Thursday, July 22, 2010

AKA or Why Jacob Cohen "Get's No Respect"

When I was retrieving the index there were all kinds of things lying around that seemed interesting. While there was definitely a depression era feel to the house it didn't really feel like my grand-mother would be classified as a hoarder. I don't think it was a compulsive need to keep everything, but rather that because of the index, everything had value. In the main room there were stacks of magazines and travel brochures. She didn't hold onto them because she couldn't imagine life without them, she held onto them because they contained facts of value. I can just imagine her taking time out of every day to explore the piles ready to learn something new. It would have been impossible to keep everything and I felt the index gave me a sizable enough project that would take years to explore. There were a lot of collections that have been disposed of. In the basement there was an entire wall stacked with cigar boxes. Each cigar box had a different collection in them. The collections were varied and included (among others) fabric materials, doll clothing patterns, and rocks. I only kept one of these boxes, which was a collection of buttons you pin to your clothes. Sometime soon I will take some pictures and share them on the blog. Across from the cigar boxes was a desk and a file cabinet. I only looked through the materials for a couple of minutes but it seemed to me that it was a larger and clumsier attempt at the index. There were file folders filled with newspaper clippings, instruction manuals, and catalogs. I thought that if after I loaded the index and there was more room in the car then I could go back and grab some of it. But the index barely fit into the car so the file cabinet has been lost to history.

The index was spread out over three spaces. Most of the index was housed in one of the guest bedrooms. In that room I found a stack of papers which seemed to have names listed from top to bottom of each one. As I was trying to beat rush hour I didn't really pay much attention to their content other than to think it was probably a list of names my grand-mother was planning on creating index cards for. I quickly stuffed the papers into one of the crates and put it into the car.

Last week when I was unpacking the index I came across those papers and handed them to Jill. She quickly observed that it was a list of aliases. There are roughly 320 "stage names" in one column and an equal amount of "given names" in the other. Here they are:

It is hard to figure out when exactly she made this list or if it was used to update or check the index but once again it really illuminates the degree of detail my grand-mother poured into this project. It seems as if the index cards do contain this information, though I have only checked two of them. Here is Woody Allen's card (along with just a sample of the clippings included in the card):

The first piece of information listed on the card is his given name "Allen Stewart Konigsberg."

This seems to validate that the list was used in connection to the index. I also looked up Rodney Dangerfield's card. I did this because on the list posted above his name actually includes two aliases. The first alias which is written in the same pen as the "stage name" is Jack Roy. However next to Jack Roy is another name, Jack Cohen. Jack Cohen is crossed out in pencil and next to that is written Jacob Cohen, which is Rodney Dangerfield's given name. His father, Philip Cohen, was a vaudeville performer who used the name Phil Roy. When Rodney was 19 he began as a joke writer and used the name Jack Roy. Then in the 1960s he changed his name to Rodney Dangerfield. Here is the card for Rodney Dangerfield with a selection of its contents:

What I find interesting about this card as related to the list is that while the name Jack Cohen is included, the name Jacob Cohen is not. As I mentioned the list was written and then edited by pencil to include the Jacob Cohen name, but somehow this information never made it to the card.

Every time I interact with the index I find it becomes more and more interesting. I have decided that this will become my full time research project and have already started researching relevant books and thinking about family interviews. While there are a million ways to approach this project I have started by thinking about the brain and memory. As I mentioned in an earlier post, part of my grand-mother's justification for this project was that the act of creating the index was viewed as mental exercise. She was attempting to keep her mind sharp. The book I am currently reading offers a really good layman's overview of how the mind has been perceived and understood. I actually started reading the book to see if it could be used in one of my media and communication courses (I think it will be) but quickly realized that it was as relevant to the Ethel Index. The book is Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I was interested in the book because of Carr's 2008 Atlantic essay, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Basically Carr examines McLuhan's famous phrase "the medium is the message" in order to examine how our brains our being rewired from the zeitgeist shift from print to digital media. While I find the entire argument extremely interesting and it all fits in really well with my courses, for the purpose of this blog and the Ethel Index, the point he makes in the book is that the while the synapses in our brains do become harder to reprogram as we age, if we choose to do so we can continue to make new links, which can for the post part be considered mental exercising. There is a lot more to be said about this and I haven't given it enough thought as of yet but I do believe that my grand-mother's creation of the index effected her mind differently than if she had just decided to read an encyclopedia. She was actively participating in the creation of knowledge, even if this knowledge was being filtered through her unique perspective of culture and the world.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DWF Seeking Short Jewish Fat Messy Retired Man

Now that the index is starting to take shape it is a lot easier to locate individual cards. Even though I wasn't sure if it existed, the card I was most hoping to find was the one for my grand-mother. And sure enough, she did make herself a card. If you didn't know her, I am sure you are getting the sense from my examination of the index, that she was a complete character. I will share a little bit about her history later in this post but of specific note to this card is the fact that she divorced my grandfather at a time when divorce seemed more scandalous, and that after the divorce and up until the end of her life she dated a lot. If she was a "Golden Girl" she would have definitely been Blanche. Every time we visited with her throughout my life it seemed as if she had a different boyfriend. All of this information makes the card she created for herself so perfect.

