Eat First - You Don'T Know What They'Ll Give You

Overview

Eat First -- You Don't Know What They'll Give You, written with warmth and humor, is the story of Sonia Pressman Fuentes, one of the pioneers of the Second Wave of the women's movement and her family.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes, who was born in Berlin, Germany, came to the US as a child with her immediate family to escape the Holocaust. Her memoirs reveal how this five-year-old immigrant in 1934 grew up to become the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the ...

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Eat First - You Don't Know What They'll Give You

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Overview

Eat First -- You Don't Know What They'll Give You, written with warmth and humor, is the story of Sonia Pressman Fuentes, one of the pioneers of the Second Wave of the women's movement and her family.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes, who was born in Berlin, Germany, came to the US as a child with her immediate family to escape the Holocaust. Her memoirs reveal how this five-year-old immigrant in 1934 grew up to become the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1965, one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, the highest-paid woman at the headquarters of two multinational corporations -- GTE and TRW, and an international speaker on women's rights for the US Information Agency.

The story begins with the wedding of Fuentes' parents, Hinda and Zysia Pressman, in Piltz, a town in Poland. It goes on to the adventures of the Pressmans and Fuentes in Berlin, Antwerp, the Bronx, the Catskills, Miami Beach, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Stamford (Connecticut), and Washington, DC. Along the way, Fuentes had encounters with Pat Ward (a notorious call girl in the '50s), Betty Friedan, Harry Golden, Dr. Cecil Jacobson (a prominent geneticist convicted on fifty-two counts of perjury and fraud), and many others.

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What People Are Saying

Tom Freudenheim
Tom Freudenheim, Deputy Director, Jewish Museum, Berlin, Germany:

Sonia Fuentes writes about an unexpected range of subjects, yet somehow they remain always linked to her roots in the Yiddish world of Eastern European Jews. Once that is understood, the traditional interconnections between her several worlds make perfect sense as one woman's reflection on the ways in which family, society, culture, and political engagement have always lived in creative tension -- whether in the world of Fuentes' forebears or in the exciting one of our own

