Bonnie Wetter Ross

To Bonnie Wetter Ross, Paterson was a wonderful place to grow up. She was born in 1947 to Irving Wetter, a kosher butcher in Paterson, and his wife Mollie. The butcher shop started with Bonnie's grandfather, Benjamin, and was located on Graham Street (now Rosa parks Boulevard). There were several kosher butchers in Paterson, including Goldberg's.

Bonnie's parents met on a blind date and married in 1937. At first, they lived in an apartment, but as the butcher shop prospered, they bought a house on E. 31st Street, between 14th and 15th Avenues. Bonnie's grandparents continued to live where Irving had grown up, on Graham Street next door to the butcher shop.

The Wetters belonged to several organizations, including Temple Emanuel, the YMHA, and the Jewish day camp, Camp Veritans. Bonnie's mother also belonged to the National Council of Women and Women's American ORT, a service organization dedicated to vocational training. Temple Emanuel and the Y were strongholds of Jewish social life. Bonnie recalls a dance contest at the Y, sponsored by Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow), which she won.

Given the family's butcher business, meals at the Wetters included met: brisket, corned beef, tongue, chicken, and turkey, although the young Bonnie preferred tuna fish.

Bonnie attended PS #13 and East Side High School. In all four years at East Side, she had to participate in split sessions, because there were about 1,000 students in her grade alone.

Irving faced personal challenges at the store. In 1968, race riots broke out in Paterson. Fortunately, the butcher shop remained untouched. Bonnie also remembers a time when her father was threatened at gunpoint. The perpetrators forced him into his meat locker, where employees were able to pull him out. But the store was also a place of celebration. On New Year's Eve, Irving invited his employee's and their families to usher in teh new year at the store.

Bonnie fondly talks about shopping downtown, taking a bus and getting off between Fabian's and where City Hall used to be. She ordered chicken chow mein for lunch at Meyer Brothers, which was "the" thing to do. Her mother bought her clothing at Jacob's. At home she roller-skated in the street, played hopscotch, and played house or dolls or school. East Side Park was a big hangout, according to Bonnie. She says, "When you got your license, your automobile license, the first thing you had to do was drive up there [East Side Park] so everybody could see that you were part of the driving area in Paterson now." On Christmas Eve, she visited the Signes family and they did the same on Chanukah in a sort of cultural exchange.

 
 

Interview Transcript

Interviewer:

Good morning, this is Barbara Krasner, Oral History Intern at the Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson, and it is Monday, December 1st, around 9:30 am, and with me on the phone is Bonnie Wetter Ross of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Good morning, Bonnie.

Ross:

Good morning, Barbara. How are you today?

Interviewer:

I’m good, thanks. So, Bonnie, I’m going to be asking you a series of questions…

Ross:

Okay.

Interviewer:

Some may be broad, some may be very specific, but the goal of it is to produce an oral history of Paterson.

Ross:

Okay.

Interviewer:

So, tell me about your connection to Paterson.

Ross:

Well, I was born at the Barnert Hospital in Paterson, New Jersey. I grew up just down the block on 31st Street in Paterson. My father was a kosher butcher in Paterson, New Jersey on Graham Avenue…

Interviewer:

What, I’m sorry, on which avenue?

Ross:

On Graham Avenue…

Interviewer:

Graham, okay.

Ross:

And was there for 51 years. My parents were married for 44 years until my mother passed and two years later, my father passed away, and also, both of cancer, and the doctor said, he died of a broken heart.

Interviewer:

Oh. So let’s go through the chronology of this. So you’re father’s name was…

Ross:

Irving Wetter.

Interviewer:

Okay, and was he born here?

Ross:

He was born in Newark, New Jersey.

Interviewer:

Okay, so how did he get to Paterson? My grandfather thought, decided to move to Paterson and opened a butcher store and they lived right next door to the store. He had two sisters and a brother. And they lived there for many years. My grandparents celebrated 50 years of being married before my grandmother passed away. And then my father took over from my father, my grandfather, excuse me…

Ross:

Yeah.

Interviewer:

And he was there all the time. He got up at three o’clock in the morning and he didn’t get home till seven o’clock at night, and the only day he didn’t work is Saturday.

Ross:

Right. So, let’s kind of get a sense of the years of this. So, do you know what year your father took over the business?

