Monday, January 31, 2011

52 Weeks - You Are What You Eat? Junk Soup and Blintzes!

What my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, below) cooked wouldn't have made Auguste Escoffier happy...but she had a few notable dishes.

One was junk soup, so-called because anything she found in the fridge was fair game. She started with chuck steak, cut it up into chunks, browned it with a bit of onion, and then into the giant stock pot it went, along with potatoes, celery, carrots, and whatever was available. My sister remembers cans of mixed vegetables were usually part of the recipe because Mom knew we'd eat those (mostly--NOT lima beans for me). Hours later, with the addition of alphabet pasta to give her three girls a smile, junk soup was ready (and in such quantities that it made welcome encore appearances later in the week).

Another of Mom's specialties was cheese blintzes. Her filling recipe called for a mixture of pot cheese and farmers' cheese, two cheeses that weren't watery, plus an egg, a little sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. The crepe "leaves" were made from eggs, milk, flour, sugar/salt. After making the leaves one by one, and covering the stack with a dish towel to keep them from drying out, she'd assemble the blintzes with a tablespoon or so of cheese mixture in the center, roll up each blintz, and lightly saute it in butter. Certainly Mom learned to make these from her mother, Hermina Farkas Schwartz, whose apple strudel and home-made chicken soup (with home-made egg noodles, made and cut and dried at home) were legendary in the family.

And then there's chopped liver, another of Mom's specialties. The wooden bowl and shaped chopper, like the set above, were needed to hand-chop the chicken livers to the right consistency, after they were sauted with onion and mixed with hard-boiled eggs, plus (I assume, in the early days) schmaltz. Add a little salt and pepper and you're on your way to cholesterol city, but a happy journey it is.

She wasn't a happy baker. In fact, she never baked until her daughters begged her to make us cookies (and let us help in the prep). Then she confessed that the oven didn't work right and getting the landlord to make repairs was a long process. Eventually she succeeded and surprised us when we came home from school one day with some kind of fruit bar she baked from a mix. We loved them! At least I did until I unfortunately glanced at the box and saw I was eating fig bars. Ugh! Never touched them again, but now we were on our way to brownies and other easy-to-bake goodies.

My father, Harold Burk, rarely cooked but in his 60s, he became interested in baking apple pies and every fall, he'd experiment with crust and filling to get the highest pie (sky-high pie, he would say) with the flakiest pastry. If his pie fell in after baking, he'd say something like "next year." I'd enjoy eating Dad's apple pie no matter what it looked like.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts in 2011 to encourage us to record memories and insights.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy - Home is where the elevator is


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My parents Daisy Schwartz Burk and Harold Burk lived their entire lives in New York City apartments and I was brought up here, one of twin apartment buildings just a block from a huge park in the Bronx. Getting into an elevator every day (many times a day) was part of the experience. 


In the summer, when we were playing in front of the building and the Bungalow Bar ice cream truck came around, we'd yell up to my mother to ask for money. She'd tie two dimes in a handkerchief and float it out the living room window to the street below, where we picked up the bundle and bought choco-covered pops. (Mister Softee trucks came later.)


When my mother tried her hand at writing children's stories, she wrote about children going to visit their grandparents and vying to push the elevator button for the right floor . . . exactly how we visited our maternal grandparents (Teddy and Minnie Farkas Schwartz) every other Sunday for dinner. They lived in an apartment building near Tremont Avenue in the Bronx.


My paternal grandmother Henrietta Burk lived just a few apartments away on the same floor where we lived here on Carpenter Avenue in the Bronx. In fact, as I've noted elsewhere in this blog, most of my father's family lived in this apartment building: His older sister Millie Lang lived on the top floor with her husband and my cousin Elliot, his brother Sidney Burk lived with their mother Henrietta on our floor. (Grandfather Isaac Burk had died 7 years before my birth, so I never knew him, but my cousin Ira is named after him.) Only my father's younger sister lived elsewhere, in Queens.


When I was growing up, this part of the northeast Bronx was a "suburban" area, where one-family homes dotted the side streets and apartment buildings dominated many of the corners and avenues. Because the elevated subway line was just a few blocks away, it was an especially convenient location for commuters (like my father) going to work an hour away in Manhattan. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sorting Saturday - McClure Shade Shop Card Is Genealogist's Dream

It's sorting Saturday, and I'm looking through the odds and ends in the STEINER file (one of my resolutions is to do more tracing on this branch of my husband's family tree). In the file was this business card. Why would a card for B.L. McClure's Shade Shop be in the Steiner file?

The back of the card holds the key: Brice Larimer McClure (my husband's maternal grandfather) was married to Floyda Mabel Steiner. Here, someone has listed Floyda and her siblings, in birth order, by first name. A dream find for a family genealogist!

