November 26, 2014 by Melanie L.
I can’t think of a better time to reflect on my immigrant great-grandparents, the sacrifices they made, and the resulting birthright of freedom and privilege they bestowed upon me than at Thanksgiving.
I have a hard enough time parting with my children for two nights every other weekend that the mere thought of parting with them for weeks, let alone years or decades, pains me. Yet, that is the sacrifice my maternal great-grandfather, Abe Nissman, made when he came to this country without his family.
Just over 100 years ago, in 1910, 42-year-old Abe kissed his wife, Bessie, and three children, Micah (12), Meyer (5) and Morris (20 months), goodbye and never once returned to his homeland of Lublin, Bessarabia, Romania.
Abe worked for years to get naturalized, save money, and arrange for his family’s passage. While he worked, his family carried on without him. Abe did not read his children any stories, nor did he tuck them into bed. He did not kiss them goodnight. His family, at least, had each other. How lonely must he have been half a world away? How painful was it for him to part with his children for as long as he did?
When Abe’s two boys grew into their late teens, Abe was not there to guide them through that difficult transition to adulthood nor protect them from their own foolhardy teenage arrogance. Indeed, when Meyer was at that age, he drew the attention of a soldier who found sport in cutting Meyer’s eye from his face.
By the early 1920’s, Abe opened immigrant passage accounts to save money for his family’s fares. But, Micah never came to the States. During Abe’s absence, his daughter had fallen in love with a doctor and bore him three children. She didn’t want to uproot her children. Although my family does not know how exactly Micah and her children met their end, we do know they were murdered in the Holocaust. When Abe left, he couldn’t have known he was leaving his 12-year-old daughter forever.
Finally, after 15 years, Abe finally sent for his wife, Bessie, and Morris, then 17 years old. They arrived on December 7, 1925 followed two months later by Meyer in February, 1926.
In an unfortunate twist of fate, Abe died a mere three years later, in 1929. My grandfather, Morris, never really knew his father. Morris died before I was born and so I never knew him.
My kids often meltdown at bedtime. They act like it is news to them that they have to brush their teeth again. They’d rather flit about like woodland sprites naked through the house than put on their pajamas. But in those moments of chaos, I am grateful that I have my children under my roof, that I (eventually) put them to bed and kiss them goodnight. And, when I get lonely an hour later, I can peek in on them and watch their chests rise and fall under their fleece blankets.
Now, as I tuck my kids into bed this Thanksgiving week, long after Abe and his own children have all passed on, I haven’t forgotten my great-grandfather and the choice he made to leave his children behind to put me and my children ahead.