(B-Sept 9, 1887-D-Oct 12, 1955 -26 Tishri 5716)
An Ordinary Manís Life
The first upshot.
As soon as my mother, may she rest in peace subsided with her
pains and travail I raised such a noisy racket that the
neighbors knew I arrived in safety after landing in bed. and so I
was born. this adventure happened thirty eight years ago in a
little town of Russia called Starodoub meaning an old oak tree,
symbolizing as I presume, long life for its residents and
myself. I put a big question mark here.?
I was content for a while that I was not smothered amongst the
pillows for heaven only knows whether i was a welcomed visitor!
my father was just in his teens and was worriedly expecting to be
called for military service. he had a mindful of ambitions to
open up a tinsmith shop but this was to be realized later.
my mother- well, she had the satisfaction that when papa saw her
for the first time in her native town(she was from a different
province) and the schadchen" wanted to show him different girls
about town he refused saying: 'if I cannot marry the first girl.
I saw I donít want to see any at all- just picture how elated
my mother must have felt. my father was just about up to her hips
in height but great with delight in matrimony. kismet wanted they
should join in union and besides being burglarized on their
marriage eve nothing in particular happened until I began to
clamor for what was coming to me.
On the wandering path
The next dim picture I have in my mind is of a small hut in
a small town in Poland where we followed our good husband and
father to lighten his military burdens. We all served the Russian
I remember being a little tot carrying a big
pitcher of some beverage followed by my mother with a stock of
pastry to delight the hearts of the faithful soldiers in return
for a few kopecks that helped us get along in that strange town
where we lived illegally; for a common soldier was forbidden to
take a wife unto himself.
I must have been a pretty little darling for the shikses'
of the neighborhood used to take me into their homes and treat
me with the best part of their swine.
(sorry I donít remember how good it tasted.)
and So for four years of military service rolled by and with
an additional member to our family that arrived with military
promptness we returned with honors to our old Sarodoub.
We were greeted by a host of cousins, uncles and a blind old grandmother of my father who was known for her wisdom. she felt the face and features of my mother with her forefingers and brought out the verdict that she was a very beautiful woman. she soon treated us with cups of milk from a nanny goat and we were all happy.
father established his long cherished tinsmith shop and the cares and worries of a livelihood began to follow. I remember the anxiety of many a day for the price of a case of tin plate to be made up into cups pails graters and so forth. I used to wade in the tin wastings laid about the house and many a time I pricked and cut my tender buttocks to my mother's dismay. sister would sit in a pile of same with a face full of sores and pimples heaven knows from what source salved up into a creamy white and yell her lungs out. she was a premium cry baby.
I have a mental picture of the oblong courtyard where we lived practically all those years holding a gallery of tenants enough to inhabit a village. On one end to the front, a fat cobbler lived. He was a master boot maker of aristocratic means whose clientele were the elite next to him lived the landlord of the twinned court an old pious Jew whom every grown up knew to be an old man since their childhood. On the opposite side from the left there lived Berze the tailor a dwarf like creature with a giant wife who had a houseful of sons that were chasing after the town maidens. In that house all the political and conspirative news were at hand.
Next door toward the center lived a flour merchant with two daughters rather reserved and kept aloof from the other tenants. Next to it was a groats-mill trodden by one horse. I remember the poor creature standing in one place steadily moving a platform under his feet- trodding in the dark until he would get blind then he would be replaced by another one.
Following in line was the general lavatories a double compartmented affair that served the entire settlement. Many a quaint face turned away with a crampy feeling eagerly looking backwards with a watchful eye. The blending odors of such a communal depository is only material for illusion. Then there was a barn for the prosperous ones to keep a cow in. Next to this barn was a bookbinder and in his hovel a Hebrew teacher had his class of beginners. Unto that tutor my mind was entrusted to be filled with the first rudiments of lure and learning. I remember upon the first lesson of the alphabet a confectionery spray came down from on high which a Samaritan angel threw me down as a token of good grace.