The front probably tells me when these notations were made, because someone has thoughtfully listed the current age of each of the siblings. "O.-79" refers to Orville, born 1856. "F.-57" is Floyda, born 1878. My reasoning is that the notes were written in 1935. Since Orville died in 1936, I'm almost positive about the date of the notes being 1935.

Another scrap of paper in the file lists Jacob S. Steiner and Elizabeth, his wife, age 62 years when the note was written. The back of the scrap shows "Joseph Rinehart, 81 years" but I'm not sure who he was, and Margaret Rinehart. Another scrap shows "Edward G. Steiner," born 28 May 1830, died Mar 13, 1880" and this was Floyda's father, definitely, meaning he's my husband's great-grandfather. More investigation is needed to determine the relationship of all the rest of these relatives to each other and to my husband.

As an aside, Brice (known as "The Old Gentleman" in his later years, within the family) ran this shade shop out of his home, which I know because he and Floyda and their daughter, Marian Jane McClure, were living there at the time of the 1930 Census. The house, he told the Census taker, was worth $9,000 and he owned it. Also he had a radio! His occupation was "machinist" in a shop. The shade shop must have been a sideline. During the 1930s, I imagine everyone had a sideline to pick up extra cash.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Those Places Thursday: When the NYC Skyline Went Dark in 1965

Browsing through a book on New York Deco, I saw photos of the Chanin Building, located at 122 E. 42nd Street in New York City, opposite Grand Central Station.

Instantly it brought back vivid memories of the Great Northeastern Blackout of November 9-10, 1965--the one that left most of the Northeastern US and Canada in complete darkness overnight and into the next day. As a young teen, I was already home from school on that Tuesday, when the blackout hit during evening rush hour. Electricity was out and there was no way of knowing when it would return. We had battery-powered transistor radios and soon found out what had happened.

My mother was just finishing her work day on the 22nd floor of the Chanin Building when the power went out. Unless she walked down all the way to the street level and then hitched a ride from the middle of Manhattan to the northeast tip of the Bronx, she wasn't going to be able to get home that night. She didn't know then how lucky she was: If she had left 15 minutes earlier and gotten on a subway train for the hour-long ride home, she would have spent the night in a darkened subway tunnel awaiting the return of electricity.

For two teen twins and our younger sister, it was the start of a one-of-a-kind tame adventure. We were home, safe, in our apartment overlooking the Dyre Avenue subway line in the Bronx. In fact, because the outage happened when dusk was fast arriving, we could easily see that there were NO lights on the New York City skyline. This was a most unusual and memorable sight, to say the least.

Still, the phones worked, the gas stove and oven worked, so we could (and did) cook and play games by candle light and using flashlights. But Mom was stuck in the Chanin Building for the duration of the blackout. As it turned out, the lights came on about 13 hours later.

Mom had to wait her turn to call us, since the law office where she worked had only 1 or 2 phone lines. She called as soon as she could, before dinner, to check on us, and reassure us that she was OK. She called again later in the evening and told us that the people in the office had pooled their money to order from a sandwich shop down on street level, paying about $10 each for a sandwich that would have cost $2 or $3 on any other night. Of course the delivery guy had to walk up 22 floors to reach his customers, and then down again, so I understand why the shop raised its prices on blackout night, even though Mom fumed at the price gouging. That night she slept (poorly) on chairs pulled together to make a kind of bed.

At least Mom knew we were responsible teens and she didn't have to worry much about our safety, since we were already home. We kids were in a great mood, calling all our friends to yak endlessly about the blackout and ask whose parents were stuck where. My memory is that we even invited a friend to come over, and at some point she arrived (probably the next morning after the subways started running). I don't think there was school on Wednesday, Nov. 10th, and the day after that was Veteran's Day, which may have helped get things back to normal. 

Reports say that this was a peaceful blackout, with New Yorkers treating each other civilly and offering assistance where possible. My mother was tired but happy to be home when the lights came on and she could ride home on the subway. And I still remember the night of no lights in the New York City skyline. Very spooky.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Camp Days in Cleveland Heights, 1951 - Amanuensis Monday

Just yesterday I came across this photo reminder of my husband Wally Wood's days as a junior counselor at the YMCA camp outside of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Wally's third from right in front row, next to the guy who looks like a Marine drill sgt (the actual counselor). Wally remembers his parents dropping him off for the week of camp with a "car full of crap" (clothes, equipment, etc).

This is under the heading of "amanuensis" because the campers and the senior counselor signed the back of this photo! Below are all the names, transcribed, as best as I can make out. Looks like the campers were practicing their cursive handwriting skills.