As you can see cut and pasted to the top of the card is a personal ad for herself. Now I am not sure if this was an actual personal ad, a joke, or something in between but I think it is fantastic. I can't help to smile at the words "warm affectionate lively creampuff."

The other information contained in the ad is pretty illuminating. I think it is clear from the index that my grand-mother was intelligent and educated, and these seemed to be characteristics she viewed as central to her identity. The other word I find interesting is "Jewish." This will be something I continue to explore through the index and hopefully through family interviews but I always got the feeling that Jewish to her was much more a cultural indicator than a religious one. I don't think that she went to Temple, though I could be wrong. When I was a child I attended Jewish school and went to Temple regularly, but ultimately decided organized religion wasn't for me. I didn't mind the rituals, foods, and holidays, which makes me, like my grand-mother more of a cultural jew than a religious one. There will be a little more about my grand-mother and her Jewish history a little later in the post.

The other two pieces of information on the card I also find interesting. She has recorded her cholesterol levels for 1990 and 1991. Both levels are dangerously high but at least she managed to drop 20 points over the year. She also included the obituary for a different Ethel Snyder that passed away in 1989.

Once again this is a folding card. However, there is only one document found inside. A relatively small (almost business card sized) piece of paper she cut out from a Nassau Inn (in Princeton) brochure. Here is the side which she scribbled on.

The only names I know of on the card are Ethel's and Masse's. Masse was Ethel's brother who currently lives in California. If anyone has any information on the other names I would appreciate the help.

And that's it for her card. While I love the personal ad, personally I feel that there should be so much more information included.

Last year, my cousin Erica sat down with our grand-mother and had her hand-write a short history. Erica transcribed the document and shared it on geni. I am reproducing it here:


As told to me as I remember. These facts could be wrong, memory is often unreliable.

My father (Harry Bloomfield) Hershel Belaroos came from Russia with his mother Freda. (She was a widow) & 6 other brothers. All his sisters died young. They came to N.Y. Harry was approx age 17.
Freda was told that a bunch of Polish workers were coming to Franklin, N.H. & a grocery catering to them would be profitable. She started a grocery in Franklin. The Poles did not come. Harry worked in the store & got excused from army service in WWI to help his mother.

Brothers: Aaron ran a drugstore – soda fountain in Windsor, Vt
Willie – after marriage ran a stationery store in Dallas, Tex.
Max – lived in Windsor, Vt
Harry –
Ben – engineer in Springfield, Vt
Joe – school principal in Cranston, R.I. summer camp director
Barney – childhood accident left him retarded. Worked for his father-in-law as a rag sorter. He inherted when his father-in-law died.

My mother (Ida Steinberg) Chaika Zatsepitsky came from Grodno, Russia-Poland. Her father’s 1st wife gave him 8 children before she died. His second wife was a divorcee. Charles thought she was barren & a good stepmother for his kids. She gave him 8 more, my mother, Ida, the oldest. When Ida was 15 her parents said they could no longer afford her & told her to go to your half sister in N.Y., which she did. It colored her life. All the family that remained in Poland were wiped out in the holocaust. Charles was in a synagogue when the Nazi’s told him to leave. He said he wasn’t finished & was shot. My grandmother was hiding in a basement [and] started to scream she couldn’t stand it any more & was strangled to keep her quiet. One sister & 2 nieces survived & came to U.S. Survived because they were women, & abused.
Ida’s cousin Minnie knew Willie Bloomfield & asked Ida to accompany her to N.H. for a visit. They both went. Minnie married Willie & moved to Texas.
A while later Freda said to Harry “that Ida was a nice girl, & she will make a nice wife.” Harry agreed, proposed by mail & Ida accepted. No romance, no courtship. They lived in Franklin, N.H. Then they started a grocery in Laconia, N.H. on Water St. & lived upstairs. During WW2 the store was sold twice & demolished.
1st child – Ethel. Born in Phila 1921 because Ida wanted to be near her family & soon returned to N.H.
Masse born in Franklin
Theresa & Sally born in Laconia
Enos died 9 mo due to loss of blood at circumcision

Bought Lakewood Cottages for $1,000, a 16 acre empty lot between Rt 3 & Lake Winnisquam. Started with 2 cabins – cheated out of a summer’s rent. Built a few each year. Rt 3 was re-engineered & a new entrance was created, giving Harry $1,000.
Bought 3 cabins from Swedish Villager. Ida ran it, Harry came 5 miles from Laconia every evening. It was sold contingent that they would get paid when lots & cabins were sold. It worked out as agreed.

