By Charlotte “Blu” Berman
In the early l900’s when Eastern European Jewish immigrants swamped the streets of New York City’s lower east side, my great uncle Schmuel Schwartz, later know as Sam, set out to find himself a wife.
A runt of a man, with a scraggly red beard, Schmuel, was far from attractive. His clothes were unsightly and shiny from constant wear. However, his steady job on the production line of the Fortgang dress factory, made him ”a good catch.” At least that’s what his friends told him. Sam kept asking his buddies if they knew any women who were looking to get married. They chuckled and winked at each other, plotting what they thought would be a huge joke on their friend.
“Sam,” said, Moishe, one of Sam’s best friends, “have we got a girl for you!” The others could hardly keep from laughing out loud at their conspiracy. “She is a regular “Beauty Queen,” and can she cook!” Sam was full of questions. His eyes alight, he queried: “Where does she work? How old is she?” He went on: “When can I meet this Beauty Queen? I can hardly wait”.
“Sam, her name is Lizzie Guttman, and she works for a wealthy family as a servant.” “A what?” “A Servant girl.” He thought he’d keep that bit of information from his brother George who had recently come to America without his wife and young daughter. The brothers worked side by side in the dress factory doing piece work. George and others in the family looked down on those who worked as servants, as if they themselves were aristocrats.
Frugal Sam saved enough to rent a tiny two-room apartment near the Brooklyn Bridge. Anxious to make a good impression on “the girl of his dreams,” he asked his brother George to lend him some decent clothes. With a few whisks of a comb to his unruly hair, and attention to his beard, he already felt like a bridegroom awaiting his beloved.
His pals in the café stood back to watch the debacle. The door opened and Moishe introduced Sam to a tiny hump-backed woman with a glass eye. Lizzie Guttman approached Sam not with the timidity one would expect from a woman with her appearance.
She reached out her hand and said, “Good to meet you, Samuel. I’ve heard some nice things about you.” It was as if a magic spell had been cast over Sam. Lizzie’s warm personality was amazing. First he smiled, then she smiled, and things just got better from there. Sam’s so-called friends couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The two young immigrants continued talking and smiling until they closed the café.
After a few months, without telling his brother George, Sam and Lizzie were married. The wedding banquet was a bottle of cheap schnapps and Lizzie’s wonderful sponge cake. The happy couple honeymooned in their cramped new apartment, four flights up a dingy staircase. They furnished their abode with third-hand worn chairs and a table. Lizzie brought her pots, pans and kitchen utensils with her, as a gift from her former employer.
Brother George, his wife Devora and baby Annie were invited for tea, one Sunday afternoon.
Though food was scarce in the house, Lizzie hatched a scheme that would make the relatives think otherwise. She set two huge covered pots of water on the stove at a rolling boil that sent plumes of white smoke throughout the kitchen. While Lizzie served hot tea in mismatched glasses, she reached out to hold baby Annie. Annie took one look at Aunt Lizzie and gave out a frightened wail. But by the time she had served her special honey cake, the taste and aroma of cake, the warmth of the tea and Lizzie’s personality, had won the day. Even baby Annie allowed herself to be dangled on Lizzie’s lap.
After George and his family said goodbye and stood outside the apartment house. They said to each other, “They must be doing alright, with all that food cooking in the kitchen.”
Eventually, Sam made a modest but adequate living. They became the parents of three strapping young sons who adored their tiny mother. After moving to Brooklyn, the sons taught their mom all about their beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. As the family listened endlessly to Dodger games on the radio, Lizzie learned the difference between a bunt and a strike. She also learned the difference between just a regular “greenhorn” and a devoted husband who could make her life full and happy.
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