Sunday, October 20, 2019

Clara's Scrapbook: Jesus Pena de Alonso 1930-1941

This story is from Clara’s Scrapbook: A Novel Inspired by Photos, Stories, and What-Not Saved by Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .


I find fifteen letters and two postcards from Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain. Jesus and I were matched up by our foreign language teachers when Jesus was fifteen and I was seventeen.  Jesus’ first letter is dated November 5, 1930, the last March 11, 1941. He wrote in Spanish and I replied in English. We continued to write on and off after we both completed secondary school. For eleven years!

I don’t remember my Spanish anymore so I had my good friend and neighbor Alex Alvarez, a Spanish speaker and an avid student of history, translate Jesus’ letters into English. Alex told me some about the tumultuous history of Spain in the 1930’s and acted as a consultant to me while I wrote this story. Thank you Alex.

Just like in the U.S. a lot was going on in our two countries during the time Jesus and I corresponded. Of course, lots was going on in our young lives. It makes my head spin just thinking about it. 

In the U.S, we had the depression and FDR and the New Deal and the beginning of World War II. And I became a working girl, more interested in having adventures and pursuing creative endeavors than in getting married. In Spain, political unrest led up to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Jesus attended University and then went to work in his father’s factory. He must have witnessed much of the war, since many of the battles took place in Madrid (the capital of Spain) and the surrounding areas. Jesus didn’t write during the war, and after our correspondence resumed, he mentioned the war only briefly. Who can blame him?

Looking at Jesus’ letters (and envelopes) today, I am struck by his beautiful script.


In his letters, Jesus addressed me as Clara, my birth name. I liked that.

For the first couple of years, Jesus’ letters were friendly and informative. I don’t have copies of my letters to him, but I can infer some of what I wrote in his letters to me. We wrote about our interests – his in football (soccer), swimming, and travel; mine in writing, journalism, and theater. He wrote me about “an ancient royal castle … converted into a museum” and sent me postcards of the beautiful salons in the castle. I wrote about the much younger skyscrapers in Chicago and sent him a postcard of the thirty-four story Tribune Tower. Today thirty-four stories seems like nothing, but in the 1930’s the new skyscrapers were amazing, tall, architectural marvels.

In 1932, I sent Jesus U.S. currency and he attempted to send me Spanish currency but couldn’t.

Dear Clara,
I had written a letter to you, but because I had sent along some currency, the Central Post office refused to mail it.

Alex explained that during the early 1930’s the Spanish government forbade sending currency out of the country due to the on-going political crises.

Jesus’ letters continued along this same line, breezy and conversational, until 1934 when we exchanged photographs. His was a studio portrait and I liked how he looked with his half smile, bedroom eyes (or so I perceived them), slicked down hair, and beautifully tailored suit. I was mildly charmed by the inscription that read (in translation) “To Clara as a token of my admiration and fondness Jesus.”

However, Jesus was majorly charmed after he received my publicity photograph taken for an amateur production of the play Death Takes a Holiday, in which I had the lead role of Graziela.

Claire LeBrint Publicity Photo 1934

From that point on his letters became romantic.

From October 1934

Beautiful Clara,
I don't know how you dare to call me a flatterer after sending me a photograph so superior to anything I may have imagined. Truly, the more I look at your photo, the more difficult it is for me to believe that you are an American woman, as the beauty of your eyes is not surpassed by the Grenadine dolls.

The letter continued with a brief reference to the trouble in Spain “…the police have been using my car, they have even requisitioned many automobiles,” and ended with more affection and devotion towards me.

Furthermore, dear friend, I continue to maintain much serenity, as I have never had the joy of having at my side someone as precious as you. My most respectful tribute, Jesus                

Being compared to a Grenadine doll (from Grenada, Andalusia Spain) seemed a high compliment. Alex found a picture of a 1950’s Spanish doll and made a Xerox color copy for me. Color copying – what a marvel of technology. We both agreed that this must look something like the “Grenadine doll” Jesus referenced. What a compliment Jesus gave me!


Little did I know that Jesus’ romantic feelings would grow into an obsession and possessiveness toward me.
From February 1935
. . . I have a sister who was also taken with the idea of becoming a writer like you and who now has abandoned those ideas because she is soon to be married. Has the thought occurred to you of doing the same?

As you have asked me to advise you in the past, I hope you will allow me to advise you now not to leave the house, so you will find no diversions, you will speak to no one, you will be dressed in your oldest dresses. And if you will be following these suggestions, I believe that when the time comes, you will be spared the inconvenience of marrying the man who would have to murder your husband.

I knew that Jesus’ letters indicated he was “crazy-in-love” with me. But did he really imply that I should stay home, alone, away from all guys and that if I should happen to marry, he would come to the U.S., murder my husband and expect me to marry him? I thought Alex had gotten the translation wrong. “It’s right for sure,” he told me and added, “I even had a Spanish teacher friend of mine from Sauk Valley Community College double check my translation and she confirmed I got the crazy-talk right.”

You might be asking yourself why I continued writing to Jesus.

I was having fun doing some heavy-duty flirting in my letters to him, goading him on, encouraging his growing attachment to me. We girls did that kind of thing, and my girlfriends loved to read his crazy letters. It was our own personal soap opera and I loved being the romantic lead.
Besides, Jesus was far away, as he wrote in another letter when he was again pondering whether I was married or not, “If it happens that you now have a husband, tell him that he lives because of the distance between Madrid and Chicago.” 

