Monday, June 7, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Interview with Melvin Lester Newmark - Part 3

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.

This week I continue the transcription of an interview conducted with my grandfather, Melvin Newmark, in December of 1987. My grandfather has begun talking about his mother, Bertha (Cruvant) Newmark.


Interviewer: Did she live in the same neighborhood – her family
Melvin: I don’t think so, you know, it’s curious, but I don’t really have much knowledge or recollection of the neighborhoods where my mother’s family lived, except that, it’s coming back to me as I speak to you. Actually she was from East. St. Louis. Now it’s coming back to me. My grandfather had a store at 415 Collinsville Avenue in East St. Louis. I give you that number, it’s important, because that store that address remained with my family for a long time. On his death – he died just a year before I was born. His oldest son, David Cruvant, took over the store. And they were all shoemakers. And they had shoe repair shops. So, on my father’s side were tailors, and my mother’s side were shoemakers.
Interviewer: And they made shoes then too
Melvin: Oh, for real
Interviewer: It’s like making the suits, in those days they made the shoes.
Melvin: Exactly. The same thing. That’s what he did. And they lived in the back of that store. And for years they had some Jewish people live next door to them with a hardware store. And I loved to go to East St. Louis when I was a kid. It was a bad neighborhood. You know, prostitute houses all around. But as a kid I guess I wasn’t aware of it too much. East St. Louis was not
Interviewer: It was tough.
Melvin: Oh, it was rough, yes.
Interviewer: Alright, his name - was this Moshe Leyb?
Melvin: It was Moshe Leyb, yeah.
Interviewer: OK, and his wife’s name?
Melvin: Minnie. I even know her maiden name. We loved to talk about in the family. Her maiden name was Mojsabovsky.
Interviewer: Oh.
Melvin: I don’t know how to spell Mojsabovsky.
Interviewer: …Alright, so we have the Cruvants living in East St. Louis. He’s a shoemaker.
Melvin: Right.
Interviewer: OK. Where did they come from?
Melvin: Somewhere in Russia. They talk about Russia as being the place from which they came.
Interviewer: Did they themselves come?
Melvin: Yes, my mother’s parents came from Russia. My mother was born here.
Interviewer: Bertha was born here?
Melvin: Yes, Bertha was born here.
Interviewer: But Minnie and Moshe were born there.
Melvin: Wherever there was. I don’t know.
Interviewer: Do they tell stories about
Melvin: They did
Interviewer: About coming over, or why they settled in East. St. Louis.
Melvin: When I was born my grandfather had already died. My mother’s father. My grandmother, G-d bless her, was just a sweet woman who hardly spoke. And who moved from one daughter’s house to another. There were four, three daughters , so she lived with us for awhile, and she lived with Flora for awhile, and Stella, and she was just a hard working woman who really had very little to say. But sweet and adoring, and accepting. And I remember, I think she slept with my brother and me.
Interviewer: When she visited.
Melvin: When we were little kids, that’s right, when she lived there.
Interviewer: So when you say lived, spent several months?
Melvin: Or years.
Interviewer: But she wouldn’t stay at one person’s place for a year would she?
Melvin: Yeah, she could, then she would move on to another for a year, and then come back
Interviewer: She had no real home after he died?
Melvin: That’s right.
Interviewer: She never talked about why they came to East St. Louis?
Melvin: No, I never got that story.
Interviewer: Did your mother talk about it?
Melvin: No, there were a lot of Jewish people in East St. Louis.
Interviewer: Were there?
Melvin: Yeah, many Jewish stores. Grocery stores, all kinds of stores were Jewish owned.
Interviewer: A community.
Melvin: Oh, yeah, a large Jewish community in East St. Louis. I know many of them today, yeah.
Interviewer: It’s interesting that they would allow themselves to have raised children, if we think about it as a dangerous neighborhood.
Melvin: I probably couldn’t get a worse neighborhood than 415 Collinsville Avenue.
Interviewer: Then?
Melvin: Then. And today, maybe worse.
Interviewer: But then, too?
Melvin: But then was bad. I know that immediately behind them was Third Street, which was the prostitute row, and it was a bad neighborhood, and saloons on the corner [...]


