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Pearl Ness
Memories of my Youth

Pearl was interviewed several times in 2002-3 by her son Steven Lasky.
Here are the highlights of one of the interviews.


 

My name is Pearl Ness. My Hebrew name is Perel. I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1917. My motherís name was Flora, and her Hebrew name was ďFruma,Ē and my fatherís name was Harry and in Hebrew it was ďAvrum.Ē They were both born in Poland. My brothers were named Artie [the eldest], and Bernie [the youngest child]. We lived at 520 Williams Avenue, between Riverdale and Livonia Avenues in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

My mother and father never really spoke too much about their life in Poland, and they came to the United States when they were in their teens, about sixteen or seventeen years old. I know my mother's father was a blacksmith. My father's father owned a mill, I don't know what type. I never knew my grandmother, any of my grandmothers, or my grandfathers. They were all in Europe at the time and I never heard anything about them, so I really know nothing about them. They came over by themselves. They had to be sponsored by somebody in order to come into the United States. And I know that my motherís uncle sponsored her, although I donít really know, you know, any of the story, or what is was.

They never spoke about how they met, or about their wedding. They met, and unfortunately I never asked them, and I donít know how they met. Artie was born in Manhattan on the East Side. Thatís where they lived for a while, but I was born in Brooklyn. They had already moved by that time. My mother was the first one to come over. The others came afterwards. And my father, I donít know. I donít know that he had any brothers that came over. I think they stayed in Europe. They left Poland because they wanted a better life. Life wasnít that great in Europe, and everybody wanted to come to the United States. That was the place to be.

My father learned a trade, and he became a ladiesí tailor. And my mother worked in some factory. I donít know what they made there, but she was an operator also. I guess they moved to Brooklyn because it was a better place to live, and they wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the East Side of Manhattan, and Brooklyn was a lot more residential at that time.

Harry Ness and Parents
in Sniadowo, Poland

https://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/ness-flora-harry-wedding.jpg

Flora Burack and Harry Ness
Get Married, 1914

The Ness Family of Brooklyn
circa 1921

Flora and Harry Ness
circa 1921

Young Flora Burack
from Jedwabne, Poland

THE APARTMENT AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD

We had two bedrooms, kitchen, and a living room. As you came through the door into the apartment, that was the bedroom my brothers had, then there was a foyer that led into the kitchen. From the kitchen you went into the living room. From the living room you went into the bedroom. There were French doors between the living room and bedroom. I remember that.  My mother and father had a bedroom, and the other bedroom my brothers Artie and Bernie shared, and of course, my Uncle Charlie was there too, and believe it or not he shared that same room, so there were three in that bedroom, and for me, there was no bedroom.  I always slept in a cot, in the foyer, or wherever. But I never had a bedroom. Thatís for all the years. Thatís all the years when I was little younger, and when I was even older. There was a bathroom in the foyer. In the living room there was no television yet. We had a radio. We had a couch. We had two chairs. It was a comfortable living room. The last room was my parentsí bedroom. And they had a full bedroom set. It was a very nice room. The windows led out to the front of the house, so it was nice and airy. And we had the fire escape. There was no such thing as air-conditioning, so when it was hot, we would sleep on the fire escape, or certainly sit there.

My Uncle Charlie lived with us. He lived with us for a lot of years, I don't know how many. He always lived there. He never lived anywhere else. That was my motherís brother. He came over from Poland with my Uncle Sam ... He had to go somewhere, and he had no place to go. And he never married. He was very close with my Uncle Sam. He always relied upon Uncle Sam for advice, but they never lived in the same apartment. He always lived with us. He stopped living with us when he passed away.
 
I was too young to know what it was all about, but my mother told me that when I was a baby, I climbed up on the window sill in the kitchen, and there was a screen on the window, and somehow or other I must have touched it, and the screen fell out and I fell with it down two flights of steps, and my mother went and picked me up. Fortunately, the only thing that happened to me was I had a black eye and a couple of bruises. I guess I was very lucky.

When I was little, we we didnít even have steam heat. That came later. We had coal stoves. It wasn't until later that had heat. And we didnít have refrigerators at that time. There was no such thing as a refrigerator at that time. We all had iceboxes, and we had pans under the icebox where the water dripped, and if you went away for a couple of hours, you had to make sure you came back in time to empty the pan. Otherwise it would overflow [laughs]. That was in the summertime.

Across the street there was a group of stores there. There was a barbershop. The corner had a pharmacy. There was a butcher there. I donít know, [was] there a tailorís store? Maybe a tailorís store. We bought our appliances at Fortunoffs on Livonia Avenue. Livonia and Alabama and Georgia. Fortunoffs was just a tiny little store at the beginning. It was a mother and father store, and gradually they took over another store, and then another store, and eventually they really went into a pretty fancy line, and people from all over came there. So on Saturday and Sunday you always had cars on Livonia Avenue, Ďcause everybody was coming to shop there. They came from all over. Everybody knew about Fortunoffs.

What was our neighborhood like? Well, the neighborhood was almost all Jewish, except for the supers, the superintendents. They were the only ones that were non-Jews. Otherwise, everybody was Jewish. And we had our little temples. I shouldnít call it a temple. They were ďshuls,Ē synagogues, and that was it. Ours was a Jewish section. But in other sections you had the Italians, and another section were the Irish, and somehow everybody stayed with their own.

FOOD

Well, my mother was always in the kitchen, and she was always cooking. And she was a good cook and a good baker, and I remember on Friday nights, Friday during the day, she would bake a ďcholly,Ē and we had our chicken and chicken soup. That was the standard Friday night dinner. She cooked typical Jewish food -- gefilte fish, chicken, chicken soup. That, of course, was standard for Friday night, and I remember fish we had to have at least once a week, and there was always plenty of food to eat.

She was very good. She made her own noodles, and she made krepelach and her own gefilte fish. I remember even when I was married, I wanted to learn how to make it -- gefilte fish, and she would say, ďYou have enough things to do without making gefilte fish. Itís too much work.Ē So I never learned how to make gefilte fish [laughs].