There is so much in Jesus’ fifteen letters, and I was getting tired from reading them and thinking back to when I received the letters. But before I put them away, I decided to skim through the rest and a few sections of letters jumped out. First was the letter Jesus wrote after the Spanish Civil War ended.

From September 1939
. . . I am sure you can easily understand the many circumstances which have prevented my writing to you during these trying times.

And then I found the only letter where Jesus referred to experiencing the war, where he used the war as a reason to threaten my male friends. In my letters to him after the war ended, I must have casually mentioned the guys I was seeing (not seriously) and continued teasing him, flirting with him. No harm done, I thought. Not so for Jesus.

From June 1940
. . . As to those two boyfriends . . . after three years of being witness to war and guns and shooting and killings, they would not pose the same obstacles as was the case previously.

That letter frightened and shocked me when I received it in 1940, as it does to this day. His threats were no longer funny. The amusing soap opera had become a horror story.
It took me a long time to reply to that letter, as Jesus wrote in March 1941, when he chided me that he “was not able to read (my) last two letters because (I) didn’t mail them.”  True I wrote several letters that I tore up and I have no idea what was in the letter I finally sent.
But I finally was done with Jesus and wrote him one last letter. I remember that my message was short and to the point and it went something like this.

Jesus,
It is not acceptable that you continue to make threats against my gentlemen friends. You have no right to claim me. You are not my boyfriend, fiancé, nor will you ever be my husband.

This correspondence is over. Please do not write me anymore.

Claire LeBrint

Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain must have gotten my message loud and clear. He wrote no more letters and you better believe I was relieved.

But, as they say, it was fun while it lasted.

The Clara Stories are dedicated to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 
b 1914 - d 2002


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Clara's Scrapbook: My Parents Come to America

MY FATHER ABRAM LOBERANT and his cousin Anna Menkes, my mother, were both born in 1885 in Czarist Russia. They lived two hundred miles apart, Abram in Kishenev, Bessarabia and Anna in Ovidiopol,/Odessa, Ukraine. In spite of never having met, the families decided they would marry – in America, in Chicago.

Here's an excerpt from "My Family's History in Russia and the U.S." written by Rose LeBrint Fuchs, my sister and, I must say, a fine writer. 

Terrible pogroms swept Russia in 1905, especially in the south where most of the Jews lived.

My mother’s mother made up her mind. Two half-brothers of my mother (Anna)  were well established in Chicago with their families and kept urging that my mother be sent to them. Quickly an engagement was arranged between my parents-to-be. My father (Abram) had already been inducted into the Russian army so my mother was sent on ahead, to earn a little money, to borrow some from her half-brothers, so that my father could bribe his way out of the army, come to America, and marry her.

My mother said that parting with her mother was the most terrible thing that ever happened in her life, both before and since. She cried a river of tears, begging not to be sent away. Her mother was ill and both of them knew they would never see each other again.

Nevertheless, the plan was carried out. Two years later my father arrived in Chicago and began his life-long love affair with this country.

I cry a river of tears every time I read the part of this story about my mother Anna having to leave her mother forever. There must have been so much love between them. I cry for her loss and also for whatever it was that made my mother – in America – unable to love me. I could speculate that by the time I was born, she was weary of having babies. I was the fourth child born to her in five years. Or it could be that I was born after George, the sought-after son, and that Mother was not very interested in yet another daughter, the third daughter after Rose and Mary. But what’s the use of dwelling on this. I try to stay positive, so I will stop speculating and get back to the story about my parents coming to America.

During his time in the Czarist Russian army Abram Loberant had a photograph taken of him in his Russian army uniform. Even though Father was conscripted into the army and anxious to get out, he was very proud of this photographic portrait. He and Mother had it handsomely matted and framed and during their lifetime, it was prominently displayed in their living room for everyone to see.


 Father came to America in the winter of 1907 and took the name Abraham LeBrint. August 1908, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. Abe and Anna married. In a photograph taken on their wedding day, they are standing stiffly side by side. Anna wears a white dress and has flowers in her hair. Abe wears a very American suit and tie. Also in the picture are Anna’s half-brothers and their wives


Besides their wedding picture, among all the photographs saved by my sisters Rose and Perle that are now in my possession, I’ve only found one other picture with the two of them together. It was taken at my older sister Mary’s wedding in 1931.



Good looking couple aren’t they? And don’t they look prosperous? They were doing well financially due to Father’s successful print business in downtown Chicago.

But they were so different. Mother was bossy and often angry. Father was a mild man who worked long hours and when home, he tried to stay out of Mother’s way. And I for one couldn’t blame him.

When I look at these two photographs and think about my parents, I feel sorry for them, that they never had the kind of loving relationship I have with my dear husband Rolland. That's all I'll say on this subject for now. More stories about me, my siblings Mary, Rose, George, and Perle and my parents coming, I promise. 


This story is from Clara’s Scrapbook: A Novel Inspired by Photos, Stories, and What-Not Saved by Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .

The Clara Stories are dedicated  to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 
b 1914 - d 2002

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Clara's Scrapbook: My Parent's Life Story/Short Form


Four LeBrint children in 1918: Clara (on the pony), George, Rose, and Mary standing

This year I turned 80, the same age my sister Rose was when she died. I have now lived longer than all four of my siblings. And thinking about them reminds me of a sheet I typed years ago, which contains a summary of my parent's life, including the birth dates of their five children. I casually shoved it into the "Family Record" section of my Jewish bible where I have recorded family (and friends) births, marriages, and deaths over the years.

