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|The Second Avenue Deli School of Economics - Page 3|
As I remember it, he was always going into bankruptcy, contemplating bankruptcy, or coming out of bankruptcy. But for a man who came to this country from Poland alone at age 16 and worked his way up from being a street peddler to starting his own business, this was nothing to be ashamed of. At school, when we were invariably asked to fill out a questionnaire on what our fathers did for a living, I'd proudly write "manufacturer." I was proud that I was the only kid in my class whose father wasn't a laborer. We may not have had money, but we were rich broke people!
I also knew that money definitely made a difference. There was no doubt about it, kids whose fathers had jobs had nicer clothes than I had. When I was about 5 or 6, my mother hand-sewed my clothes. I wore "bloomer dresses"—dresses with matching bloomers peeking out from under them. It was a flashy style indeed, made up in boldly colored prints. I remember a panoply of red and yellow daisies blooming on my behind.
As I grew older, the bloomers went sub rosa, and school clothes meant middy blouses and dark, pleated skirts. Usually we had to wear a red or blue satin or silk tie. Oh, how I hated that starched shirt and that satin tie! Satin always made me feel sick—something about the feel of it bothered me. But other kids seemed to like it, especially Concetta, who seemed to nourish satin ties within her soul and to make fun of me because my ties were skinny, not flourishing like hers, and because I had to wear those huge, horrid, brown corrective shoes for kids who had flat feet and bowed legs. Oh where were those Mary Jane patent leather one-strap shoes that I longed for? Not on my feet.
And maybe, too, let's face it, sometimes I didn't look as polished as the other kids. My hands were always red, coarse, and chapped. That was because my mother never bought us gloves. And scarves? Forget it! My mother's antipathy to scarves was related to the huge goiter that grew on her throat. As a child, I always loved her throat. I used to sit on her lap and kiss her on the throat, which made her different from all other mothers. It wasn't until many years later, when I was an adult and she underwent an operation to remove the goiter, that I realized how ashamed she was of her appearance. That was why she'd never wear a scarf—because she felt it made her goiter more obtrusive.
So, Mom, now in my dotage, and because deep inside I'm still the little girl sitting in your lap drinking a glass of warm milk and toying with your hair, I understand you. And I love you. But please, Ma, explain the lack of gloves.
Although I think I've overcome the trauma, I'm now a glove person. I pride myself on the number of gloves of all colors and styles I own. In fact, I hoard them. If I lose one, I never discard the other. As a result, I have an impressive collection of single gloves, which I often wear if I can make a pair of them, regardless of the mismatched colors or styles. Why not? I'd wear diamond earrings that didn't match if I had them—one stud, one down to my navel. If my memory of ads serves me correctly, Tiffany seems to approve.
However, I'm basically a styleless person. After all, that's what my husband Arthur's mother told him when he brought me to his house to meet her for the first time. I didn't pass muster. I wore a musty brown raggedy jacket that was definitely unworthy of the Grand Concourse of the Bronx, where he lived with his parents.
As a matter of fact, when I met Arthur, the true love of my life, on June 6, 1942 (a date that's embedded in my DNA), I was totally styleless because my family didn't have money. I was 22 and worked for the United States Employment Service, earning $47.50 every two weeks, which I promptly gave to my mother. My father had died when I was 18, and she tried valiantly to keep running his factory to make a living, but didn't manage to. So my paycheck went totally to keeping that business running. Our delusion was that we were capitalists, but we still couldn't pay the rent. I lived with my mother and sister, and the Great Depression remained in our bloodstream, although it was slowly draining out.