AN INTERVIEW AND LIFE HISTORY
M. GINGER SPIRO
June 28, 1989
Dr. Robert Atkinson
Life Span Development II HRD 605
The interview that I chose to do for my Life History Project for Life Span Development II was of particular significance to me. I chose to interview my father, Morty Weinberg.
I am sure that many people select a person they have known well, perhaps a parent or relative, because they feel it would be interesting to learn even more about that individual. I chose to interview my father because I needed to rediscover him. Over time, we who had been so close have become more distant. There wasn’t a particular rupture in our relationship. However, time, distance and new people in our lives have contributed to our drifting apart. As I enter my later middle years, I’ve been re‑evaluating myself and my relationships. I felt that it was time to become complete about some issues with my dad and to explore the past together as a way of moving into the future together.
My father and I had not seen each other for two and a half years, though we speak almost weekly. The occasion of the interview was our coming together for the marriage of my oldest child, and his first grandchild, in New Jersey on Saturday, June 10, 1989. So, while I now live in Westbrook, Maine, and he lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida, the interview took place on the porch of a hotel in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
At the time of the interview, my dad was seventy‑six and a half years old. He is tall, slender, healthy looking and tanned. Although he is not quite as erect as he used to be, he still carries himself with great dignity. He is a handsome man still. He is in generally good health, although he has some problems with heart irregularities, high blood pressure and cholesterol level difficulties. He is quite active mentally and physically. He serves on the Board of Directors for the condominium in which he lives. He teaches ethnic language and culture courses. He takes courses at colleges under the auspices of the Elderhostel Program. He attends concerts, ballets, theater, etc. He plays bridge and golf and travels frequently~
Morty Weinberg, my dad, is a first generation American. His parents both came from mittel Europe in the early years of this century. He was born on December 21, 1912 in New York City and was the eldest of three children. He has a sister who is the middle child and a brother who is the youngest. His sister lives in California and his brother lives in England. His father died in October, 1937 and his mother died in May, 1984.
My father and mother were married in February, 1937. I was born in December, 1940 and my brother was born in May, 1943. My parents spent most of their married life living in Brooklyn, New York but moved to Pembroke Pines, Florida in 1981. My mother died in March, 1985. They had been married for forty‑eight years. My father remarried in April, 1988.These are the statistics of a person’s life. They are not a person’s life and they are not necessarily even the signposts or milestones in a person’s life .
My father has always been an extremely private person. In some ways, he is a bit formal and reserved. He was loathe, therefore, to do this interview. But he wanted to do it for me and so he acceded to my requests. He was somewhat uncomfortable about the entire procedure. This discomfort was magnified by his wife’s concern about the time factor. We had to be at a wedding that evening by 5:30 p.m. Since they were staying at another hotel in another town, she was concerned about driving back and getting ready and being at the wedding on time. Her concerns added to my father’s tension.
During the interview there were one or two times at which his eyes watered and he nearly came to tears. Perhaps if he had been someone else, I would have remained silent and allowed him to struggle through that experience. But, I jumped in and continued with the interview in both instances to help spare him that embarrassment. From an objective point of view, I regret that I did that. It would have been interesting to see what more he might have said. It was quite revealing to me to hear what he did not say.
There are many stories which were retold often as I was growing up that he never referred to. However, they are part of my myth and I have passed them to my own children.
I will now step aside and allow you to meet, to the extent that he has disclosed himself, the man I lovingly call my father.
LIFE HISTORY INTERVIEW OF
MORTIMER JEROME “MORTY” WEINBERG
Are there any family stories told about your birth or you as a baby?
I really can’t remember any.
What do you remember most about your grandparents?
I cannot ‑ I only had one grandparent that I recall ‑ Oh! I’m sorry, I had three. My mother’s father was a man of statuesque height for a man of his generation. He stood about 6′. He was quite straight. He was a very religious man and he had a van dyke beard. He wore the equivalent of what we would call maybe a 10 gallon hat today and he wore a frock coat that came to his knees. He looked like a ~Kentucky colonel. He was a man who was very set and adamant in his ways, religiously, and had a peculiar ‑maybe not peculiar because I think it was part of his generational background…his interpretations of relationships between people were very clear cut. Whether you were of his religious persuasion, you were one thing and if you weren’t of his religious persuasion, then you really didn’t matter too much. I remember one time when he was trying to teach me things or inculcate me with a desire for religious observation since my own father was at the very least an agnostic and although learned in the religion, did not practice or believe in it. So my grandfather was trying to teach me once and we were at his home and he lived then in Coney Island and we were visiting. The iceman came in and he delivered a cake of ice because that goes back a long time. You can understand that. And, he was trying to teach me what the meaning was of the word “mensch”, a Jewish word, meaning person and he was giving examples. And, when this ice man came in with this cake of ice, I asked him, “Grandpa, is he a mensch?” and he said, “No.”, he’s a Gentile”. And that’s a true story. My father and he, I remember had many confrontations about interpretations of religion and the aspects of the religion between themselves and I recall once when I was quite older and my father had made me, no, I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. But, it’s apropos to this thing. They were having a confrontation and it was a rather heated one about something and I don’t recall what it was and I jumped in on my father’s side and my father turned around and said to me, “You’re not in a position to have an opinion on this since you have no background or knowledge. And, if you want to get into the next discussion, I suggest and I will bring home to you a Bible which you will read so you will have some bases for your opinions”, and he did, in fact, bring home a Bible and I was then for many months involved in a sort of Bible study.
