LIFE 101-102: Lena Jacobson (Part II)

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Note: If you missed reading Part I, you will find it below Part II.


Lena with great-granddaughter Allie and granddaughter Penny.

(The scarf in her lap is part of a hat and scarf set she made for me this summer.)

After Lena and Bernie Jacobson married, they first lived with relatives, but after six months, found their own place, struggling to stay afloat financially. The Depression affected them and as Lena stated, “We lived from hand-to-mouth.” All their money was in the bank and when the banks closed, their money was gone, so they moved in with Lena’s parents in Atlantic City, where their son Alan was born in 1933. The family pitched in and bought Bernie a jitney, which he used to shuttle people up and down Pacific Avenue, one of the main streets in Atlantic City at that time. He worked long hours to keep his family fed.

Because Alan developed asthma and the doctor advised a less damp environment, the Jacobsons moved back to Philadelphia, where Bernie went into the installment plan business: One dollar down and one dollar each week for merchandise. In my conversation with Lena, she often mentioned how difficult life was financially,nalthough they did manage to spend summers in the country at Rockdale, PA, about one hour from Philadelphia.

From 1938-1945, Lena and Bernie worked together in their small furniture business, where the installment plan was once again the way they sold their merchandise. However, the furniture was often repossessed for lack of payment, so money was still tight. In 1945 and until 1969, Bernie had another business, similar, but a cash business in which he sold tables, lamps, blinds, etc. They lived above their store and Lena ran up and down the steps to bring down items stored in one of the rooms in their now spacious apartment. Bernie seemed to know what would sell, so the store made them a decent living. (Lena remarked that a salesman remarked, “If it smells, it sells.”

In 1956, Lena developed angina and cut down her work load at the store. Instead, she started working in a knitting store and worked part time, still helping in the family store. At age three or four she had learned how to knit from her mother. Now Lena’s ability to knit (and crochet) led to her creating skirts, dresses, and sweaters. She was also known as “The Knitting Doctor,” fixing the mistakes of customers. She actually introduced her employer to the idea of knitting with sequins and made special orders of ball gowns with sequins. She also learned a lot about fashion from her boss, Mrs. Smart, who hired Lena and her sister Esther. She loved working for Mrs. Smart and even managed the store when her employer traveled back to Texas to see her family. When customers asked where Mrs. Smart found Lena, her boss replied, “I found a gem, and now I have her sister.”

In 1969, Lena changed jobs and worked in a needlepoint shop after her boss, Mrs. Smart, retired. In addition to knitting and crocheting, Lena also could do needlepoint. After 14 more years, she retired from this job to care for her husband Bernie, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. By this time, Lena was 73. After her husband’s death in 1984, she continued to knit ands crochet for private customers. She also told me that when her great-granddaughter was very little, she made her a new sweater every week!

Fast forward to the present and you will find Lena still knitting and crocheting: sweaters, afghans, hats, scarves, vests, etc. She is a whirling dervish, creating more and more items for family, friends, and the Cozy Corner store at the nursing home. She feels a real commitment to help raise funds for the arts and crafts division. Lena spends a great deal of time in the arts and crafts room creating decorations and wall pieces for the parties and display areas. She participates in the art classes and her painting appeared on last year’s Saunders House information magazine.

When I asked her why she continues to stay so busy with her projects, her reply was: “I feel I am not wasting my life. I am doing something for Saunders House, something I love to do.” As she turns 102, she is a wonderful role model for me and all those whose lives she touches. Happy Birthday, Lena!

Lena with her grandson Jay. (See Jay’s website,, also listed under links on the right side of the margin.) He has a new CD called Ready and you can hear some of the songs on the site.

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