Ruth's Unfinished Memoir
The Memoir of Ruth Riesenbach (nee Letinsky)
1933 Photo. Left to right: Sophie, Ruth, Sam
I was born October 15, 1932, at the St. Boniface Hospital, nine months and five days after my parents were married. I was named “Razel”, after my mother’s father – Azriel, who died in WW I. Incidentally, there were two other granddaughters in Russia, who were also named after him (Roza in the Russian language).
I was born during the depression and my father was out of work. My mother had been working in a sewing factory right up until her 8th month. They were living in the house of my father's parents on Magnus Ave. together with my father's brother and sisters. I weighed over 8 lbs at birth and was told that I was boarn bald-headed. My motter was very upset and couldn't be consuled even though the doctor told her my hair would grow in. She was relieved after a few months when a blond fuzz appears and eventually I grew a full head of hair.
I was told that I was a very happy, content baby and rarely cried. I was the centre of attention at that time, being the first granddaughter boarn to my grandparents who already had 2 grandsons. Also, I was the first baby born in the circule of my parent's friends.
Where We Lived
We lived at my father’s parents’ home at 498 Magnus Ave. (the house has since been demolished). In the house lived my grandparents, Pessie & Harry, their son Bill and daughter Molly. All shared one bathroom. My father’s older sister, Riva, married to Archie Picota, lived down the street. They had two sons, Jack & Eugene. I was the first granddaughter.
My mother worked in the factory up to her eight month of pregnancy. My father was unemployed, as these were the depression years and jobs were hard to find.
1955 Photo. Back row, left to Right: Sophie, Ruth, Sam. Front row left to right: Pessie (Bessie), Adrian, Raphul (Harry).
1934 Photo. Left to right: Sophie, Ruth, Sam
They moved into their own suite of two rooms on the second floor of a grocery store across the street from the old Peretz School on Aberdeen Ave. I was one and half years old when they moved and we lived there for a few years. During that time my father found work.
Across the street at the school was the children’s playground and when the weather was warm, my mother put me out to play. I would go across to play with the children, and when it was time for them to go back in, I would follow them, but the teacher wouldn’t let me stay, and told me to go back home and tell my mother to change my diaper.
When I was old enough, I attended kindergarten there and continued into night classes, graduating from grade 12. From grade one to grade 9 I attended William Whyte school on Powers and Magnus St. By that time, we had moved to several other suites as this was in the 1930’s and there were no new buildings constructed. All the houses in North End of Winnipeg were old, and often rodent and bug infected. I enjoyed all the new locations, but it was particularly hard for my parents, who had to pack up their few meager belongings, hire a horse and wagon to transport them to the new place. The only good piece of furniture they possessed was the bedroom set, which got battered up from all the moving.
By the time I was six, we lived in a sixplex on Manitoba Ave., between Salter and Aikins, It was only a few blocks from William Whyte School and I came home for lunch every day. The school allowed boys and girls to grade 3, and then the boys had to go to another school. From grade four on, it became an all girls school. I was not a good student and often got into trouble at school – talking, disturbing, day-dreaming. The punishment was to be sent out in the hall and if you were particularly “bad”, to the principle’s office where it was possible to receive a strap (which I never did). All the teachers were spinsters, because married women were not allowed to be teachers or principles.
Literature was my best subject and I once won first prize for a story when I was in Grade six.
While attending night classes at Peretz School, I was often teased by older girls in my class because I was developing physically faster than they and they were jealous. One girl in particular was especially mean. She would often sit among the boys and point at my breasts and titter and laugh, ridiculing my appearance. I was very emotional and would often cry when we learned about all the atrocities our people suffered over the centuries. Especially when we learned about the suffering taking place during the years 1941 to 1945 in Europe. The boys would often chase me when I was going home and I had to run fast to avoid them. But I loved the Jewish School and felt at home there.
We were sometimes sent home in the elementary grades for an air raid drill. The government was not sure about our safety here in Canada. The war was not going well for the allies. We were asked to save anything that contained foil. The foil was fashioned into balls and sent to the war effort. Rubber was unavailable as this was also needed for the war. That’s why plastic was invented as a substitute (necessity breeds invention).
Willam Whyte school.
1937 Photo: Left to Right: Sam, Ruth, Sophie
Flower girl at Uncle's wedding. The dress was hand sewn by Sophie.
1940 Photo. Left to right: Sam, Ruth, Sophie, Ed.
The Birth of My Baby Brother, Ed
December 20, 1939, my brother Edward Charles was born while we were living on Manitoba Ave. I was delighted to have a baby brother as I was already six and half years old. When asked what name I would like him toy have, I chose the most royal name I could think of. Since his Yiddish name was to be “Shmuel Elya”, my choice suited perfectly.
Living on Pritchard Ave.
Our next move was to a triplex on Pritchard Ave., across the street from the “Holy Ghost Church” on Selkirk Ave. Down the street from where we lived was a Nun’s Monastery and we would often see the nuns and priests walking.
I had made friends with a Catholic girl – Loretta. When were together she would greet the priests with “hello father”. I felt awkward in keeping silent and decided they wouldn’t know that I was Jewish so sometimes I would greet them too, I always felt the wrath of God would come down to punish me.
One of my most vivid memories of the house on Pritchard Ave. was a New Years Eve., when my parents went out to a party and couldn’t get anyone to baby sit my brother and me. I was eight years old and Ed was a year old. They decided to leave me and the baby alone when they went out. At midnight, the bells in the church began to ring loudly and for a long time. I awoke and became frightened. I picked up Ed, wrapped him in a blanket and sat down with him at the top of the stairs. When my parents came home, they find me holding my brother, asleep at the top. They were shocked and felt guilty for leaving me alone so they could have a good time.