During the holidays, it was all very festive. We always had certain foods for certain holidays, and it was very well kept, and on Friday night the candles were lit for Shabbes. Friday night was not the big meal of the week. We always had ample food, but on Friday night there was special food. It was always chicken and chicken soup. That was standard. The whole family was at the Shabbes dinner. It was always the entire family that sat down to eat. We never ate separately. We always had dinner together.

My mother always kept kosher. When it came to Passover, all the dishes got put away and we took out the Passover dishes, and we washed the Passover dishes, and that was it. And after Passover, the dishes got wrapped up again and put away. I didnít do the "four questions" on Passover myself. That always went to the youngest child in the family, which would have been Bernie [youngest of her two brothers].

At Hanukkah we didn't exchange gifts. They gave ďgelt,Ē which is money. And we would play with the ďdreidel,Ē and Hanukkah was the time for potato pancakes. Thatís what my mother would make for Hanukkah, and weíd get some money for Hanukkah. That was the gifts we got. And there was no thing as an electric menorah at that time. We used to light candles, Hanukkah candles.

I guess she liked to know what we liked to eat, because we ate when she made it. Thatís the best way to tell whether you like it or not. If the plates were empty, you know the food was good [laughs].

As to favorite foods, I remember she made the most delicious ďblintzes.Ē And I do remember that when I got married, I wanted to learn how to make blintzes and it was very hard for her to tell me how to make it. She never measured anything. She only knew that you had to put in so much flour, and so much eggs, and so much sugar, She said, ďIf itís too thick, you add a little of this. If itís too thin, you add a little of that.Ē So I said, ďHow do you know whatís too thick, and whatís too thin?Ē So I said, ďYou make it, Iíll measure it while youíre making it, and thatís how youíll learn how to make it.Ē And I learned how to make delicious blintzes. When I was getting married, thatís when I learned to cook. Before that I never cooked anything ... My mother never had recipes.  Her ďblintzes,Ē which were absolutely scrumptious, I learned how to make by having her make it, and I measured it as she made it, and thatís how I learned how to make it. I picked up a lot of things by myself. Also her ďflankenĒ was very good, and she showed me how to make quite a few things.

My mother liked to cook. I only cooked Ďcause we had to eat. Not that I like to cook. I could just as well go to a restaurant [laughs].

After I got married, we ate over their place sometimes. Grandma always tried to make it a little easier for me, and she would cook something, and a lot of times she would give us some, some of the dinner that she had cooked, and Grandma was a good cook. I donít think I was much of a cook, but whatever I made was good. When I was working I didnít cook too much, but when I was staying home, she showed me how to make it ... She said, ďYou donít -- you donít have to. Iíll make it. Iíll give you some.Ē There were no such things as supermarkets back then. Eventually, there was an A & P, but other than that, there was a grocery store on the corner. Thatís where we bought all our groceries. The grocery store on the corner of Williams and Riverdale Avenues was run by Bernstein. He took credit, but Grandma and I were never on the books for credit. Whatever we bought we paid for, and thatís it. We didnít believe in credit.

There was a separate vegetable store. Thatís where we bought our vegetables. There was a chicken store, and thatís where we bought our chickens. And then there was a butcher, where we bought our meat. Of course, the chickens at that time, they werenít packaged or anything. You bought chickens, and they had all the feathers on it, and you had a man there that was plucking chickens, and I think you gave him a dime or something, and they plucked the chicken and seared it, where Ė to get rid of the excess feathers, and so you had a fresh chicken.

When we moved to Long Island I still kept a kosher home, and whenever we used to visit Grandma and Grandpa, we would buy our stuff over there and take it home with us, because you couldnít really get kosher stuff out on the Island. At the time it was difficult to keep kosher where we lived on Long Island. There was only one kosher butcher, and you had to go pretty far for it. And it was just too much trouble. And we figured weíll do with one set of dishes, and buy non-kosher meat. I shopped at the A & P, but I wouldnít buy meat there. I bought it at the kosher butcher. I would buy groceries at the A & P, but not any kind of meat or anything. In Brooklyn, everything was close by. There was no problem in Brooklyn. All the stores were close by. ĎCourse Long Island was a different story. Everything was -- it was hard to get around.


PEARL'S FRIEND MARY

As for my friends, I was friendly with Mary Simkalo, who was the daughter of our super, and I guess they were friendly with my parents because of that. She was my best friend. We always stuck together, and we were buddy-pals. We shared all our secrets. She lived downstairs and we lived two flights up. The other girls werenít real friends. They were just other girls that we played with. But Mary and I were always together.

We usually played jacks in front of the house. We played hopscotch. And in the yard we used to play ďrunning bases.Ē We never went as far as the schoolyard to play. We usually played around the house. We didnít have too many toys. I donít remember any particular toys that I had. ĎCourse we all had dolls when we were little, but I donít remember anything special.

Well, actually there was two inner courts between the buildings. There was a backyard, and then there was a middle yard. We used to play in the middle yard. We played around the house. We didnít really go to playgrounds to play. I think the boys usually went there.

When I was a teenager, we didnít necessarily go away weekends. We usually took long walks or went shopping. We went ... There was Sutter Avenue. They had a lot of nice stores and if we took a big walk, we walked as far as Pitkin Avenue.
 

SOCIALIZING

Datingwise, at that time we only dated Jewish, and [laughs] Iím sure thatís all they wanted us to date is just Jewish, because they wanted us to know thatís what we were, Jewish.

When it came to dating I know my mother always wanted us to date Jewish, because they didnít want us to become involved, and then have any problems, in going with anybody thatís out of our religion. And I do remember the one time I went with somebody out of my religion, and I had one date, and when he wanted to take me out again, mother said, ďDonít go. Donít start,Ē and that was it. And of course, I said she was very foolish, but at the same time later on I understood what she meant. So actually we did date within our religion. 

I think I was one of the very few people of my friends that wasnít in a hurry to get married. I said there was no hurry to get married. I said I got time to get married when Iím twenty-five, and they thought, gee, thatís really waiting a long time. I said I was in no hurry. I just as soon go out and work. I just figured I wanted to go out into the business world and work in an office.

