Janet Frost and Daniel Frost

Recorded March 1, 2009 Archived March 1, 2009 01:21:53
0:00 / 0:00
Id: SFB000213


Dan interviews his mother Janet about her childhood, immigrating to the United States from Italy and settling in Chicago.

Subject Log / Time Code

lived in Italy until three years old, then moved to Chicago.
Felt assimilated by 1950.
Father seriously injured by train accident.
Father brought home after 9 months in hospital.
Husband, James Frost.


  • Janet Frost
  • Daniel Frost

Recording Location

San Francisco StoryBooth


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00:07 Sarah 28 original

00:10 29 years old

00:21 Hi, my name is Daniel Frost. I'm 29 years old. It is March 1st 2009. I'm sitting with Janet Frost who is my mother. We're sitting in a smallish booth in a contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco has quite cozy in here.

00:41 And I'm Janet Frost. I am 62 and it is March 1st 2009 where in San Francisco at the Contemporary Jewish Museum and Dan who is my oldest son is going to be interviewing me. Where did you grow up?

01:03 Where did I grow up? Well, let's see. I was born in Italy when my parents came to Italy after the war. They were in Italy for four years and I was born there probably after about 2 and stayed in Italy until I was almost 3 when we came to the states and lived in Chicago where I spent most of my growing up time until until I was an adult.

01:39 Did you think your parents were or do you think that they thought that they were going to stay in Italy or they have a actually wanted to go to Israel there their plan was to try to get papers to go to Israel and my mother had.

01:56 I don't know if it was a relative but had friends who could get her papers for Israel, but my father wasn't able to get them, and it was very hard. This was a 1948 and 49. So it was very challenging to try to get to Israel anyways, so they couldn't do that and my mom had family in Chicago who made out affidavits for them and be no promised to either find them work or support them in some way that you rather family before she had never met them before she didn't know them at all. And and I think it was very challenging when they came.

02:41 To have relationships with those folks. I have dim Recollections of them. I think that they were, you know, very Americanized very much middle-class. You know, my mom and Toby and Naomi her sisters came all together along with my dad and with Toby's husband Jack. So I think it was a lot for them for the American part of the family to take on the same place originally, you know, I we stayed in the same place with Naomi, I think Toby and Jack lives somewhere else. We first started out on the west side and were borders basically in some woman's apartment and then my dad found work in effect.

03:41 Sorry that made suitcases and we moved to the area around Humboldt Park's of Northwest Chicago and lived in a basement apartment. I can still remember the walls were Jen appreciate this very dark green. You know, I'm with very floral draperies and I lived there until I was in the fifth fourth or fifth grade when we moved to Rogers Park back up. Do you remember anything about Italy or even the journey afterwards? It's hard to know whether I really remember it or whether it's stories that I've Been Told.

04:29 The stories have to do with my father, you know pushing my stroller around pushing me around in a baby carriage, which was unheard of in Italy at that time being a man just did not do that men, you know didn't do child care. Of course. He also had cigarettes and coffee in the buggy with me and I'll let you know in some ways. I was the decoy. There's a picture that was his main line of work was Black Market goods and you know, how do you know he was he did whatever he needed to do to make a living and often that included, you know buying somewhere and selling somewhere else before that line of work before that was that he was a leather Merchant so he would buy leather from the tanneries and then he would go to the difference.

05:29 He lived in a rural area in Poland and go to the different farms and sell to the farmers or you know, whatever it was they needed and that was the same service different codes that was part of how he was able to survive because he had relationships and he had good relationships with lots of the farmers in his area his part of a Poland and so he was able to leave money and goods with them. They they hit him that he could come back to pick things up and

06:12 So yeah, it's a little you don't really remember so much about the journey over to New York first. We went to New York first. Apparently I got sick on the journey. I had the measles followed by the chicken pox and I was in quarantine when I got off the boat, they put me in the hospital and my father was having none of that. So he used to sneak into the hospital to come and see me if I remember anything about the journey at all. I think it was about being seasick and being sick sick sick. So we stayed in New York for a while probably a month until I was well enough to have come so we could get on the train and come to Chicago and I don't really have many memories of that, but it was clear that you know, my father who had

