Marilyn frequently visited her mother, Bayla Hirsch, in the Bronx apartment building where Zvi and I lived as newlyweds. Marilyn often stopped by our place, along with her brother-in-law, Marty, my husband’s oldest friend.
The edifice was gigantic, taking up nearly a full city block. Zvi and I lived on the side facing Woodycrest Avenue, and Marilyn’s mother lived on the Ogden Avenue side. I might not have met Edith Turner if Mrs. Hirsch hadn’t lived near her on Ogden.
One evening Marilyn, Marty, Zvi and I were sitting in our Salvation Army–furnished space, amid stacks of books, my sewing machine, Zvi’s decoupage desk, plants, and papier mache projects. Marilyn noticed shoes and a shoulder bag I had painted purple. She declared, “Chana, I’m taking you to meet Edie!”
I followed Marilyn down four flights of stairs and across the long passageway connecting the two sides of the building. Marilyn knocked at a door through which wonderful aromas wafted. A woman with very short, very curly hair cracked it open. “Sorry, we’re eating dinner,” she said.
“I just want my friend to see your refrigerator,” Marilyn explained.
“Come back in half an hour,” Edie smiled, closing the door.
We hung out with Mrs. Hirsch for a while, then returned to see Edie’s frig. Specialty-colored appliances were expensive, so Edie had bought bright blue enamel and painted her own. My first visit revealed an entirely custom kitchen her husband, Howard, had built and expertly handmade curtains, finely recovered chairs, and intricately knitted afghans.
Thus began our friendship, which lasted more than 50 years. Edie, a few years my senior and a seasoned and savvy New Yorker, taught me how to haggle for bargains on the Lower East Side. She knew where to get the best of everything at the lowest price, from kosher cheese to quality underwear.
I thought I could sew; however, Edie taught me to master French seams and to match plaid. I still have the scallop-edged curtains for which she tutored me, made from psychedelic fabric she found for 30 cents a yard. Edie hoped I’d become an expert knitter, but I didn’t. I wanted her to decorate furniture. She didn’t. That was OK with both of us.
Edie was a fabulous cook and baker, with gorgeous cookware, plates and textiles. After her divorce, she turned her kitchen into a mecca of kosher cuisine. She replaced her treyf kitchenware with new dishes and pots, all bought at great prices (before the internet!). She introduced bean sprouts, elephant garlic and strange mushrooms into my limited culinary repertoire.
On Sunday mornings Edie and I often shared the Sunday New York Times, The Jewish Press and the Herald Tribune. I brought the papers; Edie made the food.
Edith had a weekly commitment in Manhattan on Tuesday evenings. Our friend Marty (see above) had moved into the building, and we played Scrabble at Edie’s vintage table and babysat her son, Ian, while taking turns doing our laundry in Edie’s possibly illegally-installed washing machine (the corner laundromat was truly creepy).
When Edie’s mother died, she sat shiva in our apartment. When we moved to Brooklyn, she watched our baby so we could unpack and get settled. Edie had prophesied that our child would be born on her son’s fourth birthday. It was a couple of weeks early, but, sure enough our Rachel and Ian share May 14.
Edie’s years working for immigration attorneys underscored her natural inclination to help others. She “mothered” Hispanic, Albanian, black and Muslim neighbors, and when she was healthy, she volunteered for her community council and worked hard for many Jewish causes. Everyone responded to her hearty laughter, welcoming kitchen and generous spirit.
Two weeks ago, after years of declining health, Edith Turner died, having widely shared her skills, sense of fun and far-reaching heart. We talked on the phone before the end, wondering if we’d ever again cook, sew or shop for bargains together. I assured her that, no matter what, I’ll use only fresh garlic, never pay full price, and always measure twice- in her honor. The last thing we did together was laugh.