Thursday, August 8, 2019

Clara's Scrapbook: My Parents Come to America

This story is part of a fictional memoir that the author Betsy Fuchs imagines her Aunt Claire LeBrint Metzger might have written in 1994, when Claire/Clara would have been 80 years old. 

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.

After Anna Menkes and her brothers sent money to bribe his way out of the Russian army, somehow Abram Loberant arranged to have a photograph taken of him in an army uniform. Father was so proud of this photographic portrait, that eventually he had it handsomely matted and framed. During their lifetime, my parents prominently displayed it in their living room for everyone to see.


 Abram Loberant 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. 

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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 part of a fictional memoir that the author Betsy Fuchs imagines her Aunt Claire LeBrint Metzger might have written in 1994, when Claire/Clara would have been 80 years old. 

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



Monday, March 4, 2019

Clara's Story: 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.

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

Note: This story is part of a fictional memoir that the author Betsy Fuchs imagines her Aunt Claire LeBrint Metzger might have written in 1994, when Claire/Clara would have been 80 years old. These stories include references to existing stories, journals, letters and other written materials that came from Claire and from the author’s parents Leonard and Rose Fuchs, all three of blessed memory. 

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!

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




Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Clara's Story: 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.

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Note: This story is part of a fictional memoir that the author Betsy Fuchs imagines her Aunt Claire LeBrint Metzger might have written in 1994, when Claire/Clara would have been 80 years old. These stories include references to existing stories, journals, letters and other written materials that came from Claire and from the author’s parents Leonard and Rose Fuchs, all three of blessed memory. 

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.”


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

Monday, November 26, 2018

Clara's Story: Rumors and Romance Part 1



Today my niece Betsy is visiting Dixon, Illinois where I've lived with my husband Rolland Metzger since we married over twenty-five years ago. We married when I was 53, oy, I was almost an "old maid," and definitely I was slow at finding someone to tie-the knot with. But Roll was worth the wait.

Speaking of old, oy gavult I just turned 80. I’m not the gad-about I used to be, so Betsy has joined me in my home-hobby, looking through old photos, scrapbooks and what-not I’ve saved during my lifetime. Betsy found a picture of me dated 1934, with a note I wrote on the back How not to accept a proposal and she asks, “Aunt Claire, what’s the story behind this?”

“He wasn’t my type. I was only twenty and if I remember right – it was a long time ago when the photo was snapped – I was thinking: I don't want to date this guy. I hope he gets the message.”

Then she asked, “So you didn’t want to date that guy but I wonder, was there someone that you wanted to date, a cartoonist maybe? There were rumors..."

Involuntarily, I snapped back at her in a sharp, kind of shrill voice, unlike my usual warm and friendly way of talking, “What rumors?” 

She seemed reluctant to answer, but also bursting to tell me. My dear niece, who is like a daughter to me, is a bit like her mom Rose who loved to gossip and talk about other people's love lives.

Betsy's words came out haltingly, reluctantly, “My mom told Sue (her older sister) who told me…that you fell in love with the creator of the Little Lulu comic strip… that he wasn’t Jewish… and that he was married or maybe divorced.” She stopped, took a deep breath, and added, “Mom also said that Grandma LeBrint sent you to Los Angeles to break up the romance.”

Then she continued, “If not the cartoonist, Sue thought the romance might have been with Nelson Algren,” and she laughed. I had to laugh too. It was absurd! Nelson Algren, the author who had a long tempestuous love affair with Simone de Beauvoir, the French writer and author of The Second Sex, who herself had a life-long love-commitment with the author and philosopher Jean Paul Sartre.

"Can you imagine," I said, "Claire LeBrint mixed up in that romantic mess with those three very public very famous writers?"

Her last question broke the tension and I told her what I thought might have been the source of the Nelson Algren rumor. “Strange but true, the Algren family lived down the street from us in Albany Park and your mom and Aunt Mary (the oldest LeBrint sister) knew him. Nelson was Mary’s age and only a year older than Rose and the three of them went to Haugan, the neighborhood school together. Nelson was four or five years older than me and I didn’t know him. But being the literary type, at some point, I tried to read his book, The Man with the Golden Arm. I never finished it. It was too raw and real for my taste. But, I have to tell you: I’m flattered Sue would think I might have dated Nelson Algren.” I had to laugh again, “Me and Nelson and Simone and Sartre – imagine!” 