I'm curious about what I wrote, so I take the bible out and find the sheet, which starts as follows.

My mother died Dec. 3, 1964; my father, Nov. 5, 1960. Mother was 78; father, 74.

Born 1886- both   

Both died of cancer, Mother, lymph; father, in the body. I suspect they died of anguish and broken dreams, for themselves, their family, their country.

My parents were wed Aug. 15, 1908 - and five children came along fast enough. They were: Mary, Oct. 13, 1909; Rose, Jan. 24, 1911; George, June 15, 1912; Claire, Apr. 5, 1914; and Perle Oct. 30, 1918.

Of them, Rose, at 71 and I at 68, are the only survivors.

My parent’s life story (short form) doesn't include the dates when Mary, George, and Perle died.  But I find them on the Death page of the “Family Record.”  I see that tragically Perle, the youngest child, died at age 46 in May 1965. George died less than a year later at age 53 in January 1966. Mary died in November 1970 at age 61. My last entry is Rose's death, January 2, 1991. 

I am brutally reminded that with the exception of Rose, my other three siblings died too young. I need some relief from my sadness at being the only LeBrint sibling left, so I go through old family photos and I find the mounted sepia colored photograph of me, George, Rose, and Mary and a pony! I’m about four years old, sitting happily on the pony. George is holding the reins. Rose and Mary are standing next to George, with big smiles on their faces. Photographers at the time came through immigrant neighborhoods with a pony and families, including mine, paid good money for such keepsake photos.  Perle wasn’t yet born, so she missed her chance to pose with the pony and lucky me, being the youngest, I had the honor of sitting on its back.


This photo teases me into imagining an ideal childhood, where I was pampered by my two adoring older sisters and had good times playing with my fun-loving brother. But that wasn't the case. The proof is in the rest of the story, which hints at why “I suspected my parents died of anguish and broken dreams” and why my childhood was not all full of happiness.  

My parents were first cousins... and as George and Perle were ill so often, Mother blamed herself, saying the relationship was responsible. I inherited Mother’s uncertain nervous system. In fact, a teacher, in about my second grade told me to tell Mother I was a “nervous wreck.” And I did.

Mother wanted us to do well— marry well, have careers, take vacations.
Father- I don’t know what he wanted for us.    


I wonder if my “nervous nature” at such a young age contributed to the nervous breakdown I had at age 34 (a story I’ll get to at another time). Or perhaps it was Mother’s treatment of me when I disappointed her by not “marrying well” and worse than that, not marrying at all. Mother died three years before I married Rolland.

Hmm… Perhaps I could only marry him after she died? 

According to Mother’s way of thinking, only her oldest daughter Mary married well: to Joseph Krammer, a successful furrier. Rose married Leonard Fuchs, who had a law degree but never practiced law. Mother never understood this and never forgave Rose for marrying Len or Len for deserting the law. George married but Mother didn’t like his wife. Perle and I were unmarried. So Mother’s wish for her children to “marry well,” didn’t happen for the most part.

Regarding careers, Mother only cared about George having a career. After she pushed and prodded him, he finished law school and became a practicing attorney. However, George’s practice didn’t thrive which was another disappointment to Mother.

About vacations, we did OK. Mother and Perle went on annual vacations without Father, to Florida and other warm places in the U.S. Mary and Joe traveled the world and brought home proof in the form of pictures of Mary standing in front of the pyramids in Egypt, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and other famous international landmarks. Rose and Len and their children took driving trips in the U.S. When I was in my forties, I traveled with girlfriends, our best trip being a European tour. But Mother didn’t care about my trips as a single woman. I was supposed to go on vacations with my husband after I married.

Father was a shadow figure in our lives. It’s true what I wrote – we never knew what he was thinking. 

There is so much more to write about my family and my childhood. But I’m tired. Writing is hard work and as I’ve always told my writing students, save some stories for another day. 


This story is from Clara’s Scrapbook: A Novel Inspired by Photos, Stories, and What-Not Saved by Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .

The Clara Stories are dedicated  to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 
b 1914 - d 2002



Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Africans, My Summer 1965 Vacation

A young man came rushing into the auditorium and onto the podium. He wasn’t expected. Prior to his arrival, the audience was busy chatting and there was a happy buzz in the room. The man stood tall and dignified and interrupted our chatter, saying loudly in a heavily accented voice, I am Enzokee Naidoo and I am here to talk to you about my homeland, the apartheid country of South Africa.” He stopped to make sure he had our attention. He had it. We were spellbound by the authority this man conveyed. We knew that what he was about to say was something we had to hear.

It was summer 1965 and I was at a conference in Vapnagaard, a small town not far from Copenhagen, Denmark. I was 20 years old and had recently received a small inheritance of $2500. At the same time, I found a brochure about a conference in Scandinavia, with the purpose of fostering international understanding by bringing together people from many countries. My $2500 would cover the cost of airfare plus conference tuition. I decided to go, but this was my first trip out of the U.S. and it took a lot of courage make this decision. My hopes were modest: to make some friends and to have some adventures.

