Sunday, December 05, 2004

Dad, Chapter 1

I have never doubted that my father loved me.
I worry that he may have questioned whether I loved him, or respected him.
But I know that he loved me and my siblings, without question. It was evident in the way he lived his life. We were the center of his universe.
These are some of the things I know about my father's background and childhood:

  • He was born close to midnight on January 31, 1920. In fact, he always celebrated his birthday on February 1, and until he obtained a copy of his birth certificate as an adult he did not know that his official birth date was a day earlier.
  • He was the eighth of 12 children of Simon and Mary, Russian emigrants who settled in Baltimore. Nine of those children survived to adulthood. My father was in the exact middle -- fifth -- of those nine.
  • His father was a barkeep in a black neighborhood in west Baltimore. After my grandfather's death, my oldest uncle took over the bar and ran it for another 30 years, until his own death. When I was growing up, we spent many Sunday afternoons at the bar, celebrating one family occasion or another.
  • My father's parents were married in Russia, and emigrated to the United States around 1913, ending up in Baltimore. Family legend has it that my father's oldest sister, Anna, was born on the ship while in passage. My aunt died a decade ago; we are not certain that she ever was a citizen of the United States.
  • As a young boy, my Dad used to watch silent movies at the Fulton Theatre on Fulton Street in west Baltimore.
  • Two of my father's brothers drowned as children. They are buried in the family plot in the Russian Orthodox cemetary near Baltimore. Another child supposedly died in Russia before my grandparents emigrated.
  • When my Dad was 7, his mother died. Near the end of his life, it bothered him enormously that he had no memories of her.
  • Dad told me that his father had beaten him with a rubber hose when he was a kid. My mother told a funny story about Dad and his brother hiding under the bed from their father, who pulled off the mattress so he could get to them to beat them. I never got the sense that my Dad was abused -- this was standard discipline for the times, nothing out of the ordinary, as far as I can surmise.
  • After his mother's death, my Dad's oldest sister, Annie, raised the children. She didn't marry until the youngest child -- my Aunt Vera -- had graduated from high school. When I was growing up, Aunt Annie was the closest thing we had to a grandmother. If we weren't at the bar for a family occasion, we were at Aunt Annie and Uncle Mickey's house.
  • Dad was graduated from Baltimore's City College in the class of 1938. Under his picture, the text read, "To enter business."
  • When Dad was 18, his father died.
  • When my father married my mother, he was 22 and she was 17. Both have told me they were virgins at the time of their marriage. My mother did not know the "facts of life" until her wedding night, she once told me.