He was an incredible man; Grandpa.
He was an incredible man.
Yeah, he was.
A very ethical person.
I mean that kind of…
My father was. My father was a man of strong opinions and strong positions. He was not one who liked or could be crossed readily. He had a temper. But he was basically a kind person. A man of tremendous physical strength, I understand from stories told by his peers, and a man of tremendous courage. Some of the stories I don’t recall offhand, and they really are of no consequence, but that’s what he was. One story I do remember was when he was a young man, he lived in what was Russia because he lived in an area that was either Russian or Romanian depending on who was in power at that time? And, he was a butcher. They tell the story that he brought home on his shoulders an entire cow. Now, that’s not something that a lot of people cannot do because there are men who can press weights but it was something that they remembered about him. But, you asked me what I remembered about my grandfather, and I went astray. My grandfather was a man ‑ I tell the story laughingly, who really never had, I never saw him work. In my recollection, he never had a job; he never earned money in a way that we knew people to earn money in those days, going somewhere and doing something and getting paid for it. He was always involved with these things that have to do with religion. He was the sexton of his synagogue. He was the president of the mikva and if I have to explain what a mikva is, it’s a ritual bath. He was in the Jewish religion, the sect, he was a Cohen which was a priest and so he made money from the religious things where the Cohen had to be paid off. He was very involved with the synagogue and he lived only about four or five houses away from the synagogue and that’s where he spent most of his time. But, whether he did any studying or not, I don’t know. I had never seen him at it. But he was very religious. He was a very strict religionist and he obeyed all of the laws and what’s more wanted everybody else to think the same way that he did and he was hard pressed at that time when “enlightenment” as to how we approach religion was raising its head. He was a handsome man. Beyond that, I cannot have a more…
You were talking about how he never worked.
No, he never worked. One day, I asked him and I don’t know why I asked him because it was something that I really should have been afraid of the answer he might have given me and his reception of it. I asked him, “From what do you make a living?” And, he said to me in Yiddish, “I turn a little here, I turn a little there and from this I make a living.” And, that’s really the way he made a living. Now, he never lived in luxury at all. I would say he just was above the poverty line but there was always food on the table. Now my grandmother I don’t remember very well. She died at a very young age. I think she was somewhere in her forties when she died and I remember her only vaguely and shadowy. She was a woman with a figure which was usual to those days, rather dumpy and not very tall. I can’t recall her face. I don’t remember whether she was pretty or she wasn’t pretty. But, what I do remember is my great grandmother. My great‑grandmother lived with us for many years, my mother’s grandmother. And she was a lady of very little education but she was in the true sense a gentle woman. She had been the housekeeper of a very large landowner in Europe and so she had had a fairly good position and she doted upon my mother who was the apple of her eye. And my great‑grandmother, during the time when we were overseas, back in Europe, she would do things such as shampooing my mother’s hair with eggs which was, as you can understand in those times, a tremendous thing to do ‑ from the cost factor alone. And, she doted on my mother and she lived with us.
Coming back to my father and his relationships, therefore, since I told you about the relationship he had with my grandfather, my father’s relationship with my great‑grandmother was on a very good basis. It was a give and take relationship. She was a religious person. She wore the babushka , because I am sure that she had a shaved head. I never saw it so I don’t know. And my father would like to finish every meal with a cup of coffee and there had to be cream in it, not milk. Another thing about my father is that he would drink out of none of these glasses that were heavy. They had to be a thin glass. He would not drink out of a heavy mug. They had to be a china cup. Whenever he sat down at the table, it was with a tablecloth and a napkin, whether it was linen or not, it was with a napkin, not a paper napkin. And when he came home on a Friday night, particularly, there was a little bit of a problem since there was a typical Jewish meal set forth and he would like to finish it off with a cup of coffee and my great‑grandmother would bring in the pudding that she had made for dessert or whatever and put it in front of him and as she would turn on her heel and walk out the door, out of the room, she would say to my mother in Yiddish, “Give him the coffee.” and walk out . Now he on the other hand, would say Kiddish for her on Fridays an~d although he was an inveterate smoker, would not smoke in the house
on a Friday or a Saturday . Well, he worked on Saturday so it didn’t matter so much. In those days, you worked at least a half a day. He would not smoke in front of her. He would go out of the house. That’s as much as I remember of them, of things that come in my head. There may be others.
You said you remembered three grandparents.
Who was the third?
It was my grandmother. Oh, and, my father’s mother. My father’s mother lived with us for a while
The two grandmothers?
