Oral History Interview with
Daughter of Edward Jacobson, Kansas City Businessman; U.S. Army Associate, Business Partner, and Friend of Harry S. Truman.
March 23, 2010
by Ray Geselbracht
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened March 23, 2010
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript]
Oral History Interview with
March 23, 2010
by Ray Geselbracht
GESELBRACHT:It is March 23rd, 2010 and I am Ray Geselbracht of the Harry S. Truman Library. I am here with Elinor Borenstine in her home in Sarasota, Florida. Could you talk a little bit about the family background of your father and your mother and where they were from?
BORENSTINE:My father was the son of Lithuanian refugees—I think you could call them refugees because they were running from the Russian army. They didn’t want to belong to that. My father was born in New York City to David and Sarah Jacobson. The family moved shortly after he was born to Leavenworth, Kansas. They went to Leavenworth because my grandmother had a sister there; my grandmother wasn’t well and her sister thought she would improve her health if she came to Leavenworth, and so the family went across the country. Now these were immigrants who didn’t talk English, it must have been very difficult for them.
Oh, but you want to talk about me first.
GESELBRACHT: No, go ahead.
BORENSTINE:There were four boys and two girls in the Jacobson family.They lived in Leavenworth for a few years. I have always felt the family left Leavenworth because the sheriff could no longer stand the Jacobson boys. They were real devils. Mrs. Johnson’s privy would end up on Mr. Smith’s front lawn—and, you know, things like that.These were always ascribed to the Jacobson boys.
And I would have loved to hear my grandfather Jacobson talking Yiddish to the sheriff of Leavenworth Kansas. This would have been quite a scene. I can’t remember exactly when the family left Leavenworth and came over to Kansas City
GESELBRACHT: Was your father one of these “real devils”?
BORENSTINE: All of them—the whole family.
Daddy didn’t finish high school, I think, because he had to go to work.My grandfather was a shoemaker and as my cousin Elliot always said, he was eminently unsuccessful. So they came over to Kansas City.My grandmother and grandfather remained devoutly orthodox Jews.
One of my fondest memories of them is of my grandmother on Friday night, the Sabbath, lighting her Sabbath lights.It was inspirational. And I remember her walking behind her husband all the way to their place of worship. She was three steps behind him. She knew her place. Not in this world that we live in today.
GESELBRACHT:Was there a strong sense of family in your family when you were growing up?
BORENSTINE:I’ve been talking about my father’s family, but I grew up in my mother’s family home. My mother’s people were German. My mother’s mother—my grandmother Rosenbaum—was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Her husband Edward came to this country from Germany when he was four years old. So my grandparents, on both sides were German immigrants mixed with Lithuanian immigrants. When the haberdashery went broke and we had no money—I was about four years old—we moved in with my grandmother and grandfather Rosenbaum. You will laugh if I tell you their address—2012 E. 36th Street, 36th and Garfield.I’m sure it is a slum now.That is where I grew up.
I was a lonely child. I was the only child in the neighborhood. Across the street and hidden out of the way there way there was one little girl that I occasionally played with, but other than that I was surrounded by adults until my sister came along almost 10 years later. So that was how and where I grew up.
GESELBRACHT:Now just to establish some chronology:Eddie Jacobson was born in 1891, and Harry Truman, who we will be talking a lot about, was born in 1884.Harry was seven years older than Eddie.The Jacobson family moved to Leavenworth in 1893, when Eddie was two years old, and the family probably moved to Kansas City in the summer of 1905, although there’s some doubt about the exact year.
BORENSTINE:1905 was coming to my mind but I was afraid to say it because I’m so old I forget dates.
GESELBRACHT:The haberdashery failed in 1922 and Eddie Jacobson worked as a traveling salesman until 1945.He opened his men’s store in Westport in that year and died in 1955. You were born in 1920, so your memories are going to start somewhere in the 1920s.
How did your parents meet?
