From as earlier as I can remember, Frank and I played with “Little Friends”. They were small plastic figurines, about two inches tall, mostly Disney characters. They were in pastels of pink, green, blue and peach. We played make believe all day long. Our favorites were the Seven Dwarfs. Frank liked Sleepy best and I favored Bashful. Frank also liked Timothy the mouse (Dumbo’s friend). A big event was the “twenty dollars worth of toys” day. Some of Mom’s friends from Ohio worked at the Marx Toy Factory. When they visited, they brought boxes and boxes of little friends. I remember that Mom said with little friends we could baby-sit ourselves for hours. We didn’t box up our toys until we were in Boy Scouts, I think. Childhood lasted a long time.
I remember making trips to Ohio with Dad, Mom, Jack, Eileen and Frank. All six us would fit into the Hutson with Dad driving, Mom riding shotgun. Jack, Eileen and me were in the back. Frank made a little nest of blankets under the back window of the Hutson. I seem to remember McCulluff’s Leap and the “House we pass three times” as ritual landmarks. Dad was always in such a hurry. He would mummer under his breath as he tried to pass trucks on the two-lane highways. (This was back in the days before interstates). To expedite the trip, Frank had a Pee Bottle. I guess that got us to Bellaire a few minutes earlier.
Our time as brothers living together ended symbolically in 1969. I was home from college and Frank just graduated from Clark and was about to head out West. We stacked up about one hundred 45 RPM records. We had bought them together over the previous five years. There were lots of Beatle records, Rolling Stones, Supremes. The 45s belonged to us jointly, because we split the cost on them or we forgot who actually paid for the record. Frank picked the first record, I picked the next two, then we alternated picks. It was sad, maybe like a divorce. I knew we were going our separate ways.
How could dish washing be fun? Eileen made it fun. From about 1960 to 1965 we had a system. Eileen would wash the dish (she was the older girl) and hand the dish to Frank (he was the shorter boy). Frank would dry the dish and hand the dish me (I was the taller boy) and I would put the dish away. We always sang as we washed. Some songs were from Frank Robinson, some from scouts, some from Homer and Jethro records. There were also the Mad Magazine songs. We looked at goofy lyrics next to goofy pictures. An asterisk (*) would comment “sung to he tune of Anchors Away”. So all three of us would memorize the lyrics. We still sing the “Dental Air Corps”, “Trash Cans Away” and “Deck the Halls with Poison Ivy”. I remember when Eileen plunged her hand into suds and grimaced in pain. From that day, I never put a knife in sudsy water. I wonder who did the dishes after Eileen got married and left? Thanks Mom.
During the hot summer Eileen would walk with Frank and me to Wolf Lake. It was about 20 minutes one way. The fudge cycles were seven cents each. There was lots of playing and splashing. The sand was hot. On one walk Eileen asked me if I knew the longest word in the English language. She said it was "antidisestablishmentarianism”. I said, “Oh, yeah. How about “Eeny-meeny-tipsy-teeny, apple-jack john sweeny, hooky pooky dominoky, out goes Y O U in the middle of the deep dark blue sea with a dishrag wrapped around your knee”. Eileen was incredulous and said “that’s not a word”! She patiently explained to me about syllables and words. I played dumb. I knew it wasn’t a word, but it flustered Eileen. On another walk home, Eileen picked a handful of stickers next to Wolf Lake. She carried them all the way home and threw them onto the lawn of Mr. Cruel across the street from us. She said it was because Mr. Cruel was mean to our dog Cookie. It was fun to be Eileen’s little brother.
Our house had only one phone and that phone was in the living room. One day in 1965 Frank answered the phone and yelled “Eileen, it’s some guy named Harry Zipperman”. After that, Harry Zipperman (AKA Terry Zimmerman) was phoning all the time. At first Eileen would face into a corner and talk in a soft voice. But that wasn’t private enough. We couldn’t afford a second phone, (cordless phones and cell phones were years in the future). The solution was to get super-long phone cord. It stretched from outside the kitchen door all the way across the living room and just inside Eileen’s bedroom. She had to stand just inside the door to make it work. Eileen locked her door for hours with the spiraling cord stretched to the max. I nearly strangled myself once, running through the house and not seeing the phone cord. I remember coming into the house many an evening only to see that phone cord stretched across the house. I knew what was going on.
Jack used to chase me and Frank around the house. Once when I was little, I was running away from Jack. We were playing around in the basement. I was racing up the stairs. I glanced over my shoulder. Jack wasn’t there. I was almost upstairs. I laughed to myself thinking that I gave him the slip! Suddenly I was falling on my face. I couldn’t guess that Jack could stand under the open staircase, reach up and grab my ankles from below. It was traumatic. I cried and cried. For years as I ran up the stairs, I would look down to make sure that Jack wasn’t lurking with hands sticking through the second to the top step.
