Here Back East

By Lenny Ackerman

Mother’s Day, May 11, 1958

I think back to my last Mother’s Day with my mom, Rebecca Ackerman. I did not realize the significance of that Mother’s Day outing in 1958 until many years later. I was off to college in August, and after that graduate school, then marriage, starting my own family in New York City and then my parents moved to Florida for retirement. It would be our last Mother’s Day, with all of us together, to celebrate it with her, before she passed away in Rochester, New York in 1997.

Growing up, I looked forward to Mother’s Day. It was the one day of the year my family went out to dine at a restaurant. My parents were Orthodox and would not eat out unless the restaurant was kosher and the only kosher restaurants in town were delicatessens. Hence, they rarely dined out or travelled. The one vacation trip we took as a family, with my sister and her husband, was to Atlantic City in 1949, when I was still small enough to share a room with my parents. Every night of the trip we went to the same, possibly the only kosher restaurant in Atlantic City. Dinner always started with half a cantaloupe, followed by a typical heavy kosher meal of pot roast, potatoes and hearty soup, and it was summer, probably 87 degrees outside.

But on Mother’s Day, the rule was broken, and we would dine out at a non-kosher fish restaurant called Spring House, which is still in business all these years later. It was a momentous occasion for the family. My parents would dress in their formal High Holiday clothes, I would be in a starched white shirt and long pants. Despite all the excitement and preparation, my parents were not very comfortable eating in a restaurant. Dad could not read the menu in English and relied on Mom to choose his food. Mom, being the chef at home, knew what they both wanted before she sat down. They would start with coffee and then order a fish course, usually cod. She was always conscious of cost and knew Dad would question her later about the price of everything that was ordered. She would caution my sister and her husband, both of whom dined out a great deal, to be prudent in their meal choices, knowing that she would have to account to my father for any extravagances. Alcohol was never ordered. It was coffee start to finish. I knew to be careful when ordering. I did not like fish as a child and chose the least expensive one. I would eat a few bites, saving my appetite for the ice cream dessert.

Other than on Mother’s Days, my dining out experience as a youngster in Rochester was limited to Eddie’s Corner, a luncheonette across from Ben Franklin High School, and to Critic’s, near the Paramount Theatre where my mother took me as a youngster to the movies on Saturdays. Mom did not drive, so we took the bus downtown. After the movie we waited for Dad to close his parking lot for the ride home. My parents were not very strict about my kosher diet outside of school and occasionally took me for a hamburger at a local barbeque, Don and Bob’s, though it had to be surreptitious, my father always parking away from the entrance to avoid being spotted at a non-kosher burger stand. As a teenager, where to go on a date was limited. None of us, my friends or I, had the resources for anything elaborate. After a high school ballgame we might go to Bay-Goodman’s for pizza and Orange Crush. It wasn’t until I left home that I became an experienced restaurant-goer. When I married and moved to New York City, it opened up a new world, one I never could have imagined as a child sipping my soda at the counter at Eddie’s.

When I remember Mom on Mother’s Day, I think back to those once-a-year lunches at Spring House and how much it meant to her, despite breaking the kosher rule and the money pressure from my father. On that morning in 1958, my high school fraternity brothers delivered a red rose to each of the mothers of current members and to those whose sons had graduated the previous year. After that, our house descended into the usual chaos, with five people trying to get ready and only one bathroom. Dad of course got to go first, even on Mother’s Day, and I, the youngest, was last. It was sign up and soap up quickly. Nothing was ever easy growing up at 144 Navarre Road in Rochester, New York, but my warmest memories are of Mom. I remember, before we left the house to go to the restaurant, my mother clipped the stem and pinned the rose to her dress, above her heart.

2 thoughts on “Here Back East”

  1. Lovely piece, Len. My family hardly ever ate out either. I also remember being concerned about price. My mother kept kosher eating out while my father didn’t. I don’t recall our celebrating either Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. In fact, I don’t recall much joy of any kind in my family. I do remember Nancy and I giving my father an 80th birthday party at the Irondequoit Country Club where my uncle Norman (who owned the concessions at Red Wing Stadium) was a member. That birthday party was probably the first – and last -one my father ever had. I do remember eating traif at Harry’s Hots on Ridge Road and at, where else, Don and Bob’s on Monroe Avenue. Were you with us when we went to Pontillo’s Pizza on Lake Avenue? Whenever I went to Harry’s Hots my mother would smell my smoke-drenched clothes and know where I had been. My guilt was barely under the surface. Come to think of it, my family’s most joyous occasion may have been when together we watched Groucho Marx’s radio program “You Bet Your Life” where my parents seemed to enjoy Groucho’s making jokes at the contestant’s expense. Which all leads me to wonder what our children will be saying about us when we’re dead and gone. Jerry

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