Stories About My Mother, Miriam M. Sloan

When she was a little girl living with her mother, Hannah Marcus, and two sisters, Deborah and Rose in the Lower East Side of New York City, her nick name was Mimi. Her friends and sister Deborah called her Mimi when she grew older as well. Mimi Marcus was a very bright little girl who read “every book in the local library” as she grew up. In those years, the schools would skip a student to a higher grade when they completed the work in a lower grade. Mimi Marcus was skipped many grades along the way and was much younger than her classmates as she grew up. She told a story about a teacher in one of the grades who spied her at her desk in the back of the class when all her work had been completed. She said, “I see you, Mimi Marcus, drawing pictures back there!” Of course, all her work was not only completed but perfect! A medal she received for “Excellence” was given to Miriam Krule who is named for her at her bat mitzvah. It is gold with M. Marcus as the inscription.

When she graduated from 8th grade, she was still a little girl with long ‘banana curls’ while the other girls at 12 and 13 were mature. She moved rapidly through high school and college, studying languages — 8 years of Latin, 7 years of Greek, Hebrew, French, German, Old English and in later years she taught herself stenography and Braille. She graduated from Hunter college before she was 18! She had to receive a special license to teach in New York because she was not yet l8. She taught while she entered Columbia University and earned a Master’s Degree in l921 when most girls were lucky if they graduated from high school.

When my older sister Shirley and I were growing up, our mother would bring home books from the New York City School where she taught as gifts for us on the Jewish Holidays. She would hide them in the bottom of the upstairs hall closet of our home in Haledon, New Jersey. She didn’t know we had discovered her hiding place, but we would take the books out and happily discover their titles before she presented them. Some of the books were “The Golden Treasury” of poems, “Robinson Crusoe” and “Little Women”. Shirley and I did not attend school on the Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first two days of Passover and the last two days, Shevuoth and Succoth. We were the only Jewish children in the entire school and always felt very special to be home reading our books on the holidays. We were proud to be Jewish. On the High Holidays we all walked miles to the services. We played games along the way. And counted the stores that were closed because of Jewish owners. When it rained, the family still walked.

Shabbas was a true day of rest in Haledon. Shirley and I spent the day reading and playing outside in the yard where there was a big pear tree to climb, a grape arbor and a badminton court on the back lawn . Our mother was happy to be home for the weekend, since she traveled to New York each weekday to teach in an all boys vocational high school in Harlem. She was known as a firm teacher who cared about her students. She never brought her school work home. Once she was home, she took over as our mother. We were always happiest on the weekends when she was home. During World War II, when there was rationing of shoes, and food, Miriam Sloan would cook the pears from the tree and put up jars for the winter. Samuel Sloan planted a victory garden and taught Shirley and me how to grow vegetables like carrots and beets. In the summer Miriam was home and that was a happy time for her and the entire family. We would take day trips to Cold Spring Lake with picnic lunches and long journeys all the way to Jones Beach in Brooklyn. That would take many hours to reach, but the family went equipped with a suitcase full of kosher food to eat on the beach.

In later years, when she was a grandmother and a widow, Miriam Sloan lived in Ventnor New Jersey near our family. Our three children, Faith, David and Steven saw her often and became very close to her. She had her own apartment and the grandchildren would take turns staying over some nights. She taught them how to bake cookies and played endless games of cards and games they enjoyed. She had a wonderful way of always talking about the other person, child or adult… and what they were doing and what they were interested in. With children, she encouraged them in their school work and their other interests. She often came to dinner and brought her little pot with the kosher chicken dinner since we had stopped keeping kosher in the house. She never complained about her heart condition which made it difficult for her to climb steps.

Miriam Sloan gave a class every year as a volunteer to teach women Braille so they could create books for the blind. They sat at her dining room table and she taught them the difficult work of punching out Braille on stiff oak tag pages. In later years, they bought Braille machines and she taught them how to produce books on the machines. Each page in a book had to be PERFECT to be accepted by the Library of Congress.. She proof read every page of every book her students wrote. She also produced Hebrew Braille and was awarded a certificate from the Jewish Braille Institute. One year, she did the Torah portion for a bar mitzvah boy so that he could go up on the bema and read his portion in Hebrew and English. She taught her Braille classes for seventeen years and received the White Cane Award from the New Jersey Lion’s Club in October, 1973.

I meet some of her former pupils who remember best that my mother always said “Onward!” when life dealt her hard blows. In one six month period of her life, four tragic events happened: Her husband, Samuel Louis Sloan died of a sudden heart attack at 61. Her sister, Deborah Melamed died of cancer at 57. Miriam had a major heart attack at 54 and had to give up her career as a teacher in New York City. After she recovered, she read of a Braille course being given at Ridgewood High School. She took a taxi cab to the school and learned the course was on the third floor. She tossed her coat up the steps one at a time and crawled up to the classroom. After each class, she sat on the steps and bumped her way down. At the end of fifteen weeks, she was certified as a Braille teacher for the Library of Congress in Washington.

Miriam Sloan always felt she had to do something worthwhile every day of her life. She answered Hillel’s famous three questions, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But, if I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Stories About My Mother, Miriam M. Sloan

  1. Mom

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful portrayal of Nanny! She is one of my heros and role models. During these uncomfortable and uncertain days she is in my heart and lives on through you. She was loved and admired by many for being brillant determined but most of alll her big heart . AMEN

  2. You have managed to tell Miriam Sloan’s story so that it came to life as one read it. Although I never met this extraordinary woman, I have heard your many descriptions of her through the years of our friendship. And so I have always felt close to her, and I even find myself using some of her expressions that I have learned from you. As I read this post I imagined this lady throwing her coat before her and crawling up the stairs so she could attend a class in Braille — all because she lived by Hillel’s question, “But if I am only for myself, what am I?” This brought tears to my eyes, and I forever know from whence you came, Joyce.

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