Herman Wise and Evelyn Apple

 

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Evelyn Apple was born to parents who had come to the United States from Russia as teenagers and who met in this country. Her mother, Fanny, was a beautiful, dark haired, high spirited woman who never got over feeling guilty about having run away from her family in the Russian ghetto. Her father, Louis, was a sweet, loving man who made a living by selling jewelry as a traveling salesman, and who drank too much, probably as an escape from Fannyís anger and haranguing. Evelyn loved him very much; she was a little afraid of her motherís temper and of her older sister, Elizabeth. Evelyn was teased by everyone about her red hair. She was called "carrot top." Elizabeth was jealous of Evelynís prettiness, although she herself was also pretty, but a bit too chubby.

When the sisters finished high school, each went to work. Elizabeth went into retailing and became a buyer of womenís clothes for a large department store in Detroit. She chose Evelynís clothes for her (at a discount) all of her life, so that Evelyn developed no confidence in her own taste.

Evelyn learned shorthand and became a stenographer; she worked for the Detroit Public Library. Evelyn had been a top student in high school and wanted to go to college, but her parents needed the money she brought home to pay the debts that Louis incurred while drinking and gambling at cards. She studied French during and beyond her teen years and longed to travel, especially to France, where she had corresponded as a child with her Uncle Max, Louisí brother, and his daughter Carmen. She had talent at acting, athletics and painting, and loved to read.

When she was in her early 20ís, she was introduced to a handsome and well-known local journalist, Herman Wise.

Herman was the oldest of 6 children, and acted in the role of a parent to his youngest siblings. His father, George, was an impulsive man who started businesses and left them in mid-stream to start something else. George had traveled from Roumania, where he was born, through England, to the United States and Canada, and settled in Montreal, where Herman was born to Jenny, Georgeís wife. George moved with his young family to Peekskill, New York, where he opened a soda bottling business. Jenny had two miscarriages and then another son, John, by the time Herman was four years old. At that point, George heard there was land out west for homesteaders, so he left Jenny and the children, and his bottling business, and went to Montana. Once there, he built a small house and sent for Jenny. Herman, then five years old, was his motherís only helper as they traveled by train across the country, their clothing in a basket.

In Great Falls, Montana, George built a store where he sold groceries, and had a small farm with chickens and horses. Jenny had four more babies. Herman was a fastidious child who hated life in the country. His younger brothers, John and Leo, loved to ride horses, but Herman stayed indoors practicing the violin, or reading. If he failed to practice, George spanked him, hard.

After the three boys, Jenny gave birth to three girls, Leone, Rose and Mary. Rose was slower than the other children. Herman meted out discipline to all of them as though he were the father. He called his own father by his first name. The girls loved, respected and obeyed him. One winter everyone in the family except Herman became very ill with influenza, and Herman took care of the entire family.

When Herman was old enough for high school, George moved his family back east to Detroit, where many of his relatives were now living. Herman went to Eastern High School. He was an excellent student and a good writer. When he graduated he went to the University of Michigan, where he studied journalism. He was still studying violin, as well.

While Herman was in college, his younger sister, Rose, became too difficult for Jenny to care for at home. Retardation was little understood and a subject of much shame. Jenny and George placed Rose in a "home" and from then on she was seldom mentioned. (When I, as a child, discovered a family photo with six children, I was told that Rose had died during the influenza epidemic. I was in my forties before I learned that she was alive, living in a state-run home about 200 miles north of Detroit. I never met her; she died shortly I learned of her existence.)

After graduating from U of M., Herman landed a job with the Detroit Free Press, then a prestigious newspaper. Before long he became their music critic. He also, at various times, covered drama, travel, art and wrote book reviews. A very handsome young man, he had his own daily column with his photograph and byline at the top. It was a respected job.

Evelyn and Herman were introduced by mutual friends. She was four years his junior, and immediately smitten by this good looking, well-known, intelligent man who commanded so much respect and who wrote about all the things she loved. He was equally attracted to Evelynís beauty, intelligence, and the interest she showed in him. When she was 22 and he was 26, they married.

Four years later, in 1933, I was born.

Evelyn and Herman were thrilled to have a baby daughter, and felt fortunate that Herman had a good job to support the three of us at a time when so many people were out of work. A few weeks after my fourth birthday, my brother Richard was born. We lived in Detroit, on Virginia Park, in a rented upstairs flat. Herman and Evelyn had watched their own parents lose their homes during the Depression years, and were afraid to invest in buying a house. When Richard was born we moved to a larger flat on the same street, two blocks further west, between Woodrow Wilson and what was then Twelfth Street (now renamed Rosa Parks Blvd.).

We had been living there for two years when my father was offered another job, at a higher salary than he earned at the Free Press. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra was expanding, and needed someone to do publicity for them. My mother was reluctant to have him give up the prestige of his newspaper column, but he felt this was a new and exciting opportunity, and made the move.

I liked his new position. He took me to all the childrenís concerts at Orchestra Hall and I felt "special" not sitting with the school groups, but being in a box seat with my father. I liked the name of his new job, even though it was a mouthful to say: "Publicity Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra." I was very proud to walk into his new office holding his hand.

Then, in 1941, the United States entered WWII, and funding for the Detroit Symphony dried up. The Symphony disbanded, and my father was out of a job.

