Wednesday, June 8, 2016

With the Passing of Lillian Zeller, Memories of a Very Different St. Johnsbury, Vermont

I didn't know Lillian Zeller until around 2002; even then, she was lively, fun to be around, with a "wicked" sense of humor -- and stylish, my goodness yes! Driving her flashy convertible with the license plate LEZ, decorating her home, laughing at the latest news (followed sometimes by a sharp jab of critique for things and people she disapproved of). Visiting with Lillian was never dull! And her chopped chicken liver was "to die for" -- it was one of the foods my husband longed for me to learn how to prepare, and I did my best to match her recipe, but you know how it goes, there's always a little difference. Ah, Lillian!

Here's the newspaper obit. You can also read about the fur business she married into when she married Alfred Zeller and moved to St. Johnsbury (click here). I'll never forget how this chic and feisty woman also paid attention to her garden and the visiting deer, as well as every scrap of news about Beth El Synagogue's community. Glad to have known her.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Community Politics: A St. Johnsbury Memory

Dave Kanell found this newspaper clipping recently, from the front page of the local newspaper, the Caledonian-Record, on November 2, 1992. It was a one-time-only write-in campaign for long-time synagogue leader Harvey Caplan. The campaign failed, but the community sense of humor prospered.

Friday, December 4, 2015

High Holy Days in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, 1921

Records show that the Knights of Columbus acquired rooms in the Citizens Bank (now Union Bank) building, shown here, after the building's catastrophic fire in 1909 led to a new structure. The organization allowed use of its space by the Jewish community in 1921, as described in this local news article:

Caledonian-Record October 8, 1921

Jewish Services In K. of C. Hall

            Several families of the Jewish faith in St. Johnsbury are banded together in solemn observance of the Jewish new year. The service of prayer and fasting which began last week in Knights of Columbus hall will conclude next Wednesday evening. From 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon until darkness spreads over the land Wednesday evening earnest Jews will be engaged in prayer and fasting. Business will be entirely at a standstill.
            The services of prayer in Knights of Columbus hall will be in charge of D. Zabarsky of Barton and I. Lavontil of Montpelier, and the families included in the solemn observances are those of H. Dolgin, A. Nurenberg, J. Arron and B. Goldstine of St. Johnsbury and Maurice Nurenburg of Hardwick. Mrs. Zabarsky and son, Harry, of Barton are here for the celebration of the holy days.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Memories Shared at Her 75th High School Reunion Weekend: Irene Dolgin Goldstein, Part 4

Irene and her cousin Barry, St. Johnsbury, VT, May 31, 2015.
Mrs. Irene Dolgin Goldstein -- "Irene," in the rest of this post -- attended her 75th high school reunion at St. Johnsbury Academy on May 30, and the next day, she sat with me in the dining room at the Comfort Inn and shared more memories. Some, she had been thinking about before her visit; some came with the reunion; and she brought two wonderful items to talk about.

At the Academy this reunion, she met Frank Powers, a classmate of her brother Arnold's (five years older; class of 1935), who had taken part in liberating train cars of Jews at the end of the Second World War. He wore a French croix de guerre, and a medal from the Dutch Queen Beatrice. Mr. Powers lives in Jacksonville, Florida; is now 98 years old; and told Irene, "I'll see you here again in five more years!"

Irene reconnected with three of her own (1940) classmates: Pauline Potter, Dick Cook, and Louella Drown; Louella, like Irene, went to grade school at the Portland Street School. Irene also recalls another close friend from those years, Ruby Page.

Driving around town with her younger cousins, Irene reflected on the neighborhood she saw this year on Elm Street in St. Johnsbury, and what it used to be: Jake Aaron and family lived in the first house past the railroad tracks, and when they moved to the Bronx, Irene's father Harry Dolgin bought the house. It has since been replaced.

Much of Portland Street has changed, including where Irene grew up in the house at 167, but across the road she found the edges of where her father's platform scale once sat, weighing laden trucks, including the ones delivering maple syrup to Carey Sugar, now Maple Grove -- and the maple processing factory still looks familiar.

Across from the Portland Street School (now Cornerstone) is the field that was a skating rink in winters when Irene was growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. (It is still flooded for ice each winter!) Irene learned to ice skate there. She had a problem with her ankles and needed special arches made for her shoes. Her mother was concerned that ice skates would be a problem. "I wanted to go skating in the worst way," Irene said, "and she said 'no I don't think you should.'" But Irene borrowed her brother Arnold's "shoe skates" to go anyway. Her mother saw her and didn't say anything to her, but went and got Irene a pair of white shoe skates of her own. Skating was from 7 to 8 pm, and every evening after supper Irene would go to skate.

