My Polish Grandmother
Grandma and the children left at night It was forbidden to go. In those days the Czar and his cossacks rode through the town at whim killing Jews and setting fire to straw roofs while just down the road the local Poles sat laughing as they drank liquor. Grandpa had gone to America first and earned the money for the rest of the family to come over So they left finally, the whole brood of them with the hired agent running the show, an impatient man, and there were so many kids and the bundles kept falling apart and poor grandma was frightened of him. She gave the man all the money but she couldn't round up the kids fast enough for him. They were children after all and didn't understand and she was so stupid and clumsy herself, carrying food for all of them and their clothes and could she leave behind her pots? Her legs hurt already, there were always swollen from the hard work, the childbearing, and the cold. They caught the train and there was a terribly moment when the conductor came by for the tickets. The children musten't speak or he would know they were Jewish, they had no permits to travel--Jews weren't allowed. But the agent knew how to handle it, everybody got shmeared, that means money got you everywhere. The border was the worst. They had to sneak across at night. The children mustn't make a sound, not even the babies. Momma was six and she didn't want to do anything wrong but she wasn't sure what to do. The man led them through the woods and beyond they could hear dogs barking from the sentry hut and then they had to run all of them down the ravine to the other side granma broken down from childbearing with her bundles and bad legs and a baby in her arms, they ran all the children across the border or the guards might shoot them and if the little ones cried, the agent said he would smother them. They got to a port finally. Grandpa had arranged for cabin passage, not steerage, but the agent cheated and put them in the hold so they were on the low deck looking up at the rich people. My mamma told me how grandma took care of all her children, how Jake didn't move anymore he was so seasick, maybe even dead, and if people thought he was dead they would throw him overboard like garbage, so she hid him. People> tossed down oranges to the poor children-- and mamma had never had onbe before. They came to New York, to the tenements, (illegible copy)> still new place, a city, country people in the city My mamma who had been roly-poly in slow Poland got skinny and pimply in zippy New York. Everybody grew up in a new way And now my grandma is dead and my momma is old and we her children are all scattered over the earth speaking a different language and forgetting why it was so important to go to a new country.