Lessons from Muriel

My dear friend and co contributor, Barclay, blogger from the Midwest, wrote about her eccentric mom, Peggy.  My mother, Muriel, was also a character, a woman who I remember as a wonderful mother and my best friend. She too was eccentric and ahead of her time, in different ways. As I bemuse my mother’s quirky antics, I smile and have a tear in my eye.

My mother was born a snob.  She came from money having been brought up with a nanny, a maid, and everything a Jewish girl from an upper middle class family could want.  She and her brother, my uncle Morton, went to sleep away camp from the time they were 6.  My grandparents hobnobbed with the Loew’s family of movie theatre fame and the Farkas family of Alexander’s Department store.  (If you never  heard of it, Google it and it means you are too young to be reading this post!)

My grandmother, a 2nd generation American, making my mother a 3rd generation American, was certainly no immigrant.  Her mother’s mother had come to this country from Germany on a steamship, not part of the huddling masses.  They didn’t speak German, they spoke Yiddish, unlike my father’s family who had come from the old country.  That being, we think, Austria, but it could be Poland! My mother married below her status economically, although by that time her family had lost their money in the great Florida swamp land swindle.

Muriel liked to be considered Goy, so much so that during the 1939 World’s Fair, in order to work, she changed her name to Winslow from Weinstein in an attempt to not be seen as Jewish.  She had an aquiline nose and didn’t look it so what difference did it make to anyone.  As I write this and I think how proud I am to be who I am and what I am it’s hard to understand, but I guess at that time it wasn’t the popular religion to be.  Anti-Semitism was rearing its ugly head.  Today, everyone is Jewish in New York City or wants to be!

She sewed designer labels in her clothes that she had purchased at Loehmann’s, the famous one from Jerome Ave. in the Bronx.  It had gold lions in front of the store and I loved going to look at the racks and racks of clothes that I would play in as Muriel tried things on.  You see Loehmann’s took the labels out when they sold them and my mother being the snob that she was put them back in so that everything hanging up in her closet was some fancy shmancy name.

Muriel also took off Tuesdays, even though she didn’t work.  She was a 1950’s housewife who had chosen to go to secretarial school pre marriage rather than college, though her parents at the time could have afforded it.  I guess she was of the mind set that good typing skills and shorthand would take her further than the academics of a 4 year academic program.  Too bad, because she would have been dangerous with a formal education!

Why she needed to take of Tuesdays was beyond me since she didn’t have a job.  I guess she needed time out from being a mom! So every Tuesday I went to someone’s house for a playdate (not that they were called that back then) so that Muriel could go shopping downtown.  I guess it was the 1950’s version of a mental health day! She always dressed up to go “downtown” and she ate at the Bird Cage in Lord & Taylor taking in the peace and serenity of a solitary woman who enjoyed her own company.

I now understand that taking off Tuesdays, or whatever day, was about taking care of yourself, the idea that “I matter” as a woman, that I need time to be with my own thoughts, my own company, Me Time, before the phrase was ever coined.  Now, almost over 50 years later, I get it!

Muriel didn’t like anything that smacked of Judaism, which included foods such as lox, herring, whitefish, although a bagel was on the approved list, they were the frozen Lender’s bagels that no New Yorker would ever eat today.  More like white bread with a hole in it!

My generation wants to know where they came from, their roots, their heritage, as do my Millennial children, so it’s a shame that I didn’t get more Muriel stories down in print.  I remember enough though to get us through several posts and it gives me great pleasure to share them.   

My mother was a character, but with a heart of gold.  People loved to talk to her because she was a great listener and she never betrayed a secret.  Whatever, her shortcomings, she loved me greatly and I feel lucky to have had her for the years that I did.


More Muriel stories to come…


Today’s Takeaway–

. Listen to your own inner voice. Be true to yourself. Muriel was unconventional for her time and she didn’t care!

. If it makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone in the process, (i.e. sewing designer labels in clothes) then what the hey?!


Enjoy the ride!

xox, Barclay and Joy


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