To say the least, Jack found it difficult to get up and going in the morning. Bright-eyed and bushy tailed did not happen for him until the sun went down. I remember Mom and Dad being just livid at Jack waiting for him before going to church. His castle was in the basement. Nothing could get him up in the mornings. There was one exception. Jack gave us permission to get him up watch “the Soupy Sales Show”. The show started at noon on Saturdays. Sometimes Jack got up, sometimes he didn’t. But when he did, it was fun to watch him laugh as he watched Soupy Sales laugh.
Somehow Jack got a motor scooter. It was kind of a misbegotten motorcycle. It was a color called “maroon”. (That was the first time I heard the word “maroon”). It had a big square open box in the front and it had a push horn that went “UU GAH”. I was so proud when Jack rode me around the block. I would duck down inside the box and then stand up fast and wave at my friends. Sometimes Frank would be in the box with me and sometimes Jim Francis was there. We would push on the horn. “UU GAH – UU GAH”. Thanks for the ride Jack.
Charlotte went to Alaska just after High School. She visited our uncles Joe and Stutz who were in the Air Force. I remember the celebration when Charlotte returned. She brought back all kinds of exotic treasures. I remember the plastic key chains with “real Alaskan gold dust” embedded inside. The Eskimo yo-yos were fun. They consisted of two fur-covered balls at opposite ends of a rope. We held the rope in the middle and tried to make the balls circle in opposite directions. Charlotte also brought back that polar bear skin rug. What ever happened to that rug ? But the best thing that Charlotte brought back was herself. I missed my sister.
I remember sitting in church with the whole family at the First Church of Christ in Whiting. Charlotte was sitting next to me. It was communion time and we had little communion cups in our hands. For some reason, Frank and I got to giggling and teasing. (Not nice behavior for church kids). My elbow got shoved and I spilled grape juice on church pants. Uh Oh! I felt really bad, I mean, really really bad. Mom frowned at me. Dad grimaced and sighed. My neat sister Charlotte didn’t say a word. She took the little cup from my hand and filled it half way with some of her juice. Thank you Char.
Charlotte always made such a big deal out of Spring. We picked pussy willows on the way to school, brought them home and put them in vases. I must have been in first grade because it’s about the same time I learned the song “I know a pussy willow”. She always pointed out the lilies of the valley that grew up and down the alley during the month of May. Our favorite tradition was the annual trip to Eggers Grove to seek out the first violets of Spring. Charlotte would load us up in the car and drive us across the state line. We would get off the trails sometimes. Charlotte would shout with joy whenever she would spot a small clump of violets. Flowers and Charlotte will always go together.
Can I remember this or is it just hand-me-down conversations and 8 millimeter film? Jeanne had her wedding reception in the basement of our house on Lake Avenue. This was a sort of a Polish tradition. I think I remember stuffing a whole lot of things into the coal cellar to get them out of the way. Do I remember papier-mâché wrapped around asbestos furnace pipes? I think there was piano playing, accordion playing and dancing. It was a blast. Perhaps some of this is not first hand memory. In my mind’s eye I can see people waving at me without heads. OK, maybe that part of my memory is really Dad’s movie camera.
In the early 1960s, Don and Jeanne would go on vacations. On a couple of trips, they were kind enough to take along me and Frank. I remember driving to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and to the Great Smokey Mountains. We wore shorts, camped out, ate hot dogs, swam, bought cheap souvenirs and mailed post cards. Jeanne was so nice to her little brothers. At times I felt half way between her brother and her son.
Frank and I drove back with Jeanne and Don from Whiting to Florence, Alabama. This happened 3 days after I got my driver’s license. I was so proud to drive Don’s Chevy in Florence. I would take the wheel sometimes when Don ran an errand. Sometimes I would drive Debbie to swim practice. Once I wanted to show off. So with Debbie, Nancy, and Frank in the car I demonstrated how fast I could drive the car in reverse going down a winding hill. I didn’t get too far when the car jumped the curb and slipped down an embankment. Luckily, only my pride was injured. We were a block from the house, so Frank ran to get Jeanne. I’ll never forget seeing Jeanne trudge up the hill. She was following a gesturing Frank and she had a welcome mat in her hand. She was going to give me better traction. It was like bringing a fly swatter to capture an elephant. Frank must have understated the severity of the situation. Thank you Jeanne for coming to my rescue. And thank you Don for not getting too upset with your dented car.
Brother Frank, here’s a thought I had the other day. At 47 years old maybe I should call it an epiphany. I have a strong suspicion that I am one-eighth Jewish, and (because you’re my brother) you are too.