Well, most of the girlfriends were in the neighborhood. Pauline lived further away and we sort of -- my family sort of took her under our wing Ďcause she had no parents, and she only had one sister who lived far away. So we sort of took her in as family because we felt she was alone otherwise. And the other girls were all neighborhood girls, and I always had a lot of friends.

Hairstyles changed on and off. Most of the time I would say that I had my hair in a ďpageboy,Ē which was ... My hair was straight, but it curled a little, so that was my favorite hairstyle, a pageboy.

Dancewise, the Charleston was the first dance that I knew about, and thatís the first dance that I did when I was a little kid. I remember we learned the Charleston. I always liked dancing.

There was no such thing as going out to dancing, until I was more grown up. Then we had dances, public dances to go to. Dances were at different places that were considered dance halls, but it was perfectly all right to go to them ... We had a dancehall I remember around Pitkin Avenue. We used to go dancing occasionally , and you met people there. Sometimes you met some fellows there.

In the summertime, we used to sit at the window in the back of the building because it was hot, and this boy Lou Rutton lived around the corner, but his windows were facing our windows, and he used to serenade me, and wanted to meet me, but he didnít know how to meet me until he finally found somebody that knew me, and then introduced us.

Oh, there was one boy that was Italian, and his friend and Mary were seeing each other, and they wanted us to double-date, and I had never gone out with any boys except Jewish boys, and so we dated. We went out. We had a very nice time, the four of us, and he did ask me for a second date, and when my mother heard that she said, ďNo,Ē she said, ďYou donít go.Ē She said, ďIf he likes you enough to ask you for a second date, donít start going with somebody thatís not Jewish.Ē And I thought she was very foolish, but of course, as I grew up I realized that she did have a point.

Sometimes youíd meet fellows before you went on a date with them. And once in a while it was a pick-up. You met them outside. As a matter-of-fact, indirectly, thatís how I met Dad.

Well, I was very friendly with Artieís friends, and I never really went out with them. But we did have parties, and once in a while I would go with them, and when Artie had a club, I was invited to come down there, and it was nice because we had dancing, and we socialized. It was very nice.

We had parties at my house. As a matter-of-fact, my house was the place that everybody came to. Nobody seemed to go to anybody elseís house. We all congregated in my house. My mother was very happy to have our friends over. She never minded that they came and made noise. At least she knew where we were, who our friends were, and what we were doing.

But I never brought a date over to my parents. If I went to the club, then it was just to be with Artie and his friends. But if I had a date, the fellow had to come to pick me up at the house. My parents didn't pry too much. As long as he was Jewish. I remember in the summertime, if I had a date, I used to hate to have a date. You went downstairs and all the women were sitting outside because it was hot in the house. They were all sitting outside, and everybody would be sizing up my date, and I hated that [laughs].

There were not too many had cars when we were first dating. Most of the time when we went out, we went by train when we went somewhere. Or we went by bus. They didnít have cars until later on. 
 

THE DEPRESSION

 Well, times were bad, and of course, the work that my father did was seasonal. So he only worked part of the year and the rest of the year you had to have enough from the times you were working to tide you over. But one thing we never felt the Depression because we always had plenty of food on the table, but no luxuries.

Well, we were never out on the street. So I guess we paid the rent [laughs]!
 

WORLD WAR II

During World War II, of course, both my brothers were in the Service. Artie [Pearl's eldest brother] was only in for a short time. Bernie was in for four years, and of course we were all worried about him because he did go overseas, and unfortunately, most of the boys were gone, except those that were still 4F. They were the only ones that were around, Ďcause they were rejected for one reason or another. So they didnít go into the Service.

Growing up I think Bernie and I had more of a relationship than with Artie, as he got a little older. We were, more or less, you know, about the same age. I remember Bernie used to say, he said, ďYour name is Perel, your Hebrew name, my Hebrew name is Berel, so weíre ĎPeryl and Beryl, Incorporated.íĒ

In those days our family didnít go anywhere too much. We never went on vacations in the summertime. There wasnít that much money around. My fatherís work was seasonal, but there was always plenty to eat and we [were] never wanting for anything, but we didnít really go any place. In the summertime, we went to the beach, Coney Island of course. Weíd go by train. Growing up we went as a family. Of course, when I was older I went with our friends, but growing up we went with my mother and father.

Artie always brought his friends over. Everybody knew if they were looking to get together, they should check out Artieís house first. They were always coming over to our house, Artieís friends and my friends.

I think Dave Levine, Max [Fuchs], Marty Gloger were some of his friends. He had loads of friends. I donít know anybody that had more friends than he did, and they were all different groups. One was a group he played ball with. One was a group that they used to hang out with girls. He seemed to have like two or three different groups.

Artie was very much into sports. He liked to play ball. They used to play on the street, stickball, and he always liked to watch ballgames. And I remember on Saturday afternoons, when I wanted to listen to music on the radio, he would want to have the radio on for sports.

Artie and his friends all went to Ebbettís Field. Yankee Stadium was a little far away, so it was usually Ebbettís Field.
 

GOING TO THE MOVIES

Of course, we liked to go to the movies once a week. We liked romantic movies. I liked even the scary movies. We saw ďFrankenstein.Ē I looked him right in the eye! Didnít bother me in the least. Mary used to cover her eyes because she was scared, but I said, ďNah, itís nothing!Ē [laughs] I didn't have any favorite actors . I never really romanticized about any of the actors, like some of the girls did. To me, they were only movie stars. Thatís it. I donít know who my favorite singer was when I was very young, but later on I preferred Bing Crosby over Frank Sinatra ... We listened to all of those big bands. There was Harry James. There was Glenn Miller. Glenn Miller I usually liked. I liked his style of music. And Jimmy Dorsey.

My friends and I all liked going to the movies, especially on Saturday afternoon, because in the summertime it was air-conditioned, and that was --where else would you go? Nobody had air-conditioning in their house, so we would go to the movies, and sometimes we would see a movie twice because weíd come in in the middle of the show, and we wanted to see all the whole thing, so we would stay and see a show-and-a-half. We got our moneyís worth, in other words. Movies cost ten cents then.

