Chapter 1 – Roots

My two pairs of grandparents, Lubman and Schanes, were Jews who came to the United States from Russia in the first decade of 1900. Both are listed in the 1910 census. My mother and father were born in Russia and met in the United States in 1917-18. They were married on December 29, 1919. I was born on January 7, 1924.

The Lubman Side

Lubman LadiesTHE LUBMAN LADIES:
(left to right) Aunt Mary, Cousin Sophia, Grandma….etc.

My mother’s father was Boris Lubman, who had a school in Russia. He married Dora when he was 30 and she was 16. They had six children, four boys, and two girls: Abe, Rose, Harry, Lillian, Saul and Morty. They came to the U.S. in stages- first Abe, then Harry (and possibly Rose) and then the remainder of the family. While they first lived in New York City, they moved to Newark, New Jersey. The first three sons became pharmacists and had their own drugstores. Morty became a lawyer, but for almost of his adult life he was a chemical products salesman. Rose had wanted to become a dentist, but this did not take place. Lily, my mother, never indicated to me whether or not she had had an ambition to become a professional. However, I know that she always was interested in the possibility of having some kind of retail store.

Abe married Minnie Moyl and they had one daughter, Adele. Rose married Louis Fallick and they had two children, Sylvia and Julius. Harry married Anna and they had two children, Iris and Seymour. Saul married Rita Wolfson and they had one child, Robert. Morty married Grace Reifsnyder and they had one child, Richard. And Lily married Isidore J. Schanes and they had me.

My grandfather Boris was called “rabbi” because he was an educator. I assume that his school pupils were all boys, since that was the tradition. My mother told me that she helped him teach and I know that she was well read. She told me that she had read the works of the great Russian writers- Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostievski, and the great playwrights- all before coming to this country. She was 12 when she came here and she was placed in the third grade, but by the end of the year, she was in the eighth grade.

Grandma and Grandpa Lubman were religious Jews. Grandpa died on April 25, 1926, when he was 62 years old. (According to his gravestone, he was born in 1864.) I was only two years old, but I still remember him and feel his beard as he held me on his lap and drnk tea from a glass. Grandma lived many years after that. I remember going to the temple to help her when she was coming home after long periods of prayer.

The Schanes Side
I do not know the family name in Russia. Whether “Schanes” (used by my father) or “Schones” (used by his brother Maurice), the name was given to the family by the immigration officials when they came through Ellis Island. In fact, in looking through the Ellis Island records, I remember having to use a different variation, such as “Schainess” in order to locate the family.Both of my father’s parents died long before I was born. My grandfather, Joseph Schanes was an “alchemist”- a sort of druggist. My father told me that his father experimented with various chemicals. He had two sons, Joseph and Samuel, by his first wife. After her death, he married Sophie Krooman and they had two sons, Maurice and Isidore (my father). They lived in Belya Checkov (sp.?) , White Church, which is near Kiev. Joseph, who was married, stayed in Russia when the rest of the family came to the U.S.

My grandmother, Sophie Krooman, was a pianist. I don’t know anything about son Joseph, but the other three sons were deeply involved with classical music. Samuel was a violinist, Maurice a cellist and singer, and my father was a pianist. I understand that they concertized as they traveled across Europe from Russia to Holland, where they took the ship to the U.S. Classical music was their life. They practiced and rehearsed many hours every day. My father told me that as an early teenager, he would play the orchestral accompaniment to his brother Sam’s violin pieces and that if he made a mistake, Sam would hit his hands with the violin bow.

My grandfather Schanes did not do well in the United States. He died within a few years of arriving here. Sophie and Samuel were very close and they raised the two younger boys together for several years, until Sam told her that he was in love with, and was going to marry, a Christian girl named Gertrude. Evidently there was a violent breakup, and Sam left home to become the first violinist of the Cincinnati Symphony, under the leadership of Leopold Stokowski. I assume that this took place around 1912.

Sophie died within a short time after that, and the two remaining sons blamed her death on Sam. (Much later, my father told me that “She died of a broken heart.”) They never spoke of Sam. For that reason, I did not learn of his existence until 1955, even though I was stationed near Cincinnati for a short time in 1945.

The two sons raised themselves in the period 1913-1917. My father told me that they ate frankfurters raw. Uncle Maurice played in orchestras, with small groups, and also sang for his living. He was a big man- not tall- but large and very strong. Many years later, when he performed with the National Symphony, he was also the annual Santa Claus. My father took various piano-playing jobs, including providing the music at Nickelodeons, the early silent movie houses, and for vaudeville acts. He also began to give piano lessons.

