My mother passed away on October 14th, 2012. One major reason I haven’t been writing, or that my meager attempts have been sombre. My father died on October 15th, 1999, which has still sent shivers through me, that they parted this earth one calendar day apart (although thirteen years passed).
It’s Halloween, a holiday she did enjoy, seeing all the children in their costumes, playing like she was afraid of the “scary” ones, cooing over the very cute tots and babies coming out for their first Trick or Treating, and giving out bags of candy (each bag had to be the same, piece by piece, number by number, so she felt no child felt cheated). It’s been one of my favorite holidays as well…not so much this year.
She was “known” in our family as the “family historian,” being able to recall all the family stories, connections, etc. This she did orally, rarely writing anything down. Which is a shame: those stories now only reside in the memories of those who listened, and if we don’t write them down, they’ll be gone.
I did find her beginning attempts to write some of the history down, colored through her lens. I’m posting it here where I normally write my own fiction. Not sure when/if I’ll really come back to this blog with any real attention. I hope you enjoy her early memories.
Edith A. Nager: 1926-2012
(1) My mother and father met and married in Odessa, Russia. Papa had served in the Russian Army for five years and then was discharged. I have a picture of him in his uniform. He was quite dashing. He came to America first and then sent for my mother. This was before the First World War
(2) The day I was born my father declared it a holiday. He kept my three oldest brothers home from school. The other two were too young for school. There were five boys and now me. The truant officer came to the house and asked why they were home, and Papa said: “After five boys, a girl was born!” That fine gentleman stayed and helped Papa celebrate.
Mama said, and I quote her: “This is it! If it’s another boy, no more!” Papa ran through the building knocking on doors to tell them the good news. He finally had a daughter.
(3) Saturdays, my mother did not cook. Papa said it was Mama’s time off. He went to the kosher deli and bought Pastrami, Corned Beef, Specials (knockwursts), Salami, Knobelwurst (very garlicky salami), and rye bread. The mustard came in paper cones. Oh my, how delicious it all was. Mama made the potato salad.
Saturday evening after sundown was the time to turn on the radio and listen to station WEVD. It was Jewish music and singing. It was OK, but Sunday morning was better. Same station, but it was all about “Troubles of People” and “The Bintel Brief,” as well as more music and singing.
The “Troubles of People” were some of the saddest tales you could hear. Husbands came to the Promised Land first and became Americanized. They met other women, forgetting about the wives and children back home. Sometimes it was a three hankie story.
(4) Sunday brunch was out of this world. Bagels, bialys, pumpernickel bread, sweet butter, cream cheese, Muenster & farmer cheese; Belly lox, a large smoked white fish, and pickled herring in cream sauce with onions. Of course, a large salad: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radishes and green pepper. We ate and talked. Everyone showed up for this feast. My brothers: Lou, Phil, Ezra, Sam, Bernie and me…and of course, Mama and Papa.
(5) My brother Bernie gave me a lot of grief. He was the youngest of the boys. He used to tell me I smelled like a flower: it was called a stink weed. One day, he came home from school and went to the medicine cabinet. He took out a box of Feenamint. He got a box of Chicklet’s Gum and replaced it with the laxative. Some of the boys in school were giving him a hard time, so he got even. They never bothered him again. We gave him a new name: we called him “Dr. Fleckel.”
(6) Walking with a group of girls and boys along the Gran Concourse to Fordham Road you could window shop. The stores stayed open till 9:00 p.m. We went to Rushmyers on University Avenue for Ice Cream in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter. We’d also go to 161st Street to Addie Valin’s and the Roxey Deli.
Trolley cars in the summer, the sides were heavy metal mesh so you would feel cool. It cost five cents each way and some of us would take a ride in the evening. We went all the way to Throgs Neck and back. This was before A.C.
We can just sit, gaze, giggle, share and smile;
All these little things, fill me til I’m fed.
It satiates, takes me along the while.
Getting to know your nuances, your care;
Breaking through your shell and holding back mine
Allowing a congruence; love we share.
But, what if the ugly pasts reared their heads
Sharpening claws, restricting our progress
Will you run away, filling me with dread
So it would halt our forward congress?
Come…stay with me, along the way we go.
Come…wrap yourself around me as we flow.
