The profane (Jewish) mother of the Fulton Fish Market
Who are you, really, Annie? How did you wind up here, at the fish market, receiving your boys, their taunts, the slaps of the East River winds? Where does all your money go? What is the larger meaning of your life’s arc? Never asked; never answered.
Dan Barry, New York Times
I read very little of yesterday’s NYTimes – too depressing — but I am glad I didn’t give into the impulse to skip it all together. On the inside back page of the National section was a memorable article by Dan Barry about the recent “Death of a Fulton Fish Market Fixture.”
The caption under the photograph told me that “known as Annie, she was a fixture for decades of the Fulton Fish Market. Few knew her real name, Gloria Wasserman, or of her past.” This was clearly the kind of story that we at the Jewish Women's Archive live for — a story about one of the people this blog is named for, “Jewesses with attitude.”
How many times have I been editing a reminiscence for the “We Remember” section of JWA’s website and seen a sentence like this: “Gloria Wasserman’s parents were Polish immigrants who tried to make a living as egg farmers in rural New Jersey before settling in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The father, Pincus, found work as a tailor; the mother, Sadie, was a homemaker. They fretted over their only daughter.”
Beautiful and spirited, she might have become a famous entertainer, who would later be remembered for a successful career. Instead, she rode a bike to Alaska with the man who would become her first husband, a trip reported in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner under the headline “’Bike-Hikers’ Reach City 83 Days Out of New York.” (I can’t help wondering if it ever occurred to the writer, who described Gloria’s “nut-brown shoulder-length hair [that] glistened in the sun,” that she was the daughter of poor Jewish immigrants.)
“At some point” — a phrase Dan Barry uses throughout the article — she married, divorced and married again, had four children, and “returned to New York for good. And, at some point, she assumed the role of Annie and began appearing at the Fulton Fish Market.”
Somewhere between a bag lady and a pin-up girl, a huckster and a philanthropist, she lived in the East Village as Gloria Wasserman; and at the fish market as “Shopping Cart Annie,” where she earned money – most of which she gave away — cleaning offices, locker rooms, and bathrooms in the market, washing the men’s “fish clothes,” running errands, selling whatever she thought the men needed, whether a towel or a candy bar.
There are several wonderful pictures on the Times website. We’ll contact her family to see if they will let us add her to our Flickr group, “Jewish Mothers: The Way We Were, the Way We Are.” The woman Dan Barry calls “the profane mother of the old Fulton Fish Market” belongs there. Jewesses with attitude are found in the most unlikely places.