1940 Photo. Ruth and Ed.
1970s Photo. Suzie Weiss, Ruth Riesenbach
Meeting My Friend Suzie
The Robinson Family lived two doors away from our place. Susie came to visit her Aunt & Uncle and cousins who lived there. She was the same age as I was and we became friends. We went to the same school – William Whyte and Peretz School. Sue’s birthday Is May 2 and my mother’s – May 1. I will never forget her birthday and we always call each other on our special day. Her real name is Sara, but she preferred to be called Suzie and that is how everyone knows her to this day.
We went through all the important milestones in our lives and shared many memories together. She has been a vital part of my life. I trust her implicitly and confided in her all through our growing up years. I was Maid of Honor at her wedding, and she was Maid of Honor at my wedding (a promise we made to each other when we were teenagers).
I had a happy childhood! I played freely with girls and boys on the street, in summer and into autumn while the weather was still warm, we would play till dark, without fear. Life was safe and although no one had much materially, we were all more or less the same, and we enjoyed whatever we had.
Summertime, my mother would take me to the local parks, where there were wading pools, slides and swings. I didn’t own a bathing suit, so I would wear a pair of navy bloomers to go swimming. I never felt deprived as no one had anything better. Until I entered High School and met the girls from a better part of the North End. They had cashmere sweaters and matching skirts. They were a different breed from the ones I had associated with till then, I began to feel inferior and self-conscious. It took far into my adult life to overcome this feeling.
1940s Photo. Left to Right: Ed, Sam, Ruth, Sophie
1946 or 1947 Photo. Left to right: Ruth, Ed, Sophie
As we grew older, we formed a “Friendship Club” were we learned to knit and embroider. We had no other outlets as young people have today. I was old enough to go to parks alone, and would often take my knitting or embroidery with me, and sit under a tree and while away the time working on my project.
Our social activities were involved with family, friends and holidays. People visited each other in their homes and every “Balaboste” had a larder of home baking which she served to her guests. For a nickel you could see a movie during the day (adult movies were restricted and we would sometimes try to hide under the seats when the afternoon movie finished – but we would always be caught and shooed out of the theatre). The same five cents could buy an ice-cream, a chocolate bar or a soft drink. A penny could buy ten candies.
Buying a chicken was not a simple task for a Kosher Baleboste in those days. Farmers would drive by the streets with their wares drawn by a horse and wagon. They would shout in Ukrainian, - Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, Chickens – or whatever else they had to sell. The Balebostes would come down to their wagons and chose what they wanted, often bargaining for the best price. One could buy a live chicken and take it to the “Shochet” who had his stall in the market on Main Street between Selkirk Ave. and Flora, where presently stand several buildings.
The market was dismantled many years ago, but in it’s heyday, it was a colorful, dynamic meeting place, where there were many stands selling fruit, vegetables, etc. The Kosher Slaughter house was located there, and one would bring their live chicken to be slaughtered there. It was a smelly, dirty and bloody establishment and the squawking of the fowl and yelling of the patrons and Shochet created a cacophony of sound that was unmistakable as to where one was located, I would often go with my mother to shop in the market – it was a highlight of the week. There were also other places where a Shochet would carry out his profession. Usually in the back yard of his house – in a shed or garagelike structure. I remember one on Burrows Ave. that I would often pass on my way to or from school. My mother often frequented this one and once when she took my brother, he was so upset, he ran out crying and announced that he would never eat chicken again, I was not as sensitive, and it didn’t offend my sensibilities.
1940's: Ruth at 8 years old
1940s Photo. Sam Letinsky
1940s Photo. Left to Right: Ruth, Ed.
Our First House
I remember the day my father came home from work and announced he had received a raise to $45.00 a week. This was a great accomplishment for him – one he had been striving for a long time. My father was a steam-presser in a cloak factory, and as with most lowly employees, he would often complain about the foreman or working conditions. The union he belonged to finally negotiated a raise for the workers which boosted his salary to a level that he felt was fair. Now they began in earnest to investigate the possibility of buying their first house. They didn’t have enough for a down-payment and borrowed money from his brother.
My grandmother told them about a house owned by her brother on Aberdeen Ave., which had been rented and which he now wanted to sell. She convinced him to buy that house, even though my mother was not in favor because she saw that it was poorly built and needed much repair. But as usual, Baba Pessie won out and they bought it. I described the house in the story about my father, so I won’t tell you about it here.
This was during the height of WWII, 1942, I was almost ten years old. After a few months living there, Uncle Bill brought his girlfriend, Rachel (Aunt Rae) to our house and asked if she could come live there. I had to share the room with her. She was beautiful and I admired her and her beautiful things. By this time I began to attend the Y.M.H.A. on Arthur Street. Saturday Night was a canteen and there was a charge of 25 cents, which I didn’t have. I asked my father but he wouldn’t give it to me so Rae gave me the quarter. I never forgot that!
Summer Jobs and Summer Camp
By the time I was eleven and a half years old, I was tall and mature, and looked more like fifteen or sixteen. My mother had to work at an early age to help her widowed mother and her younger sisters. She did not believe in pampering herself or me and decided that it was time for me to start earning some money. Up until then I had done some baby-sitting for a young girl but that was hardly enough to amount to very much. Prior to this I had gone to camp two summers in a row but I was not too happy there and besides, money was scarce.