The United States entered the First World War in 1917 and both of the sons went into the U.S. Army. The war ended on November 11, 1918.

About then, my father met a man who played the violin (My father called him a “fiddler”, and not a violinist, because he sat in a relaxed position when he played.) and who brought him home to meet the man’s cousin, Lily Lubman.

A number of times during my childhood, my father referred to that man in amazement. “He asked if I would play a piece with him and when I sat down at the piano, he placed the violin on the floor, took a folding chair, opened it, sat down, bent over to pick up his violin and leaned back to play!” Clearly classical music called for proper respect. (When I was in kindergarten, the teacher played some classical records and told the class that they should sit the way that I did, upright, with hands folded together.)

My Parents
My parents were always in love. My father called her “Sunshine”. She called him “Schanes”, not Isidore, and that personal use of the last name has always been for me a sign of close friendship and love. I never heard a word of disagreement between them, much less an argument. I was surrounded by that love and the laughter and music that came with it. As an only child, I was the constant center of their care and attention.

When I was young, my Grandma Lubman said to me: “Watch how your father treats your mother. That is how ladies should be treated.” That set the tone of my behavior toward women for the rest of my life.

My mother was always full of laughter and song. She had a very fast sense of humor and especially saw great humor in the pomposity of others. Aside from caring for my father and me, she loved to read and was never without a book even though her eyesight was weak. She was short- under 5 feet- with dark hair. I lived at home until I left for college when I was sixteen. In all that time, I heard her complain only once. The incident stands out in my mind. I was about ten years old and came running into the house, shouting about some childish problem. She was scrubbing the bathroom floor and she looked up at me and said, “Do you really think that I’m made of iron?” It came as a total shock to me- as I realized for the first time that she did everything and seemed always to be happy. It had never occurred to me that she could have limits of endurance or patience.

fatherDuring my earliest days, my father taught piano at other person’s homes. We lived at 176 (?) Columbus Avenue, Newark, NJ. In 1928, while I was four years old, we moved to 132 Osborne Terrace in Newark. This was a three-story house, with two lion statues at the base of the front porch. We lived on the first floor. The living room and the dining room ran together and these became my father’s studio. The dining room always held two pianos, a baby grand for the student and a baby or concert grand for my father. The waiting student sat in the living room. My father only worked with advanced students who had at least a good number of years of training before they came to him. Some were preparing to enter professional schools, such as the Julliard in New York or an equally well recognized school in Philadelphia. Others, already performing in public, came for special training in technique. The house rang with classical music many hours every day. I remember my father running into the kitchen, through the swinging door, grabbing a sandwich off the kitchen table, and racing back through the door, shouting: “F sharp!”

I cannot overstate how wonderfully and beautifully my father played the piano. He stressed the importance of playing a balanced scale. He had small hands, but he could stretch ten keys. His hands were extremely powerful and he exercised them continually. His hands were fast and difficult passage flowed like lightning. When a composition called for thirds, he played double-thirds. His left hand roared as it supported the right hand melody. However, even more important than his skill was his technique. He caressed the keys, all tones were sounded. He could make the poorest instrument sound like a jewel.

My father’s hands deserve special mention. He walked about with small, hard, black rubber balls in his hands, constantly squeezing them. In the fleshy area between his thumb and the forefinger, he had large muscles. He could easily lift any chair using just his wrist and elbow. His hands could be dangerous- it was risky to ask him to open something; a simple touch could destroy valuable property. For some reason, men would often test each other’s grip, and because my father was a small man, large men looked forward to shaking his hand- to their total dismay. My father had his hands insured against injury. I remember something about a fire, possibly from a cigarette, which scarred a lovely entry-way black table, and that my father’s hand was hurt, so that he collected some payments from the insurance company for the period of time he could not perform.

father2Strangers and students referred to my father as: “The Professor” or “Professor Schanes”. Relatives and friends called him, “IJ”. My cousins called him “Uncle Schanes”. I never heard the name “Isidore” used. He was about five feet four inches in height and thin and he walked in a stately manner. He had an extremely expressive face, large brown eyes and a large nose. When he was concerned his forehead would wrinkle into a dramatic series of ridges. From time to time, he had a mustache. His voice was a strong baritone, but he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sing. He loved to laugh and had a good sense of humor- which was required to keep up with my mother. Despite all of this, there was a serious nature to his bearing and a serious quality to his conversation.

