Momma immigrated to the United States in 1910 when she was 15 years old, together with her sister Ida who was 18 years old. Their father was in the United States at the time and their purpose was to tell him to return home to Poland to his wife and other children. Meanwhile, they would remain a few years to earn some money. He did leave, but in 1914 World War l occurred and they could not return to Poland until the War ended. It did end in November 1918, but by that time both Lena and Ida were married, and each had a child. It became clear they were to remain in the United States. In fact, it became clear in the case of Lena between 1917 and 1928 when she had five children,
Frieda, Aron, Katie, Irving and me, Ben.
She was a wonderful mother who reminded Hyman, her husband, that under no circumstances was he to punish any of the children physically. She made a rule that if there was a dis agreement among the children under no circumstances were they to stop talking to each other. That rule remained in effect throughout our lives.
Momma worked in a shop hand sewing men’s ties and did such hand sew- ing at home during the evening after a day of work, dinner prepared, dishes hand washed. Money was always a problem, particularly since Momma would not take charity in the form of Home Relief. I remember while attending PS 87 elementary school, I had an allowance of one penny a day for the five school days. Very early in my life, I knew my family was financially poor and if I needed any money, I would have to work a part time job after school hours. I started working at the age of 12 and in fact had such jobs, during elementary, high school, college and law school. Poppa died at the age of 52. Momma was 48 years old but refused to consider ever remarrying and lived to the age of 93. There was no child, grandchild, niece, or nephew who did not consider Momma a wonderful person. She was loved and honored by all.
There was an incident that made clear how wonderful Momma was, and why we all respected and loved her. After she retired and during her old age, she loved going to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York for a two-week summer vacation to take the steam baths. She always stayed in a rooming house where she did her own cooking and made her own bed. One summer when she tried to make a reservation, she found out the rooming house she used to go to was no longer in business and there was no other place she could rent. She was very disappointed to miss the steam baths.
My sister Katie did some research and found out there were also steam baths in Sharon Springs, New York, and a room was available in a hotel. Momma had never stayed in hotel and was reluctant to go, until it became clear that was the only place where she could get her steam baths. So off she went. When she returned, Katie was helping her unpack and noticed a gift-wrapped package. “What is this?” Katie asked and Momma replied, “It’s a present.” “For whom?” Katie asked and Momma said, “For me.” “Who gave it to you?” she asked. Momma replied, “The hotel chambermaid.” Katie said, “Momma, when one goes to a hotel, a gift is given to the chambermaid, not the other way. Why did she give you a gift?” Momma answered, “Because I helped her make the beds in the hotel.” This story continues to provide much pleasure. That she helped the chambermaid comes as no surprise.
Momma was the least pretentious person I ever knew. She had no fine furs or jewelry and except through her children, the American Dream would have passed her by. She was a simple woman with simple tastes and never lost her Old-World ways. The notion she might be better than anyone else never crossed her mind. She was the epitome of a classless society. The following is a good example of the love that one had for Momma: My wife, Ethyl, said, “Ben, you’ll be in trouble if we ever divorce; I’m going to live with your mother. I don’t know where you’re going.”