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738806358
  • Publisher: Xlibris Corporation
  • Publication date: 11/19/1999
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Catskill Mountains of New York State, where I grew up in the 1930s and '40s, have long had a connection with crime and criminals. There were periods in the twenties and early thirties when the Catskills were referred to as "Chicago with pines." Victims of the mob were often found at the bottom of Sullivan County's lakes. Arson was a frequent occurrence, usually after the summer season when buildings were empty and bills were pressing. On lazy fall afternoons, my father frequently took the family for a drive to view the remains of the latest conflagration or to Lake Louise Marie in Rock Hill, into which Murder Incorporated deposited its victims.
In the summer of 1955, after my first year of law school, I went to Ellenville, New York, to work as a secretary for Ethel and Joe Kooperman. Ellenville is a resort village about seventy-five miles north-west of New York City. It had a year-round population of 4,200, which swelled in the summer.
Ethel and Joe, a husband-and-wife legal team, had been a part of my life since my family moved to Woodridge, New York, in 1936. Although my father's main occupation there had been to run a rooming house, he also invested in second mortgages. Ethel and Joe, in addition to running their law office, engaged in real estate transactions and advised my father on second mortgage investments.
I rented a room in the home of a local family, the Van Gorders, and boarded across the street at the boarding house of Mrs. "Cookie" Peritz. Joe and Ethel had their offices at 90 North Main Street in a lovely old building, the Wayside Inn (most of which, unfortunately, burned down in the '60s). I did routine legal secretarial work, and my duties included frequent visits to the Home National Bank, a block from the office, to make deposits and withdrawals for the firm.
The bank, located in a modest one-story building at 88 Canal Street, had been founded in 1873, and was the largest of Ellenville's three banks. Being inside the bank was an experience, however, because of the reverential air everyone had toward its president, William Richard Rose. He was viewed as akin to a god by his employees. Whenever I was in the bank, someone was always running about with a document that had to be signed, calling, "Mr. Rose, Mr. Rose." Eventually, Rose would appear, a portly fifty-year old man, just short of six feet tall, with thinning sandy hair. A hush would fall over the bank as he signed the document. In the bank, Rose was the absolute master.
He was in fact Mr. Ellenville. One writer said that William Rose "may be the most legendary figure to come out of the Catskills since Rip Van Winkle." He was the village's leading citizen, its most influential civic leader, and its most eligible bachelor. He dated occasionally but never married. He lived with his eighty-three year old mother, an independently wealthy widow who was a member of an old Ellenville family. Their home was a seventeen-room mansion of gingerbread, Victorian architecture, atop a knoll at 155 South Main Street.
His late grandfather and father, both also named William, were bankers before him. His grandfather had founded the bank, and his father had served as its president. The William Rose of my day, who was born in 1906, had begun working at the bank summers when he was sixteen. By 1929, at the age of twenty-three, he was a clerk, and in 1940 he became the bank's president.
Ellenville was prospering in the mid-'50s. Part of the community's economy was in the numerous resorts, the most well known of which was the Nevele Hotel, but increasingly Ellenville had developed industries. It was home to the Channel Master Corporation, one of the country's largest manufacturers of antennae, employing 1,500 people; the Ulster Knife Company, Inc., employing about 250; and many smaller enterprises. All this development had been fostered by Rose. Upon becoming bank president, he had initiated a policy of extraordinarily liberal credit and also encouraged instalment loans. The byword in Ellenville was, "If you need money, see Uncle Bill." The bank flourished, too. It was doing 70 per cent of the area's commercial business, and employment tripled from ten to thirty during his presidency. Rose had almost no intimate friends, but almost everybody liked him.
He was rumored to be a multimillionaire. He belonged to the Chamber of Commerce, was past president of the six-county District 8 of the New York State Bankers' Association, past president of the Shawangunk Country Club, treasurer and head usher of the local Methodist Church, and a member of the Scoresby Volunteer Hook and Ladder Company. He had gone to Harvard and served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II. As the most prominent veteran in the village, he was always grand marshall of the military parades.
But he had not lost the common touch. He drove a 1952 two-door Plymouth sedan. He left home at 7 AM every day carrying his lunch--a fried egg sandwich in a little wicker basket--and stopped off en route to his office for a container of milk. He usually remained at the bank until 7 PM or later.
After my summer in Ellenville, I returned to Florida for my second year of law school. A little over a year later, I was studying in my den one evening when my mother called me into the living room to watch TV. She did this frequently as she and my father believed I spent too much time with my books, and they tried to pull me away from my studies. So I did not pay too much attention until she called again, "Hurry," she said. "Ellenville's on the news." I ran right in, wondering what little Ellenville had done to warrant coverage on the Miami news show. But there it was on the screen--not only Ellenville, but the camera was zooming in on the Home National Bank. A minute later, the face of Rose appeared. He had just been arrested by the FBI!
It had begun on Friday, November 30, 1956, as Ellenville was looking forward to a merry Christmas. National bank examiners, acting on the complaint of a depositor, seized the bank's books. They discovered that Rose had misappropriated half a million dollars of the bank's money. He hadn't done it for financial gain; his stocks, bonds, and cash amounted to no more than $135,000 (all of which he later turned over to the receiver). He was apparently motivated by a desire to create a more prosperous Ellenville and was no doubt also drunk with his power in the bank and the community. And so, like many in positions of power, he seriously overstepped the boundaries. He was profligate with the bank's money and even his own. The most spectacular example involved the Anjopa Board and Paper Manufacturing Company. He lent Anjopa, a financially shaky enterprise, not only the bank's money but also his own, and at one point, he personally took over the financial operation of the company's mill.