Because of a union he had helped start at the Free Press, he was unable to get his old job back. My parents were in turmoil. My mother said, "I told you not to leave the paper!" My father suddenly had no patience with any of us, and read the papers a lot. My brother and I had to be very quiet. My mother was highly emotional and angry with my father. "Heís always been so moody," she said to me often, in exasperation. "Donít ever marry a man who is moody!" I had heard this line for many years.

The next job he had, during and after the war, was with the American Automobile Association. At that time George Romney, who later became Governor of Michigan, was president of the company. My father was the publisher of their newsletter. Life appeared to be comfortable for him in his working world.

In the late Ď40ís, when the war was over and I was in the 11th grade, another jolt came to my parents. The house we had lived in since I was four years old was sold to someone who wanted to move into the downstairs flat and rent our upstairs flat to someone else in their family. My parents were told they had to move.

My mother was both anxious and excited at this turn of events. Her friends had all moved to the more prestigious "northwest section" of Detroit, and she saw this as her opportunity to move in that direction as well. My parents spent their weekends looking at houses. I was very immersed in my own world of high school friends, and not interested in joining them, although I donít remember that they invited me to come along anyway. Children in our family (and perhaps in our times) had little to say about adult decisions.

Eventually they bought a small, affordable house in excellent condition in a nice neighborhood. My mother happily measured shelves for papering and windows for curtains, and planned where the furniture would fit. Meanwhile, my father became more withdrawn and less communicative.

One day my father asked me to take a walk with him. It was an afternoon in spring, when all the trees were budding and the leaves had returned to the shrubs that separated each driveway on the block from the lot next door. It was my favorite time of the year. I felt rather flattered that my father had unexpectedly invited me to walk with him. I was unprepared for what he told me during that walk, however.

"After August I wonít be working at AMA any longer," he said. "We will still move into the new house this summer, but please, please donít tell your mother that I have been let go. Iíll have a new job by then."

I had never been included in adult conversations. Aside from the few dollars allowance I received each week, I had no education about finances. As an adolescent girl often at odds with her mother, I had no idea how inappropriate his request was. I had always had confidence in everything my father said. So I kept the secret, believed he would find a new job soon, and went about my own life as if the sky were not about to fall on our heads.

During the spring and summer, as Herman was unable to find new work and kept his heavy knowledge secret from his wife, he grew increasingly anxious. One day his anxiety became so overwhelming that he was unable to function at all. This in-charge man, who always leapt out of bed the instant the alarm clock rang, would not get up in the morning. Always an extremely fastidious person, he stopped shaving and showering. "I just canít," he said. "You donít understand. No one understands."

That part was accurate. None of us knew a thing about clinical depression in 1950. Evelyn kept saying, "Snap out of it, Herman. Just snap out of it." His brother John said the same thing. I sat next to him in his corner of the living room and held his hand.

I donít recall at which point in this process Herman confessed to Evelyn that he had no job. He had been dressing every day for weeks as if going to the office, and instead was going to fruitless job interviews. Papers had already been signed for the new house but there was no money. Evelyn was angry, frightened, humiliated. If she was enraged at me for keeping the secret, I do not recall; perhaps she understood that I had always been obedient to my father and could not go against his orders. Perhaps, like so much in our family, it was easier not to talk about this openly.

My father, unshaven and sad, had become someone I hardly recognized. Family and friends came to the financial rescue, and saw to it that my mother sought medical attention for him. Eventually, he found his way to psychiatric help.

On the road to improvement, but still in the grip of the depression, he tried a series of jobs, often found by well-meaning friends, for which he was not at all suited. An angel of a friend loaned him enough money to move into the new house and pay the rent. I started college, commuting to Wayne University, where I met Bob in my freshman year. My brother, 13, had to make his way through a new junior high and befriend boys in the new neighborhood who were a year older and a lot bigger than he was. He did this without much support from anyone in the family; all of us were preoccupied with our own outer lives and inner demons. My mother, in her mid-forties, was not feeling well, but did not talk much about it.

Herman was finally hospitalized for depression and treated as an inpatient for a year at Lafayette Clinic, in downtown Detroit. When he emerged from the depression, a friend found a job for him. Herman seemed not only happy, he never stopped talking. He told endless stories, which wandered, digressed and had no end-point. Herman, it turned out, was bi-polar, in those days called manic-depressive illness. Neither my mother nor his friends had any patience for his endless stories; "Snap out of it" turned to "Stop it, Herman!"

Three and a half years later, Bob and I married. Less than two years after that, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was 48 years old. They said she had a "very short time" to live. Yet she managed to stay alive for another four years, to greet me when I returned from a year in France with Bob during his military service, and then to meet Gary, her first grandchild. She lived until he was four months old. She was 52 when she died.

Herman was 56. After his long ordeal, with his own illness and with Evelynís, he looked older and worn out. Then, after Evelyn had been gone for a year, a new woman entered his life. Sharon was a widowed friend of his sister Mary, who lived in Chicago. When Sharon moved to the Detroit area to be near her married daughters, Mary said, "Be sure to phone my brother Herman." She did, and within a month they were married. Herman looked ten years younger from the day they met.

But their story is a separate chapter.

 

Judith Goren (2003)