Your great grandfather, Jacob Lipcon, was born in a shtetl called Eishyshok in what was then (December 1880) czarist Russia. Later on, it was in Lithuania. His father was Leib (Leon) Lipkunsky, about whom we know very little, except that he was some kind of tradesman. He died when his younger son Jacob was only two years old. The widow, Beila, was left to struggle with her two sons, Morris, about five years old at that time, and Jacob. Although life was most difficult for the next twenty years, the boys did receive a good education in accordance with the times.
When Jacob was about 22 years old, he took a job as a clerk-bookkeeper with a lumber company, which was located in a nearby town called Vashilishok. The manager of the company was Jabez Tabilitsky, who took him into his own home. This was an already crowded household including seven sons and two daughters.
Jacob was attracted to the elder daughter, Anna, and some time within the next two years, they became engaged to be married.
The Russia of the beginning years of the twentieth century was still living a medieval life. There was the nobility who owned all the land and the peasants who did the work. And then there were the Jews, restricted to the area known as the Pale. They were not permitted to live or even to travel outside its boundaries - Lithuania, Poland, and part of the Ukraine - without special permission.
There was one exception to this rule. Jews who were called up for service in the Russian army could, of course, be sent anywhere. So it was, that in 1904, when Czar Nicholas II made warlike gestures against the emperor of Japan, Jacob was drafted into the Russian army. He was shipped out to a training camp in a town on the Siberian border called Samara. When he got there, he was lined up with all the other recruits. An officer called out "All those who can read and write Russian step forward". Jacob was the only one to do so. He was appointed regimental clerk, which made life during the training period much easier for him, since he was allowed to live with the officers.
I remember a picture of him taken at that time, in Russian army uniform, looking very handsome with a neat mustache.
He was given a furlough when his training was completed and he headed home to see his Anna. While en route, he learned of the start of the Russo-Japanese war. The year was 1905 and there had been many brutal pogroms against the Jews. So Jacob decided to shuck his uniform, and continue on to the German border. There, he had to bribe a peasant who guided him across the river which marked the boundary between Russian Poland and the German Empire. He went on to Berlin1 and boarded a German steamship for New York. I believe his steerage passage was paid for by his future father-in-law.
On his arrival in America, he was 25 years old, was literate in Yiddish, Hebrew (although under the orthodox practice of that time, it was not a spoken language), Russian, Polish, and the Lithuanian dialect of his local region. However he had no trade or profession which could be put to immediate use, so he followed the accustomed route of most immigrants. He found lodging with a family in the Lower East Side of New York and went to work in the garment industry. His job involved the sewing together of cut piece goods into boys' pants.
Within a few months, his fiancée landed in Boston and on September 6, 1906, they were married. The marriage of Jacob and Anna Lipcon was to go on for 59 years. During that entire time, I can safely say that they had only one quarrel. This involved the presence in the family of Jacob's mother. But once that difficulty was patched up, there never was a more serene relationship.
Their first home was an old flat on Madison Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There, Anna gave birth to their first son, your great-uncle Louis, born July 18, 1907. Soon thereafter, they were forced to move. The old tenement on Madison Street was being razed, since it was in the path of the Manhattan Bridge, the second crossing of the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The new home was in East Harlem at 210 East 113 Street, an area then being settled by an ethnic mix of Italian and Jewish immigrants. It was there that I, your grandpa, was born on October 6, 1909, the second son of Anna and Jacob.
The pants operator work was seasonal, and Jacob looked for steadier employment. The summer Louis was born, he took a job at a hotel resort in Hunter, N.Y. where he was in charge of the riding stables. Then he and his brother, Morris, went into partnership in the egg business. They sold eggs to housewives on a regular route, operating from rented horse and buggy rigs.
Anna's brothers were immigrating from Lithuania in the years following 1906, until, in 1911, the final contingent - my grandmother and grandfather, their two youngest sons and younger daughter - all came, bringing Jacob's mother with them. They all settled in apartments at 1644 Park Avenue, between 116th and 117th Streets, in Harlem. My parents also took an apartment in that house, and it was there that I had my earliest memories. My sister Mary was born there on September 17, 1913.