No, my great‑grandmother had died. This was when I was older. Why she lived with us I can’t remember but I expect it was a question of she had to live somewhere so she lived with her son. I remember her being a lady who always complained. Something was always not to her liking or something that was not done in the best way or not done for her or in some way she was neglected. She always complained. I remember my mother being most interested in her well‑being to the degree that she would do the things she would have to do for her physical well being. I don’t think they liked each other, which is not unusual for mothers in law and daughters in law. And, that was their relationship as I remember. Again, very vague in my mind, I don’t remember too much about her.
How would you describe your parents?
Both my parents?
My mother was at the ‑ I think that my mother developed in stature and expanded in stature through her association with my father. My mother was a lady who had a fetish for cleanliness and I have one now too and it may very well be that she generated it in me. My mother was a lady who was, in my opinion, quite self centered and wanted things done for her or things given to her as they suited her fancy and not necessarily her needs. My father loved her dearly and I don’t know whether she loved him as much and I have no way of judging that but there’s one thing that I do know. That she was very conscious and very active in promoting his well being and his welfare, physical welfare. And, as I say, she expanded in the association with my father. My father had a tremendous library for the people of that time. Mostly to a great degree, in Yiddish and he had translations of books, like Jack London, of that type and he also had books of other sorts. I don’t recall my mother ever reading too much. And as I say, she was the typical housewife of the time, with the difference that there were certain things that she demanded as a part of her way of life. Since my father was a fairly good provider, he made pretty good money, we went away to the countryside most summers. And we went to places which at that time were called hotels since you didn’t have to cook your own meals And, if she didn’t go away for the summer, she found ways and means of getting him to do what she wanted. She was a lady who ‑ we went through a period where we had quite some money again for those times. I am not comparing it with a millionaire but we were doing much better, much better, than the average person. The fact is we had a car. We had a car when I was six or seven years. Since I am seventy‑seven years old now, that’s seventy years ago. There weren’t too many cars around. And, let me tell you a very funny story about my father.
We had a man who was teaching my father to drive and he in return was teaching him a trade. My father was a cutter at furs. His name was Julius. I remember the name of this man. His first name was Julius. We called him Julie. I don’t remember too much about him but he was a nice man and he was teaching my father how to drive. In fact he drove us as a chauffeur really. Very frequently he did the driving when we went out. And there came a point in time where my father, for some reason, and I don’t know the reason or remember it, they put an end to the relationship as far as the driving was concerned and he started to drive the car himself. My father used to go to work as though he were a banker immaculately dressed. He came home at night, he was clean, immaculate and he drove the car to business. Now, that was easier to do in those days because there weren’t too many cars. We lived in a place on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx, near 180th Street. The block before 180th Street was a block called Oakland Place which deadended at Prospect Avenue and our apartment house was on the corner of that intersection. Tremont Avenue would be, as the building was situated, if the building was looking east and west, Tremont Avenue would be to the north. Or really it was the south. It was really the south because, I am putting it geographically, so my father would come up from Tremont Avenue which was the main thoroughfare, turn onto Prospect Avenue and would go toward the building. He would make the left turn into Oakland Place. I’m sorry, I am doing that wrong. He could come the other way. Would make‑oh, gosh! I’m turned around. Well, anyhow, what he did was go around the block so that he could come in front of the house because he didn’t know how to back u~.
He couldn’t put it in “Reverse”.
He didn’t know how to back up.
So, he used to ‑ Since we were the only car I don’t know for how many blocks around, it was an event to see this car pull up. As I say, she broadened her scope. They both became very active, my father primarily, and she as a follower, since he took the lead in the Workmen’ Circle. He was the chairman of a branch of~ which is like a chapter of the Workmen’ Circle. And then had some falling out on a political basis and formed another chapter and they built it up and there came a point in time when my mother became the chairman of this chapter. So, you can see that this was an expansion of her background. And she did during the rest of her lifetime, during the time when she could reasonably get around, she did a great deal of work for the Workmen’ Circle. And when she moved to California, she became so active in fundraising in a home that they were building, that there is a plaque at the Workmen’ Circle Home and I cannot remember..Reseda, California, on that home, there is a plaque with her name on it for her contribution to the money that she raised. If my memory serves me, she raised somewhere around $60,000. She ultimately died as a resident of that home.
What was it like growing up in your house?
Well, the, it was alright, it was okay, it was nice. There was a restricted, familial relationship. You didn’t cross the lines. You were not a buddy. You were a child. And that’s the way it was. As we grew older and we were in our teens, there were two meals that you had to attend. You had to be home for the Friday night dinner and you had to be home for the Sunday breakfast which was usually like 9:00 a.m. 10:00 a.m. at which point there were discussions back and forth. There were restrictions on what you could say and could not say but it was a time, particularly on Sundays, when exchange took place. My brother who was an artist was a person with a tremendous will. And I don’t know how to really put it to you, but he was a person, particularly where art was concerned, where his art was concerned, would not deviate. My father, on the other hand, was the kind of a guy…I’ll give you an example. We used to go away in the summer to Coney Island and have a bungalow. A man came in to fix the shower. Inside of five minutes, my father was supervising the work and he didn’t know a damn thing about plumbing. So that when it came to art, he had the same approach. My brother and I shared the large room. He had an easel there and he used to do painting. And my father would come in and look at the thing and I remember one incident where he criticized it and told him to change something. My brother refused to do it. The thing went back and forth and these two strong willed people came to a point where my father started to take on not the advisor or the critic but the parent, wanting to have his own way. When he said something, at the final straw, my brother turned around to him, handed him the brush and the palette and said, “You do it!”. At which ~point, my father struck out at him. But, it didn’t change anything. My brother did not change the painting. My father felt that he had been downfaced or upfaced, or lost face and nothing ever happened. It never was changed. But let’s not stray. You asked me about my mother.
