At Providence's Gate
Home | Providence Gate Chat | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten | Chapter Eleven | Chapter Twelve | Chapter Thirteen | Chapter Fourteen | Chapter Fifteen | Chapter Sixteen | Chapter Seventeen | Chapter Eighteen | Chapter Nineteen | Chapter Twenty | Chapter Twenty One | Chapter Twenty Two | Chapter Twenty Three | Chapter Twenty Four | Chapter Twenty Five
Chapter Four

     All in all, life had been good for Abe Walstein, so good in fact, sometimes he actually felt it was charmed.  His father had successfully removed his entire family from Amsterdam in 1938 when Abe, the youngest of four children, two boys and two girls, was six-years-old.

     Abes next sibling was Leah, 14 when the Walsteins managed to emigrate to the United States the same year it left Europe. Rachel, the oldest daughter had been 16 and Lev, Abes big brother turned 18 the day the Walsteins were processed into Ellis Island.

     It was a given that Lev would become a diamond cutter like his father, so when the elder Walstein sold a few of the many uncut diamonds he managed to bring with him to America and opened a small diamond exchange in New York City, Lev became an extension of the elder Walstein, following him everywhere all day long.

     Lev was an accomplished diamond cutter by the age of 20.  He also was very concerned about reports filtering out of Europe that told of death camps and the extermination of his fellow Jews.  He longed to go back to Amsterdam and rescue his friends and other family members who were trapped there.  He shared his dream with his little brother Abe, now 10-years-old and wondered out loud why his adopted country, the land of the free and the home of the brave did nothing to stop Hitler from committing genocide. But outside the Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens, Lev never heard the goys even mention the atrocities.

     Frustrated by his inability to make a contribution to his people, Lev joined three of his friends one Monday morning and rode the train to Montreal, Canada.  It was there the trio joined the Army, after receiving assurances that once their training was complete they would be sent to Great Britain to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force there.

     That evening after receiving a poignant telephone call from their son in Montreal, Mrs. Walstein sat in her sewing chair silently crying.  Except for her sad expression and the occasional tear running down her face, no one would realize her grief.

     Her husband stoically read the newspaper and smoked his pipe.  The tobacco helped calm him for he was at once angry with Lev for abandoning his growing diamond exchange and proud that a Walstein would be returning to Europe as a soldier bent on saving fellow Jews.

     The elder Walstein also worried about who would carry on the business after he was gone.  What if, God forbid, Lev never returns from the war?  At 50, he knew there was no great hurry to train Abe, yet the boy, even at 10, had expressed an incessant curiosity about the diamond  exchange.

     So with his elder son on the way to war and his younger wanting to emulate both his father and brother a decision was made to begin Abes apprenticeship the next morning.

     The lad took to diamond cutting like no other youngster his father had ever taught and he had taught many apprentices in the past 30 years.  By the end of the war, Abe was 15 years old and as accomplished a cutter as many men twice his age who had been shaping the precious stones longer than Abe had been alive.

     He possessed a confidence and boldness only the best cutters demonstrated.  His eye was keen, his hand was steady and the swiftness and accuracy with which he struck with the hammer warmed his fathers heart.

     Lev returned from the war in 1945.  He was filled with gallant tales how his Canadian Expeditionary Force had entered the concentration camps and freed the Jews who still breathed and buried those who didnt, but Lev was tired of war and ready to resume his vocation.  When he saw the work of his younger brother, he knew however, it would take some time before he could match it.

     Lev toiled as a journeyman diamond cutter for six more years, finally achieving the title of Master Diamond Cutter in 1951.  Abe had been granted the same honor two years earlier at 17. 

     The father beamed with pride when he saw his sons working together.  He realized he now had two able heirs to take over the business and at the age of 61 he was beginning to think about stepping down.

     Neither Lev nor Abe wanted to play second fiddle to the other and their father realized this.  With that in mind, one evening in late 1951, he sat at the dinner table with his entire family to discuss the family business.

     Before his father had a chance to begin the impromptu meeting, Abe told the assembled family members he had an announcement to make.  Since the elder Walstein felt the business he had called the clan together for was the more important, he told everyone to bring up their topics first and he would close the meeting with his decision.

     Abe stood up confidently and said, I believe my announcement and idea are the most important of my life, and he proceeded to shock everyone present.

     As you all know, he began, Sarah Aaron and I have been dating for one year now.  I just turned 20 and she will be 20 the week after my next birthday.  It is on the date of her birthday that we hope to marry.

     Abe paused to let the news soak in.  No one assembled in the Walstein dining room that evening was surprised by the announcement.  They had seen the way the two looked at each other at work.  Sarah was the secretary of the diamond exchange.  However, no one was prepared for Abes next revelation.

     When I turn 20 next year and marry Sarah I plan to leave the diamond exchange and go to Texas where I will found one of my own, he stated in a matter-of-fact manner.

     The mother had a dubious look on her face but waited for the reaction of her husband.  The father looked into the face of each person sitting around the table, hoping it was not obvious that he was trying  devise an appropriate response.  All he could say, looking straight in Levs eyes was, And you, do you have plans to marry and leave?

     Lev stood, lifted a glass of wine in his brothers direction and said, To the best diamond cutter in Texas, may your marriage be a long one and may your business prosper and if you ever need help or advice, may you return to your home and receive it from me.

     So it was, that in 1952, Abe and Sarah Walstein left their families and familiar neighborhoods for the city of San Antonio, a place with few Jews and no diamond exchanges.  Feeling very much like the pioneers who formed the nation of Israel four years earlier and filled with love and ambition, they were determined to build a business as successful as that of Abes father.