Interviewer:

Had to be, let’s see, somewhere in, he died in 18, 1983, so I would go back, he retired in 1980, so if we go back 50 years and that would be…

Ross:

Around 1930.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

Okay, and do you know when your grandfather came to America?

Interviewer:

Not really, you know, a cousin of mine is doing an entire ancestry of the entire family, Wetter side…

Ross:

Uh-huh.

Interviewer:

And I can get more information from her, she has the entire history.

Ross:

Oh. Sure, so what was your grandfather’s name?

Interviewer:

Benjamin, Benjamin Wetter. And his wife was Beatrice.

Ross:

And, let’s see, so there were other kosher butchers in Paterson.

Interviewer:

Yes, there were actually several. I can give you the names of some of them, if you’d like.

Ross:

Sure.

Interviewer:

Okay, there was Goldberg’s, there was Kepper, there was, oh, blank out, I’m blacking out on the names, I have all this information down, and it’s not in front of me. But as I said, if you were to go back on the history of the Jewish Roots of Paterson [in Paterson Facebook page], you will see a whole article about some, you, in fact, were the one who started the question about kosher butchers.

Ross:

Right, right.

Interviewer:

And you will find the rest of the people, there was a Rosenberg, who was down the street from my father, I believe there was a Mandiberg, there was a Harold Shore, he was actually in Fair Lawn. I think there was one more.

Ross:

Was there a Bibsy’s?

Interviewer:

Not that I’m aware. That name does not ring a bell at all.

Ross:

Okay.

Interviewer:

I know my father dealt, went to the rendering places in Paterson to Mlotok’s, which was in downtown Paterson at the time, to find some of the meat that he used. He also went to Penchansky’s (spelling?), which was in Hoboken or somewhere in that area.

Ross:

Can you say that again? What was the name of the place?

Interviewer:

Penchansky.

Ross:

Penchansky?

Interviewer:

Yes.

Ross:

And where was that? It was in Bayonne, I take…

Interviewer:

Oh, in Bayonne?

Ross:

Bayonne, New Jersey. Morris Penchansky.

Interviewer:

Okay.

Ross:

I do have a funny story about my father and these people, my mother trying to work there at one time, if you’re interested.

Interviewer:

Sure.

Ross:

My father did a lot of business on the phone, over the phone, and in the neighborhood, people would come in and buy directly. My mother decided she wanted to work with my father, try it out, and she would answer the phone and the women were quite upset with that and asked my father, why is there a woman answering the phone and that was the end of my mother working there. The women did not like having a woman working in the store. They liked my father.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

He had a great personality and women really loved my father. They thought he was wonderful and so that was the end of my mother working there.

Interviewer:

And how did they meet?

Ross:

They met up in the Catskills…

Interviewer:

Oh.

Ross:

Actually, it was a blind date. And my mother came from the Bronx and they, actually, my father proposed to my mother on their first date.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

So, they were married for 44 years before my mother passed away. And it was, they had a true love affair.

Interviewer:

Yeah, it sounds it.

Ross:

They did and to this day, it’s a, I think of so often, my mother passed away on Christmas Eve in 1981 and so this time of the year, of course, is a sad time for me…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

Because she was a wonderful, wonderful woman. She was probably my best friend, and my friends all loved coming to my house and spending time with my mother. And my father died of leukemia [note: Mollie Wetter died of leukemia; Irving Wetter died of pancreatic cancer], six weeks from start to finish, in 1984. I got married in 1983 in November and the Ides of March, my father passed away, after six weeks.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

From start to finish, so and that was sad, of pancreatic cancer so… So, the only one in his family who died of cancer.

Interviewer:

Oh, okay.

Ross:

So, that’s, the doctor still did say it was a broken heart.

Interviewer:

Aw.

Ross:

So, cancer does run on my mother’s side of the family…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

And I’m a two-time cancer survivor.

Interviewer:

Right.

Ross:

So, but they, my parents loved Paterson. They were part of the community. My father, as I said, worked very hard, he had my aunt and my uncle, my two aunts and my uncle also were involved in Paterson. My mother belonged to Women’s American ORT [Jewish women’s organization supporting vocational training], National Council of Women, she was involved in a number of different areas. They were a great couple. [inaudible] They really loved being part of the Paterson group.