No, I just said what was your childhood like.
My childhood ‑ Well I don’t know if these give you any insights. My father was, although he was not a religionist, he was a staunch Zionist. And, I would say, some kind of a Socialist, truly, because during the times when there were the fight for the Communists trying to take over the unions and there was such a fight within his own union, he took certain sides. And it’s rather vague in my mind. I don’t remember which sides he took. And when it came down to a question that it threatened his livelihood, he would backed at the side that was in power and was given police protection for a while because of his position. Of course, it couldn’t go on forever. And I really don’t remember the outcome…but I don’t know whether that gives you any insight into the kind of family that it was.
Would you say it was a happy childhood?
I would say, by and large, it was. It was not an unhappy childhood. I don’t remember any truly unhappy experiences. Let me give you an idea about my father. I had, there was a period when I was going to high school, I was a runner of sorts, a long distance runner, running a half mile. And my father was doing alright but he believed that I should be earning some sort of money for myself so that I would have a value about money. I got whatever job I could after school which was delivering clothes, that were cleaned and pressed, for a tailor. That was a big thing in those days. And, so I got a minimum amount of money from the tailor and looked forward to the tips. As an aside, one of my customers was Hogey Carmichael, who wrote, what’s the name of the song?
I can’t remember it.
He wrote that famous….
Stardust, thank you.
We lived at that time near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and it was beautiful then. It was absolutely beautiful. I used to look forward to delivering Hogey Carmichael’s stuff because that was a half a dollar tip. And that was a great deal of money. But then, he was making a great deal of money, too. But I’ve strayed again. There was a time when there was a track meet at the 71st Regiment Army which was Manhattan right across the 181st Street Bridge that ran between. It was 181st Street in Manhattan, it was about 167th Street in the Bronx and there was a big Armory there and there was a track meet and I was entered in that track meet. And since I was entered in that track meet. I did not want to work that afternoon. I wanted to be rested so I could go and participate. My father would hear nothing about that. “You owe that man. It is a busy day for him. You must do your job.” No matter what I did, no matter what I said, he would not have it any other way. I worked that afternoon, came home, at which point my father gave me $5.00 to take a cab to go to the Armory and participate in the meet.
Which I did very badly.
That’s not incredible.
That was a lot of money!
He gave me $5.00 to take a cab
Did you have any dreams or ambitions as a child?
Yes. I had two ambitions. I wanted to be a writer and I did what all people at my age ‑ I wrote stories. Some of which were of course developed by the fact that when my father sent me to, not a religious school but to a school that taught Yiddish and as part of one of my chores was that I had to prepare compositions for him, on any subject and write them in Yiddish so that I would get fluency. And I still retain some of it. And, then I tried to write these, the novel, the American novel and all that, none of which I was ready. Certainly not by experience nor by education but I tried. Some of them were pretty horrible, I am sure. I don’t recall any of them. And, in the back of my mind, through all of this, really, I thought I wanted to go into law. I thought I wanted to be an attorney. I am sorry I never did that because I think that would be where I would have been happy but I’m not unhappy with what happened to me in my life, by and large. But those were my two ambitions. Which came first the chicken or the egg, I can’t tell you. The one that was most easily accessible, of course, was to be a writer, since nobody can stop you from writing at any time. You didn’t need to go anywhere for formal education in order to do what you wanted to do. Although, the formal education would have been great.
Who were the heroes and heroines, the guides and helpers, in your life. And heroes, heroines, guides and helpers don’t necessarily have to be the same People~
Do you mean those that
They could be real or fictitious
Oh, I see real or fictitious
But, people that you, that would have been for you being held up as heroes or heroines.
Well, since my father was the strong Jewish Nationalist that he was, early on, guys like Weitzman and Herzel, who were Zionist pioneers, were the people I heard about so much. Their pictures hung in my house. And they had places of prominence and they were two of my earliest heroes. Of course, I think I had the usual heroes, the baseball heroes. Football was then not in the same stage of development, so baseball was the big thing ‑ nor was basketball in those days. I don’t remember any heroes like Horatio Alger, or anything like that, although I read those kind of books. I don’t remember them as being heroes. I remember them as being stories that I enjoyed.
Did you have any guides or mentors, per se, going into your teen years, your adult years?