BORENSTINE:My father was dating my mother’s older sister and they met during that time. I don’t know what happened during that romance. I don’t know how mother and daddy got together.But they did before World War I because I have a little picture of him that mother had on her desk or her dresser the whole time he was gone to the war.
GESELBRACHT: Was the story of how they first met something that was talked about in later years?
GESELBRACHT:What are some of the earliest memories that you have of your father?
BORENSTINE:Well, I will tell you that I never heard my father raise his voice, and in his whole life he only struck me once. And he should have hit me a little harder than he did, I’ll tell you; it was just a little paddle.
I must tell you that my parents decided to give me music lessons, and finally the music teacher, the piano teacher, said to my mother, “Looks like she’d make a good dancer. She isn’t going to make a piano player.” So they stopped the piano lessons and now I had elocution lessons. Finding an audience was very difficult when there were no kids around, so after dinner—I must have been around five or six years old—I would go along to the older neighbors and I would elocute for them. One night sometime between—I don’t know the exact timing on it, sometime before my sister was born, because there was a still born child, and my mother was terribly ill afterward. And Daddy called me one night to come home before he left to go to the hospital to see my mother. I was in the middle of a big elocution performance, I mean after all I had an audience and I wasn’t going to leave, and I didn’t. Daddy found me there, and he paddled me just a little.This was the only time in my life he ever raised a finger to me, or I ever heard of him raising a finger to anyone. He should have hit me a little harder, I should have come home.
GESELBRACHT: Do you have any other early memories that are treasured permanent memories of your father?
BORENSTINE:Yes. My father was a fun loving man. If he hadn’t had so much trouble supporting his little family he could have laughed his way through life. One time he came home from his week on the road on a Friday night, and as tired as he was he said to me, “Come on, its spring and we have to plant a garden.What would you like to grow in the garden?” And of course I said “nasty-tershums,” so he went out and bought nasturtium seeds. We dug up a little plot in the back yard and the next morning he woke me at about 6 a.m. and said “Come here and look at what has happened!” He had gone out during the night and put artificial flowers all through that little garden. My garden was blooming already.
He was the happiest thing in the world!
GESELBRACHT:That’s just a wonderful story,
BORENSTINE:I remember something else. You know, there used to be at 47th and Paseo in Kansas City an amusement park called Electric Park.We didn’t have enough money to go to
that park but we would go and stand outside by the fence and watch everything that was going on. One of the little concessions was a goat cart, a little cart drawn by goats that children would ride in. This was great fun for them. As we watched one night, just as the goat cart approached the turn near where we were standing, it turned over and the little girl in it fell to the ground. It looked like other goat carts were coming and might hit her.I watched my father back up about six feet and make a running leap for the fence so he could climb over and grab that little girl out of danger. He didn’t make it. The fence was too tall. Daddy fell was badly bruised all over; nothing was broken, but he was badly bruised and he bled for a long time. That’s one of my memories.
GESELBRACHT:If I were to divide all fathers into two categories—first, those who are strict, require good responsible behavior from their children and want their children to achieve something important in their life; and second, those who are somewhat relaxed with their children, let them for the most part do what they want, and want them more than anything else to be happy in life. Which category would you put your father in?
BORENSTINE: The second, absolutely the second.
GESELBRACHT:Now if you had to pick one or the other, would you say your father was an admirable man or a loveable man?
BORENSTINE:Both. I’m sorry, they have to go together.
GESELBRACHT:Was he a shy, private man or an outgoing and sociable one?
BORENSTINE: Outgoing and sociable.
GESELBRACHT:Was there anything shy about him at all?
BORENSTINE:Nothing at all.Well, there was one time when he was shy—the night my husband Joe and I got engaged.That night mother cooked ducks for us before we went to Union Station downtown to put Joe on the train that took him back to the Army.We sat at the dinner table and Joe and I held hands, and daddy felt a little shy in the sight of so much romance, and he said “Ah cut it out.” [laughter]
GESELBRACHT:Did your father have a lot of friends?