One day in the summer, she came home from Oretzki’s Department Store, and told me that she spoke to Mr. Oretzki and told him about me, and asked if he would hire me. Oretzki’s was a popular department store on Selkirk Avenue, frequented by everyone in the North End and farmers. I had been in that store many times with my parents and my impression of Mr. Oretzki was of a gruff angry man. She wanted me to go there and ask him to hire me. I remember vividly walking from our house on Aberdeen Ave., to Selkirk Avenue, and rehearsing my speech. I changed it several times and by the time I arrived, my heart was in my stomach. I approached him with my request, and he told me to come back the next day, Saturday, at twelve o’clock and I could start working. This began a new chapter in my life and made me into a “sales-lady” at 11 years old. I worked from 12 noon till 10p.m. every Saturday, for 25 cents an hour. I would walk back home late at night, alone. Several times I had to run all the way because a drunk, coming out of the beer parlor on the corner of Selkirk and Andrews street, or some boy, would chase me, but I always managed to avoid them.
I remember the BB camp in the 'hoisaveck', just outside of Winnipeg Beach. I think I went there two consecutive summers. What I remember was the first time I was 11 years old. I was very homesick and pretended to be sick. I was sent to the nurse who I convinced of my illness and was sent back home. The second time, I recall the teasing I suffered from the older girls. I matured physically at an early age and was well endowed in comparison to the then 14 year olds who must have envied me. They taunted me about my breasts and made me very self-conscious.
By the end of that summer season August 1945, 2 months before my 13th birthday, Japan surrender to the allied forces. Word reached our camp and I shall never forget the excitement and joy that permeated the camp. We were all hugging and kissing each other in full abandonment singing and dancing.
When I came home from camp that year, Mr Oretzki wouldn't hire me back. I had recommended Susie to him that summer and she was working there but I lost my job. I went to another department store on main street, owned by a Jewish man, Mr Wolch. The store was called Wolch's Department Store, but it didn't have near the business that Oretzki had. I worked there for a few years until I finished high school.
Oretzki's Department Store on Selkirk Avenue
1946 or 1947 Photo. Left to right: Ruth, Ed
My First Boyfriend - Earl Moscovitch
When I arrived at Oretzki’s, I encountered a friend of my parents – Morris Cohen, who was the manager of the shoe department. He knew me from the times I came there with my mother to buy shoes. He invited me to come work in his department. I knew nothing about shoes, or anything else for that matter. Soon after I started fitting shoes, a young boy of 14 or 15, who was working in another department, approached me and introduced himself. We spoke a few words and then he asked me to go out with him. I said I had to ask my mother. Later in the day my mother came to see me. I pointed out the boy to her, and told her that he asked me to go out with him. She said it was alright and I could go. And that’s how I started my first romance.
Earl lived on Pritchard Ave., not far from Suzie. His father had passed away a few years ago, and he was the second oldest in the family of four children. He had an older sister, Betty, and two younger brothers. The family was poor and he had to work at an early age to help his widowed mother. Earl was not good-looking, but he was a kind, considerate person. I loved to play with dolls and cut-outs. Cut-outs were my favorite – you could change their clothes often and imagine different scenarios. The first date we had was on a Friday night. I was at a neighbors playing with my cutouts when Earl arrived to take me out. My mother had to come to call me to come home. We went to a movie (by bus) and he brought me home. After that, we began to date almost every week.
Earl belonged to the Sea Cadets, and there would often be parties and picnics, which he wanted to take me to. Sometimes I asked him to include Suzie, which he did. No one had telephones, so our way of communicating was through notes that he would send with Sue and I would reply (she was our messenger). I kept all his notes and had them in a scrapbook which became damaged from a flood in our basement years ago. I salvaged most of them and they can be found in my memorabilia. I hope you enjoy reading them one day. He bought me birthday presents and corsages when I graduated. One of his gifts was a gold locket which I gave to Adrian. When I started dating him, I told him I was 13, but once he read a story I had written in which I said I was 12 (my true age) and so my secret was revealed. I tried to cover up my lie but was unable to.
We went out for almost three years, during which time we had kissed and he spoke of love. By the time I was almost 14, he began to speak of marriage. Earl was very mature at 16 and coming from a poor home, he was eager to move out a start a life of his own. By this time I realized that I was not in love with him, and wanted to explore other relationships and have fun with different boys. He realized that I was losing interest in him, and wrote me a very poignant note expressing his suspicion and fear. I had to answer the truth and so we broke up. I know I hurt him very much, but he was resilient and in a short time he met a girl who also came from a fatherless home and whose my mother was struggling on her own. They soon became a couple and within a year they got married. I had seen his sister Betty (for whom Earl & I had baby-sat her 2 sons on several occasions), and she told me they had moved to Vancouver years ago and were very happy.
The Most Embarassing Moment in my Life
On one of our “dates”, Earl and I were to meet at a Saturday night canteen at the old Peretz School on Aberdeen Ave. It was winter and my mother insisted that I wear over pants that she had made from a stiped flannel material. Our clothes were not very warm back then, and women often war overpants over their underwear and warm socks over their shoes, when they wore winter boots which were made of a light weight fabric or imitation rubber. I came to the canteen and went down to the cloak room in the basement to hang up my coat and take off my underpants. I then proceeded to the stage upstairs, where a bunch of young people were playing board games such as checkers, chess, etc. Earl came in and sat down beside me and we began to play a game.
After a few minutes, a girl I hardly knew, by the name of Cecile Melon, came up on the stage holding up these “ugly” striped underpants, and hollered out in a loud voice, “Ruthie – are these yours?” You can imagine my consternation at this moment!! I denied they were mine and she laughed and said “I found them in your coat”!! Needless to say, I felt like falling through the floor but somehow I contained myself and after a little while, I went down to the basement to confronted her and grabbed the pants from her and said “how dare you look into my coat sleeve?” She only laughed and shared the joke with some other girls who were there.
