My Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother lived in Russia in the late 1800’s. One day my Great Grandfather said “The streets are lined with gold in NYC. I’m going to go there and we will be rich!”. He left my Great Grandmother who was pregnant at the time. She never heard from him so two years later she decided to follow him to NYC with a two-year old to find him!
When they arrived they stayed with some family and eventually found an apartment. To make money my Great Grandmother bought a push cart and sold vegetables every day. This was common on Hester Street. Women would line up and sell all sorts of things. And at the end of the day if there was anything left, there would be a trade with all of the vendors so they could feed their families.
She never found my Great Grandfather. I wonder if he died on the boat going over there. The part of the family that likes to talk, were certain he had just left her. They also claimed that she wasn’t married and had a child out-of-wedlock. This version of the story really upset my Mother and my Aunt. It was also ridiculous because my Great Grandmother was very religious.
Her name was Bella Rubinsky. She had long red hair, big blue eyes and a tiny nose. Her patience was worn by the time I showed up. I was a troublemaker and she had lived a hard life. I remember when she was mad at me at the table she would reach across the table with her long nails to pull my hair and face, but I was too fast. She never got me.
Her daughter Lillian married Thomas Kanaplue. He worked int he navy yard and was a big strong guy who unloaded things from trucks to the boats. He was so strong, it wasn’t uncommon for him to help people lug ice boxes up several flights of stairs to their apartments. He would strap them to his back! He also took care of a whole bird pen on the roof of his building. He was a gentle giant.
Bella thought Thomas wasnt good enough for Lillian. Unfortunately, they all lived together from the start of their marriage. He came in to support both of them, but Bella would NEVER speak to him. He was also never allowed in her room. This worked to my benefit later on when my Grandfather would try to reprimand me as a child after my Grandmother worked him over. He would chase me with a broom and I would run into my Great Grandmothers room and I was safe! He would try to poke me in the room with a long broom and Bella always backed me up. Eventually he would give up.
Thomas died when he was 63. When I was in my teens my Grandmother moved in with us. Most days she would be cooking her spicy spaghetti sauce when I came home after school. One day she said to me, “You know you don’t look like your mother! You look like your father’s family cuz you’re hairy!” I guess I was hairy, for a girl. But I’ve always had a complex I looked like my father. Resembling your father is one thing, but LOOKING like you father is another! So she would say this and then force me to eat her spaghetti sauce, even though it turned my stomach.
When I think about my Great Grandfather leaving my Great Grandmother and Grandma Lillian to go find gold in NYC, it sounds both awful and exciting. I feel bad he left, but happy to know that his adventurous and optimistic spirit is in my family tree. Mostly, Im glad it lead my Great Grandmother here with Lillian in tow. What a couple of characters.
I turned 79 two days ago and still live here in NYC. The streets still aren’t lined with gold , but if it wasn’t for my Great Grandfather thinking they were I would probably be in Russia right now. I’m not sure if I would like that or not, but at least I’d still have my fathers face.