Because the bank was so much a part of his life, he forgot the separation between the bank and himself. In his mind, they were one. He made too many loans, and they were often given without collateral and for excessive periods of time. He falsified the bank's records to hide these activities and fooled the bank examiners for years. Two factors led to his undoing. One was a persistent bank examiner named George A. Monahan, who continued to have misgivings about the financial condition of the bank and to conduct examinations of its books. The other was the failure of a depositor's check to clear. The depositor got in touch with the Federal Reserve Bank, and the fateful bank examination took place.
When the examiners confronted Rose with their initial discovery that Black Friday, he resigned as president on the spot. He was arrested that evening at his home by the FBI. The following morning, the bank's customers swarmed to the bank, not to withdraw funds, but to deposit more as expressions of confidence. One depositor, Ben Slutsky, the owner of the Nevele Hotel, which already had a $100,000 account in the bank, pledged another $100,000 by Monday. And, true to his word, Slutsky withdrew $102,000 from other bank accounts and deposited it in Rose's bank. Mayor Eugene Glusker told people that "Bill Rose is a great public benefactor. He's done a remarkable job for the small business man and for private people. We're all united in his behalf."
That Sunday night, two hundred civic and business leaders met to reaffirm their affection and regard for Uncle Bill. Monday, packing crates were hammered together and a booth erected to collect signatures of support. That evening, there was an open air meeting in front of the petition booth with a few short speeches and a great deal of cheering. Eventually, almost three thousand signatures were collected.
One group of four Protestant ministers went against the tide. They issued a statement stating, in part, that they could not condone activities that were unlawful. One of the signers was the pastor of the Ellenville Methodist Church, where two years earlier Rose had had to relinquish his position as treasurer because his financial reports were inadequate.
Then it was learned that Rose, who was free on $25,000 bail, had been rearrested by the FBI. The check for his bail had been drawn on the now-defunct Home National Bank and, furthermore, the amount he had misappropriated amounted to $l.4 million rather than half a million. The chief recipients of this largesse had been Anjopa and the Hotel Zeiger of Fallsburg, with overdrafts of $926,000 and $235,000, respectively. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) ordered the bank closed; it was to go into receivership for liquidation. The Ellenville Journal for December 6, 1956, in reporting these events, had the following box on its front page:
WRITTEN WITH REGRET The Journal--no different from others in the community--writes with regret of the events of the past week. . . .
The people of Ellenville began to regret it, too, and to reevaluate their support for Uncle Bill. The petition of support was withdrawn from circulation. Five days after the bank was closed, Ellenville's mayor and leading business persons flew to Washington to confer with Treasury officials. As a result of their negotiations, in what was regarded as a miracle of accomplishment in banking circles, eighteen days after the bank was closed, its successor, the Ellenville National Bank, opened for business in the same building as its predecessor. It continues to function to this day, with many branches in the Hudson Valley.
In mid-October 1957, Rose pleaded guilty to seventeen counts of bank fraud, and in December he was given a five-year sentence. During his incarceration at the federal correctional institution in Danbury, Connecticut, he was a model prisoner. As a result, in August of 1959, he was granted parole as of October 1. The warden released him on September 2, however, citing his work in the institution's hospital as the reason for his early release. Thus, after serving twenty-one months of his sentence, on a light drizzly morning, Rose returned to Ellenville to live with his mother. No welcoming committee was on hand to greet him on his return.
Rose resumed the occupation he had taken up while waiting to serve his sentence. Had you lived in Ellenville then, you might have seen him at work. If your toilet was stuck and you called a plumber, the man who would come to your door might very well be a portly, familiar-looking man with thinning sandy hair--Bill Rose.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 13
Acknowledgments and Author's Notes 17
Part I
1. The Night My Father Ran Away from His Own Wedding 23
2. Accidental Birth 33
3. Coming to America 35
Part II
4. Moving to "the Mountains" 45
5. In the Swim 48
6. Father Gets a B+ 50
7. Graduating with My Class 52
Part III
8. Mother and the Night School 57
9. If You Speak His Language 59
10. Weinberg's Glasses 61
11. Our Winter Vacation 64
12. Our Summer Vacation 67
Part IV
13. Far Above Cayuga's Waters 73
14. Sam Kaplan 77
15. Almost in the Army 80
16. Law School 82
Part V
17. Florida and Beyond 95
18. Father and the Airlines 98
19. How I Got My Mink Stole 100
20. Passing the Bar 104
21. Labor Law 111
22. Private Practice 119
23. Sex Maniac 124
24. The Corporate World 142
25. If You Live Long Enough 151
Part VI
26. The Opposite Sex 157
27. Marriage 169
28. A Place To Live 173
29. And Baby Makes Three 177
30. La Casa Grande 196
31. Surviving 200
32. A Pushy Mother 203
33. Jewish Blood 211
34. Cleveland 213
35. Zia Goes to College 221
36. A Scholarship for Zia 226
Part VII
Photographs 231
37. All in the Family 243
Part VIII
38. Harry Golden and "the Coat" 287
39. Vespers at Three 292
40. Brushes with the Law 296
41. Jewish Geography 312
Part IX
42. An Israeli Plumber 319
43. A Policeman in Madrid 320
44. Thai Silk 323
45. The Road to Bali 326
46. Return to Germany 327
Endnotes 337
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Interviews & Essays

