When a Cashier Saved the Day!

I was the eldest grandchild so I never got hand-me-downs.  I always got the new stuff. Normally my stuff would’ve gone to my Aunt Frieda’s kids. But they never wanted hand me downs. My Aunt Frida was married to my Uncle Jim who was a bookie only for a short time. She had one of those names I just couldn’t say when I was 3. So I called her Foota and it stuck. To anyone other than myself or my cousins she went by Frieda until she decided that name was too Jewish. So she went by Florence. Foota didn’t sound Jewish to her I guess. So she kept that one.

Anyway, My Aunt Lil’ had the job of taking me shopping most of the time because my mother worked. I was 7 years old and Aunt Lil took me to S.Klein on the Square at 14th street to buy clothing for school. This was not my first time shopping. My mother took me to Division Street near China Town. Division Street was where the bookies (not my Uncle!) would take their girlfriends to buy expensive fur coats. They also had stuff for kids. So I knew what shopping was and I liked it. I had no idea that all of  the people down their were cheating on their wives. All I knew was they were very fancy and they hugged and kissed a lot.

Anyway, Aunt Lil’ got to take me to S.Klein. My mother paid her to take me, which shows my mother being an entrepreneur again. Though I’m not sure she knew Aunt Lil’ left me to my own devices when we got to the store. I should give her more credit that. She did look for clothes with me for a few minutes but then she was gone like lightning.

I looked over at the cashiers and picked the one with the shortest line. Even though I was scared, it never occurred to me to skip the line.I could’ve got to a guard but they were men, which made me nervous. So finally it was my turn at the counter. I was about 4 feet tall and could just barely see over the counter. “Hi I’m Judy and Im lost. Auntie Lil’ was supposed to watch me. I’m lost.” The cashier was an older woman who was clearly more responsible than Aunt Lil’.

“What’s your last name honey?” No sooner did I tell her she was on the loudspeaker. “Would the person in charge of Judy Baraban please come to the cashier?” I was looking for Aunt Lil’ when she suddenly was behind me, horrified.

“I would’ve come back for you, Judy!” and she took my hand and we went home.

Later that night, I told my mother what happened. That was the last time I was left alone  in a store by Aunt Lil’.



Lot’s of Moxie

My great-grandmother Bella Rubinsky came over here to New York City from Russia.  She came here looking for her husband who left her while she was pregnant the year prior. He said the streets in NYC were lined with gold. A local paper in Russia said this, so he packed a bag and bought a ticket on a boat and that was the last she heard of him.

Bella decided to leave Russia to look for him. So she packed up my Grandmother Lillian who was a year old and then they got on a boat and came here. She moved in with a relative on the Lower East Side and her son-in-law hired detectives to find husband. They never found anything!

A part of my family is still convinced he just left her with no intention of ever seeing her again. Bella didn’t agree and kept looking until finally she had to find a way to make a living.

Bella got a push cart. Everyday she would go to the market and buy vegetables at a low-cost and would resell them higher from her cart. She set up her business on Orchard Street right near a chicken store and several other cart sellers. At the end of the day all of these sellers would exchange food and take it home for super. Bella was the first entrepreneur of my family.

Her grand daughter, my mother, became the next entrepreneur. At 14 she had a full-time job in the rag trade. She taught herself shorthand and typing and got a job as a secretary.

She met a salesman in that firm who eventually became her boss. She was 16.  She became the manager of his factory and took no prisoners. If someone wasn’t doing their job or behaving badly, she would talk to them directly and gave them a chance to improve. Sylvia was tough but had a velvet glove.

Being tough was in the genes. Her mother had 4 children and her father worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. My mother was the eldest and she had to take care of her siblings with anything they needed. As an adult, my mother worked full-time and my father worked two jobs, so she would pay my Great Grandmother to watch us and feed us both lunch and dinner. This wasn’t strange for us because back then someone had to make the money and someone had to cook. You couldn’t do both. My Grandmother cooked for my cousins too!

I liked to work hard, but not when it came to chores. I was a smart ass in those days, so when my Gret Grandmother would ask me to do something I’d basically say no. This didn’t make my Great Grandmother happy and I became very well acquainted with my Grandfather (who lived with her and her daughter) chasing me with a broom. My Great Grandmother hated my Grandfather and thought he wasn’t good enough for her daughter. So I used this to my advantage and I would run him around the house until I could reach my Great Grandmothers bedroom where he wasn’t allowed to go. So he’d stop at the door like a screeching car. Worked every time.

I never thought that women had a hard time in terms of getting into the market place. All of the women in my family did what they wanted and had lots of kids. Bella travelled here from Russia and started her own businesses. Her daughter fed the entire family. My mother was a manager at 16 and brought home extra work for the women in the neighborhood! She also paid for me to go to college with her own money! The women in my family often made more money than the men.

The women in my family have moxie. Lot’s of moxie. And at 78 I still do.I have no intention of retiring until I drop dead, and at this point I can’t promise you that will ever happen.