1938 | Vienna, Austria | Age: 15
I came here with my mother from Austria at 15 in 1938. My father was already here because he was an importer of leather, and he traveled quite a bit to the United States. He rented us a little apartment on 91st and Riverside, and I spent my youth there. I loved it. Riverside Park was my hangout. I went to Hunter High School and then Hunter College. I would walk to school every morning and afternoon to save a nickel on the bus fare. My sister was 8 years older, and she married young and stayed behind. She was more like a mother to me. I liked her very much. She later moved to Canada. I have good memories of immigration. No complaints. I was lucky. It was different for me because my mother was Catholic. We went to Italy to wait for the visa. We had such a good time! Rome, Naples. It was so beautiful. I was treated like a grown up - we’d go shopping, out to lunch. Here I was 16 years old, and my mother left me alone in Naples for a couple of days while she went to the embassy in Genoa. Such a grown-up! Then, as people did back then, we took a boat here, and it took 7 days. I loved that too. We had ping pong tournaments, and I came in second. There were only two people playing.
This is my sister, my father, and I. They took so many pictures of me - little Liesl-Lotte. My sister was into cameras, and she would dress me up like Jackie Coogan.
My grandmother had a little farm in Czechoslovakia. I would take the geese down to the pond. I had a long stick to keep them in line. And they would splash around and have such a good time.
This is my sister and I ice skating in Vienna. We belonged to a club, and we’d go skating every day. I would take off my heavy sweater, and all of us would zoom off so fast and then slide on our behinds! Oh, we had such a good time!
One time, when I was 18, we came back from a trip to Florida to find that my very best, best, bestest friend had moved here. And we stayed friends our whole lives, until she died last year. When I married Ralph, I wasn’t interested in having babies. But when she was going to have one, I did too. Hers was May, and mine was June. He is in California, and I’m still in touch with him.
I got married, and four years later I got divorced. My first marriage was fun. That was the whole problem. It wasn’t serious. We lived in Massachusetts. We lived in Washington, D.C. during the War. We’d drive in to the city because Lionel Hampton or Frank Sinatra were at the Loews. Then we'd drive back in the middle of the night. But it was too much fun, so we got divorced.
A year later Ralphie saw me at a restaurant and said, “That’s the girl I’m gonna marry.” It’s a true story. We used to laugh about it. He was very nice looking, very tall, very Jewish. I adopted his family practically. I was very close with my in-laws. Really. His mother was adorable.
It was never a problem for them that I wasn’t Jewish. If it were, they didn’t tell me. We all took to each other. They were lovely people. “Lee-ale,” my father-in-law would say, “you come and have lunch with us!” We’d go to Moskowitz and Lupowitz or one of those places on the Lower East Side, and he would introduce me to his buddies. One time he ordered a drink for me. I didn’t drink! He got me drunk and happy, and then I had to take the subway home.
I can’t complain. I’ve had so much fun. You see, I’ve been Lee until a couple of years ago. I don’t know what happened. I started to break down. Broken disks, stuff that can’t be fixed now. But the heart wants to do something. I used to go swimming every day. And tennis. And hours of walking. It was great.
Giving joy makes joy. And movement keeps movement. And energy gives energy. Maybe people forget, or maybe they never actually knew. They live a lifetime of ease. You must keep going with some kind of physical activity. Walking is the best. You have to keep going if you want to enjoy life. It’s all connected.