Saturday, May 20, 2006

Happy 90th Birthday, Aunt Etta!

Today, May 20, 2006 is my Aunt Etta’s 90th birthday. To celebrate, I’ve gathered a few photographs to share, as well as an excerpt from THE DIVISION STREET PRINCESS.

Joining me in honoring my wonderful aunt, are Etta’s two children: David and Estherly
(and spouse Leonard Reifman), as well as Etta’s grandchildren Alan, Lynn (and spouse Jeff Richman), and Steve; and her great granddaughters Ari and Jordyn. Estherly describes her mother as, “caring, loving, smart, and thoughtful, with an amazing inner strength.” Those of us who know and love Etta couldn’t agree more, and we encourage you to leave your good wishes for this kind and compassionate woman in the Comment section at the end of this post. Your greetings will be shared with her as a special birthday surprise.

For background: Etta Elkin Kaplan, my mother’s younger sister by three years, is in many pages of my memoir, as is Estherly, who is one year younger than I. When we in lived on Division Street in the 1940s, all of the Elkins – including their spouses and children -- were close- knit. (We still are to this day.) Back then; we often counted on one another for support, companionship, and at times, food and housing.

There are many excerpts I could have selected that would have illustrated the love between my mom and her sister, as well as between Estherly and me.

The one I chose is from a chapter called “Searching for the Spotlight,” in which I describe my brother Ronnie’s Bar Mitzvah (58 years ago to the day!) and Estherly’s and my dance recital. This is poignant because it marks the time the Kaplans left Division Street for Chicago’s South Side (to be closer to Uncle Maury's butcher shop), and when the neighborhood itself was beginning to drift away.

But first, more photographs:

A surprised Aunt Etta, sometime in the 1940s or 50s.

A Division Street scene in the late 1940s. From left to right: me, my dad, my mom, Estherly, Etta, Rose Elkin Levy. In the front row, cousins David Kaplan, Jay Levy, and Norman Levy.

My Uncle Maury (another prominent character in my memoir) is pictured between his children David and Estherly.

The Elkin family passport in 1922 with six children who were born in Russia (two more were born in the U.S.) My mom, with the big eyes, age 9, is on the far left, and Etta, age 6 is front and center. (You can meet all of the Elkins in my book.)

And now, the excerpt:

“A few weeks before the recital, Aunt Etta and Estherly came to our store to meet Mom and me for our Saturday activities. The two sisters would be joining Molly and Rose for department store browsing, and my cousin and I would be off to final rehearsals.

That’s when Aunt Etta broke the news. ‘Maury found a place,’ she said. My mother remained silent. ’It’s a butcher shop in South Shore, and we’ll be renting a beautiful six-room apartment nearby. Maury can walk to work from the building.’

‘Are you moving’ I asked, turning from my aunt to my cousin. To myself I thought, no more Sunday rides together in Dad’s car? No more play-acting on the streetcar? No more dance lessons taken together?

As my cousin looked to her mother for an answer, my own mother found her voice. ‘I’m happy for you, Etta,’ she said, but her tone was serious like the time she challenged her father about the cost of Ronnie’s party. Then, she put her arms around her younger sister and said, ‘Six rooms? So Estherly and David will have their own bedrooms? You’ll have a dining room?’

Stepping back from her sister’s embrace, and taking both of my mother’s hands in hers, Aunt Etta said, ‘Wait and see, you’ll move from Division Street one day, too. You’ll get rid of the store. You’ll get a bigger apartment in a better neighborhood. Be happy for me; this is good for Maury, for our family. We’ll still meet downtown on Saturdays. We’ll still see each other, just not every day.’”



Elaine Soloway said...

Happy Birthday Aunt Etta! May I be the early bird and be the first in Chicago to wish you a wonderful day. Continue to celebrate.

Ronnie S said...

