Family Stories

  • Loyal to the Jewish Faith

    Family tradition has it that our Nunes family ancestors from Lisbon, Portugal—like most other Jews living in Portugal and Spain during the Spanish Inquisition—had long professed Christianity, while secretly remaining loyal to the Jewish faith. Once they came to this country, years of non-Jewish living were not easy to shake off. For months after their arrival, the ladies of the Nunes family apparently were unable to recite their Jewish prayers without the assistance of the rosary.

  • Story from: Moses, Robert Altamont |
  • The Practice

    Well, yes, my father-in-law Mr. Shimel was in his late seventies or early eighties. Daddy was not a very strong man. He’d had tuberculosis when he was a young man, and he was sort of—he just wasn’t a robust individual. About five or six years before he died, he told me one day that he wanted to give up practicing law, he was going to retire. I said, “Why do you want to retire?” I said, “You just come and go when you want to anyway. You don’t take anything you don’t want to take.” I had talked to his doctor, and his doctor told me, “Don’t let him retire, because he’ll fade anyway to nothing”—’cause the only interest he had in life was reading, he read prodigiously—and he said, “If he doesn’t have the law practice to go to, he won’t last long.” So [Daddy] said, “Well, I’m tired, I’ve had enough.” He said, “I think I’m sort of burnt out, ought to quit.” I kept talking and talking to him, and he wouldn’t change his mind, so I said, “Okay. Let me know when you’re going to quit, because we got a lot of closing up to do.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, we got hundreds of files and hundreds of clients. We’ve got to turn over all of the files to some lawyer, got to find someone to take them.” “What are you talking about?” I said, “What do you mean? You’re quitting, aren’t you?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, you quit, I quit. I don’t need the money, and I don’t want to practice without you.” “You can’t do that—you can’t quit! That’s ridiculous.” I said, “That’s ridiculous for you to quit, too.” I never heard another word about him quitting and he lasted eight more years. The doctor said he wouldn’t have lasted a month. William Ackerman

  • Story from: Ackerman, William |
  • The Darling

    The youngest of all [my father’s siblings] was a brother named Harris—interesting, ’cause that wasn’t a Jewish name. It was a family name of some neighbors of theirs, I think, the Harris family, and he got that name. He was the youngest and he was everybody’s favorite. Everybody loved Harris. He was supposed to have been a darling, outgoing, charming, delightful man. Whereas the others were—from what I put together in my mind, the way I remember them in stories and so on—they were very Victorian and suppressed, like people used to be in those days, and especially Jews who wanted to put on a good front for the neighbors, you know, were very formal with everybody—But Harris, he was a doll that ran around the town and went to dances and had lots of friends and mixed with everybody. Everybody loved him. The family loved him. And here was his sad fate. He went in—he was a member of the militia. I know this story from my father, and my father always said “the militia,” and I never bothered to inquire exactly what kind of a militia. My impression, that I got in looking back, is something like the National Guard today is, but my husband and I had a big argument because he says he thinks he was really in a militia, he was in training for going down to the Spanish-American War. I know nothing of that, and I’d tell my husband he’s wrong, ’cause he wouldn’t know it was—All these Barnetts were dead—except my father—so he didn’t get it from the horse’s mouth like I did, but that’s what he thinks is the story. But my story is it was like a National Guard. Whatever it was, it was a fun thing for him. He belonged to this, the local guys all belonged the militia, and they would drill whenever—once a week or something, they had a gathering and they did that. And then he went away—this is why I say it was like the National Guard—they went away for a trip for about two weeks, where they—it was like an active duty thing. They’d practice, they drilled and they marched around, whatever they did, and then they came home, and that was for two weeks, like active duty. He went on that and they went to Florida. They were training on the beach, and they had winter uniforms on, woolen uniforms, and he got terribly overheated—this is the story they told me. They got terribly overheated, so he goes in the water, in the ocean, to cool off, because he was all sweaty—I don’t know if he had his clothes on or what—but he went in the ocean and he caught a terrible cold. Came home with pneumonia, died with pneumonia. So, oh, calamity! the favorite, the white-haired boy, everybody’s darling, the high hopes of all the old-maid ladies up at the top end of the family, everybody loved him—suddenly he’s dead and gone. The family never recovered from that. It was just such a grieving that they talked about it, and never got over it.

  • Story from: Kaye, Ruth Barnett |
  • A Very Old Lady

    I just remembered my great grandmother as being a very old lady, very tiny with a little cap on her head and starched, big starched white aprons. And I can remember as a little child being very afraid of her. I was afraid of old people. And she used to try to, she would give me nickels, you know, to make me warm up to her. And I’d go up to her enough to take the nickel. But I really was very much afraid of her. I just was, had never been around old people, you know, and she was so little and she was very wrinkled. And she had that little cap on her head because she didn’t wear a sheitel [wig] so you know, she kept her head covered.

