September 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
The sad remnant of our hometown newspaper is one-half advertisements these days and often woefully short on news. Recently, however, an ad appeared that outclassed everything around it.
An 88-year-old Southern Californian named Gary Platt purchased a half-page in Section A to say thanks to the “great many people [who made] my life so wonderful.” And then he named names: Bertha, Cy, Reuben, Shesh, Chavalo, Aunt Renie, Matsu . . . multiple paragraphs resonant with names of parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, boyhood friends, in-laws, employers, fellow employees, and “the wonderful friends that have become family.”
In so many ways, Gary Platt’s story is paradigmatic of Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century; the big-hearted humility, however, is his own.
Platt’s father and future father-in-law emigrated from Russia in 1912, entering the U.S. at Galveston, Texas. Expert cabinetmakers, they earned enough within a year to send for his father’s bride-to-be, her sisters and grandmother.
They emigrated again from Texas to Los Angeles, settling, as did so many Jewish immigrants, in Boyle Heights. The Britannia Street home purchased in 1919 stayed in the family for more than 50 years.
When his father’s parents—still in Russia—were killed in a pogrom along with an uncle just after WW I, his father helped another uncle bring the remaining family to the U.S. “This made our family whole,” he writes, “and I was able to enjoy growing up with some wonderful cousins.”
Gary Platt included four photos with his thank-you: he and his wife of 60 years; their daughter with her husband and “the light of our life four year old granddaughter Lily”; his “beautiful mother Fannie,” c. 1910; and his father, Albert, a dashing young man in the uniform of the Czarinas Royal Guard. With evident pride, Platt tells us that the unit was composed solely of six-foot tall men who, besides being expert horsemen, looked good in the saddle, adding, “He was probably the only Jew allowed in the organization.”
Platt is endearingly generous with his compliments. His future wife was “a beautiful blond switchboard operator”; his grandfather was “smart” for buying the Brittania Street house; an employer was “a genius for production.”
For someone who had a 52-year career with the same company—as a salesman for a manufacturer of restaurant furniture—he is notably modest about his accomplishments, which included a line of casino seating spun off as Gary Platt Mfg. No, the kudos go to that “genius” employer and the partner’s business direction, their “far superior” products, and the “many wonderful people” he met working at L&B Mfg. His service in WW II is mentioned only in passing.
Sincere gratitude flows from Platt’s words. Though he is “certain more names will come to me later of people that are important to me that have slipped my mind,” Platt’s tribute appears encyclopedic, from the set of Tom Swift books given to him at age 10 (thanks to Leo Platt), to acknowledgement of Hollenbeck Junior High and Roosevelt High Schools.
In closing, Platt writes with particular affection for “a special friend,” Mr. Moses J. Thompson, who lived across the street from the Platt family on a small ranch in Sierra Madre. Mr. Thompson not only shared his fresh fruits and vegetables with the young boy but told him stories.
One that stuck with him is how Mr. Thompson said when he was Gary’s age, then five, he would sometimes go to work with his father to see his special friend. His father worked in the White House and his special friend was Abraham Lincoln.
“Can you imagine that my special friend Moses J. Thompson had another special friend named Abraham Lincoln? I like that.”
And I like you, Mr. Platt.