Rosanne Skopp
Rosanne Skopp

Where were the wasps?

I never wondered where the WASPS were when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me that a huge swath of Americana just wasn’t around. Even as an adult, I hardly noticed. New Jersey is such a diverse place that a group that wasn’t there was just not noted.

On our block in Jewish Newark there was an anomaly. Directly across Aldine Street from our house were five houses that were occupied by non-Jews. How this happened I don’t know and why they chose to live in such a profoundly Jewish neighborhood I haven’t a clue. We were never so religious that we needed Shabbas Goys. Mostly we lived in simple peace and harmony. And we shared the designation as ethnics. Not a Protestant among us.

Mr. Musto and I were both ethnics but peace and harmony didn’t extend to us. Our frequent arguments were a bit strange since he was already an old man and I was somewhere in the midst of adolescence. He was the Italian equivalent of my Zayda, with the exception being that Mr, Musto spoke some English. Like Zayda he had come to America to work hard and have a better life. Neither of them ever really assimilated. No one would ever think of them as native born. But they were independent and reached middle class and comfortable lives.

Mr. Musto was not an endearing man. And I know he would have said I was not an endearing girl. He was bent over, very skinny, and I cannot imagine him ever laughing or even smiling. I don’t remember him having any relatives. But he loved his trees very much. And so every year as the annual threat of winter started to remind us that we’d soon be turning up the heat and pulling the warm coats out of the closets, Mr. Musto would, single-handedly, begin to bundle up his trees, fastidiously. These were, naturally, but clearly unnaturally, fig trees, that he had brought from the “old country” and transplanted to Newark. And before you chuckle you need to be reminded that some Jews brought puch from Europe.

Puch, with a ch like in challah, was a filling for quilts. It was made of feathers from under the wings of geese and was known to be the perfect engagement gift. My husband and I were recipients of his Little Bubba’s largesse when my in-laws accompanied the puch she had brought with her from Poland to a shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that specialized in blowing the puch into a brand new quilt casing. The precious feathers went into a big noisy machine that blew with impressive force while my in-laws made sure that no feather was wasted. They didn’t let the puch out of their sight for even a second. Its value was beyond estimation. So, if you think bringing fig trees was a bit strange, give some thought to bringing goose feathers.

And if you think this aberrant behavior is passe, I confess that in 22 years of making endless trips to our home in Herzliya, I never once arrived without a huge cache of New Jersey’s best bagels which I filled my freezer with so there were enough to last for the duration of our stay. Treasures from the old homeland are just that, treasures.

So Mr. Musto spent much time babysitting his fig trees which, sadly, ultimately, relinquished their space to a new junior high school. By then Mr. Musto was, euphemistically, out of the picture, so he never suffered being figless.

But our mutual problem was not the fig trees because when he was busy with the fig trees he didn’t have time to fight with me on our party line.

Do you even know what a party line is? Probably in this era when everyone over the age of about 10 has a private cell phone, a primitive tool like a phone with a party line sounds Neanderthal. But when I was younger, say 70 years younger, our apartment had one phone for all of us…….and, here’s the corker, we had other people in other locations sharing the same line. Believe me it was called a party line but it was no party. Our party line was shared with Mr. Musto, who, as it turned out, had a very active social life and was always on the phone. Now, from somewhere above, he’s probably saying the same thing about me. I plead the 5th. According to him, whenever he wanted to use the phone I was on it. According to me, the reverse was true. Thus, we used to have rip-roaring arguments, constantly, that went on for years, until my parents decided that this ongoing battle with our neighbor wasn’t worth it. They spent the extra money and got a private line, for which, surely, Mr. Musto rejoiced. I know that I did.

But why, in my Newark, were there only ethnics? Where were the real Americans, the ones who descended from the Mayflower? The ones whose families spoke English for generations. The ones where there was no fallback language like Yiddish or Italian.The ones who didn’t shlep fig trees, puch or bagels across the Atlantic? Why didn’t they migrate to Newark? And, lest you think this was a Weequahic phenomenon, you’d be incorrect. North Newark was Italian. Down Neck was Polish and German. South side was Black. Every neighborhood had its own majority and everyone knew that you’d go there for kielbasa or there for pizza. And, likewise, you’d never dream of going to Chancellor Avenue or Bergen Street in Weequahic for grits or a gyro. In no case, however, would you find white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

I think the truth is that they, the WASPS, may have not wanted to live with us. Maybe we were too earthy or not American enough. Our city, and our cities elsewhere, were more or less the same. WASP enclaves were often far from us. I never knew a WASP when I was growing up. I don’t know very many to this day. What about you?

