Saturday, November 28, 2009

Benny




On the left is my great-grandfather Benjamin. I realized, when I set out to write a little bit of history, that I know next to nothing about him. The bare facts, only: he was my mother's paternal grandfather, born and raised in Russia, came to America by way of Ellis Island and set up a tailor's shop in Brooklyn. He spoke at least three languages fluently (Yiddish, Russian, and English). He must have had an accent. He was married to Manya, he had four children: my grandpa Max, my Great-Uncle Harold, and my great-aunts Libby and Tilly. He died early and tragically, before my mother was born, of his injuries a few days after he was hit by a car on Eastern Parkway.





My mother said he was known for being "austere, but likable."

I suppose I also know that as a young man, he was interested in grooming. Just look at those twirled mustaches, that oiled and rolled hair! He enjoyed a glance in the mirror... or two.

And I'll bet my life on some other things too: that he had a sense of humor (for his sons, both of them, were wickedly funny). That he had a sense of adventure (but then, didn't they all, who came over the long rough waters to Ellis Island). That he had a pervasive sense of gloom (for who in my family does not).

But as for the little details, they're lost to me: What was his favorite dinner? the colors he preferred in a suit? the song he hummed as he ran his sewing machine? the way he smelled and talked and moved his hands as he told a story?







for more tales of the ancestors, visit Poetikat, Alan Burnett, and Betsy (among others) on Sepia Saturday. And if you have an old sepia photo of your own, why not share it?

36 comments:

Betsy said...

Oh Leah, this is wonderful! Actually, you know quite a few facts about him. Love the mustache and that he probably had a wonderful sense of humor since his sons did!
I find it interesting, too, that he set up shop in Brooklyn all those years ago and here you are still living there! That is so nice!
Love the picture! This is going to be a fun weekly theme!

Auntie, aka Coco's Mom said...

ooooooh I just LOVE old photos! I must find one and learn to upload it for a future Sepia Saturday.
I really miss blogging. Leah, you were one of the bloggers I would sometimes think about. You write in such a personal & captivating voice.
I'm determined to stick to my blogging.
It's good to be back.
I have lots to catch up on!

underOvr (aka The U) said...

Hi Leah,

It's good to have a family history; vivid with pictures and memories. I am happy for and envious of those who have that. I am still searching for mine which I hope to one day share.

Thanks for your comment. You always leave me thinking, I could have said this better, clearer and in a more meaningful manner.

U

Megan said...

Benny looks like my kind of guy. Dapper dog! I bet he had a nice clean stride and a penetrating eye.

Poetikat said...

Leah, I'm so glad you decided to join in!
These photos do tell a great deal and you have been quite deductive in interpreting what your great-grandfather must have been like.
I hope you've got lots of pictures and stories to share like this one. You have such a fascinating background.
Incidentally, my father's side of the family has a similar last name. My grandmother came from the "Pollands". There are not too many of them around and I really should do some sort of genealogy some day.

Kat

otin said...

Don't you wish that you could spend some time with relatives that you never met? I surely do.

Tom said...

...never really got to know mine, they died when i was very young and lived hundreds of miles away...you know quite a lot actually, maybe you can fill in the rest.

Karen ^..^ said...

I've always been fascinated by relatives I've never met, who were gone before I lived. There's something so romantic about wondering what a person was like, the little nuances that they may have passed down to us, small mannerisms that are ingrained in the DNA.

This was a very compelling post, and I think I'll now go back and read it again. Yours is one blog I frequently read, going over each post again like a forbidden dessert. Always a pleasure...

nick said...

It's a shame we often know so little about our ancestors, all the salient details have been lost with their departed loved ones who knew everything. As you say, you keep wondering about all those little everyday tastes and habits that would complete the picture. Your great-grandpa certainly liked to cut a dash with his appearance - the moustache is amazing.

