A Life Story: Esther Sibulkin
All right, when I was born in NYC one side was…, there was a synagogue, and one side was Monroe St. and the other side was N St. And on Monroe St. lived a whole group of illiterate Irish and they hated the Jewish people and they … the head one taught the children to throw stones and pull the beards of the men, the Jewish men who went to the synagogue, and this was a real orthodox synagogue.
You know Jewish people have only four … the first one is the extreme worship and they wear certain hats and then the next one is the orthodox and the third one is the conservative and the last one is the modern. I should say I was born into an orthodox family. Lets’s see … I was born in 1898 and my mother was not extreme. She was a … just a… an orthodox. She kept,Kosher. You know what Kosher is? Well I don It know if I should tell you all about this now. We’re supposed to be descended from the two tribes of Israel. The other tribes nobody knows whatever became of them. And actually there was so much intermarriage that well, anyway to make a long story short …
One of the Jews, with a beard and so forth owned some of the tenements on the illiterate side, the Irish side. And my grandmother at the time lived on the Irish side, Now what was it, there was a whole story about how my grandmother came… [she told me this story when we first met I . Well, anyway, I was born on Henry St. There was Henry and Monroe that came together. I don’t know if it’s still there. But anyway, when I was born, my mother had four children. The oldest was my brother Lester. Lester Binns. My oldest sister was two years older than me and her name was Jean Binns. And the third sister was … was my sister Frieda. And she was almost five years younger than I was.
And ah, what I do remember is that until a boy was six years old… Did I tell you that? His hair was long like a curl. But as soon as he turned six he was taken to the barber and his hair got a hair cut. I’ve got a picture there.
But, [I asked her to talk about her delivery at home] yes I was delivered, we were all delivered by midwives and our birthdays, our certificates, are all a day later. See I was born on Sept. 20th. But my certificate to this day is the 21st, see, one day later. I remember also that as soon as my brother was six years old he was taken to the barber and had his haircut and as soon as he came back from the barber’s he sat my oldest sister, who’s two years older than me … my mother had one of these kindergarten chairs, and he sat her down and started to “clip, clip, clip”. And you’ll see the pictures with her hair all cut off. And then, my youngest sister Frieda, she’s almost five years younger than I am…
Now, my oldest sister taught school … did I tell you that? [I nudged her back to her childhood and asked her to talk about her own experience in school.] Yes, I started school well, my mother and father moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts and I started school in Chelsea. I was six years old in the first grade and then when I was six and a half years old I was in the low, low, first. In those days they had low and high. And when I was six and a half years old I was moved to the high f irst. And then every year they, every half year they had a low and a high, and by the time I reached the fourth grade I had skipped a grade. And we had I remember what they called speed tests and I remember my teacher, her name was Miss Miles and we used to have speed tests and see who would win. And I used to sing a song but I guess you don’t want to hear it. (I said I’d love to.]
All right, “School days, school days, oh the golden rule days.
We had reading and writing, arithmetic, and if naughty the hickory stick.”
And I was very quick at it, I loved it. I remember, we used to sit in the back and start in the back and then the bell would ring and we’d race. And I’d run down the aisle, think about the example and rush back. And I always was the first one. This was arithmetic. And that’s how we learned addition, subtraction, multiplication and later on we’d learn long division. You know, all those. Did you hear of the great Chelsea f ire? Well, April 12th, 1908, the area where we lived in Chelsea was really a place where refugees had escaped from the Hitler war. And both Jews and Gentiles were on ladders. There were women washing the walls getting ready for Easter. (And do you know Jesus was supposed to be a Jew? And ah, this was supposed to be a celebration of Easter and also the celebration of passover by the Jews. Did you know what they called that? Passover.) And on one side was a sand garden where children used to play and the other side was a park where they used to sit and enjoy themselves. And my grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side, that’s where they lived. And it so happened that my mother was in the hospital.
We didn’t live in the burned section. We lived up on the hill. it was called Carmel St. And way high on the hill was a veterans home. And it was supposed to be for veterans from the Spanish American war. The f ireman came and took them off the ladders and put them all, sent them all, into the park. And there they were and a lot of them saved bedding. Where was I? I was down with our grandparents because our mother was in the hospital.
See this pillow? This pillow, did I tell you? My mother had made it, it’s as soft as … Yea, well anyway, while my mother was in the hospital … my mother had… three brothers and a sister, I remember her. The youngest sister was Aunt Fannie, and she was the oldest and then she had three brothers and the three brothers one of them his name was Mendal. He was brilliant. When he came to America he went to a college called City College. Did you ever hear of City College? It’s in New York. And his tuition was paid because at the same time he taught those who wanted to learn to speak German. My grandfather could speak eight different languages. He learned philosophy. Anyway, every one of them including my mother died of heart trouble. Everyone of them… [Is that why your mother was in the hospital?] I didn’t know at the time what the sickness was. They died of heart attacks. And I don’t know if you know or not but I wrote about it when I came here. And that’s why they give me medicine. That’s for my heart.