Another rediscovery on her visit in May 2015 for Irene was the cottages at the St. Johnsbury/Lyndonville line. She remembers being able to take a right turn there to a pond that used to be clean and bright. It was a familiar location for her because her father owned the nearby Blue Moon Hotel. She says the man who owned it before her father sold Pontiacs, as well. One day he came to her father Harry Dolgin and said "I need your help" -- he wanted to sell him the restaurant. According to Irene, Harry said, "What's the matter with you, I'm a junk man, I don't know anything about a restaurant." But the man insisted he had to sell: "I'm an alcoholic, you have to help me save my life." Harry really didn't want to purchase the restaurant, so he made the man a ridiculously low offer, expeting to be turned down. The man put the key into Harry's hand. Harry said, "What have I done, I'm a junk man!"

Irene Dolgin's wedding photograph.
But it worked out well after all. Irene was already married at the time. She worked with her father to run the restaurant, and learned to carry a tray when needed! Mostly she "kept an eye on things" and did some of the buying, as well as working as cashier. The restaurant seated about 200 people for dinner. It was open for lunch and dinner, had a bar and liquor license, and also had a small room to seat about 28 people.

There is a photo of the "Blue Moon Restaurant and Ballroom" on page 337 of Claire Dunne Johnson's book "I See by the Paper," volume II. Irene said the ballroom was also a roller rink in winter, and dances were held there. In 1953 the ballroom/rink was destroyed by fire.

Irene enjoyed telling the entertaining story of her brother Irving working at the motel. "Somebody from ASCAP came by and wanted to know where the ballroom was." Irving said, "You'll have to ask Mr. Mephistopheles." "Where do I find him?" "You go right down the road to St. Johnsbury and ask anyone!"

Irving graduated from Lyndon Teachers College and became a schoolteacher, working in Orleans, Vermont. The family was happy that he was doing what he wanted to do. Irene says he was a very kind person. He was married two times and said, "That's it, I'm not going to get involved anymore." He also became a barber when he was disillusioned with teaching and had experienced three rounds of surgery through the VA hospital. Eventually he moved to Quincy, Mass., to be close to Irene. Every evening between 5 and 6 pm he would call her. When at last there was no phone call, and she called his home three or four times with no answer, she and her husband went to Irving's place and found he had died, sitting in his chair by the television.

After this sad story, Irene wrapped up the visit with an entertaining one that featured her mother. Irene's parents used to buy live chickens. Her father would purchase about half a dozen at a time from a farmer and carry them in a burlap sack with holes in it. He took them this way to the Shechita, the kosher butcher, so they could be properly slaughtered. At the time, the slaughter was available in either Montpelier, Vermont, or Sherbrooke, Canada (just across the line from Derby Line, Vermont). One time Irene's mother went to Sherbrooke to have the chickens killed, and Harry would de-feather them when Mrs. Dolgin returned from the trip. The car she used was one that had a history of use by rumrunners! [This was during the Prohibition years, when liquor was available in Canada, and local rumrunners would transport it to markets in the United States.] The police had taken the car from its owner and sold it to Harry, who bought used cars at his junkyard. Mrs. Dolgin went north, accompanied by the family's live-in maid, Rebecca. "Dad said don't buy anything, just come right back," Irene remembered. "But you don't dare to tell Mom that!" Her daring mother bought a small bottle of liquor and put it into her baby's diaper; Rebecca had one in her knickers, for her father. At the border crossing, the police looked in the trunk at the burlap sack. "What's this?" "You won't believe me if I told you, see for yourself," Mrs. Dolgin responded. The office stuck a hand into the sack, finding bloody dead chickens. "Who own this car?" he demanded to know. "Harry Dolgin," said Mrs. Dolgin. The officer expostulated, "Why didn't you tell me?" Mrs. Dolgin replied, "You didn't ask!"

Many thanks to Irene for allowing two special documents to be photographed for this report. One is her lovely wedding photograph. The other is a bill of exchange from 1925, when Charlie Martin sold his Maxwell Touring Car to Irene's father Harry Dolgin for $40 -- and also a Holstein cow, for $45, "worth more than the car," Irene comments with delight.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Growing Up in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in the 1920s through World War II: Irene Dolgin Goldstein - Third Interview: Getting Married

[Mrs. Irene Dolgin Goldstein, interview 3, March 17, 2015, by phone - Beth Kanell]

Railyard would be on far side of river, left part of photo.
Mrs. Irene Dolgin Goldstein – “Irene” – made a correction to one date in interview 2, mentioned that her father had a siding and scrap yard near the railroad tracks, and said that her father’s arrival date in St. Johnsbury should instead be “after 1910 and before 1916.” [No archived materials address this; we only have the 1920 Census showing Irene’s parents, Harry and Frances Dolgin, living in St. Johnsbury with their son “Aron” (that is the Census record, although Irene says her brother’s name was always Arnold) at age 1 year, 11 months. I will keep searching.]