This interview was first published in "Writers Around the World" in the August 1998 issue of writingnow.com

Q: Sonia, what are your first memories about your goals to become a writer, public speaker, and lawyer?

A: My first wish for an occupation was to be a writer. I wanted to be a writer -- but I didn't want to write. It seemed like very lonely, isolated work requiring the kind of self-discipline I didn't believe I had. So I never actually planned to be a writer -- and didn't in fact attempt to become one until I retired from law. I did, however, get a poem published in the Miami Herald when I was ten years old -- so maybe that says something about my interest in writing.

I don't recall ever wishing to be a public speaker. But I always adored telling stories, especially humorous stories. When I was a teenager, I was thrilled to learn from my mother that my maternal grandfather had been a marshalik, a badkhn, a jester. He told jokes and stories at weddings and bar mitzvahs. So perhaps it was in my genes. Then, when I worked as a lawyer at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, enforcing a new law that prohibited, among other things, sex discrimination in employment, one of my duties was to give talks on the requirements of this new law. Later, I did the same thing for the US Information Agency (USIA), lecturing on the women's right revolution in the United States in many places around the world. And I found I loved public speaking. My interest in becoming a lawyer was the result of many strands in my life. There had been influences impelling me to law school since my childhood. They'd never coalesced in my mind as a determination to attend, however, until I finally made the decision. Many events in my life led up to it, but it began with my childhood in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. My parents were in the resort business, renting out rooms and bungalows for the summer season. Since they were immigrants with an imperfect grasp of English, from childhood on, I handled their correspondence and drew up the rental agreements. As a sideline, my father invested in second mortgages. His attorneys in these endeavors were a husband-and-wife legal team, Joe and Ethel Kooperman, who lived and practiced law in Ellenville, New York. So, from an early age, I was involved with lawyers and had seen a woman practicing law.

In my senior year at Cornell University, when I was in the Graduate School of Business & Public Administration, one of my courses was called "Legal Problems of Business," and I found myself enjoying it a great deal.

In the 1950s, I joined a Great Books group. One of the selections was St Thomas Aquinas's Treatise on Law, which I found fascinating. In the four years after graduating from Cornell, I held a number of what were essentially secretarial positions. I felt I wanted to do more with my education but needed additional credentials. That led to law school.

Q: Who influenced and inspired you most in your years as a developing youngster?

A: I think what influenced me most as a developing youngster was not any person but the circumstances of my life. I was born in Germany and had to flee with my parents and brother to escape the Holocaust. In the United States, my parents moved to various places as they attempted to get settled in a new country. This moving to different towns and the fact that my parents and I were immigrants and Jews were the most significant influences on my life.