We were 35 men and women of all ages, from the U.S., Norway, Denmark and Sweden, Pakistan, and England, and there was one young man from Nigeria who was my same age. His name was Jim and like me, he was shy and a bit star-struck by the others who seemed to be worldly-wise and socially adept. We both hung back and observed more than we participated.
Some conference participants posing for pictures
In the center: Jim from Nigeria and Mr. Meinke, the Conference Leader

This evening like all others at the conference, the group had gathered at 7 p.m. sharp. Previous evenings we had listened to lectures on a variety of subjects by course participants and a few evenings we heard talks by our conference leader Mr. Meinke about his special interests: Soren Kierkegaard, Nordic folk-schools, Danish farm cooperatives, and international understanding. Other evenings we had recitals by local Danish musicians. Nothing terribly captivating and we always hoped the lectures or musical entertainment would end quickly so we could go out into the warm summer evenings and sing songs and do folkdances from our various countries.  Even Jim and I got into it as we all messed up the words to the songs in the different languages and clumsily tried to learn the dance steps. It was very funny and evoked lots of laughter from everyone. 

This evening, we never got out into the summer night. After Enzokee Naidoo got our full attention, his words spilled out in a rush. “Dr. Meinke asked that I talk to you. And I agreed though I don’t have much time. I must talk to you who come from all over the world about the situation of the Blacks in South Africa.”

We were hypnotized, almost holding our breath listening to this man, to his words. He continued, “The situation is horrible and one of these days it will explode into violence.  We Black South Africans are getting better housing and education and rising materially, but we are strictly limited as to the height to which we can rise. And this combination of improvements with limitations is too much for us to endure.” He told us of the measures taken by the Whites to ensure that the Blacks would stay in their place. Sadly, with anger in his voice he said, “I cannot return to my homeland of South Africa. If I return, I will be taken prisoner for my stand against apartheid.”

Enzokee was slowing down and Mr. Smith, a school teacher from the U.S, took the opportunity to ask, “Why can’t the Blacks in South Africa attempt non-violence in their struggle against oppression?” 
Enzokee was in a hurry to leave but he gave Mr. Smith a pitying look and replied, “How can you know what the situation is like?  How can you know all the attempts we made that failed?  How can you judge when you sit here nice and secure?”

After our speaker left, it was as if an electrical charge had run through his audience. Many got out of their seats, talking all at once, talking over each other, some suggesting solutions to the problems of the Blacks in South Africa. Some crying, some making angry accusations at others whom they didn’t agree with. Jim and I sat quietly, observing. This was all new information to me; I was naïve and uninformed. Shockingly I was only vaguely aware of racial problems and the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and knew nothing of apartheid in South Africa.

Thinking back, I’m sure that Jim must have had thoughts, opinions, and reactions to Enzokee’s talk and how it related to life and politics in the newly independent country of Nigeria. However, no one took any notice of Jim or asked him to speak. Today I wonder: Was this our version of White privilege? Did we even know of the concept of White privilege in 1965?

The flurry of conversations continued around Jim and me, and got louder more out of control until finally Mrs. Johanson, a Dane of about forty, climbed on a chair and said authoritatively in clear English with her lilting Danish accent, “Sit down and be quiet. One person talk at a time.”

Mr. Keystone from England took the floor and talked for close to an hour, telling us about the year he spent in South Africa as a reporter for a London newspaper. We were quiet. We were listening and we took in, as best we could, the last sentence of his talk, “The solutions you’re proposing for a peaceful settlement, or for slow progress, they won’t work. The White apartheid government is entrenched. It is as Enzokee said, ‘There will be a battle to bring down apartheid, we just don’t know when’.”

Mr. Keystone had succeeded in calming the group down slightly. At some point Jim left to go to bed but some of us – me included – stayed together past midnight. The others were talking, trying to adjust their thinking. I remained quiet, trying to take it all in. In truth I had no idea what to do with all the information and opinions and strong emotions swirling around me.

There was no laughing or dancing or singing outside that night.

In the days that followed, our normal life at the course continued, touring during the day, lectures or music at night. My expectations of having an adventure at the conference were met. As far returning home changed by Enzokee Naidoo or any of the others I met, sadly or perhaps to be expected, it didn’t happen. Before my summer adventure in Scandinavia, I was apolitical and back in the U.S. I returned to my normal way of being: head in the sand, still apolitical. But I was primed for my next adventure, which happened in 1966 after college graduation when I moved to San Francisco. That is another story for another time.

---

The First Republic of Nigeria was formed in October 1963, barely two years before the conference. In January1966 a military coup deposed the government of the Nigerian First Republic. In July 1966 there was a counter-military coup followed by years of unrest and inter-religious wars.


On April 27, 1994 apartheid ended in South Africa after several years of negotiations between the governing National Party and the African National Congress. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Clara's Scrapbook: Rumors and Romance Part 3



I found these pictures of my first love, Cecil Jensen and showed them to my second love, my husband Rolland. He wasn’t impressed. And why should he be? In all my eighty years, Roll was the only guy I married -- at age 53 in the year 1967 -- and by now we have been happily married for over twenty-five years. 

But seeing the pictures got me thinking about Cecil. The first is from 1940, taken one day when we were at the beach in Chicago and the second is his official Chicago Daily News photograph [1]. He was a good-looking man, pleasant and open in the candid photo, with a bit of weight on him, I must say; serious and distinguished in his official photo. When I think back, I’m still amazed that I got romantically involved with Cecil, a thirty-something political cartoonist at the Daily News, when I was in my early twenties and a writer-want-to-be.

Over the years, I’ve written lots of stories, published and unpublished, about my life and about the people I’ve come to know and love, but nothing about Cecil Jensen. So today I think, Why not? It’s now or never, as they say!

