Memories of Deborah Hoffam

Faith Lona

               My first memory of sweet Faith Lona is when she was a very small child, still in the crib, and Aunt Esther and Uncle Phil were both in the hospital with different ailments and they needed someone to watch Faith. Young bride without children – thus available – I went to Brooklyn and was nanny/babysitter for a number of days. I had no idea how to take care of children! There was no one in Brooklyn that could give me advice or to whom I could converse. Little Faith had just gotten over chicken pox, and so when I strolled her down the street, or in the park area, people would move away from us. Somehow, she must have gotten enough of the right care to have survived her cousin, Deborah, as temporary guardian, but not necessarily a guardian angel. 

I loved being in their apartment because they had so many books and magazines of cultural and intellectual interest. I loved both Esther and Phil so very much because they were, indeed, Manhattanites with loving hearts.

               There are many memories of Faith as a child, playing with my children, Lisa Jane especially. As a teenager, Faith continually achieved and constantly tested borders. Her intelligence was obvious as was her eagerness to  traverse the world.

               We saw her less when she married and moved away. Her daughters were simply adorable children. We empathized with her struggles to make things right for Laura after the medical situation arose. It has been gratifying to know her as an adult, and I feel close to her, though distance intervenes and makes it a bit harder.


Grandpa Mertik

               Oh, how I adored Granda Mertik. As a little girl I both cringed and  sought those great big kisses he’d land on one’s neck, ’cause they tickled and made me laugh.

               A grandchild could do no wrong in his eyes. Once, when I accidentally pulled a knob off in his early automobile, it  took me days to tell him about it because I  thought I had harmed him, too. He smiled it away.

               He was always ready to talk with me, play with me, listen to me. I remember going to his NY apartment when he was married to “Aunt Lena”. He knew that my sister, Faith, and I were uncomfortable in her presence. She was a large woman, and her scent was of her hair and body cremes.She always prepared the same foods for us, once she thought we’d liked them, even if we’d changed our minds.

               After Aunt Lena died, and before he married Gertrude, Grandpa had moved in with Esther in her Miami home. There, he was always keeping busy fixing things, creating things, reading newspapers, and participating in whatever activities were on the schedule. I remember that he would put aside anything he was doing so he could be with me and my sister, Faith. Although I do not remember the content of the conversations, I know there were many.

               Grandpa was close with his three daughters (Mollie, Ruth, Esther) and spent a lot of time with them. (Mollie, my mother, and Harry, my father, lived next door)

               Grandpa left a written journal, which I have read; I think Faith Lona has a copy of this.

               He never talked about why he came to the US from Poland, nor about the many relatives he lost during WW II. He never spoke about the epidemic in which his beloved Fanny had died, nor about his millinery skills, or inventions. I do remember being told by others of some of his inventions, that became realities when others, too, thought about them. Safety pins is the only thing that I can recall at this juncture. But there were many.

               He never discussed his skills as a hat-maker, but was always handy with repairing clothes or fixing household items. He taught me a lot about dressmaking – how to sew hems and to do various stitches for various effects. I remember the sample fabrics upon which I practiced and then brought to him the results.

               Actually, during that era, most people did not talk much about their past, nor were freely conversant when asked about earlier times.

               When he was near death, even though we were visiting him at hospital off-hours, they let my husband, Larry, and  me, in to see him ( since we had traveled a distance that day to make it there in time.) Grandpa was mumbling in Hebrew or Polish – – I was not sure which. I only know that he always felt he had led a good life, a loving life, and his joy at being with his grandchildren was evident. We really knew his love and basked in it.


Esther Mertik Lapidus

               Aunt Esther was my all-time favorite aunt. I adored her so much that when I was a very little girl I had a secret word that I told her occasionally which was the “clue” so she would know she was tops among all the aunts and uncles.

               When I was a really young child, and my mother was ill and unable to do activities with us, it was Aunt Esther that took us to movies, B’dwy, and activities. I think it was she who took me to elocution and dance classes. 

               I remember the apartment that Esther and Ruth shared on Riverside Drive. How I loved to go there. It seemed to me to be a glamorous and comfortable place to be. The fact that they were single, independent women was less usual in that period; I admired them for that. I knew Esther worked at a Company (something like Grayber Electric?), but was never sure what her role was.

               Once, we had an appointment (Esther; my sister, Faith; and I ) to go to see the original showing of The Wizard of Oz. But somehow, being about 5 years old, I had misbehaved and so I had to remain at home. Not too many years later, after Aunt Esther had moved to Miami and I was in my teens, the movie came back to the theaters. This time, I invited her to the movies; and this time, together, we saw that film together. I always think of her when the movie returns at its December TV showings.

               She and Uncle Phil were a loving couple. Though he was a very quiet man, she made their relationship lively, appreciated his love ( they both wed late in life), and kept a close relationship going with his family. Their apartment in NY was filled with books, intellectual magazines, and the weekly flowers he brought to her. Esther developed a close relationship with Phil’s family – who were quite erudite and interesting.

               I loved her sense of humor especially. She was a brilliant Imogene Coca clone. She had funny stories and dramatic ways of telling them. Her wit was sharp. Always optimistic, throughout her life, even when times were difficult.

               Esther and my mother, Mollie, were very close. They even bought homes next door to each other. And when Ruth came to Miami to live, as well, and moved into Esther’s home, the trio were knit together by DNA and love.