My father was very interested in sports- especially running and boxing. He told me that as a boy he had been a very fast runner. He taught me the progression of heavyweight champion prizefighters from John J. Sullivan on. He loved to throw and catch and ball with me. His hands were lightning fast as he would snatch the ball as it came toward him. In the mid-1930’s, his piano-teaching work diminished (the effects of the Great Depression) and he had more time to spend with me. We would go on long walks in Weequahic Park, a very large, tree-filled, beautiful area, surrounding a lake. We also watched the weekly trotter and pacer horse races- with the little old men, sitting in small three-wheeled vehicles (sulkies?), being pulled along by the racing horses. These races took much longer than standard horse races, so you had a long time to cheer and there could be a good number of changes of leaders.

Early Underpinnings
I was born on January 7, 1924: in the month that George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was first performed; on the day that Lenin, the leader of Communist Revolution and the ruler of the Soviet Union from 1918 on, died; and the day that the Dalai Lama died, the tradition being that the new Dalai Lama would be born at the same time. Early on, I knew these things and fantasized that I was really the new Dalai Lama- that I would be found by the monks some day.

My birth was a difficult one. Many, many years later I was told that when my mother was young, my Grandma Lubman was warned that Lily had some internal problems and should never become pregnant. My mother did not know about this until I was being born. She told me that it was a close call but that Dr. Gershenfeld had saved both our lives. She was in a wheelchair for at least one year and then needed assistance in walking for almost another year. When I was six, my mother had to undergo an operation related to this problem. I lived with my Aunt Minnie, Uncle Abe and cousin Adele for about three months. I loved the three of them and from then on always felt that Adele was the sister I never had.

My standards of belief and conduct were almost all set by my mother. She was an atheist and I was raised as such. In place of any “divine” principles to guide me, she provided them all. The first two were that my function was to make the world a better place for others and that I was to tell the truth. She taught me to respect all others, especially those older than I was. This respect carried over to their beliefs and opinions. I was never to raise my hand to a female. I should read, read, read- anything and everything. I should experience everything at least one time. I should fear nothing, but be sensible about risk. She took me out on the porch in thunderstorms to enjoy the power or nature. She eliminated any fear that I might have of dentists, doctors and surgery. She took me out at night to gaze at the stars, to understand how small we were in the greater picture of things. She taught me evolution and that reason could provide all answers.

Telling the truth was an important principle of my upbringing. If ever there was a question of whether some statement was true or not, the test was: “Raise your right hand.” This was the equivalent of placing one’s hand on the bible. There was no getting around it.

Concerning lying, I was read the story of George Washington and the cherry tree- and I was very impressed. For a long period of time, I always told the truth. In time I did lie, was caught at it and was punished- either by spankings or soap in the mouth. However, an incident in kindergarten raised a number of questions in my mind about this principle. (See Story #4B)

The first lie I was ever told by an adult, at least that I am aware of, was especially notable. When I was six, I had my tonsils removed. I had no fear of the doctor, the hospital or the pending operation. As I lay on the operating table, the doctor said: “I’m going to place a mask over your mouth and nose. It has some smelly stuff in it, so don’t breathe in, just blow out.” Thankful at being spared anything bad, I blew out, and then, as I had to inhale and I smelled the awful ether, I knew that he had tricked me. In the instant, I was furious. Of course, the next thing I knew, I was waking up in a hospital bed. While the sore throat caused by the ether was annoying, I was far more bothered by the fact that (1) a doctor, a professional whom I had been taught to respect, had lied to me and that (2) I had believed him in such a silly way. It was a shaking-of-confidence experience.

steveUntil the age of about six, I was raised as a Russian-American child. While English was the main language, my parents spoke in Russian frequently, and I understood much of what they were saying. I was often dressed in Russian-style clothes, including a smock. However, in about 1930, my parents stopped speaking Russian, I assume in response to the terrible things going on in that country- the murder of millions of kulaks (farmers). I still can tell when people are speaking Russian, although only a few words remain with me.

We had a bible in the house and I did read Genesis and several other parts, including the Psalms. My mother taught me that was a great book, with much to be learned from it. She said that others believed that these were the words of God and that all of the stories were true, but that she did not. However, I was to respect these beliefs. She taught me that Jesus was a great man and teacher and that I was to respect those who believed that he was God. She taught me that there other great religions beyond Judaism and Christianity, which also had had great teachers and leaders.

My mother read to me constantly and taught me poetry. “This above all, to thyself be true.” She taught me popular songs, old songs, songs from opera. And she told me jokes and funny things. She taught me to play cards, mainly solitaires, five-hundred rummy and casino She took me to museums and concerts. She was very interested in politics and I listened to many discussions about current events and social justice.