I graduated high school in 1932 and worked as a bookkeeper/girl Friday at my father’s printing company in downtown Chicago. Unlike my girl friends who took jobs to fill the time until they found the guy of their dreams (or not), got married, became a wife, made a home, and had children, I wanted more. I dreamt of living a creative life: to be an actress or poet, or perhaps a journalist. I figured it could happen. In 1935, I had the lead role of Grazia in the play “Death Takes a Holiday,” won a short story competition, and had my first (and only) published poem. To further my dream, I took journalism classes in the evening at Northwestern University McKinlock Campus, north of downtown Chicago (where Northwestern Memorial Hospital is today). I was one busy young woman. Ah, to be young and have all that energy.

And then one evening…
Cecil Jensen gave a talk to our class about Chicago and national politics and showed us some of his political cartoons. Looking and listening to him, I thought,  Here’s a man with great knowledge of history and politics and a wry sense of humor. He’s good looking in a dignified way and I’d love to get to know him. After his talk, I introduced myself and he said, “Let’s stay in touch,” or some other standard brushoff. I took him at his word and over the next few years, I was casually persistent, sending him letters praising the cartoons I particularly liked. 

I saved quite a few Jensen cartoons, including one titled “Colonel McCosmic: The Indispensable Man [2].” It features a cartoon representation of Colonel Robert McCormick, the grandiose staunchly Republican owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. The Colonel is carving a full-size statue of himself. He wears a dark artist’s robe over a suit and tie. He’s holding a chisel in one hand and a mallet in one other, and for some reason unknown to me, he’s wearing binoculars. The partially finished statue sits on top of two large blocks of stone, one engraved with the words “WORLDS GREATEST MILITARY ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL EXPERT,” and the other “THE INDISPENSIBLE MAN.” In a cartoon bubble McCosmic says, My hands seem to be guided by some supernatural power. A little guy, half as tall as McCosmic and dressed as a hotel doorman, is watching the so-called great man sculpting.

Paper clipped to the cartoon is a typed carbon copy of a note from me to Jensen, which reads in part, “McCosmic is the perfect name for Colonel McCormick. Thanks for shedding a light on his not so supernatural power and reminding us enlightened ones of the dangerous influence he has over the unenlightened. Indispensable indeed! I say throw the bum out.”

To my surprise and delight, Jensen replied. I can’t find his letter – darn it – but I think it went something like this:

Dear Claire,
Thanks for sending notes now and then. It’s nice to hear from someone who understands what I’m trying to get across in my cartoons. You asked if we might get together so I could give you pointers on how to get into the news business. Sure thing. Give me a call and we’ll find a time to meet.

Sincerely, Cecil

I remember this very clearly: he signed the letter with his first name “Cecil.” No last name. I was thrilled. I called and we met for coffee. The conversation was lively and funny. We never got around to talking about to how he could help me get into the news business. It didn’t matter to me. My request was just a ruse to see if I could get to meet him.

Over the next several years, we met occasionally. We talked about politics and our creative endeavors. I continued to write short stories and poetry and was working on a novel. Nothing saved. Don’t ask me what any of it was about. I don’t remember and most likely they weren’t very good. We’ll never know and that’s OK.

Our get-togethers became more frequent, and sometime around 1939, before the U.S. got into World War II, we became entangled romantically. Cecil started calling me Clara, which was the romantic old-fashioned name my immigrant parents gave me at birth. I loved that he called me Clara, and I grew to love him and the feeling was mutual. We became a couple – not living together mind you -- but acknowledged as boyfriend and girlfriend.

My father’s downtown printing company was not far from Cecil’s office in the Chicago Daily News Building, 400 W. Madison Street. Sometimes, we would meet after work for dinner or a play or a movie. Other times we would meet with his friends. Not mine. They wouldn’t have known what to say to Cecil or to me for that matter. Their interests were conventional: home, marriage, and children. Our interests were more worldly. We attended lectures about the War in Europe, and discussions of whether President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs were pulling people out of the Depression that started with the stock market crash in 1929. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the U.S. joined the war, we attended talks about our country’s war efforts. All of these matters made it into Cecil’s cartoons.

Cecil was 39 in 1941, too old to go into the service when the World War II draft went into effect. So he had to be satisfied contributing to the war effort by continuing his work as a political cartoonist.

Cecil had an apartment on the near north side of Chicago, not far from Lake Michigan. I spent some time there, which was scandalous for an unmarried woman like me, but I didn’t care. However, I’m obliged to report that I was a good girl with high moral standards, and Cecil respected me. Though we were romantic with each other, we were careful to set limits to which both of us agreed.

On beautiful summer days, we’d pick up corned beef sandwiches from Gold’s Deli at Broadway and Diversey and picnic at the Lake. I remember Gold’s because it was where I introduced my gentile boyfriend to Jewish food, which he loved. One of those days, a friend took the only picture I have of the two of us. We make a good-looking couple, don’t you think?


Cecil and I got closer and more devoted to each other and started to talk about marriage and the difficulties we might encounter because of the age difference, he was twelve years older than I was, and because of religion: he was Lutheran, I was Jewish.

My immigrant mother didn’t know about our relationship. I was sure she would disapprove when she learned that he wasn’t Jewish, and that her disapproval would be compounded by the fact that he was an older man “of the world,” (the gentile world that is), with a newspaper job. Mother expected her four daughters to marry Jewish men who were doctors or lawyers, or at least owned their own businesses, like our father and like my eldest sister Mary’s husband Joe, who was a furrier with a flourishing business (even during the Depression). My middle sister Rose’s husband Len had a law degree but never practiced law. Instead, he was a salesman which shocked and dismayed Mother. Len sold “raw materials” to paint manufacturers and traveled around the city to find customers. To Mother’s way of thinking, he was like the Jewish peddlers coming “right off the boat” who made their living going from home to home selling their goods.

