By Shaindle Schmuckler | email@example.com
Mama and Papa (my grandparents) arrived in this country with four children plus one in tow.
They brought with them all the worldly possessions they could stuff into their satchels and valises. One of the children was not actually theirs. No, they did not find a stowaway who happened to be going their way. They did, however, bring Mama’s young niece along, filing papers as if they had five children.
This family of seven headed to the Goldeneh Madenah (the golden land of the USA). After a long, arduous journey — ships were not as tricked out as they are today — they were happy to arrive at Ellis Island and thrilled to see the Statue of Liberty. Azoi grois (so big) azoi shain (so beautiful) was Mama’s reaction to Lady Liberty. In Poland such a lady did not exist.
Mama and Papa did not run from Hitler. Hitler was a young child whose mind was not yet infested with hatred when they became immigrants. Mama and Papa simply dreamed of a better life as Americans.
Their first priority: All were to enroll in English classes in preparation for completing their citizenship applications. They were so proud to raise their hands and take the oath officially making them Americans. My Uncle Zaidle, Mama and Papa’s youngest child and only son, served with pride in the Army of his adopted country.
As soon as they were able, they opened a fish stall in a market on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. My cousin Loretta and I worked in that fish market as young teens. It took me until just a few years ago to believe that my hands and arms did not smell like fish, feh, and that it was OK to eat a piece of fish.
Mama and Papa and their children were living the American dream.
Mama and Papa’s kinder (pronounced k-in-der), or children, all went to school and worked to contribute to the family. The whole family, including a boarder, lived in one apartment and shared one bathroom with little blood being spilled, as hard as it is to believe.
When I was a child, the apartment seemed huge, especially when I had to walk down the long, dark hallway to open the door for Eliyahu Hanavi on Passover. I am still afraid of the dark, but I’ve come a long way: I was terrified of the dark for most of my life.
As their kinder grew and married, they each brought their spouses into Mama and Papa’s apartment. Their bedrooms became their honeymoon suites. And there they resided until they could move to their own love nests. My Aunt Ruthie (the oldest daughter) and Uncle Joe and their two children lived with Mama and Papa to the end.
Respecting our elders was paramount. Besides, a kosher Jewish assisted-living facility did not exist. The mere thought of a goyishe home was not even suggested — G-d forbid, poo, poo, poo!
Soon, Mama and Papa had 10 grandchildren. We, the grandchildren, were taught by word and example to honor and respect our elders. We were always reminded how blessed we were to have Mama and Papa and how lucky we were to live so close to them. Their apartment was like a clubhouse to us.
My first piano lessons were in Mama and Papa’s apartment on my cousin’s piano. Now that I think about it, none of us remembers Mama and Papa ever smiling. Oy, I hope we were not the reason for their somber faces; perhaps it was my exquisite piano playing.
Accepting the responsibility of leading by example, we were always generous in showing love and respect for our own parents and indeed for our children. My hubby and I are living the American dream, revealed to us by our grandparents and parents. We are blessed to have all our children and grandchildren living in Atlanta.
How can I be sure our children got it? How do we know they feel blessed to be part of our family tree? I see their humanity every day. I am witness to the kindness and love they show others. I feel it from their children, my grandchildren.
Our grandparents and parents are kvelling, as we all are now living the American dream, a dream Mama and Papa believed in and worked so hard to make a reality.