I went to high school and after the fire, they rebuilt the area and they rebuilt the school. Oh, one thing I remember very well. After the Chelsea fire there was, I think I was ten years old, and an uncle of mine came. Mendal it was, and took us to Portland, Maine where my mother had relatives. And I went to school there. It was in the, at that time, I guess, 1908 I was ten years old and this was in 1908. And so in Portland, while Chelsea was being rebuilt I went to school there. And I made friends with, I remember her name, she was about my age. Minna Burnstein and my sister Jeanne made friends with her sister, Betsy Burnstein. And
my brother Lester was sent to New York, and was taken care of by the family Aaron and his wife in New York City. My youngest brother wasn’t born yet. So then when one school I went to after the fire when I came back… I came back and do you know what they used to call me? Essie. So once my brother called me and I answered and said, “Who is this?” And he said, “This is Lessie.11
Well anyway, you see some things are a little mixed up. And would you like to know what my family in Portland used to do? They used to have a churn and they used to churn butter and all kinds of things with a butter churn. And then each one brought something when they came and each one was given so much to take back home. They were a very close family. They were on my mother’s side and they were all a Kosher bunch. Do you know how Kosher came about?
The Kosher, they were supposed to have wandered. Did you hear about the Golden Cart? Well, do you know that the Jews were slaves of the Egyptians and the Egyptians would use them. And they marked little crosses on their doors to show they were slaves and that they couldn’t use them.
[After Portland did you go back to Chelsea?] I think we did.
We went back to Chelsea and that I s where I went to high school. We had four courses. We had the college course, the technical course, the business course, and the general course. And the highest of each course at graduation wearing caps and gowns, they were to be the speakers at the graduation. And I was chosen as the highest of the college course.
In my family I had one cousin who’s name was Oscar Horowitz and he had taken the college course and he was the one that was responsible for a bridge from Chelsea across to East Boston. Anyway, and his brother Sam Horowitz was very brilliant and …
(What did you speak about at graduation?] “The Russian Revolution: A Step Forward in Democracy.” But the one that was fighting against Stalin, on the way he died and his troops fell apart and nothing happened and Stalin was still in power.
After high school I became a teacher. I was invited, you know at that time men and women didn’t go to the same college. Harvard was for men and Radcliff was for women. I took very high marks to go to Radcliff and tuition was $150.00 per year. I couldn’t afford it.
And you know when we were kids we worked. my sister and 1, Jeannie, used to work at all kinds of things to make, we earned where we had lunch at school. We used to help and used to earn our lunch. I think the lunch was ten cents but we didn’t pay anything.
I went to Salem teachers. You’ve heard of Salem? The witch town. We went, Jeannie and I, used to take the train to Salem. We first went on a street car to East Boston. And there we took the train f rom there to Salem, they called it Salem Normal, and then we got off the train. We used to walk a mile to Salem Teachers, and the funniest part was that … when we got to Salem … We were there quite a while and we learned all kinds of things for public schools. All for public schools. And then we had to walk back as far as the train. Then took the train back to, I think it was North Station and then from North Station we had to take the street car home.
And my mother, my family, none of us were against anyone no matter what their religion. If they were nice people, kind people, and if they went to church of any kind we respected those who went to church. Going to church made them better people. (You didn’t bring the shawl that I really wanted. Well do you know that it’s seventy years old because on the train I used to crochet it. And I had one hat, learned how to spin with raffia. I have a raffia hat that I made at that time.) And my mother was very friendly with some of the women who weren’t of our religion. As long as they were good people. That was our family. And she kept a Kosher home and do you know why Kosher food was adopted?
Well that was because while they were crossing the desert they had to eat certain things, when they came to certain places, if the stuff was frozen, kept cool, for example. We didn’t, we weren’t allowed to eat stuff from the pig because the pig used to eat all kinds of garbage. And so not pork or anything like that and to this day I’ve never eaten it. My daughter eats it. She doesn’t bother with Kosher. Another thing … we weren’t allowed to eat stuff, they called it trifle, or anything from the pig. And there were certain fish we weren’t allowed to eat but we could eat flounders and stuff like that. I can’t chew it now, some of the stuff if I could chew it … but I can’t.
