Bensonhurst Days

Article Published: May. 12, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Bensonhurst Days

Pearls of Wisdom

Blowing Rock's Pearl 'Pete' Zinober has published her colorful memoirs, 'In Those Days.'

Photo by Jeff Eason

Pearl "Pete" Zinober was born in 1918 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

She published her first book in 2011.

While the age of 93 might seem a little late to start a writing career, for Zinober it's an advantage, because she has a lot more stories to tell than the average author.

In her first book, "In Those Days," Zinober focuses on her experiences as a youngster in the 1920s and 30s growing up in Bensonhurst, then a new housing area in Brooklyn. She remembers how her Bensonhurst neighborhood was populated by immigrants, mostly Italian and Jewish families from Europe.

With the wit and wisdom accumulated over the better part of a century, Zinober reflects on her early years as a young Jewish girl in New York.

"Up and down our street, differences appeared in language, religion and holiday observances," Zinober said. "The absence of a common language kept neighbors apart, since the immigrant elders spoke only Italian or Yiddish.

"But not the kids. They were all new kids in Bensonhurst, and their communication exploded in English. They were at ease with their place on the block, their school and with their grandparents, who still spoke the language of their Old Country."

"In Those Days" features stories about Zinober's close-knit family in Bensonhurst with plenty of cameos from neighbors, friends and distant relatives. The centerpiece of the memoir is the precocious little protagonist known in her family as "Perele," the affectionate diminutive term for Pearl.

"The book is autobiographical, as well as I can remember," Zinober said. "A lot of it is through memory. All of the people in my family used to tell me stories of how I was a mean little kid and I was a brat. I wasn't. I was angelic. They simply didn't recognize the halo that I carried around with me."

With chapters titled "Parnassus in the Catskills," "Pappa and the Horseless Carriage" and "Bar Mitzvah," "In Those Days" captures the Jewish-American experience of the early part of the 20th century. The headstrong nature of Zinober also shows the reader how American women progressed light years from her grandmother's generation to her own.

"I used to go to the movies with my grandmother," she said. "They used to have something called 'dish night' on Wednesday. If you went on Wednesday evening to the movies, you would get a dish. There were made of dark colored glass. They were called ruby glass and emerald glass. You see them sometimes in antique shops. When I first went to the movies, movies were silent. People today don't know what that means."

Zinober also recalls that when she was 6 years old, she saw the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in the role of the Black Swan on stage in New York.

"Being born in 1918, the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s were very real to me," she said. "It happened while I was in high school and while I was in college."

Zinober graduated from Hunter College in New York in the late 1930s.

"It was a city college that was part of a very large system of free colleges," she said. "This is the thing that amazes me, when the kids today talk about the amount of money that they have to pay for college. Twenty years after graduation, they are still paying for college. I can't believe it.
"In the depths of the Depression, I had to pay 50 cents a semester for a library fee. I rode the subway from home. Hunter was in Manhattan, and it was a women's college, and that was one of the sore points of my early life: That I had to go to a girls' school.

"But the Fordham boys were not that far away. I used to ride the subway, and the Fordham boys got off a little before we did. At that time they had some branches of Hunter College way up in the corner of the Bronx, and I was living in the lower end of Brooklyn. So it took about an hour and 20 minutes to get to college."

After graduating from Hunter College, Zinober worked at several jobs, including one at the historic New York department store, Macy's, before marrying Moses Robert "Zinnie" Zinober, a veterinarian who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Zinnie graduated from Michigan State back when it was called Michigan State Agricultural College," she said. "He said he graduated from college on a Tuesday, and that Friday he was in Wisconsin working for the Department of Agriculture.

"People would say about Zinnie and me, because we were very different, Zinnie was quiet and laid back, and I was very different, as you can see. People would say, 'The two of you being so different, how come the two of you got married?' And Zinnie would say, 'Well, I promised I'd buy her a dog.' I never had a dog because my mother didn't like pets."

The Zinobers married in Minnesota and lived there for 10 years before Zinnie's job took him to Maryland, Iowa and Florida, where Pearl taught high school English. After Zinnie's retirement, the Zinobers moved to Watauga County in 1972. Since Zinnie's death, Zinober has spent more time writing, including creating the memoir "In Those Days."

"The book was put together by my two girls, Jane and Amy," she said. "I've been working on it a long time. Over the years, I've increased and enlarged it. A couple of years ago the girls said, 'Why don't you try to get it published?' I had an agent for a while, but apparently memoirs are big sellers only if you are a movie star or a gangster. And I didn't qualify."

Zinober eventually went the self-publishing route, creating and selling her book through, an online self-publishing site.

These days, Zinober spends her time gardening, writing her second volume of memoirs (it will be about her years in Minnesota), and keeping up with national politics.

At 93, Zinober is as feisty and active as a woman two or three decades younger than that, even though she will readily admit that some days she feels like she is in her 90s.

"I have something called glaucoma," she said. "Now that scares the hell out of me, because apparently it affects your vision. And, you know, my hearing is going, but I really don't mind that too much. Because when you get to my age, I'm beginning to feel that not an awful lot of people say things that are that interesting."

To order a copy of Pearl "Pete" Zinober's new book, "In Those Days," call Barbara Quantrano at (828) 265-3137.

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