BORENSTINE:Oh yes, where ever he went he had lots of friends
GESELBRACHT: How many close personal friends did he have?
BORENSTINE:Oh, I couldn’t count them he had so many.
GESELBRACHT: If we accept the idea—which I think for your father could be wrong—that a man can have many friends, but can have a deep personal attachment to only a few of them, or maybe to only one close friend, who would you say were your father’s closest friends?
BORENSTINE:Well, Harry Truman was his closest friend, there is no question of that.
GESELBRACHT:The closest of all of his friends?
BORENSTINE:I mean the one he felt more attached too, not the one that he was able to see more often or be with more often. He certainly felt much more attached to Truman than to anyone else.
GESELBRACHT:Why do you think that was?
BORENSTINE:I don’t know—the affinity the two men had for each other.
GESELBRACHT:You’re almost persuading me that your father was the kind of man who is so gregarious that everyone is his friend.And I think to myself that a man like this can’t have a best friend, but your father did have one.
BORENSTINE:Right. Now there were those that he was with a little more because of proximity.
GESELBRACHT:Was Truman always your father’s best friend, as far as you know?
BORENSTINE:As far as I know.Look, there were other friends as Daddy went through life, and for a while someone might be a better friend that he would be closer to, and then that person would pass along. It’s that way in my life too.
GESELBRACHT:Did your father have any faults that you could describe?
BORENSTINE:Nope, you’re talking to a daddy’s girl. [laughter]I was disgusting, I mean he could do no wrong and I still can’t think of anything he ever did wrong.
GESELBRACHT:What was his favorite thing to do in his personal time?
BORENSTINE:Oh, he loved to hunt and fish. I think one of his greatest sorrows was that he didn’t have a son to hunt and fish with. Both his sons-in-law ultimately came to fish with him, but he had to wait a long time for that.
GESELBRACHT:Did your father talk very often about the past, about bygone people and places?
BORENSTINE: No, almost never.
GESELBRACHT:Did he talk very much about his service in World War I?
BORENSTINE:No, never. We knew that he had be injured a little bit in the war, and that he had been in the hospital for a while, but other than that I never heard him tell a war story
GESELBRACHT:Did he talk about the famous canteen?
BORENSTINE:No.I knew about it, but he didn’t talk about it.
GESELBRACHT:What do you think your father cared about most?
BORENSTINE:Family. No question. He loved my mother dearly, and he loved my sister and me, dearly.
GESELBRACHT:I found a letter in the Truman Library’s holdings, dated July 22, 1950.The business of the letter was not particularly important, but Truman’s handwritten postscript is interesting.It says, “Take care of yourself,” this is underlined.“I sure don’t want to send flowers to Mrs. Jacobson for you.”What did this refer to?How was your father’s health in his last years.
BORENSTINE:Oh, it was very poor. He had heart trouble.That letter was written five years before he died, and he had already been in the hospital several times. Once he said to me—he was in the hospital and I was standing next to his bed, and he said “You know, I don’t have anything to leave you. Every time I go to Washington to see Harry about Palestine it costs me a lot of money.” And I said to him, “Oh yeah, Dad, you have something to leave me.You have a great heritage to leave me.”
GESELBRACHT: If you accept for a moment that everyone who gets older has a few regrets, did your father have regrets?
BORENSTINE:Not to my knowledge. I have regrets now that I didn’t make him talk to me more than he did. But after all he was gone a lot of the time traveling, and he was pretty tired when he came home on weekends
GESELBRACHT:How long were his trips?