Do you know at one time if you had pyorrhea of the gums. What do they do today? They cure it. Well at that time they pulled out all your teeth and bit by bit the gums kept shrinking. Well it so happened that we lived in a condominium and this dentist was an expert at making plates so he didn’t want to just do nothing. He offered to make plates for people who needed the upper plates and make them so that they’ll hold and they won’t have any problems. All they charged is what the material cost him. I was close to the forties, so he made the plates, this was about 35 years ago. [That would have made you about 60 right?]
When I got to college there were other things that happened on the way but my first class was in the White Mountains. All the grades in one room. And how did I happen to get there? I remember Dr. Page, he was the head superintendent of the schools around that area and he came to Salem Teachers I to get a teacher. And I remember I lied to my mother. I said my first year I had to go to the White Mountains. But anyway I got there and all the grades were in one room and I was it’s last teacher. It was 150 years old. And then from then on they decided to drive the children by horse and wagon to the village school. It was in Whitefield, NH.
I still am a great friend of two of the people who are left. None of the others, they have relatives that are scattered here and there. Mrs. Bitz and I, they were Germans you know. But did you ever hear of Berlin, NH? Well, Mrs. Bitz came to Berlin, NH. She didn’t believe in the Hitler war and her husband was the same way.
He wasn’t her husband, they met in Berlin and got married. And after they got married they decided they didn’t want city life. They wanted farm life so they saved up enough money to come to Whitefield, NH and they had cows and chickens and everything. And then Mrs. Bitz, she was a marvelous cook, her stuff was delicious and it reminded me an awful lot of my own mother’s cooking. And her son in the Hitler war was in the 26th division, her oldest son.
I taught just one year in Whitefield and then I went back to to Chelsea. One thing I forgot to tell you. On my father’s side I had, he had a sister and we used to call her Aunt Rosie. And she had a number of children, she married. In fact she was married to the son of a rabbi.
But, you asked if any of the non‑Jewish people were mean, no they weren’t but my cousin was mean to me. We both had a teacher and her name was Miss Desrochment. Miss Desrochment was a very poor teacher. She gave us homework to do but all she did was read to us. I had a cousin, Aunt Rosie’s daughter who’s name was Gertie, Gertie Winn, they called themselves Winn. Gertie Winn … and she wasn’t very bright and we used to get homework and I always could figure out the homework and get 100 and Gertie couldn’t so she wanted to copy mine. I said, “No, you can’t copy it, but I’ll teach it to you.” So I taught it to her and she got 100. But in many different cases she really was mean to me in order to get things for herself and be friends with miss Desrochment.
And there was a Mr. Richardson. By that time the new schools is were built. And he was the principal of the Sherman School and he heard that one of his students had come back as a teacher. And he wanted the honor of having her teach in his school. Well, he was head of the Williams school and I was teaching in the Sherman School. So for the next year they agreed to let me transfer to the Williams school. So we always had a meeting in those days a couple of weeks before school opened in Sept. And so I came to the meeting at the Williams school and who comes along beside but Miss Desrochment and she said to me, “Hello Esther, we didn’t get along very well together did we?” I said, “Well, I guess we didn It.” We stood in front of the hall where the meeting was to take place and suddenly the doors opened and I started to go in and she said, “Esther, you can’t go in there, this is a teacher’s meeting, the teacher’s of the Williams School. And so I said, “Well I am a teacher.” And I went right in.
Do you know I had a very odd kind of teaching to do. I had to teach the children who came, who were rescued and came here to America from the Hitler war. And this was 1919. I was about 22 years old, something like that. Well anyway, you know today the foreign children coming in, how do they teach them? They teach them by translation but we didn’t do it that way. We did it by dramatization. This is how we did it. I was allowed twenty in a class. “I sit, I stand, I sit, I stand, and on and on, I sit, I stand, I walk, I sit, I stand, I walk to the door, I sit, I stand.” (She pantomimed as she spoke.] 11 I turn the handle, I open the door, I close the door, I turn the handle, I walk back to my seat, I sit down, I fold my hands. ” And I was allowed twenty children and every time a new one came in the smartest one was promoted to a higher non‑English speaking class and they went on and on until they reached junior high and then they went right into the high school. Wasn’t that unusual?
I told you that my mother, oh do you know how my father made a living? He had built into his car shelves, with all kinds of drugstore things. All except for prescription drugs and wherever he went the drugstores were glad to buy from him because they had it right there. They saved money, they saved time and I remember when my brother grew older he used to help my father.
Well, you said how did you meet your husband? Well, my husband was born in Haverhill, Mass. His mother originally came from Lapland. And he had an Aunt who was brilliant. Aunt Sarah I remember we called her. And she was married to a man in Providence, RI who was very wealthy. He was in the jewelry business, diamonds. And then the great depression came on. And he lost everything. He loved his wife and he wanted to be sure she was taken care of. So what did he do? In those days you could have a policy that if you committed suicide your family could be insured. So he committed suicide because he wanted to make sure that Sarah would be taken care of.