This stayed with me for many years, and even today I can still feel the shame and hatred I felt at that moment, But I have heard said that everyone gets their due one day. This girl had a bad reputation even then and was known for her meanness. When she became an adult, I was told that she often quarreled with her neighbors where she lived and developed serious back problems which have debilitated her to where she can’t walk and needs a wheelchair. I hadn’t seen her in years, and recently had an occasion where I had to face her. Maybe if I had reminded her of the incident we would both have had a good laugh. But I didn’t!
Oretzki's Department Store in the 1970's
Working at Oretzki's
The customers who came to shop at Oretzki’s were mostly hard working class farmers and recent immigrants who spoke Russian, Ukrainian and Polish. I don’t have the ability to learn languages easily, so I had difficulty communicating with them. Often I had to climb a ladder to reach the boxes of shoes in different styles and sizes. Sometimes I had to fit a farmer who came it with smelly, dirty socks. When the customer had the shoes on, I would take them to the xray machine to see if there was enough room in the toes. Years later, these machines were banned because it was found that they released too much radiation which was detrimental to one’s health.
There were young men working in the same department that would make insinuating remarks to me, that I didn’t understand, and didn’t know how to answer. I was often flustered and uncomfortable, but I persevered. This was truly a “baptisimal by fire”. It is said that if an experience doesn’t kill you, it strengthens you. I believe this is true. My many early, confusing experiences shaped me into the person I am. I had a few emotionally harrowing experiences in my growing up years, but somehow my instincts helped to defray dire consequences.
In time I became an experienced sales-lady and eventually I was transferred to other departments. I even got Suzie a job there and she came to work there too. One summer, my mother rented a cottage at Winnipeg Beach for two weeks. This was late in August when the rent was cheaper since most people rented earlier in the summer. I very much wanted to go out with her, knowing that if I asked permission from Mr. Oretzki he wouldn’t give it to me. So I went without telling him. When I returned, I came into the store as if I had been there all along. When he saw me, he told me he didn’t need me anymore. Now I was out of a job and out of pocket money. I knew there was another department store on Main Street called “Wolch’s”. I went there to apply. I was hired and continued there till I graduated from High School.
Left to Right: Ruth, Sophie
YMHA on Albert Street
MOVING TO BURROWS AVENUE
When my mother arrived to Canada, she moved it with her aunt Sonia Beloff’s family on Burrows Avenue. It was the only street with a tree-lined boulevard in the middle of the street. I always dreamed of living there, and my mother wanted to be close to her aunt. After a few years on Aberdeen Ave., my parents felt they could afford to move up. They had had enough of dealing with roomers and boarders and wanted to improve their living conditions.
A house became available at 506 Burrows Ave. and they bought it for the astronomical sum of $3,600. It was a two-story and at first my parents had their bedroom in the dining-room and rented out the upstairs. There was a “summer kitchen” in the back of the house behind the kitchen. It had no foundation and was unheated. My father insulated it as best as he could, and that was my room. He redid one of the bedrooms upstairs and converted it to a kitchen. The one bathroom was upstairs and we all shared it. Eventually they took one of the bedrooms upstairs and we could use the downstairs as our living space. The remaining rooms upstairs were rented.
At the Y.M.H.A. I met a lovely girl who had been living at the Jewish Orphanage (it was situated on the land that is presently Etz Chaim Synagogue – formerly Rosh Pina). The orphanage was disbanding and some of the children were placed in foster homes. Rose Spanner was a little older than me – she was beautiful and had a sad quality about her. I was immediately attracted to her and when I heard that she was unhappy in the home she was living in, I brought her home to my place and asked my mother if she could come live with us. My mother, being soft-hearted and loving agreed. Besides they could use the money that the orphanage paid to the people who boarded these children.
She slept with me, and told me about her younger brother and sister who were not happy where they were living. She knew that it was too many children for my parents to have living in their home, so she was willing to go elsewhere, and would they take her brother and sister instead. The Spaners were a close knit family whose mother died at a young age. Their father couldn’t look after them himself so he placed them in the orphanage. Betty was the oldest and lived on her own. In came her sister Ann and brother Willy. Ann slept with me and Willy with my brother. Ann was a year younger than me and we became friends. She was one of the bridesmaids at my wedding. There were still some kids at the orphanage, and she would often go there to visit them. She was an extremely loyal and caring person, and would often ask my mother if she could take some homemade baking to these friends. My mother made wonderful cinnamon buns and Willy would often sneak them out to take to his friends.
Ann was very artistic and creative. She was very protective towards her brother and got along well with boys. Whereas I didn’t have a good rapport with my brother. For me, mainly due to the age and sex difference, found him obnoxious – my little brat brother. Looking back, I regret not being able to relate to him better. But one can’t go back and I have to live with regret. Ann was alot of fun and we would laugh and talk till late in the night. My father would have to come down to scold us since we were so loud and he had to get up early to go to work. Often I couldn’t get up in the morning having stayed up so late.
The years on Burrows Ave., were exciting ones for me. I was now a teenager, meeting new people and experiencing new adventures. When my class graduated from grade nine at William Whyte, we were the first class to be allowed to have boys at our graduation. At that time, Suzie, I and a few of the Jewish girls were going out with a group of boys from one of the clubs at the Y.M.H.A. We invited them as our escorts and it was one of the most memorable and exciting evenings of our young lives.