Interviewer: Well, but your mother didn’t have fear?
Melvin: No. It’s hard to understand that.
Interviewer: If I were to interview her and say her “what was your growing up like?” What would she say?
Melvin: If my mother were alive, what would she say?
Interviewer: Or what you gleaned.
Melvin: I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.
Interviewer: It’s an interesting thing.
Melvin: It’s interesting, but probably not having known anything better.
Interviewer: She accepted it.
Melvin: Right.
Interviewer: What education did she have
Melvin: Grade school
Interviewer: Just through eighth grade?
Melvin: That’s all. No high school.
Interviewer: What did she look like.
Melvin: A beautiful woman. My mother, Bertha, was a beautiful woman. Rather buxom. Heavy. And I tend to look more like her physically, because I’ve put on weight. But she was never without a smile.
Interviewer: And how many children did she have?
Melvin: She had three.
Interviewer: You..
Melvin: … My brother, Harold, and my youngest brother, Mandell, M-A-N-D-E-Double-L.
Interviewer: So she had just three boys?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: She was one of how many?
Melvin: Six.
Interviewer: So, we knew of David.
Melvin: David had two brothers. His oldest brother was Ben. And his youngest brother was…
Interviewer: We’ll come to him later.
Melvin: He was Cruvant, Buddy Cruvant, Ginny Cruvant’s father. He was the one with all the personality. Oh my goodness.
Interviewer: I’ll ask you later. Alright, and there was Flora and Stella.
Melvin: Yes
Interviewer: And what was the third one? Oh, no, your mother’s the third one. Six.
Melvin: Yeah.
Interviewer: That’s right.
Melvin: Sol. Sol Cruvant was [ed. the other brother]
Interviewer: Sol. OK. How successful were they in their shoe repairs, to raise all these children?
Melvin: They got out of that business. On the Cruvant side they got out. Sol became a salesman, and worked in a furniture house, and was successful at a furniture store. He prospered. He was more Americanized than anybody in the family on either my mother’s or father’s side. Dave stayed in East. St. Louis.
Interviewer: At the store?
Melvin: At the store. Ben. There’s a lot about Ben I don’t know about in his early beginnings. [...]
Interviewer: So you know all those people.
Melvin: Very well. Our whole life revolved around our families. There was no other kind of entertainment except being with your families. You went here one night, and there one night. And every weekend was with the family, and every Sunday you went on a picnic. And it was all of the families. And all of the kids got together.
Interviewer: Both sides?
Melvin: Often times, yes. Amazing how close we were.
Interviewer: So, these families, their life was surrounded by each other.
Melvin: Completely. And they had no other real interests except their family, and their children. Their whole life was centered around their children.
Interviewer: And in addition, they had enough children to make a lot of people, it multiplies.
Melvin: They had jobs to do, yeah.
Interviewer: Were you close to the children of your father’s brothers and sisters?
Melvin: Close to all of my cousins. Very close. To this day I still am. Not as close as I was; When we grew up we were inseparable.
Interviewer: Name some of them.
Melvin: Yesterday I had lunch with Bud Fudemberg. We’ve been inseparable since, he’s
Interviewer: He’s Nellie’s son.
Melvin: He’s Nellie’s son, and he’s two years younger than I am.
Interviewer: As an example.
Melvin: That’s right. Others in my family I remember as I was growing up – Barney Cruvant – Bernard Cruvant became a well-known psychiatrist. A very very colorful character.
Interviewer: Whose child was he?
Melvin: He was David’s child. Dave Cruvant, and his mother had a family, and I knew that family very well. All these families stayed close together.


1) Regarding the East St. Louis neighborhood.  My grandfather has a tendency towards the hyperbole.  I remember this habit well in the realm of food, as every meal he had was the best ever.  Though it appears he uses hyperbole here as well.  Was the neighborhood really the worst he could imagine?  He's already described the Carr Square neighborhood his paternal grandparents lived in as horrible.

He admits that as a kid he wouldn't have noticed the prostitution in the area.  So there is a good possibility he is remembering the neighborhood from a later time, and it doesn't necessarily mean it was that way even when he was a kid.  I'm not sure when the Cruvant family finally sold the house.  I think Dave Cruvant and his family moved to Louisiana in the early 1950s.  So there are several decades my grandfather would have visited.

2) My grandfather also says it was that way when his mother was growing up.  Which of course he couldn't know.  Furthermore, from city directories, I know his mother didn't grow up in East St. Louis.  The Cruvant family was on the west side of the river at least until 1901, when she was about 14.

3) My great grandmother was born in 1887.  The Cruvant family immigrated in 1885.  However, the earliest record we have found of them in the City Directories is 1890.  So there is some flexibility on where Bertha was born.  Though it is likely she was born in St. Louis.

4) The Cruvant family came from Kruvandai, Lithuania.  However, my grandfather is technically correct when he says they came from Russia.  It's confusing because European borders were in a state of flux.  From about 1795-1918 Lithuania was a part of Russia.

1 comment:

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

I love your post. I know how difficult it can be transcribing from a recording. Its well worth the effort, and you'll always have the written version, no matter where technology goes from here.