BORENSTINE:Oh, he was gone all week. He left Monday morning early or Sunday night late and you could depend on it, he was home on Friday evening before dinner. I used to come home from school on Friday and sit out on the steps in front of the house and wait for his little Chevrolet to come around the corner. I knew he’d be home soon because on Friday nights we went to temple.Some people have questioned what kind of Jew he was. Well, I’ll tell you what kind of Jew he was, he was devout and you don’t have to be orthodox to be devout. The greatest honor which my father ever received, I thought, was when he was asked to sit on the board of
Temple B’nai Jehuda, and when he ushered during the high holy days—these things were a great honor for him because they showed he was well accepted in this reform temple, where he had not grown up; he had grown up in orthodoxy.
GESELBRACHT: Your father wrote a letter to Truman shortly after he became president, I think it was in May 1945 or maybe a little later. He says in this letter, among expressions of good wishes, “Harry you know I’m not a praying man.”Would you comment on this?
BORENSTINE:Well, I’ll tell you, I can remember two occasions when my father prayed.The first was the morning of D-Day, and the second was the morning after Roosevelt died. I was at home with him on both these days because my husband was overseas. Daddy got me out of bed very early on D-Day and said “We’re going to temple. We have to pray for the boys who are fighting.” And then on the day that Truman became president, we had to pray for Harry Truman.
GESELBRACHT:What happened to your father’s business after he died?
BORENSTINE:Oh my. Shortly before Daddy died mother’s nephew, her youngest sister’s son, came home from the Korean War without any visible means of support. Daddy took him in the store to teach him the business, because Daddy knew he wouldn’t last very long and wanted the young man to be capable of taking over the business.He was already having problems with his health and so he took Bob—Robert Kleban—into the store, and then he died. Bob knew a little bit about the business, but now he had to learn the rest the hard way. You know, my father’s store was on 39th and Main, next to the Trocadero, which was a drinking spot for the Kansas City mafia. When I went to my father’s store, I was not allowed to park my car and walk into the store. Daddy had to know when I was coming and send someone out.He was afraid even to let me walk on the sidewalk a short way. If I couldn’t park right in front of the store, he didn’t want me walking around the Trocadero. Shortly after Daddy died, Bob and I decided to take the store out of that location [laughter], and we reopened at The Landing, at 63rd and Troost, and we renamed the store Eddie Jacobson’s Menswear. I went to work there, keeping the books and riding herd on the hired help, and he did the buying.And then we—I don’t remember how many years it was, a few years—and then we went broke. So then we closed it up. I don’t know what’s there now, I think another clothing store.
GESELBRACHT:By the way, the Truman Library was contacted not too long ago and offered the desk from that clothing store.
BORENSTINE:Oh, my gosh, it would have had to be the one from Westport Menswear wouldn’t it?
GESELBRACHT:Yes, but I would assume that the desk went from one store to the other.
BORENSTINE:Nope, we had a built in desk in the new store as I recall. And I don’t know where that desk was, maybe it was out in the back room some place, I don’t know
GESELBRACHT:I found something in your father’s papers that seemed to indicate that he was a Mason.Is this right?
BORENSTINE:Well he did this with Truman. You know, he didn’t talk about that very much. In those days it wasn’t something a Jew usually did—become a Mason. We didn’t talk about that very much. He wore the ring, always. I don’t know where it is now.But he didn’t stay interested for long and he didn’t go to many of the Masonic functions.
GESELBRACHT:But he always wore the ring?
GESELBRACHT: Did he become a Mason because of Harry Truman?
BORENSTINE: Yes, I’m sure that was true. He wouldn’t have had the foggiest notion of doing that on his own.
GESELBRACHT:It surprised me too. I didn’t think your father could have been a Mason.
BORENSTINE:Of course not.
GESELBRACHT: Do you know what lodge he went to?
BORENSTINE:No. Well, I remember where it was, on Linwood and The Paseo. That was where they went to their meetings. But I don’t remember what the lodge was.
GESELBRACHT:Who do you think were the three people in history your father would have most admired?
BORENSTINE:All of history?
BORENSTINE:Listen, I already told you my father didn’t even graduate from high school. He didn’t know a lot of history. Of course one was Chaim Weizmann. I can’t remember that he ever talked about anyone else in history.