07:12 Lost two children with not with no not about to let me go anywhere away from him. So we had a very close relationship that soon Chicago and you said first on the westside, then the the north the northwest side Northwest side where you eventually stayed for awhile or a great school. I think kindergarten through 4th grade and then I think in the fifth grade we moved to Rogers Park my my dad had saved up enough money to buy some property. We bought he bought a flat apartment building and we moved into one of the flats and yeah, that was where we lived until I was

08:12 Do with college actually so I'm just grab Rogers Park Rogers Park is a neighborhood. That's a few blocks from Lake Michigan and at the very very Northern end of Chicago right before Evanston, which is the first suburb and it was when I was growing up there. I would say about ninety-five 98% Jewish not so much the neighborhood where I lived so that my elementary school.

08:47 Had maybe it was 40% to wish it wasn't super and 60% polish Italian Catholic. There was a Catholic School just a few blocks away. And as his true hear the kids couldn't make it in Catholic school went to elementary school with but my high school which took in a larger area was probably that 95% Jewish and so, you know, it would close down on the Jewish holidays that it was much like your experience in New York. Do you know where teachers also, you know didn't come to school on the Jewish holidays. So yeah.

09:34 And you know it was

09:37 Middle class and some working class and we spent summers at the beach from 10 in the morning until 6 at night putting baby oil and iodine on ourselves to give ourselves suntan's we didn't know anything of that, you know cancer exposure to the Sun and how bad you know, we spent the summer getting some of us sun tan people like me sunburn peeling getting sunburnt again peeling swimming in the lake. Yeah. I know, you know, no summer camp know after you were expected to entertain yourself as a as a child and we had gangs of kids in the neighborhood and you know, we'd hang out on the on the street and in people's backyards.

10:34 I can imagine that they were the main being such a large Jewish Community there that there were other kids who had probably the similar experience of your life of coming over from some other place or where most already American pretty much they were American. I mean, I I I don't think that there was anyone else when I was

10:55 There was one family the factors Helen's parents had more survivors, but really nobody else everybody else had do you know their parents or grandparents like your dad, you know not came over in the early nineteen hundreds. So everyone else has family nearby 1950 or 49 or 50 when we got here had been here for a while sitting in I guess you went to school from kindergarten to for that one place over by that time by the time you got to Rogers Park you were assimilated definitely assimilated. Although we spoke Yiddish at home.

11:44 But you know my both of my parents learned English. I remember going to English class with my mom and with Toby when I was preschool-age, so I must have been three or four so they made you know, a huge effort to learn the language and not so much to assimilate, you know, in terms of American culture but to understand it and I think I'm part, you know, they grew up in Poland where they were a minority MMA.

12:21 Your Grandma's family moved around a fair a fair amount because your great-grandfather was a teacher and work with not so steady. So I think he moved often to they moved often to where there was work where there were communities that would support him and his family. So I think they had they had a good idea about what it meant to be an outsider and what you had to do to understand the culture that you were living in for me, you know, I can barely remember him being here early on and not being able to understand what the kids were saying, but I was just learning language and you know, I was about 3, so for me English and Yiddish were pretty much interchangeable.

13:21 You're learning both at the same time exactly and there was the Peace of difference around, you know, having a home life where people speak Yiddish. Where are you know, we had a kosher home where you know, my father dolphin and every morning which I certainly knew was not what was going on and you know, in other people's house. I mean when I got to be Middle school-age High School age, I mean if we slept over at people's houses in like that what was going on in their houses with not what my house felt like so but you know code switching was sort of one of the things that I

14:07 With able to do I got good at so what was your relationship with your parents like and also taking into account that you were pretty sure that they weren't.

14:19 I guess the same parents as everyone else's house that you were visiting to that. I mean to that strain anything or was that the man that made it more unique unique unique it felt like I had, you know, another a different kind of layer at home. I think that I mean my relationship with my parents was very very close and sometimes suffocatingly close. I think until my dad had his accident when I was 13 and and everything shifted so it was sort of life before that event and life after and I think life before that event was let you know in some ways idyllic. I mean, I never had a babysitter. I you know, there was no question in my mind that I was a wanted child.

