My Immigrant Maternal Zayda from the Czarist Era

     Morris Kuritsky (my maternal grandfather also known as Moshe to kith and kin) illegally yet surreptitiously boarded the gangplank and suddenly became a fugitive of a rather rickety old wooden ship by stealthily hiding under an escape hatch and burying himself inside a large crate of some specialty export good. Rest assured (dear reader) that fate landed him squarely inside a Kosher product! No, he did not find himself in a pickle!

      As a mischievous prankster, he merely meant to play this advanced game of hide and seek in order to escape those utterly beastly, ruthless, totalitarian figures of authority. They happened to be close on his heals before luck smiled on him. This brief synopsis hopes to explain how he subsequently emigrated to America well over one hundred plus years ago!

     Unbeknownst to him (and the majority of other people that comprised the vast proletariat strata) this self-imposed exile made haste from his Mother Land and preceded the still far-off clarion call to exit pronto from the impending civil war!

     Though devoid of any book learning, he possessed an avid insight and intractable and visionary intuition. His personal writings (essays mainly – composed in a rather allegorical fashion) hinted at that looming threat away off on the distant horizon. Although said ominous danger and portentous evil (quite some decades away), this extra sensory perception goaded him to high tail quickly to a safe haven. The Russian Revolution would be due to arrive in about a quarter century!

     Rather than risk capture (from incognito dressed bounty hunters) and face countless years incarcerated deep in the bowels of some dismal dungeon for expressing (and also crudely publishing antithetical) independent viewpoints, he literally jumped (onto) a cargo steamer at the once in a lifetime chance to secret himself as a stowaway.

     How he chanced upon the least sturdy looking contraption requires an explanation.

     When he turned eighteen years old, the first steps toward reaching The United States of America began! Without bidding farewell to his father, mother, countless brothers and sisters (whom in fact said family members would never be seen again), he made a quick and surreptitious exit. One rucksack comprised survival kit. This took place before dawn that July day circa 1890 plus or minus a small margin of error.

     Let me backtrack a bit and provide a very quick character sketch. As a mere stripling of a boy, he became forcefully indentured as an apprenticed tailor. This handy skill acquired in lieu of being in a formal classroom setting to help feed his younger siblings. All the while under said tutelage, the overactive cogs and wheels of his imagination triggered one instantaneous idea after another. Morris tirelessly worked his fingers to the bones. Those precious formative years became arduous toil under a rigorous contractual obligation. No doubt exploitation occurred per being brow beaten and whip sawed from a strict task manager. This brutish, nasty and short-lived childhood wove the fabric for escape from land of Engel’s, Lenin and Marx.

     Once the creaking and seasoned timbers from the aged galleon got yanked seaward from the strong tidal current, the aromatic and fragrant smell of the ocean (ebbing, flowing and spraying salty mist against the Russian peasants receding on the shoreline), Morris emerged from his cubbyhole. A deep inhalation indicated in which direction to locate the maritime depot. A quick study with hawk-like and keen eyes identified the most desirable vessel under cover of darkness. Nocturnal lunar rays the only source of illumination, which offered just a faint trace of moonlight. The vast assemblage of sloops with their attendant crew members delegating tasks to the deckhands could be clearly identified. Unsure about which of these various and sundry ships to board (without drawing undue suspicion), he elected the most powerful, robust and sturdy looking ship. Unbeknownst to him, the brightly colored Cyrillic letters painted in dark letters spelled Rebecca.

     Although illiterate (and most likely innumerate) this direct descendent (the father of my mother) at first blush characterized as innocence and naiveté (all rolled into one) possessed an air of cunning maturity and smart sophistication in combination with a calculated and measured braggadocio. Yet despite inarticulate and illegible penmanship, the informal log- books (purportedly his authentic handiwork at keeping a personal diary recorded poignant details about a dangerous ocean voyage) offer me this golden opportunity to publicize in more understandable fashion, an abridged saga (preserved more or less intact for more than a century) a testament to courage, grit, luck plus mental, physical and spiritual stamina.

     The shrill blast of the whistle and attendant plume of steam (meant to signal immediate departure), punctuated the end of one existential chapter from birthplace and the beginning of another in a strange land! He sequestered his agile and nimble body into an unlit and unlikely discovered hideaway. When safely and securely situated, his dexterous and tooled fingers assumed an automatic, and a voluntary reflex took over to manipulate needle, scissors, thread, and scrap pieces of cloth. The first three mentioned items always carried as if a natural anatomical part of his person. The latter purchased with a handful of tokens tucked inside a pants pocket prior to that bold decision to strike out in the direction of cultural melting pot and risk life and limb in the process. Devoid of artificial or natural luminary object to avoid detection, the materialization of a complete outfit magically appeared!  Presto! Ingenuity and garment concoction ticket to the land of milk and honey!

     The portal to Mecca epitomized in the international landmark (known as Ellis Island) would open up like the gates of heaven and offer Yankee entrepreneurship to experience rags to riches tale! Many days and nights subject to the whims of Mother Nature cloistered in cramped quarters of an ocean going contrivance would need to take place.  Faith and optimism from departure (in a familiar but deplorable demesne) to arrival at unfamiliar destination constitutes the remaining portion of this short story contest.

     Between what seemed like an eternity (but only a few short months in actuality) holed up deep below the floorboards of the marine craft and that moment of utter salvation with bended knee on Brooklyn shoreline comprises my personal interpretation of deceased matriarchal zayda! Such an awesome odyssey (rife with extreme drama on the high seas), would spark the fiery attention of a present day movie mogul.

     Some invisible entity, whether viewed as benign cosmic force, divine eminent fate capitalized on holier than thou reputation, especially as blessing and fortune delivered this human cargo thru countless confrontations with hostile circumstances. Maelstroms wrought havoc yet witnessed a miraculous journey thru the serpents and tempests that inhabited the dark and deep waters! Intervention (perhaps engendered via religious confections of faith and prayer per protective designs of so called biological creator) delivered this marginally familiar male descendent.

     Those interminable days of (what must be described as a worst fate than death) hermetically entombed in a damp, bobbing, airless chamber made pessimism difficult (if not downright impossible) to fend off, which hallucinatory thoughts akin to some vicious predator! All sense of rationality and sensibility became extremely distorted under those abysmal conditions! Real threats to his very survival took shape in the form of varmints that scurried and (as applied to other species) scuttled for self-preservation into the very same dark nook and cranny! Sometimes, even the vibration of a shark fin nearly caused the rigid hulk to capsize!

     Maintenance of sanity for psyche and sustenance for body politic indicative of exemplary and fittest Darwinian ability! Devious schemas dreamt up to provide boon for optimism amidst dire travails. As a devoutly (namely orthodox) Jewish personage, he found his will power to transcend Earthly dilemma with fortitude and gumption! The acquisition for basic staff of life in the form of drink and food seemed to proffer ample opportunity! Time and again plentiful jugs and plates got left unattended in close proximity to his trapdoor niche.

      Outcome yielded unexpected metamorphosis just by mere mental wishing upon a star for such bare necessities for survival!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>