They had double features. They had newsreels, and they had a cartoon. I mean you got your moneyís worth. When I was growing up we used to have Friday nights. If you went to the movies Friday nights, my mother and I would go to the movies because they handed out dishes. Each time you would get a free dish. So you wanted to save a whole set. So she -- my mother would get a dish, and I would get a dish, and we accumulated a whole set of dishes, Ďcause we would go Friday nights. Why should we go any other time, when we could get a free dish? [laughs]

We had the movies right on the corner of Livonia Avenue. We had the Supreme, then of course we had another movie a couple of blocks away, the Premier. It was on Sutter Avenue, and then a little further going the other way, we had the Biltmore. So we had a few different choices.
 

FAMILY VISITS

We never really went to visit, just my mother and me. We would usually go as a family. With my brothers, we would visit relatives. Or we used to go to cousins, different cousinís houses. Everyone, more or less, lived in Brooklyn. We used to go by train. We visited the Glickmans. We used to like to go there Ďcause she always made such goodie dishes. She baked and everything, and -- yeah, families were --relatives were very important growing up.

Relatives would visit us. They were all about the age of my mother and my father. I donít know if there was a generation before that, seeing as there were never any grandparents.

Well, at that time it was nice because relatives stayed closer together then. Now everybody is scattered all over the country. At that time, you take the train, and you go visit them, or they would take a train and visit you. And it was nice. The families knew each other. There were certain relatives that we were very close with. I remember one set of relatives. We used to go because she always had real goodies there, and another one weíd like to go because they had a private house. They were some relatives of my motherís, and some were relatives of my fatherís. Thereís one relative we liked to visit. My motherís relative was ďShprintza.Ē She was in Flatbush. We liked to visit them. They were very nice. And then there were some relatives of my fatherís that we liked to visit Ďcause they had swings outside, and we could use the swings, which we didnít have otherwise. And they had their own private house.
 

ARTIE AND BERNIE, MY BROTHERS

They were bar-mitzvahed. At that time they had private lessons by a rabbi, and thatís where they learned Hebrew, and they all had bar mitzvahs. I donít remember them. Usually I think they had them in the house, and they had it in the ďshul,Ē and they would have people coming over to the house. I donít remember it too well.

Artie was a very good brother. He always, when we went on trips, or something like that, he would always include me and my friends, and I think we were pretty close, as brother and sister.

We [Pearl, Artie and his friends] sometimes we used to play games. Sometimes weíd listen to the radio. We used to listen to ďInner Sanctum,Ē and turn off the lights and hear squeaking. We used to play checkerboard, I remember, dominoes, and card games. We played ďGo Fish,Ē and we played -- I forgot the games already [laughs]. I donít remember the games [laughs].

Bernie was sort of a kid brother, so we really didnít go anywhere together. I think Bernie and I became closer as he got older, and we were very fond of each other. I got along very well with both boys.

Artie was very pleasant. He didnít have a temper. They say redheads always have tempers. I found that he was okay. We were fine.

I donít remember Artie particularly being a reader. I think I was the one who was a reader. I used to like to read all the classics. I used to like to read books. I read plays. I remember I was reading all of Eugene OíNeillís plays and his life, and I liked all the classics. I didnít like the modern books. I liked all the classics. So I was always a reader, even then.

Actually in Washington, Artie was the first one of his friends to get called for a government job. So he was the first one to leave home of all the boys.

They took civil service test. All the boys took civil service tests. He took the civil service test, which was an aptitude test, and he did very well in it. Thatís why he was the first one called. I told you I had two smart boys. So he got accepted into D.C..  Artie, I think, was always in the General Accounting Office. Was there for a lot of years.  Jobs were very hard to come by. All the boys were looking for jobs, and they couldnít find any. The best job to get then was a government job, if you could get it.

About Artie's club ... When he and his friends were in their late teens, they had a social club, and what they did is they rented a basement in a private house, and they fixed up the basement, and they had their friends and girls coming over, and we would have dancing, and we'd socialize. It was very nice. My parents saw nothing wrong with it. It was a nice place to -- instead of getting together in a house, they had a place to go to, and they would have -- instead of going out on date, you bring your date over there, and spend the evening there with friends. The name of the club was ďRaveloe.Ē

At that age, we didnít. At that time, we didnít go out on dates so much. We were more or less having parties, more than going out on a date separately. You know, just one-on-one. We used to get together on -- with parties. Music, dancing. Had a lot of fun. During the week we didnít get together. During the week was school or working, or whatever it was. No, that was the weekend.

Artie always brought his friends over. Everybody knew if they were looking to get together, they should check out Artieís house first. They were always coming over to our house, Artieís friends and my friends.

I think Dave Levine, Max [Fuchs], Marty Gloger were some of his friends. He had loads of friends. I donít know anybody that had more friends than he did, and they were all different groups. One was a group he played ball with. One was a group that they used to hang out with girls. He seemed to have like two or three different groups.

Artie was very much into sports. He liked to play ball. They used to play on the street, stickball, and he always liked to watch ballgames. And I remember on Saturday afternoons when I wanted to listen to music on the radio, he would want to have the radio on for sports.

Artie and his friends all went to Ebbets Field. Yankee Stadium was a little far away, so it was usually Ebbets Field.


SCHOOL AND EDUCATION

For public school I went to P.S. 174, which was a block away. Then I went to junior high school, which was 109, and for that we walked over the bridge. That was quite a walk. We had to cross the bridge by the train station, and it was on the other side of the bridge. Then we went to high school, Thomas Jefferson High School, after that. That was a good school. The classes were pretty big. But nobody seemed to complain.

I would say that English was my favorite subject. I always liked literature. I always liked English. I never had a problem with spelling. I know some people were very poor spellers, but I never had a problem. And English language is not easy to write or to read. I guess science was my worst subject, which really should have been very interesting, but it was a subject I never cared for.

How do my classmates remember me? Iím sure very pleasantly. I remember inÖWhen we had our graduation books, I remember my last name was Ness, N-E-S-S, and I remember one of the girls said, ďYour name is going to be ĎHappy-Nessí.Ē And quite a few of the girls picked it up, and they used to say, ďHi, Happy-Ness.Ē

Actually I didnít go into sports, and I didnít join any particular clubs. I guess I wasnít an active student. I just went to school, did my work, and went home.