For Mother, having a daughter marry “out of the faith,” to an older man, a well-known Chicago newspaperman no-less, would have been a Shanda, the Yiddish term used to mean a shame and a scandal, something a Jewish family would try to hide from the larger Jewish community.

Inevitably, Mother found out about Cecil, most likely from my younger sister Perle. Perle and I lived at home. She was nosey about my business and shared everything with Mother. I never confronted Perle about it – what was the point after I was banished? Mother confronted me in the winter of 1943, saying “Enough. This has to end.” To get me away from Cecil, to make sure it ended, she sent me to Los Angeles where we had family I could stay with, family who would watch over me and report back to Mother.

I was a good daughter.

I wanted my mother’s love and approval.

 I couldn’t disobey her and I meekly complied.

Mother and Father gave me money to cover my travel costs, notified my cousins I was coming, accompanied me to the train station, and off I went. I was initially bereft in Los Angeles. My world had come crashing down and I missed Cecil like you can’t imagine. Or maybe you can.

I found a part-time job as a cub reporter for a small neighborhood paper, easy to do at the time – the young men were off to war and the newspaper could get away with paying me less. After a few months of saving my paltry salary, I was able to move into a women’s rooming house. I got settled into my tiny single-girl room, made friends with the other women there and found a Jewish Singles group. I licked my wounds and began to enjoy West Coast life.

The LA Jewish crowd was eclectic and freethinking. They reminded me of Cecil and the people I knew through him. There weren’t many young men around, but I figured when the war ended – I prayed it would end soon –and the single Jewish guys were discharged from the military, the interesting ones would come to California. Then I would meet a great guy and fall in love again. I was a practical gal, after all.

Not a surprise, I got fired from the reporter job. No experience, they said. I floated from office job to office job, but life was good. I enjoyed my independence, being away from the gossiping ways of Mother, Perle, and my three older siblings and their spouses. I missed Father, the only one in the family who stayed out of it. Cecil and I remained friends and wrote to each other now and then.

The distance couldn’t keep Mother from writing frequently and calling now and then, complaining about Father who was “driving her crazy” with, among other things, his impulsive sale of one car and an unwise purchase a few weeks later of a car she described as a “heap of junk.” In her infrequent calls, she cried and begged and repeated over and over again that she missed me and wished I would come back to Chicago. In her letters she wrote that she needed me to keep Father “out of mischief” and to keep him company so she and Perle could take a vacation away from Father and away from Chicago. [3]

The final straw came when Cecil wrote to me that Mother was harassing him at the Daily News. I wrote to my sister Rose [4] that I felt compelled to make a short visit to Chicago to straighten Mother out. I returned home at the end of January 1945. I had to pay my own train fare and when I got home, I was flat broke. So temporarily, I moved in with my parents, and Perle of course, and got a job for the time being. Mother and Perle took off right away on a trip, leaving me to watch over Father. And I was back in the soup, you might say.

Cecil and I decided to stop having contact with each other. We agreed it was the only way for us to move ahead with our lives and to stop the machinations of “LaBusybodyBrint,” as he called Mother. 

I followed Cecil’s career. How could I not? In 1946, he started writing the comic strip Elmo, which appeared in the Daily News. Though I’m not fond of comic strips, I followed Elmo’s, adventures. Elmo was a dimwitted tall blond guy with a square face, who got himself involved in an ill-fated manufacturing plant that produced a healthy snack called “Popnut Scrummy.” The comic strip featured well-endowed women and I saved one panel featuring “The Bag of Bingo Bango” woman [5]. I wondered then and still do today if I was the model for her. She seemed to have my hair and my attitude, so I have to conclude “Yes.”


There were other lightly clad sexy ladies in Elmo, and it was probably was too racy for a mainstream paper like the Chicago Daily News. In any event, within a year or so Elmo was replaced by Jensen’s Little Debbie comic strip. Comic strips about young adventurous girls were much more acceptable and very popular at the time. Besides Little Debbie, there were also the Little Lulu and Nancy comics. All three girls pulled wonderful pranks, stuff I wished I had the nerve to do when I was their age.

Years passed and I stopped following Cecil’s career. I never went back to California. How I got sucked into the LeBrint family vortex is a whole other story that I will get around to writing about one of these days.

-------------------------------------------

This story is from Clara’s Scrapbook: A Novel Inspired by Photos, Stories, and What-Not Saved by Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .

The Clara Stories are dedicated  to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 
b 1914 - d 2002

Documents and other pertinent references are listed below.

[1] Cecil Jensen photograph. Fair use of copyright material in the context of Cecil Jensen:  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33634169

[2] Search for images of “Cecil Jensen Colonel McCosmic” on the web to see the cartoon “Colonel McCosmic: The Indispensable Man,” and other Jensen political cartoons.

[3] Anna LeBrint quotes are from Rose Fuchs’ letters to Len, 1944-1945.

 [4] Pertinent section of Claire’s letter can be found in Clara’s Story: Rumors and Romance Part 2.