Interviewer:

When did they marry?

Ross:

They married in 1937.

Interviewer:

Okay, and did, did they go to synagogue?

Ross:

Yes. My parents belonged to Temple Emanuel on 33rd Street and Broadway in Paterson, New Jersey. My brother was bar-mitzvah’d there, my sister was married there. I was confirmed there. It was a beautiful temple. A very special temple. Sad that it’s no longer there and it’s now up in Franklin Lakes in a building, but it was a beautiful temple. Beautiful. And my sister, to this day, is religious and would go to temple all the time, and then my parents, you know, [inaudible] there for the holidays and I went to Hebrew School there. Paterson was definitely part of our entire life.

Interviewer:

Do you have any particular memories of anything at the synagogue?

Ross:

Yeah, well, I will say yes. When my sister, and I will be polite, when my sister got married, she married also somebody from Paterson, Arthur Yedwab, which is also a well-known name.

Interviewer:

Yeah, I know the name, yeah.

Ross:

Unfortunately, he passed away in 1989 of, at 54 years old, when they got married, I was the maid of honor, and walking down the aisle, an uncle of mine happened to say something to me while I was walking down the aisle and I proceeded to turn and say something back to him and then continued walking down the aisle. So, it was a very interesting time. Rabbi Panitz was a wonderful rabbi. He was so kind and so giving and so caring. He was one of the nicest people you could ever meet. And he had a lovely wife and lovely children. I believe one of his sons is a rabbi now. And Temple Emanuel, as I said, that was just of, you know, I went to Hebrew School three times a week. I was confirmed there. It was a place where also you met people during the High Holidays, people in between would come out and, you know, stand outside the temple and you would be talking about the holidays. I grew up in a strictly kosher house, my father being a kosher butcher…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

Actually, one funny story is that I went to visit my mother one Friday afternoon, my mother used to cook Friday all the time, make soup to nuts, and I walked into the house one day and she said to me, would you like a banana? And I said, excuse me? It’s a kosher house, it’s a Friday, food cooking all over the place and the smells are wonderful and you’re offering me a banana, which I thought was rather hysterical, considering, you know, growing up in a house where my mother would make brisket and pot roast and chicken and turkey and tongue and corned beef. It was just rather funny to be asked if I wanted to eat a banana. So that was one of the funny things that happened. One of the sad things that happened was when my parents had moved from Paterson to an apartment complex, which was called Kent Village. My father was leaving in the morning and turned the car on and had gotten out to drop something and unfortunately the car ran over him.

Interviewer:

Oh, no!

Ross:

But my father somehow managed to get back into the elevator, into his apartment, where my mother opened the door and he wound up at Hackensack Medical Center, but after several weeks, he came through, and continued on with his life, so he was a very lucky man.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

Yeah, we’ve had many issues, unfortunately, medical issues…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

Including myself, in the family. As I said, I’ve been told I’m a very strong person. I myself have an uncle who is now, my mother’s brother, who is 88 years old, and he keeps telling me, Bonnie, you shouldn’t be alive today.

Interviewer:

Oh, thanks.

Ross:

Well, I’ve had 16 surgeries.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

Many medical issues. When I see a new doctor, I bring my medical history with me, and all I get is a shaking of the head from the doctor’s.

Interviewer:

Uh-huh.

Ross:

So, but I am strong and I’m a tough person and I take after both my parents in that respect.

Interviewer:

So, let’s go back to Paterson.

Ross:

Okay.

Interviewer:

So, what schools did you go to?

Ross:

I went to School 13, which was on 23rd Street between 14th and 15th Avenue. I went to East Side High School. We just, in fact, this past year, in April we had our 50th high school reunion at the Park Ridge Marriott and it was wonderful. I hadn’t seen these people in so many years and it was just a wonderful time. I had never gone to a reunion before, but this was very special and I reacquainted myself with many of the people that I went to school with, so it was really nice, you know, and unfortunately, you find out people who had passed away too…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

But it goes without saying anywhere. But again, Paterson, during the four years I went to high school, we were on split sessions for all four years, because when they switched schools, it used to be like 6A and 6B.they combined all the classes together, over a thousand people went into the school when I went into high school, so unfortunately, they had to split sessions for all four years of school.

Interviewer:

So, you had a thousand people in your grade, so to speak?

