My mother is one of my most interesting ancestors. Here is her story in her own words.
by Hilda Tasky
(written for the Ocean House Retirement House newsletter)
This story begins even before I was born. In the 1890s, a widowed lady, Malka Gidwitz, with her seven small children, lived in a small Shtetl (village), Soydeen, in Lithuania. When the children were in their late teen years in the 1890s, one by one the six older ones migrated to America, the country where the streets were supposedly paved with gold. The youngest one (who later became my mother) remained in Lithuania as her mother (who later became my grandmother) did not want to migrate to the foreign land. When my Mother had not married when she was of marriageable age, her oldest brother traveled from America to Lithuania in 1901 and with the help of a matchmaker, found an eligible young man in another Shtetl, Yelok, Kalman Jacob Simon, and they were married. Shortly thereafter, my maternal grandmother came along to live with us. As a result of that union, six children were born (three boys and three girls). I was Number three born on February 12, 1908. We all lived happily in my father's Shtetl along with his parents and my maternal grandmother. For the first six years, we all attended Cheder (Hebrew school), as there was no other education offered in those days. Because my parents wanted us to have a more liberal education, we moved to Shavel, the closest large city. My maternal grandmother came along to live with us in Shavel but died in her sleep at age eighty-four. My paternal grandparents remained in the Shtetl.
All went well for us until the outbreak of World War I. However, as the government wanted us to avoid any of the actual fighting, we were migrated to Russia where we lived for three years under the most horrible conditions, including 40 degrees below zero in the winter. We were finally able to leave Russia and returned to our native country, Lithuania, and settled in Kovno, the capital city. Again, shortly after the end of the war, there was an outbreak of typhus and both my father and youngest brother contracted this horrible disease. Unfortunately, my father passed away at the age of forty-three, and was buried in Lithuania. My brother, thankfully, lived until the ripe old age of eighty-three.
It was shortly thereafter that my uncles in America thought it would be best if my mother and her six children come to America, so they arranged our passage by ship and after fourteen days, we finally saw the Statue of Liberty (October 12, 1922). We spent ten days on Ellis Island; one day seeing New York City and then traveled by train to Chicago where the whole family welcomed us with open arms in a completely furnished apartment with dinner waiting on the table.
I was fourteen years old, knew no English except the word, "Hello," but knew six other languages. I was placed in fourth grade with all small children, but learned fast and in 1926 I graduated with a two-year commercial course including shorthand and typing. I then got a job as a stenographer at Royal Metal Mfg. Co. in Chicago and remained there for eleven years (until early 1937). In the meantime I met and fell in love with David. We were married in 1934 (during the height of the depression). David was unable to get a job as an attorney after attending night law school for seven years at De Paul University, graduating and passing the Illinois Bar. I continued working for three years after we were married, until we decided it was time to start to raise a family. Much to our delight, our son, Kenneth, was born in 1937, then a baby daughter, Madeline, in 1940, and as a special bonus, our daughter Sheila in 1949. All of my three children were born by Cesarean Section.
Even though David never practiced law, he was very successful in the textile business and in 1960 he decided to semi retire, move to California as two of my brothers and their families lived there. Unfortunately, David suffered a mild heart attack in 1961, and I had to go back to work. I was very fortunate to get a job as a legal trainee where I remained for five years. With that experience, I promoted myself to a job with a law firm in Century City where I worked for eleven years.
Bad luck again! My beloved David developed cancer and passed away in one year (1975). Just a year and a half prior to that we had bought a nice home in the Raintree Estates in Culver City. I remained there living alone for twenty-three years. After I was retired from my job in Century City at age sixty-nine, I continued working part time as a legal secretary and got involved in volunteer work at Culver City Senior Center, the Culver City Library, American Cancer Society, City of Hope, Hadassah, B'nai Brith, until six months ago when I completely lost my balance and had to start walking with the help of a cane. My doctor advised me to give up my home because being a split-level, it had too many stairs.
I then moved to Ocean House Retirement House in Santa Monica, and I try to keep busy with all of the activities there - bridge, bingo, chair exercise, and various field trips.
[One year later (2004) my mother died at age ninety-four after falling and breaking her hip.]
Causes Madeline Sharples Supports
Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, Culver City, CA
Vistamar School, El Segundo, CA
Crossroads School, Santa Monica, CA (Endowment in...