My date was Sidney Gladstone, who I had been dating for awhile. All the boys bought the girls corsages. I remember the dress I wore. It was a light blue in a jersey material, with black polka dots. I loved that dress and wore it many times after. None of us had much of a wardrobe. I was lucky that my mother could sew. She would often shop for remnants (pieces of cloth left over from a larger bolt) which were on sale. My father would often bring home a piece of cloth that was left over from a coats or suits that were manufactured in the factory where he worked. She would make up a skirt from a heavy fabric that was really coat material. But I was happy and grateful to have it. When I worked at Oretzki’s or babysat, I would give my earnings to my mother for safekeeping, and when there was enough I would buy a new sweater or shoes.
ST. Johns High School
At last we were going to be in class with boys. After years in an all girl school, we were excited to be with boys. We imagined that we would have many dates and interaction with them, not realizing that boys didn’t mature as early as girls did and that many of them had come from schools where girls and boys went together. It was no novelty for them to have us in their class. The school was large and a little intimidating the first few months. As we became acclimatized we began to get involved in the extra-curricular activities. Sue and I joined the choir and performed in the chorus of several Gilbert and Sullivan productions.
By this time (1947 – 1948) Jewish orphans came to Winnipeg sponsored by the Jewish Congress. Suzie and I felt an obligation and desire to meet and communicate with these kids. We thought our ability to speak Yiddish would be of great help to them. We didn’t realize that many of them came from Hungary, where they were either assimilated or didn’t speak Yiddish. Although there were many who were born in Poland and did speak Yiddish, the first groups were mainly from countries where it was not part of their language. However, we managed to communicate with them, and we were in awe of them for having survived the horrors of the war and were fascinated by their experiences. Although they didn’t talk about what they had gone through, we knew enough about the history of the holocaust to have great empathy for them. Besides, they were “new kids on the block”. Compared to the local boys we knew, they were exotic, exciting and worldly.
We had many parties and social events with them, and slowly romances began to form. I had a crush on one or two myself and went out with a few different ones (not the ones I would have preferred). A few left the city to live in other cities in Canada, and later older ones came with families.
Late 1940s: Joe, newly arrived in Winnipeg
Finding a Good Job
At that time you only needed grade 10 and 11 to enter university and many girls went straight from grade 11 to work. I continued with a commercial course for grade 12 where I learned typing shorthand and bookkeeping. In May 1950 Winnipeg suffered the historical flood many students abandoned their studies and went to help fill sandbags to shore up the houses.
My first job was at the North End Furniture owned by Mr Adelman. I was supposed to be secretary to his son-in-law, who was the manager. I was very inept at taking shorthand and made a mess of the dictation. He soon demoted me to the bookkeeping end of the office procedure where I recorded the purchases and payments of furniture and appliances. At that time people were buying their first fridges and stoves on credit - $10 down and $2 a week payments (or thereabouts). In the warmer weather I rode my bike from Burroughs Avenue to Main and Euclid and hoisted my bicycle up the delivery platform to place it in the warehouse till I went back home. In the colder weather I rode the streetcar from Main Street to Selkirk Avenue and Powers Street from where I walked the rest of the way home. Beginning in the summer prior to my 18th birthday I had to work half a day on Saturdays. Many office jobs require these hours and the idea was to find a job that only had 5 days a week with Saturday's off (I was paid $18 a week less deductions and gave my mother $15. I put $10 a week in the bank and left myself less than $3 a week for my expenses. I never bought myself anything at that time and accumulated $200 before I got married.).
My friend Tzippy Rabinowitz worked at Chicago Kosher on Flora Avenue and I envied her the Saturday off she had there. I asked her if there was ever an opening to let me know. After a year and a half at North End Furniture a job opening became available at Chicago Kosher. I received the princely sum of $25 a week as a stenographer. By that time my ability to transcribe correspondence had improved.
September 1950 Photo. Left to right: Ruth, Joe
Meeting Joe & Our Courtship
One January evening in 1949, I was baby-sitting my brother and was having a few friends over to keep me company. Ben Blum telephoned to see if he could come over. He said he was bringing a new boy who arrived a few months earlier, supposed to be the blind date for my Friend Celia Rabinovitch (Tzippy we called her). Benny didn’t tell him about this arrangement. So when he came in, I greeted him, assuming that he would go over to Tzippy. When he didn’t I asked him if he knew how to dance. He said not very well. We played records, and I offered to teach him how to dance. I was fascinated by this good looking, shy guy, and was delighted when at the end of the evening, he asked for my phone number. I was very fortunate that I had a very easy phone no. – 589 3111. It was not hard to remember and often boys would write down girl’s phone nos. on the insides of cigarette packages, and invariably they would throw away the box and forget about the phone number. As it happened, Joe didn’t throw away the box and the next week he called and asked me to go out with him. I was thrilled and excited and looked forward to our date.
Our first date was a disappointment. Joe had never gone out with a girl and didn’t know how to relate. On the boat coming to Canada, he was extremely seasick, which many people were. These boats were not built for passenger comfort nor had stabilizers. They were often refurbished war ships or freighters. On the ship, Joe met a young fellow, named Kalman Monczak who was not seasick and befriended Joe and brought him oranges to eat, since this was the only food he could keep down. When they both ended up in Winnipeg, Joe kept up his friendship with Kalman and brought him along on our date. I spent the entire evening talking with Kalman - Joe hardly said a word. I didn’t expect him to call me again, but the following week he called again and asked me to go out. Reluctantly I went, thinking I would give him one more chance. This time he came alone and the evening went a little better.
Gradually we began dating regularly and became a couple. Joe had made friends with another chap called Mickey Schwartz, who was our age. Mickey had no family and was a very nice boy – good looking and outgoing personality. We would often be a threesome. We would be at my house where we played records and I would dance with both of them. After awhile, Mickey began to date dad’s sister – Marion. Later she went out with Kalman for awhile. We went out for three years.
