Excerpts from…

Betty Erlicht’s Legacy Profile

                                             
         …I never used to talk about it because it was verboten for a while -- but a long time ago, I went to Russia and worked in the foreign department of a bank for a year.

                It was the big Depression, and you couldn’t get a job here. Whereas in Russia, they were crying for people to come and work. They needed all kinds of people from different countries.

         I lived in an apartment and had a houseworker. There was so much entertainment. I used to go to concerts. Music and plays were big. But the food was rationed. I’d order one plate and save a piece of chicken for the next night. That was pretty tough!

                Transportation was very hard too. We’d hang on the tram by a finger and pass our little slips, which they gave us for a couple of kopecks, to the conductor.

                Whenever I was on night duty at the bank, it seemed to snow especially hard.  And it was so bitter cold. Then I’d have to walk in the snow in the early-morning hours. So I bought a warm fur hat with pom-poms. They called me “Little Girl” in Russian…

                   

           I left Russia and went back home because Hitler was coming close. The Russians said all foreigners either had to become Russians or leave. So we left…

                Sam and I came to Los Angeles from New York in 1945, right after the War. We didn’t know anybody here, but we -- no -- I just made up my mind to come!  Sam was never easy when it came to any kind of change.

               
               We didn’t know a soul here. Housing was short. By that time, the soldiers who had visited
California were coming back and wanted to live here.

               
                
Sam found a job working for a local jeweler.  That’s when he got the idea to sell rings, watches, necklaces, bracelets – all real – to movie stars while they were working on the studios’ soundstages.  He was very good at it, too. He sold to practically every star in those days – Barbara Stanwyck, Jerry Lewis, Joan Collins. Sometimes he’d just drop in on them when they were filming.

                Sam was a very serious guy, but he knew how to joke with the actors; and they liked him. One time, Marilyn Monroe asked him to zip up her zipper!

               

                 I remember Cary Grant calling Sam at home once. I answered the phone. Oh, what a gorgeous voice! …

               

               When I was very young in Brooklyn, my parents spoke only Yiddish with me. I didn’t learn English until I started school.

              
             
I was very shy and quiet. Papa was quite strict. And my parents didn’t want to let me out of their sight. I wasn’t even allowed to sleep over at my friends’ houses. They all had to sleep at mine…

               

           I was a very poor eater. I used to smell my food before I put it in my mouth! Crazy!  To this day, I’m not a big eater. Oh, I’ll eat ice cream.  After Sam died, I used to buy half-a-gallon at a time, and it would last for months because I’d have only one teaspoon every night…

 

          My mother was a wonderful cook and baker. People would come from all over just to taste her food. I liked everything she made. Friday night she’d cook her own noodles and her own mondel bread -- and I’d sit there and watch her make it.

                She was a wonderful, sweet person. Never complained. She really catered to my father. He had a temper.  Before he came home, she’d say, “Shhsh, your father’s coming.  Don’t get him angry.”

               

          We had a cat, but Papa didn’t like animals. Of course, when he walked in, the cat would always wind around his leg!  So my mother had to put it out in the backyard.  Pa would get very annoyed. He’d get really angry with my sister Alice because she was a tomboy and liked to climb trees.

                 But people actually loved my father. He could be very likeable.  He was very good to outsiders – he always had his hand in his pocket! …

 

                I used to ride in our car with Papa a lot, so I knew how to drive even before I was 16.  When we first got the car, it was a very big deal.  Mama started to take driving lessons too. But one day she made the mistake of taking the car out after the driving teacher dropped her off.  She thought she’d just drive it around the block.

           Right at that point, there was a bunch of kids sitting on a stoop: “Oh, look! A woman driving!” they yelled.  So Mama got excited and bumped the car on something. From that moment on, Papa wouldn’t let her drive. That was so cruel! …

 

                In the 1920s, there were three things a woman could hope to be: a nurse, a teacher or a medical laboratory technician. A doctor and his wife lived next door to us, so the wife advised me to become a lab technician. 

               

           I got a job at a hospital doing Wasserman tests to diagnose syphilis.  Sometimes I took care of the lab at night. There were tubs of formaldehyde that held breasts and legs.

          One night, my mother and father came to pick me up. Mama said: “Betty, who was afraid of a fly, is in there all alone with all those legs and breasts!”  I remember so clearly she used to tell everybody that story…

 

                When I was a teenager, we had a regular group and went to dances at the colleges. At one of them, I met a boy who was studying business at the Wharton School.  He lived in New Haven, Connecticut, and was darling. We called each other Ducky. I called him Ducky!  He drove a big, beautiful Willys Knight car.

                Papa had promised to let me run his car to take my driver’s test.  But when it came time, he backed down. So I asked Ducky to bring the Willys Knight over from New Haven.  For the exam, all I had to do was drive it around the block. At that at time, they just made you back up without hitting the curb -- so I passed with flying colors! …

               

          I met Sam in Prospect Park. He was handsome and had a lot of hair then. I’d see him walking along, flipping a big tree branch and whistling. One day we started talking.  I asked him if he knew how to play bridge. He said yes. So I got the idea for him to bring a date for my girlfriend and the four of us could play.  Well, the night we got together, I discovered that Sam didn’t know the first thing about bridge! But that’s how everything got started with us.

                My parents were against my marrying him because he was a poor boy, and they saw a hole in his sock. They thought I should marry a prince, you know? That’s why we had a quiet wedding…

 

                 Oh, how could I forget this!  International folk dancing was my big love for over 20 years.  That was the best part of my life.  I used to dance in peasant clothing at different clubs three or four times a week.  Sam would rather sit home and watch his sports games, so I went alone. I never sat down. Even if I didn’t have a partner, I got up and danced by myself.

                It was really heavy dancing, though.  I mean, they taught a dance once, and you had to pick it up very quickly. You couldn’t wear jewelry because when you’re holding hands, you didn’t want rings and things to hurt anyone.

               
                
After Sam died, I still went folk dancing. I practically had a steady partner. It’s always good to have a partner even if he has two left legs because there are so many more single women…

 
           I’m big on politics! Very big! Here George Bush starts a war in Iraq on false evidence. Men – they haven’t even become men yet – are being killed every day.  All the money that this costs could be spent for people here – on health care, education. You know, we’re the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have a universal health plan.

                Bush does favors for the wealthy. He gave them tax write-offs, but not for the poor or the middle class.  And Halliburton – Whew! 

               Chaney and Halliburton! They got big contracts in Iraq! Billions!  People don’t see that! It’s just constantly drummed into their heads that the Democrats are too far to the left. But the people aren’t sitting down and thinking about what isn’t being done for them -- and what’s being done against them…

 

               I’m easy-going.  Well, not always. I mean, I could have a temper. But lately there’s no point to it. It only makes my blood pressure go higher. There’s no need to get excited. Even when I play a game of Rummi-Kub, I don't care if I win or lose…

 

          To be this old [92], is  my greatest achievement in life!                                                                

                                              ~As  told to Jane Wollman Rusoff