30 April 2007

A shtetl fashion statement

When Jasia of Creative Gene announced the topic - School Days - for the new Carnival of Genealogy, I took a nostalgic trip back in time.

Procrastination is genetic in my family so I forgot to share that trip on my blog until today.

My maternal grandfather Szaje Fink (who would become Sidney Fink in New York) and his siblings lived in the "shtetl" (Yiddish for small town) of Suchastow. This well-travelled little village was in Austro-Hungary when my grandfather lived there, then became part of Poland, and today is in Ukraine. For a very short time, it seems also to have been part of Slovakia.

My grandfather spoke several languages -- Yiddish, Polish, Russian, German and Slovak. He used to say he was never quite sure of where Suchastow was each day until he heard how the teacher addressed the class.

Born in 1898 (during the big Purim blizzard) in an even tinier hamlet in the same area, he came to America in 1914.

One of the best stories he ever told was about school.

The children went to school in a slightly larger hamlet down the road. Their mother, Rivke (Rebecca, who would become Regina on her New York gravestone), would always tell them to come home together quickly so no one would kidnap them.

In those days, prefaced my grandfather, the littlest kids wore long shirts which trailed down behind them.

Late one cold afternoon, they began walking home on a muddy path through the trees.

Suddenly, they thought they heard someone walking behind them and remembered their mother's stories of kidnappers. They became frightened and started running. No matter how fast they ran, the footsteps behind them kept coming.

Out of breath, red-faced, panting, they rushed in the door of the house, screaming for help because someone was chasing them. Rivka looked out the door, but saw no one. As she checked the children and calmed them, she began to laugh.

It seems their shirt tails had become wet, muddy and then frozen. Each time they took a step, the frozen shirt tails thumped the ground. As they ran, the tails hit faster and faster - thump, thump, thump - they believed they were being chased.

I don't know for sure, but it is likely Rivka shortened all their shirt tails that night.

1 comment:

  1. Funny story! Thanks for sharing that.