15:19 You know, they took me everywhere that they went. I spend a lot of time with adults. I was doted on you know, I was spoiled in a lot of ways. I certainly never wanted for attention or affection have any other siblings and I guess one other cousin your age. Well and Abby is 5 1/2 years younger than I am. So I have a lot just like you I had a lot of time on my own before I even had any competition, you know, and by that time I mean Abby was like, you know little sister for me. So Sundays were well Shabbat we went to Services. I went to Services every Shabbat with my dad. You know, he David and I hung out played with other kids, but the synagogue felt very comfortable for me Sunday's we went to the park and

16:19 Sunday's was seeing and we would go to Humboldt Park there would be another group of people some survivors some not where they spoke Yiddish. They spoke polish and you know, I don't really remember a lot of other kids in the family part of my life. I mean, I certainly had friends at school and you know have birthday parties where kids came to my house and you know, I didn't want for friends but it was like there was life on the outside and then there was home life and home life involved non-english-speaking language a different set of rules around you know, what you eat and when you weed and connection to Judaism and prayer and religion

17:19 So it was it felt different from you know, what I saw at friends houses, you know, we kept kosher so we never a doubt I never went on vacation with my parents, you know on the other hand, my mother cooked three meals a day and baked then you know that she get up in the morning and make you know, eggs and cereal for my dad and you know cook blunch cook dinner. And what were they doing for work while my father after he saved up enough money from The Luggage Factory?

18:05 He bought a laundromat on the southside of Chicago 47th and State Street. And my mom would go on Saturdays to help him and that meant that I went as well. So some of my earliest memories of my weekends, you know, we're spent hanging out with blackheads where we would compare things like, you know, the amount of hair on our arms and how my hair had a particular texture and hers didn't you know, they'd come and hang out in the store and we play out in front and I'd go with my dad to deliver and drop off laundry and pick up laundry. This was in the days before self-service laundromats. So, you know, he would pick up laundry or people would drop it off drop off their bundles. There was a row

19:05 Oh, I've probably I don't know 20 or 30 washers and we could have rounded washers with you know that are now popular with the front loader washers to extractors at the end of the at the back of the store where after you wash the clothes you put them in there in that would sort of you know, circulate the water out of them and I'm sorry spin cycle red M3 huge dryers that at the end of the day, I would sit with my legs hanging out of cuz it was a warm place. The place wasn't heated and read my Wizard of Oz books. There was a big what they call a mangle up in front where your mom. Your mom my mom would iron sheets and flat stuff like that. So she would go in Saturday's to help because Saturday was the busiest day of the week and I didn't have school.

20:06 I was at home the other days of the week in the other days of the week until I'd say until I was in maybe the fifth or sixth grade when we move to Rogers Park. She got a job as a seamstress in a little dress shop doing alterations and sewing

20:28 So but up until then she stayed home and you know, it was very it was it was very much a nuclear family mean they had friends and friends would you know if the weather was in the winter? They friends would come over on a Sunday that have tea and coffee and cookies and people would visit but mostly it was her sister's Me Now, Toby and Naomi and Jack and Abby and insular insular.

21:02 And then when you are 13

21:05 When I was 13, I was in the eighth grade and my father had an accident. He was hit by a subway train and no one no one understands how or why it happened but it changed everything and in a heartbeat. So my recollection of it was that the principal called me down from class and basically said you have to go home. I was about a block from the school and said your mom called you have to go home. Your father's had an accident and of course being 13. I thought you know if he fell hurt him so, you know, I couldn't even conceive of what had happened when I got there and there was a

21:59 A taxi waiting and my mom was

22:04 Pretty hysterical and we went to the hospital where they asked us to identify his clothes.

22:12 And told us that he would need surgery which they performed because he had a massive head injury.

22:21 And that completely changed the shape of my life.

22:28 You know up to that point. I had been the center of attention and now it's 13. I was expected to be an adult on my own. I mean there just wasn't any time to worry about what was happening with me. So my mom would go everyday to the hospital.

22:51 My father stayed in the hospital, I think for close to six months that I don't think they had utilization review in the same with faytun FL.

23:04 And then was transferred to a nursing facility one where my aunt Naomi worked and I spent in a my mom would go everyday and bring food for him and try to feed him. He was in a coma for a long time. But when he finally would have came out of that she would be there regularly and we would go on the weekends. So my Saturdays and Sundays were spent riding the L back and forth to the southwest side of the city.

23:42 I think that was a point at which I got, you know, I demanded some time with friends and I became sort of a latchkey kid and didn't go every both days on the weekends. I think I would go one day or the other.