They didnít have dress codes at that time. I know in the lower grades we had to -- when we had gym, we had to wear certain outfits. But other than that, we just wore regular clothes, and we always had to be nice and neat ... In the nice weather, we played outdoors. In the rest of the year, we were in the gym.

My parents between themselves, they always spoke in Yiddish, but to us they always spoke in English, and they only wanted us to speak English to them, because they said they had to learn how to speak English well. They were in America, and they had to be Americans. So, thatís why we never really learned how to speak Yiddish too well. I can still speak a little, but I never could hold a conversation in Yiddish. Just by their speaking at home I picked up some Yiddish. Otherwise, they never really taught us.

Were there any fads when I was growing up? All I know is when I was growing up, they didnít wear pants. Girls didnít wear pants too much, and I know, as I got older I enjoyed wearing pants rather than a skirt, and I think Katherine Hepburn and I were the ones that started to wear pants, whereas most people just never thought of wearing it. But that was the most comfortable thing, especially when the weather was colder.
 

HOW PEARL AND LEO MET

Well, actually Dad was more or less, I guess you can consider it a blind date, because actually my friends and his friends met each other one day in the street, and we made up to get together at somebodyís house, and Dad was supposed to be with one of the other girls, and I was supposed to be with one of the other boys. But Dad decided he didnít want to be with that girl [laughs]. So he made it his business to be with me. So somehow or other, thatís the way it worked. He seemed all right when I first met him. I didnít think he was the love of my life at the beginning. I guess he liked me, otherwise he wouldn't have asked to see me again.

My parents always felt it was up to me as to who I liked. But they were wondering what I was being so choosy about, because nobody really appealed to me that much.

Dad certainly did not enlist. (laughs) If it was up to him, he never would have been in the Army. He was drafted, like all the other boys. What did they call it at that time? Ah, when they were -- when they got their number? I donít know. I forgot what they called it. Ah, they got numbers, and whatever numbers was called, that was it. Then you were drafted. Yeah, he spent four years in the Service.

Actually I had met him before he went into the Service. We saw each other a couple of times, and then, I wasnít really interested. Somehow or other, we got acquainted once he was in the Service.

He wanted to write, and he wanted to make sure I would answer, and I said of course I would.

I didnít meet his mother until we were going -- until we were serious. Then he said he wanted me to meet his mother. And then, of course, I met his father afterwards.

His mother must have thought I was very nice, because he was -- she was in a hurry to see him get married. So Iím sure she thought I was very nice. His father was a very quiet man. You never knew too much about him. So, whatever is, or was, thatís it. I donít think his mother wanted to probe too much. She just was very nice and very pleasant, because otherwise she was a tough gal. (laughs) From the way I understand from the rest of the family, that she was real tough, but she was really nice to me, and always was.

His mother never cooked. Once Dad said that she put up a chicken, and when she served it, it was half-raw. (laughs) She never had time to cook. She was busy. She cooked, if you want to call it cooking. Oh, he had, I think, Dad had a charge account at one of the restaurants. So he ate out a good deal. He was the only one in the house at the time, Ďcause he was the youngest of the six children.

I didnít meet his brothers and sisters until we became engaged. I never met them before that. They were very nice. They were all older because Dad was the youngest of six children, and the one next to him was like seven years older.  His motherís name was Ida. His fatherís name was Michael. He had two sisters, Jean and Fay, and he had three brothers. Yeah, three brothers, Sam, Izzy, and Al. Jean was the oldest, and then Al, or was it Fay? I donít [remember] who was older, Al or Fay? And then, Izzy and Sam and Dad.

Dad wrote letters to me, but they really werenít love letters. They were just very friendly letters, and in every letter he sent, he said, ďWhen are you going to send me a picture?Ē He wanted a picture of me, and I didnít want to ... I didnít send a snapshot. I didnít want my picture hung up in his locker. (laughs) I know we wrote for a while, and when he came in on furlough, he let me know by letter that he wanted to see me, and I saw him when he came home.

By the way he acted, and I know the way I felt, so I feel that, yeah, he was more interested in me. I mean, he was nice, I liked him, but then I was going with another fellow at the same time, soÖ

I was seeing two fellows. I was seeing a fellow Jack at the time. So I saw Dad, and I corresponded with Dad, and I corresponded with this fellow who was also in the Service. We didnít go out too much. We went to a movie. We went out to a lot of different places, but with Dad I never went out that much. He used to come over, we used to talk, and we went to a movie occasionally. Nobody had much money then. Times werenít that great.

I think once we decided that we were right for each other, we didnít wait that long to become engaged. I think we were engaged for six months.

He was pretty good at getting leave. He had leave a lot of time for the weekends. He knew how to ďfinagleĒ (laughs), so to speak, and got a lot of passes for the weekends.

About our marriage? Well, I felt that we were very compatible, that we could talk to each other, and I felt that we could have a happy life together. I didnít expect any great wealth or anything, because he had nothing. Neither did the other boys, especially since they were first getting out of the Service, so Ö He didnít promise the Brooklyn Bridge! He promised to try and make me happy, and the feeling was mutual. We were compatible, but I was more reserved, and he was more vocal.

He liked a good debate, and always said he would have liked to have been a lawyer, but he never went to college Ďcause his mother didnít think it was that important to go to college.
 

OUR WEDDING

He asked me how many children I would like, and I always thought that three, like myself was a very nice family. But then after I had two, I said, ďThatís enough!Ē (laughs) He felt that two was fine. We had to provide for two. He figured that was enough to be able to handle.

There wasnít that much money, but he always let me handle the finances, because he felt that since I was a bookkeeper, I could handle it better, so I always took care of the money.

All my friends knew him before I married him, because we used to get together a lot of times, so he knew all my friends.

They thought he was nice. One of my friends thought I would wind up with him, another of my friends thought I was going to wind up with this fellow Jack. So, of course, one was right and one was wrong.

He didnít ask my parents for my hand. He asked me, and then after I said I would, then we went and told my parents. My parents always felt that whoever I picked, and whoever I would be happy with, thatís fine with them. They were happy for me.