I never wondered where the WASPS were when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me that a huge swath of Americana just wasn’t around. Even as an adult, I hardly noticed. New Jersey is such a diverse place that a group that wasn’t there was just not noted.

On our block in Jewish Newark there was an anomaly. Directly across Aldine Street from our house were five houses that were occupied by non-Jews. How this happened I don’t know and why they chose to live in such a profoundly Jewish neighborhood I haven’t a clue. We were never so religious that we needed Shabbas Goys. Mostly we lived in simple peace and harmony. And we shared the designation as ethnics. Not a Protestant among us.

Mr. Musto and I were both ethnics but peace and harmony didn’t extend to us. Our frequent arguments were a bit strange since he was already an old man and I was somewhere in the midst of adolescence. He was the Italian equivalent of my Zayda, with the exception being that Mr, Musto spoke some English. Like Zayda he had come to America to work hard and have a better life. Neither of them ever really assimilated. No one would ever think of them as native born. But they were independent and reached middle class and comfortable lives.

Mr. Musto was not an endearing man. And I know he would have said I was not an endearing girl. He was bent over, very skinny, and I cannot imagine him ever laughing or even smiling. I don’t remember him having any relatives. But he loved his trees very much. And so every year as the annual threat of winter started to remind us that we’d soon be turning up the heat and pulling the warm coats out of the closets, Mr. Musto would, single handedly, begin to bundle up his trees, fastidiously. These were, naturally, but clearly unnaturally, fig trees, that he had brought from the “old country” and transplanted to Newark. And before you chuckle you need to be reminded that some Jews brought puch from Europe.

Puch, with a ch like in challah, was a filling for quilts. It was made of feathers from under the wings of geese and was known to be the perfect engagement gift. My husband and I were recipients of his Little Bubba’s largesse when my in-laws accompanied the puch she had brought with her from Poland to a shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that specialized in blowing the puch into a brand new quilt casing. The precious feathers went into a big noisy machine that blew with impressive force while my in-laws made sure that no feather was wasted. They didn’t let the puch out of their sight for even a second. Its value was beyond estimation. So, if you think bringing fig trees was a bit strange, give some thought to bringing goose feathers.

And if you think this aberrant behavior is passe, I confess that in 22 years of making endless trips to our home in Herzliya, I never once arrived without a huge cache of New Jersey’s best bagels which I filled my freezer with so there were enough to last for the duration of our stay. Treasures from the old homeland are just that, treasures.

So Mr. Musto spent much time babysitting his fig trees which, sadly, ultimately, relinquished their space to a new junior high school. By then Mr. Musto was, euphemistically, out of the picture, so he never suffered being figless.

But our mutual problem was not the fig trees because when he was busy with the fig trees he didn’t have time to fight with me on our party line.

Do you even know what a party line is? Probably in this era when everyone over the age of about 10 has a private cell phone, a primitive tool like a phone with a party line sounds Neanderthal. But when I was younger, say 70 years younger, our apartment had one phone for all of us…….and, here’s the corker, we had other people in other locations sharing the same line. Believe me it was called a party line but it was no party. Our party line was shared with Mr. Musto, who, as it turned out, had a very active social life and was always on the phone. Now, from somewhere above, he’s probably saying the same thing about me. I plead the 5th. According to him, whenever he wanted to use the phone I was on it. According to me, the reverse was true. Thus, we used to have rip roaring arguments, constantly, that went on for years, until my parents decided that this ongoing battle with our neighbor wasn’t worth it. They spent the extra money and got a private line, for which, surely, Mr. Musto rejoiced. I know that I did.

But why, in my Newark, were there only ethnics? Where were the real Americans, the ones who descended from the Mayflower? The ones whose families spoke English for generations. The ones where there was no fallback language like Yiddish or Italian.The ones who didn’t shlep fig trees, puch or bagels across the Atlantic? Why didn’t they migrate to Newark? And, lest you think this was a Weequahic phenomenon, you’d be incorrect. North Newark was Italian. Down Neck was Polish and German. South side was Black. Every neighborhood had its own majority and everyone knew that you’d go there for kielbasa or there for pizza. And, likewise, you’d never dream of going to Chancellor Avenue or Bergen Street in Weequahic for grits or a gyro. In no case, however, would you find white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

I think the truth is that they, the WASPS, may have not wanted to live with us. Maybe we were too earthy or not American enough. Our city, and our cities elsewhere, were more or less the same. WASP enclaves were often far from us. I never knew a WASP when I was growing up. I don’t know very many to this day. What about you?