Ethel married Arthur Snyder who was born in Brooklyn, moved to Vermont. His father Morris had a shoe store, was wiped out in a fire. Went to work for Mr. Ginsberg’s shoe store in Rutland, Vt. Arthur worked for him as truck driver, even with his bad eyes. No eye tests in those days. Arthur carried a vision of Mr. Ginsberg as feet on a desk in a big cigar getting rich on other people’s work. It was a dream for Arthur, never attained. He tried photography, billiards, Greystone Inn – all failed.
He was bi-polar & after his 3rd meltdown the marriage collapsed. He went to live with Fred, then Aunt Evelyn, then a home.
Ethel worked at various jobs, moved many times, had many boyfriends and found steady work at the Inquirer – Daily News from which she retired. She started as a research analyst, & through job changes downward became a clerk at lungher?? Salary
After retirement Ethel spent several years as a volunteer at the Camden Co. Historical Society.

Thanks so much to Erica for having the foresight to have our grand-mother do this! The history is incomplete but the parts highlighted are so interesting. Obviously the Nazi Holocaust story is completely disturbing. The mental health issues of my grand-father were well known to the family and I witnessed them first hand during my childhood as he lived with us for a good period of time. The allusion to his driving and his poor eyesight also makes me slightly chuckle. He was legally blind and had a seeing eye dog. The seeing eye dog actually bit my nose and somewhere there is a great picture of me as a kid on a couch with my nose taped up like Jack Nicholson's in Chinatown and my grandfather is laughing as his dog is snapping at my face. And even though he was legally blind I remember he had a moped that he would ride around on.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A New Home

I haven't had a lot of time to analyze and write about The Ethel Index over the last week because most of my free time has been spent building it a new home. After discussing with my brother Scott the process of creating a bookcase from scratch (which would have been a nice homage to the diy crafting of my grand-mother) we decided it would be much more economical and expedient if we just went to Ikea. There was a perfect space in our extra bedroom which basically measured 8' x 7' x 1'. We found the perfect combination and I went to work building it. Here is a picture of the finished bookcase:

I then began the process of organizing the index. I started by bringing the individual crates out of the garage and into the house. Each crate has eight to fifteen variable sized cartons of cards in it. Here is the first crate that made it into the house:

The ultimate goal is to completely alphabetize the index so that it can be easily searched. For the most part my grand-mother worked to keep the cards in order. However, it is clear that there are overlapping cartons and cards that were never filed. So, at the moment I am just trying to get all of the cartons onto the shelf without worrying too much about the inconsistencies. Conveniently, my grand-mother placed a blank cardboard holder at the front of each carton which offered me a nice space for adding labels. Here is what the labels look like:

Aside from adding a label to each carton, I am also performing minimal preservation work. Following my grand-mother's lead I have employed duct tape as my primary tool. Here is a picture of a carton which was pretty much destroyed and one of my handy work:

Currently I have completed labeling 15 out of the 21 crates. The last couple of days have been tough because both of the kids are sick. I should be able to finish them sometime this week. Then I will have to make a couple of new cartons (should be a fun project which I will document) and start fixing the alphabetizing issues and filing the loose cards. For now here is what the bookcase looks like:

I think that after I finish I will start organizing a family bbq so anyone interested can take a look around it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I Turn My Camera On

I am back from vacation and have started the project of building a new home for the Ethel Index. Scott and I (with Ayse, JIll, Jake, and Nora) went to Ikea yesterday and pieced together a nicely sized storgage unit. I will probably start putting it together tomorrow. Then the goal will be to alphabetize. I hope the entire Index fits into the space I have allotted for it. We shall see.

In the meantime, my cousin Erica has been posting family pictures on Facebook. This one I thought should be shared on the Ethel Index. Thanks Erica!

From Left to Right is Grand-mom Ethel and then her children, Jimmy, Janet, Fred, and Martha.