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Marilynn Brass


I know that a lot of our Facebook Friends are celebrating their mothers today, so we thought we’d post a few comments about our mother, Dorothy Katziff Brass who died in April 1962 when I was 20, and my sister Sheila, the other part of the Brass Sisters was 25.

Our mother was a no-nonsense, loving parent who was a self-taught cook and baker and taught her two young daughters how to bake and cook as soon as they could reach the kitchen table on the second floor of the three-decker house we lived in on Sea Foam Avenue in Winthrop.

She had desperately wanted to go to college, but her parents thought a girl didn’t need a college education. Instead, she put her two younger brothers, Julius and Morris through Northeastern University, and worked to pay the mortgage.

Popular, she was known as the prettiest girl in Winthrop, Sheila was once approached by a neighbor who said to my 15-year-old sister, “You will never be as beautiful as your mother.” She was wrong!

She loved to dance, and she had beautiful clothes made by our grandmother, who had been a couturier in Russia. There were tales of Melba toast and tea at cafeterias in Boston late at night before being brought home by her date.

Our father, Harry, was a hospital pharmacist who worked for 50 years for non-profits, so there wasn’t a lot of extra money, but we had fun as a family. Our father once baked a moss green cake that was delicious. He also made ice cream at home after WWII from a mix called, 10-Below. Freezers were then the size of a shoebox.

During WWII, she’d found herself caring for her terminally ill mother and her two young daughters while our father went by train to Kalamazoo, MI on a business trip. Aside from her usual responsibilities, she had to provide nutritious meals for her family during rationing and in our father’s absence found herself shoveling coal into the furnace. She was less than five feet tall.

We lived near the Atlantic Ocean, so we went to the beach every day during the summer. Our mother produced Lemon Meringue Pie or Chocolate Velvet Cake for us when we came home after going to the State Theater on Shirley Street.

Once after seeing Rita Hayworth in COVER GIRL, I found that I was having mild pain in my chest muscles. She reassured me that it was growing pains, but she still made sure I didn’t have a problem.

One of my fondest memories of her was the unexpected trip we made to see Danny Kaye in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY at the State Theater, in 1947 on a snow day. She led a group of neighborhood children and us through ankle-deep slush to the movies.

She started the Sisterhood and Hebrew School at our synagogue, Temple Teferith Abraham, and she and our father were Presidents of the Sisterhood and Brotherhood at the Temple at the same time in the 1950s.

Known as the Cake Boss of Winthrop, she once baked a 3-D replica of the Temple, and it took four men to carry it down the stairs and across Shirley Street to the Temple. It was divided in fourths and sold for $35 quarter when a six-room apartment was renting for $35 a month. The money raised went into the Temple’s building fund.

Of course, there were family disagreements, but we always made up. There were times when she’d go into Boston to Filenes Basement or Jordan Marsh, and she’d leave us a note congratulating us on a well-received essay or a really fine drawing. There were also times when she told us not to worry about the results of a math test. She always signed her notes, “Love, Mommy.”

Photo of our mother's favorite cookbook, "All About Home Baking."