     San Antonio wasnt exactly a wild west town when Abe and Sarah moved there from New York but it was far from a major metropolitan area.  The Menger Hotel was the first residence for the couple.  They lived there for almost a week while searching for an apartment.  Abe would look out his window every night and look down into the grounds of the Alamo next door.

     Before leasing an apartment, the young pair of entrepreneurs found a suitable place for their business, which they promptly filed with the county as San Antonio Diamond Exchange.  Located at 199 West Commerce Street, the block also housed a law firm, an architects office, a Mexican restaurant and a mens clothing store

     They began their search for an apartment the next morning, driving first west, then south, and east.  It was on that last trip they found a modest one-bedroom apartment within four blocks of the exchange.  Pleased that they would be able to walk to and from work as they had in New York, the couple celebrated by having dinner at Mi Tierras Restaurant.

     It wasnt very long after the San Antonio Diamond Exchange opened it doors that the business began showing a profit, not huge, but a comfortable one.  You see, Abes pretty much was the only place a jeweler could purchase loose stones of high quality and in good quantity in almost the entire southwest part of the country.  His customers found it much more economical to drive or take a few hour trip on the train to San Antonio several times a year than to make one or two to New York City as they had in the past.

     Abes prices were fair, his selection unsurpassed and his skill as a diamond cutter was unquestioned. Sarah served as office manager, salesperson, public relations representative, accountant, and receptionist, among other things.  He often credited his wife with the early and continued success of the business, saying he could pick stones and cut them, but Sarah could sell a diamond to DeBeers and make a profit.

     By 1954, the San Antonio Diamond Exchange was one of the busiest wholesale diamond houses west of the Mississippi.  And the Walsteins were to become parents.  This fortuitous turn of event created the need for a second bedroom so Abe vowed to vacate the small but convenient apartment near the exchange and find a real house.

     The couple chose the small but affluent community of Olmos Park just north of San Antonio and in September, two weeks ahead of the storks visit, they moved into their new home.  Although they were the only Jews in a neighborhood full of Christians, the Walsteins enjoyed a very warm relationship with the other families on their street.

     Ina, a daughter, was born on October 1, 1954.  She was to be their only offspring and while the girls childhood was idyllic, adulthood was the opposite.  Obtaining a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts from Our Lady of the Lakes University in 1972, Ina went on to the University of Texas at Austin for her Masters in Fine Arts.  After earning that degree, she decided to spend a year in Paris doing independent study.

     The year turned into five and her father Abe supported her throughout the entire time.  Finally, Ina opted to return to San Antonio when the love affair she had been engaged in with a sometime male model ended in his tragic death.  He was killed instantly in an auto accident at the age of 23. Ina was 25.

     Back home, Ina obtained teacher certification and became a professor in Incarnate Word Colleges Art Department.  She began dating again after her father introduced her to Eric Morris, a member of the synagogue the Walsteins attended.

     Morris was an orthopedic surgeon and was ten years Inas senior.  After a whirlwind courtship, the couple married.  Eric truly was the love of her life, making her forget totally the young model she had lost only four years earlier.  So it was almost incomprehensibly tragic when he was killed in another traffic accident.  This terrible turn of events sent Ina into a downward spiraling spin that took an equally terrible occurrence to make her recover.

     From the time Eric was killed in 1986, Ina rarely ventured outside the confines of her room in the Wallstein house.  Oh, Abe tried everything in his power to help his daughter become a living loving human being again, but it was to no avail.  Finally, he resigned himself to the fact that his beautiful daughter would live the rest of her life as a recluse and there was nothing he could do but make sure she was properly nourished and loved.

     For three years she didnt set foot out of the house and would go for months at a time without leaving her room.  Abe and Sarah tried everything to stimulate their daughters intellect.  Finally, more than five years after her self-imposed exile from the land of the living, Ina used some of the chalks and art paper her mother had left in her room. 

     She began making simple geometrical designs at first, drawings that very much resembled the facets on a diamond.  Then her renderings became bolder and more intricate. Ina began designing jewelry pieces.  She created quite a large collection of works, yet she never showed them to anyone.  Her parents continued to buy art supplies for her and wondered about the drawings they never saw.  However, they were so happy she was coming out of her shell they didnt probe.

     Then in 2000, something happened that Abe had never counted on.  Sarah, his wife and love of his life for 48 years died in her sleep of a brain aneurysm.  This totally unexpected event shocked Abe into an almost comatose state, not unlike, but seemingly much more severe than the one his daughter had endured all these years.

     And interestingly, seeing her father in the depths of depression seemed to have a rejuvenating effect on Ina.  As she later told me, One of us had to be strong.  Hed been there for me all these years, now I had to be there for him. I knew if I wasnt we both would die.

     So Ina took over the running of the Walstein household at first then eventually began running the diamond exchange.  In fact, she even managed to get her father involved by showing him hundreds of pages of art she had been drawing over the years, intricate drawings of jewelry pieces, necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, charms.

     Abe Walstein, overjoyed by his daughters reincarnation, suggested Ina take over the business and begin designing and creating her own custom line of jewelry.  She agreed and began taking an active role in the creative portion of the business.

     Since the loss of Sarah, the business had gone down hill though.  It was Sarah who paid the bills and made sure the exchange was paid.  Sarah set appointments, Sarah entertained customers and made sales.  Without someone to do that, neither Ina nor Abe felt the business could survive.

     It was at this point that Ina wrote a classified ad, seeking an office manager for the diamond exchange.  It was an ad that caught Jason Biggs eye, one he circled in red and one he posted prominently on his cork board.