Seeking Kin: A towed car hooks up cousins again

Debbie King is shown in the back row with her husband, Bruce, and her parents, Ann and Herbert Blumberg, at David Scherr's 1983 bar mitzvah. King hopes to soon see her long-lost cousins still living nearby in Baltimore.  (Courtesy David Scherr)

Debbie King is shown in the back row with her husband, Bruce, and her parents, Ann and Herbert Blumberg, at David Scherr’s 1983 bar mitzvah. King hopes to soon see her long-lost cousins still living nearby in Baltimore. (Courtesy David Scherr)

The Seeking Kin column aims to help reunite long-lost relatives and friends.

BALTIMORE (JTA) – Some people search the world for those they knew before time and circumstance intruded.

David Scherr was sitting at his desk at a Baltimore auto repair shop when the lost walked through the door.

The amiable Scherr was working in the front office of K&S Associates when a tan Volvo station wagon was towed in this winter with electrical problems. Over the course of several days, Scherr regularly updated the vehicle’s owner on the progress of the repair.

But only after Bruce King arrived to retrieve his car and fiddled with a display of business cards on the counter did he comprehend the surname of the person with whom he’d spoken by phone.

Scherr and King soon realized that they were related through King’s wife, Debbie: Scherr’s paternal grandfather, Solomon, was the brother of Debbie King’s mother, Ann. But the family had grown apart, and the last time Debbie King saw Scherr likely was at his bar mitzvah in 1983.

“He said that when he got married, no one from our side came to the wedding,” Scherr said of Bruce King. “It’s 30 years later, he’s moved on, but you could see that it really affected him.”

Interviews with Scherr and Debbie King, along with Scherr’s father, Norman, yielded several perspectives to explain the drift: the passing of the elders who’d been the glue adhering the tree’s branches; the passage of time; and several intermarriages that eventually eliminated large gatherings for Jewish holidays and events. No defining moment or rift had occurred, King said, and she held no animosity toward the others.

Whatever the cause, she said, all the cousins should gather again and bring their children into the fold. King said she’d offer to organize at least the first get-together, perhaps at a popular breakfast spot in Pikesville, Baltimore’s heavily Jewish neighborhood.

“I’d sure like to see these guys again,” she said. A gathering would be “like starting over. You’re starting blank. You can make new memories if you’d like.”

The family’s patriarch and matriarch, Louis and Sarah Scherr, left Ukraine or Russia in the early 20th century and settled in Baltimore. Solomon (David’s grandfather and Norman’s father) and Ann (Debbie’s mother) were the fourth and seventh children, respectively, in a household of six boys and two girls.

Norman Scherr, 73, remembered his grandmother possessing “the prettiest blue eyes you’ve ever soon.” His grandfather worked as a clothes cutter and as a hobby raised pigeons.

"He’d cook ’em and eat ’em,” Norman Scherr recalled.

The Scherrs lived in the Patterson Park neighborhood of Baltimore. Solomon dropped out of school in fourth grade to take a job to help support the family and later worked in the bakery owned by his wife’s parents. Solomon raised his family in Patterson Park, too, before moving to the Lower Park Heights neighborhood that’s adjacent to Pimlico Race Course, where the famed Preakness horse race is run each May.

“My dad was overseas the first five years of my life, fighting in the Pacific” during World War II, Norman Scherr said. He added that his early years in Patterson Park were not pleasant because some non-Jewish friends would not invite him to their house.

“Those were tough times. If you were Jewish, you were in trouble,” Scherr said. “They were not that nice to me, let’s put it that way.”

He remembers his mother’s family more than his father’s. Lena and Sam Blitz had eight children, too, but in reverse: six girls and two boys. The couple owned a bakery downtown on Lombard Street in what was then “a very Jewish neighborhood” near Little Italy, he said. “The big shul down there was the Lloyd Street Synagogue,” he said. “They all went there.”

Debbie King, 54, recalls abundant gatherings that brought together the Scherr clan: seders, lunches and dinners after synagogue services; Purim and Chanukah celebrations; and just stopping by for a slice of cake and to shmooze.

“It was nice,” said King, a preschool teacher who grew up in Liberty Heights, a Jewish neighborhood made famous in Barry Levinson’s 1999 film of the same name. “My Aunt Adele would throw parties, and we’d have barbecues, especially when they got the pool [installed].”

King was gleeful while opening family photographs of David Scherr’s bar mitzvah that “Seeking Kin” emailed her to solicit assistance in identifying attendees.

“Oh, my gosh — what hair!” she remarked of a shot of herself.

When her husband had called from the auto shop and surprised her by putting Scherr on the phone, King said she enjoyed the conversation. It brought back memories of Scherr’s father, who possessed a wicked sense of humor.

Now, though, “if [Norman Scherr] walked down the street, I wouldn’t know him,” she said. “But it is family. Norman knew my mom really well. There is a connection.”

King has not seen David or his dad yet, but hopes to soon. At minimum, she said, the family has found a new mechanic.

“It’s kind of meant to be that we went to the [repair] shop. It must have been karma,” she said.

She said the Kings’ previous mechanic had ripped them off. Now, though, “I have a place to go where we feel comfortable.”

(Please email Hillel Kuttler if you would like “Seeking Kin” to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends. Please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief email. “Seeking Kin” is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people.)

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