The Sad Scandal That Forever Scarred My Grandpa Harry

14 Jun

My paternal grandfather, Harry, was a difficult man to love. He never hugged us or played with us. He kept his distance, except to sometimes reprimand us from eating too much cake. “The Trolley Car Stops, Too,” he would intone if we spent too much time at the dessert table. Or to tell us to “Quiet Down.”

In the summers he would take long walks and sit by himself. Grandpa Harry, “Hersh Zvi,” was not one to dole out love.

When I entered high school, he actually began talking to me. I took some sewing classes and was making my own clothes and clothing for my sister and Mom. Grandpa was a retired tailor. And suddenly we had a language to share. He taught me how to match plaids and make my slacks more tailored. He could explain about French seams and other ways of making the clothes I made stand out. We formed the tiniest bit of a bond. I know he was so proud of everything I made, which made me feel good as well.

I knew he had had a difficult life. I remember my paternal Grandma Esther saying to me, “When you get married, make sure you check out the family. You do not only marry the man, you marry the entire family. And they can be crazy.”

And that was my Grandpa Harry’s family according to my Grandma. His family could have been a column in the “Bintel Brief” columns of the old Yiddish Jewish Forward. Except I am not sure my Great Grandma Sarah could write.

We think this is Grandpa Harry on his bar mitzvah day.

We think this is Grandpa Harry on his bar mitzvah day.

My grandfather was the oldest of six children: Harry, Harriet (Hady), Muriel, Jacob and two ‘maiden’ sisters. When he was either 13 or 14, his father abandoned the family and took off for the west coast. Disaster.

Grandma Esther once told me that my great grandmother was a ‘schrier,’ someone who screamed a lot. And although my great grandfather Abraham was probably unhappy, he should not have left my grandfather with the mess. And that is true.

Abraham was one of three to five brothers who all came to America at different times, or so we think. Their original last name was Grau, but in the USA Abraham Grau became Abraham Rosenberg. I believe he was from Russia, perhaps Bialystok.

So we know this is a posed photo, but it is when Grandpa crossed the USA looking for his father.

So we know this is a posed photo, but it is when Grandpa crossed the USA looking for his father.

In any case he was not a mensch at all.

My grandfather at age 15 took off across America by himself to find his father.   He traveled through the plains, up the mountains, to Seattle, Washington, in the early 1900s. Grandpa was born in 1888 or 1889. So this was in 1903 or 1904. Can you imagine! He might have wanted to get away as well. But I think he really wanted to find his father.

Well he did find him, in Seattle, living with another woman as if she was his wife. Or as my grandma called her, the ‘churva,’ which I believe means prostitute in Yiddish.

Grandpa Harry was not happy. I do not think the meeting went well. So Grandpa turned around and traveled all the way back to the New York, where he became the bread winner and head of the family.

He worked as a tailor and never finished school. But his five siblings, four girls and his brother, ALL went to college. He paid for it. His brother even became an attorney and lived Up Town.   Grandpa sacrificed his life for his siblings. He was a mensch! He gave them food, clothes and a college education in a time when women did not go to college. And he did not get much in return. I think this is why he so unable to show affection to his own children and grandchildren.  He held back.

Eventually, on February 26, 1922, he married my Grandma, after he finished supporting his siblings and mother. He was in his mid 30s when he married. Since, my grandmother’s father, Louis, was also a tailor, I believe grandpa married his partner’s daughter. In fact my grandparents and my great grandparents continued to live together.

As for my great grandmother, Sarah Rosenberg, we know nothing. Not her maiden name. Not when she was born or died. I do not think she was a very loving person either.  In fact, my brother reminded me that years later Grandpa found out his father was sending money, but his mother never told him!

My Dad on his Bar Mitzvah day on the roof of a building in the Bronx.

My Dad on his Bar Mitzvah day on the roof of a building in the Bronx.

I do know that in 1941 my great grandfather and his second ‘wife’ showed up in New York City, in the Bronx on the day of my Dad’s bar mitzvah. I do not know if one of the other siblings had kept in touch with him. I do not know why he chose that day. All I know is that my grandfather would not let him into the house. I believe my Dad met his grandfather in the hallway.

As for my grandfather’s siblings, we never met any of them except for Aunt Hady and her husband, Lenny. The others were not part of our lives. However, I do know that my Aunt Leona, my Dad’s sister, took piano lessons with her cousin at the apartment uptown. So she had some weekly contact with my great Uncle Jacob and his family when she was a child.

But I would one day like to know, where did my great grandfather end up and was buried? What was my Great grandma Sarah’s maiden name? Who was she?

And where are the children of Muriel, who had two sons; and Jacob, who had two children: Delilah and Betram.

I wish my Grandpa Harry had not been so scarred by his own father.He was a good man.  He provided for his family.  And he cared about us. I know in the moments that he discussed sewing with me that he wanted a connection with his family, he just did not know how. He was forever scarred by the scandal of his childhood.

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4 Responses to “The Sad Scandal That Forever Scarred My Grandpa Harry”

  1. Amy June 15, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    Such a sad story. So many people live such sad and detached lives because of something endured as a child. At least today there are better mental health options available to help people overcome their pasts.

    • zicharon June 15, 2015 at 9:45 am #

      So true. He lived to age 96. And he was a good man, he just could not show love.

      • Amy June 15, 2015 at 9:50 am #

        Yet he obviously loved his siblings a great deal. Someone instilled some important values, and I assume it was his mother.

      • zicharon June 15, 2015 at 9:53 am #

        He was loyal and faithful, I think just afraid to show love later in life because he had been so badly hurt.

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