24:02 And after nine months, I mean, I remember my father first went to the nursing home. They had to he couldn't sit even they had to tie him into the wheelchair with a sheet serve under his arm. So he wouldn't slide out of the chair and over time. He got somewhat better, but basically they told my mom that she should send him to the state facility in Elgin.

24:33 And she refused to do that. So against medical advice. She brought him home and Naomi moved in with us and I'm asking to Southpoint my mother had already taken over the work at the newspaper stand. So after the laundromat what happened with the laundromat was that urban renewal came around and

25:04 That area of 47th and State Street was designated for being raised to just the way the Western addition was here and basically for projects to be built.

25:19 So, you know they were hoping for some money from the city and then there was a fire and various things happened and it was clear that that was sort of a dead-end and so my father bought a newspaper stand on the L platform and worked there and I think it was

25:44 I think he had only owned it for maybe a year or two when this accident happened in the same place that same station. He he he said it was very long hours. You had to be open from early in the morning before the morning Rush Hour, which means basically had to be open by 5:36 in the morning through the rush hour at night. So seven 7:30 like that and he had had someone who worked there for him and opened in the mornings for him and that person quit or had you know

26:28 Had had to leave the city something happened. And so he was putting in those hours himself and I think a couple of things may have happened. I think it was.

26:42 My your grandpa was a very active guy. He was not a guy who I ever saw laying on the couch hanging out, you know reading a book. He was always doing something with his hands. He was always busy fixing something doing something about repairing something and I think that the stand with a very small space to be in to spend time in and it was also dark because it was underground and I think that he was probably prone to depression and I think that's a combination of the dark and the physically being hemmed in I think so too threw him into a funk and it was unclear whether he was

27:37 Sickweather. This was a suicide attempt. Just unclear really unclear about what it was that happened.

27:48 But you know after that. Of almost a year of said of going back and forth and back and forth to the hospital and the nursing home, my mom brought him home. She was not about to lose anybody else in her family Naomi moved in and she had already been working at the stand. She was going in the morning and my uncle jack went in the afternoons. So they were splitting up the shift. And so when she brought my dad home Naomi who had worked as a practical nurse started taking evening or night shifts.

28:33 And so she would be at home with me in the morning. My mom would get up at 4 be out of the house by 5 down at the stand by 5:30 so she could open she would stay there until noon Jack would come and do the afternoon. She would be back home by 1 and change her clothes. Naomi would have given my dad lunch and they would have changed shifts. Naomi would get ready to go to work or take a nap depending if she was working either 3 to 11 or if she wasn't going until the you know, 11 to 8 shift. So, you know that and I was

29:23 I wish I felt very much on the outside of it. You know, they worked hard to protect me. So there was a felt like there was nothing I could do. I mean, what was I supposed to do in the face of all that was going on. They had all the shifts covered. There was no thought about me trying to be no take care of my dad babysitting some way and and clearly he needed a lot of care when he first came home and he he made some really good progress. I mean he was he was a

30:03 I think he was in his.

30:07 Early 50s when this happened so he made some progress until you know, he started to get.

30:17 Older and and his health started to decline, but I just remember it as being a very dark time, you know a lot of

30:31 Just a lot of sadness a lot of real sadness everything.

30:38 I think that life had started to normalize for all of them. They had had you know, 12 or 15 years of something fairly normal, you know, including the Immigrant experience of coming to a new country. But so maybe 10 years of life feeling predictable and then this happened and I think it really true everybody back to how they fell probably during the war when they lost everybody things. Right? It just became clear again that you know, you can't really depend on anyting.

31:21 You know, my mother used to say, you know, the translation of it is, you know, man people plan and God laughs, you know.

31:33 Mensa philosophy. You couldn't plan anything.

31:41 I should so moving to slightly for the time we have left. When did you meet the frost Clan? I took Hebrew as a language cuz you could do that in those days there actually thinking about having a Hebrew immersion program here in San Francisco for little kids and Jim was in my class. And so I was I guess 15 or so. I think I was a sophomore when we met and also about that time, you know things were the beginning of high school was rough for me. I was still very much in.