As for the pervasive sense of gloom - I can identify with that one. Though at the same time I'm cheerily optimistic. An odd contradiction.

lettuce said...

wouldn't it be wonderful to go back in time and find out?
its something I think about often

Candie Bracci said...

This was a beautiful post Leah.I really like to think about this too,what my ancestors were like,what were their taste ect..fascinating.
Have a nice sunday!:)

kylie said...

i have an idea theres a sepia picture of my grandmother about somewhere........

Jimmy Bastard said...

Great post Leah, the true colours of his heart, let alone his choice of suit, still flow through the smile and the thoughts of his talented great-granddaughter.

The fella to the right of the photie has an uncanny resemblance to my own faither. We are not related are we by any chance?

Alan Burnett said...

Hi Leah,
The whole idea of Sepia Saturday started as a bit of a joke but I have been amazed by all the wonderful posts which have been contributed. There is a lot of interest in visual history out there and your post has ably demonstrated that old pictures can form the heart of a fascinating blog post. I will get in touch with Kat and try to ensure that we get organised before next Saturday and we will let everyone know in advance of what looks like becoming a regular feature.

Emerson Marks said...

magnificent moustache. The chair he's sitting is pretty grand too.

MJ said...

Sepia Saturday...great concept.

Brian Miller said...

how cool...love the pic...my gandfather had a handle bar mustache...i would love to sit down with that generation and listen to their stories...now that i am old enough to appreciate it...

Leah said...

Betsy: I too am sometimes amazed that here we are, all still in Brooklyn. I even dragged poor Sarge here. I'm just a Brooklyn girl, through and through!

Auntie: it is excellent to see you back! And I hope you do participate in next week's Sepia Saturday--I'll be on the lookout.

U: family history provides a fascinating insight into one's own personal life--I'm just starting to get interested in it now, and there are many stumbling blocks when I try to go back further--the fact that European Jewish records were wiped out in the Holocaust is a huge problem, obviously. But I'll persevere!

I wanted to thank you for posting so thoughtfully yesterday and today on what is a really difficult subject! I have much more to say on the topic even than I did in my ramblings on your blog, but...I'll save it for another day...

xo

Megan: how much do I love that comment. Seriously.

Kat: I have SO many old photos. I heart Sepia Saturday, even if it did begin as a joke! I can't wait to see more of yours too.

As for the name "Polland" it really does help in genealogy searches when the name is somewhat unusual. My family name, "Pollack," is an incredibly ubiquitous Jewish last name. But in fact, it wasn't their real name, it was given to them at Ellis Island because their Russian name (Postelovsky) was too hard to pronounce...

Otin: I often daydream of going back in time, and getting to help my great-grandmother cook a meal, and then sit at table and talk with all of them...

Leah said...

Tom: you're right, perhaps I do know more than I thought I did! The only problem is that a whole generation with direct memories is now gone...an interesting problem posed for my detective work.

Karen: that's it exactly! The idea that little mannerisms, feelings, habits, are present even in Hedgie--that the way she holds herself, or her facial expressions, came from a great-great grandmother, and I'll never even know it, but I can speculate...

xoxo

Nick: isn't the mustache fab?

You made me laugh when you said you were both gloomy and "cheerily optimistic." That is exactly, but exactly, how I am.

lettuce: I think about that all the time, too. I daydream about it. Wouldn't it be marvelous/odd/unsettling/satisfying all at the same time?

Candie: thank you, and maybe you might post one of your own?

Kylie: and I hope you post too! Join the fun and fascination!

Leah said...

Jimmy: you and I, related somewhere way back when? Yes. That would explain a great deal.

Alan: I am so glad that this little joke blossomed. It's really a fascinating idea. Mr. Linky should do it, and I cannot wait to see everyone's long-ago families! Thank you.

EM: it is magnificent, eh? I think more of the gents these days should be rocking that type of 'stache. As for the chair--I was wondering about it. Perhaps the picture was a professional shot, and that was a studio prop? I'm not sure. And to be honest, I'm not sure who the other dude is either, although I know he's related to me somehow. Mysteries all.

