Sometime in the late nineteen-sixties, Aunt Annie took her place by my father’s side at the second roll top desk at 170 Eldridge Street. Her four children were grown. It was a boom time in the city and my father needed extra help in the office. But even when the boom abated, she remained at the second desk. They worked together for the next thirty years.
some ways, she had always been by his side. When they were school age and both
insatiable readers, she sometimes carried his books home from the library on
top of her own, because she wanted people to think she was extra smart. At nineteen, she married my father’s good
friend, George Strassberg. Two years after that, when she wasn’t satisfied with
her big brother’s choice of girlfriend (the unfortunate Betty), she dragged him
to Schmulka Bernstein’s, ostensibly to buy a chicken, but in fact to make a
match between him and her school friend Ida Bernstein, who became his one and
|Anne and Max sometime in the 1980s|
But even when she was a married housewife raising her own family, Aunt Annie managed to be his help mate. During busy seasons, particularly October through New Years, the Christmas rush, she hosted statement parties at her kitchen table on Sunday afternoons. Statement was the Atlantic Paper word for invoice.
Statement parties consisted of her four children, my cousins, ages six to fourteen, myself age ten and my father, sitting around the table, writing out invoices, stuffing them into envelopes, putting on stamps and creating neat piles to go into the mail Monday morning. My six and eight year old cousins did the stuffing and stamping, while we, the big kids, over age ten, and my father and Aunt Annie did the writing. You can’t get more family business than this.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember any of us, the children, complaining. Statement parties had a conspiratorial air, as if we, the kids, were getting away with something, pretending to be adult. And we were rewarded by a few dollars each at the end of the afternoon plus shared portions of two half gallons tubs of ice cream, even though it was after five in the evening and our appetites would be ruined.
My mother is the last person alive of that generation. She was born almost one hundred years ago and now spends most of her time watching re-runs of I Love Lucy in a diminutive Barcalounger. When I visit her in Jackson Heights, Queens and grow tired of television, I take walks along Thirty-Seventh Avenue. It is the central shopping street for the neighborhood, called by the locals just “The Avenue.”
The Avenue runs about a mile and a half from the border of Corona to the edge of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. On it, a new generation of immigrant families have staked their claim on American prosperity with the same tenacity as my family. First, I pass Monika’s Polish Meats, then Happy Kitchen Japanese Cuisine, Seba Seba, a steakhouse started by two Colombian brothers, then Esteban’s Café El Greco. Two blocks later there is Bombay Bridal Boutique and Jaipur Emporium. Also Taste of Uruguay and Urubamba, which serves up dishes typical of Peru. And I am only naming a few here. Finally, on the corner of Eightieth Street, there is my favorite twosome: Kim’s Stationery, and next door Kim’s Brother Fruits & Vegetables. You can’t get more family business than that.