Ross:

Yes, yes.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Interviewer:

It was because, what they did, they changed everybody into one-year classes instead of two, six-month classes and so they accelerated one side so that this whole group of people went into school at the same time. And that way, unfortunately, split sessions for all four years. It did take away from learning…

Ross:

Yeah.

Interviewer:

Do any particular friends or teachers stand out for you?

Ross:

Yes, I had some wonderful friends, Alice Abrams, Ellen Kot, these are their maiden names, I can say I was friendly with Harriet, I’m blanking out on the names now, that’s terrible, who else was I friendly with, Diane Syklowitz (sp?), Kathy Yablonka, I would say those are probably the closest at that time.

Interviewer:

And did they live near you?

Ross:

Actually none of them live near me now.

Interviewer:

Well, not now, but then?

Ross:

At that time, everybody, well, yeah, Ellen lived a block and a half down the street from me, some lived on the other side, on the 10th Avenue side of Paterson. They all went to, everybody went to different schools. Grammar school.

Interviewer:

Right, right.

Ross:

In grammar school, other than, I was friendly with a Marc Hecht, Paul Hillman…

Interviewer:

So were most of your friends Jewish?

Ross:

I would say, a good amount of them, yes. I did have some friends who weren’t. But, yeah, I would say most of them, because of going to temple and yeah, my father being a kosher butcher, yeah, I guess, most of my friends were Jewish growing up.

Interviewer:

And do any teachers stand out for you?

Ross:

Well, I unfortunately had a problem in school. I was compared to my sister from grammar school right up. So, I had, with some of the teachers, I had, unfortunately, a lot of the same teachers my sister had and there was a problem because of it. There was a Miss Leah (sp) who was a French teacher, a Mr. Stranzl, who else did I have that I liked in high school, I can’t say that I liked anybody overly because…

Interviewer:

Okay.

Ross:

I did, unfortunately, have a problem. I mean [inaudible] say the least, and was not a very good student which I regret at this time, but I wasn’t because of the comparison I was constantly getting, which can definitely do damage.

Interviewer:

Yeah. So because your father was a kosher butcher and you gave a lot of the kinds of meals that your mother made, you obviously had a lot of meat.

Ross:

Believe it or not, I can tell you I was not a big meat eater then. I was a tuna fish person, but I learned, I grew out of that. So, yeah, I ate turkey, chicken, some beef, probably more poultry.

Interviewer:

Did he sell poultry also?

Ross:

Oh, yes.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

Oh, yeah, he sold, yeah…

Interviewer:

Did he have a delivery business?

Ross:

Yes, he did. He had one of my uncles work for him, Sam Liebowitz, and my favorite was a man who, his name was, well, I only knew him as Toot, T-o-o-t, [Vic Toris?] and he worked for my father for many, many years, and he was wonderful and everybody loved him. My father [would deliver] as far as Teaneck and he would deliver as far as to New Providence to a cousin of mine.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

So, he, they traveled, he had a very good business, and people liked him, and people do remember, he was a really nice person. People really cared about him. And when they did have rioting, they didn’t, my father’s store was not touched, because he was, the neighborhood, people really liked him a lot.

Interviewer:

When were the riots?

Ross:

Oh, I believe in, around 1968.

Interviewer:

Okay.

Ross:

Fortunately, my father also at one point was stuck (?) by a gun with men, that did happen during his lifetime there and was, they took money and they put him in his freezer.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

So, [inaudible] Paterson had its good things and it also had its bad things.

Interviewer:

How did he get out?

Ross:

He got out mainly because my mother had gotten sick, and he decided that it was time, he had been doing it for so long that it was time. Paterson had changed…

Interviewer:

Oh, no, I meant how did he get out of the freezer?

Ross:

Because he had other people, he had other men working for him also. Jules Farber was one of the people who worked for him, and one of the people, he just kept knocking on the door, and one of them finally opened the door.

Interviewer:

Oh, okay. And when did they leave Paterson?

Ross:

My parents moved out of Paterson in 19, around 1978.

Interviewer:

Okay.

Ross:

And they moved to Elmwood Park.

Interviewer:

So they didn’t go too far. Do you think your father ever wanted to be in any other business besides butchering?