 Irene’s family home was at 113 Portland Street, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Across the road was 80 Portland Street, which included a filling station. There, her father built an office, and a platform scale that could weigh up to one hundred thousand pounds, so it could weigh a big tractor or trailer, says Irene. She added that her father installed in later years steam heat for the scale, so it would work in the winter. “The police used to come by with some driver with his truck loaded and it would be [shown on the scale to be] overloaded, and they were so happy with that!” Also pleased with the scale was the Cary Sugar Company (now Maple Grove) further east on Portland Street. “Trucks bringing maple syrup [to the maple sugar company] would weigh before and after unloading. It was convenient, just down the road.”
Cary Maple Sugar Co., photo from about 1960; would become Maple Grove.

Irene learned to drive on a 1920 Oakland. “Everything had standard shift.” It belonged to “the girl who worked in the office” (her father’s office), and Irene’s mother arranged for this office worker to teach Irene in that car. The first car that she owned was a 1939 Ford convertible, “the last year they made the rumble seat.” Then a cousin of hers had an accident in a convertible, and Irene’s father took her convertible away, replacing it with a 1941 Pontiac.
1920 Oakland automobile

The driving test was in St. Johnsbury, although no particular office location came to mind. Helen, the office worker, took Irene in that 1920 Oakland. There was a written test first, and then they “drove around, not too long.”  As a new driver, she especially noticed how challenging it was to handle a standard-shift car going uphill: “Going up Eastern Avenue in the winter could really be something.” One time, she noticed a line of cars at the bottom of that hill, so without thinking much about it, she detoured to the shorter (and steeper, but less traveled) Sand Hill, made it all the way up just fine, then realized afterward that it could have been a bad choice!

As a girl, Irene wanted to be a nurse. “However, in those days, nurses did the dirty work,” and her dad said, “No daughter of mine is going to lug bedpans, period.” So instead she “did secretarial training.” She didn’t go to college because of the war (World War II). As she reflects on her career today, she says she had a lot of fun in all her jobs. For example, she worked for her father, and when he bought a restaurant, she’d sometimes help in there. “I learned how to carry a tray when they were shorthanded.” She also learned from her father’s business about scrap iron and metal: what they were, how they were treated. “And everything to me was learning. You can learn so much from different jobs.”

As another example from her career, later, when she lived in Montreal, she got an “entirely different job for a small firm importing textiles from around the world. I worked with letters of credit, and foreign exchange, and it was so great!” She worked four hours per day at that time, so she could be home for her kids after school. She took her work seriously, even though she enjoyed it, and one time the bank said her business had overdrawn one of its letters of credit. Her boss said to go home and not worry about it, but she went through all the numbers and worried all weekend – and on Monday showed that the bank had made the error, not her! [Later, she would work in Malden, Mass., for a building supply company, including bricks, and enjoyed learning that, too.]

Filene's on Boston, where Irene's mother bought the wedding dress.
Irene married at age 20, in Boston on February 22, 1943, a few weeks before her birthday. Her fiancé was in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and he suddenly got word of his leave being approved. It was okay’d on February 1, and Irene went to her mother and said “I’m getting married on February 22.” That put everyone into a rush to prepare – especially her mother. Three weeks! Her mother said, “Pick up the phone and call your aunt” [in Boston], who was a whirlwind at getting things done. Irene’s aunt said, “Tell your mother to get down her tomorrow and we’ll get started figuring things out.” Together, Irene’s mom and aunt rented a Boston-area hall for the wedding and printed up invitations. “Then they went to Filene’s Basement [famous dress shop in Boston, with a “basement” of wedding gowns] and my mother found a girl about my size and had the girl try on a gown” that seemed right. It fit, and Irene’s mother bought it. Then her mother came home, and the next task was to address all the invitations to Irene’s family members. Next, they went to Montreal to give invitations to Irene’s fiancé’s family to send out. Irene’s recollection is that her family had to provide checks for the Canadians to travel to the wartime wedding, so the Canadians could prove they were “not taking money out of the country.”

The dress was ready and right, but Irene had to go to Boston herself and, with her aunt, go purchase her headpiece and veil. About 250 people would be coming to her wedding. And now she had another challenge: Her older brother was in the service and stationed at Camp Gruber in Oklahoma, close to being shipped overseas to the war. All leaves had been canceled. But Irene was determined to have him be her best man. She sent a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Carver, who was head of his group, Rainbow Division. She said it was important to her to have her brother take part in the wedding, especially since he was being shipped out and she “might never see him again.” Her brother was given two weeks of leave, even though nobody else was getting any!

