The Schneider Family
Malka Feldbaum and Chaim Aaron Schneider's sons (left to right) William, Sol and Abraham. There is no date on the photo, however, it must have been taken in the United States sometime between 1910 and 1920 as Abraham was the only one of Malka and Chaim's sons born in Bielovesz. Abe was born in 1900, Willie in 1903 and Sol in 1906. Malka died in 1907 at the age of 28. Chaim later married Mindel.
Abraham and Sol were musicians. Abe played the violin or "fiddle", as he referred to it, in vaudeville and for many of the top Broadway shows and continued to play for Disney on Ice and other NYC-based shows well into his 80's (see photo below on the right). He spoke often and fondly of his career in show business which included many years as the Music Librarian for the popular "Your Hit Parade" TV show. Later in life he worked as a courier for violin dealers, "escorting" violins around the country to their new owners. Abe was the last of the brothers to pass away. He died in Brooklyn, NY in 1992.
Sol played the accordian (see photo down and to the left) and had his own band which played throughout the New York City area. Because of his ability to play Russian music, he was asked to play for Royalty and heads of State including several U.S. Presidents. His professional name was Sid Taylor. (schneider in Yiddish means tailor)
Willie organized for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and worked as an electrician most of his life. He was known as "One Beer Bill" by many of his friends in the union. He died of cancer on October 31 (Halloween), 1956. Harry Van Arsdale, long- time president of the IBEW and various other unions in the New York City area, was a pall bearer at William's funeral. The IBEW union shut down for the day of the funeral in respect. More than 20 years after his death, he was still warmly remembered by a number of the old time electricians that his grandson Don had the good fortune to work with as a summer apprentice for the union.
William met Gertrude Solkoff, who was later to become his wife, at the wedding of his first cousin Gussie Cohen (daughter of Abraham Cohen and Rose Feldbaum). Gussie was marrying Max Solkoff (Gert's brother). After Willie's death, Gertrude married Max Frank, a minor league umpire, then carpenter, then cabbie. Max died of prostate cancer in the early 1970's and Gert died in 1976.
Remembrances of Abraham Schneider
Grandnephew Don Messinger
Cousin Sonny tells me that for many, many years Abe was estranged from the family and had little contact with his Aunts. This was because his step-mother Mindel was jealous of his natural mother's family and insisted that all three boys have as little contact as possible with her (Malka's) sisters or Malka's father Aaron Joshua. Part of this attitude was due to the fact that she and not Malka, had raised the three boys. Abe's family relations were further strained by his many years (17) in Hollywood, California. Abe once told us that while he was never "officially" married, he and his girlfriend Betty were very close. Abe went on to explain that "My mother (Mindel) didn't want me to get married. She'd say, 'Who is going to take care of me in my old age?'".
In one of my last conversations with Abe, he related the following story. He was playing for Disney on Ice at the Garden (Madison Square Garden) and during a break he put his cherished violin (cerca 1700) on his chair. He came back to find that someone had sat on the instrument which then had to have fairly extensive repairs.
Linda, Ian and I managed to visit Abe at his apartment on Lincoln Avenue in Brooklyn a few times on our way back from visiting my folks in North Babylon, NY in the mid and late 1980's. To Abe, Ian was "Little Willie" and I have a number of pictures of the two of them together (see photo below on right).
During our last visit with Abe, Lynn and I brought our instruments (dulcimer and guitar) to play some music for him. We were both surprised and thrilled when Abe took out his fiddle and played along. It was as if he'd known the tunes for years. I only regret we didn't have a tape of the session and that we didn't stop by more often.
Sonny recalls that Abe was at his Bar Mitzvah on September 15, 1946. He was also at mine in 1963. My Dad took movies of the affair and at some point was showing them to friends who were visiting. One of them asked who the "crippled" man was. It was Abe, who when the time came to light the candles on the cake was feeling so little pain that he had to use a chair for support (like a walker) to get up to the table.
Remembrances of William Schneider
Daughter Phyllis Schneider Messinger:
Dad joined the Army during WWI and was shipped off to France as a Private in the Medical Department. He had listed his profession as a "chauffer" and his age as 18 1/2. In reality he had no license and was only 16. With the help of Great Aunts Rachel and Clara, his step-mother Mindel persuaded the Army to send him back to the States where he was discharged for "Fraudulent Enlistment".
Dad (Willie) disappeared during his own wedding. He was on a ball team that had a game scheduled for that day so he left the wedding reception to play ball without telling anyone, including his new bride.