No, I don’t recall that I had guides or mentors. The only one I can think of was my own father and he died early on. He died when he was fifty‑two years old. I don’t remember any one person, excepting one thing, I do. I do remember that I felt very warmly and very close to his younger brother, Jack, who when my father died, became the person to whom I turned. And he was a man who I felt warmly to. But I don’t recall him being a mentor per se, but he was the man that I felt close to. I don’t remember anybody else beyond that really.
When did you first become aware, or did you think that you had become an adult?
Difficult question. I don’t know. I mean I presume it’s got to be an occasion or a time element
No, no, nothing specific. It could have been gradual.
I think that I was a pretty mixed up young man and that I had no focus. I don’t think that that’s unusual but I think that mine was I had no real focus. I really haven’t got an answer for you on that.
When you became an adult, looking back over your life, can you see strains or patterns
In looking back over your life, what do you think have been the happiest and most productive time in your life?
I don’t think they are necessarily synonymous. And, I don’t know really how to evaluate the word “productive”. Does productive mean, what did I accomplish? Does productive mean, what have I been able to gain or accumulate; I don’t really know what the word means. The happiest point of my life were I think the early years of my, before my marriage and during the early years of my marriage. The early years before my marriage I ran into this conflict between my father and I as to career goals. One of the things was of course on how was I going to make a living. I had wandered into the selling of radio time just by happenstance. My father had been very, very ill and he ultimately died from that illness, only about two, three years after that. We didn’t know at that time that he had cancer of the lung with diagnosis of pneumonia. And, he had one other illness but it is of no importance. It has caused us to give up our apartment that we lived in. We lived in a very lovely apartment, a very lovely apartment house with a circular drive, with a semi‑circular drive and a fountain playing in the front. It was quite lovely. We gave up that apartment because we just couldn’t afford it. We went to move in with my grandfather who had then married a second time and we lived with him at a place in Coney Island. By happenstance, prior to that, just prior to that moving, my father had become very, very ill and money was scarce since obviously he, as the provider, was not providing. And, I ran into a friend of mine by the name of Roy Spector. I remember his name because this man had a fetish. His fetish was brown shoes He had dozens and dozens of brown shoes. I ran into him one day and I said, “Hey, I need a job.” He said, “I got one for you.” “What is it? Can I do it?”. “I don’t see why not.” They, he and an associate were one of the earliest of putting on a recording and then disbursing the recordings with advertisements. And he said, “All you have to do is to sell a fellow an idea of the advertisement. And you write the advertisement for him.” It was usually about 125 words or thereabouts. And he was working, or he had a deal with, and an office in a place called WHOM which now is a foreign language station, if it’s still in existence. And I don’t know that it is. What was then an English station was owned by a guy by the name of Hay O’Malley, that’s where the call letters come from. And it was on 8th Street and Eighth Avenue in a hotel which name I don’t remember. The broadcasting studios were down below and the offices were on the floor above. But on the first day I went out, I sold four of these things. It was a 5,000 watt station and you really couldn’t hear it and so when the fellow turned his radio to try and get and he couldn’t get it in ‑ “You’re blocked out because of the tall buildings. Even the state patrols, you know, have dead spots where their stuff doesn’t work.” All kinds of selling gimmicks to get it. And what we used to do was to really scan the paper and find these little ads which were not big enough to be handled by a advertising agency. Because if an advertising agency had them, you had to pay 15% to the advertising agency and we didn’t want to give away that 15%. And then you have to run into the advertising agency sales manager and all that kind of stuff. So we looked for the little ads. These people wanted advertising. They were looking for business and, therefore, we thought that this was the way. So we scanned the paper, picked them out, saw what kind of a place it was, called the man and tried to get an appointment. We got the appointment, then we write the little story, you know, and we’d come down and we’d read this continuity to him and try to sell him.
So, the first day out, I sold four of them and that was $80.00 commission. That was at a time when people didn’t make more than $30.00 ‑ $40.00 a week. I knew my dad was very ill and I needed to bring home some money so I went to the station manager and I remember his name. His name was Klinger and I wanted him to give me some of the money. He wouldn’t give me any. He said that the checks had got to clear. He said, “I don’t know whether these guys will stop the checks or the checks will bounce.” Well, I talked him into giving me $20.00. I came home and I gave my mother the $20.00. She ran into the bedroom to show my father. My father called me in and said, “Where did you steal the money?”.
And~ I became interested in this. It was the first time I had an idea that I could sell and I stayed with it for a number of years but my father knew that he was ill. He didn’t know how ill he was and he had the, not old‑fashioned, but the idea that I have to have some kind of a business or a job that I could fall back on. So, he tried to get me to become a cutter of furs. He sent to my uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, who was only ten years my senior whom he had taught to be a cutter and he was quite successful. And, I hated it. I hated it with a vehement passion. And, I finally wouldn’t continue at it. Intermittently I would go back to selling radio time. How old were you?