Ross:

Yes, I believe he did. My grandfather had decided that this was what my father was going to do. It was not a choice in the matter and that is what he wound up doing. My grandfather, wanted somebody to take over the business and my father was the one who was chosen since he was the eldest brother and so he and I’m sure to this day if I asked him, he probably would have wanted to do something else.

Interviewer:

Do you know what that would have been?

Ross:

Not really because, I mean, he was already a butcher when I…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

When I was young, so never really got a chance to really ask him what. I think at that point he had just settled on this was what, this was what he was supposed to do.

Interviewer:

So do you know how the Depression and World War II affected your family?

Ross:

To some extent, yes. I know there were victory gardens. I know money was tight. I know that before we, any of us, were born, my parents lived in an apartment in Paterson. Now unfortunately, I’m not sure of where it was, because I just came across a letter from back in 1937 that they were in an apartment and there was another couple that they must have lived above who complained about them walking upstairs.

Interviewer:

Ah.

Ross:

And this is a letter, I just found it just found it looking for some old pictures and I came across that, which was rather funny. Now, you know, because I had never seen it before. But, yeah, money was tight and they didn’t move into a house till, gee, my brother was born in 1940, my sister was born in 1943, and I was born in 1947. My sister, unfortunately, is in a nursing home in Maryland with MS. My brother is no longer alive. And I’m still living up here. And very happily married. But yeah, going back, I know there were definitely issues. My father, they wouldn’t take him into the army, because he had, something to do with flat feet.

Interviewer:

Oh, yeah.

Ross:

And so, he continued working as a kosher butcher, but times I know were hard at that time. There were definitely money issues.

Interviewer:

Do you know how the Depression might have affected the business?

Ross:

I think at that time it did, because they were living in an apartment building and they were definitely watching their money, I think, you know, their friends also. I think everybody had issues. I know, again, my grandparents lived right next door to the store, that’s where my father basically grew up, and there were definitely financial problems there, but somehow they got through it, just as many other people did, and my parents had four children. Unfortunately, the second one died of crib death and I probably wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that.

Interviewer:

Mmm.

Ross:

So, it was a very interesting life in Paterson, since I know my parents were very happy with living there. They had a lot of friends. They were very close with relatives. We had something called the Wetters Family Circle, which was when we all got together with our first, second, and third cousins once a month at somebody’s house and we would enjoy all our cousins and our aunts and uncles, and it was part of our life. Now today, I’m now friendly with some of the people who I hadn’t seen since when I was a child.

Interviewer:

Right.

Ross:

So it was just a very interesting…and then families all really stuck together, and friends. One of our next door neighbors at one time were the Goldbergs, who also owned a kosher butcher on Park Avenue in Paterson, so, and my parents were very close to them. Before that, a dentist, a doctor, Aaron Rockowitz and his family lived next door and I became friendly with their family and their daughter went to a different school. They didn’t live there too long and then we had lost contact, but every now and then I still hear from her. She lives down in Texas.

Interviewer:

What was your exact address?

Ross:

300 East 31st Street, Paterson, New Jersey.

Interviewer:

Okay. And what was that between?

Ross:

That was between 14th and 15th Avenue.

Interviewer:

Okay. Do you remember going to any of the parks, the Great Falls?

Ross:

Well, I remember going to Eastside Park. Believe it, I’ve been to the Falls once, which is a terrible, which is a shame, and I will be getting back there. I am friends with David Wilson, who is part of…

Interviewer:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah [Wilson is the author of Jews of Paterson (Arcadia, 2012).

Ross:

So, he is, I get the information from him, and every week they send me an email about all the Paterson issues and pictures, the old pictures. Fact, David had asked me if I had a picture of my father’s store, which, that’s one of the reasons why I was looking at pictures. And unfortunately, so far I have not been able to find…

Interviewer:

Oh.

Ross:

That picture, I wish I could. But I have found some other old pictures which I hopefully will put on Facebook, but yeah. Eastside Park was a big hangout. When you got your license, your automobile license, the first thing you had to do was drive up there so everybody could see that you were part of the driving area of Paterson now. And that became a routine thing. But, yeah, I would say Eastside Park was probably my main park. I went to one football game at Hinchcliffe [sic] Stadium, when it was Eastside and Central. I wasn’t a big sports person. My father was. My father watched, loved watching the Giants and the Jets and the Yankees. He was a big Yankees fan. And my mother would sit right next to him in her lounge chair and the two of them would watch it together.

