Hand in Hand Productions

Excerpts from

A Traditional Jewish Woman's Odyssey,
Mrs. Elsie Weisman’s Oral History

Part II -
THE FAMILY BUSINESS

In those days in the neighborhood there was a butcher, there was a bakery shop, there was a drug store where you got only drugs. The neighborhood was mixed. There were Jews and there were some non-Jews. We had Jewish, Germans and few Polish neighbors.

When I was fourteen, it was 1925 and we bought a delicatessen store. We lived on a street and it was during prohibition time. So we bought a store that was formally a saloon; it was right across the street from where we lived. We bought it from this man who made the delicatessen from a saloon. We didn't set it up as a delicatessen.

We had those iron chairs; you know with the little feet in the back. We had little tables. If you ever seen picture of a soda fountain, that's what it looked like. And we sold ice cream and ice cream bars. Eskimo Pies, they had just come out, you know the ice cream with the chocolate. We'd to make our shells too; we'd make cones and we had different chocolate that we heated up and we'd make cones ourselves. Sometimes people would order a sandwich. And we had a fountain and we served the drinks by the drink you know. There was Green River; it was some kind of a lime drink. I think it tasted like lime, but it was green. We had chocolate soda with the carbon dioxide that you put into it.

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It was hard work, seven days a week from morning until night. It was open like from 8:00 am until 11:00 at night. We weren't religious; the store was open seven days a week. But it was a Kosher Deli. A delicatessen, a soda fountain, and cigarettes and things like that. My mother cooked her corn beef herself, see we got the corned beef and she cooked them in the back and at that time. She worked like a horse, very, very hard. We also had salami, bologna sandwiches. No desserts, but ice cream on the opposite side. It was a Kosher Deli, yes it was.


My father worked too, he stood at the counter with a cigarette in his mouth. My mother would yell, "Get away from there, you're serving a drink with your cigarette in your mouth." I remember. Isn't it funny how little bits and pieces will stay in my mind? I don't know if I'm any different than anybody else. Bits and pieces.

But he was not a businessman.


I worked after school and usually stayed into the night. I loved working in the store and making sandwiches and things like that, but it was also a struggle. At first it was a novelty, then we got sick of it. I'll tell you, it was hard.

I worked after school and usually stayed into the night. I loved working in the store and making sandwiches and things like that, but it was also a struggle. At first it was a novelty, then we got sick of it. I'll tell you, it was hard.

I was in the store, making sandwiches and things like that and I fell for a young man who was a nothing, and my father was very unhappy about that. He was a cab driver. I lost interest in school because of this fellow that I was going with and my teacher balled me out. My English teacher, he said, "What happened to you?" And that's what happened, you get into a boy, you forget your grades, you forget everything, all you're concerned about is being with this boy. But, I was no different than anybody else. I had graduated from a two-year commercial course and I started going with him. My parents, they called him "Corn beef," that was his nickname. My father use to say to my mother, "remember you're going to have "Corn beef" for a son-in-law." If they would have left me alone it would have died out, you know. It was just an infatuation; I was sixteen years old. It didn't last very long, but you know he called me after I got married and after I came here, he called, but I wouldn't have anything to do with him. So that was my little romance at sixteen.

When we bought the store, we moved into the back of the store. Six people lived in two rooms in the back of the store. We had no inside bathtub, all we had was a toilet there. There was a division between where my parent's slept and we slept. My brothers slept on a cot, and then my sister and I slept together. From then until I got married my sister and I slept together and my brothers slept together. And it was horrible. Six people living in the back of a store, no bathtub, nothing convenient like that. I had a friend named Elsie, also, who lived in a flat where they had hot water and a bathtub. Once a week my sister and I would take a clean package of clothes. We didn't have a suitcase; so we'd take a newspaper, wrap our clean clothes. Then take our clothes package to Elsie Kushner's house and take a bath. They had hot water, and we didn't have hot water. You know living in two rooms that had been a saloon from when I was fourteen until I was sixteen years old was horrible it was terrible.

Well anyhow we finally sold it. We moved to a flat. Nobody was working. Oh those were hard times. Those were hard times. After we sold the deli, we bought a grocery store; we were there for three months. My father was not a businessman at all.


Elsie with Friend and
Historian Kate Cavett


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