We had two wedding ceremonies. Dad was in the Service at the time, and he wanted to get married. I wanted to wait until after he got out of the Service, but he didnít want to wait that long. So we decided to have a civil ceremony. So we went to City Hall and we got married. That was in July, and then we had a religious ceremony and a catered affair at the end of August, so there was [a] three-week difference.

We went to City Hall, just the two of us, and we got married. Three weeks later, we got married again.

It was all right with my parents that we had two ceremonies. Didnít make much difference to them. If thatís what we wanted, it was fine with them. His mother wanted to see him married and settled down, Ďcause she always felt he ran around enough, and it was time for him to settle down, especially since she was happy with his choice. We got married three weeks later by a rabbi.

His mother figured he was in the Service so long and away from home, and she would have liked to see him settle down.

I donít know what he used to do when he was younger. All I know [is] he was the youngest in his family, so he was the baby in the family. So he used to go to all his brothers and sisters Ďcause his mother was busy working.

When we got married, I had nieces and nephews that were teenagers already. I felt like (laughs) ... It seemed awfully strange having such grown-up nieces and nephews, when all I had was my brotherís daughter, who was only a baby at the time. And here I was with nieces and nephews, and they said, ďDo I have to call you Aunt Pearl?Ē I said, ďYou can just call me Pearl. Itís all right.Ē

I guess his mother was happy. She got him out of the house! (laughs). Although he wasnít in the house, he was still in the Service.

For our second ceremony we had it in a catering place on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, and at the time there were no nice temples where you could have any affairs, so thatís where most people got married, in catering places ... It was the summertime, so you could be sure it was hot.

Even though his mother was pleased that he was marrying me, Dad had invited his sister and brother-in-law, and his mother was not talking to them at the time, and she said if they come to the wedding, she would not come to the wedding. And Dad said that, ďItís my sister and my brother-in-law, and Iím inviting them. If she wants to come, fine. If she doesnít want to come, well, thatís up to her.Ē And she was very, very stubborn, and she said she would not come because theyíre coming. And I said to her, I said, ďYou know, everybody is going to think that you donít approve of our getting married.Ē And she cried, and she said, ďI love you as if you were my own daughter,Ē she said, ďbut I wonít come if theyíre there.Ē And she didnít. My father-in-law came, but she did not come. His father felt very bad about it.

His mother had a store, and she was in with used clothing. They had a store for used clothing at the time. I donít know what his father did. I donít know.

At Jewish weddings they never gave presents. They always gave cash. Donít ask what the amounts were that they gave. That I donít remember. But it was always cash gifts, which was a good thing, because this way you used the money for whatever you felt you wanted, rather than gifts that you couldnít use.

My parents paid for the wedding. Girlís parents usually pay for a wedding. The fellowís parents usually pay for the rabbi, and for the flowers.

I donít remember what month Dad was discharged. At the time we got married, it was the end of the war already, at or near the end, and I donít remember exactly when he was discharged. But he used to come home on the weekends.

He was stationed in Rhode Island. I donít remember the camp. But he was in Rhode Island most of the time. Fortunately he never had to go overseas, and I think that was because of his vision. He really had very little vision in one eye, so somehow or other, that kept him out of going overseas. There were only two friends of his that I knew. That was when I had first met him. Those were the two friends that sort of brought us together. But somehow after we got married, we saw one couple a few times, and somehow or other Dad never seemed to be interested in going out with them. We usually went with my friends.

We decided that weíd like to go to Niagara Falls for our honeymoon, because we had never been there before, and it was very nice. And we had a lovely honeymoon. I remember we saw Niagara Falls. I remember we had a lot of rain, and we decided to go to Toronto, and we went  [on] a weekend cruise over to [the] Thousand Islands. I think that was the time I got real sick. The water was so choppy and Dad was fine, and he went out ... I made him go down for dinner. I couldnít eat, and then he came up. He said, ďYou want to know something, Iím sick too!Ē (laughs) So we both got sick because the weather was ... The water was awfully choppy, and that was the only time I ever got sick on a ship.

We didnít have too much time. Dad was still in the Service. We didnít have that much time. I donít remember how many days it was. I know we didnít have too much time. Maybe a week. I donít know exactly.

It was a few months before he got out, but Iím not sure exactly when he was discharged. But it was a few months, and I was a ďweekend bride.Ē
 

LEO LASKY AND HIS FAMILY

To his siblings I think he was just the kid brother. He was just the kid brother that came to visit them, because they were all married. So he used to go there for a meal sometimes.

I donít think they would show much affection. His mother seemed too much of a battle-ax to show too much affection.

As a matter-of-fact, his mother was careful about the way she spoke to me, because I know she was a real tough, tough gal. But somehow or other, she liked me. She never, never raised her voice, never got angry with me. But then, of course, she wasnít around so many years.

Dad did not finish high school. I think he went three years [to] high school. He didnít finish high school, but eventually he took an equivalency test, and got his high school diploma.

His mother had a store for clothing. I think it was used clothing mainly, and he would work in the store with her. It was in Jamaica, Queens. He always said that he missed his vocation, that he would have liked to have been a lawyer. He probably would have been a good lawyer because he always liked debating.

As far as I know, Dad always lived in Brooklyn, and I guess he was born in Brooklyn. Exactly where he was born in Brooklyn, that I donít know. He grew up in Brooklyn. I know it was East New York Avenue.

When I met Dad thatís where they lived, and thatís where they passed away.

Both his parents passed away before you were born. His father had a stroke and was in a coma for quite a while, quite a long time. And I still remember that he looked as if he was just sleeping, in good health. And somehow he passed away from that. And his mother had cancer. And she suffered for a while, and then passed away. Dad's brother Sammy's wife took care of her. She stayed there and she took care of her. Actually, his mother was not too fond of her, but Sylvia was very good-natured, and she really took care of her very nicely.

His mother went to the hospital, but they donít keep you in the hospital. If thereís nothing else they can do for you, they send you home. She died at home. They gave pain medication, but there was no cure, and there still isnít. I think she had intestinal cancer. I donít remember exactly.

His fatherís name was Michael. His motherís name was Ida.

Your middle name is Michael, named after your father's father, and your first name, Steven, is after my father's father. They always called him ďSulka." Thatís what it was. Sulka.

