I’ve always been enamored by the knowledge old people manage to store away during their lifetime. There were nine brothers and sisters on my Father’s side, and eight brothers and sisters on my Mom’s. (Birth control wasn’t part of the immigrant’s vocabulary.) Of all the dozens of cousins in our family army, I was the young guy who constantly leaned in to hear what gems the elders might share. Their stories were colorful to say the least. Dad’s side, especially, had aunts and uncles worth listening to. All of them were bright and outgoing; most played a variety of musical instruments. It wasn’t unusual for a number of them to break into song to go along with Grandma, my Father’s Mom, taking a turn telling a story or two about how she and Grandpa Max escaped from Russia on a boat loaded with immigrants. My Father was a conservative, yet he was capable of throwing caution to the wind. He, like all of his brothers, was a family protector. My Mother was a liberal, though ready to physically fight anyone in her way. Mom and Dad were the height of disparity, yet in essence, the pulse of our family’s survival during the worst of times. An outsider who looked in at us had no doubt that we were dysfunctional at best. What those who were on the outside missed seeing about us was a simple fact of life: When the chips were down, we stood together. Mom and Dad created, and we lived within an environment of ‘one for all and all for one’. Neither of them knew what the word ‘quiet’ meant.
Can you imagine having three children to bring up during the Great Depression (August 1929 – March 1933)? Reports show that there were twenty-four million unemployed Americans at the time.
In our neighborhood, many of the immigrant ladies would hold their own individual storytelling, like it really was confabs. Little kids like me were allowed to listen in. I was a sponge. Each group of women had their own particular design for displaying grief. I was a little boy then, but I remain with the ability of giving my impression of them saying, along with hand gestures, “Just vait, it vill get voise!” This beautiful Italian lady turned to me and asked me in almost perfect Yiddish if I’d like to join them for some spaghetti. For some reason, when it happened to be a very young child, they felt the child wouldn’t be able to speak English; or as they put it, speak American.
The bottom line: Is it any wonder why so many kids love spaghetti, chicken soup, corned beef and cabbage, chopped liver, and a list far too long to give you this day. Or like one of those ladies said, “Just vait, it vill get woise!” You know what…she was wrong. It did get better; it always does! In this country of ours, it always has, and it always will get better.