Annette Bernstein and Elizabeth Bernstein

Recorded February 18, 2004 Archived February 18, 2004 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: SPP000116



  • Annette Bernstein
  • Elizabeth Bernstein

Recording Location

Grand Central Terminal


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00:02 Okay, my name is Elizabeth Bernstein. Today is February 18th 2004 when Grand Central Terminal and I'm interviewing my grandmother.

00:18 My name is Annette Bernstein. A today's date is February 18th 2004. We're in Grand Central Terminal and I'm being interviewed by my granddaughter. Let's get started.

00:33 Well first thing I want to ask you is what's your earliest memory?

00:40 My earliest memory was of having my tonsils removed and ends up being told that I could have as much ice cream as I want because it was good for my throat is good. So who told you that the doctor and tell me about your relationship with your parents?

01:07 Well, I had a very good relationship with my with my father. We were very similar in a lot of ways and my mother not such a good relationship because she really wasn't very interested in me and she was a sort of a semi.

01:31 She was she was sick a lot of the time but she thought she was sick a lot of the time and it didn't give her the opportunity to to be interested in me or what I was doing but my father was very interested. I used to take you to the movies right in the middle of the week. Even what do you know about the town that they came from and their extended family?

01:56 Very little very little actually it was called Ruby chef and that begin with the letter H. And it was spelled something like polish spelling h r i e d b e z o w and it was them.

02:14 A small Country Town far as I knew I think that my father who would have came from the same what was more of a city person he had a group they call themselves a favor and he I have pictures of him always holding newspapers and books and my family story was that he used to sit on on piles of news that on piles of newspaper in the in the in the subway when he came here. He always had great respect for the printed word, right everything right? Everything matter what it was. Yes.

02:49 And what about the extended family? I wasn't Grandma Rose born in Hoboken or something.

02:58 No, my mother was born in Europe to my mother was born in Poland and came here in 1913 when she was 15 years old with her brothers and sisters how many brothers and sisters? Did she have or she had three sisters and one brother originally, but then when her father remarried she lost her mother with her father remarried, he married a woman with three children and that made eight and together. They had two more so altogether, they were 10. They were full sister and brother. They were step sisters and brothers and they were half sisters and brothers and then some of them marry each other. Yes, one of my mother's real sisters married her stepbrother like the radio. They would not a happy-go-lucky group metal.

03:57 What traditions have been passed down in your family?

04:02 Not very many actually because I began to have different ideas. And the only I think the Traditions that were passed down with the ones from my sister who was the you know, very social socially conscious and

04:26 I thought we were I guess you could call us a Jewish Jewish atheist tips when you were a girl. Oh by far my favorite relatives were my mother's two sisters who were much more modern who had the opportunity had the opportunity to go to school and we'll go had a color their hair Who had who bought their clothes at little boutiques in Newark, New Jersey and who thought you meant that I got my first haircut cuz I had long curls which I despised and they took me for my first haircut much to my father's dismay.

05:14 Do you remember any of the stories that your relatives used to tell you?

05:22 I just remember that my mother talked about the fact that her stepmother treated her in a different way and she treated her own children and she told me how how much as she was punished because she went to it to buy a chicken at the market. My mother told me this and she did not bring back the giblets. And this was a great this was this was a terrible disgrace and she was a he was really very angry at my mother because they did not give her the giblets.

06:03 Tell me about what it was like growing up as a Jewish girl in Brooklyn during the Depression.

06:14 Well, I was very isolated because we lived in a year.

06:21 Largely Christian neighborhood and I didn't have very many friends. I had one friend on the Block and I always did feel like an outsider except for two other friends who I met over the years whose fathers of who are Jewish and whose father had stores at in my neighborhood. But as far as I knew very few very very few Jewish people and people were the depression and people were Rapport and I remember I remember that that people got sick very often and they were a lot of funeral wreath on the door is very often because I think they were not they didn't get proper Medical Care and attention.

07:12 It surprises me that you didn't know a lot of other children cuz your family had a candy store. I would have thought you would have kids in there even even if they didn't have money. Well kids came in but they were not necessarily friendly. They were looking to buy candy Penny Candy and things like that.

07:30 Mostly there. I Remember You No, More older people coming into the store buying newspapers buying cigarettes even loose cigarettes because they didn't have the money to buy a whole pack. So they would buy a few at a time. My father sold them like that and he also sell stamps and we had a telephone inside the store and there were always people hanging around the telephone that wasn't the way it is today.

07:58 What did you look like when you are a girl you mentioned the curls that you didn't like girls and I was chubby. I always my mother made my clothes and if on the rare occasion that we went to a department store. She looked in the chubby Department.

