Lizzie and Sam Sarason had eight children over the course of 17 years. Lizzie (for whom cousin Mimi and I were named) was seriously ill with bipolar disorder. No one knew how to treat this at the turn of the 20th century. She had the last two children, including my father, the baby of the clan, to “cure” her, since her symptoms abated when she was pregnant. But it didn’t help and probably overwhelmed her. She started in and out mental institutions when my dad was 8 and was permanently institutionalized when he was 12. This shaped the family dynamics in all sorts of ways.
Each of my aunts and uncles were quite different. One might almost think they were not related, but they got along well and were devoted to one another. Though the family was based in St. Louis, MO, where my father was born, and those who graduated from college all went to Washington University in St. Louis, including my dad, most migrated to Detroit to work for General Motors (or “Generous Motors”, as a cousin called it), since their uncle, Meyer Prentis was Treasurer. Even my dad worked for Chevrolet in Flint before WWII, though he would not return there when he came home.
Pauline, born in 1896, was the matriarch of the clan. She earned a degree in social work, magna cum laude. She won a varsity letter in basketball. She was classmates and friends with Abram Sacher, the founder of Brandeis University, my alma mater. At an alumni event in the 1980s, I mentioned to Dr. Sacher that I was Pauline’s niece. We then gave remarks around the tables, he commented that when the Sachers couldn’t sleep, they didn’t count sheep, they counted Sarasons! There were a lot of them!
Pauline married Harry Jackson from Worcester, MA. They lived there briefly, but moved to Detroit when Harry went to work for Uncle Meyer. During WWII, he was responsible for GM’s entire war bond effort. Pauline was the first head of the Woman’s Division of the Jewish Welfare Federation. She founded Operation Friendship, a program to help emotionally disturbed adults, run through the National Council of Jewish Women and was the first chairperson for the JCC’s annual book fair. She was the director of Camp CareFree in Charlevoix, MI. You can see a picture emerge of a bright, energetic woman, who in another era would have been a dynamic leader, even a CEO. She and Harry had three children. All were quite special in different ways. I wrote about their middle child in Cousin Alan.
When far-flung relatives returned home, or Passover seders happened, Pauline was always the hostess. The family flocked to her small house and tables were set in the dining room and the living room. These were joyous occasions when we would all get together and see one another. It happened far too infrequently, as we didn’t all live close by and there were large gaps in the generations. Pauline’s oldest had children older than me. Our likes were not necessarily similar, but we were bonded by blood and we felt it. The brothers and sisters loved to play cards with one another, tell family tales and just enjoy the pleasure of their company. They were fiercely loyal. Pauline died five days before my dad. We only discovered my dad had had a heart attack and was hospitalized because we had to find him to tell him of Pauline’s death. Losing the oldest and the youngest five days apart hit the family very hard.
Jacob Arthur (Art) was born in 1898. His degree was in commercial science. He began working for GM in 1922 in a clerical position but eventually became Assistant Comptroller, responsible for the consolidated financial statement of the entire corporation. He hired Tom Murphy and Roger Smith into the organization,both future chairmen. My cousin reports that he liked Tom, but thought Roger was cocky. He established the first large scale use of data processing within GM shortly before he retired in 1963. He once told me the story of how he blackballed IBM because the sales rep tried to go to his superior behind his back. That first system was a Univac!
On a trip back to St. Louis, Art met the love of his life and married Dora Inglove (Aunt Do to my generation…I still have the locket she gave me for my 5th birthday). They had four children.
Art LOVED to play golf, Aunt Do took up golf and the two of them were content to play golf. They traveled very little. Golf and bridge were their hobbies (and watching sports on TV, Uncle Art had the first color TV in the family, so we always went there on New Year’s Day to watch the bowl games). He was known for being serious, even a bit stern, but we youngsters also remember that he could make funny noises and could “swallow” a ball…it was magic! He had a twinkle in his eye for us.
It was a call from Uncle Art asking where my father was that prompted me to place the last call to my father. Dad’s death probably hit Art the hardest. He was already in his 90s. My father was 76. His daughter Connie told me after my dad died, Art just sat in chair and didn’t speak. Too many Sarasons were gone.