GESELBRACHT:Now would you say Truman was someone, as president, that your father admired? Or was there too much of a friendship for him to admire Truman as an historical figure?
BORENSTINE:Oh no, there was too much admiration on a personal level, love if you want to use that word, too much of an attachment, and they knew each other too well for Harry Truman to have been just someone in history to my father.
GESELBRACHT:I’m going to turn now to the relationship between your father and Harry Truman, and also the way the two families engaged with each other.
BORENSTINE:Alright, but first let me tell you one of my early memories that just occurred to me. You know I mentioned that my mother wasn’t well at the time—I wish I could remember how old I was, maybe around four years old. There was at this time a small lake between Independence and Kansas City. I don’t imagine that there is one now, it has probably been filled in and built on. But during the summer when my mother wasn’t well, Daddy rented a cabin on that lake. And he and mother and I enjoyed our little summer. I remember Truman stopping to see us one day on his way home from Kansas City to Independence. He would occasionally drop in like this.Now this is a very hazy memory. I cannot remember the name of the place and I can’t remember anything that happened except that Harry Truman used to drop in on us.
GESELBRACHT: I remember that Truman used to go to a place called Cave Spring, a recreation place, which might have been like the place you remember.
BORENSTINE:I remember another place where Truman went, on the Missouri River. Do you know Buckner, Missouri? Is there still such a place left as Buckner, Missouri? Yes. Well, there was a man there who was some kind of local official, by the name of Frankie O’Donnell. He had a shack down on the river and that is where he and some friends used to go to hunt, and Truman would go along as the camp cook. He didn’t hunt, he always went with an arm load of books. And while Daddy and Frankie and maybe one or two other men would go out and hunt Harry would cook for them and read. It was on the Missouri River. I remember it well because very, very close to that shack was an abandoned railroad car owned by a man by the name of Frankie Mayer. He was a butcher at the City Market. Daddy used to take me to the place where Frankie lived and I thought that was the best fun I ever had—was going to the railroad car that a man was living in.And Daddy and I got meat from him and of course we liked that a lot.
GESELBRACHT:Where was the railroad car?
BORENSTINE:On the Missouri River.
GESELBRACHT: So it was on the Missouri River in Buckner, in the same place where Frankie O’Donnell’s hunting shack was.
BORENSTINE:But the lake I was talking about was miles from Buckner, many miles from Buckner. I just happened to remember that Frankie O’Donnell and Uncle Frankie Mayer, the two Frankies, lived in Buckner. This hunting went on every fall for a while until one day
Frankie O’Donnell’s wife picked up one of the guns and shot her husband. [laughter]Only in the leg, but the hunting stopped after that.
GESELBRACHT: That is a wonderful story. I’ve seen a photograph of Truman in hunting clothes and with his gun ready for firing whenever the animal appeared. And now I know from what you’ve said that he probably put the gun down and started reading.
BORENSTINE: Of course.And there is a picture floating around of him holding a duck, but I am going to tell you he didn’t kill that duck, he was getting ready to take it in and cook it. But he probably didn’t know how to cook a wild duck.My mother knew how, and Daddy’s great joy was to get wild ducks and have mother cook them.
GESELBRACHT:But the other place you were speaking of with the cabin and the lake might be a place Truman used to go called Cave Spring, just east of Swope Park on Gregory Boulevard.
BORENSTINE: Well, that could be the right place. Maybe my memory wasn’t too far wrong after all.
GESELBRACHT: Your memory works very well, much better than mine does.What are your first memories of Harry Truman?
BORENSTINE:I think what I just talked about, when he came to this vacation place that we had. I can’t remember him before that.
GESELBRACHT:What was your impression of him?
BORENSTINE:I don’t think I had one.
GESELBRACHT: And as time went by?
