During my search for birth certificates of the Flashenberg children, I could only locate the 1909 birth certificate of Great Uncle Isidore/Irving Flashenberg. He was born on March 15, 1909 and the birth was recorded on March 24, 1909 by a Dr. Em. Carson at the Lying In Hospital of the City of New York. I think the rest of Great Grandmother Tillie’s children were born at home. I have not turned up any record of Grandma Bessie (born 1905), Great Aunt Belle (born around 1904) or Great Uncle David’s (born 1916) birth no matter how many variations of the names I use in the searches.
I especially feel the yearning to locate photos of the Flashenbergs, especially of Great Uncle David. I was often told my Dad resembled him.
What I do have, though, are the memories and stories my Mom and Dad shared with me about Great Uncle David which bring him closer to me in many ways.
Mom always told me that David was an excellent driver, just like my Dad was. He was very alert and careful behind the wheel of a car. This is why he eventually became a taxicab driver. My Mom told me that David owned the yellow cab which many considered a great accomplishment. She also said David was kind, likeable and that my Dad resembled him in some ways.
Grandma Bessie sometimes mentioned David when she was conversing with my parents and her mannerisms always relaxed when she did. As a child I asked her where David lived and she explained to me that he had passed on. This was before I was 4 or 5 years old. Around the same time my Mom had told me that her baby brother Gerald had also passed away when he was only 3 years old. In this my Mom had a common experience of loss with Grandma Bessie, the loss of a dear brother at a young age. Although David was 32 and Gerald was 3 there was always the sense of “what might have been” when each was talked about. Would David have grown his business as the owner of a taxi service? What kind of young man would Gerald have been? Yet my Mom never saw it like this and found a way to distort the retelling of David’s burial when I asked her what a Jewish funeral and burial was like.
She described the simplicity of the service and the wooden casket and how grief stricken Great Grandmother Tillie was. When I asked for more details about the Flashenbergs my Mother told me about Great Grandfather Benjamin’s burial in this way: “She [Tillie] wandered off to David’s gravesite and knelt down to cry way over there. It didn’t seem like she was going to miss him [Benjamin]. David was special.”
My Dad also told me about David being a taxicab driver and being a very patient and considerate person. My Father was born in 1927 so he saw David as a young and then mature man as the years unfolded. From my Dad I learned early on about the physical signs and effects of diabetes. David was always mentioned as the only relative my Dad knew of who suffered with this illness. He was always sure to tell me it was inherited and should be diagnosed early so that it can be better controlled. When my Dad’s sister Maureen (my Auntie and Godmother) had a toenail turn black and fall off in the late 1970s my Dad confided to me that he was very anxious for her health, especially since she refused to see a doctor. My Dad accurately predicted that if left untreated my Aunt would at some point lose her teeth and develop very bad breath. This happened several years later. I watched my Aunt exhibit the signs my Dad had schooled me in for years as the 1980s advanced. By that time she could not afford to see a doctor because after her husband died, she failed to continue the excellent health insurance coverage her husband had from his job as a member of a building service employees union. I think money was the primary issue but she never complained or asked anyone for help. By the time the diabetes worsened and Grandma Bessie took over the medical expenses Maureen started seeing a doctor. By this time the diabetes already damaged her feet and teeth and was beginning to impair her vision.
My Dad had a very extensive knowledge of not only diabetes but other health issues that I’m learning ran through the Torregrossa family line and which appear on the death certificate copies I now have. Many would be classified today as pre-existing conditions. Dad knew how to care for these illnesses at home, as well. Which I know he learned from his parents. I think Grandma Bessie and Grandpa Al talked about it in great depth. Grandpa Al’s sister Angelina died in 1905 after a month long bout of bronchitis. When I came down with bronchitis in 1978 my father knew exactly what to do to keep me comfortable and see me through to complete recovery. My Mother retreated to the background while he took over complete care of me. There were other children in the Torregrossa family line that were afflicted with respiratory problems that did not make it through.
After my parents divorce, I started to learn more about the different sects of Judaism I began to ask my Mother about whether or not David wore a yarmulke. She’d often say he did, all the time. But if I ever asked her if Great Grandmother Tillie covered up (wore a headscarf) she’d say she didn’t remember. When I asked her if the Flashenbergs were Orthodox or Reformed, she’d look at me and sometimes say Orthodox and at other times tell me she didn’t know. I had to rely on her for information because I pulled back from my Dad once he had made a new life for himself . I was glad about that. But I just couldn’t handle meeting the woman he was sharing that new life with and also out of a very real concern that if my Mom found out she would draw away from me and stop confiding in me. And I needed her trust and cooperation in order to make efforts to handle the care she needed as the years went by.
In 2012 I never expected to become memorial manager at FindAGrave for the memorials of Great Grandmother Tillie, Great Grandfather Benjamin and Great Uncle David. There are photos of their resting places at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, NY. The plots are one after the other; close in their rest as I think the three were also close in life.
When I saw the photos so kindly taken by Dyan, a FindAGrave volunteer photographer, I felt that another answer to my questions had arrived. And in many ways I’m beginning to understand the unreality my Mom surrounded me with and which I took as the absolute truth and made a part of my reality as I was growing up.
1909 birth certificate for Isidore Flashenberg.
Stories my mother told me.
Memories my father shared with me.