Interviewer:

Aw.

Ross:

They held hands. They were very much in love.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

They were a special couple. My father truly was lost when my mother passed away.

Interviewer:

Yeah. Did he belong to any organizations?

Ross:

Not, because of the fact of being a kosher butcher, he really didn’t, he belonged to Temple Emanuel and I believe he did belong to the Men’s Club, although I don’t know how often he, if at all, did get to go.

Interviewer:

Uh-mmm.

Ross:

I do know, I mean, other than other organizations, I’m not, well, he belonged to the Y in Paterson.

Interviewer:

Uh-mmm.

Ross:

That’s a place where we went to a lot. That was part of the social life in Paterson.

Interviewer:

And what did you all do there?

Ross:

Well, they had dances there. I actually won a dance contest. I don’t know if you remember Cousin Brucie?

Interviewer:

Oh, yeah, yeah.

Ross:

Well, Cousin Brucie was at one of the dances we had there and I won a record album from him and had my picture taken with him, and to this day, I still love to dance. But my parents would go there, too. They had different dinners there. And so they would go there. I admit that I never passed Tenderfoot in the Brownies, so I never made Girl Scouts. In fact, I was talking to a friend recently about that when she asked me what troop I was in. Oh, my parents belonged to Camp Veritans in Paterson. I went there. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Camp Veritans. It’s actually right next door to William Paterson.

Interviewer:

No, how do you spell that?

Ross:

V-E-R-I-T-A-N-S. Camp Veritans.

Interviewer:

Veritans.

Ross:

And it’s right next to William Paterson. And it’s still there.

Interviewer:

Okay.

Ross:

If you’re going up, I believe it’s Pompton, what is it, Pompton going up the hill?

Interviewer:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ross:

Right before your entrance to William Paterson is the entrance into Camp Veritans.

Interviewer:

I’ll have to look at that.

Ross:

And yeah, I went there for several years. There are pictures. I actually have a picture and there’s one on my Facebook, and one of my camp classes of people, a bunch of people I knew or still know are in that group. I went there for several years to camp, and again, my parents were members of, I guess, the ruling party of Camp Veritans. It was a Jewish camp. Day camp.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

And it’s still there. So you should definitely look into that.

Interviewer:

Okay. I was a New Jersey Y Camp person myself.

Ross:

Oh, did you go to Camp Ramada at all?

Interviewer:

No, no, although I had a Hebrew school teacher who wanted me to do that.

Ross:

And where would you…

Interviewer:

The New Jersey Y camps were in Milford, PA.

Ross:

Oh, okay, okay. Yeah, my sister went to Camp Ramada, which was in Connecticut.

Interviewer:

Camp Ramah.

Ross:

Camp Ramah, I’m sorry, in Connecticut. She went there, actually worked there as a counselor. So, she also went to overnight, which was an overnight camp.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

My parents belonged to Westmount Country Club…

Interviewer:

Oh, yeah, Westmount.

Ross:

Right. And they belonged to the Preakness Swim Club that was also in Wayne…

Interviewer:

Right.

Ross:

Westmount, a funny story is I did not like being a camper there, so at eight years old, they let me be a counselor in training and I helped take care of kids who were like three years old at the camp and I actually got tips.

Interviewer:

Oh.

Ross:

Because I did not like being a camper.

Interviewer:

Did you hear any of your father’s stories about his growing up in Paterson?

Ross:

Not too many, no, not really. I think he…one thing I can tell you. My father was a 13-pound baby when he was born. My grandmother was a diabetic. And, but, growing up, no, I actually, I can let you know more because I have this wonderful cousin who’s done this ancestry of the entire Wetter family. And she probably knows more about all of this…

Interviewer:

Okay.

Ross:

Than anybody else. She…

Interviewer:

Do you know where they were from in Europe?

Ross:

Poland and my mother was from Russia.

Interviewer:

Do you know where in Poland?

Ross:

No, but my cousin does. She has all that information. Again, I can get that to you.

Interviewer:

Okay. What do you remember about shopping?

