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Showing posts from April, 2008

A New York Life

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My great aunt Helen ‘Chocha’ Kolassa was born in Manhattan in 1915. She grew up on the Lower East Side, on 2nd Street and Avenue A.

The family of six lived in a one-bedroom flat in a building filled with families new to the new world. I visited the Tenement Museum a few years ago and found the tour guide’s stories redundant. Chocha told them to me first.

She turned off the lights for the Orthodox Jewish families on the Sabbath; on sweaty summer nights they slept on the fire escape, for the breezes and the extra space it afforded.

In those days in downtown Manhattan, you made it if you made it out. When Chocha was 11 her family moved to Jamaica, Queens, where my mother was born and raised.

My grandmother and grandfather’s family lived in the upstairs half of a two family home, and my aunt and uncle lived downstairs. My Aunt Chocha and Uncle Eddie are siblings; I didn’t realize they weren’t married until my teens.

They lived in Jamaica for over 50 years. For 40 of those years, Chocha commute…