Don MacMillan
Jim Palermo
Shepard Linsday
Ted Gaeblen [maybe?]
Bob Berd
Arthur Krueger
Fred Wilson
Michael Glaser
Marc Konrissen
Doa Leo
Toms Stevens

PS the envelope tells a lot about Stan's Studio Inc., which took the photo. What it says is:

Stan's Studio Inc.
Weddings - Baby Pictures - Portraits
See Our Kiddyland, Cleveland's Largest and Finest
3025 West 25th Street
Cleveland 13, Ohio
Tel. MAIN 1-7066

Sunday, January 16, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Bad Car Karma

This week's blog prompt is "cars." Actually, my first vehicle wasn't a car, it was a motorcycle (a Yamaha 50cc stepthrough, much like the photo below). But that's a story for another day.

 My very first car was a used, powder blue 1969 Mercury Cougar "pony car," designed to compete with the fabulous Mustangs of the era. I didn't have a GT model, shown at top, but all other details were as you see them . The headlight covers rolled up when the lights were switched on, the center console was sporty and elegant, the seats were cushy and comfy, the engine purred. It was a real creampuff. So why don't I have a photo to put here, instead of a photo from "HowStuffWorks" site? 

Well, one night I was working late in my job as a retail store manager in suburban Boston, while a hurricane raged outside. After 9 pm, when I locked up to go home, I looked around the parking lot--my car was nowhere in sight! (It wasn't hard to figure this out, because there were NO cars in the lot at that point.)

I reported the theft, called hubby to get a ride home, and waited for the call that finally came two days later. The cops found my car! Only problem: They fished it out of a lake 200 miles away. (Now ask yourself: Who would steal a car in the middle of a hurricane and drive it into a lake?)

The insurance company totaled it and with the pittance I received, I bought a 1968 1/2 Mustang, another blue pony car. This one was the opposite of a creampuff: There was so much underbody rust that if you picked up the floor mats, you could see the road beneath your feet. Seriously. But the car had 4 wheels and drove well enough, and the price was right ($150 in cash). I drove that car for less than a year when my bad car karma struck again.

One morning, when I was already late for work, I went to unlock the driver-side door and noticed something funny. Instead of wheels, the car was balanced on cement blocks. Overnight, thieves had stolen all the wheels! New wheels would have cost more than the old car, so I sold the car ($50 net) and carpooled with hubby for a while.

My next used car was a 1970-something Dodge Dart, nicknamed the "Green Battleaxe." That car had one of the best engines of all time. It just kept going and going, with more than 140,000 miles on it, no problems at all. The outside was, well, beat up, but that was OK, since I was parking the car on city streets and didn't want to attract attention. The engine would have lasted for another 100,000 miles, easy. That's why bad car karma had to strike.

Getting ready to drive to the shopping center one day, I couldn't find the Green Battleaxe where I'd parked it. I walked round and round the neighborhood, but no car. Finally I came to the reluctant conclusion that once again, my car had been stolen. The cops mentioned how many thieves target Darts for the parts (especially that strong, sturdy engine). Many months later, the Dart was found at the other end of the city, abandoned and (you guessed it) with lots of parts missing. By then the insurance company had long ago settled the claim and all that was left was the paperwork (ugh).

Bad car karma may have left me, finally. From 1995 to 2009, my husband and I have replaced 13 windshields in our various cars, because of road debris kicking up to crack the glass again and again and again and again. Now we're in our 3rd year of no new windshields. Can that good luck last??

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Treasure Chest Thursday - Baby Book

My husband's baby book has more than just fun facts from his early years--it also has names of relatives! It also has a lock of his hair from his first haircut decades ago :) No photos, but all entries were handwritten by my mother-in-law, and the book is in excellent condition. She even left notes about his formula and pablum.

The entries are easier to read in reality than they look in this scan, and there are lots and lots of names scattered through the pages. This year I'm going to start tracing his Steiner and Traxler lines, and both names are here. So my treasure chest item for today is this baby book. Are there baby books in your treasure chest?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Seeking Isaac Burk's Family

One of my research priorities this year is to find out more about the family of Harold Burk's father, my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882?-1943). Above is Harold (my father), when he was in his 20s, looking impossibly young!

Did Isaac have siblings? Who was his mother? His father was Elias Burk, according to one record I found. Did my father hear stories about his father's childhood in the old country (Lithuania)? What did Dad think about and dream about when he was young? What did Isaac expect when he came to NYC?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Shopping Saturday - Browsing in the Bronx and Downtown NYC

Living in the Bronx, our big shopping excursion would be to Fordham Road, where chain clothing and shoe stores lined the big street leading to the Grand Concourse and major emporiums like Alexander's (founded by the Farkas family, but not my Farkas family). After shopping, we might visit Krum's for a malted and then walk back to the bus (and transfer to a second bus or the subway for the trip home).

