I was conceived while my parents were still both students at Cornell. My mother, Habiba Bechstien was a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences and my and my father David Shejnrubin studied civil engineering. They met, fell in love, and were not as careful as they could have been or perhaps they were simply unlucky.
The year was 1930, and if a female unmarried college student became pregnant, it was the end of her education. This made my mother very unlucky indeed. My father loved my mother greatly and when it became apparent she was with child, and they had taken the last of their finals, my parents took the train to New York City where their families lived. My mother's family lived in Manhattan, where the Bechstiens still maintain their original manse, and my father's family was in Brooklyn.
My parents went before my mother's family which met in council. Bechstiens still meet in council today though it is often via conference phone call. I have sat on councils, but I can imagine what it was like for my parents at the other end of the long table. My grandparents explained that my mother was not going to ruin her education for a baby. She had studied hard to get into an Ivy League institution, and her being pregnant was just plain WRONG.
They gave my parents two choices. David Shejnrubin could do the honorable thing and pay for an abortion for my mother (Yes it was illegal in those days, but my family always knew people.) or he could if he wished have nothing to do with her ever again. My mother rose, looked her parents in the eye and said "we'd prefer to get married."
There was silence. Then my grandparents asked my mother to leave the room. They wanted to question my father alone. They were not entirely pleased with him because he came from Brooklyn and was from a family that were not only immigrants from Russia but also religious and in my grandparents' eyes benighted and backward. My father, however, was a budding civil engineer, had good grades, attended Cornell, so he had reasonable prospects even in the bottom of the depression. He was also fully willing to marry my mother, so was not acting under duress.
Two days later at City Hall, my parents were married in a civil ceremony and my mother's future was saved. They returned to Cornell in the fall and lived off campus in the basement apartment at 413 Dryden Road. David was a year younger than my mother and my mother was due to graduate in May. Near the end of the fall, Cousin Athalaya who had studied nursing but was unemployed was sent to live in my parents apartment. Her job would be to look after me so my mother could study.
I was born December 23, 1930 in Tompkins County Hospital, on West Hill, in Ithaca, New York. My mother was in labor for seven hours. She was asleep when she had me because that is how it was done in those days. My father and she named me Orelle Zipporah Shejnrubin. Orelle, is actually Yiddish for child of Aaron. After my mother's brush with dishonor the previous spring, it only seemed right that I needed an honorable name.
Cousin Athalaya looked after me though my mother returned between classes to nurse me. She studied and graduated in May. My father went to summer school and my mother tried to find work. The year was 1931 and the economy was in the sewer. Toilet bowl is too nice a word. My mother ended up going to pick string beans with the teenagers. I was weaned by then and she could spend the whole day out in the hot sun. The farmer who did not have money paid part of my mother's wages in beans. There were bushels of beans in the apartment and Habiba, my mother, bartered them for rent and traded them with neighbors for other food, and ate a good many of them. I was clean and well looked after. I did not starve. My mother got grimey and tan but there was work. The lights stayed on, the electric stove worked, and the landlord did not evict my family.
Of course that was not enough for my grandmother. She arrived in late August a week or two before my father's classes were to begin and found my nother absent. Cousin Athalaya said my mother was at work. My grandmother asked where, and out came the truth. My grandmother was incensed. No granddaughter of hers was going to live in the house of one who crawled through field in the hot sun picking stringbeans. My grandmother was taking me with her. No ifs ands or buts. I went or there would be no money to help with my father's education, so I went.
I remember none of this. The first adults I do remember were my grandparents, both Bechstien and Shejnrubin; for my father's family wanted to keep an eye on me. They feared that their son had been shotgun married into a family of apikorus or nonbelievers. They wanted to make sure I was safe and well cared for. All the adults I knew were old. They moved slowly and had blotchy pink skin and wrinkles. Their hair was either grey or they had it dyed a weird shade of red. They fed me pastries. The apartment was big and dark.
Then the summer I turned two, my mother reentered my life. My father had graduated and landed a job in California. He was already on his way west and we were to meet up with him on the train. To my small eyes, my mother was a tall, glamorous, and very frightening creature in a rose jersey dress with matching blazer. Her medium brown hair was marcelled into wavelets and she wore bone colored shoes and sheer silken hose. Only her broken fingernails which she had meticulously scrubbed clean indicated she had recently again been in the bean fields between Ithaca and Cortland.
I did not want to leave with my mother. I cried. I wailed. It was all to no avail. I soon found myself on a westbound train, determined to have nothing to do with the handsome stranger in the rose colored dress. My sullen silence broke near Scranton where a very handsome stranger, a gentleman in a yellow sweater, got on board the train. He was David Shejnrubin, my father. He looked like a playboy except that he carried a large wrinkled paper sack. In the sack were hard boiled eggs he brought with him from Ithaca and some bread and cucumbers and tomatoes he had bought at train sidings in the country; for he had taken the milk train south from Ithaca so he could meet us on our way to California. My father fed me cucumbers slit in half and rubbed with salt.
