THE CHILDREN OF BENNIE AND LILLIE GRABLOWSKY
Bennie and Lillie had three children – Oscar born in 1939, Bernie born in 1944, and Verne, born in 1950. They always had lots of toys to play with from their parent’s store and lots of friends. They all excelled in school, following the tradition of graduating as either Valedictorian or Salutatorian. They were all completely immersed in the community with involvement in sports, music, dance, and other community events and activities. Lifelong friends were established by all three children. The entire family was fully integrated into all aspects of social life in Williston. Verne even used to go to summer Bible school with friends, particularly at the Presbyterian Church. Perhaps it was just one of the events to keep her busy. A town swimming pool was built at the location of the library and what used to be the old school. Verne spent most summer days at this pool when she was not at camp. It was a walk or a bicycle ride away from the home on Springfield Road.
The school that Lillie Grablowsky and her siblings attended on Springfield Road is the same one where her sons Oscar and Bernie began their school years. In 1930’s Williston-Elko High School was built as part of the Works Progress Administration project on the east side of town on Main Street, and in the 1950’s an elementary and middle school was built adjacent to that. Around the time that Lillie Grablowsky was moving to Virginia Beach, VA, she set up an annual scholarship for the high school valedictorian.
All three Grablowsky children were heavily influenced by the time they spent at Camp Blue Star in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They were introduced to a community of other Jews and other aspects of Judaism that may not have been available to them. They remain friends with many of those Blue Star campers. This Jewish camping experience may have been a major influence in the choice of Oscar, Bernie and Verne to all marry Jewish spouses after growing up in a small southern town with very few Jewish friends.
For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Bennie Grablowsky would go to Augusta, GA and stay with his parents who were very religious and would walk to synagogue. Once they became a Bar Mitzvah, Oscar and Bernie went to Augusta with their father for the High Holy Days. Lillie and the children who did not go to Augusta stayed in Williston to celebrate with their grandparents, Gussie and David Rogol. Verne has a vivid memory of walking from the Grablowsky house to her grandparent’s house for these holiday dinners. She would skip and run and climb onto low walls that lined some of the yards. Our grandmother would make delicious meals. After our grandparents died, all of the major Jewish holidays were celebrated at our home. Our Passover Seders were mostly read in Hebrew by our father.
We remember celebrating Chanukah, Passover and the High Holy Days, but not Shabbat because it was a major workday since it was the busiest day of the week. The tradition of not attending secular school on the Jewish holidays was maintained for the children of Lillie and Bennie Grablowsky. On Passover, our mother, Lillie Grablowsky, would purchase very small bottles of Manischewitz wine and matzah and make up gift bags for many of our non-Jewish friends in town during Passover. Bernie and Oscar ate three meals each day at the Rogol home during Passover. When Verne was in school, her mother picked her up every day for lunch during Passover so she could eat at home. Although we did not keep Kosher, our parents had a different set of dishes for Passover, which they used each year.
Both Oscar and Bernie became a Bar Mitzvah at a ceremony in Aiken, South Carolina, but Verne did not become a Bat Mitzvah or learn Hebrew until age 58 in 2008. Bernie and Oscar went to Sunday School in Augusta, then later in Aiken, South Carolina until their Bar Mitzvah. Verne irregularly and reluctantly attended Sunday school in Aiken.
Lillie did not particularly enjoy cooking, but we always had a hot meal for dinner. We have memories of country fried steak, fried chicken, lots of hamburgers and French fries and a roasted chicken or roast beef for Sunday lunch. Although our mother did not hesitate to open canned peas or other vegetables, she did make fresh corn, green beans and butterbeans. Once the Dairy Bar opened, we would often eat hamburgers and fried chicken from there and sometimes we ate there on Sundays.
Particularly at the Springfield Road house, people would leave fresh cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, peaches and other homegrown vegetables on our doorstep. It was a treat to see what was there, and the fruits and vegetables were particularly tasty. We also had fresh baked cakes and pies dropped off at our house. There was one person in particular who made Bernie’s favorite coconut cake that seemed like it was a mile high, from a child’s viewpoint. He still remembers it as “the best.”
Lillie always worked in the store, but at the end of the school day she picked up Verne from school and, depending on Verne’s age, Lillie either returned to work or stayed home. Our parents employed help to stay with the children when they were young. In particular, Oscar and Bernie remember “Sister” who cared for them as children, but died soon after Verne was born. Annie was a memorable sitter for Verne, and on Saturdays Annie made her small hamburgers with onions, and they practiced the latest dance moves.
When Bernie was in high school, Verne remembers a stop at the drugstore on the way home from school so Bernie could purchase a book to read that day. We would often get carbonated fountain sodas, fresh squeezed lemonade or hamburgers during these stops. Smith’s drugstore was also a major hangout for adults and children where they would drink milkshakes, sodas and read comic books. This drugstore was originally down the street from Bennys, but moved to a new strip mall that was built across the railroad tracks.
When the Grablowsky family lived on East Main Street, the children played up and down the street with other children who lived on the block. We could ride our bikes and even walk to our parent’s store. We were not pushed, but encouraged to participate in whatever activity we wanted to try. The children don’t ever remember being disciplined by either parent.
At this house there was a large pecan tree in the backyard. We would gather the pecans and help with cracking them to get out the pecan nut. On summer evenings, our mother would often sit in one of our neighbors’ yards and shell butterbeans, string beans or crack open pecans.
There was one indoor movie theater and a drive-in theater in Williston. On Saturdays we went to the indoor theater where Westerns were the main type of show, and there were double features. The shows were also preceded by the Movie Tone news of the week. Around 1955 -1957, the cost of a show was 11 cents.
Lillie enjoyed gardening, and we had beautiful flowers in several gardens in the Springfield Road house. Verne often took roses, large and colorful tulips, azaleas, and irises of many colors to her teachers. Lillie also played bridge regularly and was extremely social. Bennie used to leave for work early to meet other men at the drugstore and later the motel to have morning coffee and get the latest news.
We often visited our Grablowsky grandparents in Augusta, Georgia on Sundays. We would always go by the deli to get corned beef and other delicacies. Sometimes we would see a movie, go to a circus, or an ice skating exhibition. We would often have dinner at Green’s, which was a drive-in restaurant where you ordered from your car, and the food was delivered to the car. We also remember visiting family in Ninety Six, SC, Columbia SC, and Darlington, SC.
Bennie Grablowsky suffered with Parkinson’s Disease, diagnosed in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. He had also had a type of arthritis or ankylosing spondilitis, which began in his 20’s. Our mother ran the business for many years while our father was homebound. He died in 1984.
Our mother remained very active in Williston after our father’s death, and we would all go to visit at least once a year at the house on Springfield Road. She moved to Virginia Beach in 1990 where her son Bernie and his family lived. She died from ovarian cancer in the year 2000.