Ross:

Oh, shopping downtown Paterson: Meyer Brothers, Quackenbush, Jacob’s, Tiny Tot/Teen Tots for shoes, the Fabian theater for the movies, Tree Tavern for pizza, all of, oh, going downtown Paterson was a thrill. You could go downtown with your friends without worrying about anything. But I remember Meyer Brothers, the big thing to do was eat lunch there, and you wouldn’t think to find it there, but chicken chow mein was a big hit there. And yes, that’s what we had. Chicken chow mein for lunch. But shopping was wonderful at that time. Stenchever’s, Baker’s, it was really, it was wonderful. I have very fond memories of downtown Paterson. It was great to go shopping there. You could feel safe and go there with your friends without having your parents take you.

Interviewer:

Right, right.

Ross:

You could go on the bus and takes you straight downtown right by the, leave you off right by either the Fabian theater or leave you off where the City Hall was…

Interviewer:

Uh-huh.

Ross:

And you could walk around and have a wonderful time. I remember that my sister was heavier [inaudible] as a child I never got hand-me-downs from anybody because everybody else was heavier than me. So I lucked out by getting new clothing. But yes, it was wonderful. Paterson, I really miss the old Paterson, I wish today it was the same. It was, but, as I said, Quackenbush and Meyer Brothers and Jacob’s…my mother took me to Jacob’s all the time for clothing. It was always a special treat to go to downtown Paterson.

Interviewer:

Did, oh, the question just went right out of my head. Oh, that’s odd. Did you have any sense when you were growing up in Paterson that it had this Alexander Hamilton history?

Ross:

Yes, because it was right by the, I believe, Fabian theater. It was called the Fabian Building, but Alexander Hamilton…yes, in school we learned because of course we were in Paterson so we did learn about that in school. Do I remember a lot of it? No. But I do remember that it was, that he was part of Paterson and we were always told that.

Interviewer:

Uh-huh.

Ross:

I remember the silk mills, I remember just the party, the fun aspect of the school parties and dances. Paterson was just a great place to grow up in. It was a wonderful place.

Interviewer:

What did you do for fun?

Ross:

What did I do for fun? Go shopping, go to the library, I was, rollerskated. I had a friend who lived directly across the street from me. Her mother was a teacher and a principal at one time in Paterson, last name is Signes. We were very friendly and we would set up lemonade stands and looked at each other—my bedroom was facing her bedroom in the front so we would talk to each other across the street…

Interviewer:

Uh-huh.

Ross:

And it was wonderful.

Interviewer:

So, you went rollerskating in the street as opposed to a rink, right?

Ross:

Right, oh yes, right at that time. Hopscotch, absolutely, had to play hopscotch, played house, dolls. All the games at that, probably not doing now that electronics are in. And I was a girly-girl, I wasn’t a tomboy at all, so I was not really the big sports person, and that is still true today. Love to dance, though. That was my favorite thing to do. And as I said, it was just fun. Every Christmas Eve we would go across the street to my friend, her name is Carmen Anita Signes, and every Christmas Eve we would go there and decorate the Christmas tree and she, in turn, would [inaudible] Chanukah candles and would come over and watch us light the Chanukah candles. And I still do that. They moved away and her mother has passed. I’m still friendly with her. She’s known me all my life and I’ve known her all my life.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

So it’s nice to know that you still have friends from way, way back.

Interviewer:

What do you want today’s generation to know about Paterson?

Ross:

That Paterson was a wonderful city that people enjoyed. People took care of everything that they did there. People were concerned with life, people were concerned with each other. People cared, something that I don’t see happening anymore. Paterson has changed tremendously. People think of Paterson now as another Newark or as a sad town, sad city. I don’t think people who are running Paterson are doing a very good job, but I don’t know if the people who live in Paterson, because so many people don’t speak English, are really interested in caring. I myself am a believer that if you live anywhere in the United States you need to learn English. But that’s my own personal feeling. But so many people in Paterson, I don’t think they really care. And I think St. Joe’s, if anything, it’s better now than it ever was. St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Interviewer:

Uh-huh.

Ross:

From what I’ve been told, they have a wonderful babies unit there and they’ve really done a wonderful job of building it up to being a much better hospital. But I think people have lost respect for Paterson, what it was and what it is today, and I would love to see the turnaround in Paterson. I would love to see it come back to a place where the shopping was back down there. You don’t have to go to a mall, but, and not go online, you can still go back downtown Paterson and find the wonderful stores that were there then that aren’t there now.

