Ruth Mariam

Story was recorded at the Covenant House on May 20, 2008, by Michael Naclerio.

I grew up in a small apartment in North St. Louis off of Easton Avenue or what is now called Martin Luther King Street. My parents both immigrated to the United States before I was born, and when I was little, they opened up a grocery store. We lived in a very diverse neighborhood, filled with Irish, Italian and German immigrants. My parents always created a sense of openness in our house, and we were friends with every resident of the neighborhood regardless of nationality.
 
In the 1930s when Nazism was on the rise in Germany, we happened to have some very close German friends.  They were an elderly couple that my brother and I loved to spend time with. At Christmas time, they would go to the German house on Grand Avenue to celebrate at the playroom. One Christmas, they invited us to come along. They told me, “Don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish, and don’t tell David I’m going to be Santa Claus.” My little brother, David, was probably about four at the time. When “Santa” walked out onto the stage, he asked David if he would sing “Jingle Bells” for us. David started singing livelily, and we couldn’t get him to stop for 10 verses.

My family truly liked to interact with all members of the community. There was an Irish gravedigger who had many children and was therefore, very poor. He was a regular customer at my father’s grocery store. A couple blocks away from my father’s store was our competition—an Irish-owned grocery store. One day our Irish competitor asked him, “Why do you go to that lousy Jew?” The gravedigger responded, “That ‘lousy Jew’ gives me credit, and you won’t.” My parents were always very popular in the community, and all of my parents’ customers went to my wedding. We had one neighbor who would always come over to our house when my mom was cooking dinner, and she would look in the pot and say, “What are you cooking Molly Goldberg? What are you cooking?” To this day, I follow their example of kindness to others without discriminating based on color, nationality or religion.

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