When my mother was 8 years old, she had a "grandmother" for just over a year, the only grandmother she remembers.How did this happen? Grandfather Emil, a widower, lived with her family until 1937 when he was introduced to a "nice widow." Thirteen months after his wedding, Emil died at the age of 59.
Cause of death?
"Overfeeding by Regina," my mother said.
Mom was sure that Regina was a " black widow" who had been married before to another husband who had died.Proof that she was responsible for both their deaths. After that, according to Mom, Regina disappeared. This was the fifth time I heard this story and it raised some questions in my mind. Also this is a tough reputation to carry for eternity.
Emil had diabetes and Regina fed him too much. I thought my Mom was maligning this poor woman, who committed a crime of which every Jewish woman of this era was guilty. And didn't Emil have any responsibility for his own food intake? Besides, his World War I draft card from 1918 described the young Emil as already "stout." So that wasn't Regina's fault.
With this I set my husband, Genealogical Sleuth Harry Adler, to work. Here is the story he dug up and the narrative we think she might tell. My thoughts are in brackets.
The Regina Monologue
I want to set the record straight even if I have to do so from my grave. Yes, I married five times – twice divorced and twice widowed. Call me any name you like – floozy, harlot, black widow, gold-digger, victim. You weren't there. You don't know anything about my life. I'll tell you what I am. I am a survivor. I survived and brought my brothers and sisters to this country. I also raised plenty of children although none of them were mine from birth. I knew how to work hard.
Let's start at the beginning. I was born in 1891 and named after a relative who lived only one year. That's already bad luck. We were comfortable in a village near Pressburg [today,Bratislava] where there was a strong Jewish life. We considered ourselves Hungarian Jews. My parents were cousins, and my mother so young like me when she married – just age 19 to a man who was 35.
[My husband Harry thinks this age difference is significant. I think her mom may have had to take what she could get.]
Things were becoming unstable in my village and it was harder and harder to earn a living. My parents knew I was strong and independent and they had only enough money for one passage to the United States to join my brother, Phillip. At 14, I said goodbye to them, boarding a ship alone for America.
[From the ship's manifest, we know she was an unaccompanied minor who was released to her brother Phillip once she arrived in NYC. Was it an adventure or an exile? She never saw her parents again. It isn't clear how they died but we know that the Jews remaining in her town perished under the Nazi stranglehold.]
Fortunately, my 22 year old sister came six months later so I didn't feel so all alone. I knew that I would have to work hard to bring the rest of my family here. How did I make a living? Any way I could, which meant taking jobs as a maid but eventually learning to read and write in English well enough to be a clerk. As a woman, I could not have even a bank account of my own in those days.I didn't count unless I was married.
So I found my first husband Harry, and we wed on May 26, 1910 in NYC. It was miserable. Some women would put up with his behavior but not me. You can read about our divorce in the papers, page one, no less [The Salem Ohio News 6/12/1914]. I charged him with neglect and failure to provide me with "even the necessaries of life." I also told the court of times when he abused me and called me "vile names in the presence of others" and ordered me from the house. I was lucky I didn't get pregnant. The judge restored to me my maiden name back, and Harry was forgotten. Done. Dead to me. Erased from future records..
People call me a lot of names.They look upon a divorced woman with such disdain. Maybe I was a feminist. I stood up for myself. I had great hopes with my second husband Harry, whom I married in 1915 – a fresh start. I cannot go into the details and I will leave it a mystery why I got a second divorce on Nov. 17, 1917. Just imagine how difficult it was for a twice-divorced woman. At least I had no children, and my brothers and sisters reached the United States by the 1920s.
I didn't stay single long.The following year,1918, I married an Isaac. I learned my lesson about men named Harry. Isaac was twenty years older than me, and I helped to raise his children. When I married him, women didn't even have the vote yet. That was a real marriage that lasted 19 years until his death in 1937. You see, his death had nothing to do with me. I was heartbroken, but not so heartbroken I wanted to remain alone.
That very year, I was introduced to a widower Emil, also a Hungarian Jew and Leslie and Meryll's great grandfather. He was twenty years older than me, but very nice and a grocer plus no young children. Why wait? We married in October 1937; and no, I did not disclose all the details of my past. Would you? Some people said it was too quick after my husband's death, but Emil was lonely too. I didn't really know how sick Emil was and it was a great tragedy that he died a year later on November 10, 1938, but certainly not my fault. But, the family blamed me and the gossip was so terrible I needed to leave Columbus, Ohio. I have to say I missed the free groceries.
[That marriage certificate for Emil and Regina from Franklin County, Ohio did not list her divorces. It had the unique line that the officiant attested. "That neither of said parties is an habitual drunkard, epileptic, imbecile or insane and is not under the influence of any intoxicating liquor or narcotic drug.]
My life was not over. I spent a few years alone but then in 1941 married a widower, another Isaac (Good name. I had good fortune with Isaacs.) Isaac was not an old man; he was my age. We moved to Florida, where I thought I was in heaven. I lived with him the rest of my life. He knew a little about my past, just a bissell – not more than he needed.
Five husbands – so what? I knew how to survive. I never let what people thought of me get in my way.From Bratislava to Florida and dead at 76, not such a bad life. I may not have had children of my own, but I gave the possibility of life to my nieces and nephews.
What would you have done? Now maybe, I can put those rumors to rest,