32:26 Do you know when what was happening with my family high school was a very different seeing it was very socially competitive, you know, they were clubs and sororities and you had to have the right shoes in the right clothes and I just I didn't know the rules. I I've learned the rules and you know, it worked out fine, but the beginning was rough Sao Paulo your Aunt Paula and I I think we're in the same homeroom. And then Jim your dad and I were in the same Hebrew class and I started hanging out rather than going to a little Orthodox. Shul in my neighborhood. I'd started to I joined usy which was at the big conservative. So, you know where the modern Americans went. And so that, you know created us social life and then you for me apart from school that felt like

33:26 Midway point between my home experience and the set of American out in the world experience that was his place with other Jewish kids who though America had some understanding of Holocaust and what my experience might have been like so so yeah, that was where we met and

33:50 Jax website Jim's brother's wife were they dating at that time? Jackson fabulous redhead with a huge Personality. Yeah, so it wasn't until and they were quite the couple it wasn't until after they broke up which was later in high school. I think I've been seniors when they started dating but Jim and I started dating earlier than that in your sophomore year. I think I would I think it was 1962. So it may have been maybe I was a junior and he was a freshman you still met him when he was in 8th grade, but no heat now. Well, maybe through us why but I think it was really he was a freshman. So I yeah,

34:47 That why I was Junior for out of that store. Well, it was scandalous. I thought he was cute, you know, I thought he was cute. And so we flirted and I think I gave him my stars while we're that was you know that for your club that was like a a big deal. So but it was it was sort of scandalous cuz you know, he was younger than I was but you know, I think given what happened to me, you know for the two years previous I think developmental pretty much right to say you're a little stunted. I think I was a little yeah and and you know, when I had come from a pretty sheltered family, you know, they didn't much I mean I was left to my own devices when they had no time and I was expected to grow up.

35:47 And and I guess participate in some way but that participation not just now getting in trouble that was about it. So I think I was looking for some safe boundaries, you know, when there was this cute guy was very sweet. And yeah, so, you know, we dated whatever that may not like going to the Granada Theater on Saturday afternoons, you know, he'd come to my house. My mom like damn that was important. I felt comfortable with him at my house. That was important. So, how did you how was his reaction to your home life? I mean, I guess being an immigrant family and also one that had a I don't know how you would call him by the tide abilitate. I don't know. Yeah. Well, he was an invalid disabled.

36:43 Yeah, you know he just thought I took it in stride. And I think that was part of what was comforting was he didn't seem shocked by it. He he know your dad always Rises to the occasion when there's a crisis.

37:00 That was part of it.

37:03 Yeah, he was very sweet about it and

37:09 Very supportive

37:11 Just because it's I mean, I guess it was normal then but it's not so much now. What's it like to be married to someone that you dated in high school? It's very sweet. I think.

37:25 The you know, the the knowledge that we've known each other for so long and that he knew my parents.

37:36 I'm in a way that somebody that I met as an adult wouldn't have that experience of knowing you know that we spent a lot of time at my house. That was do you know what time we spend time at his house we spend time at my house. That was what we did. Then nobody had cars, you know that they're just wasn't, you know, we didn't go hang out at the mall. We hung out of people's, you know, we just hung out and so having that some comfort level that that intimacy, you know, not only him but you know of my being able to remember, you know, Bonnie Paul has little sister. I mean i e now I remember her in synagogue so having those

38:31 Both sub separate relationships with you know, Jack and Paula at that go back so far and having that continuity is really sweet.

38:43 Since I had sort of plan to interview about your life, but I guess we got about half of it. You're most proud of during this. Of time in your life to sustain an indoor and never give up.

39:20 I think that.

39:24 My own personal identity is a problem solver and I like to think of myself that way and it's part of what brought me to social work, but

39:33 I always figured that there's some way to make it work and I think that that's directly from their example, which is that you do what you have to do to make it work and somehow you make it work and you make it work in a Humane and loving way.

39:57 I am very last question. Do you have any advice for people who might be listening to this?

40:06 Well listening to this. Well, I guess if there are teenagers listening to this to know that life changes and that it's some point despite whatever your circumstances are. You get the opportunity to make your own life and you get to shape that in a way that suits you and you actually get to know who you are and what you like and enjoy and love and cats have some power over your own life, which doesn't seem possible when you're a teenager or even sometimes when you're in college, but if it does happen it is possible.