The fact that Willie died on Halloween is of note for several reasons. "When I (Phyllis) was young there was no such thing as 'trick or treat'. First there was the raggamuffin parade, then the children would go from door to door saying 'anything for Halloween?'. To Dad, who was a very proud person, this was considered begging and his children would never beg. Dad would stuff the apartment door bell so he wouldn't be bothered by the local kids. When his grandchildren were small, he took them around 'trick or treating'. My grandmother (Gert's mother) Jennie died on Halloween." (Cousin Sonny remembers that Willie's mother Malka also died on Halloween when he was only about 3 years old).
Mindel was my father's (Willie's) stepmother. She was the only grandmother (on the Schneider side) that I knew. Grandpa Chaim Aaron Schneider brought her to this country with the promise of marriage; not telling her he had three children. Willie would not accept her, because as young as he was when his mother (Malka) died, he still remembered her. When Willie was dying, he told Mindel how much he loved her and asked for her forgiveness. They never told Chaim that Willie died, because he was ill and they were afraid the shock would kill him. The day of Willie's funeral Abe and Sol called Chaim and pretended to be Willie calling to say goodbye. They told him that he and Gert were leaving for Florida. Aunt Flo Schaffron, Grandma Gert and I visited Chaim and Mindel only once after that. We told Chaim that Grandma Gert had come from Florida to visit and that Willie couldn't because he had to work. That was the last time we saw my grandparents.
I think Mindel had a sister, Becky (Rebecca) who lived downstairs in Chaim and Mindel's house. Becky had two daughters and two sons. One of the sons was a pharmacist and the other a tennis pro who moved out to Hollywood and taught some of the stars.
Grandson Don Messinger:
Although my grandfather died when I was fairly young (I was about 5 years old), I still remember him taking us to the Bronx Zoo. Willie and Gert lived across from the zoo, in the apartments near the "L" off Pelham Parkway. The School for the Deaf was on the corner of the building. He'd come home from work with bags of snacks for the animals (and himself). Brother David and I would take turns riding on his shoulders. We used to joke that we went to the zoo so often that the baby elephant there knew us by sight (and we all know an elephant never forgets). We'd drive into the Bronx, via the Whitestone Bridge, to visit on weekends about once a month. It took us so long to pack for the one hour drive that Dad used to say, "The Jews didn't have this much stuff when they left Egypt". I was always afraid that the bridge (the Whitestone Bridge) would abruptly end after going up the incline and we'd all fall into the river. Fortunately, it never did. On weekends when we'd stay overnight in the Bronx, we'd get up early on Saturday mornings so we could hear the lions roar at the zoo and play safari in front of my grandparent's door. Willie had a very loud, frightening snore that we used to pretend was a lion roaring. Sometimes we got the lion and sometimes the lion got us. The photo on the right is of Grandpa Willie with his grandchildren David, Diane and Donald Messinger. It was taken in his apartment in the Bronx.
Grandpa Willie could "magically" take the top off his thumb or someone's nose. Towards the end of his bout with cancer, he would lie on the couch in the apartment and spend hours showing me how to draw cannons and ships. One time, he and Gert drove all day and night from Florida to bring home (alive) some fish and crabs they had caught there. They snuck into our house and filled the bathtub with sand and put the crabs and fish in.
My parents still talk about how when he and Gert came out to "the sticks" to visit for a weekend, Willie took great delight in getting us all wound up and then would suddenly announce that he was tired and go to bed, leaving my parents the nearly impossible task of settling us down.
My last memories of my Grandfather are of playing on the rocks opposite the hosital where he died. My parents would take turns visiting him and periodically sneek us in to see him. He weighed less than 90 pounds when he finally died and had to be supported by numerous pillows as most of his bones had disintegrated from the cancer.
After Willie died in 1956, we seemed to visit my Grandmother less and less often. When we did visit, Grandma was often down in the park playing Mah Jongg, Scrabble or cards with the ladies of the building. Her friends used to embarrass my brother David and I with their talk of how they'd known us (and our mother) since we were babies and how adorable and cute we were. Fortunately most had daughters that lived elsewhere, otherwise their comments of "oh, my granddaughter would just eat you up" would have been taken a lot more seriously. The bigger, more immediate threat was the cheek pinching and old lady kisses, a Pelham Parkway custom and rather intense physical and biological hazard.
Grandma Gert (see photo to left of Gert with daughter Phyllis) was a short, stocky women with white hair. She kept an immaculate apartment (as does her daughter, my mother Phyllis) and was an incredible cook (as was her other daughter Florence). She could literally make a banquet from nothing. She didn't keep kosher but did make a number of ethnic dishes like gifhilta fish and of course, chicken soup (to die for!!!). My Dad still talks about her cheese blintz. One of the great loves in Grandma's life was playing piano. Later in life, when her fingers were so badly twisted from arthritis that she couldn't play, she would longingly look at my hands and say, "What beautiful, long fingers you have. You should learn to play." Her piano went to my sister in Ohio when she died.