Ooo, I must have been about twenty‑one, twenty‑two, in that vicinity, I don’t know the exact age. And, every time I went back I made money. But that wasn’t ‑ that was like being an actor. I mean, you know, it’s not the thing that you did. So, since I didn’t want to do that, he got a friend of his to give me a job, a fellow by the name of Henry Haffner, selling furs. Henry Haffner was associated with another man who had a very, very big organization but this was an offshoot. The big organization made a cheaper garment and they made a better garment. And, I got the job to sell for him. I remember going in to see this guy who was in the big organization and who was the head man. I forget his last name but his first name was Barney. It used to be called Barney Furs. And, he asked me about my experience and I said, “I got no experience.” I said, “You know that.” And, you know I was going at a high pressure to sell myself. He says, “You’re too high pressure.” I said, “I got nothing else to sell. I got to sell you me.” Now whether that succeeded or whether Henry Haffner, because of my father’s persuasion succeeded in getting me the job, nevertheless I got the job. And it was a terrible thing that in the first week, I went out and made a sale. And I remember it now because I’ll never forget, it was the Queen City Stores in Indiana. And I sold them forty‑eight dozen of box Lepan coats. You took the rabbit. You sheared it and they cut the thing in squares and sewed it so it was like boxes. It was a very popular item. They sold for, at wholesale, they sold for $29.50 and if it was a real good one that sold for $39.50. And they bought forty‑eight dozen. And, that was my downfall because I became a success as a fur salesman.
Many strange experiences in the fur business, in selling furs but they are of no real importance. I continued to go uptown to sell and to write. Became involved with some people who got a group together, two piano players, I forget their names. They were not so, whatever the name is ? and Teischer but there were two ladies who played beautifully. I do remember they had a singer with them who name was Anthony Mailley who was the soloist at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. That name sticks in my mind. He had a lovely, lovely voice. And, I tried to get them work. And, the only way I could get the work was that I interested the lady, I remember her first name was Marjorie but I can’t remember, who had a beauty salon, not beauty salon, the type of salon that did body work, and I sold her on the idea of going on the air. She didn’t want to go on the station that I had a connection with. She wanted something bigger and so I scouted around and I ran into someone whose name I don’t remember now and we put it on and we got it on WOR. And as part of the package, Anthony and the two ladies became the entertainment portion. But, I was squeezed out of that and I never really got the benefits out of it. I got minimal things out of it but I became squeezed out because that became too big now for my stature and standing in the thing. But I made money at it. The fact is that there was a time when I made a great deal of money. That was with that old set up that I had. Where I made money somewhere between $200 ‑ $225 a week. And for a while I didn’t live much at home. Maybe I am overestimating the amount, but it was a great deal of money. I had more money that I had ever seen in my life.
What was your question?
I can’t remember. I was talking about the happiest, the most productive times of your life.
Those were happy times for me. Even in happy times, there are disappointments and aggravations and I had them as well. One of the big aggravations and one of my big disappointments, I ran into a fellow by the name of Irving Porter who spoke “des”, “dems”, and “dose” but was the greatest salesman I’ve ever seen in my life. And he had an agency that sold the same thing that I did. And we made a relationship, a partnership and I had an idea that there were many, many people who would advertise in a “network” situation but couldn’t afford the networks. So, my idea was why not get a lot of local stations whose signals overlap and if we could get six, seven, or eight of them to go along with us and would give us a time slot which was concurrent, we could in effect provide a network. So we did get them and we did start to sell and slowly but surely I found that this guy was robbing me. And, when I ultimately got around to it, it was too late. There was nothing I could do about it. And, that was my last experience in that field
What do you think was the worst period in your life?
The worst period of my life was with mom.
When she was ill?
That was my worst period.
Was it during her illness or after her death or is it all just like kind of one blur?
It’s all one.
Were there any major turning points in your life?
Yeah. The one I just described to you, that was a turning point. I found out that I could sell. And I found out about myself that I had to force myself through the nos. You know the people who say “No” to you ‑ rejection has always been a problem with me. I don’t like to be rejected.
Any other turning points you can think of?
I really can’t pinpoint it. I mean that was a big turning point. I had given up all other thoughts, you know, about doing anything else.
I suddenly found that I could sell. And I was young enough and undeveloped enough to say, “Hey, I can make a lot of money.” And, so I wanted to make a lot of money!
Yes. There was one other turning point, yes from a political point of view, the Second World War and just prior to it. When the radical movements were really at their height in America, I became exposed to a great many of these people of my own age group, my own peers, who were very deeply into the radical movement. And being exposed to it, and to their lifestyle, because it was a different lifestyle than the more programmed and structured lifestyle that I had been raised with, there was an expansion there of my feelings, and an expansion of my thinking and I became involved not on as radical a basis as they were but I became conscious of the political ramifications. I became conscious of the relationships throughout the world. I exposed myself to educational processes along those ways. And the Spanish Civil War came just before that and that’s really where I started to get… I became a supporter of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. I repatriated a couple of guys and they lived with me and with Mother. That was a turning point from a question of political development. Now, I don’t know whether I’ve got the time elements correct, but that’s generally, those were.
What were the crucial decisions in your life, other than the ones you’ve mentioned? Perhaps there were none. But, can you look back and think of things that you would say were crucial decisions?