When Joe first arrived in Canada, his first job was in a candy factory. Later he worked for Cramer’s Uphostery for a short while. By the time I met him, he was working for a furrier on Selkirk & Salter Ave. At that time, I was working part time in a Drug Store where pharmacy, ice cream, chocolates, candy and cosmetics were sold. It was on the corner of Burrows & Salter. I knew what time he would be coming home from work, so I watched from the window to catch a glimpse of him passing by on his way to Boyd Ave., where he lived. His father, Jacob (Yakel), also worked in a fur tannery where he had to die fur. It was a difficult and dirty job, and he came home every day, exhausted and dirty. After some time, he decided to try the cattle business, which he was familiar with from Poland. He found a partner, Sam Fleisher, who was also a survivor, and knew how to drive. Yakel never learned to drive. They had a truck and went out to the country to buy cattle and bring it in to the city stock yard, to sell. It was better than the fur job.
In time his partner decided to go into a meat wholesale, and Yakel needed a new partner. Joe decided to join his father and they managed to buy a truck on payments. During our courtship, I would often go with Joe to the stockyard where he had to check on the animals they brought in.
Early 1950s: Joe on a bike
1951 Photo. Left to right: Joe, Ruth
Susie was going steady with Jack Weiss and they were married when Sue was eighteen. She came from a very poor home and since Jack had no family of his own, it was natural for them to begin a new life. I was Maid of Honor at their wedding (as we had promised each other long ago). Although we lived better than Suzie, I was eager to have a place of my own. I began to talk “marriage” to Joe, and it took him awhile to feel ready.
In August of 195l, he surprised me with an engagement ring. A few weeks later, my parents made an engagement party in their home, and we could now plan our wedding.
We chose March 23/52. Surprisingly, many of the couples I knew chose that month also in subsequent years. It seems that March comes just before Pesach, and it is a tradition to have a “Malka” for Passover (a wife is considered the “Malka”, and the husband is the “Kainig” as the Haggadah stresses that every head of the household is a “king” during the Seders, to signify the releasing from the bondage of slavery the Jews endured during Pharo's time).
Back Row - Bert Gillespie (?), Jenny Wasser (nee Riesenbach), Lou Wasser, Marion Riesenbach, Sam Letinsky, Joe Riesenbach, Jakob Riesenbach, Raful (Harry) Letinsky, Rheta Belloff, Herman Kraut, Mary Kraut
Front Row: (?), Sonia Belloff, Sophie Letinsky, Ruth Riesenbach (nee Letinsky), Eta Riesenbach, Pessie Letinsky, Ann Spanner (???) , Anna Rhina Steinman, Ed Letinsky
Our wedding took place at the Hebrew Sick Benefit Hall on Selkirk Avenue next to Gunn's Bakery. It was a popular place for Jewish weddings at that time. Jenny, Joe's sister, married in Toronto on March 20th, 1952 and she and Lou came to Winnipeg on their honeymoon. She was my maid of honor shared with Susie (we had promised each other to be maids of honor at each other's weddings -- I was that at her wedding) and Marion was a bridesmaid as was Ann Spanner (who came to live with us from the orphanage), my cousin Rita Belloff, and cousin Anna Rhina Steinman. Usher's were best man Dad's cousin Herman Kraut, Ike Kraut, cousin Bert Gillespie and my brother Ed. Flower girl and ring bearer were Raymond and Hannah Hochman. The Finkelman band (popular at that time) was our orchestra. We had about 200 guests and it was a happy event. I had my grandparents and Sonia and other relatives as seen in the family picture.
Our honeymoon was to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was very excited, never having been further than Grand Forks, North Dakota. We traveled by train overnight and when we arrived, discovered that there was a taxi cab strike. I don't remember how we got to the hotel, but somehow we managed (I think there was a bus service from the airport).
We spent five days there and returned to our suite on Prichard avenue.
Our First Suite
1952 was not long after WW11, and there was no new buildings being erected. The only place to rent was in someone’s house, where they had converted a room upstairs into a kitchen. If one could afford it, there were duplexes available, but they were more expensive.
We found a “suite” in a widow’s house on Pritchard Ave. The private home owned by a widow who was a clean freak and fussy, as it turns out. The rooms consisted of a kitchen, a balcony and two bedrooms. Since we only needed one bedroom we asked permission to sublet the second bedroom to a young newcomer (orphan) whom we knew. But by the time we return from our honeymoon the landlady was ready to evict him. As it turned out he was a dirty slob who left the shared bathroom in a mess. We had to give him notice.
We didn't stay there too long as we were eager to find a self-contained place where we wouldn't have to share a bathroom and could have our own privacy. Affordable apartments were few and far between in 1952 and eventually, through a friend of my parents, a small cute little suite became available in the back of a large duplex on Manitoba Avenue.
We were looking for a self-contained suite where we wouldn’t have to share a bathroom. Eventually one became available on Manitoba avenue, at one of my parent’s friends’ fourplex. It was a 2 bedroom suite on the main floor with it’s own bathroom. I was delighted to have a private space. My father painted it and we moved in. At that time I was working at Chicago Kosher – a few blocks away from where we lived on Manitoba Ave. (they were situated on Dufferin Ave.) It was summer and I walked to work every day. I washed clothes on a washtub and hung them out to dry on the clothesline. Few people had washing machines at that time. I remember the first one my parents bought – it was a wringer type and served them for many years.