Sara was born in 1899 in Conway, AK, where the family had moved (Sam Sarason had a general store; Lizzie’s illness forced them back to St. Louis for treatment). She evidently had polio when she was a baby, for one leg was shorter than the other, and pain caused the family to seek medical treatment in St. Louis. She attended Normal School, a two year school which gave her teaching accreditation and she taught school and Sunday School at a Conservative temple. A few years later, she went to Chicago and began studying at University of Chicago, but was called home to care for the two youngest children, Burt and Kenny, since Pauline was already married. She raised those two and always looked on them as her children (and me as her grandchild, by proxy).
While visiting Pauline in Worcester, she met Harry’s cousin, Zellick Jackson, a gentle dentist. They married and she moved to Worcester, where she remained for most of the rest of her life. They had two children and Sara became active in various volunteer activities: National Council of Jewish Women, League of Women Voters, Temple Sisterhood and Worcester City Council. Zell died young, in 1957, but Sara remained active and committed to her causes.
Living in the Boston area, I saw Sara often. She came to see me in all my shows at Brandeis. She made sure I knew every relative, no matter how distant the relationship. Whenever anyone came through town, we went to visit. She pulled out the photo albums and told all the stories, so they would not be forgotten. My older child realized that she had turned 21 just when women got the right to vote and asked her about that. She said her candidate lost!
Harry was born in St. Louis in 1902. He graduated from Washington University with a degree in chemical engineering, but became a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries in 1929. He worked for General American Life Insurance Company in St. Louis. He became well-known by his contemporary actuaries for his numerous publications in the actuarial field. At his job, he fell in love with his boss, Lucy Rogers Andrews (he got her job after they married). He converted to her religion, Southern Baptist, to marry Lucy. His father promptly cut him out his will (I have the original copy, found in Art’s effects after he died…more on that later). He took his religious conversion seriously. He abstained from alcohol, served as Sunday School Superintendent of their church and for a number of years, was active in ensuring racial integration in city wide Evangelistic meetings.
They had three children, but the oldest had cerebral palsy due to an injury at birth, and in 1945, Lucy was diagnosed with MS. In 1949, they moved to California and two years later, Harry was diagnosed with Lizzie’s illness, manic depression. He was hospitalized several times, and the family came through for them, Art with financial assistance and Pauline came from Detroit to California to care for the family, for the children were still teenagers at the time of the first hospitalization. At the time of their father’s death, the other sibling had a meeting and decided to break their father’s will. They gave Harry his fair share of the estate, a testament of how they all felt about one another, and a fact my cousins have never forgotten. The oldest died before I was born, but the other two married Baptist ministers. One of my cousins came to both of my children’s b’nai mitvot, even wearing a Jewish star to honor her familial legacy. She also told me that Aunt Sara was the only source of wrapped Christmas presents every year.
Harry continued to work with various actuarial consulting firms until a few months before his death.
In 1983, I was trying to make a sale at John Hancock Life Insurance Company. I took the VP of Strategic Planning to Indianapolis to meet with clients at Nationwide who used my product. We were chatting on the flight out and I asked him what his background was. He told me that he was trained as an actuary. “Gee,” I said, “I have an uncle who wrote some actuarial tables. Have you ever heard of Harry Sarason?” “You’re HARRY SARASON’S niece?” asked my companion. He had, indeed, heard of Harry and had a great deal of respect for him.
Isaac, (Ike), born in 1904, was the most complicated and dashing of the Sarason boys. He was handsome and friendly, easy-going and liked by everyone. A friend convinced him to run off and join the Army, but the friend was under-age, so was sent home. Ike wasn’t and his father decided to teach him a lesson and sent him off, so he never finished high school. But he ran the mess hall, so ate like a king.
He was a great athlete and was asked to join the St. Louis Cardinals farm team, but he had a girlfriend and a job, so turned the offer down. At one point he was a professional gambler, going across the border into Arkansas to run poker games at night. He usually won because he slept all day and didn’t drink. The other players arrived after work and drank through the night, so he had an advantage.