Yeah, one which was very mundane. I was offered the possibility of representing the Sweet‑Orr people in Texas. And I am sorry that I never followed it up. It was just before the Second World War and you can understand that the need for that kind of clothing, for anything just skyrocketed and I would have done very well from an economic point of view and possibly had a further career. I didn’t take it and I think that that was..
Is there anything in your experience of life that gives it unity, meaning or purpose?
Oh, these are such hard questions, such hard questions. Meaning, unity and purpose. Well, the meaning of life at this point, and I am speaking now because at seventy‑seven years old, the meaning of life to me today is to live each day fully to get everything I can out of it, since I am quite sure that it’s limited. I am quite sure that and I don’t know when the time element comes into being.
Meaning ‑ yeah, yeah, yeah. One of the things, and I am not going to say now family because that’s too trite, yeah, during that time Community service during the time when my children were growing up, when they were younger, and even today, the contribution to the community. I don’t know whether I do it consciously but I have a need. I feel a need to do it. I feel that I need to make a contribution. I feel that maybe I can make not only a contribution but I can push it in a certain way, in a certain direction, which will be meaningful to the other people as well as to myself.
One last question: At this point in your life, how do you feel about yourself?
Ah! That’s a question I would rather not answer but I’m going to try to answer it.
You don’t have to if you don’t want to.
I have ‑ at this point in my life, I feel that I am not the person that I hoped that I would be. I am not the person that I thought that I was. I find that I have weaknesses that I should have overcome and that I should be able to now overcome and control. I bemoan my own being, my own person, because… It’s an awfully tough job, after all this time, doing things in a way which is protective of myself, to keep myself from being hurt, to change it so that I can be more open, with myself and that’s what I, that’s.
I want to read you something from Ogden Nash and ask you for your response:
“O, here I am at thirty‑eight. Well I certainly thought I’d have longer to wait You just stop in for a couple of beers And, gosh, there go thirty‑seven years! Well, it certainly has been fun… But, I certainly thought I’d have got a lot more done.”
I agree. Oh, the one thing that I’ve always, always bemoaned that most of us, including myself, (of course, I’ve bemoaned it more for myself than for anybody else) will leave nothing behind to be remembered by. I would have like to have written one poem, one play, painted one picture, made one statue, made one major contribution that somebody should say, “Hey! Morty Weinberg did that!”
Well, Daddy, I’m going to write, and Morty Weinberg did that!
1 A kerchief worn on the head
2 The main course of a typical Sabbath meal consisted of chicken. To have coffee with cream at the end of such a meal was in violation of the Jewish dietary laws which prohibit the mixing of milk and meat at ~he same meal.
The blessing said over the wine and believed to sanctify the Occasion upon which it was recited.
Jewish law prohibits the striking of a match (literally, the ~lighting of a fire) on the Sabbath.
All Jewish holy days begin at sundown and end at sundown. Sabbath runs from Friday night until Saturday night.
Well, now. That was quite an experience. I am sure it would have been quite different had I chosen to interview anyone else but my father. I know that I would have been less protective of the interviewee, however gentle I might have been. It was apparent to me (and it might be to you as you listen to the tape and read the transcript) that there were times when my father was very uncomfortable with the process. At those times, I might have remained silent with someone else. In my father’s case, I chose to ask another question or even provide an answer. To some extent, in retrospect, I regret those actions now. I was being overly sensitive to my father’s very private nature and wanted to make him comfortable. I should have All~w~d him to work it out for himself.
In re‑reading the transcript and listening to the tapes again and again, there are some thoughts which occur to me that I would particularly like to share with you. The first has to do with the last portion of the interview. You will recall, that my father spoke of his unhappy discovery of a self he did not like. I was not surprised by that kind of intimate statement coming from my father in a quasi‑public moment. He and I had had a similar discussion just the day before. We had been trying to deal with an issue between us and this was part of his explanation for his repeated capitulation to pressures from other family members. Repeating it as he did in the interview seemed to imply a request by my father for me to accept this “weakness of character” as inevitable and acceptable ‑ inevitable because it is a human weakness and acceptable because I accept his humanity. I would not have been sensitive to, nor receptive to, such arguments a few short years ago. My own maturation process as I draw into the middle age of my life has given me a different perspective on the situation. I do see the humanity represented by his recently perceived weakness. And, while I do not believe it needs to be inevitable, nor unchanging, I have no trouble accepting my father, replete with all his human frailties. I have also come to understand, that this is not a case of rationalization on his part as I might have thought prior to this course. I can now see that it is part of the integration process which continues throughout life and magnifies in the elders among us. I see the need for this integration when I hear the echoes of the despair in his statement about himself and about his actions throughout his life. It is vitally important that he be able to integrate a positive view of who he has been and who he is so that he will not be overwhelmed by despair. For my part, he need have no fears ‑ I accept what has been. He is such an intelligent man, I doubt that he will be able to accept an unchanging self and integrate that into his vision successfully. For any piece of mind, it seems to me he will need to attempt some behavior modification.
