[My father died in Palm Springs, California, at the end of January 1986, just after his 84th birthday. He’d known for at least a year and a half he was dying. He had a serious cardiac condition his doctors thought would be hazardous to try to correct with surgery. So when they told him he might expect only another year or so to live, he sat down at his Royal typewriter and over the course of nine days in August 1984 began with two fingers on the keyboard to tap out a memoir of his earliest years. But while he was still telling about his life as a little boy, he must have felt too weak to continue.
He wrote in English, although his native language was Russian and he had learned English without formal lessons, just by living in New York. But he loved to talk and to read, so it’s surprisingly good English for someone who disembarked at nineteen knowing not a word. His spelling is excellent. He remembers more often than not to include the articles “a,” “an” and “the.” However, his punctuation could use improvement, and his paragraphing is non-existent. And because he wasn’t really a writer, he sometimes repeats himself. I’ve therefore cleaned up his typescript a bit to try to make it more readable, while also preserving some of the Russian-language verb usage and locutions that make it sound as if you were with him, not me.
I have no idea what anyone else will think of this experiment in transcribing my father. Although he gets off to a strong start in his Introduction (see below), and apparently had grand plans for what he was going to recount, much of what he actually managed to write may be boring to anyone who didn’t know him — now only me and my two sons, who both already have photocopies of the original document he left. It’s true he does inadvertently give us bits of early twentieth century sociology as he goes along, a kind of child’s eye view of what life was like for Jews in Tsarist Russia. But I wonder who will have the patience to stay for long with a dying old man wishing to preserve what he can of himself and his family on paper before he goes and also trying to relive his youth one last time.
Bill thinks I’m making a mistake in giving my dead and sometimes long-winded immigrant father a six-post platform on an internet he could never have imagined while he was alive. If you agree and think we should quit — because you came to this blog to read my sort of posts, not his — let me know in the comment section below. On the other hand, until I hear from any of you that I’m just humoring myself, I’m going to keep on typing till I get to where he stopped…. A visit with my father wasn’t always 100% interesting. But one usually came away with something to remember in the end.]
BY MICHAEL RAGINSKY 1984
As I stood on the deck of “Marmara” on a glorious, sunny afternoon in October 1922, watching the ship slowly moving away from the pier in Batoum and probably looking for the last time in my life on the Russian land fast receding from my view as I began my voyage into the uncertain future — a stream of thoughts and dreams kept flashing through my mind!
The Black Sea was green, clear and transparent, calm and beautiful. The octopuses, playfully grabbing each other in the warm afternoon sun, swam close to the great ship, totally mindless of the dangers of the turning sharp blades of the motors. And I thought, looking at them, it’s just like myself: starting a journey into a strange world — without knowing anyone or knowing exactly how or where I will land — in order to call the new place my new home and my new life! But one thought drove me on: to get out as fast as I could. I felt like adding all my strength to the ship to push it faster and faster away from the land where I was born and grew up.
It never entered my mind how I was to accomplish all this. I was going without any money, without any valid foreign admittance visas, without a thought what will become of me if I should fall ill or be destitute in a strange country, without friends, relatives, language. I was banking on my youth, my strength and my driving ambition just to get out of Russia and, if very lucky, to make it to U.S.A.
And then, suddenly breaking up my thoughts and dreams as the ship was already sailing into the open sea from the harbor — the sounds of staccato machine gun shooting from a small naval coast guard boat rapidly approaching “Marmara” and ordering it to stop for inspection! My heart sank and I thought, God! what’s wrong now? I hope all my Russian exit papers are in order…
In a few minutes, three armed men dressed in familiar black leather jackets of the dreaded secret police CHEKA, the predecessors of no less dreaded present KGB, were aboard our ship! This was the beginning of our journey!!!!!!
But I must start my story from the beginning, and will return later to my adventures on the trip from Russia to U.S.A.
[To be continued….]
17 thoughts on “FROM MY FATHER (Part One)”
Keep on writing. I love to see life from another persons view, whether it is from another country or gender or third hand. It’s all grist to the mill of my understanding.
You’re going to need patience with him, Margaret. As I said, he starts out strong in today’s post. Then he goes back to the time when he was born, which may be less exciting. But I’m glad to hear of your interest. And you can always change your mind (and let me know) after a few more posts! 🙂
My English birth is boring and I know about my mothers life when young but to read about someone else from a different era and country is interesting. I marvel at how lucky I am to have been able to experience all the new things that have been discovered and i also appreciate those from the distant past.
I shall indeed! But do look at my reply to Margaret, above…and don’t say you weren’t warned!
This is not boring at all. I respectfully disagree with Bill, and would love for you to continue this series 🙂
Your word is my command, Takami! 😀 Although you may love the series less as it goes along. (Bill read more of it than you’ve done so far.) Please let me know when you’ve had enough…..
Yes, do go on with it.
I shall, I will….
My grandmother moved to Australia in 1912 when the family fell on hard times back in the UK. As a young child she spoke to me again and again about ‘making it’ in Australia, how hard it was in the beginning, making friends, building a house, the two world wars, the depression etc. She never spoke of the ‘before’ (life before she came) and I have always felt it sad that part of her life is an untold story. I think that it is fantastic that you are bringing alive your father’s story.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for your appreciative comment. I only wish my father had had time and energy to set down more. As you will see (if you stick with it through the next five posts), he didn’t get very far. Only to age seven or so. Certainly never to the more adventurous parts. I borrowed one of his stories for Anna’s father in the tale of the black and red buttons in the (fictional) post before this one. (“At Roscoe.”) And four years ago, I wrote another bit of what I heard from him at the dining room table as a scrap of memoir for an online publication. But as with your grandmother, so much of what he had to tell died with him. Perhaps it should be a lesson to those of us who can write at all to try to leave some record of our lives for the grandchildren while there’s still time to do it.
I have done VHS tape transfers to DVD for people as a small business. It helps to get those family videos, etc, into a more modern format. One day, I got a call from a man with a different request. It was too interesting to pass up.
His father grew up in our town in the early 1900s. Before he died, his family got him to write down in journals what he remembered about his life. They had quite a few journals full. several years passed after his death.
When my contact’s mother became ill and in a nursing facility, he and his siblings decided to read those journals to her for entertainment. They also recorded their readings on cassette tapes, sixteen in all. Good thinking.
My contact gave those tapes to me to record on to CDs. Copies were made for several other family members. I was very happy to be part of that project to save some family history.
Thank you so much, Jim, for sharing your lovely story with us. Saving family history seems to become more and more important as we grow older and reach the age of our forebears as we remember them. I can imagine how much satisfaction you experienced in helping this particular family preserve such valuable recollections.
Please continue. I love memoirs and am enjoying this.
This was posted last June, LBeth. There are five more parts, plus two postscripts — all posted consecutively. I’m glad you’re enjoying what he wrote, even though he didn’t live to know his words would find an audience.
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There is also a series about my mother’s early life in Russia, to the extent I know anything about it. You can probably find those posts through the search function on the left.
I will finish
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