13 and alone.
August 26, 2017 2:11 PM   Subscribe

 
This is so good, thank you. We need more immigrant stories, especially now. I can't imagine having that kind of courage at 13.
posted by emjaybee at 2:41 PM on August 26 [9 favorites]


Fascinating. Her descendants -and the rest of us- came so close to not knowing this story. But I couldn't stop reading.
posted by Miss Cellania at 2:43 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


What an amazing story. I'm particularly proud of her grandfather, who knew that there was more in store for her than marrying that awful red-headed bearded cousin.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:49 PM on August 26 [11 favorites]


Wonderful, thank you.
posted by Toddles at 3:16 PM on August 26


What a fantastic story, thank you for sharing it!
posted by bunderful at 3:39 PM on August 26


I am visiting my parents and spent this afternoon listening to my mom's stories about her childhood in Singapore after the war. I was just thinking, I really need to record my mom one day. I wish I had a child of my own to pass these stories on to, but I will try to make sure my niece and nephew know them.

Thank you for this story; it is so fascinating and well told. What a woman her grandmother was.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:56 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Wow. I got teary.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:13 PM on August 26


Wonderful! Reminds me very much of my grandmother's story - she was born in the US but of a very similar background. Testified against child labor to the NY legislature at age 12 after working in the garment trade for a while.
posted by leslies at 5:25 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


That bit at the end, about why she's writing this story now, particularly gives me pause. I think there are some different reasons why some children resist learning about and celebrating the stories of their heritage, and why we shift perspectives as adults, and I'm wondering what others' experiences are around that.

When I was young, I think I did not feel eager to know more about my ancestors, and when I think about why, I think it's because the primary lesson I heard whenever I found out about their struggles and bravery and grit and so on was: "and therefore you have to work hard and be dutiful and and and." The weight of gratitude and responsibility felt nearly unbearable.

But now, as an adult, I can choose when to ask my mom to tell me stories. I can cope with and integrate those stories a bit better. I can articulate and sit with the inevitable irony that my parents, who took big risks in immigrating and setting up new lives -- and in particular my mother, who was pretty darn independent by her teens -- those same people then tried to keep their children from taking risks. Because parents want to keep their children safe.
posted by brainwane at 5:38 PM on August 26 [13 favorites]


Great piece of writing; a string of years and facts and quotes can't make a story live again quite like that. I found this line particularly moving:

Sol, despite being the child of two immigrants who lacked an elementary school education, would go on to become a rocket scientist for NASA.
posted by Emily's Fist at 6:55 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


When I was young, my great-uncle, who had come to the US from Germany with my grandfather in August 1929, looking for a way out of the crippling Depression (ooh, the timing) refused to eat the mashed turnips my mom used to make for the Big Dinner Holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas). When I was about 15, I finally asked him why. I mean, I knew why I didn't eat them, I thought they were horribly bitter and much preferred the mashed potatoes.

He told me about living in Germany during the First World War, and for four months, the only real thing he had to eat was stolen turnips. They had to steal them from a government field, and nearly got shot or arrested multiple times. And now he wasn't going to eat turnips if he could at all avoid it.

I knew about WWI at the time. But all they teach you are the battles. They don't really, in high school, go into how terrible it was for the people in Europe. (The only movies I can think of from about that time are... well, just one: Johnny Got His Gun and I didn't see it for years after.)

It was the first insight into why my great-uncle, and my grandmother (my grandfather had died in a car accident when I was five and I barely remembered him) acted how they did - protectiveness, generosity, but also some things they ate and didn't eat, or drank (they loved this stuff called Postum, which as far as I can tell is now a specialty product, when it used to be everywhere). I sometimes wish I knew more.

My mother reconnected with extended family when the Wall came down and Reunification happened, and has learned a lot about what things were like. And I still need to find the newspaper story of my grandfather helping break up a truck hijacking ring in the 1930s by figuring out distances and remembering turns to lead police to their headquarters.
posted by mephron at 4:49 AM on August 27 [6 favorites]


> I found this line particularly moving: Sol, despite being the child of two immigrants who lacked an elementary school education, would go on to become a rocket scientist for NASA.

But contrast that with the following passage:
Mom had won journalism awards in high school but had been forced to quit City College after a year to support her mother and sisters while her two brothers went to war and college.
posted by needled at 10:08 AM on August 27 [9 favorites]


My grandmother was born 14 years later not far from there (Silesia) and was also Jewish, and oh boy, the author's grandmother looks so much like my grandmother at that age, it made me gasp. Maybe it's just the way women styled their look in that era, or the dark brown, curly hair, but wow.

She had a much different immigrant story - her family moved to Berlin at some point (I believe when she was quite young) instead of the US, like some of their family. So they were there when the Nazis came to power, and you can imagine how that went. Fortunately, my grandmother had married a non-Jew and managed to survive in Berlin (we're still not sure how). She and my grandfather, mother, and uncle came to the US after the war and settled in New Jersey as well, as chicken farmers.

Unlike the author, I've always been interested in the story, but there are so many unknowns, and that entire generation has passed away, so I'm not sure if I'll ever know the full story.

This was a great read.
posted by lunasol at 10:11 AM on August 27


I found this line particularly moving: Sol, despite being the child of two immigrants who lacked an elementary school education, would go on to become a rocket scientist for NASA.

But contrast that with the following passage:
Mom had won journalism awards in high school but had been forced to quit City College after a year to support her mother and sisters while her two brothers went to war and college.


A very similar thing came close to happening in my mother's family as well. My uncle went away to university, but my grandparents were insistent my mother stay at home and go to the teacher's college down the road (which at the time was basically a vocational school). Fortunately my mother got a full scholarship in math and was able to go away for school. My grandparents were very progressive in a lot of ways, but not when it came to their daughter and education/career opportunities.
posted by lunasol at 10:15 AM on August 27


What struck me was that the best parts of her life and the freedom she found were build on and in an environment that allowed and supported it. From the way she was able to travel safely away from home, to the job she had before emigrating to the opportunities, housing, and social support she found in New York. There are some analogues available today, but they are not something we can necessarily count on.

Ignoring that is like ignoring the importance of soil and rain if you want to grow food. The strength of the individual is good to celebrate, but we need to continue to do the things that led to that environment existing -- and if those things won't work anymore, then we need to invent new ways to create a safe world with ladders to climb.
posted by amtho at 3:23 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Wonderful story! My Jewish husband;s mother came to America at 13 with her family; the surviving children after 5 or so others died in an epidemic. (think about that, anti-vaxers)
She also somewhat resembled the author's mother. Wow, was the granddaughter the image pf her grandma! My mother-in-law worked in the garment industry all her life and was a proud member of the ILGWU.

I had little interest in my family history when I was young, except for noting that I looked like the woman in the oldest picture we have, of a Polish great-grandma who never left Europe. All my grandparents were immigrants, and I regret not asking them or my parents and aunts more about the family heritage. Now they are all gone. We have connected with the descendants of my Irish grandpa's sister who still live on the farm my grandpa came from, but know nothing about the other great-grandparents or ancestors.

My grown sons have little interest now, but perhaps they will when they are older, I think that the interest comes with age, but not sure why. Maybe because young people want to look forward, not back.
posted by mermayd at 6:13 AM on August 28


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