My mom’s mom, Ida Nathanson, was born in Kiev in 1893. At the age of five, her father, Samuel, a Cossack soldier, fearing for their safety, felt it was in the best interest of the family to flee their homeland. She, along with her older sister Mildred, her big brother William, and her parents spent days (and nights) hiking through the often rugged and mountainous terrain eventually reaching safe territory.
With the exception of a few stories I have been told over the years about the extreme difficulties experienced on their hike to freedom, I know very little of what ultimately brought them to the United States in general and more specifically the Chicago area. However, that is where they did eventually settle.
Schools records which I have recently discovered do, in fact, confirm both Ida’s and Mildred’s attendance at public schools located within the Chicago district beginning in 1904.
William Nathanson, my grandma’s brother, went on to become one of the most highly respected Jewish writers, speakers and philosophers. His wife, Dr. Miriam Yampolsky, more commonly addressed as “Becky”, became one of the first major female doctors employed by the U.S. Public Health Service.
Interestingly, both William and his wife, were considered active anarchists and for a while both of them served as the leaders of one of the most notable and influential anarchist groups in Chicago. They were also known for their blatant “open marriage”, a life-style rarely publicized at that time in American society.
Mildred was also a free thinker although without much patience for religion. Considered quite the wild woman of the “Roaring Twenties”, she was married 5 times… or so. My “Auntie Mil” actually became a very successful business woman as the owner of a major dry cleaning/laundry company as well as an owner and manager of a somewhat sketchy “hotel” in Kansas City, Missouri.
Several things really stand out when reminiscing about my visits to Kansas City as a child. First, I remember Auntie Mil’s chauffer driving us to several major stores in her awesome black Cadillac Limousine. This was my first time in an elegant Limo and I recall being so impressed by the electric window separating my aunt and myself from her driver! WOW….how cool was that!
Then I remember all the elaborate gifts she would buy for me at the stores we would journey to in the limo. As great as this was…..it really did tend to create some problems. Especially when I had traveled to Missouri by aircraft. Then there were the memorable times she would let me run her old “manual” elevators at the hotel and serve as the telephone operator for her vintage phone system. It was so much fun!! The fact that I frequently connected the wrong wires in the process only increased my fun while driving her guests a bit crazy!!
Auntie Mil was also involved in a number of investments with my uncles from my grandfather’s side of the family, the Bisnos. You may recall, it was also Auntie Mil who had introduced me to her friend, the infamous Mickey Cohen.
Then there was my grandma, Ida. How she ever came from that family I will never know. Gigi….as my children called her (short for great-grandma)….was SOOO different from her siblings. Although extremely intelligent, as were her sister and brother, she was so gentle, so sweet, so calm, so caring and empathetic. Quite a contrast to her anarchist and social reforming brother… not to mention her “let-it-all-hang-out” sister.
I am so grateful to have had such remarkable grandparents…and that we lived in such close proximity to each other throughout my childhood and young adult life. I was indeed fortunate to have been able to spend so much quality time with my grandparents while growing up.
My mom, Rochelle, although unmistakably a product of her parents, did however manage to possess some of the more positive characteristics of grandma’s sister and brother. Given such a conservative mother as Ida, my mom often looked to good ol’ Auntie Mil for some “real life” advice!! Ultimately mom managed to develop a remarkable balance when it came to important life-choices and was the “perfect mom” for me.
She had a great love of life and family. She was amazingly supportive and non-judgmental while never being afraid to make sure you understood HER own views on ANY subject. As a student she loved the theatre and classical dance. For a while she even attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Although my mother loved and appreciated music, she was unfortunately “tone-deaf”. Often asked about her involvement in the performance world (surrounded by a family of musical performers), her consistent response (along with a wink and a smile) was, “all great performers certainly need an audience. It is to that role I am committed!”
My mother had one sibling, a younger brother named Herbert Bisno. “Herbie” ultimately became one of the most respected “gurus” in the field of Social Work…serving as a consultant to the United Nations, and Dean of Social Work at several major universities in the United States, Israel and Australia.
Mom and Uncle Herb remained extremely close throughout their lives just as my sister, Nina and I have with his widow, our Aunt Zi, and our first cousins, Judy and Larry.
Well, as you can see from these two blogs, my heritage was far from dull. In actuality, it really was quite unique and intriguing. I truly believe, in retrospect, that my only regrets with regards to my family history is that I never had the pleasure or opportunity to get to know…or even meet… my father’s birth-father, step-father or mother.