And my husband, on the other hand … I told you that we had relatives in Portland and, now let me see … we went to Portland to visit them.
But my husband had a brother Sam Sibulkin who was very brilliant. And he had his youngest sister who was very brilliant. They kept the ten highest of Haverhill education for the last ten years at that time. They picked Sam Sibulkin and they picked his youngest sister and her name was, i forgot her name. Anyway she worked for a judge, that was her work. And he went to Columbia University. Columbia College? And he interested himself in a number of Jewish projects. He married a young girl her name was Lilly, I remember Lilly. And she was about half his age. And believe it or not she’s still living. She’s living in New York in one of these condominiums where they take care of them.
My husband was a sports fan. He loved sports and he used to go to all the Harvard games. And he went to a Harvard game and after, this was on Thanksgiving, and after the game he was to meet certain friends and attend another game in Haverhill but somehow he didn’t meet them. Something happened and he didn’t meet them. So he decided to come home. So he came home and he sat down to play the piano by ear and that I s where I met him. Oh, how did I get there? Let’s see… My father was very great friends with some people in Haverhill because he used to go there to the drugstores and so forth.
So now let me see … Oh, I told you about Oscar Horowitz and Sam Horowitz. And Mary was the oldest daughter. And did I tell you about Aunt Bessie? They lived in Wakefield I think and Mary’s mother wanted Mary to get married because she was the oldest. I don’t know somehow we were visiting Mary’s home. Mary was my husband’s oldest sister and my husband, and soon as he saw me he went for me. I don’t know, he just went for me. And then as time went along and we went to the different games and he would come to see me because his mother didn’t want him to get married because Mary was the oldest. She’s got to be married first. So, there was some agreement with a man who lived in Florida and he came up and he was willing to marry her with certain conditions. Anyway, but the mother wanted him to come up there. Well, that man wouldn’t so he went back down.
Now there was a group of people called Napoleon and they were Jews. Did you know that they were Jews? Napoleons? Well we don’t know exactly how they got the name Napoleon but either Napoleon was good to the Jews or he wasn’t good to them and they wanted to get away from him so they made believe their name was Napoleon and they got in here. I don’t know which way. But anyway, the mother got hold of a man who wasn’t married and his name was Napoleon. And she got Mary married off to him but he didn’t live very long. I don’t know what was wrong with him and he passed away. But at the time his mother said, “Now you can marry Esther”.
But we used to meet in Chelsea after the Harvard games. Held come to Chelsea, held be with me but we couldn’t get married.
I had only two children. Do you know that my son has been very famous here in Maine. He lives in Phillips and his factory is in Avon.
I was married in 1924 in June. My wedding was very simple. About my wedding I’d like to tell you that my husband’s mother came originally from Norway and she wanted to say about allowing my husband when to marry me because she felt that the oldest in the family should be married first. And she is the one who had a child with a man who she finally married and there name was Napoleon. Did I tell you and do you see the picture of the little boys?
Well, his father, Mary’s son, he was very brilliant when he grew up and he became a counselor in education. A counselor in the public schools and their name was Napoleon and he was afraid that they’d come questioning him so he changed it to Naplan. And to this day he’s Naplan. Now he’s retired and his children are grown up. So that’s as far as I can get with them.
And when my husband was buried, my husband was what do they call it? Cremated, and my son had his urn and they were buried in the cemetery.
[Where did you live after you got married and did you still teach?] We lived in Haverhill but there was a law that once you’re married you can’t teach anymore. Your place is in the home. And you could only substitute. And my husband loved sports and he wanted to be a coach, a sports coach. Before I told you how he used to go to Harvard and Yale and all the games … So that’s what made me mad. They lived in Peabody… (at that point, Frieda Grant, Esther’s sister came in to sit and listen to the interview.)
Frieda remembers a lot, one thing, Frieda can hear. Now Freida if there’s anything you want to mix in or say go ahead ok? (Where did your husband work after you got married?] It tells here. I wasn’t married in Haverhill, I was married… Let’s see… I’m trying to think. I think we took a boat to New York and we were married in New York and some relatives were there. His mother’s … when was the great Depression? His mother had a sister who was very brilliant. I remember her, her name was Aunt Sarah. We used to call her Aunt Sarah. And she used to write poems and so forth. I still have some of them somewhere. And we were very good is friends and she was married to a jeweler in Providence, RI and he was a jeweler and a very rich man. His jewelry was very expensive, diamonds and all … and then the depression came on and he didn’t know how he was going to support her. And in those days if you had a policy that whoever you allotted the money to, if you had a policy, and committed suicide. So he committed suicide so she could be taken care of for life.
