My family calendar, now on Google, reminds me that tomorrow is the day my mother’s father passed away, in 1957, years before I was even born. I guess you can say he would have been something like 112 years old.

I hardly know much about Harry. He emigrated from Poland in the early part of the 1990s. If I understand right, he might my mother Ida, herself a Lithuanian immigrant, through some local Baltimore matchmaker. That’s how things were done then.

He was a shoemaker, and my mother, her mother, her three sisters and one brother grew up in a house above the shop on Aisquith Street in Baltimore. Harry must have been scrappy to support his family through the Depression, an era my Mom (born in 1929) does not remember except through the normal playful eyes of a child. Harry, and his son Harvey (my uncle) apparently lost their hair before they were 20. Some genes I am happy passed me by.

Harry was also apparently fond of practical jokes, and played cards in the back of his shop. He did run numbers at one time, and apparently got in trouble with the law, and stopped. He would bring home a live carp from the market that stayed in the bathtub, until it was prepped for eating.

That’s not much to go on- I have some audio I recorded with my Mom in 2008:

Mom describes her father

I’ve got some scans of photos from Mom’s scrapbook- there are very few photos of the parents, most are of the kids in my Mom’s family. It does say something that they saw the value of photos in the late 1920s…

That's Harry (dandy hat!- holding my Mom as a baby, 1929. Might that be Patterson Park, near where they lived?
That’s Harry (dandy hat!- holding my Mom as a baby, 1929. Might that be Patterson Park, near where they lived?
Aisquith Stree6 (1935) - my mom and her sisters with a neighbor. There are very few photos that show the neighborhood (her house now is an empty lot according to Google Streetview). The sign behind has an address for a street that ends in "nklin" -- the nearest I could find was "Conkling St, a mile east
Aisquith Stree6 (1935) – my mom and her sisters with a neighbor. There are very few photos that show the neighborhood (her house now is an empty lot according to Google Streetview). The sign behind has an address for a street that ends in “nklin” — the nearest I could find was “Conkling St, a mile east
A note from Mom about her Dad rigging up a hose from the second floor of their house so the kids could play  in the water. That;s Mom (right, age 5), her sisters Dorothy (left) and Ruth (behind)
A note from Mom about her Dad rigging up a hose from the second floor of their house so the kids could play in the water. That;s Mom (right, age 5), her sisters Dorothy (left) and Ruth (behind)

It isn’t much, and I feel the family stories get more faded as the voices who can tell them are gone. What is it about my Grandpa Harry that is in me? And even with this, it feels like peering through a very thick distorted piece of glass to understand what it was like to live in the 1930s, a world we see as sepia, but would have been full color, rich audio fidelity.

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Grandfather I Never Knew by CogDogBlog, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

8 Comments

  • Lisa noble

    Nice reflective piece here. I particularly liked the question “what of him is in me?” This is a big question for me right now, as the grandfather I never met died in 1987 in the Ukraine. It’s one of those stories of families torn up by the Second World War. My dad went back to the Ukraine in the 70’s, and met his dad for the first time. From photos, I know that there was much of my grandfather in my dad, and seems to be even more in my younger brother, who as he ages, looks even more like the two of them. I know nothing of the family my grandfather raised in the Ukraine, other than knowing that my dad had half-sibling, and that I have cousins. Where are they in the current unrest? What is happening to them? Things much on my mind these days. Thanks for the look through distorted glass.

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog

      Those are very complex questions, but so important, Lisa. Even beyond the physical resemblance, what about character? personality? ways of being? Totally subjective, but so much of my tree is gone, it’s weird to be near the top branch.

  • Rockylou

    I enjoy listening to the audio snippets of your mom. What a wonderful way to capture the history of your family. Audio brings in so much more of the heart connection. It’s fun to get to know who you are through these family history posts.

    • Lisa noble

      It is strange to find yourself near the top, isn’t it? I have been taking more audio of my 93 year old grandmother lately. The spouse of the grandfather mentioned above, she lived through incredibly turbulent history, both political and personal. My kids are amazed by her, and are happy to let the iPad run while she tells them stories. She’s preparing for the imminent death of her eldest child (my dad died almost 10 years ago), and the unrest in her homeland is difficult for her, too. The ways of being question is one I think of often. What will my kids remember? What do I carry of my parents, without knowing it?

  • Judy Levine Griffith

    Thanks Alan for posting the pictures of our grandfather. He died before I was born so none of us got to know him. He does live through the stories that mom told. She had a special relationship with her father, even closer than that with her mother! It is interesting to think about what parts of our ancestors are in us! I love looking at the old pictures and remembering the fun mom and I had looking at them and talking about the people that she grew up with. Thanks for keeping our family memories alive! :)

  • Harriet

    I think you have his playfulness. You probably don’t remember uncle Harvey but I imagine he was a lot like his father. I remember him as being very jolly. Wish we could have known our grandfather.

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog

      Thanks, sis! I only have a very feint memory of Uncle Harvey, smiling, seated on the end of that 1970s vintage green couch in the living room.

      • Bryan Alexander

        I agree about the playfulness, Alan, based on this post. Heh – love the bit about the string and the money purse.

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