Janet Miller Schloss Stone - 85th Birthday Party Ė July 2000
W. Somerset Maugham addressing a gathering to celebrate his ninety 91st birthday --- also, please note, on the Fourth of July --- is reputed to have said, "There are a great many wonderful things about living to such a ripe old age."
Pause. Long pause.
"Off hand," Maugham said at length, "I canít think of any of them."
I didnít have much truck with the twins that I can remember when I was a tot. They were almost seven years old when we met and they had better fish to fry. I do know that we three were the apples of Bockieís eye. The twins were beautiful and I, the first boy, carried Simonís name. The rest of you cousins, Bockie once told me, were dog shit.
Our parents were charter members of the Lost Generation. Our mothers smoked in public. Earth shaking. And they were totally irreligious. I went to services with Bockie and Daddyfahler. In my whole life I never saw my parents or my aunts or uncles in synagogue, other than for weddings and funerals. Bockie loved funerals. She went to and cried at funerals for people she didnít know. Simon Miller was president of the Jewish publication Society; Bockie president of the Sisterhood. And like that. Our children and grandchildren, many of them, became the Jews our parents never were, and we were never trained to be.
I was Goody
Twoshoes in those days. When we played doctor, I was never the doctor.
I was never the patient. Not even the nurse. I was the look-out. And at
Seder Jan, El and I were the only ones who didnít giggle. Not even once.
It was just us cousins and our grandparents. None of our parents ever attended.
Jan says they werenít invited. I say even if they had been, they wouldn't
have been there.
When I think of Jan, I think of 7th & Medary. We lived there two winters, Donald and I. Prue and Bill had sailed to Europe to buy shirtings. The first time, Donald, he was three then, almost died of pneumonia. No one told our folks, lest they worry, until they got home. Thirteen years later, pneumonia came back, coupled with flu, and that time it beat him. My mother never got over it.
He got sick that first time I think it was 1926. I know it was winter because we froze our tiny asses off on the Schloss sleeping porch. The whole family slept there. Holly, the twins, and us. Jean and Edwin too. But I think they also had another room where they repaired for coitus. Sometimes even with each other.
I remember pumping the player piano and especially I remember Sundays. String quartet in the morning. Gilbert & Sullivan in the afternoon. Poppa Schloss shrunk in a wingchair, wearing his Romeo slippers, and demanding to be waited on. I remember Murray, the black butler/cook/man-of-all-trades, and his allowing us to grind the ice-cream maker on the back steps. It was like being invited to whitewash the fence. A handful of Tom Fucking Sawyers, we loved it.
I remember Saturday mornings once a month, with Carol and David and Donald and maybe even Ellen, walking to 7th & Medary past Wennerís bakery without stopping while at the same time Mr. Finnerty was making his way from the Fern Rock subway station to meet us. Mr. Finnerty was Irish, a barber at Wanamakerís, He cut our hair, all eight of us, for what was probably a few dollars. Together the whole gang watched each haircut. Times were tough. It was the depression. You could look it up. The whole time his scissors was going he did a thing with his tongue tucked under his lip above his chin. After he left we made Mr. Finnerty faces and scissored with our fingers.
I remember the day perhaps in 1936 --- I might have been fourteen --- I went in town by myself via the #55 trolley and the Broad Street Subway to buy my back-to-school wardrobe. It was Donald and David got the hand-me-downs. Aunt Jean was a big shot at Lit Brothers at the time and had a 20% discount. I got off the subway underground and went into the store at that level. Bought a suit, some pants, they might have been knickers, an overcoat, a sweater, shoes, even a fedora --- I had a love affair with hats --- and had them charged to Jean Schloss and sent to 7th & Medary. I didnít buy shirts because those were custom-made at the family shirtworks. I walked out at street level, into the sunlight, and there across the street I saw a huge sign: LIT BROTHERS. I turned back. Behind me I read: STRAWBRIDGE & CLOTHIER. In a panic I called Mother. "Itís okay, Miller. Cross the street," she said --- you couldnít rattle Prue, "and do it all over again. Weíll return the stuff from S & C."
Although I lived there for my first two years, I donít remember 901 N. 16th at all, Bockie and Daddyfahlerís palatial townhouse --- German-Jewish Upstairs Downstairs. I do know that Aunt Lillie (Simonís sister) and Uncle Lou Wolf paid less for what is now Rodeph Shalom Suburban on High School Road than Daddyfahler did for 16th & Poplar. And I further know that they not too many years later they moved --- at a huge markdown --- because a bordello opened next door.
But I remember Ventnor well. And motoring down the Blackhorse or Whitehorse Pike, and the stops at farm stands. One time, Uncle Edwin at the wheel, we passed an eatery where a busload of people were filing in, maybe for a snack but certainly to use the john. "Thatís where," Ed said, with that mischievous little curl of the mouth, "the Greyhound stops to lift its leg."
I remember whole summers at 3 North Derby, every detail, including its sleeping porch dormitory. In those days, the theory was that sleeping in the open air prevented tuberculosis. Ironic, no?
They had to sell that house in the late twenties when Jacob Millerís Sons reorganized. Old Jacob, who was able to buy the first automobile in Philadelphia, was worth over a million dollars when he died in 1917. That was a ton of money in those days, even if you said it fast. The third generation, Alphonse and Billy et al, believing they had been to the manor born and didnít have to take work seriously lost it in a hurry.
The same scenario held true, I believe in the Schloss family. At one point early in the century, Roxford was the largest manufacturer of union suits in the world. Sic transit gloria mundi. Three generations and back to shirt sleeves.
I remember the dark living room at 3 North Derby, with Daddyfahlerís authentic Remington bronze cowboy, and Bockieís Tiffany Wisteria lamp. Many years later I showed Prue and Claire a photo in an issue of Maine Antique Digest. "Thatís the lamp," they agreed. It had just sold at $135,000.[Click here for a photo of a Christie's ad showing an original Wisteria lamp, identical to the one Bockey had at their summer cottage, 3 North Derby, Ventnor, NJ. The major colors are purple and green, Bockey's favorites.]I remember the contraption Daddyfahler had fashioned so we wouldnít track sand into the house. He built three steps up to where the window had been in the first floor bath, and he had built a Dutch door, that opened in halves, top and bottom with the outside shingles still intact. We washed the sand off our feet under a cold shower outside, climbed the steps into the bathroom through his supercaligistic homemade door and then into the tub.
He was a marvelous man --- look up the obituary Edwin wrote --- and he sired a marvelous brood, none more marvelous than the Firecracker Girl.
We are blessed, Jan, you and I, that we made it this far together. I never stopped loving you.
S. Miller Harris
1 July 2000
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