A second idea I would like to share occurred to me as I was replaying the portion of the tape where I asked him if he had had any heroes or mentors in his life. You may recall that he indicated that he had not truly had any such models in his life. A careful reading of the transcript will demonstrate, however, that at least one hero existed for my father and that was his own father. What leads me to this conclusion? Observe, if you will, how every question concerning the people in his early life is answered in reference to his dad. I ask about his grandfather and he tells me how he related to my grandfather. I ask about his grandparents and he defines them in terms of their relationship with his father. I ask about his mother and he describes her in relationship to her husband. I ask about growing up in the family and he tells me another story about his father. This seems to be prima facie evidence that his father was a towering figure in his life. I do not deny that he described his father’s flaws in apparent realistic fashion, but it appears to me that this is an attempt at trying to bring a balance to the issue which would be typical of the entire integration thrust of the latter years.
My father had three grandparents who lived into their seventies ‑ one of them lived well into her nineties. He does not make mention of their latter years in the interview but I can recall several stories he used to tell about his grandmother who aged with dignity, though not in good health. I have been told of how she declined the invitation to attend his wedding because she wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and to remember her as she had been when they looked back on that occasion. He was very proud of her wisdom in such matters. And, yet, he seems to have no existing model for the elder years. At least, he makes no such references to it in the interview or in private conversations. I wonder if this is due to the fact that the dominance of his father in his life is expressing itself as he recalls the memories now that he is older. His father died at age 52 and could not provide an old age model for him. This is just a transient thought that occurred to me as I was listening to the tapes once again.
Another issue of what might be called the developmental tasks of old age is the issue of generativity. In all of my life, I cannot remember a time when we children were not taught by word and example of our obligation to the community as a whole. These values were lived by every member of the family group that I can recall. One of our paradigms as a family was that we are, indeed, our brothers’ keeper. It comes, therefore, as no surprise to hear my father say that the aspect of his life which lends it unity is this sense of community service. I hope that this integration of his own life style helps to bring that sought‑after balance with despair. Certainly, he has always lived, and continues to live, a life of service and generativity as opposed to one of stagnation. The issues with which he was involved in his youth were issues of political and economic struggle ‑ the “battle of the underdog”, you might say. The areas with which he concerns himself in these later years are more narrowly defined but that could be due to the limitations of strength and stamina, normal to his cohort He continues to exhibit a caring and concerned involvement with the needs of people around him. He works toward the achievement of satisfaction for others by teaching courses in cultural and ethnic areas that they seek out. He works in the arena of elder issues for his own sake but more for the sake of others in lesser circumstances than his own. His activity as a young adult and in early and middle adulthood were heavily directed toward social issues involving children and the family, including schools, child care, employment of women, etc. He has, it seems, changed his emphasis to the needy older adult. I do not see this as a contradiction in terms, however. It is merely another group in the cycle of life that he helps now while preparing better circumstances for his children to face as they continue their aging process.
A last issue that I want to touch upon is the issue of intimacy vs isolation. My father did not give many clues to those who do not know him as to his ability to immerse his sense of self in a sense of “we”. I would have to say that he has always had an exaggerated sense of responsibility. This has frequently led him to sacrifice, though often grudgingly~ his own wishes to the wishes or demands of other people. You will recall that he continues to feel these pressures and perceives himself to be too weak to withstand them. This is not to be confused with a sense of intimacy, though. I cannot be certain as I have never had a discussion on that topic with my father but it is my impression that my father was not ever able to “fuse his identity with somebody else’s without fear that he would lose something himself”. His relationship with my mother was, like lightening and thunder, a match made in heaven. They were both strong willed and demanding people. That they loved each other, there can be no doubt. They came to value the longevity of the relationship in their later years as might be expected. They needed each other and they wanted to be together. But, it is equally true that they resented each other and wished they could be apart. At my mother’s death, my father suffered terribly. He was bereft and isolated~in his view. This does not mean that there was not a part of him that was glad to be free of what it considered to be her domination. This feeling and the sense that he should have been able to prevent her death caused him to feel quite guilty. This was expressed in a series of dreams and an overriding sense of despair. He came through the mourning cycle with great difficulty. He might not have been able to bring these feelings into balance had he not met the woman he ultimately married. She seemed to help him achieve a recognition that what was past was prologue. As an aside, I want to share with you the fact that she is in many ways very like my mother. On the surface, her style is non‑confrontational very different from my forcefully direct mother. but, she is strong willed and dominant, nonetheless. It does not surprise me that the two women my father chose to marry could be described in that fashion. His mother was much the same. It seems to me that we tend to choose mates to fit our earliest model of marriage, that of our parents.
If I were to be required to border on the presumptuous and judge my own father’s development, I would have to say that it is uneven. But, unevenness seems to me to be the norm in human development, not the exception. I am not interested in being judgmental or even evaluative. I am not nearly that objective. I find myself hoping that, for his own sake, he will find the integration he seeks. What I want for my father, more than anything else in the world, is a sense of peace and acceptance. He does not appear to have achieved that yet but I pray for him that he finds it before he faces the inevitable last phase of life.