It was true, I had a romance with a political cartoonist when I was in my mid-twenties. He was twelve years older than me, single, and most damning of all – he wasn't Jewish. My immigrant Jewish mother banished me to LA to get me away from him. Had I continued with this man, it would have been a shonda for my mother. Shonda is the Yiddish word meaning a disgrace, a shame, a terrible embarrassment, a scandal not only for the family but also for the entire Jewish community. This may seem like an extreme reaction today, but most immigrant families in the old days insisted that their children “stick to their own kind,” to quote from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story

I was a young gal seeking adventure when we dated. It was wonderful. We were in love. But more than that I was a good, mostly obedient daughter who could not go against her parent's wishes. So when it came down to it, I had to do what my mother told me and off to California I went.

I wasn’t about to tell Betsy about the cartoonist. I was happily married to my dear husband Rolland, so why would I want to open that can of worms? Now that I think about it, Rolland might be amused, not surprised at all. He knew that I had wide-ranging interests before we met and had dated quite a bit and that I had many adventures and was quite a live wire.

But I could tell Betsy about California, so I continued, "Yes, with my mother's encouragement I went to Los Angeles when I was in my twenties, to live there for a while."

I needed a break from this conversation, so I made us some instant coffee, and we chatted about plays we had seen, family happenings, and so on.


THE MOSTLY TRUTHFUL STORY OF MY TIME IN CALIFORNIA

I decided I would tell Betsy about California leaving out everything related to my romance with the cartoonist. It was a good enough story without that part, especially since it included my encounter with the actor Lee J. Cobb. 

And this is what I told her.

Our family knew the young Leo Jacoby, who took the name Lee J. Cobb when he became an actor. Cobb’s family lived in New York City. His parents had emigrated from Kishenev, Bessarabia in Czarist Russia (now Romania) where his father had worked with my father. This made our familes landsmen. It was the custom among immigrants to have landsmen stay while they were getting established in America. Some time in the 1920’s, the young Leo Jacoby took advantage of his parents’ landsmen status and stayed at our home in Chicago for a few weeks. I’m not sure why.

It was 1943 when I went to California. By then, Cobb was a movie star living in Hollywood. Mother must have gotten his address from his parents and assured me that he would be happy to help me get settled in Los Angeles. Mother thought it was only fair since he had stayed with us some years back. There were tears all around when I got on the Union Pacific train. It was my second train trip out West. The first was with Aunt Perle (my younger sister). We went to San Francisco and took a side trip to Los Angeles to visit cousins.

This time I was traveling alone. I was a little scared but mostly happy for the adventure of it all. I arrived in LA and took a cab to Cobb’s house, using money Mother and Father gave me to cover my trip and my first few months in California. The cab driver delivered me to a mansion in the Hollywood hills, set back from the road on what seemed like several acres of land. I was so sure Cobb would welcome me that I sent the cab away.

I stared at the place in amazement and wonder, and with great trepidation and some excitement, I rang the bell. Cobb answered the door! I introduced myself as the daughter of Abe and Anna LeBrint from Chicago. Before I could remind him that he had stayed with us when he was Leo Jacoby, he gave me a cold and stony look, as if I was a scraggly stray cat, and slammed the door in my face. Crying, ashamed and disappointed, I walked, lugging my suitcase, from Hollywood several miles down the hill, found a pay phone, and called Mother collect. She reminded me that we had relatives in LA who would be glad to take me in. Perle and I had met them on our trip out West, but they weren’t famous like Lee J. Cobb! My relatives welcomed me into their home. I stayed with them a month or so and then found a room in a women’s boarding house in Boyle Heights, the Jewish area of Los Angeles.

After I settled into my room, with sheer guts, persistence, desperation, and nerve, I searched for a newspaper job. And amazingly, I was hired as a part-time cub reporter for a neighborhood paper. Maybe they were impressed by my “credentials,” which included the night school journalism classes I took at Northwestern University in Chicago. Or most likely I got the job because young men were all off to war (WW II) and they had no choice but to hire a woman, even an inexperienced one like me. 

Next order of business was to find a synagogue with a Jewish Singles group. I was happy that the LA Jewish crowd at the singles group was eclectic and more freethinking than my Chicago friends had been. In the group were some aspiring actors, painters, and writers and other adventuresome transplants from all over the county, even a few from Chicago.

I was hoping to meet an attractive interesting Jewish guy, that we’d fall in love, and that I would be pleased to accept his proposal of marriage. I imagined we would live an exciting freewheeling California life. A gal can dream, can’t she?