It was a big favor she’d been given, so she went to Cary Maple Sugar Company and got a case of maple syrup and sent it to the Lieutenant Colonel – her brother had told her that they didn’t have maple syrup in Oklahoma. Soon Irene “got a lovely letter back, the Lieutenant Colonel’s children had fun, they had only ever had molasses before.”

At the wedding, “the fellows were all in uniform.” Irene and her new husband stayed in Boston for a couple of days of sightseeing, then took the train to Montreal to see her new father-in-law, who had been sick and couldn’t come to the wedding. [Irene notes that this marriage, which took her to Montreal to live, lasted about 16 years; her other marriage was to Sam, also an airman, and lasted 34 years: “Every day was special.”]

At this point in the interview Irene took time to talk about the family years in St. Johnsbury again. She recalled other Jewish families in the area with the names Prolman and Brody, who were in-laws of each other. She also mentioned the Zabarskys, who “used to live in Barton. Daniel, the older one, was a junk dealer and would go with the two boys with horse and wagon to peddle” and would stay at the Dolgin home in St. Johnsbury. But Irene’s mother decided there really was not enough room for three extras, so she told Harry, Irene’s dad, to give the Zabarskys money for a hotel room, although they continued to come share meals.

Irene has in her papers a receipt written by her mother, accepting a cow as payment for a car at the family business – the cow was worth more!

Hilda Handy's family members, at their St Johnsbury ice house.
The family home at 113 Portland Street had a garage and office on the first level. The home, upstairs, had its own separate entrance, on the right of the building. The kitchen was 18 by 18 feet, and it was a lovely home. Irene’s dad would try to be home for supper each day, so they all ate together. Lunch was a family meal as well. When Irene was a teen, attending St. Johnsbury Academy on the other side of town, she would run home a mile and a quarter in fifteen minutes. Going back was an uphill trip, so sometimes she’d go over to her friend Hilda Handy and get a ride with Hilda on the Handy family ice truck back to school.

-- BK

Friday, March 27, 2015

Growing Up in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in the 1920s through World War II: Irene Dolgin Goldstein - Second Interview

Frances and Harry Dolgin, Irene's parents
Irene Dolgin Goldstein, second interview by phone, January 16, 2015

In Interview 1, Mrs. Irene Dolgin Goldstein, hereafter “Irene,” told the story of how her father Harry Dolgin arrived in St. Johnsbury in 1916, right after marrying Irene’s mother Frances. On the day when he came to town on the train from Boston, local blacksmith John McLean helped him negotiate a bank loan to purchase a horse and wagon to start his business here, hauling scrap – known at the time as being a “junk dealer.”

Irene has another John McLean story to share: About 35 years later (1951?), John McLean came to see her dad and it was his turn to feel “low.” McLean explained to Harry Dolgin: He could no longer use the location where his blacksmith shop had operated for all those years, and when he looked around town, he found no place that he could afford to move into. “Dad had recently helped out the town of St. Johnsbury by trading a junkyard location for the stone sheds,” Irene recalled. [“Stone sheds” were specially built for the regional business in granite and marble, and stood next to the railroad siding. Some still do.] “He took John to the stone sheds and unlocked one.” Harry asked John whether the shed would work for the blacksmithing business, and John said it would be perfect. “Dad gave it to him for one dollar a year for as long as he wanted. Dad was so happy that he could do something for John.”

Many changes happened in the Dolgin family and business in those 35 years. For example, Irene recalls that around 1923, “Dad received an SOS from his sister Buzy [pronounced “Boosie” and listed on the Census as Busia] Shnitzer. Buzy hadn’t wanted to come from the Ukraine to America earlier, when Harry brought other members of his family (1910). But now her husband had been killed by soldiers. Some time later, a soldier entered the house and threatened to kill Buzy; her little girl ran in front and confronted the soldier, who then left the house. “So Aunt Buzy decided it was not safe, and gathered her seven daughters and a cousin, Jake Olshansky.” The fleeing family reached Romania, but did not have the funds to go further, and that was when they sent their “SOS” to Harry Dolgin.

Irene remembers that her parents chose to put guarantee the required funds to guarantee entrance to America for the immigrants, which by then numbered 10 people: “Mom and Dad had to have $42,000 in the bank to guarantee to get them access to the U.S.” Irene adds, “I think they came from Romania to Holland to New York.” Then they came to live near the larger Dolgin family in Chelsea, Massachusetts. An older daughter, Rivka, got married there, but the new family in general wasn’t happy there, and ended up moving back to the Bronx (northern part of New York City); they stayed in touch and there was plenty of visiting back and forth.