MJ: it is a good concept, isn't it? How 'bout sepia saturday Victorian porn at Infomaniac? heh.

Brian: just think about the stories! If we could go back in time for just an afternoon...

Hunter said...

Fascinating stuff.

I have a pic or two of my great grandparents. I come from a long line of teen mothers, so the pictures were probably taken circa 1967 though.

Leah said...

Hunter: those would still be some interesting pictures, though! I've become a little bit overly interested in seeing other people's family photos, and luckily for me lately there's been quite a rash of it around the interwebs.

Cinnamon said...

Interesting meme. Your grandfather certainly looks like a dynamic, intelligent man. That's what comes across in the picture.

Ronda Laveen said...

Lovely addition to Sepia Saturday. I just love me a man who sews! I taught mine to sew on my mother's sewing machine when we were dating. He still sews daily, unlike me, when he does his old car restorations.

Pat said...

You still paint an interesting picture of him even without the extra info. How I wish I had quizzed my grandfathers more. My Gran was always very close to me. Even now.

mapstew said...

Younger Sis has just started to sort through auntie Bridie's treasure trove of photies. She tells me the similarities between the ancients and the newbies are amazing! I can't wait!

xxx

Kate said...

Oh I love all the old pictures wish we had more info on our relatives. I am now really regretting not appreciating my grandad more before he died. I was 11 when he died and while he was lovely to give me sweets and cuddles it would have been wonderful to know more about him.

Kate x

Liza said...

Manya, I love that name.
What a marvelous post.
Thanks for sharing.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Fun fact: Before I was married my last name was Polak (I took my wife's name), but it was pronounced "Pollack." I was frequently mistaken for Jewish. I enjoyed my double-identity.

Leah said...

Cinnamon: I believe he was very intelligent. And my mom's dad's family were all incredibly (some might say overwhelmingly) charismatic...

Ronda: I know! I wish I could sew. I'm very handy and crafty, but that's an undiscovered land for me...Sarge learned some handy sewing in the army, though.

Pat: Oh, how I too wished I questioned my grandparents about all the family generations, and then listened to their answers! It really is all gone now, except some bits and pieces...

map: I hope you'll post some and introduce us to your cast of characters!

Kate: my memories of my grandparents (and I was already in college when they died) are similarly impressionistic. What makes me feel even sadder is that I think there were always stories flying about and I didn't pay attention!

Liza: I love the name Manya too. It was a contender for our daughter's name.

UB: so, you'd try to "pass"? But did you know the secret handshake? ; )

willow said...

What a dapper young man. Wouldn't you love to sit down and share stories over dinner with him? Is sepia Saturday going to be a regular thing? I might just have to join in. It's a wonderful idea.

Mr. Shife said...

Leah this is awesome. I wish I had some old family photos like that. My family is so dysfunctional they were probably burned when the family members were in the middle of one of their squabbles. It is great that you have these photos.

Leah said...

Willow: Sepia Saturday is destined to become a regular--I hope you do it too. I'm really looking forward to trotting out old photos on Saturdays, and seeing everyone else's.

Mr Shife: My ancestors were also dysfunction personified, but for some reason they really liked to archive and save. Probably just a wee bit compulsive!

Donn said...

I loved that post. It's so interesting to see how we got from there to here. Those people, like you and I, have no inkling of who will follow us or what effects and traits will linger in our genet-o-grams.

Isn't it amazing how brave those people were to leave it all behind and start anew? Wow!

My maternal great-grandfathers left Sweden and Russia..you'd think that they would have had the decency to become Pineapple Farmers in Hawaii but Noooo...
hey let's move somewhere even f*cking colder!
HELLO!

Leah said...

Donn--when I think about how incredibly much I don't want to live anywhere but here, where I know every last crack in the sidewalk as well as I know my own name--I am just blown away by the bravery of leaving for the New World. I mean, like totally wow.

mago said...

Ben jamin.
?