Unless You’re A Banana

Good evening,  

In response to your query, I have just reviewed the first hour of a VHS recording titled, “Brickstone Family Video 11/24/2000.” Doss, Sol, Bernie, Nate and Bill are interviewed by Marilyn and an unidentified gentleman (possibly Chucky) who apparently doubles as the cameraman. It is possible, however, that somebody else is operating the camera, and the unidentified second interviewer is simply sitting somewhere behind said camera. Millie, Betty Brickstone, Betty Koupos, and several other people I cannot identify are seated in the background. Allie, Ben and another child make cameo appearances. The setting is one I am not familiar with. It might be a finished basement area of some sort, or possibly somebody’s family room. The wide floor-to-ceiling wood panels that cover the walls are interrupted by curious shutters that might befit a medieval castle.  

Doss shares stories about her parents (Ida and Samuel), how they met, and what life was like caring for her five siblings. She begins the video telling the story of a midwife who causes the death of a newborn. Something went wrong with the infant’s bellybutton and he bled out over the course of several days. 

A curious number of people in Doss’s stories end up falling down flights of stairs. The aforementioned midwife is among them, but she ends up at the bottom of the stairs of somebody else’s house. Perhaps pushing people down the stairs as a means of retribution was common back in those days. 

We also learn from Doss that her mother was known to throw pitchforks or chairs through windows at uninvited visitors. Otherwise, all of the surviving Brickstone siblings agree that their mother had a terrific sense of humor. Her laugh alone could make you start laughing. 

Both Samuel and Ida were hospitalized at the same time and their children were split among several different families. Why Samuel and Ida were hospitalized is unclear, but the H1N1 influenza A virus, which caused the pandemic of 1918, seems a plausible culprit. Even so, according to Doss, Samuel died of “pneumonia.” 

Sol, who wasn’t yet twelve years old, was sent to live with Mór Thann’s family in Elkhart. (The Thanns had immigrated from Hungary and stayed with the Brickstones before settling in Indiana.) Whenever Mór drove into town he took Sol along for the ride. The boy was usually made to wait in the Ford while Mór did whatever he did. One day, Sol scooted over and sat behind the wheel. He was a bored kid from the South Side of Chicago. So he decides to take the Model T for a spin. Mór, upon leaving a store, discovers that his car is not where he left it. Sol swears that he made it safely around the block. But he’d parked a bit further up the street. Sol’s entire life might’ve taken a different course if he had only figured out how to put the vehicle into reverse. Although Bernie claims it wasn’t the only straw, it might’ve been the last one. Not long after, Sol was returned to the South Side.  

Elsewhere on the video, Sol reminisces about instigating neighborhood rumbles, winning amateur boxing matches and generally causing his mother grief. His earliest memory is of being spanked under the stairs by his father. Sol says he doesn’t remember why he was punished. 

Little Nate was placed with a wealthy family that wanted to adopt him. Doss insists that he was an adorable baby. 

It is unclear where Doss, Judy, Bernie and Bill ended up, but, eventually, the siblings were reunited with their mother. 

According to Bill, Bernie had a penchant for designing practical jokes (e.g. propping a bucketful of water or rocks above a partially open door). Then again, it seemed like Bernie caught the blame for more than his share of mischief. Bernie confirms that he never backed down from a schoolyard fight; and he admits to losing a few he never should’ve picked in the first place.

To make ends meet during the Great Depression, Ida started a clothes washing service in her house. Depression Era meals sometimes meant having nothing but a glass of milk for breakfast and an onion for dinner, according to Bernie. 

Nate is the most humble of all the Brickstone siblings. He offers a few brief stories from his childhood—e.g. being trapped in a bathroom. Reviving these memories seem to bring him to the brink of tears. Just in case he’s never mentioned it, Nate was shot down over German occupied territory (twice!) and captured (twice!) during WWII. He was so sickly after the War his fiancée’s parents didn’t believe he’d make it through the wedding. Last year, Nate turned 101. He’s outlived everybody.  

Halfway through the video, Sol and Bernie debate the loss of their South Side home during The Depression. The bank—to save itself—emptied all of the safe deposit boxes. One of the boxes held Ida Brickstone’s final mortgage payment. The bank subsequently foreclosed because Ida didn’t have the money it had stolen from her. Sol took the matter to court—he wasn’t even twenty years old—but the judge was unsympathetic. As you know, decades later, Sol would sit on the boards of several banks.  

The tape runs two hours. I intend to review the rest of it tomorrow or Wednesday evening. I’ll report back with any additional information on what happened to Ida and Samuel. 

BTW: Stan: “The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.” Happy birthday!


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