I spent today with my parents, and my father gave me a bound copy of his recently completed memoirs, which for the last few years our family has been happily watching him write, and sometimes pitching in to help him copy-edit. Dad spent a good chunk of his boyhood on the upstate New York farm of his Russian Jewish immigrant grandparents, and these memoirs form a kind of a window into that exotic time and place.
Rural New York back then was very different from the big city; many aspects of life that we associate with the 19th century were still firmly in place well into the mid-20th, and in his boyhood my father experienced much of that now lost world first-hand. You can read the finished work for yourself on-line. It’s called A Shtetl in America, and I think it’s a great read.
Here is just one excerpt – one of the stories his grandfather had told him from a time even before Dad was born. A lot of the stories are very serious, but somehow I like this one because, well, it isn’t:
My grandfather told me an interesting story about his neighbors Sam and Julia. Julia was an extrovert who loved to go to town and speak with the women there at a time before they owned a car. One day Sam and Julia had gone to town together. He wanted to go home in their horse and buggy, and she wanted to continue talking with a woman friend of hers. Finally Sam threatened that if she didn’t stop within five minutes, he would take his pants off right in the middle of town. She ignored him and continued to talk. At the end of five minutes he stood up in the buggy, unbuttoned his pants right there in the middle of town, and let his pants down. Everybody stopped to look and saw that when he pulled his pants down, he was wearing another pair of pants underneath.
By the way, in the picture – in case you were wondering – Dad’s the handsome young fellow on the left.