Recollections of Ridgewood:
A Dream that Came True

Annie Nilsson

(1 October 1938)

From the WPA . . .

Fifty-five years ago, Annie Soeldner, a child of ten, lived with her parents in a house on Gates Avenue, near Prospect. The front room was used as a grocery store. Among the customers was a Polish woman named Portavetch, whose husband worked as a waiter in a Brooklyn hotel. A disputed store bill gave rise to unpleasant relations which resulted in the withdrawal of the Polish family's patronage, and the woman discontinued coming into the store.

One morning, about a year later; Annie was awakened by her mother at the usual time, six o'clock. The moment she opened her eyes she said: "Oh, Mother, I had such a strange dream. I thought that Mrs. Portavetch came and bought 3 1/2 lbs. of sugar from us." Ten minutes later the woman walked into the store and made just that purchase.

Recollections of the Old Farm

Father was the proprietor of a farm in Maspeth during the early eighties. He was fond of making what the people of today call "wisecracks." When planting peas, he used to say:

"If they come, we won't see many:
If they stay away, we shall see them all!"

He was referring to the possibility of crows coming and devouring his seed.

While I was yet a child, father became very ill, and the doctor said he had malaria. He was ordered to bed, and mother was directed to give him a teaspoonful of medicine three times a day. When the bottle was emptied, the same prescription was renewed.

Father was an impatient man, who thought he wasn't getting well fast enough. He thought, too, that because the medicine was colorless it must necessarily be weak; so to hasten his cure father took four teaspoonfuls at a time, instead of one. He did this when Mother's back was turned, and the first thing we knew he got so sick that we believed he would die before we could get the doctor. My! was Doctor Combs mad when he came! He had to stay about two hours before he could get father in shape to leave him. Before going away he said: "If you ever play a trick like that one me again, you can send for a horse doctor to come to your relief." Mother took no chances after that; she took the bottle away with her each time after giving father his regular dose.

A Bit of Witchcraft

When I was fifteen, I knew a very pretty girl who lived with her parents on Freshpond Road, Ridgewood. An old woman who used to sell pretzels in the vicinity was said to be possessed of an "evil eye." Every time she stopped to peddle her wares at my friend's house it was her custom to praise the girl's beauty. One day the girl became very ill, and seemed to be going out of her mind. She grew worse as time went on, and frequently appeared to be demented. She would say: "Oh, Mother, it's got me again! Mother, Mother; take it away from me! Take it away!"

The pretzel women had suddenly vanished from sight; she no longer came into the neighborhood, and everyone said she had bewitched the girl. Friends of the family were called upon, and some recommended one cure and some another. Acting upon the suggestion of a neighbor, the worried mother took her daughter to a certain woman whose prayers were said to be very effective in removing witches' spells; but all to no avail. At last, a gypsy was consulted; and she made the startling disclosure that a jealous woman had paid the old hag who sold pretzels to "hex" the girl. The gypsy assured the mother that if the girl would swallow raw eggs without salt, one after another until she vomited, the evil spirit would quickly take its departure.

These directions were carried out, and very soon afterwards my friend ceased to complain.

Snail Soup

About forty-five years ago, I went to work as cook for a family of three sisters; elderly ladies who lived in a neat brownstone house on Herkimer Street, near Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn. They seemed to like my cooking very much, and were particularly fond of my soups. The back door of the kitchen opened into a cool storage-room, the floor of which was reached by descending two steps.

Here stood the ice-box, near a door through which we had to pass to reach the garden at the back of the house.

One evening, after the dinner things had been cleared away, I made a pot of chicken soup for the noon meal on the day following, and set it down near the outer door of the shed to get cold; leaving the door open so that the cool breeze could blow in. I stayed up rather late that night, reading in the kitchen; and, when I got tired, I went into the shed and put my pot of soup in the ice-box. After locking all the doors I retired to bed.

Next day, when preparing lunch, I was horrified to discover two large garden snails in my nice pot of soup. Hurriedly removing them, I decided to keep my awful secret to myself, and at noon-time I served up the dish as though nothing had happened. While I was busying myself in the kitchen, one of the ladies called out, "Annie, shall we save a plate of soup for you?" I answered back that I did not care for any, and the same lady then said: "Oh, Annie, I'm so glad. We are going to finish it. We all think this is the most delicious soup you ever made!"

Annie Nilsson's Recollections Continue . . .

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