And Aunt Sarah had three children. And they were very brilliant too. They were the ones that came to our wedding. I think we went to the White Mountains. You see in 1919/1920 during the Hitler war I was teaching my first school. And then from then on every year on our wedding anniversary we went up and climbed the mountains in Whitefield, NH.
And to this day I’m still friendly with a girl I used to be very friendly with. She became a teacher and she came to our house after that year that I taught up there. And I told you the children were sent to the village school by a bus run by horses.
[What did your husband do for a living?] I think it tells … And do you know my son still makes toys … he doesn’t go into the office very often. He spends his time doing good for others.
Marilyn was my first child. She was born I think March 28 about two years after our marriage. And my son Mal was born on April 23 a year later. [At this point an argument ensued between Esther and Fteida about who was born first … I Marilyn’s a little older. She’s over a year older. Well, let me tell you something. When Malcolm was three years old he taught himself to read. And I was reading to them, a story, and he said to me, he used to talk with a “schush”. He said to me, “Mother, where’s your schain… And he pointed at the story so I told him. And then he took a newspaper and lay down on the floor and picked out the words from that. And from that time on whenever we passed signs or anything he read it. And do you know what I did?
I started a private school, first grade. All the sixteen years I ran that private school and what was the reason? These children were not quite old enough to go into the public schools next September and Marilyn was one of them. She was born March 28 and she was just short of entering the second grade in Sept. when she passed the test. She was just short and Malcolm could already read and he also, he wouldn’t come to my private school. He was too busy on the street fooling around with animals and with insects, anything living. He loved to do that.
[Reading from a newspaper clipping… ] “Maine honors former toy maker. Avon, ME ‑ Malcolm Sibulkin’s success story, March 6, 1982.” In 1982 … I’ll read it to you now all right? “Maine’s small businessman of the year… 53 year old Mal Sibulkin wants to economically erase the town line between Avon and Phillips. To accomplish this he plans to expand Laurie Inc., his plant producing rubber puzzles and playthings, so that it employs between 200 and 300 by 1990. Employment now is only 28.11 He, he, he, that was dreams … “If he is successful the Haverhill, MA native will bring the two tiny communities, Avon, 475 people in 1980 and Phillips, 1092, prosperity such as they have never had. It will also, he believes, halt the caravans of people leaving the two towns daily for the GH Bass Co. in Wilton and the International Paper Co. Is Androscoggin mill in Jay. Right now the only manufacturing we have in the two communities is one small shoe shop, Sibulkin says.
Laurie Inc. was founded in 1960 in Haverhill by Sibulkin’s parents, Herbert and Esther Sibulkin. Mrs. Sibulkin pioneered the use of cellular rubber in childhood puzzles and playthings. The elementary school teacher and remedial reading expert, Esther Sibulkin was assigned to teach a group of handicapped children. Frustrated from the lack of results from traditional teaching materials she began cutting various shapes as teaching tools from the multicolored rubber soles of cast off slippers. The pupils were enthusiastic. Realizing she had achieved a major educational break‑through the couple started Laurie Inc. Mal Sibulkin took over the company after his parent’s retirement. He set up headquarters in Maine where he went into a ten year partnership with John Fiatto, a graphic artist from Falmouth. During this time Laurie grew into a major national manufacturer of educational playthings. Late in 1980 Sibulkin purchased Fiatto’s interest, started to assemble a management team for the future and moved into the exports field. Well, over one million Laurie brochures are annually bound into America’s school supply catalogues. In the retail toy world Laurie rubber playthings are marketed by a national network of sixteen toy representatives serving about 1000 toy stores, gift shops, and book stores separate from the discount chains. Last year a special mass market line was developed which is now marketed by Toys IR’ Us, America’s largest toy retailer. The firm also realized 65,000 dollars in exports during the first ten months of last year.”
Remember this was written in 1982. “Sibulkin says his wage sales are among the highest of the non‑union factories in Franklin County. In 1975 Sibulkin was elected to a two year term as a director of the National School Supply and Equipment Association, an organization of more than 600 school products manufacturers and distributors from coast to coast. First Bank president Donald Smith nominated Sibulkin for his SBA award with an application that included over 50 pages of documentation.
Sibulkin attended the New England Conservatory of music, graduated from Brandeis College in 1953 and is the recipient of a Fullbright Fellowship to Finland. After moving with his family to Phillips in 1959 he served one year as town manager. Sibulkin’s daughter Pirkko eighteen years old at the time has joined the firm as an assistant in the design department. Son Laurie, 22 years old attends Washington County Vocational Technical institute. The 1971 Maine Small Businessman of the year says his chief goal is to expand Laurie Inc. to help eliminate the terrible poverty and economic depression in the area.”
