My mother was two years old when her mother died.  She was ‘taken in’ by her paternal Aunt and Uncle, Anna and Morris Gardner[1] (aka Henifredl and Moshe) and raised in Hartford Connecticut where she was born.  This childless couple cared for her as their own.  They lived with my mother, father, and us ‘kids’ in the same apartment until their deaths in the early 1940’s.  Probably because her father, Isadore, was still alive, the Gardners never legally adopted their niece.   “‘They doted on her and dressed her in beautiful but inappropriate clothes, even though she was only about eight years older.  She was really beautiful with very white skin and a shock of curly black hair.  The Gardners would never have given her up.”[2] 

Isadore Gershenowitz lived with his daughter and the Gardners after his wife died.  He remarried in 1917, his daughter, Sophy, was born in 1918, and he moved to California in 1924. (His second wife and almost five-year-old daughter preceded him to California in 1923.)  My mother was about 14 years old at the time of her father’s departure.  

Isadore outlived his sister, Anna and her husband, Morris and died in 1959.  Although they were her de facto parents, my mother did not refer to the Gardners as ‘mother’ or ‘father’.  She called them Aunt and Uncle.  However, we children always referred to them as Bubie and Zadie and considered them our grandparents.  Our grandfather in California was a remote person to us.  We met him for the first time at my Bar Mitzvah in 1946.

In 1928 or 1929 the Gardners[3] and their 18-year-old ‘daughter’ relocated to Chelsea Massachusetts, just in time for the stock market crash and the beginning of The Great Depression.  Their first apartment was a ‘cold water’ flat in a two family house on Essex Street.  In the early 1990’s I looked for the house only to find a vacant lot where once it stood.   

Morris Gardner had lost his job in Hartford.  He was fired from the Brian & Chapman Dairy for, as the Gershenovitz daughters characterize it, acting like a “Jewish Robin Hood.”  He had relatives living in Chelsea[4] Massachusetts who helped him find a similar job at Weiner’s Dairy in that city. My sister Eadie and brother Harvey remember that he worked near the waterfront in Chelsea, just a few streets from #148 Congress Ave. where we occupied the top floor of the ‘three-decker’ owned by the Bulafkin family.  They recall that we would meet him on his way home from work, to help carry his pail.  I remember none of this.  I thought that he worked on or near the waterfront on Atlantic Ave. in Boston, near my father’s ‘pickle factory.'  But, I digress…

My father also left Hartford and came to Chelsea in pursuit of my mother.  An old city directory, lists him living on Chestnut St. on April 1, 1931, one month before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen (May 18, 1931).  Four months later on September 6, 1931, he married my mother.[5] That’s how we became the Boston branch of the family.   It was now deep into the Depression.  Millions of people were out of work. Hundreds of banks were failing.  What must my parents have been thinking?

Lillian and Morris
With their first born child
In front of 118 Essex Street

[1] Upon entry to the US in 1907 his name was Maishe Ben Starkovitz

[2] Sophy Wasserman in letter dated July 27, 1998

[3] They are listed in the City Directory as living at 118 Essex Street on April 1, 1929.

[4] On Chester Avenue.

[5]Prior to September 22,1922, if a female U.S. citizen married a male non-citizen she automatically lost her American citizenship.  The reverse was not true.  A non-citizen female who married an American male citizen automatically became a U.S. citizen.  U.S. women did not get the vote until August 26, 1920.