Interviewer:

Incidentally, did you speak any Yiddish in your household?

Ross:

My parents spoke Yiddish. I did not, but I did know when they were talking about me. I was called the klayne maydele [little girl] or they also called me vantzel, which is different terminologies, which I was getting all those on Jewish Roots [in Paterson Facebook page]…

Interviewer:

Oh, yeah.

Ross:

From bedbug to, but it was a term of endearment also, because I was the youngest of three. And yes, my parents spoke it, actually very well. They spoke it a lot, especially when I was around.

Interviewer:

Did you know your grandparents?

Ross:

Yes, I knew all of them. My mother’s mother passed away when I was about six years old. My mother’s father died at 91 and he was just a sweetheart of a man. He had a twinkle in his eyes and he was the loveliest person you could have ever met. My friends felt that way too. My father’s mother and father, yes, they celebrated their 50th anniversary. We saw them a lot. They had their 50th anniversary celebration at Temple Emanuel. My grandmother passed I believe a year or so after that of Alzheimer’s, no excuse me, not Alzheimer’s, the one Michael J. Fox…

Interviewer:

Parkinson’s…

Ross:

Parkinson’s disease. My grandfather passed away [inaudible] my father died at 68. My grandfather died at 93.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Ross:

So it was, he was alive a long time.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

Long time. Longevity was in there, in some cases.

Interviewer:

Is there anything else you want to mention about growing up in Paterson or about your family’s business?

Ross:

My family’s business, I was very proud of my father and mother. I thought my father was a wonderful man, I mean, people just really, really loved him. [inaudible] The neighborhood loved him. They would come into the store and all the various different types of races would come in and he was a friend to the neighborhood. He was a good friend. He cared about his people. Every New Year’s Eve he had a party in the store that we’d go to with all the people who worked there and their families. And he was just a very special man who really, after put in a position of taking over my grandfather’s business, really loved the people who he dealt with and the people on the phone [inaudible], they really cared about him. I just recently saw a cousin of mine, a second cousin, who lived in Passaic and then moved as I was saying to New Providence and her husband, who is still a lawyer, and he remembers my father, and thought he was just a wonderful man and people just raved about my parents…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

We’d go up to the Catskills to Kutscher’s a lot as a family, so the Catskills were also an important part of our life. My parents then went to the different, before when we were all little children, they would go to the bungalows in the Catskills…

Interviewer:

Uh-huh.

Ross:

And it was a very special time. I had a very happy childhood and I can say that because of my parents. And, they’re sadly missed.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

They are. And it brings, I can say, it’s bringing tears to my eyes, about all the wonderful times, being brought up by a very loving family, very devoted to each other. And I think when my father decided to retire there were a lot of people who were saddened by that, because he was a great butcher.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

I know he, after I moved out on my own, my father would tell me what to do with each piece of meat. He would explain to me, or he would get it ready, like he would cut up the meat if I wanted to do a stew or he’d cut the fat off or he’d do the pounding on the chicken. He cared about his people and he went out of his way for his clientele or his customers, I should say, to make things right with them and for them to appreciate what he did for them. And then there are a lot of people who have very fond memories of my family…

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Ross:

They knew them very well.

Interviewer:

As I saw on Facebook.

Ross:

Right, and so reading those memories and hearing about that, I was really taken aback, it was wonderful.

Interviewer:

Good, I’m glad I started that conversation for you.

Ross:

It was wonderful, yes. I would gladly continue that too. I do appreciate everything you have done. I really appreciate this memory, this walk back into the memories of life living in Paterson and this has been wonderful speaking with you and if you would like more information, I will get hold of my cousin actually today.

Interviewer:

Oh, okay. That’d be great.

Ross:

And get more information about that, because she does know more about the dates than I do…

Interviewer:

Okay.

Ross:

When would you like me to call you back?

Interviewer:

I would say any night this week after 9:30.

Ross:

Okay, that’s fine. I will do that. I will call my cousin today and have her…

Interviewer:

Let me just close out so I can turn off the recorder and then we can wrap up. So, it is now almost 10:30. So thank you, Bonnie.

Ross:

Thanks, Barbara.

Interviewer:

I’m going to end the recording.

END

Last updated: June 16, 2019

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