It's 2009. My son has just returned from the Dollar Store.
"Hey, ma, look at this!" he says, holding up a small green box. "They're called 'Jujubes' - from your day. Whoa! I almost broke a tooth on one of those. They're like rocks!"
"You don't know how to eat them. The cool part was to soften them up enough to chomp then glue your teeth together," I said, wistfully. "Isn't it great?"
He gives me his "glue-factory" look, shrugs, dumps the box and heads for his "virtual" room.
Jujubes! Ah ... yes. I remember my "ju"-joy, circa 1950s. Loews in Queens. The box lasted through the whole double feature: "The House on Haunted Hill" and "The Blob"
My "Ju"-Joy leads to a flood of nostalgia, or in my case - Jewstalgia.
My "Ju"-Joy leads to a flood of nostalgia, or in my case - Jewstalgia. And I realize how long I've been Jewstalgic for all the places, all the times of my life that have just gone missing. And like any good Jewess most involve, what else? Food.
1. The Candy Store: No. I'm not talking Scharffen Berger or Section 7A of Wal-Mart. The 1950s Candy Store had a name. "Switzers," "Blooms" "Fleigelmans." Small, messy, it was a micro universe that smelled of "sweet," sour balls, and sawdust. Part soda fountain, part newspaper and comic central, part candy land, it was a hang-out for the "over thirteens" ("tweenies," and "teens" had yet to be "invented"), and a reward for us kids. ("If you're good, we'll go to Switzers!)
Ah ... to once again swivel on the round, red chairs with the Band-Aid covering the rips, in front of the "fount'n." Ice cream soda glasses for an egg cream or foamy root beer float, were a foot high - with two straws for sharing. And the sweets! Rows of button candy stuck to paper I never quite liberated, Neccos, Blow Pops, Jujubes, Chunkies, wax lips. And Sen-Sen - for papa!
If I was really really "good," ma let me turn the wire newspaper display stands. As she picked up The Forvards, I'd grab the latest Archie, and Little Lulu. Best yet, if salty Mr. Switzer was in a good mood, he might just give me a salty pretzel from the long glass jar - without me plopping a penny on the counter!
2. A Shortie- Bonomo's Turkish Taffy: "B-O... N-O... M-O... Oh, Oh, Oh... it Bonomo's... Turkish Taaaaaaafy!" It wasn't taffy. But it was Turkish. Or Jewish Turkish! (Mr. Bonomo was Sephardic.) But ... the nougat vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or banana bar you could whack into pieces or stretch out, eroded slower than the White Cliffs of Dover.
3. Seltzer and The Man: No, it's not a cancelled sitcom, but an essential to life as we knew it. Club soda?! Feh. Only a meshugener would compare champagne to "swamp" water! Seltzer, the real stuff, brought by the soda man, was a unique sensory experience -- from the pouring to the kishkas. But more. Those sharp bubblies alone cut through everything from shmaltz-induced acid reflux - to Zayde's prune juice stain on the carpet. (And made a handy-dandy fire extinguisher.) Every week, Tim, The Seltzer Man, would deliver cases of the ubiquitous elixir in slatted wooden cases containing clear or blue syphon bottles.
OK, true. Sometimes you got a dud (Maybe one out of five). You'd squeeze the metal "handl" as bubbe called it, and ... bupkes. Not even a shpritz! Poor Bubbe. The Empress of Leftovers would put a half-filled glass of seltzer in the Frigidaire. Till her dying day, she "vondered vere" the bubblies went.
4. The Egg Cream: For a few cents more, seltzer, or "two-cents plain" at the soda fountain, could be transformed into the most delightfully sweet confection known to the Jewish palate. Add a little milk, U-Bet chocolate syrup, and Boom! An Egg Cream. And no, it doesn't contain either an egg or cream. But who cared? Where it started? Who knows? But controversial it is. (Although we do know its roots are Jewish, New York City.)
Theory One: The famous Auster's candy store. Lower East Side, 1890s. The owner tinkered with chocolate and seltzer. Boris Thomashevsky, the Yiddish actor, returned from Paris extolling the virtues of a drink called "chocolat et creme." To Auster, "chocolat et creme" sounded like "chocolate egg cream." Thus, the eggless chocolate drink was named!
Theory Two: According to Professor Daniel Bell, his uncle, Hymie Fredkin invented the luscious concoction. At his candy store near Auster's (above), he mixed chocolate syrup, chocolate ice cream, and an egg, then added milk and reversed the spigot on the seltzer. He called his drink "Uncle Hymie's Egg Cream." During the Depression, as eggs and ice cream were expensive, he tinkered and made it with chocolate syrup and milk.
Whatever the real origin, egg cream became a Jewish institution.
5. The "Derma Road," The Catskills: Famous Route 23 took us to Yiddishe Wonderland: A resort in the Catskill Mountains. On the way, was Howard Johnson's (verrry Goyishe, but at least it wasn't called "HoJos") - or boring fast food chains. Besides, who cared? Grossinger's alone could feed every Jew in Brooklyn - with one lunch serving. These platinum "shtetls" were self-contained opulent universes, where a person could sleep, eat, shop, swim, eat, get your hair done, take lessons, eat, be entertained, enter contests, eat, play Simon Says, find a mate, eat -- and never leave the premises.
Every meal was a Bar Mitzvah-like buffet
"Eating" wasn't a biological necessity, it was an avocation! Every meal was a Bar Mitzvah-like buffet, with endless Borscht, lokshen soup, kneidlach, tzimmis, kreplach, brisket, kasha, chopped liver, herring, gefilte fish, chicken (any which a-way), challah, lox, bagels, whitefish, blintzes, knishes, matzoh balls, kugel, huluptzes, strudel, rugelach, taiglach, kichel, and of course, stuffed derma. As much as you wanted ... which made "waddling" to the pool to cool off from such culinary exertion, a mekhaye! (Even if you went in up to your ankles, for no more than 90 seconds.)
"Eating" was also a good look-see op for the shadchan. The better resorts provided the services of a "marriage broker," who, while mama and papa were "essing," was eyeing the marriageable "kinder" for possible matches across a crowded dining room. The primary requirement? Breathing - even from a tube. ("Bubbala, you're 23 already. No one's perfect!")
At night, the Jewish stars came out! In the club, a singer and comic on the rise ... Freddie Roman, Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Totie Fields ... would entertain, covering half the resorts in one night. The lesser-known would also "double" as Social Directors, leading Simon Says by day for a shot at the "big-time" at night. We'd "clack" our approval with wooden "lollipop" sticks. (Face it, after 50 pounds of brisket, who had the strength to clap?)
If you were lucky, you might even see Buddy Hackett having a bagel and lox - in the coffee shop! (We did!) Which of course, reminds me of the Appetizing Store (back when "appetizing" was also an adjective). Ma would regale the whole neighborhood with every moment and morsel of our trip on that whitefish line, and later at The Beauty Parlor, where -
"Ma?" My son has left his sanctum and re-joined me. "So ... you softened them first?" "What?" I ask. "These," he answers, picking up the green Jujube box thoughtfully. "Right. Want to try it?" "Maybe later. Would you like to watch a DVD? "Sure. You got 'House on Haunted Hill,' by any chance? I ask." "As a matter of fact I do!" "Great. Move over. And pass me the jujubes!?"
A little Jewstalgia, it seems goes a long way.
If you'd like to share, we'd love to hear YOUR Jewstalgia! Take a glass seltzer ... and post a bissel in the comments section!