I never wondered where the WASPS were when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me that a huge swath of Americana just wasn’t around. Even as an adult, I hardly noticed. New Jersey is such a diverse place that a group that wasn’t there was just not noted.

On our block in Jewish Newark there was an anomaly. Directly across Aldine Street from our house were five houses that were occupied by non-Jews. How this happened I don’t know and why they chose to live in such a profoundly Jewish neighborhood I haven’t a clue. We were never so religious that we needed Shabbas Goys. Mostly we lived in simple peace and harmony. And we shared the designation as ethnics. Not a Protestant among us.

Mr. Musto and I were both ethnics but peace and harmony didn’t extend to us. Our frequent arguments were a bit strange since he was already an old man and I was somewhere in the midst of adolescence. He was the Italian equivalent of my Zayda, with the exception being that Mr, Musto spoke some English. Like Zayda he had come to America to work hard and have a better life. Neither of them ever really assimilated. No one would ever think of them as native born. But they were independent and reached middle class and comfortable lives.

Mr. Musto was not an endearing man. And I know he would have said I was not an endearing girl. He was bent over, very skinny, and I cannot imagine him ever laughing or even smiling. I don’t remember him having any relatives. But he loved his trees very much. And so every year as the annual threat of winter started to remind us that we’d soon be turning up the heat and pulling the warm coats out of the closets, Mr. Musto would, single handedly, begin to bundle up his trees, fastidiously. These were, naturally, but clearly unnaturally, fig trees, that he had brought from the “old country” and transplanted to Newark. And before you chuckle you need to be reminded that some Jews brought puch from Europe.

Puch, with a ch like in challah, was a filling for quilts. It was made of feathers from under the wings of geese and was known to be the perfect engagement gift. My husband and I were recipients of his Little Bubba’s largesse when my in-laws accompanied the puch she had brought with her from Poland to a shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that specialized in blowing the puch into a brand new quilt casing. The precious feathers went into a big noisy machine that blew with impressive force while my in-laws made sure that no feather was wasted. They didn’t let the puch out of their sight for even a second. Its value was beyond estimation. So, if you think bringing fig trees was a bit strange, give some thought to bringing goose feathers.

And if you think this aberrant behavior is passe, I confess that in 22 years of making endless trips to our home in Herzliya, I never once arrived without a huge cache of New Jersey’s best bagels which I filled my freezer with so there were enough to last for the duration of our stay. Treasures from the old homeland are just that, treasures.

So Mr. Musto spent much time babysitting his fig trees which, sadly, ultimately, relinquished their space to a new junior high school. By then Mr. Musto was, euphemistically, out of the picture, so he never suffered being figless.

But our mutual problem was not the fig trees because when he was busy with the fig trees he didn’t have time to fight with me on our party line.

Do you even know what a party line is? Probably in this era when everyone over the age of about 10 has a private cell phone, a primitive tool like a phone with a party line sounds Neanderthal. But when I was younger, say 70 years younger, our apartment had one phone for all of us…….and, here’s the corker, we had other people in other locations sharing the same line. Believe me it was called a party line but it was no party. Our party line was shared with Mr. Musto, who, as it turned out, had a very active social life and was always on the phone. Now, from somewhere above, he’s probably saying the same thing about me. I plead the 5th. According to him, whenever he wanted to use the phone I was on it. According to me, the reverse was true. Thus, we used to have rip roaring arguments, constantly, that went on for years, until my parents decided that this ongoing battle with our neighbor wasn’t worth it. They spent the extra money and got a private line, for which, surely, Mr. Musto rejoiced. I know that I did.

But why, in my Newark, were there only ethnics? Where were the real Americans, the ones who descended from the Mayflower? The ones whose families spoke English for generations. The ones where there was no fallback language like Yiddish or Italian.The ones who didn’t shlep fig trees, puch or bagels across the Atlantic? Why didn’t they migrate to Newark? And, lest you think this was a Weequahic phenomenon, you’d be incorrect. North Newark was Italian. Down Neck was Polish and German. South side was Black. Every neighborhood had its own majority and everyone knew that you’d go there for kielbasa or there for pizza. And, likewise, you’d never dream of going to Chancellor Avenue or Bergen Street in Weequahic for grits or a gyro. In no case, however, would you find white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

I think the truth is that they, the WASPS, may have not wanted to live with us. Maybe we were too earthy or not American enough. Our city, and our cities elsewhere, were more or less the same. WASP enclaves were often far from us. I never knew a WASP when I was growing up. I don’t know very many to this day. What about you?