[5] The panel portrays a woman from the island of “Bingo Bango,” who got skinny because she ate the healthy “Popnut Scrummy” snack. Being skinny was not acceptable on her island, so she was called “Bag of Bingo Bango” in a derogatory sense.” To Elmo comic strip readers she would have been considered very shapely!





Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Clara's Scrapbook: Rumors and Romance Part 2


CECIL MY FIRST LOVE REVEALED
I'm an old lady by now and I'm very surprised by the mishegoss  (Yiddish for craziness, foolishness) going on regarding a romance I had in the late 1930's, over fifty years ago.

The mishegoss started when my niece Betsy visited a few weeks ago and asked, not so innocently I must say, whether I had dated a cartoonist when I was young. She said she heard rumors. “What rumors,” I asked, and if I remember right, she replied, “My mom (my older sister Rose) told Sue (Betsy’s older sister) that you fell in love with the guy who drew the Little Lulu comic-strip and that your mother banished you to Los Angeles to get you away from him.”

Oy I opened a can of worms when I asked about the rumors and allowed our conversation to continue. Now that I think of it, I could have just changed the subject. Coulda, woulda, shoulda doesn’t help anymore.

I sidestepped telling Betsy the true story. I didn’t tell her that I had indeed dated a cartoonist. Rather, I spun a tale loosely based on my time in California, telling her that I went to LA looking for adventure when I was in my twenties.

Betsy was visiting at the home I share with my husband Rolland in Dixon, Illinois when we had the conversation. After she returned to Chicago, where she lives, I tried to put our conversation out of my head. I was fairly successful until Betsy dropped a bombshell when she sent me a copy of a letter dated 1/14/45, that her mother Rose wrote to Len (my brother-in-law). This was one of the letters Len and Rose wrote to each other daily while Len was in the army during World War II. I remember them mentioning the letters and telling me that they might one day publish them in a book titled Letters to My Love. What can I say? We are all aspiring authors in this family.

They never compiled the letters into a book and in 1991 after my dear sister Rose died, Len passed the letters on to Betsy. Somehow, Betsy just happened to be reading the letters and came upon a reference to me being in California. Betsy the letter along with this note , “Aunt Claire, here is something about your time in California and some guy named Cecil. Thought you might be interested to see it.” 

Here’s an excerpt the letter where Rose quotes MY letter, and comments on what I wrote.

I received a letter from Claire today, which was a masterpiece of directness. She wrote, “Please talk to Mother and tell her to stop calling Cecil and telling him to leave town or promise he wouldn’t bother me when I come back. I got a letter from Cecil telling me this. Tell Mother I have no thoughts of him any longer that he is content and I am too. Advise Mother that they have a good attorney at the News and she can get into plenty of trouble. I am very happy in California but I am coming back for a visit, the only reason being that I’m tired of the letters, crying and desperate Mother is writing. I’m coming to straighten things out and go back promptly.” I guess there’s a big blowout brewing and Mother’s conduct is perfectly inexcusable. I talked with Mary (our oldest sister) and neither of us knew what to do. Joe (Mary’s husband) advised not mentioning it, but I thought Mary would be the best person to tell Mother Claire said thus and so about Cecil and then Mary should refuse to discuss it. … It’s a… mess, and I get disgusted thinking of my Mother maneuvering around so. [1]

OK, so I wrote about a guy named Cecil and said, “I have no thoughts of him any longer…” And there was stuff about “Mother maneuvering around so,” as Rose succinctly put it.

OK, so finally I think it is time to tell the whole story. It was a beautiful and awful experience and I’m 80 years old and why not?  

Cecil was Cecil Jensen and during the time we dated, he was a political cartoonist at the Chicago Daily News. A few years later he started drawing a daily comic-strip titled Elmo about a disingenuous guy who was always making a mess of things. And in the late 1940’s, probably with the encouragement of the newspaper syndicates of the day, Cecil dropped Elmo in favor of a minor character Debbie, and became most well-known for his long-running syndicated Little Debbie comic-strip. At the time, there were a few other popular comic-strips about young girls who were outspoken rascals including Nancy and Little Lulu.

Yes, of course the Daily News had good attorneys on staff who could have gone after Mother if she continued pestering Cecil. I believe these days they call Mother’s behavior “stalking." Yes, even though Cecil and I had come to terms with our romance ending, we wrote to each other now and then when I was in California. We always expected our romance would end. He was after all 14 years older than me and most damning of all to my Jewish Russian immigrant mother, he was not Jewish. And yes, I was happy in California, even though I was always financially teetering on the edge of poverty, and I had every intention to return there after a short visit to Chicago to “straighten things out” with Mother.

There was a lot in the short paragraph I wrote to Rose and it reminded me of Cecil, how well we got on and how much fun we had together.  But it also reminded me of Mother’s nagging behavior and that part was painful to remember.

Since I was going through my old photographs, I dug out the picture of Cecil and me taken in 1940, and also came upon copies of a few of his political cartoons and some some clippings of the Elmo and Little Debbie comic-strips.

ROLLAND MY SECOND LOVE WINS OUT
I showed the photo to my husband Rolland and mentioned that Cecil, whom I dated many many years ago, called me Clara, the romantic name I was given at birth. I told Roll (pronounced Rahl) that he was my second love, but Cecil was my first love – way back in the late 1930’s, early 1940’s.

“So that is you and this Cecil Jensen guy? Wow, you were young and beautiful and he’s pretty good looking too! So you say he was your first love and there was no one else until you met me.