08:19 How would you describe yourself as a child? I think I was very bookish. I read.

08:29 Maxim Gorky when I was about 14 and why you tried to keep away from doing work in the house by hiding in the bathroom and reading in the bathroom and didn't you tell me about when you would go and babysit for people and you would read all their sex, but I guess I read I found a book the best sex in the third light their third layer of Earth books and dad at the time at dr. Hanna and Abraham Stone were very popular and they wrote these question-and-answer books about sex and I read read read them when I was 13 and 14.

09:10 Can you can you tell me one or two of your great realizations are things when you're reading the sex book? Will you like wow, this is totally none of this makes sense. I never realized there any moments of realization that we're going up your education.

09:29 I think I I think I knew quite a bit before I read the books, but the books were very clear and nothing but nothing was hidden. So I learned all the details and frankly. I was scared to death when I learned all these things.

09:49 Why did you read them? How did it make you feel besides scared to death? Like I guess it was a weird thing to do. I don't know. They was very interesting the family that I am that I that I worked for and they had some very good things. I mean they were very knowledgeable. I think the husband was a social worker and everything and I just I just found an ID Bingo very quickly. Yes. I was and I used to very carefully replace the books into the third layer so that they wouldn't notice.

10:27 What's your best memory of childhood with one of my best memories was hearing my sister play the violin. I was when you asked it. What was the earliest memory? I think I had my tonsils taken out when I was three, but when my sister play the violin I was five and I just absolutely loved to hear her play and I was hooked. Yeah, and what was your worst memory of childhood?

11:04 When I think of it, I don't I don't think I had any terrible memories of childhood. I think my my parents to tried the best that they could in the store and that I think when I think of it now, I think they did pretty well cuz I used to work from sunup to sundown.

11:26 Did you ever get into trouble?

11:30 No, no, not really. Not that I can recall and tell me about ntini. What was your sister like growing up?

11:40 Call my sister was wonderful to the only thing is that she got married when I was twelve. She was 9 years older. She was 9 years old, but she was always a great influence. She was the one who took me to get a library card and took me to see my first my first theater experience and I think I've told you before it was Porgy and Bess the original Porgy and Bess and we tried to keep in touch, but she she moved to a different neighborhood and then she moved to a completely different neighborhood. She moved to the Bronx and so, you know, I got to see her less unless and then and time she moved to Cleveland, but she and her family her two boys and her husband a dick. You could come back to Brooklyn every so often and I would see them.

12:35 Who are your best friends? And what were they like when you were young? My best friends were the the the girls whose whose fathers had stores and one of them had a liquor store in Bay Ridge and the other one had a clothing store and we were friends for many years in elementary school, but they I stay until the 8th grade. I was afraid to strike out into to go to a middle school and middle school called in junior high they went they were very brave. They left they left the school that I went to and I went to this junior high that was supposed to be in a bad neighborhood. It was cold to do we do we junior high, but I stay until the 8th grade.

13:28 How would you describe a perfect day when you were young?

13:37 I guess I would have described a perfect day if if my father and mother had taken me out somewhere perhaps to a park or to a museum, but we never did things like that.

13:51 What did you think your life would be like when you were older?

13:56 Well, I didn't expect to get married to tell you the truth ever.

14:01 No, I really didn't send and I was very surprised when I met your grandfather at a party and I was 19 and a half and we got married in six months when I was 20.

14:18 And he was 23. Why didn't you expect to get married?

14:27 Well, I didn't have I didn't really date. I really didn't have very many many boyfriends and I was very inhibited I think despite what I knew. I was quite a bit of it.

14:44 I have some more questions about Grandpa later. If I died. I just wanted to ask. What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

14:51 Well, I have no idea of area. I when I went to high school as a matter of fact, I took am I took an exam? I took a some type of exam that was given by the Federation of Jewish philanthropies to find out what I should do and that I was told that I should have a career in social work.

15:16 It's true. Yeah, it's fact. It was V-J Day when I took the test and I remember looking out of the window and there was a lot of there were a lot of celebrations and there was people with throwing a confetti all over the street. So I remember that day very well.

15:34 Did you enjoy school when you are a girl?

15:38 I am I am sending Joy elementary school, but I had some very good teachers in high school had a very good writing teacher. I took a special writing class and it was very good. I enjoyed that. What are your best memories of high school?

15:55 Not too many, but what are your worst nightmare you said? Well, I thought it was cuz I felt like I had transferred from another school, and I think when you transfer you never quite feel as though you really belong there, and that was how I felt. I had a couple of friends and it was nice going back and forth with them to school wasn't great. So then when you met Grandpa what were you doing you were nineteen? So were you in school or working? I think I was going to City College tonight.

