Monday, June 6, 2011

My Grandmother's Story in Rosie's Book

At 19, my grandmother left the Ukraine for America with her sister Julie.  My grandmother’s name was Sarah.  It was the 1st decade of the 20th century.  The Tsar had stolen their oldest brother and burned Jewish homes & villages in pogroms.  From the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic into the St Lawrence Seaway & the Great Lakes to Chicago.  Grandma worked in a handbag factory and met her husband, also a Jew from the Ukraine.  She spoke Russian + Yiddish + broken English.  They moved to northern Minnesota, opened a dry goods store for the iron ore miners, and had 2 daughters—the youngest my mother.  Grandma’s husband ran off with a young, gentile woman, leaving her to raise her daughters alone.  She made chocolate cake for my mother to eat at bedtime to show her love.  When my mother & her sister were grown, Grandma moved to Los Angeles where Julie lived.  They both worked in another handbag factory.  Grandma slept in a Murphy bed, ate at the automat and enjoyed sitting under palm trees in the park.  When I was a child, Grandma would take the train cross-country to our home in New York.  She’d fill our freezer with homemade cheese blintzes and rolled cookies with Welch’s Grape Jelly.  With flour covering her hands and across the belly of her apron, she’d call me Marsh-a-lah Marsh-a-lah Shena Madel.  Grandma wore a girdle & a brassiere.  She called panties bloomers.  She died at 93 and is buried in LA next to Julie.  Weeks before my mother died 4 years ago, she slipped my grandma’s old diamond rings on my finger.

Marcia Milner-Brage           June 6, 2011


  1. I'll send this off to Katie tomorrow. I'm sorry: I went over my 4 page allotment with the hand on the lower right. Katie, you're the one to have to accommodate my lack of planning. Hope it offers a creative challenge rather than an annoyance.

  2. Oh, Marcia!
    So absolutely amazing drawing! And how you've made a map... And the ring! Marcia, it's a masterpiece, gorgeous pages about your family history.
    My first thought was to ask you from where exactly was your Grandma, but I see that from Kiev now.
    It's an amazing story and I'm so glad we have almost the similar origin.
    My great-grand parents (mother's side) also lived near Ukrainian border, also Jewish. They've had brothers, sisters and cousins, who moved to US in 1905. We've lost their trace unfortunately. Reading about the history of your family... I've had a crazy thought maybe we are somehow relatives :) I still have a great-grandaunt, who is 96 now and who is the last one in our family originally came from a Jewish village (born in 1914).
    From my father's side there were also Jews from Ukrain, but not from Kiev. My great-granddad lived in Kharkov at the beginning of 20 century.

  3. I was always told that my maternal AND paternal grandparents came from NEAR Kiev. I will delve into my mother's files to see if I can get anymore specifics. There is no one left to ask. If only my grandma's diamond rings could speak. My grandmother & her siblings would have been born in the last decade of the 19th century. Her family name was Pinsker. My maternal grandfather's was Banen. My paternal grandmother's was Lertzman. My paternal grandfather's was Milner. Do any of these names mean anything in your family? Yes, maybe we are relatives!

  4. Marcia !!!!!!!!!
    This is so WONDERFUL. All of it! The portrait of your grandma, the map, the story and the rings on both yours and her hands.
    I am so jealous that Rosie gets to keep it in her book.
    I am really loving this process. Each drawing is a little song about who we are, where we've been, what we do and of course what we look at. It really feels like we are getting to know each other in a lovely and very unique way.
    I can not wait to have this book in my hands!!!

  5. I read this with great interest, finding it so warm and personal. The drawing also, very strong and evocative. It's a beautiful design and a wonderful continuation of the telling our story!

    The potential connections are fascinating already and I'm so pleased to be part of this project :)

  6. Many more scenes suggest themselves Marcia, palm trees, chocolate cake, a flavour of American life together with the old ways of Eastern Europe. I now know what a Murphy Bed is!
    It has also reminded me of how we were sent boxes of treats by Canadian relatives in the late forties. These included unheard of luxuries (for UK) such as cake mixes; Angel Cake and Devils Food Cake and chocolate 'polka dots'.

  7. Katie, I am so glad you noticed (and commented) about the rings on both our fingers. It reminded me of how I viewed my grandmother’s hands when I was child--I saw them as chubby, the skin thick, crust-like & wrinkled, the rings worn always together on her right ring finger (not her left, the traditional place to wear a wedding band). As for me, I can only fit these rings on my pinkie, my littlest finger--my hands are perpetually swollen, a result of the breast cancer I had 17 years ago.

  8. Rosie--

    On my Flickr stream in response to the posting of My Grandmother’s Story, Guy Moll (a Frenchman now living in Faro, Portugal) & Suhita (an Indian woman now living in San Jose, California), both commented similarly as you, Rosie, about this being the start of more word/picture stories about my grandmother. I have written personal essays about my Grandma. But this is first with the visual component. I’m really excited about this as the beginning of an extended project.

    Before I started drawing this, I gathered together other stuff that was my Grandma’s--all potential starting points for future Grandma stories. A steel cookie sheet, a Fortmann wool stole (that I use as a bed jacket in the depths of winter), an onyx/brass locket that has Julie’s photo inside, a favorite summer skirt that I had made when I was 21, using a large mother-of-pearl button that came from Grandma’s button box. I thought about incorporating all or some of these objects in this drawing, but settled for just the rings--less cluttered me thinks.

  9. Milner and Lerzman... I'm going to ask about them my relatives. But even if we won't find a visible connection it doesn't mean there was no one because I have no one to ask at my father's side. Anyway I have a special feeling about your ancestors and our shared family history. It's so special to find such a similarity, Marcia! And one more fun thing - our great-grandparents would speak Yiddish and understand each other and we are now speaking English :) Interesting how history makes it's turn...

  10. Make sure to ask about Pinsker, too--Grandma Sarah's maiden name. In another essay I wrote about my grandma, it says she was from Harkov.

    My grandmother spoke & wrote Yiddish to my mother. My parents used Yiddish when they didn't want us kids to understand. I only know a smattering of words. My father, who spent the majority of his career as a scientist for the United Nations, spoke rudimentary versions of many languages. As he traveled the world, he found Yiddish-speakers on every continent. He would tell with delight overhearing & breaking into Yiddish conversations in places like Jakarta & Nairobi

  11. Wow, Marcia, you are such a lucky lady to hear parents and grandparents speaking Yiddish! Yiddish in our family was lost after a need of hiding from first Germans, then Soviet antisemits. It's so very unfortunate I can not understand it. My great-grandfather was a yeshiva student, very intelligent and knew Yiddish very well. He also knew several languages, including even Udmurt (a language of Udmurt Republic in Russia, where he finally settled).
    From Harkov? Oh my G-d! My great-grandfather from father's side was an artist from there. Marcia, I'm so very excited!

  12. And one more thing, Marcia! I do remember this family name (Pinsker), pronounced by great-grandmother. I do not remember who and who were they (relatives or not), but it would be a must do thing to ask...