This is a good point to mention the early Dolgin family photo [found by BK, online] shown here. Irene confirms that the young man at the left rear is her father’s brother Philip, and then, from left to right, Aunt Minnie, a girl whose name doesn’t come to mind just now, Aunt Bertha, and Harry (Irene’s father). The man with the girl on his lap is Aunt Buzy’s husband; Aunt Buzy is sitting next to him; and the four little girls are theirs (they would have three more after this photo, which was probably taken in Ukraine.)

Among the Jewish families that Irene can name from her years growing up in St. Johnsbury (the 1920s into the 1940s) were the Cohens, Caplans, Stahls, Weiners, Shapiros, and Goldbergs, and in Lyndonville, Morris (Moishe) Nurenberg. She also recalls Jake Aaron in St. Johnsbury, who moved to Brooklyn with his wife, daughter Rose, and two sons.

The Goldbergs, like the Dolgins, were in the junk business, but with a different approach. Irene’s dad, Harry Dolgin, handled both automotive and other junk, but the Goldbergs mainly handled automotive scrap. (The Goldberg family’s auto scrap yards lasted to nearly the end of the 20th century.)

Irene recalls that her father used to melt down lead into “pigs” (large blocks) for the Fairbanks Scale Company. He would also bring cast iron to Fairbanks. Irene remembers that during the Second World War, her father sent the steel he’d collected to Pennsylvania.

[In fact, Claire Dunn Johnson’s book I See By the Paper notes that Harry Dolgin took over leadership on scrap metal collection for the entire town, for the war effort.]

During this wartime scrap collection period, Irene started wearing slacks. It was a necessary change of attire for her share of the wartime scrap movement: She would go to the junkyard, just during the war, to oversee one or two loaded freight cards going out via railroad at night. In order to make sure the loading was done properly, she’d climb up the side of the freight cars. “Everything had to be done as fast as you could get it done,” she says.

Other Jewish families in town were shorter term residents. “It was strange, but it seemed as if somebody moved out, and somebody moved in.” Irene estimates that there were about 25 Jewish families in town at any one time.

Let’s go back to one of the other names: “Mrs. Weiner had a ladies’ clothing store. I think her husband died young, and she had daughters. One moved to Montpelier or Barre; another one married Harold Shinauer, who was a bookkeeper for St. Johnsbury Trucking.” There was also a son who moved away, and a daughter Betty, a year or two younger than Irene. [From BK: I must have the spelling wrong for Harold, as I can’t find him, although there was a Harold Shiro who worked for St. J. Trucking. Mrs. Weiner was Sarah (Masur) Weiner, b. 1891 in Russia, and her husband was Maurice Weiner, b. 1882 in Russia; they immigrated to the US in 1911 and appear in the 1920 St J Census. The children who show in the Census and in a birth document are Samuel, b. 1919, and Bertha/Betty, b. 1925. In 1920 this family lived on Ely Street, and in 1940 Mrs. Weiner and these two children are at 4A Railroad Street.]

Harry Cohen and his wife had a small ladies’ store, and they had one son. They eventually moved back to New York (City) when Irene was about 18.

Pearl Stahl’s daughter had a ladies’ dress tore; her sister-in-law, married to Pearl’s son Harris Stahl, took it over. [Stahl records online: Pearl A. Stahl, b. 1912 in New York, d. 1985 in St. J.; Harris W. Stahl b. 1916, son of Rudolph and Augusta Stahl; Jeanette S. Stahl, b. 1915; family address 11 Boynton Ave.]

When Irene was about 10 or 11 years old, she asked her father whether she could have an allowance, as other kids talked about. He told her, “You don’t need an allowance. All you need to do is come to me for money.” He had charge accounts at stores in town, so that Irene and her mother could buy their clothes that way. When Irene was a schoolchild, every day her father would give her “a couple of pennies” and she’d go into Renfrew’s Store on the corner across from the (Portland Street) school and get penny candy.

On the corner of Concord Avenue and Portland Street, on the same side as the (Portland Street) school, was “a truncated fountain for horses and a spout on the side for people to drink.”

Irene remembers that Mr. Silver “had a farm of horses off Lafayette Street in the back there. I remember a couple of fellows on horses came down through the street. They said they were going to bring some cattle down to the train – ‘Everybody get off the street,’ especially Portland Street. We could stand upstairs and watch, they were herding cattle down Portland Street like you see in the movies.” It only happened once, and Irene was amazed by this! Not too long afterward, Mr. Silver sold his farm.