When I retired I handed the whole thing over to them. Let’s see, sixteen years I taught. No, we started the toy business … You see in my family there’s a lot of music and Freida, gee I wish you’d sing a little bit for her. She still has a gorgeous voice. And my husband also can sing the notes of any song but he can’t read music. He never studied music and he played the xylophone, the accordion, the drums, whatever he played he played by ear. And do you know what happened?
When we retired to Florida and when he was in Florida we did all this March of Dimes work and all that and all of a sudden he fell and broke/fractured his, I forgot what it was he fractured and he was sent to the hospital and they took good care of it and then they sent him to this nursing home and I think I told you they were no good and all they wanted was your money. My son came and took him up here. At the time my son didn’t know about this place, he knew only about the Edgewood and he put him there and at the Edgewood if any of them had talents … they had concerts and different things and if the patients were talented and wanted to join in they could. So he did until after a while he couldn’t any more and they he got a stroke and that’s when he passed away. And in the meantime my son found out about this place and first he sent my sister here. Did I tell you about my sister Jeannie? How she fell … And then he sent me here after my operation and Frieda came last and has been here. And Frieda comes down or I go upstairs and spend a couple of hours together everyday. Right?
[How old were you when you retired?] At first we moved to the West Palm Beach Area and in the meantime my daughter Marilyn was teaching school. She taught a first grade for twenty years and I have a letter that they wrote about her that she was so wonderful not only with the children but that she went way beyond what was expected of her to do good. And they all loved her. Actually, they thought that she retired, that she left because she got a better job and they found out afterwards that it was for a different reason. Did I tell you what the reason was? She used to travel about 50 miles to and from school, the school was in Braintree, MA and all of a sudden a lump appeared on her breast.
And she still kept on teaching and at that time Mexico was sending a pill to help the breast and that pill was a ruination. It was absolutely no good. And the pill hurt her breast so, the lump became bigger and bigger until she had to stop teaching and a friend of hers retired and came to Florida and suggested that she come too. So she did.
And when she got to Florida, a short time afterwards the whole insides became inflamed and there was … this friend got in touch with us and we came immediately and we took a room near the hospital and we saw to it that she had a private doctor, a private psychologist, a private nurse, everything private. And they really saved her life. And then she had to come back a few times and then they said she didn’t have to come back anymore and she still lives in Seabren Florida and she became a volunteer with the school system and she’s loved by everybody, all kinds of things.
On top of that there were no Jewish families in Seabring at first but.little by little, at first one couple by the name of Carn came in and they had the Torah. Do you know what the Torah is? The Torah is the ten commandments … honor thy father and mother… love thy neighbors and so forth and so on. Well, little by little more Jews started to trickle in and they started what you call a Temple. The meetings were sometimes in churches, sometimes in homes until finally they had enough Jewish people and got enough donations and everything that they made a beautiful temple.
Now Jews had four different worships. One was the extreme orthodox and I won’t go into detail about what that was like. Then there was the orthodox and then there was the conservative and the last one the modern and this temple is the modern and Marilyn is very active in that temple and so they’re all sending me booklets, to see what I s going on. And Marilyn also is very active as a volunteer with the public schools and different things you know. Did I show you her picture? She’s still just as pretty isn’t she? She wears her hair the same way. She married a man, her name is Jacobs, she married a man who was a wonderful organist. He used to play the organ in the temple Israel in Boston and different places. But something was very wrong with him and Marilyn found she was actually supporting him and they had no children and he had a sister who was a dear friend of Marilyn’s and she had no use for him. Well, anyway, she divorced him. His father was a painter and he used to copy paintings of great people and in my room I still have some of his paintings. And I remember his mother and after Marilyn would send something to her and she was so surprised. And she said, “I’m so surprised that after all the things I did that you still call me.’,
(Can you tell me about some of the happiest times that you can remember?] You mean remember in the temple at Seabring? (No anytime in your life.) Oh, well I enjoyed the temple. I used to teach a Sunday school at one time and also I used to love to attend the temple in Boston. It is a modern temple and they had these organs, pipe organs, and I used to love all those. I used to love them very much. [At this point Frieda said, “symphony… Oh symphony, yes we used to attend the Boston symphony and I used to love it. [To Frieda:] And did you attend the Boston symphony too? Yea …
And Frieda where did you used to sing? At weddings … I wasn’t a good singer, I was in the high school chorus, I sung alto. You know I had a good voice for that, I wasn’t ever a beautiful one though. And then I got chronic laryngitis and my voice has had it. But Frieda can sing today. I wish you’d sing her something, come on Frieda, sing her something. Come on sing, what song would you like to sing? [Frieda didn’t want to sing… You know some songs … Come on sing something.
