After I was married and moved to Connecticut, I always looked forward to my Aunt Mildred’s visits. She lived in Manhattan at 305 E. 24th Street .
She was not an early riser and had her morning routine which included waking up late, leisurely drinking her coffee, and smoking a few cigarettes, so to visit me, she had to forgo her usual morning.
She would have to rise early and make her way to the bustling Port of Authority Bus Terminal at Eighth Avenue and West 42nd Street . Most likely she took a taxi from her apartment building to the Bus Terminal. After purchasing her ticket, she had to walk through the busy maze of bus platforms and take the escalators to the platform she needed. Then she had to wait for the bus.
Once the bus started traveling, it would be an almost 2-hour ride to the Waterbury, CT, station where I would pick her up. It was then about a 15-minute car ride to my house.
She would always present me with a 16-ounce bag of whole walnuts. I think that was a treat in her house when she was growing up and it was something she and my father, her brother, enjoyed. She was keeping the tradition going with me. She would also always remind me to keep a bottle of hand cream next to the kitchen sink, so I could keep my hands soft after washing the dishes!
I would have lunch ready to serve, or else before she came, she would suggest going to a coffee shop. The trouble was, we had no NY-style coffee shops, only lunch restaurants that served substantial sandwiches. I say that since, in retrospect, she probably had wanted a cup of coffee and a Danish or something else of a light nature, but we always ended up with a nice “ladies” lunch.
After lunch, we would go to some antique shops in hopes of finding some treasures that she could bring back to New York for her booth in the Chelsea Street Flea Market. She graduated college the same year that I did and taught business courses in a high school in a rough area of Brooklyn. After she retired, she opened a booth at a flea market. She mainly sold teacups and costume jewelry.
After a few stores, it was then back to my house for a large dinner I had prepared ahead for her. I always wanted to treat her to some new recipes I had recently tried out. On a very full stomach, we would then drive her back to the bus station for her trek back to Manhattan.
After my two sons were born, we could not go antiquing. However, that is when I started asking questions about our family history and she would fill me in as best as she could. After printing “My Roots, My Wings: A History of the Bernard Blieden Family”, in 1980, I realized I should have relied on more than one person’s memories as each person remembers things differently. However, Aunt Mildred was extremely helpful and related to me lots of stories from her point of view about various family members. She also put me in touch with Cousin Rebecca Garfinkle who sent me my first family tree and picture of my great-grandfather’s mill. Those were two invaluable additions to my book.
Even before we moved to CT, Aunt Mildred came to visit us when we lived in Milwaukee. She purposely planned a mid-west bus trip that would stop in Milwaukee so she could see us. When we picked her up at the hotel, she said let’s drive around to see some sights while it is light out. When it is dark and can’t see anything, we can eat. That pearl of wisdom has always stayed with me, and we continue to do that when traveling.
My Aunt Mildred Blieden Rich passed away on May 11, 1999. Her daughter, Alice, was living with her, but her son, Harvey, lived in California. He decided to move his sister out to California to be closer to him. They had to clean out their mother’s apartment at 305 E. 24th Street in Manhattan and they invited me and my siblings to stop by to see if we wanted anything. As both Aunt Mildred and Alice smoked constantly, we were not sure we would want to take anything, knowing whatever we took would wreak from smoke.
However, I was very close to my aunt, and I knew I would want something. My sister, Avra, took a chair that her husband cleaned and refinished. On the right is the refinished chair. It turned out great!
I took a footstool and intended to refinish that. As with the chair, it also smelled strongly of smoke. I put the footstool in my storage room and wondered how I would get the smoke odor out.
On the right is the original footstool with its very yellow plastic covering.
The years went by quickly and I forgot about the footstool. Actually, I did look at it now and then, but the smoke stench was still quite strong, and I kept ignoring my project.
Finally, in 2023, we were shipping our car down to Florida for the summer and I noticed the footstool in my storage room. By now, 23 years had passed, and it no longer smelled! I put it in the car thinking it would be a good summer project.
Once settled in our condo in Florida, I had my husband unscrew the top of the footstool so we could take it to Home Depot and get a new piece of wood cut to the exact size we needed. By chance, the store employee who helped us builds furniture as a hobby.
First he removed the smoke-covered, yellow plastic covering. the fabric underneath was still in good condition.
He then turned it over and using a nail-remover tool, he proceeded to remove all of the little nails.
When he removed the fabric, there was another layer of fabric underneath. He estimated the new layer to be about 100 years old!
He examined the wood and said it was sturdy enough to reuse and it did not smell at all of smoke. We thanked him and went over to the paint section. We bought a can of black lacquer spray paint and some new nails.
Our next stop was at Joann Fabrics. There we found a cushion that could be cut to size and a remnant piece of fabric.
Stan sprayed the footstool and we let it dry for a few days. Next, we cut the cushion to the exact size of the wood and then cut the fabric to cover the wood and the cushion. Turning it upside down, Stan then nailed the fabric to the wood. When that was done, he screwed the top to the frame, and I had a new footstool!
An insignia showed up after the spray paint was applied. Could that be a manufacturer’s model number?
We discovered that the stool was over 100 years old, but what we will never know is where the footstool originally came from.
Alice remembered her mother recovering it and she remembered putting her feet on it but nothing else.
Was the stool Grandma Gussie’s (Aunt Mildred’s mother), was it Aunt Mildred’s mother-in-law’s, or since Aunt Mildred liked antiquing and flea markets so much, did she just buy it?
Although curious, the origins do not matter to me since I will always associate the footstool with my fond memories of my Aunt Mildred.
My Grandmother Gussie Abramowitz Blieden (Left) and my Aunt Mildred Blieden Rich, circa 1935.
To learn more about my Aunt Mildred’s life, click “Mildred “from the May and Bernie menu under Bernie’s Siblings.