BORENSTINE:Well, as time went by he became a god in our house. [laughter]
GESELBRACHT:Before that—your first memories, he would have been just a county judge.
BORENSTINE:Well yes, he would have been just a country judge, but in our house Truman was always spoken of with great reverence, always.So that has to be my only memory.
GESELBRACHT: You were a little girl, and this man, Harry Truman, came into the house.Did he keep his distance, or did he make an effort to be friendly with you?
BORENSTINE:Oh, sure he was friendly, but he didn’t come to our house very often. The men, the two men, kept in close contact but the two families did not, and actually after he became
president he came to our house to play poker. And of course we were never in the Trumans’ house. So our contacts were rare.
GESELBRACHT:Did you never go to the house on Delaware Street, the Truman home?
BORENSTINE:Once after Bess died, and also at the time the Truman Library was dedicated—July 6, 1957. I took tea from Eleanor Roosevelt in the parlor of the Truman Home and wore my arm in a sling a week after so nobody would touch it and remove the traces of Eleanor Roosevelt, my heroine.[laughter]
GESELBRACHT:So you were never in the Truman Home at any other time?
BORENSTINE:Never. My sister will tell you a story of once when Daddy got into the kitchen, but that’s all. [laughter] But that’s her story and I’ll let her tell it.
GESELBRACHT: Did you ever visit the Truman farm home in Grandview?
BORENSTINE:Once. Daddy took me there on the occasion of Grandma Truman’s 90th birthday. I think that’s right, that would have been 1942. I remember that I was working and living at home at the time. At any rate, there she was rocking on the front porch and Miss Mary Jane was standing next to her, and we visited for a little while. That was the only time I was on the farm in Grandview.
GESELBRACHT:Do you have any other memories of this, aside from just being there?
GESELBRACHT:Did your father visit the Truman farm at other times, by himself?
BORENSTINE:I’m sure he did, but then you know, I was married and not living at home and I didn’t know what he did all the time.
GESELBRACHT:So you think that after the haberdashery failed, your father and Truman saw one another.
BORENSTINE: Oh yes.
GESELBRACHT: Was it playing poker?
BORENSTINE:No, they would meet and have lunch. They saw one another, they were together.
GESELBRACHT:Wasn’t your father, for twenty years, wasn’t your father on the road all week?
BORENSTINE:Yes, but when he was home they saw each other.
GESELBRACHT:Did they go out to eat for lunch, do you know?
GESELBRACHT:Did Harry come over to your father’s home?
BORENSTINE:No, they would go out to eat in a restaurant. I’m sure they went to Dixon’s and I’m sure they went to get ribs.
GESELBRACHT:I take it you never saw Bess, is that right?
BORENSTINE:Never. Once I ran into her on the street and we had a “how do you do.” She and Margaret were walking along for a little while and I had come home from college and I was kind of out of it, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I worked in a little book store on Linwood Boulevard, and one day I ran into Bess and Margaret coming out of the book store as I was going into work and it was “how do you do,” and that was all.
GESELBRACHT:So you never saw Margaret either?
GESELBRACHT:What did you think of the two of them?
BORENSTINE:Not much if you really want to know.
GESELBRACHT:Can you say more about this?
BORENSTINE:Sure, I could.
GESELBRACHT:It’s all right.[laughter]It’s for the historical record now, they are all gone.
BORENSTINE:We felt they didn’t care for Jews or want any part of them so, you know, we didn’t care. We knew Harry was alright with us, but we also knew Bess was not. After all, she was raised at her mother’s knee. They were the first family of Independence, Missouri for God’s sake, this big place! So, that was alright, we didn’t care. We didn’t miss ‘em.
GESELBRACHT:Did you ever worry that Harry might feel the same way?
BORENSTINE:No, never did.
GESELBRACHT:Did you ever meet Madge Wallace, Bess’ mother?
BORENSTINE:No, no of course not. I forgot her name was Madge.
BORENSTINE:Did your father speak much about Harry Truman?