“Mother… What’s wrong?”
She held onto me. Her sobbing continued for just a short while, but it felt like forever. She finally eased up and moved away. Taking my hand, she took me outside the house not saying a word. We sat down on the stoop, finding a bit of the late day sun still warming the steps.
“Miranda…a story. I’ve been meaning to tell you, for a very long time. I could just never bring myself to do it. I’ve closed this part of myself off for a very long time.
This trip you are taking for work, to Italy… Your agenda… It parallels a huge hole in my heart.
Your father, know that he and I love you so love very, very much… He is not your real father. That wonderful, lovely, brilliant man that helped bring you to me, my Angel… He is long gone. We met during my first year at University. He was a year older, and he was introduced to me because of a mutual love of literature. This is the world that he lived in, that he breathed in, that shown through his eyes, his smile…it captured me within minutes.
We were so very happy. We had visited all the places that you are now going to: Sirmione, Florence, Rome, and Venice. It was a college trip and we fell in love all so completely… I think really loved before we even went there. But it was the sunset in Sirmione that we knew it was true.
It was in Venice that we first… Oh, Angel, Venice… What can I say about the magic of that time? You’re going to see for yourself.
It’s so hard to describe this complete knowing that I was with a man I’m supposed to with. It wasn’t just teenage hormones driving us, but a true sense of being loved. Completely.”
” What happened to him?” I asked, it barely coming out as a whisper.
Mother grasped my hand tighter, bringing it to her lips which she then kissed gently.
” When we got back, we were married immediately. I was 18, and you were on the way.
We were together for a year and a half. I can’t even tell you what a glorious and loving year and a half that was essentially – except for you – the whole my existence. I don’t bring it up… I have never brought it up… Because I had to put it away, or it would have destroyed me. Your father, and yes, I do consider him your father… I have never mentioned any of this to him, and he is respected my wishes to let it lie where it is. He is a good– no, great man. You know that, and I never want that to change.
There was a car accident. We had gone back to visit where we discovered love and you. You were with your grandmother, safe and sound. He did not die immediately, but it was a fatal crash. I buried him there… So close to where our path of love came from. Except for you… there was nothing that I can keep of him.
It’s was just too painful. It is… Too painful. I can’t even say his name. Yet… Yet, I do keep something of his.
You. You are everything to me and, without knowing it, you embody everything that he was. Is.
You have his grace, his wit, his love art and beauty, you even love Shakespeare way that he did, if not more so. You have his eyes, his smile, his goodness. If I can’t have him, that I have the next best thing. The most wonderful thing. You.
Miranda… You are my angel. Our angel. Never forget that. Never forget how loved you are, have been, and always will be.”
We sat there until the sun set… And sat for a while longer while the night sky took over. It was too much for her. She was weak; the chemo treatment was ravaging her body. Hugging me tight, she got up and went inside the house.
I sat there alone for a very long time. The stars were blanketed by sheets of night colored clouds. I know I cried, but I’m still not sure how much I cried for what I was missing, or what she was.
All In the end you have nothing to say!
You spout such nonsense; Just so you can squawk
Don’t you know your mouth just gets in the way?
There is no dialogue; You’re right-I’m wrong.
Your superiority complex reeks
You come off weak instead of being strong
It is not true discourse that you so seek!
But, imagine if your voice spoke so true
And your hearing was equal to the task
Disagreement is not how to argue
For new Points of View, you just have to ask.
Talking just to prove you’re right is so wrong
Done this way, we will never get along.
The train ride to the camp.
Imagine: it is winter and we’ve been left with very little. No Food. No Water. The clothes on our backs. We are shoved into an unheated cattle car; its side’s are not solid but open slats, so the wind whistles through, and the only warmth we get comes from the bodies pressed against us. We are shoved in with enough people so that we can barely breathe, let alone sit or move.
We have no food or water on the first day. Maybe one loaf of bread or two is tossed into the car on the second day; and still no water. If we are shoved against one of the walls it is a good thing, because we can at least scoop some of the falling snow. As it melts in the mouth it keeps us alive while others around us die. The Nazi guards yell to those alive to toss out the bodies, the few times the train stops.
With less and less people in the car…you can finally sit or you can lie down and we are sad and glad and numb all at the same time. The fear is ever present and if it seems like hell is here then yes, you are right. It is.
