I grew up in a suburb of New York City, in a town where we knew all the kids in school and especially knew when a “new kid” moved in.
Seymour and Carmen Russo’s HouseBut it is was suburbia, not a farming town, so when one of our neighbors decided to keep a pony in a small fenced area in their back yard, they caused quite a stir. Harrington Park’s shady streets and wide variety of stately homes and blue collar asbestos tiled modest houses were more a place for black labs and poodles than for ponies. But this era was unburdened by unwieldy town ordinances and while there was no exact law against ponies, there was a law against farm animals. Brooklyn raised Seymour Russo and his concentration camp survivor wife Carmen were just as determined to keep “Sandy” as they were determined to love their cherished young son Alan and Carmen’s aging mother who survived the camps with her daughter Carmen.
Carmen Russo hadn’t survived the horrors of a death camp to be told what pet she was allowed to have, and Seymour, well, Seymour was a horse lover and he loved his Carmen. I became a frequent visitor to the Russo home, first drawn by the pony, then more to sit down with Carmen and Seymour and their stories and unique outlook on life. Carmen was always feeding me; not just with the steady onslaught of leftovers and freshly prepared cakes and snacks, but with her philosophies molded by her experiences. Experiences to me that were as exciting as they were frightening.
Seymour on the other hand was city raised in Brooklyn, worked, incongruously enough, shoeing horses. His rough and tumble outlook and lack of schooling were just as foreign to me as Carmen’s Jewishness and Nazi experiences were.
I remember when one time, in the heat of a summer day, I was standing against the side of her house in the narrow shade with my back to her brick wall and one leg raised with the sole of my foot against the brick. I was at the foot of her back stairs. Carmen came to the back door, took one look at me and quietly asked me never to stand that way. “It reminds me of a Nazi soldier that used to stand in my street when I was a child.” I still remember the helpless guilt I felt stirring up that memory for her.
As a young kid their differences between Carmen and Seymour were not obvious to me; it was how different they were from me that made them the same.
Carmen worked in Manhattan, spoke German, and sold dental equipment. Seymour spoke Brooklyn-ese, never went to high school, was a blacksmith and the first adult I felt comfortable addressing by his first name. Carmen quoted philosophers, Seymour knew how to make things. Carmen cooked, Seymour ate. Carmen planned, Seymour reacted.
Carmen taught me many lessons, but her overriding obsession with her own rights were the most prominent. This trait perhaps was born from the fact that the Nazi’s took all of her rights, Carmen was determined not to let the town of Harrington Park infringe on her right to let her son have a pet pony. She and Seymour eventually prevailed, by the way, and Sandy lived a long life in Harrington Park, becoming a star attraction for many kids growing up in the area.
It was from Carmen’s influence that I built my strong stance on individual rights and indeed private property rights, and it was from Seymour that I took a few kernels of street born wisdom that stick with me today.
I remember Seymour teaching me how to make a bridle with a rope. (Seymour was to later help me buy my first and only horse when I was 14 – without my parents’ knowledge or permission I might add, but I will leave that for a chapter in the book).
I was looking at the rope, made of three twisted braids of intertwined strands. I took the three strands apart at the end of the rope and was left with curly cue coils of hemp in my hand. If I wound them back together they stayed together. It was like they wanted to be wound together as rope.
“Why does this hemp stay curled like this?” perhaps forgetting I was talking to Seymour and not Carmen.
Seymour, intent on some other task at hand, quickly responded, “Because it was made that way. Hand me that brass buckle.”
I was to learn years later, when I was a manufacturer’s rep, that there is indeed a principle if not in engineering, certainly in manufacturing, that “things” actually “remember” how they were made. It was explained to me by a scientist at one of my suppliers that molecules actually can be oriented and “remember” that orientation, and properly motivated by heat or some other influence will return to that state.
Seymour didn’t need to learn this, he already knew it.
So next time one of your kids or grand-kids asks a question that can be answered with “Because that’s the way it was made”, don’t feel guilty about not taking the time for a long explanation. You might be giving him a basis for his future outlook life!
I’m now a grandfather in Fort Myers Florida, where I sell homes and land, and, hopefully, give my grandchildren a unique perspective on life. Florida is a wonderful place to retire to.
Real Estate Investment Specialists
Post Script, April30 2014 RUSSO Carmen, 92, passed away at home on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. She was born in Paris, France and came to New York as a holocaust survivor at the age of 18. She was vice-president of exports for Dedeco International, Inc. in Long Eddy, NY where she worked for over 20 years, bringing the company into the international market before her retirement in 2000. She was a good natured and loving mother who had a deep appreciation for opera, was an excellent cook, and loved animals, especially her daily companion Cara, the family dog. Mrs. Russo is survived by her loving son, Alan Russo and his fiancée Patricia Massimo of Harrington Park, NJ; her devoted niece Inez McGregor and her husband John Keith of Allyn, WA; and her cherished nephew Michael McGregor and niece Michelle Powell – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/northjersey/obituary.aspx?n=carmen-russo&pid=174753004&fhid=12213#sthash.JgFLRdnA.dpuf