Free-Floating Hostility

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Speaking of First Class

Mike informed me somewhat airily the other day that his ancestors didn't go through Ellis Island because they didn't ride steerage. Obviously this means that my servant class/confederate defector ancestors and I were in the presence of real class, and we were properly humbled. Nonetheless I'm inclined to point out that unlike Mike's ancestors, mine at least wound up on the same coast as each other. His got confused and half of them wound up in Portland, Oregon while looking for Portland, Maine.

Actually, when I stop to really think about the implications of my immigrant ancestors' lives I generally feel like a useless parasite by comparison. When I was 17 my idea of hard work was babysitting and studying for general chemistry in the same night; my great-grandmother at the same age arrived in a foreign country all by herself, and while learning a trade (she became a seamstress) earned enough as a domestic to start bringing her family over. She eventually got them all to America, and all of her in-laws. I have to wonder whether in her shoes I would ever have a) worked up the nerve to get on the boat b) been able to hack it in New York or c) had the discipline to use my earnings on other people. On the other hand, Granny was by all reports a demanding, if not cruel woman to her own family. Is that what it takes? Is kindness a luxury? Not that I'm not plenty bitchy but you know what I mean. Just musing.

4 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Form at July 01, 2005 3:34 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • The lives of immigrant anscestors can be plenty inspirational and motivating. Occassionally, pondering the work intensive profession I am about to enter, I think back to my great-grandfather taking his family out of Progrom infested Russia to this country for a better life. In some ways, I think I owe him to work hard to provide a good life for my family. Also, if you talk to people who grew up during or after that generation, being through the Depression gives them a real appreaciation for what is important and essential.

    However, there is also a dark side of their struggle, which might relate to your musings about kindness. For my family it is not cruelty but a total paranoia that something is always going to wrong. Every air plane trip, every sneeze, every doctor's appointment brings with it impending disaster. This is where my grandma's highly developped sense of selective hearing and memory comes in.

    Regardless, I do not believe either excessive worry or excessive cruelty are worthy character traits or even acceptable human behavior (although they might be understandable given people's circumstances), I do not think of them as a luxury. The way I think of it, part of what I owe my great-grandfather, in addition to working hard, is raising my kids in an environment where they do not need to worry as much. I cannot imagine that this mental element of freedom was not one of the reasons my great-grandfather left Russia (though far behind the more immeadiate threats of Anti-semitism and poverty). That is how I see my family's development in this country. My great grandfather brought us out of Russia. My grandma brought us out of poverty. My Dad brought us out of Brooklyn (that's right Jeff'y! Progress!). And I hope to bring us out of fear and worry. (Although not getting off to a good start last night, not being able to sleep before my PRACTICE bar exam. Sheesh!).

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at July 02, 2005 6:22 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • The male fraction of FFH has not quite gotten the family myths down right. Search of the ellis island and various geneology websites fails to identify either of Fritz's grandparents. So the myths can be anything we like.

    However, one myth is that [maternal side] great Grandpa Emanual did arrive at Ellis Island, and was scheduled to take a boat to Portland, Me. He missed the boat, took the train, the boat sank, and so there is a history by this accident.

    The west coast story arises because Galveston, TX was a major port of entry for immigrants from the Pale. The unnamed also maternal great ?uncle was sent the wrong way because who knew what Portland?

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at July 02, 2005 6:30 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Comment for Dave: This is a bit pedantic, but for the record, there were virtually no Jews in "Russia" prior to the Bolshevik revolution. They were not permitted to live there, and were confined to certain parts of the Baltic States [captive nations], Belarus and the Unkraine. This is the "Pale of Settlement." There was considerable resettlement into Russia itself after the revolution. Mike has relatives living in Moscow and St. Petersburg [still Leningrad to Fritz].

    PS: Emanuel, not Emanual

  •   Posted by Blogger Form at July 03, 2005 6:30 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • I did write incorrectly. The relatives I spoke of were from the Ukraine. (Sloppy, I know.) However, according to my other grandmother, I did have some relatives living in Moscow before the Revolution. I am not sure what their lives were like other than they were Rabbis. I will have to check the interview I did with my Grandmother to get the exact time period that part of the family made it over here

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