BORENSTINE:Not really. I don’t know, maybe—maybe I’ve lost some of my early memories.But certainly not in later years.
GESELBRACHT:Do you know how your father and Harry Truman first became acquainted?
BORENSTINE:Yeah, Daddy worked in a shirt store in downtown Kansas City and Truman worked in a bank nearby. Daddy used to make the deposits, and they would always chat and sometimes would go out to lunch together.That is how they first met and got to be friends.
GESELBRACHT: That would have been in 1905-1906, since Truman left the bank in 1906.
BORENSTINE:Well, didn’t the Jacobson’s come to Kansas City in 1905? So they had just about a year before Harry quit the bank and went to the farm in Grandview.
GESELBRACHT:In fact your father used to say that the Jacobson’s came to Kansas City in 1906. But he also—this is in the autobiographical document he wrote—he also said that he would go see Harry at Commerce Bank, which Truman left in 1905.
BORENSTINE:No it wasn’t the Commerce Bank.
GESELBRACHT:Well, he went from Commerce Bank to Union Bank.
BORENSTINE:Union Bank is the one.
GESELBRACHT: He worked there just a year, in 1906 or 1905-1906. And at that time, your father was at Burger, Hannah, Monger Dry Goods Company at 8th and Broadway.
GESELBRACHT: And Truman’s bank was only a block or two away.
BORENSTINE: Yeah, about a block I think.
GESELBRACHT: At that time Harry would have been 22 and your father would have been about 15.
BORENSTINE: Right.Well, I told you, he didn’t finish high school, he had to go to work. All the Jacobson boys did. My Uncle A.D., Uncle Doc you hear me talk about. Uncle Doc learned how to be a plumber and he used to come home and cry to the old man, to his father. He didn’t want to dig those ditches, he didn’t want to be a plumber.And the old man would say, “You are going to be a plumber. Go out and dig.”Well, it was pretty good. During the war A.B
Jacobson’s and Sons was the biggest plumbing and heating company in Kansas City, paying the biggest income tax in Kansas City. It was pretty good to be a plumber then.
GESELBRACHT:We can place your father and Truman in 1905-1906, but Truman leaves for the Grandview farm in 1906.
BORENSTINE: And they were totally separated.
GESELBRACHT:Did they see each other at all between 1906 and 1917, or maybe 1918, when they were together at Camp Doniphan?
BORENSTINE:Not to my knowledge.
GESELBRACHT:So your father and Truman renew their relationship after eleven or twelve years at Camp Doniphan. Do you know how they got together there?
BORENSTINE:No, I’ve never heard.
GESELBRACHT: I don’t know if Truman knew your father was in the camp and asked for him. Maybe the camp was not so big that Truman and your father did not know the other was there.
BORENSTINE:They possibly ran into each other in the camp, and they said “Oh yeah, I remember you!”[laughter]And that was possibly right about the time they told Truman to start a canteen.
GESELBRACHT:Truman wrote to Bess Wallace in December 1918 that he intended to go back to farming when he got out of the Army. And when Bess wrote him a letter in March 1919, she talks about the possibility that he might get a job in Kansas City instead of farming.She mentions talking with Truman’s partner in his oil well business from before the war, and suggests this man might give him a job in Kansas City.So as of March 1919, there was apparently no thought of the Truman and Jacobson haberdashery.Do you know how the haberdashery idea got started?
BORENSTINE:I always thought, though I don’t know for sure that this was so, that Truman and my father made this decision on their way home from France, on that terrible ship where they were so sick.That’s where I always thought they made the decision to open the shop.
GESELBRACHT:Did your father talk about the haberdashery very often?
GESELBRACHT: One would think that it would have been a sad and difficult memory for your father.
BORENSTINE:Oh, yes and I’m sure that’s why he didn’t talk about it.
GESELBRACHT:A business failure like that must have been a difficult thing for the two partners.
BORENSTINE:Oh, my yes, for both of them.