16:33 And I think I I was working I had a series of I mean, I I really I really wasn't I wasn't encouraged to go to college. I had a series of kind of clerical jobs and I think I had one of my clerical jobs when I met him. I don't remember exactly which one it was. One of them was in a trimming place called hirschberg schutz. I remember and I I

17:00 It was all about trimming because I remember that name and it was it always struck me as being very funny. And in fact, they are still in the business. I picked up something someplace or something recently on it on a bobbin on a spool and I saw that name and I couldn't believe it when we were talking about a long time ago.

17:24 When you met Grandpa, what was your first thought about him when he saw him?

17:33 Well, he was an intellectual. He was a college graduate. He had very nice hands.

17:41 Anza he was just want to be with did he ever tell you his first thought about you? Yes, he said to he knew right away that he was going to marry me.

17:53 That's true. So on what was your relationship like when you started dating him? So it was it was exciting fact, I tried and I wanted to move out of my house. I wanted to move because I never had a room of my own and I didn't have any privacy. It was a three-room apartment and his mother had all these rooms that you rented out to borders in order to make money cuz she she didn't have enough money to to carry on and I wanted to move into one of those rooms and it was a crazy idea, but I just I just wanted to have privacy to have a room of my own and but after we started to see one another and date with one another I realized it really was a ridiculous idea to move into some stuff so I gave up the idea but

18:46 But we were very active we were active in political clubs and and he always was interested, you know and everything in museums in archaeology and anthropology.

19:01 In primates

19:03 Remember the primates now I don't know I had to add bookshelves full of books about primates. He loved chimpanzees and monkeys and gorillas.

19:18 My grandpa had a really big family. I remember you to any used to say that they were always just carrying Furniture up and down the stairs for all the for all the borders and then they also had so many brothers and sisters are what, you know coming from your small family. What was it like being with his family so many people all the time he had six brothers and sisters and a lot of them eventually had children and it was it was wonderful was very exciting and it was at first was terrifying because this one of the first things I was invited to was I don't know whether it was a big dinner or a Seder and everybody sat around the table and stared at the you know, and I felt I felt very uncomfortable. However, they were wonderful family and they greeted me very warmly really they were all very very good engine. Do you know this? I mean that was this was a very good family. They were loyal to one another they hardly had any quarrels or it and they they and they

20:18 And his older brothers taught him a lot of things. They took him on trips. They went hitchhiking together in those days and they they told him a lot and he always thought they were wonderful. So I did too like I can just imagine I mean because they were also intelligent this meeting all of them at the same time. It would have been intimidating. They were all so they all were in college except for Jeanette.

20:44 They all had gone to college the end and they were very thing with techies that they were early techies. They were science and he was an engineer and they were. They were very good at science science in this kind of people.

21:02 How did World War I affect you and also did Grandpa ever talk about it?

21:08 Well

21:10 I remember I remember Foods at what did you quit with the word shortages and we had we had books of stamps. We only had cut certain things at certain times of the month sugar. Should I don't know rationing. That was the word. I couldn't remember the other was one thing though. That was as far as my father's store is concerned. That was that that worked out very well for him and the blackout caused him to actually close the store on Wednesday nights and he never had I never had he was open every night otherwise, so that was up with great. I mean we close the store and that way everyone was was told to do that for some reason or other but I know I was I was a little I was a young kid, I mean I was affected by it, but

22:05 Fortunately, I didn't.

22:07 I did not that close up my why your brother-in-law.

22:12 My sister's husband. I was became a CB which means which was in the construction Battalion. It was part of the Navy I think and I remember she was always writing letters to him when he was away a long time and and he came home and one piece switch was wonderful.

22:32 And this was busy actually before you met grandpa, but oh, yeah, if I remember correctly, he had actually been skipped about two grades in school. But then since he went to the Navy when he by the time he came back, he was the right age for college. He went to City College. He was in the Navy and he would have been shipped out the very next day except he was shipped out and the board and it is very very lucky. And of course he benefited a lot because of the GI Bill of Rights. Yeah, he got money for going to school and stuff like that also traveled and he traveled was he went to the went to Guam and the Philippines and places like that.

23:16 I always wished I could have asked him more about the said he would have told you or he would have made it up.

23:25 So when when you were married, what was it like to move around so much?