[Now when you and your husband first moved to Florida you did a lot of volunteer work?] My husband by the way, before we moved to Florida we used to go back up north I think. Before we moved to Florida my husband was head of the Red Cross. Did I tell you that? He was head of the Red Cross in Newburyport, MA and not only was he head of the Red Cross but he raised money for the Red Cross and he donated 51 pints of blood of his own. He worked for the Salvation Army and all kinds of … I had another paper that shows all the different, who he worked for… the March of Dimes … I have another one somewhere.
[Did you do volunteer work as well?] When I was a child I had several sicknesses. I had the measles, scarlet fever, but mild, everything mild. I had different things mild, but one thing, one disease, if anyone had it they wouldn’t accept that blood. And when I was a little girl, a baby in fact … Anyway, this disease was passing through and I got it, very mild but just the same. I don’t remember what it was. It was something where they wouldn’t take my blood. They took it for experiment only, for ten years I gave it. But after the ten years they said they don’t need it any more so I didn’t give it. But my husband gave it … Oh, did I read you this letter? “April 21st, 1987. Dear Miss Laurie Perkins, Our son Mal Sibulkin, owner of Laurie Inc. in Phillips/Avon, ME recently sent us a copy of the Business Digest: Southern Maine which was published Dec., 1986 with the heading Casco Paper Displays Perkin’s Talents. What you have accomplished over the years with the background in educating is fantastic. My background was also in education. And I am a retired school teacher, age 88. My varied experiences in teaching induced much creativity winding up with the creation of the Laurie crepe foam rubber educational puzzles for kindergarten, early grades, the deaf, the blind, the physically handicapped, the mentally retarded educables, Montessori, and even adults who required hand therapy.
We were married in June 1924 at ages 25 and 26. our home was in Haverhill, MA where my husband was born and lived. I retired from school teaching in 1964 at the age of 65. At the time my husband ran a dye cutting shop where he did contract work for manufacturers of genuine leather, lizard and alligator shoes. His work was to have certain parts of the shoes cut out on a dye cutting machine. They supplied the materials. From lef tover pieces he created several items, had them attractively boxed and sold them to gift shops, among them were coasters. The idea of the educational puzzles came to me from the crepe foam rubber soles of shoes. The very first was fit‑a‑space. I requested of Pat that using the coaster dye that he dye out by hand a crepe foam coaster followed by cutting out of it the various shapes inside parts of shoes. Also, later in various colors. See in brochure fit‑a‑space LR2100. It is still a best seller.,’
I won’t go into detail about how we finally went into the business and under the name of Laurie Enterprises. When we retired… See he had a little son when he came from Finland, he married a nurse and he had this little son who was three months old. He was sent there on a Fullbright by Leonard Bernstein. And when he came back with his three month old baby and the name of the little boy was Laurie so we called the business Laurie Enterprises.
“When we retired in 1968 and moved to Florida it was taken over by our son, Mal Sibulkin in Phillips/Avon, ME and is known as Laurie, Inc. At the time, we had 35 numbers, these have now grown to about 150. Working for causes was always important to us in Florida and in Florida we continued. Our pet project is the March of Dimes and we are again soliciting for donations. All good wishes from Pat and me, Esther Sibulkin.”
This is something that he wrote Dec. 2, 1970. Page one, “Dear Hanukkah.. . ” You know my grandson, they named him Hanukkah. Hanukkah is Laurie … They called him Hanukkah. I have two grandchildren, Laurie and Pirkko. And then I have… Pirkko is married and she has two children, beautiful children, bright as a pin… And then Mal has this little adopted child. And she calls me Nana, they all call me Nana, that means grandmother. So this is what I wrote, “Dec. 2, 1970. Dear Hanukkah, Here at last is the story I promised you which is the one about the blow out on our way to Florida. We were on route number 95, traveling along at a good clip when the car began to roll and sway like a drunkard.
Fortunately Grampy was able to move the car to a stop on the shoulder. It was a little hair‑raising. Before long Grampy was able to hail two young motorcyclists who were speeding down the road. They had gone quite a ways before they could come to a halt. Then they backed up on the shoulder, they seemed to know their business. They immediately got busy pulling the jack and so forth out of the trunk of the car. Before long we saw a state police car speeding up on the other side of the middle strip. We hailed him. He proceeded on until he could make a turn and come down on our side. He made a helpful addition. Before long the spare was on the wheel ready to operate and the blown‑out tire was in the trunk. There was a big gash in the tire. The state trooper claimed that it was a defective tire. So you see … (At this point the side of the tape ended and I lost a few minutes. She began singing to me about a golden boat.]