We spoke of the new place we would live all the way on the other side of the United States. There my parents could live as they chose without interference from the old people. I did not realize this at the time but there are sometimes very good reasons for moving far away.
Our first house in California was a trailer with a few orange trees. My father used his first paycheck for more trees. My mother who was again with child, started a garden. She wanted to make sure we would never starve. My father added rooms to the trailer including an indoor toilet and a second bathroom and an enlarged kitchen. The trailer eventually became the first California manse, and a rambling sort of house.
My older younger sister, Ophira, was born before we had been in California a year and before I reached first grade, I had another sister, Odera. Yes, all our names begin with "O." My parents thought this was cute. My father liked having daughters. He also felt the names helped preserve our heritage.
Unfortunately, being ethnic in the 1930's was not cool. We were Easterners. We lived like poor folks on the edge of town and had weird names. We could whip the locals academically so you can guess what school was like. I was grateful that for a long time I had only sisters because girls didn't have to fight physically, otherwise I would have had to beat up half a dozen other kids.
I liked school in spite of all this. I liked working in the garden with my mother and studying Hebrew with my father. I liked the buying trips we made to Los Angeles to the farmer's market and the fish market. Being the oldest, I was closest to my parents' hopes and dreams. They wanted all their children, their daughters Ophira, Odera, and me, and their sons Caleb and Naphtali, to go back east to Cornell where they had gone to college. Getting into Cornell even in those days and even from California was difficult. I struggled in school partially because I wanted to "close the circle" for my parents, partially to prove that even a teenager from a weird family could attain honors my more complacent peers couldn't imagine.
So at age eighteen, I found myself on the train back east bound for Ithaca. I was lonely and homesick. I hated the winters. I also hated the prejudice against women that was a part of life in the years following World War II. I was a chemistry major and several of my professors viewed me as taking up a space that belonged to a man, a returning veteran. I remember taking education courses so I could be certified to teach because I knew there would be few if any jobs for a woman that would be what a man with my with a bachelors in my major could get.
I took a job teaching in White Plains shortly after I graduated. I was married by then, and my husband, Robert, was a law student at Columbia. This was the ideal marriage. I had a profession that I would practice until a baby came along and a husband with better career prospects than my father had had.
There was only one problem. Today they would call it emotional abuse. I just knew we did not get along and no matter what I did, I faced ridicule, put downs, and pure nastiness. It took me too long to realize that even if Robert was going to be a rich lawyer he was not the be all and end all of my life and he was not worth making my life miserable over.
In 1954, I made one of the best decision of my life. I walked out on my first husband. He would ultimately divorce me on grounds of dessertion since I refused to go back to him. I did not tell my parents until I had been living in White Plains for some months. My mother was upset but my father accepted my decision. We had no children yet and I was young enough to start over. Sometimes it is very very good to cut your losses.
A few months after my father learned of my divorce and while I was home seeing my parents for the first time since my graduation, I lost my father to a heart attack. I thought about staying in the west and caring for my mother but she said my father would want me to return to my career and life in Westchester County so off I went.
I remained in the New York area for some years, before taking a different teaching job in Arizona. As an unmarried woman who in those days thought she would never marry, I thought it would be fun to try a new part of the country. Teaching is a fairly portable profession, especially with a New York State license in hand. I lived in FlagStaff and taught in town. I met Herman Marantz at a Democratic Party Committee meeting. We were both getting our poll watching papers. We dated and at the age of thirty-four, I remarried.
Two years later, I had my first and only daughter, Masada. No, I did not name her after my father. Herman was a childless only child who had neither parent living. I have four siblings all of whom had children. I figured they could name after my father. Herman who is the last of his line had a more urgent need to name a child after someone in his family. Masada Urielle is named after both of Herman's parents.
Because Masada's birth was difficult, she is my one and only daughter. She also anchored our family in Arizona. She too felt the pressure to "close the circle." She excelled academically and is Cornell class of 1984. She has no children and lives in Syracuse, New York.
When I retired two years after Herman, we moved to Reno, Nevada. Both Herman and I appreciate a temparate climate. I have a bird feeder and a cat named, Saphira, and a vivarium with two garter snakes. Nieces and nefews frequently visit, especially during winter and summer break. Yes, many of our visitors are college students. I am still active in the local Democratic party and in NARAL and support my local branch of Planned Parenthood.
My mother's decision to have me was the right one for her because she had a loving mate and reasonably supportive family. Not all women are so lucky. Those women deserve a clean, safe, way to terminate a pregnancy without risking their lives or reputations. As my father said. There are all times in life when we must cut our losses.
On a very different note, I have recently learned, html. This is my third web page in a site I am preparing for competition. I am not sure where this site will compete yet. There are many many competitions out there. Thankyou Thadea for getting me involved in all of this. I think I'm going to enjoy it.
Orelle Z. Marantz