From the vignette “Jewish Casual”
“Can this girl from a small mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?”
—Our Gal Sunday, 1930s radio serial
Tommy and Joan Rodenberg invited us to a Sunday cookout. He was a prominent doctor in Hollywood, Florida. She was a stay-at-home mom. Bill and Joan had gone to high school together in Cleveland, Ohio, where they both grew up. Joan says Bill got her through high school. He did her math homework for her and tutored her enough to pass the tests. This was the first time Bill and I would meet his friends in the community as a couple.
Come casual, the invitation had read. And so I got dressed.
Bill took one look.
“You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
I had on a brand new pair of white shorts, a smart little T-shirt, and Keds. Perfect for any Sunday cookout.
Bill knew different.
“Don’t you have a nice pair of dress slacks and a silk blouse?”
Sure, I did. I added a long strand of pearls and stud earrings, feeling sure I was overdressed. When we arrived at the Rodenbergs, however, all the ladies had on dress slacks and silk blouses and necklaces and nice earrings and a ton of other jewelry. I almost fit in—didn’t have enough jewelry.
I dubbed this “Jewish Casual.”
My two lives were meeting head-on. This was the start of my straddling dissimilar cul- tures, where “casual” in one is shorts and tees, and in the other it’s dressy slacks and silk shirts.
My new Jewish friends and my old Gentile pals got a kick out of my designation, and it quickly be- came a part of our lexicon. When the invitation read, “Dress casual,” we’d ask, “Jewish Casual?” We’d know by the answer how much to dress up or down.
It had been quite a learning experience for me, and there would be many, many more. The Gentiles and the Jews lived side-by-side in the Hollywood, Florida, community, but they were as separated as if they lived in different countries. Each liked it that way and it worked pretty well until I came along.
So how did it happen that a Gentile girl, born in the poor- est part of America, the Appalachian Mountains, in the heart of the Great Depression, came to be married to the wealthy pillar of the Hollywood, Florida Jewish community?
That journey lies ahead.
— “I save everything. I read somewhere about an old woman who died. Found in her belongings was a box with the label: String. ‘Too short to keep.’ That would not be my mother–that would be me.”
— “If you’re not miserable, you’re not in love.”
— “One year, I decided I was not going to share Bug’s fudge, so I put it in the safe. No one had the combination but me…Well, guess what? The fudge molded! I about cried–all that beautiful fudge, moldy and uneatable…I thought, ‘Serves you right. That’ll teach you to be stingy!’”
— “We all decided to go to Myrtle Beach one weekend…We would sleep crossways on the bed, fully clothed. No hanky-panky.”
— “Frances didn’t say a word–just took out the stitching like, ‘Well, doesn’t everybody get her panties sewn up during the night?’”
— “I was three, perhaps four. [The prisoner] said if I would give him an old toothbrush he would take it back to prison and make a ring for me out of the handle. I’d never had a ring, and so I thought this was a great idea.”