 “I’m flattered. Dearie,” Rolland continued, “the young Clara LeBrint was quite the gal then and the older Claire LeBrint Metzer still is today. You sure look pleased with yourself in that picture, with that sweet smile and kinda dreamy look in your eyes. These days you have a big beautiful smile and a sparkle in your eyes, I would like to think because you are with me. Yes? [I nodded my head in agreement]. I’m one lucky guy, that you fell for me and consented to marry me -- finally -- after I chased you all the way to Israel. Remember?”

I sure do love Rolland, my husband of twenty-something years. “How could I forget Dearie? That was the trip when I thought I lost my passport and you kept me as calm as was possible. You know me; I sure do get nervoused-up. But it turned out OK. The passport was in my purse the whole time that I thought it was lost.”


Claire and Rolland in Israel

Rolland was my second love, but the first and only guy I married, at the ripe old age of 53. And I thought to myself, Maybe now is the time to tell Roll a little bit about my younger self and about Cecil. He might get a kick out of knowing how cosmopolitan I was and he might remember Cecil Jensen’s political cartoons or at least his comic-strip “Little Debbie.”

I showed Roll a few of Cecil’s cartoons from the late 1930’s and the 40’s, the war years, and a few of the comic-strips and asked if he knew Cecil Jensen’s work.

“I don’t recognize any of this,” he said. “Remember Dearie I’m a bit younger than you.”

“Yes, Roll, you are eight years my junior so when I was romancing Cecil you were still in short pants, or in high school, or maybe in college. But I’m not complaining because I captured you, my most wonderful younger husband. “

“Yes dearie, and I’ll always be younger,” he quipped.

“Always,” I agreed.

He said with laughter in his voice, “My family was too cultured to read comic-strips. We were involved in opera and highfalutin music. You know how I love Wagner and can sit contentedly through his 5 ½ hour Ring Cycle.”

“Oh I know which is why I never go with you. Anything over three hours is too much for me.”

“Well it was my heritage. Remember my grandfather was the famous opera singer, Adolf Muhlmann and my mother Zerline Muhlmann Metzger was the founder of the All Children’s Grand Opera Company of Chicago and I sang with the children’s opera company when I was a teen. Don’t we have a picture of me in my opera regalia?”

“I remember the stories you told about your grandfather. In fact I wrote a story about Adolf, and how he went from yeshiva bocher  (Yiddish for young Jewish male student studying Jewish texts full-time) to opera singer. And yes, I remember stories about your mother and the children’s opera and I think we have a picture of you performing in it.”

The conversation about Cecil was over. I realized Roll didn’t much care about that romance. We have our own romance and he’s most happy with us. Me too.

One day I’ll write the story about Cecil and me and I’ll share it with Betsy, who will I’m sure share it with her sisters. Maybe someday, when I’m long gone, she will let others read the story of my first romance. Maybe someday it will get put on that newfangled computer invention the "world wide web." Rolland’s a computer whiz and told me about this “web-thing.” He says it will let everyone around the world read all kinds of information about history and about people’s lives. Pipe dream, I say. And anyways who would want to know about a romance between an unknown young girl and a political cartoonist. Hmm… sounds like the plot for a movie, what with an interfering mother it could be quite interesting! 

Enough speculation.

I went looking for the story about Adolf Muhlmann and the picture of young Rolland.  And I found both. The story was titled “How Grandfather Became A Singer”[2] and I wrote it exactly as Rolland told me, in the first person as if I were him. It told how Alter, born in Tzarist Russia (who changed his first name to Adolf), became an opera singer. I also found a related story I’d written for FATE Magazine [3] about why Rolls grandfather’s birth name was Alter (Yiddish for old man). Alter’s superstitious mother Milke gave him this name to fool the Angel of Death into thinking the baby was indeed an old man. Before this baby was born, Milke gave birth to several children who died in infancy. She wanted to ensure Alter lived to a ripe old age. Adolf Muhlmann lived into his 70’s, so Milke’s ruse worked.

And here is Rolland in his teen years as a member of the All Children’s Grand Opera Company. He is on stage for Wagner’s opera Flying Dutchman.



I asked Roll how long this opera was. He said only a little over two hours, performed without an intermission and he reminded me that I went with him to see it at least once.

“Did I stay awake?”

“Well dearie, we saw a rousing version of it at Orchestra Hall, with the Chicago Symphony and Chorus, conducted by George Solti, and of course some famous soloists. So I expect you stayed awake."

What a memory Rolland has! Me? I don’t remember going to that opera -- Wagner was never my thing.

----------------------------------------------------------

This story is from Clara’s Scrapbook: A Novel Inspired by Photos, Stories, and What-Not Saved by Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .

The Clara Stories are dedicated  to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory 
b 1914 - d 2002

Footnotes below indicate existing documents in the Fuchs/Lebrint Archives held by Betsy Fuchs.

[1] Letter from Rose Fuchs to Leonard Fuchs dated 1/14/45, which includes a letter from Claire LeBrint to her sister Rose Fuchs.

[2] “How Grandfather became A Singer,” by Claire Metzger, undated, unpublished typed manuscript.

[3] This Alter story was from “Adam’s First Wife Lilith” by Claire Metzger, published in FATE Magazine, November 1990.  Also from the article, by way of explanation for Claire’s story about Alter, “When Lilith appeared in Jewish folklore… she was called the Angel of Death…Milke knew her several small children had died in infancy, and in her unhappiness wondered whether she was being punished for a sin. Or was it the ‘Angel of Death,’ a phrase she had heard in her own childhood.”