Nina Talbot

Painter - Writer
painting, Bella, by Nina Talbot
Bella, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

Neighborhood Folks


From Dynov, Poland to Lower East Side, NYC

Bella Neger was my grandmother. She came alone, from Dynov, a small town in the Galicia section in Poland, to live in New York’s lower east side in 1921, at the age of seventeen years old. Arriving through Ellis Island, Bella had very little money. When she saw a dress in a store window, and wanted to buy it, someone suggested that she sell her waist long, wavy black hair to a wig maker to earn the money to buy the dress, which she did. Bella moved in with her aunt, a single mother of four sons, into an apartment on Ludlow Street. She was able to obtain a job in a factory that made hats. After working there awhile, the manager of the factory noticed Bella’s skill with the hats, and promoted her to designing them. I have two of those hats. Bella spoke of the crowded conditions in the apartment, and later joked about an expression her male cousins would say to her: “Sleep fast, I need the bed!” After living with her aunt for four years, and working in the factory, Bella met the man she decided to marry, Joseph Tolpen, who was from the same area in Poland that Bella was from. He worked as a window washer. The couple moved to the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, where they started their family. Bella’s birthday was May, 15, 1908. A generation later, two of her grandchildren, my children, Joshua and Sophie, were also both born in May; Joshua, May 4, 1988, and Sophie, May 25, 1990, each, almost exactly ten days from the midpoint of Bella’s birthday.