Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kitchen Talk

Len Klein
Memory Sketch #14
Thursday, May 17, 2001

There were so many times, impossible to remember them all, that my mother and I sat across the kitchen table and talked. On Bristol Street, I remember clearly the time she spoke about visiting with a neighbor on the second floor. I had been there with her. *Did you notice how she kept cleaning out the ash trays over and over again, even though they were already clean, *she said to me. And I had noticed and wondered about it. The woman, I was told, was very unhappy in her marriage and was fearful about becoming pregnant. Her talking to my mother about that very subject had been the main reason for the visit. *The woman doesn't want to have children just now, and it is so troubling to her that even though we were talking about it, she had to express it in her behavior as well. In a magical way, she unconsciously thought that by keeping the ash trays clean she could avoid having a child,* my mother said. My eight year old mind was totally amazed at this understanding, and it made a very strong impression on me.

Most of the talking experiences I can recall are from after Bristol Street; at 180 Chester Street, and later, 880 Saratoga Avenue. Mom once talked about a very cold winter, when she was an adolescent, and she didn't have a warm coat to wear. Money was scarce and living with her grandparents family, there were many hands outstretched for what was available. Zaide and Bubbe couldn't meet everyone’s needs, and they put their own daughters first, so there was no money to buy the granddaughter a coat. At the time she was dating my Dad, whom she called Harvey while everyone else called him Harry. For this quirk of my mother, no reasonable explanation was ever given. My father had left school to go to work because of his family’s financial needs. He left either during Jr. High School or immediately afterward, so he never got to High School, instead he got to work. He decided, as will a young man in love, to take some of his own money, keeping it secret from his mother who was the keeper of the family funds and whom I was told made a very strong claim on their earnings, and he would buy the girl he loved the coat she needed. Its not difficult to imagine how much this cemented their relationship, especially if one keeps in mind the hard times in which it took place.

Mom would talk a lot about Uncle Israel, for whom she had great love and respect. She told me that there was a special bond between them, and that it was very important for her to have him in her life. I was always amazed at the deference that Mom showed to Uncle Israel. For one thing, she seemed much more of a Mensch than did he. I also believed that she was smarter than Israel. True, my mother was on the radio only once when she sang a song under the name, Irene Kay, while Uncle Israel had two continuing radio programs on WEVD: “The Jewish Philosopher,” and “Lutsky Brings You The News,” both of which were conducted in Yiddish. I certainly was very impressed by that. After all, Uncle Israel was a genuine “radio personality,” and that did confer a status of high esteem, but, in my eyes, and I may be a little off here, in my estimation my mother was superior. Well, what can I say, she was my Mom. What I can say for sure that I was quite jealous of her deference to him. I remember being sent down to the Grocery to get some bottles of Coca-Cola because he had arrived unexpectedly at the house. My resentment flourished as I went down the three flights of stairs. “If he’s so important to you, why do you send me?” I was totally resentful and not at all rational about it.

Across the kitchen table Mom spoke often about nutrition and the importance of healthy food and supplements to insure and increase their value. She told me how she came to be interested in all things nutritional. When she first married she became responsible for a husband, and to keep her working man well fed and healthy was a challenge for her. When she had a baby to feed as well, she said that it seemed so overwhelming that she thought she could never learn enough. She had started from scratch, with two main resources: the local public library, and the Carlton Frederick's radio program. She followed up on the book recommendations that came from either source, and regularly brought home several library books full of interesting information, about which I would soon hear in the kitchen. After a while, I talked about my experiments in Chemistry and what I was learning on my own and in school. She talked about her cooking experiments with new types of pots and pans and the foods and spices she was using. I told her about the recently learned names of chemicals I had acquired from Mr. Brower, the pharmacist, and she told me the newly learned names of supplements, vitamins and minerals.

All the while we spoke, I thought I was learning about family and food, ethics and behavior. Little did I realize the process was preparing me for my future profession, sitting and talking with patients in psychotherapy. It was in the course of our kitchen discussions that my mother mentioned a name that had increasingly appeared in her readings and had been several times mentioned on the Fredericks program as well. She knew nothing about the person, except that he had developed a theory about the influence of the mind on the health of the individual. That was my first introduction to Sigmund Freud, when I was about eleven years old. In short order, my mother had located some books on Freud. Her interest in him was intensified because he was a European Jew, who in pictures of his older years bore a resemblance to Zaide, and whose middle name was Slomo, Solomon, the name of her beloved Zaide. The things she learned, and the ideas she spoke about were very exciting and appealing. It was as though a new frontier of learning was opening up for me, an extension of the research interest I seemed always to have, but one in which I could be the researcher, the subject, and the laboratory all at once. When the summer of my fifteenth birthday had come, I purchased the Complete Writings of Sigmund Freud, The Modern Library edition, and began to read. The summer was hot and I would read in the afternoon in my parents bedroom sitting next to one of the two front windows with my feet up and sticking out on the third floor. I read something every day; I didn’t always understand what I was reading; but sometimes I was blown away.
Photo left to right: Linda, Irwin Goodman (Len's friend), Arnie, Harry/Harvey, Len, Rochelle, Irene. Kitchen at 880 Saratoga Ave circa 1952-3.

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