Finally, the train ride stops…for the last time. Everyone is herded off the car. Everyone is relieved of whatever possessions they have left. Everyone is sectioned off, split into three groups: the women, the men, and then the third group which comprised the elderly, the infirmed and the children. They went in, to die. Whether they knew this or not, I can not say. The only thing I know is that my father wound up on the line of men that didn’t.
They were led to where their clothing was taken away. They were hosed down and deloused, all bodily hair shaved off.
Thus began their nightmare of existence in Auschwitz.
The above is a section from my play “everywhere I look…” I posted the song that I wrote that started the whole ten year journey of writing here. This part, the train ride, is a re-imagined, but true, story that my father told me. So, yes, whatever horror might be in your mind is from reality by way of some artistic license. The details, sad to say, are real.
My father was in Auschwitz and had the tattoo to prove it. What most people don’t know is that tattooing of the prisoners was specific to Auschwitz, not all the concentration camps. My dad was in Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau). He was there for THREE YEARS. I only know some of what went on during that time period.
The pic to the right is of my dad, after the American Liberation. We don’t know how much longer, but it had to be substantial in that his hair was back and he looks healthy and well fed in this photo. He worked, at this point, as a translator and driver for an American general. Due to the three years in the camps, he spoke six or seven languages.
Why did this all happen?
Only God knows.
If you’re interested in bookings, or can pass this onto a location (College; High School; Theater; etc), please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
******************************************************************************* To listen to the music that accompanies the above lyrics: everywhere I look… Lyrics and Music (c) by Stuart Nager “everywhere I look…” Logo by Chuck Davis
I wrote the above in early fall of 1997. My father had almost died and was in the hospital. He was a concentration camp survivor (Auschwitz), and his mental scars were always there. He said this to me: “Don’t you see? Everywhere I look, it’s Nazi, Germany.” I’m not going into the full context of this here (you’ll have to come see my play based on all this “everywhere I look…”). I did go home soon after that, and wrote those lyrics.
They went into the drawer, were taken out every now and then, and I had the music in my head from the get go. I don’t play a musical instrument, so I had musicians help me out (Thank you, Josh, Chris & Natty) to transcribe what I heard inside.
Over the years, I started to write a play around the song, dealing with true stories of what I knew of my dad, and my stories of bigotry and mass hatred that continue today. I finally “finished” the play in 2007, pushed along as I achieved my Masters in Oral Traditions. It was performed in NYC in 2010 and I am still shopping the play around to perform it elsewhere. Please contact me for more information.
Bloggers giving other bloggers an STD is one of those unspoken results of blogging. You write and you post, you wring your hands in anticipation of someone liking you enough to give you an STD. Then…like that itch that will never go away…it happens!
You rejoice, you spin around, you wave your thingy in front of other people! You can call your Mother and proudly say “YES! I have an STD!” The people cheer. Lovers cry and the poets dream. I stand upon my soapbox and scream with the kiddies: “I HAVE AN STD!”
<div align="center"><a href="http://adventuresinestrogen.blogspot.com" title="Adventures in Estrogen "><img src="http://adventuresinestrogen.com/images/STD_awardh250.jpg" alt="Adventures in Estrogen " style="border:none;" /</a></div>
This STD was awarded to me by someone I’ve quickly, and fondly, started to call a new friend: Jessica Brandt of Finding One’s Way. She was given her STD by the woman who created it at Adventures in Estrogen. Please click on the links and give them a whirl. Who knows? You, yourself, might catch an STD.
With this, I am required by law (well, bloggers etiquette law) to pass on some STDs and the following safety message:
1. Make up ONE totally ridiculous story about yourself that is a complete rip-off from a movie. It can be as long or short as you want; clean or crass as you want.
2. Pass it on to whomever you feel is deserving of this STD – or accept it and keep it for yourself; it’s your blog – it’s your choice.
3. If you choose to accept this STD, please link your acceptance post back to Adventures in Estrogen and to the person who gave you your STD (in your case it would be Tale Spinning) You get the point?
You can choose to keep your STD for yourself. Yet if you choose to pass your STD around do it fervently and don’t forget to back link
4.Use the acronym “STD” as much as possible within you post (send SEO’s into a tale spin) I have used it 14x’s within this post, 15 if you count the title.