However, again because of the war, there were few young eligible single men, emphasis on young, in the group. So sadly that dream had to be deferred.

As was my dream of having a career as a journalist. Being a cub reporter in LA where I knew no one and knew nothing about the goings-on there, and zero about how to be a reporter, no surprise that the job didn't last. But I easily found an office job, of course low paying – to be expected. Life in LA was good. I enjoyed my independence, being away from my bossy mother and my snooty snooping gossipy older sisters Mary and Rose. I missed Father who was sweet but ineffective. I didn’t miss the bookkeeping job I had at Father’s business, The Central Press in downtown Chicago. I was never meant to be a bookkeeper. I dreamed of being a creative writer, like I had been in my early twenties and secretly thought I might get back into theater, or maybe, since I was in LA, I might get small parts in a film or two. After all, in my early twenties, I had the lead role of Grazia in a production of Death Takes a Holiday.

Then I remembered seeing the little article and publicity photo in the scrapbook Betsy and I had been looking through. We found it again and were both impressed with the young Claire Le Brint.





I knew Betsy had many more questions: Did I have copies of “Jettison” and my poem “on page three.” (I didn’t think so.) I’m sure she also wanted to know why and when I left Los Angeles and returned to Chicago. But I was done reminiscing and tired from our conversation. I told her we could continue at another time even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was most afraid she’d ask about the romance.

However, like me, Betsy seemed relieved to be done with our conversation. It had been emotional for her, asking such personal questions, and I bet she was tired too. And hungry. I know I was. It was getting to be dinnertime and Rolland, who had been out and about in Dixon, would be home soon.

I had to figure out whether we would have sandwiches or canned spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner. Betsy stayed for dinner and we had a little salad that I threw together, bread and butter, and the canned spaghetti, with Salerno Butter Cookies for dessert.  She left soon afterwards and drove the two hours back to her home in Chicago. She's a good driver so I didn't worry.

A FEW WEEKS LATER

After Betsy got home, she looked through the stories her mother Rose, of blessed memory, had written about growing up in Chicago. Betsy found one which included some about the young Leo Jacoby visiting the LeBrint family.

Betsy called to tell me that the young Leo was an award winning harmonica player before he got into acting and took the name Lee J. Cobb. You can bet we laughed about that! She sent me a  Xerox copy of the story. I include the part about Jacoby's visit below.

Our last lantzman was the best. He was a 17 year old at the time I was 17. He was not foreign born nor was he needy. He was on his way to Hollywood but wanted to see Chicago. He was the son of Ben Jacob [sic], the man who sent lantzmen to us from New York City. Leo … had won a harmonica contest, a popular instrument in those days, playing Ravel’s "Bolero." He won a week in Hollywood, to try out for Larry Adler’s harmonica band that played in the movies.

Nothing came of that tryout but Leo stayed with us again on his way back home and said he was going to be an actor. After a while he did make a hit … in the stage play “Golden Boy,” went on to Hollywood to play the same role in the movie, changed his name to Lee J. Cobb, a perfect take off of Leo Jacob, and made a fine living until he died a number of years ago. [1]

I went to the library and found that Leo Jacoby was born in 1911 and died in 1976 after many years of being known by his professional actor name Lee J. Cobb.

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

This story is part of a fictional memoir that the author Betsy Fuchs imagines her Aunt Claire LeBrint Metzger might have written in 1994, when Claire/Clara would have been 80 years old. These stories include references to existing stories, journals, letters and other written materials that came from Claire and from the author’s parents Leonard and Rose Fuchs, all three of blessed memory. 

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Clara's Story: Becoming a Published Writer


During the late 1950’s when I was in my mid-30's, I scrimped and saved enough to take one trip to Europe. We went to Paris, that I remember, and to Switzerland. Probably also to London but I'm not sure. In the postcard, I'm wearing the flowered dress, happily eating with friends I met on the trip.

But…my dream of becoming a published writer and my hope of finding a nice single Jewish guy to hang around with and possibly marry – neither was happening. That is, not until Rolland Metzger of Dixon, Illinois came along. He visited Chicago some weekends to get culture and to see if he could find a nice Jewish woman to woo and marry.

In 1960 we two Jewish singles met and started keeping company.

Rolland thought I was wonderful and amazing, talented and full of life. He believed I could do anything I wanted. He couldn’t convince me to marry him until 1967, but in 1962 he helped me to follow my dream of being a writer. 