23:31 Well, I had migraine headaches from the citement of coming home from Jersey on the train and see coming home to see you all the relatives and then everybody in and doing it all in one weekend. And I used to have I used to really get sick. It was just too much excitement for me, you know, but Devin after we got a car and and the first time he drove from the first time he drove the car. He drove us from New Jersey to Brooklyn the first time as soon as he got his license and and then it was better. But of course, you know that they were times that we were always having two different apartments in we moved once we move 10 times in 20 years, which is not good for anybody. What was your favorite place to live?

24:28 My favorite place to live is Park Slope.

24:32 However

24:34 Springfield Massachusetts wasn't bad either

24:41 I want to ask you about when you became a mother. Can you describe the moment when you saw your child for the first time? That was your dad. He was very small, you know, he was 5 lb in 3 oz but it was a good was a great thrill cuz he know he had all his Parts mother's do they cancel the fingers and toes.

25:08 Tell me tell the story about the Doctor Who said that my dad weighed too much when he was a baby. Yes, when he was about nine eight or nine months old at Elizabeth's father weighed 32 pounds at you couldn't feed him fast enough. He was so hungry. He would cry as you will putting a spoon in his mouth the one that's why I didn't want to move my hand and the doctor we had wanted to put him on a diet and Henry was very upset about that. He thought it was ridiculous to put a kid on a diet. So we found a fatter doctor.

25:52 Who had and I'll never forget it very nice pediatrician who had to had a picture on his desk of two fat little boys and they were his sons and he said the baby was just

26:08 Tell me how has being a parent changed you.

26:18 Well, if you become involved outside of yourself, when when you have to think of the welfare of another person before this, you just take care of yourself. And that's it. I think that that's I think that's the greatest change is that you're always concerned. It was want your children to be well and healthy and happy doesn't work out all the time though. What was my dad like when he was growing up?

26:48 He was there really a wonderful son and and really didn't give us any problem and always had a buoyant wonderful spirit and I enjoyed it very much.

27:05 Tell me some stories about my father and my aunt when they were children.

27:11 Well, it is the sister of was the believe it or not. I rather shy and hot she had difficulty making friends.

27:21 And he didn't have that problem. He always had friends and I think it was I think the bad thing was when we moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and they had to start all over again in school and they are Brooklyn accents gave them away and and sometimes people are not other school their schoolmates were not always kind to them. It's I just want to mention it's funny that they had broken accents because they hadn't grown up in Brooklyn. That's right. It's because they want from us to this day. I actually went when my friends call the house. They always are surprised that my dad has such a strong accent compared to everybody else and I see I actually of all of us. He's the only one that didn't grow up him. That's right. He mostly grew up in Long Island, Massachusetts. How about a story about when the when the basement was flooding? Oh, yes. That was a good one.

28:21 Hey, I guess I don't remember how old he was. Maybe he was 7 we had not the basement the kitchen had a flood and it was not too hot. I guess it was a few inches.

28:35 And and he quick as a wink, he got into his swimsuit and pretended to be a swimming on the kitchen floor and he did it so fast that he found a swimsuit. It wasn't even summer and I thought that was very funny at the time and I love that song. Do you remember any songs that you used to sing to them when they were kids like someone with their address? Oh, yeah 694 I taught them. He wanted a way once and we thought we had really lost him and we found him at the yard at a police station. We were at we were in the mall in Long Island. So after that, I told him 684 Sprague Avenue 684 Sprague Avenue 684 Sprague Avenue, Franklin Square

29:28 He still he still remembers that and everything. I know I know what we had a lot of music because this was the era of folk songs and folk music and Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and we knew all those songs and we used to take them. We used to take them to folk concerts. And even we even took them for weekends where all your musical weekend. We left it. I remember when my dad found one of the old movies that Grandpa made with the camera, but it's really funny because it's it's about five minutes of a guy playing a guitar somebody that has done. So tell me the story about when when you took Lodi to Woodstock. We were supposed to meet my dad there in the car with us.

30:18 Trying to remember what happened there. Yes, we got that. Yes. We went to Woodstock and it was a it was a terrible mess. It took us hours and hours to get through and everybody did people wear in the mud and and they they didn't have anything to drink and I didn't I didn't really wanted to stay but he stayed right. He was older and he seemed but we took her home and then the car also break down or something. I broke down everything broke down. It is a terrible mess, but he had a wonderful time. He was gone for a few days. I don't think he told me we didn't have cell phones in those days. I don't even remember if we had a telephone but he wasn't alone. I think he was with some hooked up with some other people. I met some people he knew and we didn't we didn't let her stay.