Several things conspired in the past few months that drew my thoughts in this direction. Let me explain. You know that Zachary is in Poland. He did a little bit of genealogical research.. He looked in phonebooks in Krakow and Warsaw. Zachary was surprised to find no one with the family name of “Formanski” (or “Foremanski” or cognates). When we were together in Poland, we talked a little about it. I was surprised too.
Last week I was in the public library working on my book. I opened up a book about surnames and looked up “Forman” (this is the original of “Foreman”). The entry discussed our surname. Its original meaning was “leader of pigs”, and only later “leader of a group”. In Germany the name became “Fuhrman” and took on the meaning of “driver of a team of horses”. The book listed about 20 cognate forms of “Foreman”. It said “Jewish: Formanski, Formansky”. I said to myself “Aha!”. A lot of other things make more sense now. Consider the following:
Question 1. Why are there no Formanski’s in Poland?
Answer 1. Formanski is a Jewish surname and there are only 3000 Jews left in all of Poland. About 3 million were killed or chased out.
Question 2. Why did our Grandfather, Joseph Foreman, change his name from Formanski to Foreman? After all, we grew up with dozens of Polocks and Slovacs who kept their Eastern European names.
Answer 2. Our Grandfather/Grandmother felt uncomfortable because the surname was Jewish sounding, not because it was German/Polish sounding. Indeed, between 1900-20, it was mostly immigrant Jews who altered or clipped their family names.
Question 3. When was “Formanski” changed to “Foreman”?
Answer 3. For a long time, I thought the name was changed at Ellis Island when our grandfather immigrated. However, I now think the name was changed about 1920. We know that Joseph came to America from Europe about 1911. Our Uncle Steve was born in Europe, but the next three kids were born in America. Dad was last born in 1914. We have a newspaper clipping of Dad in elementary school. The caption reads “Johnny Formanski”. Apparently he was registered in school as a Formanski.
Question 4. Why was the named changed?
Answer 4. My suspicion is that our Grandma Foreman was responsible. You know that she wanted to return to Germany, maybe marriage problems or maybe economic reasons. The story goes like this: While grandfather stayed behind, she went by boat to Rechlinghousen, Germany. We have pictures of dad with siblings just before they made the ocean voyage. I think that Grandma Foreman applied for passports with the name “Foreman”. Maybe “Foreman” would be a more acceptable name in Recklinghausen than “Formanski”. Grandma Foreman found that Germany had changed greatly since 1911. World War I had left the country devastated. She returned to Ohio with 4 kids in tow and never looked back.
Question 5. What do we know about our grandfather’s background?
Answer 5. Not much. I believe that Joseph was born in Eastern Germany (Silesia I believe), a slice of Europe that was taken from Poland after the Napoleonic Wars and returned to Poland after World War I. I don’t think that much is known about his parents. Joseph was a coal miner in Germany and stayed a coal miner in Ohio. In his part of Europe, there was a mix of Germans, Poles and Jews.
Question 6. Why didn’t Joseph reveal any Jewish background?
Answer 6. Here is my conclusion: Our great grandfather was Jewish (Formanski) but his wife was Gentile. I bet this tended to make our great grandfather non-religious. Joseph received a Jewish name from his father, but because his mother was not Jewish, he grew up as a non-Jew. (You know that it’s the mother that makes a Jew a Jew). From all I understand, Joseph was non-religious; verging on anti-religious. This all makes sense in the context of a father that was Jewish and mother that was Catholic. Joseph was born in 1881and married about 1909. When Joseph married an “Aryan” German from Recklinghousen (perhaps in a Catholic church), whatever Jewishness he may have had was suppressed. In 1911 he immigrated. By the time our dad came around in 1914, all Jewish heritage was extinguished, only the name Formanski remained. In 1920, even the name “Formanski” was extinguished.
Frank, some of this is guess work, but I think that the preponderance of evidence supports my conclusion. If Grandpa Foreman’s father was born Jewish, then our grandfather was 1/2 Jewish, our father was 1/4 Jewish and we are 1/8 Jewish.
I’m not sure what all this means. I remain the same person I was born. And yet for the past week or so, I’ve been meditating on what it means to have a Jewish background. Tell me what you think.
P.S. On the lighter side, maybe this explains your resemblance to Mr. Spock.
Official picture from Christmas 1943
Only 3 kids present for this one
Four kids on Easter 1949
Six kids in the summer of 1953
In new coats purchased with Char's first paycheck
Six kids in 1971 at Mom's house
At the Zelen Farm in 1974 (no Char)
Visiting with Dad during his last days in 1977
Official picture from 1981
About 1988 ?
Our last group picture with mom
At the reunion in 2001
At the reunion in 2003