Madison-Miriam Meth was born on March 7, 1922 to Tonia Kirschen Meth and Isaac Meth, an inventor. She was the first American born of her seven siblings who lived at 96 Columbia Street on the Lower East Side of New York. Her future husband, Sidney Howard Kalfus, lived two doors down at 100 Columbia Street. She would later meet him when she was sixteen at a YMCA dance.
When Miriam was eight, her mother became a single parent and the family’s life became one of poverty and struggle. Her mother depended on her to help keep the family together. Miriam learned to keenly observe and respond to the needs of others.
She began work when she was fifteen at a five-and-dime store. Eventually, she discovered her love of fashion and was hired at Russek’s Department Store, a very exclusive women’s clothing store in Brooklyn, New York. Later, she worked at A & S (Abraham and Straus), on what was called the “Flying Squad”, filling in wherever she was needed. Her lifelong sense of elegance and style was shaped by these experiences.
Although she was unaware of her exquisite beauty and wholesomeness, many suitors were drawn to her. She accepted Sidney’s marriage proposal when she was twenty-one. He was a sergeant in the Army Air Corps during World War II. She left home for the first time when he was stationed in Denver, Colorado and Dayton, Ohio.
After his discharge, they settled in Brooklyn, New York. Geraldine (Gerri) their first daughter, lived with them in a basement apartment on Dayhill Road. Their second daughter, Toni, was born in 1951. Three years later, they moved to Westbury, Long Island. Their new home was a mecca for the extended family for meals and special occasions and a refuge for a steady stream of relatives who needed a place to live.
Miriam loved music and dance and watched American Bandstand daily with her daughters. The latest show tunes filled the house and neighbors came over to take ballroom dance lessons, cha cha, merengue, and mambo, along with Sidney and her. She was a wonderful homemaker and outstanding cook. She made basic food taste better than anyone.
Miriam was also a terrific storyteller and could create vibrant pictures and images as she told stories about her childhood and growing up as a “street kid” in New York. Once shy, she became so vibrant that she seemed larger than life to her children and family members. She liked to call herself, “Auntie Mame” and “Mrs. Robinson” (from the movie, “The Graduate”). She loved old films and would call her daughters very often to tell them to turn on “Turner Classic”, as she referred to the TCM channel.
Miriam loved meeting new people and was gifted at listening to their life stories. She remembered everything that people told her and had great empathy for them. Always curious, she instinctively knew how to ask questions to draw out each person’s essence. She was a lay journalist and could have had her own place on the panel next to Barbara Walters on “The View”, a program that she watched daily.
In 1971, she and Sidney moved to Florida, where she lived until 1998. While the weather was warm and comfortable in the winter, she really never enjoyed living there. Wisconsin was her final home where she flourished and made many friends and had many new adventures. She loved to travel and was blessed to share memorable vacations with her two daughters and her granddaughter, Margaret and her grandsons, Jesse and Ted. She spent many years making an annual trip to New York to stay with her children and granddaughter at the LaGuardia Marriott. The staff knew her so well and she got to know them and all about their families. From 1998 until 2007, she accompanied her daughter, Gerri, on performance tours with the Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company. The company members loved her and thought of her as an honorary member. With them, she travelled to Russia, Israel, Italy and Puerto Rico as well as throughout Wisconsin.
She moved to Oakwood Village in 2010 where she enjoyed the New Year’s Eve dances, mah-jongg, bridge, and many friendships. Her outgoing personality endeared her to the Oakwood staff. Her family is grateful for the outpouring of love and words of caring they have received as people share stories about her.
She is survived by her daughters, Gerri and Toni, her son-in-law Terry, and grandchildren, Jesse, Ted, (Stephanie), and Margaret, her great-grandchildren, Benny and Allie, many nieces and nephews, and her devoted friends, Barbara and Kathy. She was preceded in death by her husband, Sidney, her siblings, Louise, May, Phil, Rachel, Sylvia, Benson, and Edith, and her son-in-law, Alan.
She will be remembered with deep love.
Donations in her memory may be sent to any of the following organizations: the Lussier Community Education Center, DAIS, NAMI Dane County or Jewish Social Services.
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