1952: Joe and Ruth marry
Moving To Toronto
Joe was working with his father in the cattle business. They drove out to farmers in the country with a big red truck which they bought together. Zaydie Yakel never learned to drive and dad was always the driver. They bought cows and sometimes chickens. The cows were taken to the stockyard in St Boniface where they sold them. Zaydie Yakel was a very good connoisseur of cattle and could judge the weight and value of an animal by looking at it. He had been an entrepreneur in Poland and was experienced in dealing with the Polish peasants. He carried his skill over to Canada and was always an honest broker. He knew how to get along with the farmers and was able to deal with them effectively. He and Dad managed to make a living by the standards of that time.
Joe’s sister, Jenny was living in Toronto with Louie, who had convinced Joe that the Cattle Business was no job for a Jewish boy. He suggested we moved to Toronto where he had a TV store called 'Wassers' and he would teach Dad the business. I was reluctant to move away from all that I knew and grew up with especially my parents. I was very young and had never lived anywhere else. It was decided that Dad would go there and check out the situation. If he liked it, I would follow.
In October of 1952 Joe left for Toronto and a month later sent for me. As much as I was not to excited by this opportunity it was an opportunity for Dad to better himself, so I arranged to have our furniture shipped out. I left in November.
This was to be my first plane ride. In 1952 air travel was just beginning to be popular (train travel was still the way most people traveled). I was very excited about the prospect and later I described every detail when writing home. Joe was waiting for me at the Toronto airport but due to bad weather the plane couldn't land and I had to fly to Montreal where we're all put up in a hotel. The next morning we were driven back to the airport to return to toronto. This is quite an exciting experience for me as I was young and inexperienced. Dad and I were separated from a month and our reunion was thrilling and overwhelming. We had so much to share with each other. Dad's impressions of the new opportunity he was facing and my details of all that it transpired since he left.
At that time apartments were very scarce in Toronto and many larger homes were converted to duplexes or rooms were made into a suite where the bathroom was shared with the landlord. When first we arrived we stayed in lose parents in their beautiful large home. His mother was very kind person who made us feel welcome. A suite was found for us through a relative of the Wassers who had a home in the old part of toronto. It was one side of a duplex and they had converted one of the bedrooms into a kitchen. We occupied one bedroom and this converted kitchen which had a screened-in balcony in the back. We shared the bathroom with them. It was not very convenient and I was not too happy living there. They were an older couple - nice people but after having my own self-contained sweet back in Winnipeg I felt I was disappointed with the accommodations. But I had no choice.
I got a job in an office and traveled by bus and Subway everyday. The hours are 5 1/2 days a week (half a day on Saturday) -- at Chicago kosher I worked 5 days. I was not happy in this office and soon applied at Canadian Pacific Railway offices on King Street where the hours were 5 days a week at a higher rate of pay. This was much better but the living accommodations were not pleasant. The kitchen didn't have a door and lack privacy in the suite. Sharing the bathroom with two older people, and not being able to shower regularly, due to the lack of hot water, no air conditioning in the summer were all factors that contributed to my unhappiness living there.
Moving Back to Winnipeg
The following March (our first anniversary) Sarah and Izzy Friedman, who were married that March, 1953, motored to Toronto for their honeymoon and to visit relatives there. They took Zaydi Yakel with them and I was so happy to be with friends and family. We had a great visit which made me feel even more homesick I wrote my parents and told them how I felt but ask them not to say anything to anyone. by this time Baba Eta and Zaydie Yakel wanted to be with their children two of whom were in Toronto. Zaydie was tired of the cattle business having to take a partner who could drive, after Joe had left. Joe and Lou found a restaurant that was for sale on Baldwin and McCall Street and proposed that they buy it for them. They moved out in early summer of 1953 taking Marion and took over the restaurant which had living quarters. Bubbie was the cook and Zaydie the waiter and cleaner.
They work 7 days a week for several years and then sold it to retire. The time they work there was very hard as the accommodation, equipment and hours of operation were far from ideal. But they wanted to be with their children and were willing to make the sacrifice. For us it was good to have family and we came there often. In the summer when it was very hot and our own apartment was stifling, we would go right from work to the restaurant, eat there and and often slept there in a main floor room in the back. This is where Marion slept and all three of us would share a pull-out vinyl couch. In the morning without a shower or a change of clothes we would go back to work.
By this time Joe was running a small store which Lou had opened close to the exhibition grounds. There wasn't much merchandise in the store and despite dad's requests to Lou to provide more stocks so he would have more to sell, no progress was being made. By the summer of 1954 I became pregnant we decided to take a trip back home to Winnipeg. This time I was hoping to return permanently as I couldn't foresee an improvement in Dad's future working for Lou. I was very unhappy living in Toronto and was trying to convince dad that we should return to Winnipeg. He was reluctant to leave his parents after being involved in bringing them to Toronto. When we came home and I felt the joy of being in my parents and friends I broke down and begged him to reconsider making the move back. All my friends had progressed by this time and bought houses and established themselves financially. With a little help from friends we convinced him that we should have a better life in Winnipeg.
We began to look for a business. Grocery stores were a popular beginning for many of the Jewish immigrants after WWII, and the first one we bid on was sold before we could make an offer. The second one was more successful and so in September of 1954 we bought Westhome Foods from two Jewish cousins by the name of Flam. We knew nothing about the grocery business but by trial and air dad learned to manage. He became a butcher and I helped out until Adrian was born in November 24th, 1954. We didn't have a car and traveled by bus from Inkster Boulevard where we lived in my parents and brothers in their four-room bug bungalow.