I never knew my grandparents. Dad's parents also came from Poland. His father was a quiet man, a religious man -- he was always davening at home -- and his mother was a businesswoman, and she was always on the run, and taking care of business. She was a breadwinner, at the time I met her anyway. She was pretty tough, because she had arguments with a lot of the children in the family, although she was always very nice to me. But there [was] a lot of friction, where she didnít talk to one or the other. But she was pretty tough.

I donít know too much about Dad's childhood, except that he said that his mother was never around too much, that his sisters really were the ones who brought him up, Ďcause they were so much older, and theyíre the ones that really took care of him.

I think he was pretty close with his brothers and sisters. As a matter-of-fact, I know he said he used to go to their homes a lot of times to have meals, Ďcause they were so much older than him. They were already married, and he would visit them. I think they all lived in Brooklyn, except Jean and Barney. When I met them, they lived in New Hyde Park, and the others all lived in Brooklyn.

Dad got married before his brother Sam, even though Sam was like seven years older.

None of Dad's siblings ever went to college. His mother didnít believe in education. She said you have to have a head for business. Education doesnít get you anywhere. So, she didnít believe in it. So, as far as I know, none of them went to college. They all had children. So the women did not work anymore. Oh, Fay always worked in the store. She and her husband Lou also had a clothing store.

As I've said, Dad would  have liked to been a lawyer, because he always liked a hot discussion about politics, or things happening in the world. He liked to discuss different things, and get other peopleís point-of-view, and he wanted certainly to get across his point-of-view ... I know he was a Democrat. I donít know what else his politics were, other than that.

His mother set him up in a clothing store in Jamaica after the war. I donít think he had much choice. He really wasnít equipped to do anything else, and you had to make a living, and that was making a living. He was a good salesman. Yeah, very good. Very good at speaking. (laughs). Itís not the work he would have preferred to do, but he did the best he could.

Eventually he left his store in Jamaica. Itís just that things just started getting bad in the area, and there were robberies, and he felt it was time to get out of there. It was around 1966.

We visited his parents occasionally, but we didnít have that much time. Dad was working six days a week, and had long hours, and he was only off on Sunday. There was always something to do. He had to buy something for the store, or had to do something else, so we saw them occasionally, but not that often. He worked long hours, from nine to seven or eight oíclock at night. You get up, you have your breakfast, you go to work. You work all day, you come home, you donít have much of an evening. All you have is Sunday.

His mother didnít give him the store until after we were married, and I donít think that he knew she was going to. She just figured he had to make a living, and figured thatís what he would do.

Before we got married, Dad was working in the store with his mother. His sister Fay had her own store, and I think that Sammy did too.

When we first got married Dad was still in the Service. So, I was still with my parents, and when he came home on a furlough, or on weekends if he got a pass, then he would stay at my parentís house. When he was discharged, there were no apartments available. You had to be very lucky, or know somebody to get an apartment. So we lived with my parents for quite a while, until we eventually got an apartment in the same building as my parents. Right next door, and thatís because we knew the superintendent of the building, and she gave us an apartment as soon as one was available. We stayed in the apartment until 1956 when we moved to Massapequa on Long Island
 

PEARL'S WORK

I worked for a carpet concern for all the years that I was working. I was a bookkeeper. I started when I just got out of high school. I was a cashier at the beginning, part-time. And switchboard. And then I did some inventory work. Then I did some bookkeeping, and eventually they opened another store, and they took their bookkeeping out of the store. So I worked on Kings Highway. The name of the store was Raphans. It was on [446] Sutter Avenue, so I used to walk to work. And, of course, once I started working at the [1317] Kings Highway store, I took the subway.  I liked it. It was nice working there, and [the] people were very nice to work for. Thatís why I continued working there all the years. I worked until I became pregnant with your sister, and then it was time to leave.

Leo Lasky
1965

Pearl and Leo Lasky
Newlyweds, 1945

The Lasky Family
1956

Flora and Harry Ness
in Massapequa, circa 1957

Pearl Ness, January 1936 Graduate
of Thomas Jefferson High School

MY PARENTS

Times were hard. There wasnít much money around. Then you had the Depression, and people werenít working, but somehow or other, we always managed to have food on the table. No luxuries, but I always had nice clothes, because Grandpa was a ladiesí tailor, and he made my clothes. And Grandma made my clothes when I was little. So I always had nice clothes, and somehow I donít think my brothers were particularly lacking for it, and on the holidays, thatís the time the boys would get a new jacket or a new pair of pants. But there was no money around. It was tough times.

My parents didnít socialize too much. The socializing was when we went to visit relatives, or relatives came to visit us. The families were close together in those years, and we visited each other.

Grandma was always there for us. She was always there to lend a helping hand, and Grandpa just fooled around with us a little bit, and Grandma was always very loving and very affectionate. Grandma and Grandpa were very family-oriented, and I think that was the most important thing in their life. I think generally speaking, we were a pretty serious family. There was never any yelling, and I know one thing, as we were growing up, we were never spanked. I donít even remember being yelled at. I donít remember being scolded or punished. I think generally speaking, our parents tried to understand our problems.

My mother was never one to want to eat in a restaurant. My father would like to eat in a restaurant, but my mother always liked to make her own food because she said he knew what was being put in it, and when you went to the restaurant, you didnít know what was being put in it. So, she did not like to go to restaurants. She liked to have her own, cooked foods.

My mother was very much a homebody, and very much into family. My father liked to get together with some of the men and play cards. He would like to play pinochle, and I remember a lot of times they would come up. The men would come up to our house when I was growing up, and they would be playing pinochle on the kitchen table. My father liked to play pinochle, and he was very much into soccer. Every Sunday morning he went over to the soccer field, and he liked to kick a ball around, and he was into helping the clubs, and he was very much into Sunday morning soccer.

When I was little my mother used to make a lot of my dresses. So I understand. Not that I remember that, but as I was growing up, my father, who was a ladiesí tailor, made all my clothes. So I always had lovely dresses, and he made my suits, and made my skirts. So I always had very nice clothes to wear. And he was a good tailor, so it was really nice clothes that I had. The only clothes I had to buy really was really dressy clothes, which he really did not make.

