Part II: The Deutch Family

A Typical 1890’s Saloon

(This is a continuation of the previous post–start there if you haven’t read it yet…)

Elizabeth Genevieve McMahon. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. She had been born on a California farm in the early 1870’s to Irish parents, and was one of many daughters in a large Catholic family. As such, there was little money to invest in the children’s educations—especially the girls. Whatever future Liza envisioned for herself, she would have to bring to fruition on her own. And whatever that future was, it did not involve farm life.

We next find Liza in a San Francisco saloon, where she had probably gone to seek work. With her beauty and talent, she likely sought a job there as some sort of showgirl, a perfect opportunity for a young woman of her charms in the gay 1890’s. What she found there was a saloonkeeper named Isaac Deutch. Isaac was at least 15 years Liza’s senior, but was an established entrepreneur with a thriving business in a key San Francisco downtown location: Geary Street. It wasn’t long before Isaac and Liza fell in love.

Isaac had been born in New York to German, probably Jewish, parents. Not Irish. Not Catholic. Liza’s parents might have objected to the match on these grounds, but it’s more likely that they were simply relieved to have the responsibility for one of their many daughters taken off their hands. Isaac’s concession to allow Liza to raise their future children in the Catholic faith sealed the deal, and they were married. They established their home at 1223½ Geary Street.

Their first child, Edward, was born in 1892. Daughter Claire followed in 1896. Their youngest child, Thelma, was born in 1898.

This is the beginning of their story.

Part I: A Bit of Mystery

Several months ago I ordered up an antique Esperanto book over the internet. The seller was throwing in a bonus book to sweeten the deal—some sort of text book. In English. I didn’t care about that; I was just looking forward to getting my Esperanto fix and savoring the fact that I would become the proud owner of a book that many Esperantists have heard about, but have seldom seen. Good for me! But when the package arrived I understood immediately why the seller had sent the bonus book along. The smell! Before I even had it fully unwrapped from its acid-free paper wrapper, it hit me: the unmistakable stench of mildew. The little text book, titled Seventy Lessons in Spelling, was a miserable wreck that clearly had spent several years, maybe decades, in somebody’s damp basement. I opened the decaying cover gingerly. The title page revealed original copyrights of 1885 & 1899. And how can you simply toss such a relic in the garbage can with the orange peels and egg shells? It’s a little piece of history, if a derelict one. I didn’t want it in the house (where it could infect the rest of my books), but I couldn’t bring myself to consign it to the garbage either. This was clearly the same dilemma that inspired the seller to send it to me in the first place. He very neatly passed on the problem to unsuspecting me. Well played, Anonymous Book Dealer. Well played.

What to do? Sell it? In its condition, it certainly had no value. Donate it to the museum for their school house display? They wouldn’t want it for the same reasons I didn’t want it. Leave it in a public place where someone might pick it up and love it? It didn’t seem likely.

Eventually inspiration struck. On the inside cover, the original owner had written his name and address in careful cursive script. I doubted, based on the age of the book, that he could still be alive, but perhaps his descendents might be interested in owning the book, not for its contents, but simply to have a sample of their ancestor’s handwriting and a record of his address. I myself would love to find a book that had been owned and studied by my grandfather or great-grandfather—to have a relic of him, his life and time. Perhaps, using the skills I’ve acquired through my highly developed sense of historic snoopiness, I could find a trace of this man’s family. Here is the information that I had to start with, and I emphasize that this was the only information I had. Everything that follows started with just this name and address:

Edward Deutch
1223½ Geary St.
San Francisco, Cal

I was anxious to see where this inscription would take me. If anywhere.

March Has Arrived

I have essentially stopped substituting at this point because I have begun a quarter of “grad” school in order to obtain an additional endorsement (in Social Studies) on my teaching certificate. I’ll be spending most of this month assembling a portfolio (read “group of hoops to be jumped through”) and observing the two classes that I will be teaching during most of the month of April (two sections of 10th grade U.S. History & Government). I’ll be teaching a unit on Civil Rights and the 60’s. All this so that I can be observed a grand total of two times by my program supervisor in order to prove I qualify for the endorsement. A privilege for which I will be paying $1500 in tuition while losing the opportunity to make any money over the next two months. All this just so I might more reasonably seek a teaching job for the coming school year. If I’m successful? Then that triggers what amounts to a Master’s Degree requirement to be completed in the next couple of years so that I can continue to teach. At, of course, my own expense.

I’ll also be taking the state test in mid-level mathematics because, unlike English or Social Studies, math is a high demand field. If I pass, I will not be endorsed to teach math; however, I will be “highly qualified” in that subject, meaning that I could teach it in a Washington middle school as long as I teach 60% of my day in my endorsed subjects. Cost of the math test: $120. Cost to pursue a full math endorsement (since my current English endorsement is entirely unrelated): approximately two years of undergrad tuition, including a full term of student teaching. No thank you.

In order to prep for the math test, I considered taking a course or two at my local community college, conveniently located less than a mile up the road. However, it turns out that most community college classes are now 5 credits (3 credits was the norm back in my day); tuition is running right around $100 per credit. So there would be an additional $500 if I decided to go that route. Instead I went on eBay and found some old algebra texts. It’s pretty difficult to work through these things on my own, but, luckily, I have a 15-year-old daughter who is a math genius. Yes, she’s been tutoring me. Although this makes me feel slightly pathetic, at least I’m making progress in filling in the holes in my own spotty math education.

These are the sorts of issues that caused me to step away from education for as long as I did. Although I’ve been in pretty constant contact with teens in educational settings all along, it had been more than 20 years since I had taught in a public school classroom setting (when I started subbing last school year). The major changes in that time have been in requirements for teacher accountability/education/training. I certainly understand those concerns. But why is it that, in every case, any proof of these qualities comes at the teacher’s expense? The number of hoops that teachers and potential teachers have to jump through is plain, old-fashioned ridiculous. The fact that each hoop comes with a price tag attached–to be paid by the teacher, always the teacher–is just one reason why it is so difficult to attract quality candidates to the field.