Aunt Etta,
It's been way too long
Since we've both been gone
From old Chicago, the windy city
Where it's too cold, too hot but mostly shitty
I remember the time so very well
When I drove your station wagon that had that funny smell,
If you wanted to eat around Division Street
Be it groceries, meat or fish,
The Elkin Mashpuka would fill your dish,
I've missed my Aunt Etta since you've moved out west,
I'm sure you thought it was for the best,
Happy, Happy 90 th Birthday,
I really miss you, what else can I say,
Love from your oldest nephew and the first born grandchild,
Can you believe I have a great grandson, isn't that wild,
Ronnie & Norma

Anonymous said...

Aunt Etta,

Wishing you a very happy, healthy birthday. Love and miss you!
Marcia & the Elkin boys

Bob & Pat said...

have a very happy,happy,happy bob & Pat Silver

Anonymous said...

Dearest Aunt Etta,
I just spoke with you on the phone, but still wanted to say once again that I wish you a very Happy Birthday.
You have held a special part of my heart, as you did Mom and Dad's, for as long as my memory allows. You are a very special lady, a very special Aunt.
I love you, Renee

Alan R. said...

Happy Birthday, Grandma Etta!

I think it's fitting that you receive a 90th birthday tribute over the internet, as your lifetime has included many milestones in communications media:

*First radio news and entertainment broadcasts (early 1920s).

*First transatlantic telephone calls (1920s).

*Introduction of television (phased into usage in the U.S. during the 1940s and 50s).

*Fax machines (reached wide usage in the 1980s).

Congratulations again, Grandma, on this milestone. I'll see you in L.A. in about a month.

[And to Elaine, an absolutely superb job on your entry!]

Love, Alan

[For those who want to read more about the history of the various communications media -- and anything else, for that matter -- go to the Wikipedia: ]

Anonymous said...

Hi Aunt Etta,
We have always loved seeing you here in Chicago or on our excursions to LA. You have always been a real LADY!! Kind, intelligent and welcoming. We wish you many more years in good healthy and with many blessings. We know if your sister Rose could, she would wish only the best for you. She always spoke about you and missed you.

Susan, Jay, Jessica and Adam

Steven said...

Happy Birthday, Grandma! Have a great day, and I'll see you later tonight.

Anonymous said...

Happy, Happy Birthday, Mom!

How blessed we are to be your children, and to be able to celebrate your 90th birthday with you!

Thank you for being such an amazing mom! You have given us all so much love over these many years. We hope this love has come back to you many times over!

Be well and happy and enjoy this very special day!

We love you with all our hearts!
Estherly and Leonard

Jordy R. said...


I love coming to California to see you! I love being around you! I am looking forward to seeing you in June. And I'm just trying to say I love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love, Jordy

Lynn said...

Grandma Etta,
Happy 90th Birthday! Wish we could be with you to celebrate this very special day. We love you very much and you are an inspiration to all of us. We can't wait to see you in June.
I Love You,

ari said...

Happy birthday Gigi! I love you so much! I miss you so much!

Love, Ari

Howard Elkin said...

Happy 90th Birthday aunt Etta!!
We miss you so much. Cheryl and I hope that you have a very happy day today! Happy birthday again and MANY more.

Love Howard & Cheryl Elkin

David Kaplan said...

Dear Mom,
I love you very much. This is a feeling shared by everyone who gets to know you. You have genuine concern for other people and you are also considerate of the needs of others. Among your wonderful qualities is the quality of personal strength and courage. Others have said they admire you and I think that is appropriate. I feel the very same way. We are all happy when you are happly and feeling well. So make us happy!!
Love you,

jill soloway said...

WOW! What a milestone! We love you Aunt Etta and am so glad we can be part of this tribute to you.

Hopre to see you soon, will bring kisses and love back from Chicago

jill isaac and dink

Danny said...

I'm so into "The Division Street Princess" that it's almost hard to believe these people are real with lives that extend beyond the pages of the book! Happy Birthday to Aunt Etta!

I just love these characters and demand a continuation of the memoir. It would also be fascinating to read some of the characters' versions of the same events—sort of like a Shapiro/Elkin "Rashomon!"

I have my own dysfunctional Jewish family, as you well know, Elaine, but I hereby renew my application to be an honorary Soloway (by way of the Shapiros and Elkins—and we all know which side of the family I take after physically!). I only wish I could have stepped into that grocery store.

P.S. Estherly is the coolest name ever!