As far as television goes, strangely enough, my mother liked to watch wrestling, which was rather unusual for a woman [laughs].  My mother and father would both sit down and watch wrestling, which I surprised me very much. I remember my mother had one soap opera that she used to watch, and believe it or not itís still on television, ďAs The World Turns.Ē I remember she used to watch that all the time. I never watched it myself, but I know that was her program, and itís still on.

My mother didn't have hobbies. She was too busy, I think, taking care of the house. I remember that she was always, even when I was little, I remember she used to want to be able to read and write English. So when we were little, she always made us speak in English to them. Between themselves, they would talk Yiddish, my mother and father. But to us, they always said, ďYou have to talk to us in English, because we have to be able to speak English well.Ē And I remember my mother wanted to learn how to write and read, and I remember a lot of times in the evening, she would sit at the kitchen table and she would write and sheíd call me over and would say, ďAm I spelling this right?Ē [laughs]. I was the teacher, she was the pupil.

We had a phonograph at home. We had all kinds of records. Yeah, we enjoyed that. They were 78s. My parents liked listening to Jewish programs on the radio. What was it, WEVD? I think that was the station. But I donít remember any of it.

My mother did my laundry. She made my clothes when I was a child. When I started growing up, my father was a ladiesí tailor, and he would make all my clothes. So I always had beautiful clothes! My mother did all the cooking. I wasnít interested in the kitchen. My father went to work, came home in the evening. Thatís it.

My father worked in a factory. He was a ladiesí tailor. He did the work on the sewing machine. He wasnít one to do the pressing or cutting. I know he was an operator.  When he retired, as a sideline, he worked in a store that sold fabrics, Ďcause he wanted to keep busy.

I donít know if my mother stopped working when she was pregnant, or if she stopped working when she got married. Iím not sure exactly when she stopped working. All I know is when she had children, she did not go to work anymore. My father was the breadwinner.

My mother was into Friday night, lighting the candles. That was a must. And sheíd say the prayer over the candles. That was every Friday night, and my father wasnít into too much religion, except, as he got older he started going to synagogue. All of a sudden he became a little more religious. He felt better going into the synagogue on Saturday morning or Friday night.

My parents didnít believe that you shouldnít lie about things. You should be honest and be good citizens, and do the right thing. We were never hit. We werenít bad children, so I donít think any of us were ever in trouble Ö All of our life, growing up, I donít remember any of us being spanked for anything. I think once, Artie was spanked for something that he didnít do, and that was it. I donít remember even being spanked for anything. My mother always reasoned with us, and said, ďJust tell the truth,Ē and thatís it.

My father, I think, was more Americanized, where he liked to go out more, whereas my mother preferred -- was more of a homebody, and I guess they got along, but their values were a little different.

Did my parents get along? They got along, but their values were a little different. But what they had in common was the family.

What were their best traits: I donít know. There were never any problems. They never yelled. They never yelled at us. They always tried to reason with us, and my mother, more or less, took care of the children. My father didnít butt it too much. He was the breadwinner. He worked. He came home. He ate. But my mother is the one that disciplined us. Not that we needed discipline. We were pretty good children, and I guess thatís it.

My parents loved us very much. They were very attentive to the children. No complaints. I also found my mother and father very understanding.

We werenít the type of family that would go kissing each other, or hugging each other, and yet we were a close family. But we werenít demonstrative. I canít really say that my parents had any bad traits. My father, if he didnít like something that happened or something, he would grumble a little, and mumble, but generally speaking, they were all right.

The family didnít play any games. You know, I donít remember. I donít remember what kind of cards, whatíd we play. I guess we played cards sometimes, and I donít remember what games we played. We usually went outside to play. Most of our playing was outside.

At that time there was no such thing as the family going to synagogue. The man of the house usually went to the synagogue, and we would go sometimes and stay outside. We never went in for the Services. It was just the men that went there.

What did my parents think of their lives? If they had to do it over again ... ? They never said that they wanted to do anything differently. All I know is they were glad they were in America, and they never said they were discontented with their lives, so, they didnít tell us how they really felt, so I couldnít really say.

My parents were always Democrats, and they did vote. They felt that was an obligation that they really had to do. Yeah, that was a must. My father was a citizen first, and then my mother became a citizen. We never talked politics. So I donít know what their views were really.

I learned from my parents how to be a good person, how to be understanding and have a good family life.

I donít think we were ever spoiled, and I donít think my parents wanted to show any favoritism. So I canít say that any of us were really spoiled, or that they showed any favoritism. I think they tried to treat us all equal.

My brothers and I never had to be disciplined too much because we were pretty good children. We never really got into any trouble, and we always had our friends meet at our house, Ďcause my mother always felt that if we were at the house with our friends, they knew we werenít getting into any trouble. So our house was always a meeting place.

Everything was fine. I think once they thought that Artie had gotten into some sort of trouble, but it wasnít him. It was another redhead, Ďcause you know both my brothers are redheads. Iím the only one that had dark hair.  If we had any kind of problems, my mother was always there for us. My father, well, he was the breadwinner, and when we were growing up, he didnít butt in too much with our upbringing. As we got older, he was a little more with us, but other than that he was always a good father. But he never disciplined us or talked to us about things. It was my mother that was always there for us.

We never thought about talking back to my mother, my parents or anything. They were very good parents to us, and I think generally speaking, we were as good children as anybody could be.

Did my parents have any rules? Just that we shouldnít get into any kind of trouble, and if we had any problem, not to lie about it, to face up to it, and I donít remember any problems coming up where we were really any problem. I donít think we really had any doís and don'ts, Ďcause my mother always wanted me to go out with only Jewish boys, and not to start going out with anybody that was a different religion, because then you start having problems, and there are enough problems the way it is. Thatís really what it was.

They always felt that it was important to have a good education. They wanted us to go to college. They wanted Artie to go to college and Bernie too. They wanted me to go to college too, but I really didnít want to. Of course my brothers were very good students. They were two smart boys, I have to admit. I was only an average student, and graduating from high school I felt was enough for me. I felt I was ready for work ...




 

 

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