I never wondered where the WASPS were when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me that a huge swath of Americana just wasn’t around. Even as an adult, I hardly noticed. New Jersey is such a diverse place that a group that wasn’t there was just not noted.

On our block in Jewish Newark there was an anomaly. Directly across Aldine Street from our house were five houses that were occupied by non-Jews. How this happened I don’t know and why they chose to live in such a profoundly Jewish neighborhood I haven’t a clue. We were never so religious that we needed Shabbas Goys. Mostly we lived in simple peace and harmony. And we shared the designation as ethnics. Not a Protestant among us.

Mr. Musto and I were both ethnics but peace and harmony didn’t extend to us. Our frequent arguments were a bit strange since he was already an old man and I was somewhere in the midst of adolescence. He was the Italian equivalent of my Zayda, with the exception being that Mr, Musto spoke some English. Like Zayda he had come to America to work hard and have a better life. Neither of them ever really assimilated. No one would ever think of them as native born. But they were independent and reached middle class and comfortable lives.

Mr. Musto was not an endearing man. And I know he would have said I was not an endearing girl. He was bent over, very skinny, and I cannot imagine him ever laughing or even smiling. I don’t remember him having any relatives. But he loved his trees very much. And so every year as the annual threat of winter started to remind us that we’d soon be turning up the heat and pulling the warm coats out of the closets, Mr. Musto would, single handedly, begin to bundle up his trees, fastidiously. These were, naturally, but clearly unnaturally, fig trees, that he had brought from the “old country” and transplanted to Newark. And before you chuckle you need to be reminded that some Jews brought puch from Europe.

Puch, with a ch like in challah, was a filling for quilts. It was made of feathers from under the wings of geese and was known to be the perfect engagement gift. My husband and I were recipients of his Little Bubba’s largesse when my in-laws accompanied the puch she had brought with her from Poland to a shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that specialized in blowing the puch into a brand new quilt casing. The precious feathers went into a big noisy machine that blew with impressive force while my in-laws made sure that no feather was wasted. They didn’t let the puch out of their sight for even a second. Its value was beyond estimation. So, if you think bringing fig trees was a bit strange, give some thought to bringing goose feathers.

And if you think this aberrant behavior is passe, I confess that in 22 years of making endless trips to our home in Herzliya, I never once arrived without a huge cache of New Jersey’s best bagels which I filled my freezer with so there were enough to last for the duration of our stay. Treasures from the old homeland are just that, treasures.

So Mr. Musto spent much time babysitting his fig trees which, sadly, ultimately, relinquished their space to a new junior high school. By then Mr. Musto was, euphemistically, out of the picture, so he never suffered being figless.

But our mutual problem was not the fig trees because when he was busy with the fig trees he didn’t have time to fight with me on our party line.

Do you even know what a party line is? Probably in this era when everyone over the age of about 10 has a private cell phone, a primitive tool like a phone with a party line sounds Neanderthal. But when I was younger, say 70 years younger, our apartment had one phone for all of us…….and, here’s the corker, we had other people in other locations sharing the same line. Believe me it was called a party line but it was no party. Our party line was shared with Mr. Musto, who, as it turned out, had a very active social life and was always on the phone. Now, from somewhere above, he’s probably saying the same thing about me. I plead the 5th. According to him, whenever he wanted to use the phone I was on it. According to me, the reverse was true. Thus, we used to have rip roaring arguments, constantly, that went on for years, until my parents decided that this ongoing battle with our neighbor wasn’t worth it. They spent the extra money and got a private line, for which, surely, Mr. Musto rejoiced. I know that I did.

But why, in my Newark, were there only ethnics? Where were the real Americans, the ones who descended from the Mayflower? The ones whose families spoke English for generations. The ones where there was no fallback language like Yiddish or Italian.The ones who didn’t shlep fig trees, puch or bagels across the Atlantic? Why didn’t they migrate to Newark? And, lest you think this was a Weequahic phenomenon, you’d be incorrect. North Newark was Italian. Down Neck was Polish and German. South side was Black. Every neighborhood had its own majority and everyone knew that you’d go there for kielbasa or there for pizza. And, likewise, you’d never dream of going to Chancellor Avenue or Bergen Street in Weequahic for grits or a gyro. In no case, however, would you find white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

I think the truth is that they, the WASPS, may have not wanted to live with us. Maybe we were too earthy or not American enough. Our city, and our cities elsewhere, were more or less the same. WASP enclaves were often far from us. I never knew a WASP when I was growing up. I don’t know very many to this day. What about you?