Somewhere along the line, while we were still living in Harlem, Jacob went to night school and managed to achieve a fair degree of literacy in English. This was to stand him in good stead when he gave up the egg route and applied for a job with Sheffield Farms Co., one of the largest milk companies in the U.S. at that time. We had moved to the lower East Bronx where I was to spend all of my growing up years. The job was as a milkman. Operating from a wagon pulled by a horse, Jacob delivered milk to his regular customers in their apartments. He also served grocery stores, and in his case, he delivered to the offices of a series of piano factories in the Port Morris section of the Bronx.
The job required his getting up at three o'clock in the morning, taking a trolley car to Webster Avenue and 166th Street where he harnessed his horse to the wagon, loaded up with milk, and except in winter, added cakes of ice all around the milk cases. He then proceeded to 138th Street where most of his customers lived.
On Monday, which was his main collection day, he didn't get home until about 4 p.m. On Tuesday, he collected from the housewives he missed the day before, and usually arrived home at about 2 p.m. The other days, he was home before noon. At first he worked seven days a week; later on he had Saturdays off. After a strike, he finally achieved a five-day week.
It was considered a good job, mainly because it was steady work, and the pay was considered good for the time. Throughout the ten years that Jacob remained with Sheffield, he averaged between $40 and $50 per week, supporting his wife, four children, and his mother. The fourth and youngest, another boy, named Yehuda (Uncle Yudie or Jules) was born on August 10, 1918 in the closing days of World War I. It was my duty to bring the news to my father while he was delivering milk. Early that morning, when the midwife arrived, Louis, Mary, and I had been shooed out to the street where we had to stay until it was all over and we had a new brother.
In 1925, when Jacob was almost 45 years old, he felt that he could no longer climb all those tenement house stairs. He gave up the job and purchased a little neighborhood grocery store in the basement (five steps down from the sidewalk) of 335 Crimmins Avenue in the South Bronx.
For the first few years, business was good. Uncle Louis was able to get through Fordham College of Pharmacy and I went to Washington Square College of New York University, getting my degree in 1931.
By that time, things were difficult in the grocery business, but of course, we always had enough to eat. Later on, Jules went to the College of Engineering of N.Y.U. You will note that, according to the custom among immigrants, the girls did not go to college. Aunt Mary went to work as a legal secretary immediately after high school.
An exception to that rule was your Grandma. Although her parents were very poor, she went through Hunter College. She was only fifteen years old when she graduated from high school and could not have gotten a job in any case.
Jacob and Anna remained in the Crimmins Avenue store until the end of World War II in 1945. They then sold the store to a nephew and came to live with us, your Grandpa and Grandma at 204 Park Avenue, Port Richmond, Staten Island. Uncle Jesse was then two years old.
But Jacob was restless in retirement and a few months after your Daddy, Eli, was born in 1946, he decided to buy a neighborhood grocery store on Sharpe Avenue in Port Richmond. In contrast with the teeming tenements of the South Bronx, this was an area of one- and two-family homes lacking the density required to support a mama and papa grocery store. After a year, Jacob sold the store, taking a loss on the deal.
They lived with us until after we bought our first home at 220 Morrison Avenue, West Brighton, Staten Island in 1948. This was the period when they watched your Daddy in the first three years of his life and he was to remain their favorite grandchild.
Anna and Jacob moved to an apartment of their own in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1949. There, they took on the responsibility of caring for my maternal grandmother, Celia Taub, who lived with them for three more years until her death at age 95 in 1952.
At about that time, my brother Jules, who had become an executive with Maidenform Brassiere Co., got Jacob a job in the maintenance department. He acted as a night watchman, elevator operator, and keeper of the gate, inspecting packages of employees and others leaving the plant to guard against pilferage.
He remained on the job until he was about eighty years old, at which time he and Anna moved to an apartment in New Rochelle, N.Y. where they were to be watched over by their daughter, Mary Peretz. This was their final home and it was here that his beloved Anna died in 1965 after a year's illness. She was 84 years old. Jacob lived on for four more years until December 29, 1969. They lie side by side in the Eishyshok Society section of the United Hebrew Cemetery in Staten Island, where they had spent some of the happiest years of their lives watching their grandsons, your Daddy and Uncle Jesse, growing up.
Jacob Lipcon was a quiet man, somewhat overshadowed by his wife who, after the death of her father Jabez Taub, was the acknowledged matriarch of a very large family. Jacob's life was governed by great pride in his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who after six decades were so removed from the Lower East Side milieu of the newly arrived immigrant.