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“I remembered when I was a kid back in school, if the teacher wanted you to write and you couldn’t do it, she would start you. She would say, ‘The thing I liked most about my summer vacation was…’ and then everyone could write.
“So I thought, if I didn’t ask grandmother any questions, but I just put her foot on the path to telling her own story, that she could easily do it. If I said, ‘When Grandfather proposed to me, he said…’ or, ‘On my wedding day I wore….’ She knows what she wore, and she’ll put it down with a picture next to it and it will become an heirloom in the family, to be cherished by this grandchild and future generations.”
Levy, who moved to Boca Raton, Fla., from New York with her husband in 1979, has, of course, filled out a copy of “Grandmother Remembers” for each of her grandchildren. The books, no doubt, are bursting with vividly remembered details and anecdotes from their grandmother’s colorful life.
Levy grew up in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, the eighth of 10 children born to a poor Orthodox cantor and his wife. “We were five boys and five girls. The boys went to yeshiva, but we girls were sent to public school,” she said.
While her sisters took commercial courses in high school, Levy, a bit of a rebel, insisted on pursuing academic studies, including Latin. Of course, her sisters, with their office skills, easily found summer jobs. “I needed a job, but I didn’t have skills. No one was looking for a Latin translator,” she said, laughing.
She ended up finding a job in a plastics factory, “where it was 110 degrees in the shade.” Unbeknown to her at the time, her singing to herself by her machine to fight off boredom would be her ticket to a life she had never imagined.
“Later that year, I was invited to a Christmas party by the factory’s owners, and I wasn’t about to say no. I traveled all the way to 72nd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which was a total mystery to me,” she recalled.
Having remembered how she sang in the factory, her hosts invited her to sing a tune with the band. She got up and sang, and the bandleader offered her a job right on the spot.
“I remember thinking to myself all the way home on the train that my father was not going to let me take the job. He thought that going onstage to sing was the same as doing burlesque,” Levy said.