Lea Lane

Lea Lane
Florida, USA
August 26
author, Travel Tales I Couldn't Put in the Guidebooks, available at Amazon.com and on Kindle
“I’ve discovered the secret of life,” Kay Thompson, the eccentric entertainer and “Eloise” author, once said. “A lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a lot of tra-la-la!” And that's been my life: As a travel writer for over 30 years, I've been around the block (more like around the world), and I write true stories about interesting people and places. (Check out my travel site, Travels With Lea.) I've lived an unconventional life in conventional trappings. Been a corporate VP, worked with foster kids, acted in an Indie ("Nurse 1"), was on Jeopardy!. I've been managing editor of a travel publication, written for the Times, and authored books. OS is my home, but I also blog on The Huffington Post, and I've contributed (mostly anonymously) to everything from encyclopedias to guidebooks. Married young, divorced late; married late, widowed early, I dated lots in-between -- and survived a scary illness. After being happily, peacefully solo for many years, I'm now happily married again. I founded and still edit www.sololady.com, a lifestyle Website for single women. I'm truly grateful for each precious day, each well-earned wrinkle, my family, my cat. Truth, laughter, friendship, late love. And this blog -- on this wonderful site!

Lea Lane's Links

JULY 1, 2012 8:45AM

My Immigrant Grandparents: Reading, Tattoos, Omelets, Love

Rate: 30 Flag



grandpa as a costumed boy, Vienna, 1870s 




grandma, a girl who crossed the ocean from Germany, alone


My grandparents lived with us throughout my childhood, and I heard their stories of life in "the old country" as I was growing up. They immigrated to America from middle Europe at the end of the 19th century, and with foresight and opportunity, escaped the Holocaust to come fifty years later.

My grandmother, Katinka David, born in Frankfurt Germany, crossed the ocean alone -- not yet 20 -- to get away from someone she was expected to marry. The trip was long and she remembered men who flirted with her and got her to eat a  pork chop, something she had never eaten before. She got terribly seasick and cried when she saw the Statue of Liberty, which had arrived in New York Harbor only a few years before she did.

I slept near her in different rooms until I went off to college. She loved me in her way, which did not include many hugs, but she did instill in me an early appreciation for this country and a burning liberalism and empathy for the underdog. 

And then there was my grandfather, William Schacht: orphan from Vienna. Violin player. Cigar store owner on New York's Upper East Side, 100 years ago. He was short with big ears, and today would be called "nerdy," but to me he was handsome as a prince. 

He and  my grandmother, both German-speaking immigrants, had met and then danced at a hall in Yorkville, on the upper East Side of New York. Grandma continued to waltz well into her 90s, and would swing around the room whispering "one-two-three ... one-two-three." Her favorite waltz was "The Blue Danube." 



grandma, holding me at my first birthday on a roof in NYC; grandpa had my back, even then 


By the time I was born they had been separated for years, but when grandpa became ill with heart disease and  later colon cancer, they both moved in with their daughter, my mother.

That may have been an unconventional arrangement, but I was blessed by it. Her gift was intellectual stimulus and stories of castles and Prussian troops and a land far away. His gift was  kindness, and he was the father figure I otherwise didn't have.

I've written about my absentee father, a gambler who was off six months a year to follow the ponies and dogs. And of my mother, who I better understand now as a probable borderline personality. 

We all crowded into Miami Beach apartments and bunglows  until I was seven, and the memories are mostly fearful and shadowy. I remember that cockroaches scattered inside the radio where I heard President Truman's voice. I learned early to shake my little patent-leather Mary Janes before putting them on to check for scorpions hidden in the toes. I got hives from the mangos, which fell from the trees in the yard.

I felt alone, although the two-bedroom places we rented were filled with seven of us --  my parents (or at least one of them, half the time), my grandparents and eventually me, my brother and sister.

Grandma liked to talk with me, but she was stern, and I felt that grandpa was the only adult who really loved me. I remember a time that I had a tummy ache and was left to suffer through it. He came to my bed and whispered in his accented English, "This will make you feel better." A magical elixer: a glassful of Alka-Seltzer.

"They don't mean to be mean." He said that often. 

While grandma would be boiling sweet-and-sour greenbeans, steam rising into the humid Florida heat, grandpa would walk me hand-in-hand to the art-deco post office that still stands on Washington Avenue in South Beach, now across from clubs and tattoo parlors.

We lived near there, along with many older folks, some of them refugees from Europe, some of them with tattoos on their arms, not of decorations, but of numbers.

Grandma instilled a love of reading, but it was grandpa who taught me to read, when I was two. He saw no reason not to. I was curious and verbal, he was patient, and we both had lots of time together to read books under the shade of the palm trees in nearby Flamingo Park.

Grandpa was frail for as long as I knew him and that meant sacrifice in many ways. He had his own bedroom, which meant that my baby sister shared a room with my parents and my brother and I slept in the living room/dining room with my grandmother.

He would close the door of our one bathroom for uncomfortably long times, doing something called "irrigating," which included a brown, rubber hot-water bottle which hung from a hook on the back of the bathroom door. The rooms we lived in smelled of sickness. I remember "holding it in" until he was finished.

