My mother often mentioned, with a spark of pride, that her eldest sister Estelle was referred to as “Miss Roselle.” Roselle, New Jersey, where I was raised, consisted of a melting pot of mainly “Negro,” or “Colored People,” as African-Americans or blacks were called in my youth, with a chunk of Yiddish accented Jewish immigrants and a handful of other Caucasians thrown in the mix. Parts of Roselle and the adjoining town of Linden were reminiscent of an Eastern European shtetl.
My Aunt Estelle was the eldest of the Friedman clan of 11. Born in 1897, in Mozyr, White Russia, now known as Belarus, she came to the United States in 1908 as a young child of 10 years of age, with her mother and three siblings. At Ellis Island records she is registered as Minna, with her mother Chaja, 36. Chaja and her four young children at that time, listed as Minna, Aron, Sarah, and Fraim, sailed from the port at Libau on the Korea ship on July 27, 1908. They were met by their patriarch, my Papa Harry Friedman, at Ellis Island in New York on August 11 that year. After living in Manhattan for about a decade with his first wife, widowed and newly married to his second wife, the family, with my grandparents and more children from each of Papa’s marriages, resettled in Roselle, New Jersey, sporting newly anglicized names. Papa’s first wife, Estelle’s mother, died in childbirth in 1914, and Estelle married for the first time in April 1918.
Fast forward to May 2019 and imagine my thrill when I received a package of photographs from my cousin Lois, Estelle’s daughter, who lives in Ohio. It felt as though I had won the lottery. Lois’s granddaughter, whose signature profile reads, “Family Medicine Physician, Fenway Health, Boston MA, Instructor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School,” and whom I have yet to meet, emailed to request my snail mail address. She needed it, she said, to send me the packet of photographs she copied from her mother’s files. Upon receipt of the treasured photos, I called Lois. Next, I emailed Alexis, writing, “…If you get a chance, I think you will enjoy my Tuesday blog post today https://www.sharonmarkcohen.com/blog/2019/3/29/what-would-papa-harry-say (Papa was your great-great-grandfather). I wish someone would take me back to stories about my great-grandfather, no less my g-g-grandfather! Your grandmother remembers all the people in the bottom photo-[our mutual] grandfather and aunts and uncle...”
In that photograph at the bottom of the older post are the children from Papa’s second wife after she (my grandmother) and their daughter Annie had died. Sadly, there are no known pictures of my Aunt Annie, only a description of her from her friend Ethel, my mother’s friend Mildred’s sister (see my blog post about Mildred, https://www.sharonmarkcohen.com/blog/2019/3/10/mildred, dated May 21, 2019).
Below this current posting is a picture of the children from Papa’s first marriage, with Estelle front and center; missing is Sarah, aka Shirley. Simply scroll down beneath the photo to see a picture of my Aunt Shirley.
Boy oh boy, do those pictures tell a story. Notably, I happen to see a few of my own facial features in the close-up cover photograph of my aunt Estelle. Seeing the close-up, which Lois shared, really magnified each of her mother’s fine features. With such a deep family history, it’s so lucky that Lois and I reconnected.
As part and parcel of our history, I can picture my mother sitting outside our four-family apartment house in Roselle many moons ago and holding a postcard, which the mail carrier had just handed to her. It was one of the treasured notes she received on rare occasions when her beloved sister Estelle was about to visit. You could almost see the wheels churning with memories as she read the well-received notice that her eldest sister would be coming to town; she held the card so tightly.
This particular time, I remember my Aunt Bea, the youngest of the eleven siblings sitting outside with my mother when the conversation switched to their niece Lois and how they wondered where she was and what she was up to. I always knew about Lois and her Thanksgiving birthday; I can still hear my mother announcing her niece’s latest milestone each year as she prepared the turkey dinner. Lois, now 87, knew the New Jersey family in the 1930s/40s, but her visits had trailed off long before I was born.
The last time I saw my Aunt Estelle was the first time I met my cousin Lois. That was in the summer of 1970 in the Cleveland ‘burbs; however, Lois has no recollection of that visit. On that first trip to Ohio, Lois escorted us to see her mother at a nearby home for the aged. While I rarely saw my mother with a tear, after seeing her sister, a bastion of the Roaring Twenties, as I’m sure my mother reminisced as she hugged her debilitated sister sitting alone with her leg amputated, she broke down as soon as we left the facility. Surely my mother had visions of her cherished sister in her heyday and still liked to think of her as “Miss Roselle.” I remember my defeated looking mother, sadly muttering under her breath, “Look what happens to a person.”
My published article at https://www.jewishlinknj.com/monthly-sections/family-link/25077-a-familial-love-affair tells the story of how I, fortunately, reconnected with my cousin Lois and the ways in which we bonded through Kitchen Talk. After being widowed and then married and divorced twice, while raising four children, it was Lois’s well-deserved time and place in life that allowed us to foster a relationship.
As I say in my bio, everyone deserves a legacy. My Aunt Estelle, “Miss Roselle,” just got hers. The actual story of her life would stack up with any novel to be a bestseller. Maybe one day I’ll combine the video footage from my mother, Uncle Jack and Uncle Sam, with the notes I jotted down while reading Kitchen Talk to Lois, and write that book.