentioned their visit to the tea party convention last year. I told Dad that if someone had told me twelve years ago that I would be attending a political event in a barbecue joint in South Carolina, I would have asked what drugs he was taking.

Governor John Kasich

Governor John Kasich

To keep the equation balanced, we attended two Democratic events this past weekend thanks to Casey, who gave me the heads-up on both of them.

On Friday we traveled to Aiken High to see Bill Clinton speak. While this was not as intimate a setting as the Kasich event, it was still a small venue compared to some of the Trump and Sanders rallies. We were impressed with Bill’s positive attitude, and we came away knowing exactly how Hillary planned to deal with each issue. We met a retiree from New Jersey as well as a young man who had attended many more events than us as he tried to decide not only what person to give his vote to, but which party to support. I was impressed with his thoughtful research.

President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton

Late Saturday afternoon, we received an invitation to Hillary’s Primary party, so we decided to be spontaneous and go. We decided to begin the evening early with a typical Southern dinner, which was barbecue at Palmetto Pig. (It’s always about the barbecue down here!) After getting a second email informing us that the doors would open earlier, we moseyed on over, and were happily surprised to be at the front of that line.

Unlike the event for President Clinton, which had no overt security, we had to pass through metal detectors overseen by scary looking secret service agents. We felt like we were in the safest venue in Columbia.

We chose a front-row seat on the bleachers to the left of the stage, and before Hillary appeared, we were interviewed by two different news outlets.  The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd diverse and enthusiastic. Like the previous day’s speech, Hillary was positive and enthusiastic.  For Dad and me, we had found our candidate, which was a relief after being so disenchanted with the others in the current playing field.

Secretary Hillary Clinton

Secretary Hillary Clinton

It is sad to me that I have not told this to many of my friends and family. My photos are not on Facebook because I have been trying to avoid being very political, and I am also uncomfortable sharing this fun evening with so many people whose views differ from mine.  Yet that party ranks up along with lunch at the pub with the Irish Prime Minister and New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I keep telling myself I should not feel this way because our country is supposed to be about freedom, diverse opinions, and embracing our differences. I think I need to come out of the political closet.