By Harriet P. Gross
Here is the way today’s world works. In the Jan. 28 TJP, I wrote about Hannah Rosenthal, our government’s new special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Early the next morning, I had an e-mail from her — from Poland! Someone had already sent her a copy of my column while she was at Auschwitz as part of the U.S. presidential delegation to commemorate the 65th anniversary of its liberation. My own paper didn’t even hit my home mailbox until late that same afternoon!
Marvin Chosky: If you are reading this, I’d like to hear from you. From your recent letter to the editor of our local daily paper, I think you must have gone to the same high school I did. You wrote “Not everyone should go to college,” added some compelling reasons and noted, “I went to a high school that was one of the first to have advanced placement courses. However, we also had vocational schools….”
We’re from the same city, Mr. Chosky, and your name sounds as if you might be Jewish — which a large percentage of our school’s student body was. A large percentage of its graduates went on to college. But it also offered something called “Distributive Education”: students not bound for college took a half-day of courses that would be most useful for them, then worked real jobs for the other half. A classmate of mine went that route; today, she’d be identified as ADD, but then she was tagged “not college material.” So she took typing and shorthand, held an office job and, after graduation, headed for New York, where she landed as secretary to the president of a major watch manufacturer. She made friends with a lot of rich playboys, accumulated diamonds and furs, led an altogether glamorous life. “My great adventure,” she called it. Her friends, including me, went to college, and we’re all still waiting for our “great adventures.” If she’d had understanding and medication, she’d have turned out as ordinary as the rest of us.
But in college, I did have one friend, a sorority sister, who was anything but ordinary. She passed away just a couple of weeks ago, and if you don’t recognize her name — Zelda Rubinstein — you’ll probably recall her as Tangina, the tiny psychic in the “Poltergeist” movies.
Zelda at 4-foot-3 taught us all the difference between a dwarf (upper body of normal size over seriously foreshortened legs) and a midget (normally proportioned but abnormally short), which is what she was. She preferred to be called one of the “little people.” And she never liked her first name, either, and for a time called herself “Ann.” But after a while she got bored with that, as she did with her lab technician career. Then she went back to “Zelda” and went out to California, where she pioneered a theater exclusively for short actors.
I have great pictures in my yearbook: Zelda smiling front and center in our sorority group shot; Zelda talking to the “sister” who would soon be crowned “Senior Queen,” our university’s highest honor for a female student, bending down to catch her little friend’s ear as if she herself was the lowly subject bowing to another queen — which of course Zelda was.
The same newspaper that carried Mr. Chosky’s letter reported Zelda’s death, and on its obituary page, I also read about the funeral arrangements for Ruth Natinsky. I never knew her, but she must have been really special, because after all the usual facts about family members, community involvements and the like, there was this, all in italics:
“None can make shoes that fit like the sand, nor clothes that fit like water, nor thoughts that fit like the air, but the love that was shared by Ruth fit like all of these to those who knew her.”
I really like that! I guess I’d be happier if I could add “but God” after the first word; that would make it just perfect. But even without that, I’m sure this was a person well worth knowing.
Well, I’ll never get to meet Ruth Natinsky. And it’s too late now to talk, ever again, with my playgirl friend from high school, or my little friend from college. But I’ve already been in touch with Hannah Rosenthal via e-mail, the way the world works today. And Marvin Chosky: It’s not too late for me to talk to you. I think we may have some memories to share about Distributive Education!