I never wondered where the WASPS were when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me that a huge swath of Americana just wasn’t around. Even as an adult, I hardly noticed. New Jersey is such a diverse place that a group that wasn’t there was just not noted.

On our block in Jewish Newark there was an anomaly. Directly across Aldine Street from our house were five houses that were occupied by non-Jews. How this happened I don’t know and why they chose to live in such a profoundly Jewish neighborhood I haven’t a clue. We were never so religious that we needed Shabbas Goys. Mostly we lived in simple peace and harmony. And we shared the designation as ethnics. Not a Protestant among us.

Mr. Musto and I were both ethnics but peace and harmony didn’t extend to us. Our frequent arguments were a bit strange since he was already an old man and I was somewhere in the midst of adolescence. He was the Italian equivalent of my Zayda, with the exception being that Mr, Musto spoke some English. Like Zayda he had come to America to work hard and have a better life. Neither of them ever really assimilated. No one would ever think of them as native born. But they were independent and reached middle class and comfortable lives.

Mr. Musto was not an endearing man. And I know he would have said I was not an endearing girl. He was bent over, very skinny, and I cannot imagine him ever laughing or even smiling. I don’t remember him having any relatives. But he loved his trees very much. And so every year as the annual threat of winter started to remind us that we’d soon be turning up the heat and pulling the warm coats out of the closets, Mr. Musto would, single handedly, begin to bundle up his trees, fastidiously. These were, naturally, but clearly unnaturally, fig trees, that he had brought from the “old country” and transplanted to Newark. And before you chuckle you need to be reminded that some Jews brought puch from Europe.

Puch, with a ch like in challah, was a filling for quilts. It was made of feathers from under the wings of geese and was known to be the perfect engagement gift. My husband and I were recipients of his Little Bubba’s largesse when my in-laws accompanied the puch she had brought with her from Poland to a shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that specialized in blowing the puch into a brand new quilt casing. The precious feathers went into a big noisy machine that blew with impressive force while my in-laws made sure that no feather was wasted. They didn’t let the puch out of their sight for even a second. Its value was beyond estimation. So, if you think bringing fig trees was a bit strange, give some thought to bringing goose feathers.

And if you think this aberrant behavior is passe, I confess that in 22 years of making endless trips to our home in Herzliya, I never once arrived without a huge cache of New Jersey’s best bagels which I filled my freezer with so there were enough to last for the duration of our stay. Treasures from the old homeland are just that, treasures.

So Mr. Musto spent much time babysitting his fig trees which, sadly, ultimately, relinquished their space to a new junior high school. By then Mr. Musto was, euphemistically, out of the picture, so he never suffered being figless.

But our mutual problem was not the fig trees because when he was busy with the fig trees he didn’t have time to fight with me on our party line.

Do you even know what a party line is? Probably in this era when everyone over the age of about 10 has a private cell phone, a primitive tool like a phone with a party line sounds Neanderthal. But when I was younger, say 70 years younger, our apartment had one phone for all of us…….and, here’s the corker, we had other people in other locations sharing the same line. Believe me it was called a party line but it was no party. Our party line was shared with Mr. Musto, who, as it turned out, had a very active social life and was always on the phone. Now, from somewhere above, he’s probably saying the same thing about me. I plead the 5th. According to him, whenever he wanted to use the phone I was on it. According to me, the reverse was true. Thus, we used to have rip roaring arguments, constantly, that went on for years, until my parents decided that this ongoing battle with our neighbor wasn’t worth it. They spent the extra money and got a private line, for which, surely, Mr. Musto rejoiced. I know that I did.

But why, in my Newark, were there only ethnics? Where were the real Americans, the ones who descended from the Mayflower? The ones whose families spoke English for generations. The ones where there was no fallback language like Yiddish or Italian.The ones who didn’t shlep fig trees, puch or bagels across the Atlantic? Why didn’t they migrate to Newark? And, lest you think this was a Weequahic phenomenon, you’d be incorrect. North Newark was Italian. Down Neck was Polish and German. South side was Black. Every neighborhood had its own majority and everyone knew that you’d go there for kielbasa or there for pizza. And, likewise, you’d never dream of going to Chancellor Avenue or Bergen Street in Weequahic for grits or a gyro. In no case, however, would you find white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

I think the truth is that they, the WASPS, may have not wanted to live with us. Maybe we were too earthy or not American enough. Our city, and our cities elsewhere, were more or less the same. WASP enclaves were often far from us. I never knew a WASP when I was growing up. I don’t know very many to this day. What about you?

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.
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