“We used to go swimming,” Irene recalls. They would swim in the (Moose) river in back of Carey Maple Sugar Company [now Maple Grove]. “We called that the Checkerberry.” They could leave their things untouched on the shore, swim into the river, sit there and sun themselves, and swim back.

Irene’s brother Arnold, before going into the service [for World War II], would go target practicing and sometimes take her along, further up the river [east from town], by the railroad tracks. They would gather up beer cans that had been thrown off the train. Irene would throw the cans, and Arnold would try to shoot them.

Irene’s father Harry Dolgin built a grocery store, then rented it out to the First National Bank. And he gave her brother Arnold a car. For gas, her brothers would siphon the remaining gas out of the old junk cars in the family’s junkyard, and they would add this bit of gas to the “glass carburetor” of Arnold’s car. They could then “drive around in a circle and toot twice, then have to siphon more!” They also would drive up and down a hill of ashes in the yard. Irene tried siphoning once, and never again!!

When Irene was in seventh and eighth grade, she and the other girls from Portland Street School had to go to the school on Summer Street to study home economics. She would have a nickel to spend and on the way back, she used to stop at the Cross Baking Company and buy a bag of broken candies, which contained so many, “that would keep you a week!” She learned to cook, bake, and sew.

For high school, Irene attended St. Johnsbury Academy. “That was a great school, it still is, and you know what, it’s 75 years since I graduated.”

As a child, Irene went for health care to Dr. Prevost. On one occasion, her brother had made a seat to slide down the hill. She thinks it could have been made from an iron spring from a car, a couple of inches wide and very long. Irene was told by her mother not to touch this, but she decided she had to. She took it across from the school and fell, getting a cut on her chin. “The doctor came right over, he wouldn’t stitch it, and taped it together.” She still has the scar. Her mother said to her, “Let this be a lesson, when I tell you something, not to do it, because G-d will punish you again!”

Across from the school was a skating rink with a little shack with a stove in it, “so you cold get warm and then go back and freeze yourself.” Irene would go skating in the evenings after her homework was done, in grades 7 and 8.

[I asked Irene whether she remembers people worrying about polio.] Irene remembers a girl she knew who got polio, and she remembers her children receiving the vaccine for it. “It was sad, so many kids got it, but we were lucky.”

Irene did have to go to the dentist as a child, and also had her eyes checked. She wore glasses for a while, but by high school her eyes were better and she didn’t have to wear them. She graduated from high school when she had just turned 17. This early age was a result of what her mother had done, putting her into school for first grade a year ahead of time when Irene was only five. Irene’s mother told the registering teacher that Irene was six. “The teacher said ‘I have to see her birth certificate’ and Mother said, ‘If you want to see it, you can go get it, here [in Massachusetts] is where she was born.’ The teacher said, ‘but I have to see it.’ Mother said, ‘Were you there? I was there!’” Irene’s mother told her this story much later, when she was a teenager.

The beautiful photo that Irene provided for her interviews (shown with Interview 1) was taken when she was 18 years old (1941).  A third interview follows this one.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Growing Up in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in the 1920s through World War II: Irene Dolgin Goldstein - First Interview

Irene Dolgin, age 18 (1941)
The Dolgins of St. Johnsbury, Vermont: Oral History Provided by Irene (Dolgin) Goldstein, December 2014, January 2015

Mrs. Irene (Dolgin) Goldstein grew up in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where her parents arrived from Massachusetts in 1916. As one of the early Jewish families in town, the Dolgins have an intriguing story. You may know one of Mrs. Goldstein’s nephews, like Steve Dolgin (son of Irene’s brother Arnold) and Charlie (Charles Harry) Dolgin (son of Irene’s brother David). Both these men still have ties to St. Johnsbury. Steve’s daughter – Mrs. Goldstein’s great-niece – Alyssa Dolgin is a snowboarder who has gained national ranking and who attended St. Johnsbury Academy as a teen.

For ease in typing, and for clarity, I’ll call Mrs. Irene (Dolgin) Goldstein simply “Irene” in this record, but she is 91 and I am sure “Mrs. Goldstein” is the name she now uses, unless she is your aunt!

Irene’s parents were Harry Dolgin, born in 1890 in Kiev, Ukraine, and Frances Bertha Klickstein, born in 1896 in Lynn, Mass. Here is their story:

Irene’s maternal grandparents had just married each other, and her grandfather – Frances’s father – came from the Ukraine to the United States by himself. Frances’s mother stayed home, as she was pregnant with their first child, Sam. When Sam was a couple of months old, he came to America with his mother – Irene’s grandmother. So the next child, Sadie, was born in Lynn, Mass. Irene’s mother Frances would be the fourth.