31:16 What was for it was the folk concert. It was a fault. We went to Woodstock like like everybody else would be great. You know, cuz we always went to hear folk music tell me about becoming a grandmother. Do you have any favorite stories about that? Well when Justin was born I got the I got I heard I was in Philadelphia and I called to see how to say I was in Philadelphia. I think I called you and he end and Justin had just been born to heard it over the telephone in Philadelphia and it was just a wonderful waited. I felt so great the whole day. Yeah. My dad told me that when when you first found out that my mom was pregnant with me. So I was I was the first grandchild that you said that you were too young to be a grandmother, but I'm really happy that you were

32:16 That you were because you're going to last a lot longer and be around and I feel so lucky.

32:24 How do you remember that?

32:27 My next question is how has your life been different than what you imagined it would be.

32:33 Well, I think in one way I found my calling I think that I was quite a bit and an advanced age. I finished college and I left my job and I took some courses and I started to to do part-time teaching as a substitute with adults and I think I think that was a wonderful thing that I found out about myself that I could teach.

33:09 Do you believe in love at first sight?

33:17 No, I don't. Do you believe in God?

33:22 No, I don't.

33:24 Have you ever experienced I believe in of people in humanism?

33:29 Have you ever experienced a miracle?

33:36 Well, I think the are the only thing I would call Miracles would be the birth of the children and the grandchildren are Miracles, but I don't believe in anything from outer space or anything. Do you believe in an afterlife? No?

33:55 If you could do anything now, what would you do and why?

34:02 I could do anything. I wanted. Oh, I think I would travel freely to a lot of places without having to worry about.

34:17 Are the troubles?

34:21 How would you like to be remembered?

34:27 Well

34:28 I like to be remembered as the caring.

34:32 Thoughtful person who were like to like people and and literature and books.

34:41 The film's what's something important that you want to sell to remember Bad, Grandpa?

34:48 Oh.

34:51 Oh, I want you I would like you to remember how inquisitive he was how interested he was in learning new things how it goes and what a good memory he had.

35:07 Is there anything that you want to talk about that we didn't get to today?

35:14 No, I think you've covered everything pretty well anything that you wanted to add.

35:23 Well, I'm very proud of you and what end and your accomplishments what you've done and what you've achieved and I'm very proud that you're my granddaughter very lucky.

35:38 The last thing that I want to do today, it's a surprise. I wanted to play a little segment of this tape, which is me interviewing Grandpa from about nine years ago. And so he can be here with us though. That's what I thought. I don't know if I ever heard it as hell.

36:06 Thankful that my grandfather's name that he was born with teeth.

36:17 The couch in Russian means Weaver

36:22 When Jews migrated from west to east from France Belgium and Holland through Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe.

36:34 I picked up Germanic language and Germanic names. Although there's other Theory, but they also pick them out from nomadic tribes of Southern Russia.

36:47 Ali Eastern Slope of the Alps and the Southern Slope of the Caucasus Mountains

36:56 Along the way

36:58 Advance Auto

37:00 Name with clots transliterated from Weber, which means Weaver the past means Weaver and Rush by my grandmother's name was Bernstein, which means Amber.

37:17 Passage of the czar's army people taking children off the streets and

37:28 I'm backing him into the army.

37:31 Kevin usual thing that happened when they grabbed a child with a child was never seen again.

37:37 Marcin again

37:39 Arrive by then with a different person

37:44 So is a common practice?

37:49 4

37:56 And I wanted to say that I always was really sad that I never interviewed him again after that that you know, that was 1994. I think and besides I 295 and I feel like I let you know his voice sounded High think that's an artifact of the recording by one day. That's how you how you felt listening to it will end. This is a kind of subject. He was always very interested in and as I said, it's what he wasn't sure if he could make a made-up you made it up. He was wonderful Storyteller Angels always interested in migrations of people from One. This was it this was a constant conversation at the table when we were eating. In fact when you when your mother when your mother came into the family, I think she was really bewildered. What is it with all these migrations they always talks about and then and then Martin began to talk about migrations and everybody was talking about

38:56 IPad by she got used to it. I guess she got used to all this stuff.

39:05 I think the time's almost up but I know I felt good about bringing that and so he can send it be here. I think it's great. That was the first time because it's you said it's a little high did it seem unfamiliar or does it sound familiar know it was it was Familiar? Of course, it was familiar. But I owe you do I don't I don't know whether this how true the story was that he told us he was always and was always different all the time and he loved he love this kind of subject.

39:40 That we were working on a family history, I guess before he died.

39:47 So this way he's here with us today.

39:52 So I think that's it.

39:55 Oh, I'm really glad that you came today. I've been planning this for months this as you know, so thank you for asking me very unusual experience.