  • Story from: Berlin, Shera Lee Ellison |
  • Cousins

    My father was sixteen years older than my mother. I think he was always afraid, he always took care of her, you know, he thought she was something specia. He said he didn’t want everybody in town saying that old man married that young girl and made her have a house full of children. She wanted more but they were content. My daddy didn’t want any more. They had a good life. And I was very close with my cousins. Very close. I can remember Karl Karesh worked on King Street for Max which was just a block from where we lived when I was a little girl. On his way home to Rutledge Avenue where he and his sisters had moved—after Aunt Mamie and Uncle Jake died they gave up the house on Radcliff Street and they moved to Rutledge Avenue—he would pass by my house, pick me up and I would walk to Rutledge Avenue with him for dinner. Then he would bring me back home and go to work. I just loved them. You know, all my cousins were so important to me.

  • Story from: Berlin, Shera Lee Ellison |
  • The Brother

    My brother was studying late at night down at medical school. Eleven o’clock at night he said, I’m hungry. My mother would say, isn’t there a sandwich shop there. Yes, but I don’t like the sandwiches here. So, my mother would make a sandwich at eleven o’clock at night. She didn’t learn to drive until she was an older woman. When she drove you would have to get out of the street. And she would go in the middle of the night and take him a sandwich in the middle of the night. Okay. When I was growing up, I’m not saying I’m any great hero. I sat down to eat and I said I wanted a piece of bread. She would butter it. I said, Momma, I’ll butter the bread myself. But Sidney, she handed it to him unbuttered and he would say, butter the bread Momma. He was very dependent.

  • Story from: Appel, Samuel |
  • The Doctor

    [My father] had to be a doctor because his father and mother told him he was going to be a doctor. At that time period you did what your parents said, no question. My father really didn’t want to be a doctor but his parents told him he was going to be, so he was a doctor. He did his residency here at the Mary Black Hospital here in Spartanburg before he went on into North Carolina and then to Texas and then back to Spartanburg and stayed in Spartanburg ever since until he died. My grandfather seemed like he was the type of guy he thought he’d be around forever, you know. He was such a businessman he had everything lined out, what he was going to do, when it was going to be done. But it had to be my son, the doctor, that was the thing, you had to have a doctor in the family, whether it was an M.D. or a dentist or something, you had to have a doctor in the family. That’s why my father would have said [he was] the unlucky one, to have gotten that part. If he’d have gone into medicine on his own I think he may have been a dermatologist. But if he had had his druthers he wanted to be a meteorologist, he loved the weather and things like that. That’s what he wanted to be.

  • Story from: Ferguson, Conie Spigel |
  • The Bedroom

    As we could afford it, we moved out to Shandon and had a nice house on Devine Street. Sims Avenue and Devine Street. Some years ago I went back with Judy to take a look [at it]. It’s been made into offices. And I went into what used to be my bedroom, after getting permission from these people, and I wondered how anyone could live in a space that small. But we had a sleeping porch, five windows on each of three sides, and that’s where we slept in the summer. The whole family: my sister, my parents, and I.

  • Story from: Chaplin, George |
  • The Promise

    Earl and I bought this New Jersey house together. I put in more—on a loan from my dad—because Esta and I had the downstairs and Earl and Rita had the upstairs. I think we bought the house for seven thousand dollars; my share was probably four thousand, which my dad lent me. He wanted one hundred a month in repayment, to reach him on the first of the month, no interest. Something happened at the paper, some commotion, some turmoil, and I forgot one month. On the second of that month a collect telegram from Dad arrived. Two words: “What happened?” No reminding me of a promise, I knew damn well what he meant. I was so mortified because he always kept his promises and he expected me to keep mine. From then on I didn’t miss a payment.

  • Story from: Chaplin, George |
  • Father

    He hadn’t gone to school here except night school in Boston, which is not exactly what Columbia and Greenville public schools are like. I remember an occasion when he was proud of me but for some reason didn’t want to show it. When I told him, “Here I am in Greenville, age twenty-five, and I’ve been selected for a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, which is the highest academic award in journalism,” he said, “That’s nice,” and then went off somewhere. As I recall, I felt a little let down. He was not all that demonstrative about lots of things. Strong character, a man of his word, something of a philosopher. When he’d call long distance, let’s say, to Hawaii, his philosophy was never sit down on long distance. Don’t get comfortable. He always told the operator to let him know when three minutes were up. The assumption being if you can’t say it in three minutes, shreib a brief, write a letter. Little idiosyncrasies that I love. I find myself talking to him occasionally. He’s been dead a quarter of a century.

  • Story from: Chaplin, George |