GESELBRACHT:And I’m a little surprised when I think about it, that they remained friends.
BORENSTINE:I am too. There was a different bond between them.
GESELBRACHT:And your father had to go through bankruptcy and Truman didn’t.
BORENSTINE:Well, because Truman went into politics, and because he became a county judge.
GESELBRACHT:But one could imagine that your father might have said, “Well I had to go through bankruptcy.It doesn’t seem fair.”
GESELBRACHT:Was there ever anything like that?
BORENSTINE:No, never a word.
GESELBRACHT:Was he the kind of man that just didn’t indulge in that kind of emotion?
BORENSTINE: My father was essentially a happy man and I would think he—I don’t remember him ever talking about how tough it was for him to travel all the time, except you could tell it was when he came home on Friday nights. He was a tired man.
There’s a story I want to tell you. I don’t know if it is still in existence today, but at the Lake of the Ozarks there was a lodge called Kirkwood Lodge. This was big in square dancing. Now I was already married and had three children. And Kirkwood Lodge was not a place you could call and make a reservation. You had to get an application and fill out an extensive application about who you were and what you did and if you would be a good guest at the Kirkwood Lodge.Well one year we went there. Elliot and Anne Jacobson went with their oldest son Mark, and Joe and I went with our two oldest daughters, Paula and Hazel. So we arrived at the lodge, and all of a sudden we noticed we had the choice table in the dining room, and we had two waiters standing by our table at all times so we couldn’t even lift a napkin on our own. We looked around and saw that nobody else was getting this treatment, and we thought it was kind of strange. Toward the end of the first meal we had in this dining room, the lodge’s owner came and sat down with us at our table. We thought that was pretty strange too. We didn’t see him sitting around with anyone else in this way.His name was Bill Hagedorn. Finally he said to me,
“Listen, I know your father is Eddie Jacobson and I want to tell you a story about him. During the Depression I was broke, I didn’t have a plugged nickel.All I had a line of ties I was trying to sell in Kansas. Always, when I was traveling around trying to sell these ties, people wouldn’t even let me open my sample case. I would walk in a store and the owner would say ‘Out! I’m not thinking of buying anything. Get out!’ One time I went through Kansas, and in every store I went to the owner said ‘Come in. Eddie Jacobson was in here last week and he said we didn’t have to buy but we had to let you open your sample case.’” And he said “That is how I made the money to start Kirkwood Lodge. You are going to be given royal treatment, but let me tell you the best thing that could happen in my life is if Eddie Jacobson would come with you.”And I said, “Next summer.” Daddy was already very old by then, and we went down and believe me he had the choice cabin. And Bill Hagedorn had a big comfortable chair put out on the bluff so that Daddy could sit there and watch his grandchildren learn to water ski, and we had quite a good vacation, let me tell you. Now that was the kind of guy Eddie Jacobson was. You don’t have to buy but you have to look. He made really good friends of merchants all through Kansas and Missouri. They were glad to see him come.
GESELBRACHT: Do you think he was ever envious of Truman’s success?
BORENSTINE:No, of course not. Truman used to say to him all the time, teasing my father, “Come in Eddie, the water’s good,” meaning my father should get into politics. And Daddy would say, “No, no, no, no, I’m going to make an honest living.” [laughter]
GESELBRACHT:Did Truman seem to you to be always his normal self?
BORENSTINE:Oh, always. He was never President of the United States to us.
GESELBRACHT:Did you ever go to the White House when he was President?
BORENSTINE:Yes, but we went during the time the White House was being renovated and the Truman’s were living over in Blair House, and Truman was in Key West. Someone—I don’t know who it was—took us through the parts of the White House that weren’t torn up. I didn’t get to go to the inauguration.My father told me that I had to stay home and take care of his grandchildren. And I said to him, “I have full time help. Grandpa”—my husband’s father—“Grandpa is staying in the house and there will be plenty