On the rear right, there lived the sexton of a nearby synagogue. He was one eyed and two daughtered; one was a divorcee and the other supposed maiden a sore eye. She was like a cat always in other circumstances. Rumors about town had it that the tailors from the front changed those circumstances in the rear. That same maiden is married here in the to a reverential cantor. Crossing a hallway another court yard was reached with another set of tenants most conspicuous of all being a produce merchant with a big barn where the moujiks' used to bring their products such as flax bristles and the like. Rumors had it that he used to cheat on the peasants by having some member of the house put his feet under the platform scale and so reduce the weight of the merchandise in question.
Then there was a hovel sunken in the ground where lived an
octogenarian lady. she took a fancy to our house and would come
and make no. I right under our window and mother was terribly
sore and aggravated.
Passing a small gate there was a big yard with a legendary
synagogue that withstood fire contagion which spread so often
over the town. there stood a shanty where an old rabbi lived
famed for his piety and miraculous power as one legend went the
rounds woman barren of child asked him for his blessing which
he gave her and told her to proceed home and she will bear with
child upon which she asked his handclasp as a token of good
grace. this he refused as a pious Jew is forbidden to hold the
hand of a strange female so he told her to go forth and she
shall perceive the sign of heaven. there upon the woman gave
birth to a son with only the left hand. this was an omen of wrath
for the distrust in the holy man.
On that courtyard the loafers played ball. the gentle god-fearing
lads would not engage in such sports. outside that court was an
apple orchard with a tempting fence to climb for the tempting
On the corner was the club house where the affairs of the town
took place and underneath lived the superintendent with a
houseful of maidens engaged in rolling cigarettes. there, my
first curiosity was aroused by seeing girls smoke. those were
habitual smokers puffing ardently with grace and passion.
coming back to our courtyard: on the center right was our abode-
a big one room apartment of recent build. a narrow hallway with a
storage room. on the top shelf in the very corner of that pantry
I kept a little tin box and that was my safe where I used to put
away my kopecks saved up from the fruchens I was supposed to buy
for breakfast. in that hall were stationed two vats filled with
drinking water and alongside of it was a tub for refuse; after it
was heapingly filled it would be emptied in the yard, no place
in particular. there were two sets of drinking water brought on
the shoulders of a carrier in two wooden pails. one set was from
a nearby well delivered every other day; that was common drinking
water and for general use. the other was filled special for tea
and was brought from a distant well once a week, famed all over
town for its tea qualifications.
Right by the door was one room partitioned off and rented. The
rest of the house held the baking oven facing the door with a
compartment on top. In that oven bread was baked once a week to
last for seven days besides challah for Saturday and the Sabbath
meals were stored into the day before.
In winter on Friday nights it was the greatest pleasure for the
entire family to lay on top of that oven eat sunflower seeds and
relate ghost stories. On the other side of the oven was a hearth,
the top of which was used as a sleeping bunk. The entire room was
used as a combination workshop dormitory dining room, guest
room etc ...
I cannot forget the visit of a great uncle, a big
strappy man from a distant town. We had as a guestly treat beans
for supper. He then occupied the couch, the most imposing piece
of furniture in the house. In the middle of the night, I heard
the big great uncle bursting forth shooting volleys exploding.
I was dazed not knowing what happened to our dear guest.
On the other hand there lingers in my memory the visits of my
kindly maternal grandfather a typical wandering Jew. He was
always on the go bag under arm marching from one town to
another visiting his scattered daughters or relatives.
To me it
was an event when zeide' used to come. One thing he always used
to bring a 'nosh'. How I lived to feel around his sack and
praying paraphernalia; take out his snuff boxy examine it, and
take a sniff at it- the sneeze that followed was a delight. He
was around the seventies with stooped back and always chanting
by himself repeating each phrase absent mindedly two or three
times. After every meal he had to eat a slice of bread as an
In his younger days he was a musician playing the
trombone or any of the biggest wind instruments. Later, he
switched to the drums banging the big drum or thumbing the
tambourine. I remember his joy on one of his visits when he
volunteered his services to a neighbor's wedding. He was
pounding his fist on a little hand drum with such a zeal that it
was bleeding- as he was out of practice and he painted the drum
scarlet red but he kept on banging at it as if nothing happened.
To be continued.......
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