Meanwhile, let’s follow Harry Dolgin for a bit. Harry was born “about 1890” and in one record his birth is shown as 1888. His Hebrew name was Hersch. His parents were Aaron Leib Dolgopiaty (died 1910 in Kiev, Ukraine) and Briina Tabatchnik (1855-1912). Records show that Briina died in Malden, Mass., where her son Harry settled. Harry’s first arrival in the US was in 1907; he went back to Ukraine in 1910 to get his mother, brother Phillip, and two sisters, and US records show him re-entering the country on April 8, 1910, via New York.
Before leaving Ukraine: Harry Dolgin is at far right, Phillip Dolgin at far left.

Irene doesn’t know quite how Harry and Frances met – her dad used to tease her mom about it but never gave the details. They married on May 10, 1916.

However, before Harry met Frances, he had started a wholesale business in Malden by the Revere Knitting Mills, handling tobacco and more. His brother was also involved in the business. One day, says Irene, “Dad [Harry] went out to get supplies,” and when he returned his brother Phillip was not there. “Teamsters were helping themselves!” Irene reports, “and Dad’s brother wasn’t there. Dad asked where Phillip was and they said he’d gone to get a haircut.” So Irene’s father closed the store, went to the barber shop, and told Phillip the partnership wasn’t working out. He would close and sell the business, split the proceeds, and leave town, but he told Phillip, “You’ll always know where I am.” 

Harry got on a (northbound) train out of Boston. The train stopped in St. Johnsbury. He got off there and talked with a blacksmith, John McLean. [St. Johnsbury business directory for 1925 shows John McLean’s blacksmith business on Bay Street, which would be near the railroad station.] Then Harry walked around town. Irene says the roads were still dirt and mud in those days – her mother told her that in spring the mud was always terrible! Harry came back to the blacksmith downhearted because the bank wouldn’t loan to him, as a stranger to town, the money to buy a horse and wagon. The blacksmith said, “Wait, let me finish up what I’m doing” -- then walked back to the bank with Harry and told the person at the bank, “You give this man anything he wants and I will sign for him.”

 “So Dad got his horse and wagon and went out peddling junk, and to buy junk,” reports his daughter Irene. Harry also made sure his sisters were married. Irene’s aunt Minnie married Barney Goldstein in St Johnsbury, and Irene says that Barney “peddled junk for my father.” Irene’s family lived on Lafayette Street (St J), renting an apartment from an elderly lady with glasses and white hat and apron, with the last name Graves; Irene was told to call her Grammy Graves, so she did!

Irene was a surprise baby, born in 1923. After Irene’s mother had (gave birth to) Arnold, the doctor said she wouldn’t have more, but six years later, Irene was born – in Malden, where her brother Dave, next in line, was also born. [Although Irene’s parents lived in St. Johnsbury from about 1919 onward, for her 1923 birth and Dave’s in 1925, her mother went “home” to her own parents in Massachusetts, where they owned a fish market. These babies were born there, so that Irene’s grandmother, Frances’s mother, could help out. Usually Frances stayed for three or four weeks, says Irene’s nephew Charlie.]

1884 image looking down the future Portland St and Lafayette St, St Johnsbury
Irene says that her dad bought land on Portland Street in St Johnsbury – then a very rural road, lined with a few businesses and some farms -- and built a garage for his business, with a nice apartment for the family. Harry became legally blind in his thirties “but it never stopped him,” Irene reports: He hired a chauffeur to drive him for his ongoing business. [The 1920 Census shows Harry and Frances and toddler Arnold Lewis Dolgin in St. Johnsbury and lists Harry’s occupation at the time as “Automobile Junk. The 1940 Census calls his work “Wrenching Dealer” instead.]

There were about 25 Jewish families in and around the area. But they were not organized into a formal congregation. Irene explains that her family took being Jewish very seriously, so that in terms of food and food preparation, “We kept strictly Kosher.” [This means using only the meat of animals that have been humanely slaughtered by a Kosher butcher, and keeping meat meals separate from dairy food, even in terms of preparation. St. Johnsbury couldn’t provide Kosher meats. So her parents found their own solution and it meshed well with Harry’s junk dealing business, which connected him to Boston.] “Every Thursday he’d take a list from my mother, what she wanted,” and he’d go to Boston, to Mezikofksy Butchers, and place the order. [Morris Mezikofsky, b 1897, Russia; wife Sarah; meat market owner, in 1920 Census. Home located on Poplar Street, Boston.]

