Personal History

A Family Photograph

Note: An earlier version of this was password protected because I wanted to address my family directly. This version should make more sense to the general reader.

Years ago my father, Marty, gave me a copy of a photograph of the Acker/Samuel(Weissbuch) family, assembled in Manchester, UK around 1900. I don’t know if he knew more about the photo, but he never gave me any details. The family had migrated from Rumania not long before. The group is photographed in front of and hemmed in by, brick walls, in tiers, with a gaggle of kids sitting in the front row. I have been going through folders of family photos lately, (partly so the younger members of my family won’t have to do it some day). I came across a copy of the photograph.

Now, in this family was a boy who would become a well-known writer, a Zionist thinker, and something of a radio personality in the U.S. His name was Maurice Samuel (my father’s first cousin. He was a hero to Marty in his youth, and I remember hearing him talk with poet Mark Van Doren on national radio. This conversation, the subject of which was the Old Testament, went on weekly in the summer for twenty years! They were also on TV.)

Maurice Samuel and Mark Van Doren

In 1963 Maurice published a memoir entitled Little Did I Know, the first sentence of which reads

 “Among the people who rise out of my past to claim first mention in this book, my uncle Berel is the most persistent.”

 Berel Acker was my great-grandfather.

I have had Maurice’s book (my father’s copy) by my reading chair for months and I dip into it now and then. I started reading, on page 72, a few days ago, this: “My mother’s family came to Manchester in full force, part of it moving on, as I have told, to America. I have a group photograph taken in 1902, in the squalid backyard of 5 Norfolk Street, on the occasion of my aunt Chaya’s wedding, which was celebrated in our upstairs front room. Uncle Berel is in it, billycock set jauntily on his head, a cigarette dangling from his lips. I am there with my twin sister Dora, in the front row, seated on the ground, and into my face only a Wordsworth could have read trailing clouds of glory…”

Vicinity of 5 Norfolk St. Manchester

An amazing coincidence that I found the photo I read about in Maurice’s book just a few days later, giving me a lot more detail and a certain flavor.

Marty wrote on the back of the small copy I found that the little boy at the extreme left is his father, my grandfather Isaac.

In 1995 Marty and I visited the English relatives. In cousin Harry Rothman’s living room was a large version of the photo.

This photo was taken in 1955, in the New York area. My brother Dave and I are sitting on Isaac’s lap. Seated to our left is Berel. My mother and father and two grandmothers are standing behind. The woman at the left is unidentified, possibly one of my aunts.

Maurice’s depiction of Berel agrees with everything I was told by my father. Berel was the man of the world, the “cool grandfather.”  Marty’s other grandfather, who was named Katz, was so religious that he established his own synagogue and became its rabbi. Kids of Marty’s generation would say “when the Katz away, the mice will play.”

It’s gratifying to have little bits of family history come together like this.

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Personal History

Rudy Cipolla

I used to have this recurring dream. I would find myself in a little corner store, in some unidentified city, maybe San Francisco. The place would have been lost in time. Inside was a glass case and inside the case was a marvelous collection of old fireworks with fantastic labels, for sale.

The dream came true, in a way, when, in the late 1980s, we stumbled across a strange little shop on Judah Street. We walked in, for what reason I don’t remember, and there we found Rudy Cipolla. The shop did have a glass case with musty, interesting old things in it. Among those was a box of caps for a toy gun, a firework of a sort, which I bought. The label said “72 Big Shots.”

caps72bgishots1

The proprietor of the shop introduced himself as Rudy Cipolla, and in a few minutes our acquaintance had progressed to the point that he started to tell us that his name meant “Onion” in Italian, and that he was related to John Cipollina, the lead guitarist for the Quick Silver Messenger Service, a famous 60s band. He also told us he played the mandolin and that he was a composer. Then he gave us an autographed cassette tape of a piece he’d written entitled “La Civetta” (The Flirt, in Italian.)

rduycipolla

Cipollacassette1.jpg

We wandered out and into a gray fall day in the Inner Sunset district, never to see Rudy again, but I never forgot the literally dream-like encounter.

Later, I learned that the shop was called the Book Nook, and that Rudy Cipolla was revered by local musicians, mandolin players especially. David Grisman counted him as an influence and friend, and indeed, he was a very prolific composer.image1Rudy died in 2000 at the age of 99.

Photographs courtesy of Owen Hartford

 

 

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