Next door to my grandparents lived my maternal great grandfather. Much of him remains a mystery to me but he is a person who continues to shape who I am today.
Levi Moskowitz moved from Poland to the United States in 1914. He worked as a tailor for most of his life. He had two children, my grandmother and a great uncle whom I don’t recall ever actually meeting. I remember him being straight-laced and serious. A man who loved to play card games and have conversations.
I would go over to his house, he’d offer me some fruit from the seemingly endless bowl he had on his countertop. Then he’d sit me down at the counter and he’d shuffle a deck of cards and deal us a game of Kings in the Corner. It is similar to solitaire but for two people. It involved critical thinking and strategy. Early on he’d go easy and explain his moves as they happened. As the game count mounted, he took the training wheels off. He taught me to think. I lived for those games and treasured those moments.
The one memory of him that stands out says more of my grandmother than him but I love it nonetheless. He would come over every night for dinner. He sat at one end of the table across from my grandfather. My grandmother would sit to the left of her husband and cut his food due to his paralysis. Papa Lou as we called him asked my grandmother to “toss him a biscuit.” Now, when I say he was straight-laced, I mean we had to eat french fries with a fork, napkin on the lap, no elbows on the table. These were strict rules we followed. Well, when he said to toss him a biscuit, my grandmother did just that. A biscuit went soaring across the table. He caught it with a look of shock on his face. My grandmother had a mischievous grin. Us kids stifled laughter. It was great.
Little did I know these moments wouldn’t be as numerous as I would have liked. He passed away when I was 7. He was 86. It was my first bout with losing a loved one. I didn’t fully grasp the concept of death and only that our card games wouldn’t ever happen again. Those rich conversations I had, even at 7, were gone.
It wasn’t until my adult life that I truly learned his history, and it is something I think a lot about. It was an offhand comment by a member of the family but it revealed my jewish ancestry. My grandmother was raised jewish, my mother was raised with a mix of Jewish and christian beliefs, and chose to only raise us in a christian/catholic household.
Many people and families are anchored to their cultural identities. My family doesn’t have that. My father’s side, the Italian side, was never the stereotypical large boisterous family, with great food. Hell, my off the boat Italian grandmother couldn’t even make pasta without burning the noodles. I lacked that. My mother’s side, they didn’t really have an identity. I grew up not knowing my Polish or Jewish roots.
As I move through adulthood, I am trying to find those roots. I’m trying to anchor myself or parts of my identity to a culture, but I feel a lack of connection with it all, which seems to be a common thread of my life. A search for connections.