Early on, it was apparent to my parents and me that I was not going to be a piano virtuoso. I took lessons from my father and they were a total disaster. He was used to working with advanced students, while I did not have the basic skills required to play even simple pieces. I struggled with “Fur Elise”, making the same mistakes over and over again. I just did not have the needed mechanical skills. While I could memorize pieces, I could not read the music- and each time I looked at a composition it was as though I had never seen it before. After possibly five or six months of trying, my father and I gave up- and I was free to play ball with my friends. We never ever discussed the matter. When my father was away from the house, I would play at his piano, composing my own pieces, but I never played them for him.

When I was seven, concerned about what I would learn in the street, my mother brought home a book on sex and taught me from it. She spoke of the beauty of the love between a woman and a man. She also told me why she was explaining all of this to me- that older boys could make things that were beautiful sound ugly. At such an early age, the information was merely part of my education, having no personal relevance. I do remember thinking very briefly about my parents and then going on to more important things in my life.

My father taught me mostly not by words, but by example. His only advice to me that I now recall was to be “balanced” or “temperate” in schoolwork and life- not to be an overachiever in one area. He never discussed religion with me, but I was well aware that he felt the presence of death in his daily life.

My father was never comfortable with my mother’s brothers and their business conversations and ethics. He had little comprehension of, and no interest in, the business world. It was like pulling teeth to have him come to a family gathering. At these, he would be called upon to perform, which he did and shortly thereafter he would say, “Lily, it’s time to go home.” For a glimpse of my father’s dealing with the business world, see Story 1B- “My Father and the Real World”.

I don’t ever recall arguing with my mother about her beliefs, but fairly early on- perhaps at age eight- I decided that her teachings were not sufficient to answer questions I had about my own existence, my uniqueness. I began to practice various personal superstitions- little things aimed at protecting me, such as placing little stones at various points under my pillow. A good number of years later this led to my searching for a religion.

It must have been clear to my mother’s family that since she was an atheist, I would not be raised as a traditional Jewish child. At an early age, I knew that I would not have a Bar Mitzvah when I was thirteen, and that pleased me greatly since it removed the stress of having to learn Hebrew. For that reason, the aunts who had sons (Aunt Anna/Seymour and Aunt Rose/Julius) were always a bit leery of me- as though I would somehow contaminate their boys.

I was extremely self-centered, self-assured, and highly competitive. I was a poor loser and therefore did and played at only those things in which I was good. I was not a good risk taker, and I was extremely upset by any event, statement, or action which did not agree with my understanding of how things should be. I was especially affected by injustice. I laughed a lot and I cried a lot. I was hot or cold, but rarely neutral. Lastly, I was very small and very thin, although I ate veraciously.

The Great Depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Like all of those born in the mid-1920’s and raised in the 1930’s, I was greatly affected by the Great Depression. It began with a collapse of the stock market in 1929 and spread to all areas of the economy in the early 30’s. Men and their families who had been very rich were now very poor. Unemployment reached, and perhaps exceeded 25%. There were long bread lines, and men sold apples for a nickel each from small corner stands. The hit music song was “Brother Can You Spare A Dime.” There were cardboard villages, called “Hoovervilles”, as though President Herbert Hoover could have prevented the Depression. A number of prominent financial leaders committed suicide.

As a child, I was aware that times were tough. However, my parents never spoke of financial difficulties in front of me until I was thirteen. As the bad economic condition spread, people could no longer afford to pay for my father’s services, He charged $5.00 an hour, which was then about the highest amount being charged by any piano instructor. At some point, a barter system came into being everywhere. I know that I received dental care from Dr. Jacobi in return for my father’s teaching Dr, Jacobi’s children.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, took office in 1933, he brought an new excitement, “The New Deal” gave a feeling of hope. He brought in a new role for the Federal Government- playing an active part in the economy and in social welfare. There was a host of new programs- laws governing working conditions and child labor, programs putting people to work at government expense, and Social Security. This was in fact a major change in American governmental philosophy- a revolution. There are arguments as to whether all of these activities helped the country get out of the Great Depression. In fact, there was a minor depression in 1937 and it was the coming of World War II that really pushed the US economy into high gear. However, FDR stood tall in our minds. He spoke on the radio directly to the people and he was bigger than life. He made his the opposition appear to be shrill and weak. When he ran for re-election in1936, he thoroughly defeated Alf Landon, the Republican. When he defied all tradition and ran for a third term in 1940 and won, and then for a fourth term in 1944 and won, there was no doubt that he was our great leader. And when he died in 1945, only at the age of 62, we felt that he could never be replaced- and many of my generation still believe that in the year 2000.

Perhaps the most important value conveyed by FDR was the feeling of hope- that if we wanted it to be, the future would always be better. I think that this theme has been fundamental in my life.

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Published in: on July 12, 2006 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

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