There were, however, also people who played a role at various stages of my life in encouraging me to go to college and to law school. Such thoughts did not originate with me. I grew up in a small town and in a milieu where young women did not go to college. My plan in high school was to become a secretary. I had, in fact, never seen a college before I went to Cornell. But at various stages there were fellow students and teachers who indicated I should be going on in my education.

Q: Would you like to have been born in a different time and a different country? Have you been happy experiencing the challenges of your time?

A: I can't really say I'd like to have been born in a different time and a different country. Where and when I was born have made me the person I am and I am certainly not willing to give that up. Of course, I wish the country I had been born in wasn't the locale for the Holocaust.

I often think how different my life would have been but for Hitler. I would have grown up in Germany and led an altogether different life. But that does not mean I would give up the life I had and am having. Have I been happy experiencing the challenges of my time? Difficult question. Happiness isn't something most of us experience for long stretches of time. My escape from the Holocaust and my knowledge that I was bright made me feel that I was not free, as other young women were, merely to seek happiness but that I had been saved to make a contribution to my society.

I have been privileged to have been part of the women's movement. I regret that there are still so many women in the world whose status is deplorable. But we have made progress and I hope we will continue to do so.

Q: Will you describe for our readers how you felt when your first publication was accepted?

A: It's hard to say -- it was several years ago. But every acceptance is a thrill and every rejection is just that -- a rejection. One thing that has happened with time is that I feel comfortable identifying myself as a writer. It took me a long time to feel that way.

Q: What creates the insatiable spark in those compelled to write?

A: I can't answer this question for others. For myself, all my life I've felt that something isn't real unless I write it down. That may sound odd -- that what actually happens isn't real but that when I write it down it becomes real. But that's how I've always felt.

Also, writing is a way of dealing with all the disappointments and failures that happen in one's life. It's a way of taking control that real life doesn't let you have. My way of writing is generally to use humor. By using humor, I can laugh at things that when they happened were usually not very funny at all. Much of what happens in life one can either cry about or laugh about. If possible, I choose to laugh about it.

Q: Can you share any special hints for dealing with publishers?

A: You need to find the special niche where your writing fits. In my case, for example, Jewish and feminist publications have been most receptive to my writing.

Q: You demonstrate strength and perseverance in all that you do. Did you ever have any doubt that you would be successful?

A: Always. That's one of the difficulties of being young. When I was younger, I had no assurance that I would be successful or that my life would turn out well.

With regard to writing, I didn't start that until after my retirement as an attorney and in the year or so before my first piece was accepted, I was riddled with doubts as to whether I had any writing ability. Frankly, I still am.

Q: What advice would you like to give to both aspiring writers waiting to be published and seasoned writers working to be published more and more?

A: You must be prepared to give writing, the research that it requires, and marketing of your writing a high priority in your life. Lots of other things have to go by the board and you must concentrate on the writing.

Don't give up if you believe you may have some writing ability. Don't think you've run through all the publications and publishers; there are always others. Don't let the rejections stop you.

Don't spend too much time at it but attending good writing courses and writers' conferences are worthwhile. I myself learned a great deal by taking a writing course at the Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and by taking a two-week course in memoir-writing at the Iowa Writers Workshop. The latter was especially inspiring as it was great to spend two weeks in a community of writers, sharing our thoughts and experiences.

Q: What are your favorite books?

A: Two favorite books of mine were The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten and Roommates by Max Apple. The first is the funniest book I've ever read. The second is both humorous and poignant. I wish I could write like these two men.

Q: What is your prediction for the status of both men and women writers in our society 20 years from now? What must writers do to succeed in the field, or writing both on the Internet and in print?

A: I haven't the slightest idea. I'm happy to make it day by day. To succeed in writing, writers must keep on writing and marketing. The marketing takes at least as much time and effort, and probably more, than the writing. But it's worth the effort. For me, there's no sense in writing if you're not going to be communicating to readers.

Linda Davis Kyle is a general interest writer whose works have been published in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

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