               Esther made me feel special and appreciated the things that were of interest to me. She made treated me like a daughter and presented me, through the years, with special gifts that were meaningful treasures to her. She loved that I cared so much about her, Phil and Faith Lona. And, when I had children, she helped out by baby-sitting with them, even when the number of kiddies rose to 4. Although the pack finally became too much of a handful and she finally admitted that those assists were over.

               I remember how Phil would read from the Jewish Encyclopedia. I remember that either Phil or Esther knew the answer to any question I had. And their vocabulary and use of language – was great.

               I remember the Passover celebrations at her home in Miami, with Phil facilitating. Their kitchen and meals were Kosher.

               Esther wanted to make sure her daughter had the right foods and schedules and, even though little Faith was not a good eater, would still prepare the obligatory “protein, veggie, and carb.” (although I suggested Royal Castle hamburgers might do the trick, and save her lots of time, Esther resisted)

               As Faith Lona grew to adulthood and beyond, Esther wanted to know every aspect of her life and to be sure that all advantages came to Faith.  After Faith married, Esther was very sensitive to everything that happened to Faith – – and worried about her life, her work, her children, her marriage. She was proud of Faith and her accomplishments – and how she handled the various challenges that came along, particularly those of Faith’s children.

               Esther relished her independence. It was only in later years, that my sister, Faith, and I tried to help out with organizing papers, bills and such; and, eventually that task fell to Faith’s friend, Marianne.

               In her senior years.. when she moved out of her home, it because the new space would be easier to maintain and there were staff that could provide various assistances.  Ruth’s deteriorating medical condition eventually necessitated her going to a medical-care facility.

               Esther loved reading, music, opera, theater, film, socializing. Back in the twentieth century, she was a woman of the 21st century. She always grasped new ideas and I can only imagine her moving forward with the social media and other “products” of this period.

               Oh, how I miss that wonderful woman.


Ruth Mertik

               As noted in the memory section about Esther Mertik Lapidus, I recall the two sisters living together in New York and then, years later, after Ruth retired, and Phil had died, that she came to live in Florida with Esther.

               I remember her love of music, especially singing, her vast collection of records, her habit of bursting into song. Especially arias. She sang for a while with a chorus in Miami.

               She was loving and interested in her family. Her manner was not as soft as Esther’s, so I felt less close to her. She dressed glamorously and seemed to have an elegant air about her.

               I remember that she worked for the Water Commissioner in NY City – and seemed to epitomize the career girls of that era. I do not recall if she worked when she moved to Miami.


Mollie Mertik Alexander  (It is too emotional to try to write about her at this time. Even though it has been 50+ years since she died, I am stuck with grief,still. Perhaps some other day . . .)


More Games We Played

In Brooklyn NY, in the 1940’s & early 50’s, baseball & stickball were probably the most popular sports we kids played .  I however,  favored ping pong, handball (black ball and single wall concrete slab) and “Chinese Handball”.

I remember beating many of the young adults at handball with my “killer” shot – where the ball made contact with the wall just above the ground and rolled on the ground, making it impossible for an opponent to return the shot.  Since the adults who came to Marine Park were oftentimes reluctant to surrender the court to a victorious 10 year old, I had to bring my father along to enforce the rule – winner, regardless of age, gets to play the next game on the court!

Chinese handball, my favorite, was played by 2 or more players against the wall of a large supermarket.  Players would stand in the concrete squares of the sidewalk adjacent to the wall.  The player on the far left would “serve the (pink) ball” by striking it with one hand, causing it to bounce in his/her square, hit the wall, then land in someone else’s square. The person “receiving” the ball could wait for the ball to bounce in his/her square or hit it before it actually landed.  In either event, that person had to strike the ball with one hand causing it to hit his own square before hitting the wall and traveling to someone else’s square.  Anyone who was unsuccessful in returning a shot lost a point and moved to the extreme right square. (each person’s space was usually 2 squares deep).

I won the annual ping pong tournament as a sophomore in James Madison HS (population 4,000 +/-).  I encouraged my friends to play what I called “Switch Ping-Pong”.  In this game, both the server & the receiver could start with their racquet in either hand.  Once they struck the ball, they had to transfer ( or switch) the racquet to their other hand. Think about all the new strategies that emerged, depending on who was using their best hand at a given time.

I seem to remember other games my friend played involving hub caps & hood ornaments….


Joe Mertik

Games People Played

Mom (Esther) used to play stoop ball when she was a girl. We didn’t have stoops in Miami, but I knew what they were from visiting my cousins in Brooklyn. Mom said you got different points if you bounced the ball off the edge of the stoop versus the back. I don’t remember if it was supposed to bounce or not before you caught it. They also played One two three o’leary, bouncing the ball, then lifting your leg over the ball as you bounced it on O’Leary. Mom could still do that as a grownup.

Faith L

Benjamin Apartments

Grandpa (Isidor) owned an apartment building on Miami Beach, called Benjamin Apartments, after his son, I guess. It was at 8501 Crespi. There were about 16 or 20 units, two 2-storey buildings facing each other across a little courtyard, on a canal… not quite walking distance to the beach. It had a dock, but no one had a boat. We used to go there every weekend, to help out, fix things. Grandpa lived in one of the apartments at that time, when he was married to Gertrude. I was probably in elementary school at this time. It was pretty boring because there weren’t any kids to play with, and there was no pool. I used to stand on the dock and watch sea gulls.