I had discovered the Famous Writers School correspondence course, founded by Bennett Cerf, a well-known publisher/author, and other "famous" writers. I remembered taking the course, that was all. Then I found several workbooks from the course and I see the advertising flyer with this Bennett Cerf  quote,“Do you have a restless urge to write? If you do, here is an opportunity for you to take the first important step to success in writing.”

Even though many years have passed, I remember the excitement I felt when I contemplated his question and my answer, spoken quietly (to myself), a resounding Yes!

I lost my nerve until Rolland held my hand so to speak -- in reality, he sat next to me -- as I took the big step of enrolling in the course. I registered with the pseudonym Leva Missman, a very catchy name, don’t you think? I used Rolland’s Dixon address instead of mine in Chicago. I was apprehensive about attempting to be a real writer and needed the assurance that in case I failed, no one, not even the instructors, would know my real identity. I was grateful to Rolland for going along with my deception. 

 The first Famous Writers assignment was to answer the question “Why Do I Wish to Write?” The instructor returned my essay with some well-deserved critical comments. Oh boy, it sure stung to read criticism of my work. You writers out there will understand. Rolland had to hold my hand and sit by my side as I moved from being a writer-want-to-be to becoming a good, or at least a competent, writer.

The note identified with (1) includes great advice that I’ve taken to heart and reads:
“Use some contractions to provide a more conversational tone.”

Much about the course comes back when I find a folder labeled “Women’s Angle,” and I see the seven articles published in the National Informer newspaper.

Here's how it happened.

After my first essay, the pieces I wrote for Famous Writers were mostly about how women were taken advantage of at work, when shopping, by loan companies, and even at dancing schools. As I grew more confident in my writing, my instructor informed me it was time to submit my work for publication. He suggested I send one of my stories to the National Informer newspaper for their “Women’s Angle” column. The magazine’s motto was “Truthful News of All Facts of Life.” It sounded good to me. I submitted the story “How American Stores Cheat, Use and Abuse Female Shoppers,”[1] under my own name Claire Le Brint. To my surprise, they accepted it. I hadn’t heard of the National Informer and hadn’t seen a copy, but no problem. I was to be published and paid for my work. I was ecstatic.

A check came in the mail along with a letter indicating that my story would appear in the September 23, 1962 issue. When I got a copy of that issue, I was shocked. The banner headline on the first page was RED CHINESE EAT BABIES! with the subheading in slightly smaller bold print Innocent Children Victims of Communist Prosperity. I skimmed through the paper. Most of the articles were patently false like the cover story, or super-trashy like we find today in the National Enquirer. But you better believe I was very proud of my article, which was “Truthful News of one particular Fact of Life.” I pasted the article on yellow card stock so I could keep it forever and jotted down the date and name of the publication. On the back, I wrote the headline and subheading, then I tossed that tabloid paper in the trash where it belonged.

I was appalled by the newspaper and most of the articles. Rolland and I conferred and we decided I might as well submit more articles to the Informer. The readers, we figured, needed at least some “truthful news,” if only they could recognize it. I was being paid and published, no small feat for a novice writer. Here are titles for the rest of my Informer articles. [1]

·         Why Are Women Workers Treated Like Dopes?
·         How Dancing Schools Suck In the Suckers (wow)
·         Stupid Store Clerks Gyp Housewives
·         Housewives Ain’t As Smart as Retail Loan Sharks
·         FM Radio Becoming Lousy Just Like AM Radio??
·         How Business Places Hook Women on Free Gimmicks

So I, Claire Le Brint, had become a published writer! That was enough for me for the time being. Over the next ten years I was busy working, getting married, changing my name to Claire Metzger, moving to Dixon, getting used to Rolland, and traveling to Chicago with Rolland fairly frequently to take advantage of the city's cultural marvels.

But I will never forget the National Informer and my first big break. Can you blame me? What a story that is!

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Note: This story is part of a fictional memoir that the author Betsy Fuchs imagines her Aunt Claire LeBrint Metzger might have written in 1994, when Claire/Clara would have been 80 years old. These stories include references to existing stories, journals, letters and other written materials that came from Claire and from the author’s parents Leonard and Rose Fuchs, all three of blessed memory. 

Documents and other pertinent references are listed below.

[1] Titles of articles by Claire Metzger published in the National Informer  refer to documents (copies of the articles) in the Fuchs/LeBrint Archives held by Betsy Fuchs.


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