Jessica wrote the following, and I agree, so I’m stealing..uhmm..copying and pasting this disclaimer/PSA:
STD’s are serious and should be looked after as soon as possible to prevent spreading infection. FOW and Tale Spinning does not condone sex with out condoms.
If you are going to play, Play Safe!!!!
If you feel you have contracted an STD. For a complete list of STD’s please check out the
I pass on this STD (darn..16x now) to the following: (BTW..in the hopes no one gets angry at me, I chose people who have NOT been given this award by either Jessica or Lady Estrogen. Spread the love further! This does not mean I don’t appreciate, read and admire, other’s work, esp those already chosen. K?)
|Daily (W)rite||Flash Fiction|
My Movie Life:
Life is good. I have defeated the Black Knight (stupid bugger). Overcome the Killer Rabbit. Spanked the Virgin Maidens! Left behind the Knights who now say “Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-PTANG. Zoom-Boing. Z’nourrwringmm”. Yes..life is good. On..to Camelot!
It is a silly place.
Yes, I am looking at from Zero to 57 spanning the month of April 2011. From hating the idea of blogs and such, to finding (1) it makes me write and (2) I find the use in restarting my freelance creative life a plus. I’ll also have two weeks of downtime later in the month (schools on Spring Break), so it’s good for mental health as well.
The reason for 57 above? In the month of April, between this blog (for the writer/ storyteller part of me) and my more Teaching Artist/performance blog BornStoryteller, I will be writing a total of 57 blogs: 26 here (one for each letter of the alphabet) and 31 on BornStoryteller, one for each day of the month. Will I do it? Will I forget and drive myself crazy…well, crazier? May 1st will tell the tale. Not even sure how I’ll use this yet: just stories; poetry/song lyrics; journaling; true stories; just not really sure what.
So…the letter A: Alexandra
Alexandra was one of those that got away, that I long for now, knowing if we really gave it a shot..I would still have no idea how it would have turned out. Got away, ran away, pushed away, never really was in the way? As above, not really sure, now. Infatuated? Definitely. Love, yes, but still never sure how much. Intrigued by and pulled towards and maddened by and longed for and lusted for…yes, yes, yes, yes..and, oh, yes.
One summer night…Alex was off to the wilds of New England to spend a good part of the summer at a camp. Musically gifted, this was her world she was entering, one specifically for those with real talent and passion, of which she had in full. Gone already for a week or two, this young lady I talked to often, saw not as often as liked, was MIA.
Around 11pm, just off an ice cream binge with my friend Sam (who, btw, introduced me to Alexandra..Alex..Ai) and I were leaving the Howard Johnson’s. Bored, awake, and both of us antsy, we decided then and there to get in the car, drive up to the New England camp and find her. Now, this was way before cell phones, GPS, or all that. We had a map, a name, and some money in our pockets. Off we went.
The drive up was uneventful. Sam & I did our usual talking, goofed around, sang badly to the songs on the radio, got lost a few times, but never once did we talk about what we would do when we got to the camp. That discussion came later.
Hours later, we drove into the town that grounded the area the camp was located. Almost out of gas, we drove around a sleepy, roll-up-the-sidewalk-at-6pm little town, looking for an open gas station. Luck on our side, we found the ONLY place open at 2 something in the morning: a gas station. Filling up, and asking any final directions, we made our way to the camp.
It was an absolutely calm summer night, clear skies, moon shining bright, and not a car on the road except for us. We found the camp, pulled over on the opposite side of the road, got out.. and just stood there. Somewhere, inside one of the shadowed, darkened buildings, under a very starry starry night, was the object of my quest. My Pancho to my Don Quixote said: “So, now what?”
We wound up by the car for quite awhile, talking, looking in silence, and some deep heavy sighing (most, if not all, from me, I’m pretty sure). Whatever bravado or knuckleheadedness that drove us out there, it left as we just stood and stared at the camp. The chicken side of me took over completely. We got in the car and drove off south, back to New York.
There were some other adventures that night, but I’ll save them for another blog letter, maybe.
