Did Gussie get to dance at her grand-daugther’s wedding?
Gussie Abramowitz (1884 – Feb. 22, 1967) and Harvey Blieden (Oct. 15, 1879 – Nov. 20, 1934) are our paternal grandparents.
Gussie (Augusta) Abramowitz was also from the outskirts of Riga, Latvia. Her father was Hirsch (Harry) Abramowitz and her mother was Yetta Shmerkkwitz. Her family were farmers or butchers and provided cattle for the Czar’s army. Gussie had 9 siblings, the oldest that we know of was Max. Gussie was apprenticed to a seamstress, but she also graduated from the gymnasium (high school) in Riga which was most unusual for a girl at this time.
Rather than be conscripted into the Russian Army, Gussie’s oldest brother, Max, left for the United States. He peddled ice and coal door to door, carrying the ice on his back and was soon able to send for four brothers and sisters to join him. Thus, our Grandmother Gussie, at age 16, left Riga. The other siblings who came to the US were Sarah, Samuel, and Abe. To learn what happened to the other Abramowitz siblings, click here.
According to the US 1910 Census, Gussie arrived in the US in 1904, while Harvey came in 1906.Gussie (Gutte) came to the US with her sister, Sarah (Sora), sailing from Copenhagen on the ship Island. She listed herself as a tailor and 22 years old. She always told me she was 16 when she came but all records prove otherwise. Her brother, Max, was listed as her contact.
Gussie attended Landsmanshaften Society meetings. Landmanshaftens were clubs formed by immigrants originating from the same area and they were springing up all over NY and Brooklyn.
Harvey Bliden, also known as Harry, was at one of the same meetings that Gussie attended. They started seeing each other and were married on March 5, 1909, in Manhattan. On their marriage certificate, Harry said he was 30 yesrs old living at 38 Summer Ave., while Gussie listed herself as 23 years old, living at 48 E. 107th St.
Gussie worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop, while Harvey went to work for his new brother-in-law, Max, in his Custom Peddler’s Business
Harvey and Gussie had 5 children with 3 surviving past infancy: Arthur, Bernard, and Mildred.
When the children were small, they lived in a three bedroom tenement costing $20 a month rent. In the apartment, they had the modern conveniences of the day, such as, a coal stove, an ice box, and indoor plumbing. Their building had the usual fire escape. They could not afford a car (that new-fangled invention) so they got around by foot, bus, trolley car, or subway which cost a nickel.
Gussie could now speak six languages: Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, German, Latvian, and English. However, she never did learn to read English. Also, Gussie could sing in any language and in the evenings she often sang the hours away while sitting near an open window with Mildred in her lap. She had a beautiful voice and all the neighbors would listen.
During the summers, the family often went out to the country and vacationed in the Catskills. They stayed in a Kochalein, a building where each family lived in one room and everyone shared a community stove for cooking. The children would laugh when their father, Harvey, would call corn animal food, which it had been in Latvia. He had never seen people eat it before!
The Great Depression was hard on Harvey Blieden’s family. They had little money before and now things were ever harder. The children were dressed in hand-me-down clothes. Bernie worked many odd jobs to contribute to the family income. Gussie was a good cook and saw to it that there was always food on the table. The children were often sent to the butcher to wait for scraps like Skirt Steak, which was just thrown away in those days. Also, they were able to get extra milk. Miraculously, their four quart milk can actually held five quarts, so when it was filled up at the milk line they got extra!
Harvey died from a heart attack on Nov. 21, 1934. He had just returned home from a walk to announce that he would be back to work the next day. He had been at home for a few years from a first massive heart attack.
After Harvey’s death, Gussie continued to live in Brooklyn. At first she lived at 55 Union Street, with Arthur, Bernie, Mildred and a boarder, Solomon Zucker.
Sometimes she would watch the neighborhood children to earn a little money.
As we were growing up, we visited her regularly at 32 Lenox Road, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. The building was built in 1929 and had 6 elevators and 59 apartments. We did take an elevator up to her apartment, but I don’t remember what floor she lived on.
I remember the rocking chair that had been Grandpa Harvey’s and the bedroom dressing table with its 3-way mirror. I would love to sit there and count how many “Tara’s” I could see. Both Grandma Gussie, and Grandma Minnie, had fox stoles with the fox face on them. They would both scare me to death chasing me all over wagging those stoles at me. They knew it frightened me and they thought that was funny!
As Grandma Gussie got older, she lived in our Teaneck house for a while. Then in 1966, Pop and Uncle Arthur moved her to an apartment in Teaneck, NJ, so it would be easier to look after her. They did not tell Aunt Mildred they were cleaning out her Brooklyn apartment and being guys, they threw everything out. Aunt Mildred was not happy when she realized what they had done.
Grandma Gussie always wanted to dance at my wedding, but sadly, she died about 6 months before and never knew I was planning on getting married in the summer of 1967. She had had several mild strokes and was now in a nursing home in Jersey City, NJ. Because I was away at college, my father, following in his mother’s footsteps, did not tell me she died until after she had been buried. I was furious. Here is one of the letters he sent me:
Later that Spring when Grandma Gussie’s 9 grandchildren were all together, Uncle Arthur called us into his dining room, sat us down, and divided Grandma’s babysitting money amongst us. We each got $200 and Stan and I opened our first joint checking account with that gift.
Although Harvey was originally buried in Mt. Judah cemetery in Queens, NY, his son, Bernie, had his headstone moved next to Gussie’s. They are buried in the Blieden family plot in Beth-El Cemetery in Paramus NJ.
For more stories about Gussie, check out the Blog published on 2/24/2018 called “Memories of Grandma Gussie”.
Outstanding Research Questions:
- Where was Gussie born?
- Where did Gussie live as a little girl
- When did Gussie and Harvey each arrive in this country?
- Where and when did they get married?
- Did Gussie have any contact with her family in Latvia once she came to the US?