And then, in 1950, my father must have hit the daily double, and we moved to a light-filled mansion north of Lincoln Road. But by that time grandpa was often spending the day in a darkened room, in a hospital bed.

Grandma did most of the cooking for the family, but grandpa sometimes made omelets he would fill with grape jelly. He'd pour the liquid into a pan, turn the gas on high, and inevitably the eggs would  burn.

One suppertime when I was eight, he burned another omelet, and I refused to eat it. The next morning cries and whispers confirmed that death could take away someone I loved.

And my mother reminded me then and for a long time after that I had made grandpa feel hurt because I didn't eat the burned omelet. I was a "bad girl." And I thought for years that I had precipitated grandpa's death.

It's only recently in fact that I realized while grandpa brought much joy and love to my life, I probably brought the same to his.

Grandma, with your independent spirit which flourished in me; grandpa, with your gentle heart: I hope you both knew, despite the problems in our lives, how much I loved you and how you helped me be the best I could be.

And I am so proud to let others know on this July Fourth, 2012  how I appreciated the chance to be with you --  so many years past the 19th century when you came to America young and full of hope. There is no way that you could imagine that your granddaughter, now a grandparent herself, would be able to tell the world just that, in this way. 


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Your love for him shows in your writing.
My maternal grandmother emigrated, alone, to this country from Norway at the age of 14. We do not know why she did this or what it must have been like to be on that boat alone for weeks. She never said.
You are lucky to have these stories and your wonderful grandfather. Happy fourth. R
Another window into what makes you such a fascinating and deeply feeling woman, Lea. It sounds like you've gained wisdom and perspective over the years on some painful truths. Thanks for sharing them with us.
Great story.

The ages throw me a bit. Your grandfather seems to be between my great grandparents and great great grandparents in age. Maybe you're older than I think? I'm in my late fifties. I knew most of my great grandparents, at least a couple of whom reached their nineties.

I think most of my immigrant grandparents and great grandparents (2 of each were born here) came over alone. Seems to have been common.
Your grandparents sound like my paternal grandparents, in actions, appearance and demeanor. They came here just after the turn of the century fleeing a Germany they could see was in peril.
I'm older than you think, Kosh. A big, big birthday coming up this year, with a seven in it! Also, my mother was the youngest of four children; her parents were in their forties when she was born.
Lea, your writing shines with love and appreciation. Thank you for this bright and brilliant piece~ r
Another Lea Lane post (YES!) and about travel, too -- time travel. It's inspirational.

Three of my four grandparents were immigrants; the fourth was the descendant of a coffin ship survivor circa 1847 -- only two children out of an entire family lived. I'll be hoisting a tankard on this day -- Canada Day -- in their honour.
I feel the same way about my grandparents even though they cam from England and Ireland.
We can never forget these memories.. I too had Alka Selzter brought to me. Funny isn't it how they thought it was a cure all.
Loved the photos
Lea, thank you for writing this. It is a wonderful story. I am enjoying all of these immigrant stories so much. Nice to have written evidence of our patchwork quilt of a country. RRRR
Isn't it funny how sometimes it's our grandparents who have more of an effect on our upbringing than our parents? Or at least a deep and profound feeling of being loved for who we are? I loved this story of your growing up with two such people.
My step-son's middle name is Wolfe, in remembrance of a man with a number tattooed on his forearm. Excellent post.
Great story. I wonder what became of that America?
I poured out my heartfelt sentiments on FB. I can only add here that it is a joy and privilege to share friendship with such an amazing woman. xoxo
A beautiful story, filled with love and hope. Even with the cockroaches. I am sure they are proud of you. Sure of it.
This was incredibly touching, and radiated with love. I know your grandparents would be so proud of the woman you are today!
This is a fascinating read, Lea. You bring your grandparents alive for us in a loving embrace.
They'd be proud of what you do with travel writing; no question. r.
Beautifully written, as always. Not sure why this is not an EP and on the cover. ... R.
So appreciate the comments, on behalf of my grandparents.
What a loving remembrance. I am also the granddaughter of Eastern European immigrants. My grandparents on my father's side were separated and came to live together again in the end of their lives too. Funny how they could do that. I am glad you felt loved, that you had family. That is a gift too.
Sheila, I think many of the older generation must have done that. Divorce was taboo. People just worked things out the way they could, and when they got sick they wound up back together, often at a child's home. I think the grandchildren were the beneficiaries.
How wonderful knowing as much as you do and sharing these priceless images.

:::wiping tears::: Beautiful, Lea.
I read this earlier, but got called away and forgot to come back and comment. It's a lovely story. It's hard to imagine that our own histories will be as interesting to our grandkids.
No matter how far I travel and how many countries I visit I could never match my grandparents coming over to America.
A few things stand out for me. First, the fact that your grandparents left home so young and alone. What courage that took! Second, the fact that as a child you continued to live a bit as a European, with the extended family that included grandma and grandpa. Finally, as you mention, how fortunate they, and we who know you, were that your grandparents left Europe when they did, escaping the terrors that would have engulfed them had they stayed.
Lea, you are a wonderful person as well as a wonderful writer. Fascinating personal history. What a rich life--in experience if not always in money--you lead.
Yes, same with you Hawley. Rich in life experience if not always money. The ups and downs made it/make it "interesting" indeed.

And thanks, OS RP!