Alexandra came back to NYC, we saw each other here and there, talked a lot on the phone, and I felt drawn to her when we were together over the next few years, and distanced myself at times (there was an age difference that at times became my own built in barrier). I know we had some excellent times together, I know I let her down more than once, and most likely hurt her (for which I am always so sorry about), and I know we had a love/need/want for each other. Well, I know it from my end.
The letter A: Alexandra. Alex. Ai.
I was asked to tell a true story of my growing up in The Bronx at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. If you haven’t been there, you should. They host a number of wonderful evenings, and the art in the museum (this current exhibition) has many moving pieces.
Here’s the story I told on March 4th, 2011:
How many of you, when you were younger, did something you were not supposed to? How many of you still do that? Keep your hands raised…I’m taking a count.
I grew up on Gerard Avenue, just south of 161st street (around the corner from the REAL Yankee Stadium) in the early to mid 1960’s. This neighborhood was like a very small community. Everyone knew each other (and yes, this was all apartment buildings). All the adults and the shopkeepers knew all the neighborhood kids. WE could not get away with anything (well, most of the time). This was one of those times.
Crossing the street without an adult was forbidden to us until we reached a certain age. That distinction didn’t really seem to vary. I think all the Mothers got together and had charts and plans all set up for us until we were 18, if not older. It took a loooonnnnggg time to get my mother to allow me to cross Gerard Avenue by myself, and it was a one way street where the only time we had a lot of traffic was when there was a Yankee game. Then, I could forget about it.
I definitely could not cross 161st street by myself. If you are not from The Bronx, or have never gone to a Yankee game, let me try to explain: it’s an eight lane autobahn type of road, with cars whizzing past and turning and coming at you from umpteen million directions. The two outside lanes are “local” lanes, and they have a small island of concrete to hold pedestrians between lights. This was in a time the majority of people (cars and pedestrians) obeyed the traffic lights. I don’t even want to think about what it’s like now.
It was Comic Book Day! The new comics were delivered on Tuesdays (I think), and the local candy store (look that up), the ONLY one on 161st Street, that got comics, let ME unsnip the tightly wrapped bundles (which destroyed a lot of the comics)…if I was there when they were delivered. I not only got to do this, but I got to (1) put the comics in the slots and (2) get the first pick of the comics. No smushed up ones for me! I paid for my comics, but for doing this job, I got a free Chocolate Egg Cream Soda, straight from the fountain. Bliss, on so many counts.
I asked my mother if we could go. I had my allowance. She said, for whatever reason, “No.” This was the non-nudging, non-budging type of “NO” that I knew so well. “Go out and play” was her command, and I did. But…not so much to play, and to get what I wanted.
Making my way towards the corner of 161st & Gerard, I looked everywhere to see if ANYONE I knew, or who knew me, was around. I checked up and down the street, looked to see if anyone was watching me from the stores until I finally got to the corner. Checking both ways (even though this part was one way up towards The Grand Concourse), I took my first chance into forbidden territory.
I got to the first island with no problem. Again, looking around, I saw no one. I waited and waited and waited for the lights to turn in my favor and when they did I RAN RAN RAN full out to make the next concrete safety island before I’d get smashed and run over and bleeding all over the place and the drivers laughed at the little kid splat on the road. My heart was racing, but I was safe. And cocky. I didn’t wait for the next light like I should have, to cross that small road that was left to reach the other side of 161st…and got honked for my chutzpah.
I waited for the light to turn.
Finally crossing over, I went to the comic shop, did the comics, got my Egg Cream, got asked where my mother was (“she’s in Addie Valens”..look it up), took my comics and left.
The crossing back was easier. I had already done it. I didn’t see why my mother was so strict. See? I could do it.
Entering the apartment, I walked towards my room to put away/hide my comics. “Stuart, Sweetie,” I heard. “Where have you been?”
“outsideplayinglikeyoutoldmeto” I answered.
“You didn’t cross 161st Street?” she asked.
Well, she had gotten a phone call from someone who was looking out her window ONTO 161st Street, and saw the whole thing. She saw me cross to the other side, go to the candy store, come back and cross back home. Then she called my mother and asked her “Edie, are you letting Stuart cross 161st Street by himself now?”
Well, that answer was yelled into me for what seemed like five hours. I had to give up my comics, and if that wasn’t enough, I heard those famous last words:
“Wait until your father gets home!”