It was really a shopping crossroads and on a busy Saturday, you could always count on meeting someone you knew. (In those days, there were no Sunday shopping hours, so Saturday was THE big day for browsing and buying.) One day, as a teenager, I had emptied my wallet and pockets buying a new sweater and skirt for date night that evening. Although I usually had subway tokens in my penny loafers in case of emergency, there were none that day. I stood at the bus stop and waited for nearly an hour until someone I knew (some adult, but I don't remember who) came by and lent me the 20 cents needed to board and get home! Big borough but small world.

Back to the late, great New York City stores that filled the newspaper ads of my childhood. Our penny loafers came from Best & Co, and lasted for more than a decade. Alas, Best & Co is long gone. For years I would walk past B. Altman at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, on my way to a job at 31st Street and Sixth Avenue (renamed "Avenue of the Americas" but no self-respecting New Yorker ever called it that, ever). Above is the B. Altman building, which is now a graduate school center of the City University of NY.

The list of once thriving and now defunct NYC stores that I remember seeing (occasionally shopping in) goes on and on: Peck & Peck, Simon's, A & S, Gimbel's, Arnold Constable, Bonwit Teller, May's, S. Klein, Korvette's.

Friday, January 7, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History - Winter

Week #2's challenge is to write about winter. Growing up in the Bronx, NY, nearly every December our parents took me, my twin, and our younger sister on the subway downtown to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and walk along Fifth Avenue gawking at the holiday displays.

Many years we went to Radio City Music Hall to see whatever blockbuster movie was opening and the main attraction, the Rockettes' Christmas show. (I think I recall seeing "The Sundowners" there.) It was thrilling to see the organ slide into view as the deep chords started the show. At intermission, the luxe bathrooms were a big attraction.

A real treat was going to the elegant Savoy Plaza (later the Savoy Hilton) Hotel, above, where my father Harold BURK and his brother Sidney Burk maintained their travel agency (see my father at his desk, below). The hotel had a Trader Vic's restaurant and we loved tiki meals! But once the GM building was built, it was goodbye to the hotel and the restaurant . . . and my father's travel agency. That's a story for another day.


In those days, we kids would drag our sleds over to Bronx Park after a big snowfall, spend an entire day going down the gentle hills, and return home positively encrusted with snow. I don't remember many times when snow forced schools to close, but this must have happened more than a few times.

The elementary school was 10 blocks away, no school bus, so yes, we really did walk 1/2 mile each way in all kinds of weather (and often we walked home for lunch and back again!). No wonder fitness wasn't an issue. No school cafeteria*, so anyone who brought a lunch (which we usually did during heavy rains or very cold weather) ate in the school basement, sitting on benches. *My sister says there was a cafeteria in the basement, and the food was (stereotypically) terrible and she preferred the bag lunches!

And who could forget my mother's beloved Persian Lamb coat? She's wearing in the above photo from her wedding day in November, 1946. For years, she'd wear that when the temperature dropped. We kids loved to run our hands through it, another winter memory.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - New Year's traditions and resolutions

Happy new year! First, a couple of resolutions for 2011's genealogy projects:
  • Learn all about my new Mac FTM software and move my files from the old PC version to the Mac.
  • Keep entering info and citing sources (this is one of my weak spots--I love to solve genealogy mysteries but don't find it anywhere near as much fun to write things up).
  • Label more of the family photos that I protected in individual sleeves last year.
  • Keep blogging as cousin bait! Can't wait to meet my newly found cousins this spring.
Now for traditions. Whenever my father and his brother and brothers-in-law got together (which might have been on New Year's Day but also one or two other holidays), they played pinochle. I still have the two-deck card set they used. Although I never understood the game, I know they were expert and enthusiastic about playing. So at the table would be my father, Harold Burk; his brother, Sidney Burk; and his brothers-in-law, Charles Lang (married to my aunt Millie) and David Bourstein (married to my aunt Miriam). Lots of laughter but also intense concentration.

The New Year's Eve I most vividly remember was when I was 17 and went to Times Square with my boyfriend, my closest girlfriend, and her boyfriend. Maybe we took the subway (who remembers? It was that long ago), or perhaps one of the guys drove us all from the Bronx. I remember the crowds and excitement, the cold, and the jubilation when the ball dropped at midnight. We all counted along (yes, just like on TV) and kissed at the stroke of the new year. Once was enough. I can say "been there, done that."

My husband's family had a quieter New Year's Eve in Cleveland Heights, because his father Edgar J. Wood always had a gig playing in a band that evening. Insurance adjuster by day, Ed was a professional piano player on the weekends and was booked for New Year's Eve by October every year. Photo above shows him in one of the college bands he joined while at Tufts. He and his friends worked their way across the Atlantic and back by playing on cruise ships, then picked up gigs in Europe to cover room and board for the summer between semesters.

May the new year bring you many family tree discoveries and reunions with long-lost relatives.