Journal

My Grandmother Mindel, Otherwise Known as Minnie

by | Sep 5, 2014 | Books

September 7th is Grandparents Day. I’ve already written about my maternal grandmother, who got off the boat and literally kissed the ground (Echoes of Emma Lazarus). She managed to transmit to me her reverence for this country and what it

stood for.

My paternal grandmother also had a story. In many ways it’s the story of the American Dream. Her name was Mindel. My oldest daughter is named for her, as is the heroine of my soon-to-be-released verse fairy tale, Mindel and The Misfit Dragons.

My grandmother Mindel came to America when she was nine-years-old and became known as Minnie. She was immediately put to work in a sweatshop because the family needed the pennies she could earn. So she had no formal education in this country. But she did learn what it meant to be an American.

The story is told in the family that she would walk on the streets of the Lower East Side with her older sister. Whenever she would hear a police siren, she would scream and run to hide under piles of garbage or old rags. Her sister would gently coax her out: “It’s okay, Minnie. You can come out now. This is America. The police won’t hurt us here. The police here are our friends.”

My grandmother would crawl out and eventually she learned. The streets might not be paved with gold in the fabled “Goldena Medina” that was now her home, but the police would not drag her away or burn her out of her house.

She would go on to marry a tailor and raise six children in extreme poverty during the Depression. My father used to say he had one toy growing up – a single roller skate. His brother had the other half of the pair. But somehow my grandparents always believed that life would be better for their children. Four of them, my father included, would fight overseas in World War II. My father – the baby – and his next youngest brother would go to college, as would all fourteen of Minnie’s grandchildren and her many, many great grandchildren. The American Dream was a gift that we all embraced.

I never knew my grandfathers and neither of my grandmothers was alive by the time I became a grandmother myself. But I think they all would be pleased that I try to convey to my own grandchildren what it means to be an American. Every time I read them a book about the Statue of Liberty or play patriotic songs at our 4th of July barbecues, I am remembering my grandparents. Every time I explain why I absolutely must vote on Election Day, or let them see me cry during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” I am transmitting the lessons of my grandparents. They crossed an ocean in steerage so their descendants could live a life they could never have imagined.

Grandparents Day fills me with gratitude.

stood for.

My paternal grandmother also had a story. In many ways it’s the story of the American Dream. Her name was Mindel. My oldest daughter is named for her, as is the heroine of my soon-to-be-released verse fairy tale, Mindel and The Misfit Dragons.

My grandmother Mindel came to America when she was nine-years-old and became known as Minnie. She was immediately put to work in a sweatshop because the family needed the pennies she could earn. So she had no formal education in this country. But she did learn what it meant to be an American.

The story is told in the family that she would walk on the streets of the Lower East Side with her older sister. Whenever she would hear a police siren, she would scream and run to hide under piles of garbage or old rags. Her sister would gently coax her out: “It’s okay, Minnie. You can come out now. This is America. The police won’t hurt us here. The police here are our friends.”

My grandmother would crawl out and eventually she learned. The streets might not be paved with gold in the fabled “Goldena Medina” that was now her home, but the police would not drag her away or burn her out of her house.

She would go on to marry a tailor and raise six children in extreme poverty during the Depression. My father used to say he had one toy growing up – a single roller skate. His brother had the other half of the pair. But somehow my grandparents always believed that life would be better for their children. Four of them, my father included, would fight overseas in World War II. My father – the baby – and his next youngest brother would go to college, as would all fourteen of Minnie’s grandchildren and her many, many great grandchildren. The American Dream was a gift that we all embraced.

I never knew my grandfathers and neither of my grandmothers was alive by the time I became a grandmother myself. But I think they all would be pleased that I try to convey to my own grandchildren what it means to be an American. Every time I read them a book about the Statue of Liberty or play patriotic songs at our 4th of July barbecues, I am remembering my grandparents. Every time I explain why I absolutely must vote on Election Day, or let them see me cry during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” I am transmitting the lessons of my grandparents. They crossed an ocean in steerage so their descendants could live a life they could never have imagined.

Grandparents Day fills me with gratitude.

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