He married three times. The first girl was a “hillbilly” (so the family story goes). We don’t even know her name. His second wife was a blonde beauty named Ethyl, but he tangled with her brother who slashed him deeply across the chest with a knife, almost killing him. He defended himself, killing her brother. They had a daughter named Suzanne, but the marriage didn’t last and Ethyl took Suzanne away. She forbade Ike to see his daughter, which broke his heart. He convalesced with Harry. During his long period in bed, Lucy taught him book keeping. He was so good at it that he found an error in the textbook.
Ethyl died when Suzanne was a teenager. She then came to live with Ike and his third wife, Goldie. This was a very successful marriage. Together, they had a daughter and Goldie was quite gracious when Suzanne joined the family as well.
He worked as a book keeper for his younger brother Roy and was well-known for having a cotton candy machine. He’d show up at every carnival and fair with a smile on his face. After my dad died, I found a letter he wrote to Ike’s daughter Mimi, saying that he was Dad’s favorite brother. When my dad was four years old, he was running in his dad’s store and fell into one of the glass display cases, severing his nose. It was Ike who scooped him up and ran him to the doctor for medical assistance. He was always there to lend a hand.
Reuven (Roy) was born in 1906. Also handsome and athletic, he worked his way through Washington University pumping gas and being a soda jerk. He ran track, played football, boxed and swam. He was a real go-getter. He fell in love with the girl he’d marry, Roz with the big blue eyes, when she was only 14! She moved to Philadelphia and he still pursued her. She turned him down at first, but her grandmother told her she was crazy so she agreed and it was a very happy marriage.
Roy moved to Detroit, joined GM. He and Roz were very social and threw great parties. After the war, he got a Pontiac dealership (and had Ike come work for him), but eventually got into tax consulting. They were prosperous and loved going to Las Vegas and gambling. They had three children and a fun household, always with dogs. But after a short illness, Roy died in March, 1970 at the age of 63 of pancreatic cancer, the first of the Sarasons to die. Roz couldn’t believe the love of her life was gone. She never remarried and remained close to the family for the rest of life.
Zalman Burton (Burt) was born in 1911. He was the non-conformist. He had mumps as a teenager which left him sterile. He met his future wife, Francis, on a bus. She had a tubercular hip and was also unable to have children, so he decided it was a match made in heaven. She was quite beautiful, but walked with a limp.
It was never quite clear what he did to earn a living. He loved dogs and would show up our home with a dog in tow, petting it lovingly, to the point of making my mother uncomfortable. At one point he was a rep for women’s undergarments. He asked some of the younger cousins to model some. We all declined. The brothers and sisters knew not to leave us alone with him. He was odd. At a certain point, Francis disappeared from the scene. I learned that he had become enchanted with a mystic named Jeronde, many years older than he was and married. He moved in with her and her husband, living in a menage a trois…scandalous! There was a big to-do about whether or not to invite him to my wedding in 1974. Sara, who had raised him, was adamant that he should be invited. Pauline was just as adamant that he should not. I was 21 years old and did not want to be caught in the middle of a family fight, but I am an open-minded person, and very into family, so leaned toward inviting. Ultimately, the invitation was sent, but only to him, not his companion. He declined, but did send a nice gift. He lived in Reed City, MI at this point in his life.
A cousin tells me that at one point, he was traveling around Michigan with a female companion, from a sheltered, conservative upbringing. His route would bring him to Reed City, so his grandmother, Pauline, suggested he stop in to visit Burt, which he agreed to do. His mother, my eldest first cousin, Marj, warned him what to expect, so he warned his companion. When Burt opened the door, he wore a woman’s wig and house coat, but forewarned is forearmed and my cousin reports having tea with Burt and Jeronde and spending a pleasant hour.
The last time I saw him was at Uncle Art’s 90th birthday party in 1988. I didn’t recognize him. The family learned that he died, probably alone, in 1998. I think he led a sad existence.
The Featured photo was taken in Pauline’s living room, set up on a timer by Art. Sara, Burt, and Harry were in town to celebrate Sara’s 70th birthday. The back row, left to right: Sara, Roy, Ike, Pauline. Front row, left to right: Art, Burt, Kenny (my dad), Harry. They are looking at me! Dad told me to come over that Saturday morning after my voice lesson.
A diverse, but devoted family.
If you want to read about the youngest, my father, I wrote about him for Father’s Day. Here is the link: A Tribute to My Father.
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.