Now I remember we were once at the beach. Marilyn loved that song and she had a little doll carriage and a little doll in it and all of sudden in the sand she began to walk very fast. So we said, “Where are you going Marilyn?” And we also called her Tootie. “Where are you going Tootie?” And she said, “I’m going to find the golden boat. I remember that. I don’t remember having much trouble.
Did I ever sing to you, “This is my favorite dolly?” Well I used to sing that to her. “This is my favorite dolly, isn’t she perfectly sweet. (at this point Frieda chimed in] See her wee hands full of dimples, see her two dear little feet. See her real hair is long and curly, eyes just as blue as the sky. Oh how I love my dear dolly, sometimes quite sadly, I cry. What should I do if I lost you, just cry and cry and cry. Dolly wears beautiful dresses, dresses of pink, blue and white. Dainty silk socks, tiny slippers, fastened with buckles so bright. Hats trimmed with feathers and ribbons, prettiest hats I could find. When we go walking together, dear little dolly and I. Children crowd round us exclaiming, oh my, oh my, oh my. When every evening the shadows, through the wide window panes creep. Bedtime and sleepy time bringing, dolly must go fast asleep. Gently I hold her and rock her, singing a soft lullaby. Go to sleep dear little dolly, mother is near do not cry. Go to sleep dear little dolly, oh hush, oh hush‑a‑bye.11
And another one we used to sing is, “Sand man, sand man, oh the tripping sand man. He kept tripping, and tripping, and tripping along, throwing the sand wherever he went. Go to sleep… 11 Oh it will come back to me. Do you know that Frieda?
[Did you travel much?] I wouldn’t say … we’ve gone to Chicago. In fact we walked in Chicago for the March of Dimes. I’ve got a picture showing it, hanging on the wall. And I never traveled outside of the United States. I’m trying to think … you mean while I was teaching school? I know I used to take the children with me, we used to take the children with us.
Marilyn, my daughter loved to read and I remember when, did you ever hear of the story of Les Miserables? Well I told you that my father was very literary as well as he had a wonderful voice. Did I tell you about his voice? Papa had a wonderful voice. He was just as good a Pavoratti any time. And do you remember he used to sing, “Darling, I am growing older. Silver threads amongst the gold. Shine upon my brow today…” He read the book of Les Miserables. And it was about 700 pages long. And Les Miserables is about the French aristocracy and the king and they cared nothing about the poor. The poor couldn’t get work or anything and the men would go out and steal a loaf of bread. And then they would feed their families. And if they were caught they were thrown into prison for a day and then out they went again. Onc day one of the thieves they were after him and he rushed into a convent where there was a bishop. And when this boy rushed in, when this man rushed in he pitied him and he said, “You stay right here and I’ll get you something to eat.” And he left for a while and when he left there was a candlestick, a set of candlesticks made of silver. In those days silver was very expensive. And this candlestick was what the bishop used when he preached and this man couldn’t resist and he grabbed the candlesticks and when the bishop came back he saw the man was gone and with it the candlesticks. He was caught and the police brought him in and when the bishop saw that he said, “Oh way did you come back, I gave you those candlesticks.,, Well, of course the police were ashamed and they walked out. So the man sold the candlesticks and he happened to be a very good businessman and he made a lot of money and what do you think he did with the money? He let him and his family just live comfortably and all the rest of the money that he made held give to the poor. And my father took notes, it was 700 pages long and he took notes on it. So when my daughter was 13 years old he sat her down beside him and for four hours he told her the story of Les Miserables.
[One last question for you, what are some things that you would have liked to accomplish?] I’ll have to think that through. I I m busy here. And I know the names of the patients … and I belong, do you know that we have a council made up of residents? And we work for certain things and we have so many that are helpless and the state isn’t fair. Well the thing is I have to find out if there was any voting for change. I mean change of officials so I’d be sure to write to the right ones. I was for Clinton. We filled out forms … I’m a democrat anyway. Gore is the vice president. I felt that Bush had gotten this country into billions of dollars in debt. I watched, you know I have a television.
My television is a Sony and this establishment has one that’s also a Sony, the same size as mine so they’ve used a lot of my cassettes. One of them is the Sound of Music. And now you notice a lot of the tapes I have are with Christian people, The Sound of Music, Life with Father, one of them is Fiddler on the Roof and that’s with a Jew.
[It doesn’t seem to matter to you what religion a person is.] No, oh I like to know their background, some I do, some I don’t … [At that point we wrapped up rather quickly. It is frustrating because I don’t have any sort of conclusion. She would have talked much longer but I felt that I had to stop somewhere …