It started when I heard my mom and sister discussing "Frieda's cookies." Frieda and Joe Greenstein were my babysitters and Frieda made the most delicious butter cookies known to humankind. Rectangular shaped with a fork mark across the top, crisp, sweet, and buttery, these cookies are the stuff of legend. We have tried a number of butter cookie recipes, but have never found the right one.
Frieda was much more than a wonderful baker. She and Joe were wonderful people. I never remember them raising their voices to me. I remember one time that I did something I shouldn't have and hid under their big bed. I heard Joe telling Frieda that he couldn't find me. He finally did, of course, and got down on his hands and knees, telling me that everything was all right and convincing me that I should come out. I have so many memories - the cherry tree and wishing well in their backyard, the scent of bleach from the wringer washing machine, the way Joe slurped coffee from his cup, watching the Paul Dixon Show and "stories" with Frieda. I remember them buying Necco candy for me from the Jewel Tea truck. I also recall walking home from Frieda and Joe's house one time and Joe waving as we walked away. Each time I turned around to look at him, Joe was still standing there waving.
Joe died nearly 40 years ago, in September 1970. I remember the night my parents went to the visitation. I sat alone in the front yard at another babysitter's house and heard her comment that I didn't even know why I was crying. That wasn't true, though. I knew Joe was gone and that I would never see him again. I remember going to visit Frieda after church one Sunday and how devastated she was.
Years later, we sent Frieda my high school graduation announcement. I was understandably nervous on the morning of my graduation day. Even though it was a Sunday and there was no mail delivery, in my anxious state I walked outside and looked in the mailbox. Much to my surprise, I found a card addressed to me. I opened it and it was a graduation card from Frieda. In a weak hand she had written "God bless you. Love, Frieda." She had enclosed a pretty handkerchief. Frieda died in 1986.
On Sunday, I learned that Frieda Stockman was from the west side of Cincinnati and, like many west siders, was a Catholic of German heritage. Her mother, Anna, was born in Germany. Both of her parent died when she was young and she lived with a sister and her family. Joe was the son of Moses and Tillie Greenstein. Moses was from Russia. In 1920, Joe and his mother were boarders in someone else's home.
Several months ago, I was looking for my Ballein family in the 1930 census. I hadn't had any luck (still haven't) and was trying to be creative. So, I tried to find my great-aunt Freda Ballein. Instead, I found Frieda and Joe and their daughter, Jeanette. We knew that Frieda and Joe had a daughter who died, but didn't know anything about her. On Sunday, I located her death certificate and learned that Jeanette Marie Greenstein died in 1930 from acute gastroenteritis. Frieda and Joe had no more children.
Over thirty years over Jeanette's death, Joe cleaned up Jeanette's little chair and allowed a certain little girl to use it. The more I think about the fine people the Greensteins were, the more honored I am to have been that little girl.