1963: Joe in front of the Original Westhome Foods Prior to the Move Across the Street to the Larger Premises
1955: Joe and Adrian
Having Our First Child
I remember the day my daughter was born. We had returned to Winnipeg the summer before. We had been living in Toronto for almost 2 years, having moved there a few months after we were married. I was very unhappy in Toronto, and when I found out I was pregnant, we came to visit my parents and friends. When we arrived and began to feel the love and warmth and sense of belonging I told my husband I just couldn't go back to live in toronto. So I returned to my mother to pack up and come back to good old Winnipeg.
My husband bought a grocery store and the first few months I worked part-time there and lived at my parents. My due date was sometime in the middle of November. November 15th came and went and the time was dragging on. When will it happen? I kept asking myself. It was the one mystery in life I hadn't experienced yet and was curious as to what to expect.
That day, November 24th, I stayed home from the store as I was too big to work anymore. I decided to wax the bathroom floor where we slept and where the baby crib was standing. Joe was working and I began to feel cramps and realize that this was a sign. As the afternoon progressed I began to prepare for a hospital stay.
I called Joe who was working late that night and told me he was quite ill with a cold. He came home and we went by cab to the maternity ward where he left me, to go home to nurse his cold. When the baby was born, the doctor called to inform him he had a baby daughter. She weighed 6 lb 6 oz and was perfectly formed, dainty and beautiful baby, with black hair a small pointed chin and resembled my husband's side of the family. I was in awe of her especially since she was my idealized image of a perfect "China Doll". We named her in Yiddish 'Adele' which means gentle in the Jewish language, after Joe's grandmother who perished in World War II. Joe was very close to his grandmother who lived with him in their home in Poland. We chose the English equivalent 'Adrienne' to match her Yiddish name. Years later my daughter decided she didn't like the spelling of her name, too artificial or 'phony' as she put it and she had it changed legally to 'Adrian' dropping the inne ending. We brought her home to my parents house and she was the star there the first grandchild for my parents.
A New Home and Our 2nd Child
We took over my brother Ed's bedroom and he slept in the living room. Looking back I realized this was unfair to him and I'm sure he resented us but we were all so bound up in our own problems and ambitions that we hardly took notice of him. Circumstances at that time didn't allow another choice.
We stayed there until Adrian was one and a half years and then we moved to our own sweet in a duplex on Anderson Avenue. By that time we had bought our first car - a blue 1952 Chevy. Westhome Foods was running smoothly with extra help since I could no longer work there. This was a happy, contented time in our lives. We were young and healthy and had a car and a business and friends and family.
In 1957 I became pregnant and we bought our first house on Teakwood Avenue and the baby was early on in October. We took possession October 1st. By this time I was in the last stages of my pregnancy -- I had to pack and unpack our possessions in the new house and by the time I gave birth on October 7th I was in a weak situation. I contracted hepatitis in the maternity ward in the Health Sciences Hospital. By the time I came home from the hospital I was getting jaundice and was very weak. When I went to the doctor to be diagnosed and for me that I had to be in isolation for a month and all my family had to be inoculated.
I had been nursing Ron and had to stop. My mother came to look after both children and I had to go to St Boniface hospital in the isolation ward. It was a difficult time for all of us. I could not have any visitors or any contact with anyone except for the medical staff at the hospital. I was fed a certain diet that was intended to combat the condition. After 10 days I begged the doctor to let me go home on the condition that I get help in the house. I promised him but never got any help (who could afford it?). Gradually my health improved and became I became stronger.
1957: Baby Ron
1958: Joe, Ron and Adrian and the 1952 Chevy.
1961: Jeff, Joe and Ron
Our Third Child and A Bigger House
The years on teakwood were happy ones. The children were thriving and life was good.
In July 1961 Jeff was born. The family from Toronto came to visit us, Bubbie, Zaydie, Sam, Marion and Marvin. Jeff was only a few weeks old and I was nursing him. They stayed with us and it was a hardship having so many people around. I felt resentful at this in position since I felt obliged to look after them while having my own three children to look after, especially a newborn.
When Jeff was 4 years old we bought a new house on Montcalm Avenue. The street had just opened up and we were one of the first houses there. We had the basement finished and immediately with its own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. But I tried to be my own architect and designer and the house had a few serious flaws. After about 2 years we were fortunate that someone came along and bought the house allowing us to make a nice profit. We just bought the last lot on Vanier drive and began to plan for a professionally designed larger home.
1966: Ruth Performs in the Corus at Rainbow Stage Production of My Fair Lady
1966 Playbill for Rainbow Stage Production of 'My Fair Lady' . Ruth is Listed as One of the Maids.
My Acting Career
Like most little girls, I loved to play "house", taking turns being either mother, father or baby. Later on, when I started going to movies, I would come home and dance & sing, imitating the stars I had just witnessed. In school I always had a part in whatever play was being presented. I continued this into my adult life and was the only one among my friends carrying the "acting gene". One early spring, I noticed an ad in the local paper, inviting auditions for an upcoming Rainbow Stage production * namely "My fair Lady". I was excited to try out for a part, and submitted my "credentials." To my amazement I was chosen to be in three different choruses and rehearsals began.
It was quite a juggling act trying to keep up with looking after my family, of, by then, 3 children and a husband. Somehow I managed to "pull it off" with a little support from my mother and baby sitters. The play ran for 2 weeks and it was grueling at times to be there early and come home late atniht.
Although I felf pangs of guilt, I must admit they were overshadowed by the thrill of acting with some well-known personalities. In all honesty, I don't regret having satisfied a personal need and I am eternally grateful to my spouse and children for helping me makea dream come true.
May 1973: Ruth Performs in a Community Theatre Production of 'Gingerbread Lady'
1960s Glamour Photo of Ruth for Her Amateur Acting Career
Ruth's memoir ends here in the mid-1960's, unfinished.