It seemed like everyone in the building knew Gert, it was a kind of extended family. We'd visit neighbors and play with their kids. Dave and I were particularly fond of a young girl named Ina Chadwick although neither of us remember much about her or know what became of her when she grew up. She and her sister (Evelyn) lived down the hallway and used to come to the apartment and play hide-and-seek with us. Their dad, Nat (Nathan) was a "mucky-muck" with the AFL union. Their mother's name was Hannah. For years after Gert passed away some of her friends (Fanny G_____) would call my mother to see how the family was and to try to get her to come visit. I don't think Mom ever went back after she and her sister settled (cleaned out) the apartment. I remember Mom calling me at grad school and asking if there was anything of Gert's that I particularly wanted. I told her any photos or letters (even then I knew I was destined to do this) and the black elephant book ends that I have to this day. I also have the fireplace mantle in my family room that Willie had made for her. Many of her belongings were stored in a warehouse that my Uncle Bud (Herbert Schaffron) owned and have since been "lost". Fortunately, my Mom got the photos and papers.
There was a black doorman/maintenance man who Dave and I were friendly with and we would go downstairs to visit him sometimes. We'd talk to him or watch him vacuum and clean. Sometimes he'd take us down to the basement to see the furnace. It was a big thrill. This was where all the garbage from the building shutes came down to be burned. We used to tease one of the girls in the building that we were going to send her kitty down the garbage shute for a ride.
I remember visiting the Hubermans (Gussie and ____) who lived in the apartment next to my grandparents (at the very end of the hall). Mr. Huberman was in the garment business. They had two sons and a daughter named Yetta.
Cindy, the Messinger family dog, who went everywhere with us, knew the building cold and would walk in the front door and sit down outside the elevator and wait for it to come down. She really loved Gert who I don't believe was much of an animal person.
Grandson David Messinger:
We went to the Bronx Zoo so often that in the fourth grade I was able to act as a guide for the entire class. It was one of my proudest days. I could even point out Grandma's apartment to the class from the bus. I seem to remember that when we walked to the zoo we went through a walkway tunnel which echoed giving us great joy. Of course we were always told stories about bad boys who got too close to the bears and other dangerous beasts only to be maimed. Once a python, or boa constrictor escaped from the zoo. You and I went around the corner [of the brownstone] to the park to try and find it. There was an electrical power house there that we were always told to avoid.
Grandpa, you and I once went to the lake [Southards Pond across the street from my parents home in North Babylon]. Grandpa made you a fishing poleout of a twig, some line he found on the trail, and a bobby pin he bent into a hook. You caught an eel. I don't think you landed it, but I vividly remember seeing it dangling over the churning water. I bet it was the first thing you ever caught. Grandpa loved to make us improvised toys, and I think of him whenever I need something. He made us rockets out of cedar shingles, launched from slingshots made from old inner tube tires. He would carve us swords out of branches, and bows and arrows from twigs. He taught us how to make parachutes out of handkerchiefs or the tissue paper used to wrap clothing. We would jump off the top of the attic stairs with these parachutes to the horror of our baby sitters (remember Mrs. Schmidt??).
Grandpa and Uncle Abe both dabbled in magic. I credit them with my lifelong interest in the hobby. I remember sitting at the kitchen table watching Grandpa make a large red ball appear and disappear in my Howdy Doodie mug. He used a large red handkerchief to cover the mug.
Remember the turtle hunting expeditions on Montauk Highway? Michael, Richard, you and I would pile into his car and we would find turtles along and on the highway. Grandpa and Dad used to go fishing on party boats together, and when they came home they would clean the fish. They gave us the eyes to play with like marbles, and the swim bladders full of air, to play with like balloons. No wonder I never had a problem with dissections!
I remember Grandpa was so frail his last days that I was scolded for trying to climb up on his lap. They were afraid I would break his legs.
He always left us by saying "toodleloo!!". Toodleloo Grandpa, we'll always love you.
Picture at right of four generations of the Schneider family taken at a family reunion in August or September of 1983. Left to Right Top Row: Linda Ann Ryon Messinger, Donald Jay Messinger, Irvin Mack Messinger
Middle Row: Ian William Messinger, Phyllis Francis Schneider Messinger
Bottom Row: David Steven Messinger, Abraham Schneider, and Diane Mary Messinger