[Remember that Harry was legally blind, and his chauffeur drove him to Boston.] The meat market would put together the order for the time that Harry said he’d be picking it up to return north. Often that was later on the same day. But sometimes Harry stayed overnight in Boston so he could attend Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) services, especially if the date was a yartzeit – that is, the anniversary of the death of one of Harry’s parents, when he would attend the service and speak the Kaddish prayer that honors G-d in memory of the person who has died. Harry’s overnight visits meant he would stay with his brother Phillip at 27 Chester Avenue in Chelsea, or with Irene’s Aunt Bertha (Harry’s sister), who lived on the next street. Irene says her dad would say to Jessie, the chauffeur, “Here’s money, get a room, come (get me) at this time.” On the way back to Vermont he would also deliver groceries to Irene’s maternal grandparents, “as they were retired,” and Harry would make sure his wife’s parents had extra food so that they could give food to those who were in need, as they always helped others.

An organized Jewish community celebrates Shabbat each week, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Harry “couldn’t afford to pay a rabbi [service leader] for all year,” so Irene says they did not have Shabbat services in St. Johnsbury when she was a girl.

But for the very important “High Holy Days” of the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the New Year and the Day of Atonement), Harry provided for local services. He bought a Torah and kept it, and each fall he would go to Boston to hire a rabbi or chazzan (cantor) for the services. He would find out the cost. There were several major nearby Jewish families, headed by Al Caplan, Harry Zabarsky, and Mickey Zabarsky, Irene explains. But first Harry would go to the other Jewish families and ask how much they could contribute toward the rabbi’s fee. Then the rest of what was needed would be provided in shares by Harry and the other large families just named. Services were held at a rented hall, Boomer’s, near the Passumpsic River. [Note: This was in front of where Lewis Oil most recently had its St J location -- further history of the site being collected from other St. Johnsbury residents.]

[I asked Irene what she learned about being Jewish in this community. She chuckled and said “I have a good story to tell you.” Here it is:] One day Irene was in fourth grade,
returning to school on Portland Street after lunch. Two girls were on the other side of the street. “All of a sudden I hear ‘Look ,there goes the dirty Jew.’” Irene checked for traffic, crossed the street, and “I whacked her across the face and said, that’s what the dirty Jew can do!” The girl said “I’ll tell on you” and Irene said, “Go ahead!”

(As a school child) Irene’s mother made her wash her underwear every night and hang it on chrome bars behind the stove [chrome would not rust, so it wouldn’t stain the clothes]. Her dad would come wake her in the morning and bring the (dry) underwear. “Dad couldn’t see well” but he would make the pot of coffee and start oatmeal in the double boiler, so mother could sleep longer.

Her dad never wanted her to wear black. “And I never did until after he was dead,” Irene agreed. She is happy about her good relationship with her parents. When she was a child, her dad had bought the house next door and his sister lived on the second floor there; the doors were never locked and the kids could be in either house. That is, there were no locks until after this happened: A strange man walked into the kitchen one night, where Irene’s mother was; her mother said “What do you want?” and Irene’s brother, with deep male voice, called from other room, “What is it?” And when the strange man heard the male voice, he turned around and left. After that, Irene’s mother insisted on locks!

Irene also noted that her mom learned to drive after dad died, an Oldsmobile. Her parents never screamed at each other, and Irene would teach this to her own husband. Irene also recalls company at the family home: People from New York (City) would come up collecting for organizations, and her dad would pay $2 for a hotel room for them and have the chauffeur drive them there; they stayed at the family’s house at first but Irene’s mom said it was too much, telling Harry to put them up at the hotel, but they always could come eat with the Dolgin family. Irene says that her dad especially taught her, “If someone comes to you and they want help, you share whatever you have.”

Irene lived in St. Johnsbury until her first marriage, to someone from Montreal. The couple lived in St J for six or seven years, then in Montreal, but in the long run, “things didn’t work out” and they chose divorce, which took two to three years to finalize because of issues in the Canadian Parliament at the time. Then she happily met someone from Quincy, Mass., and moved to Malden, marrying him: Samuel Benjamin Goldstein. “He was a war hero,” she says, who received his award 55 years later for some of his work in the Air Transport Command. The award was given via Senator Kennedy’s office.

As Mrs. Goldstein, Irene has traveled widely, including more than one trip to Israel, where she met some of her father’s cousins. “I’ve had a lot of fun over the years,” she declares. “The only complaint I’ve had is that I wish I could do more!”

COMING NEXT, in Part 2 of Irene’s recollections: Another important connection between the Harry Dolgin and blacksmith John McLean; stores, shopping, and kids in town; going to the doctor; wartime efforts; and more!

[From phone interview with Mrs. Goldstein on Dec. 31, 2014, and follow-up conversation the next week with her nephew Charlie Dolgin. This report was prepared Jan. 12, 2015. – Beth Kanell]

 [Image of Portland Street before development is from Streets, Public Buildings, and General Views of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. St. Johnsbury, VT: F.O. Clark, 1884.]