The holiday season makes me think of family and stories and especially of my grandfather who had a tale, it seemed, for almost all occasions. Once, when I was a teenager, I came home from school very upset about a well-meaning act I had performed that turned out badly. The details of that incident, I have long forgotten, but I'll always remember the story my grandfather told me in response. It was a true story from his own life.
My grandfather was born in 1892 and spent most of his childhood in the Polish city of Bialystok which was then under Tsarist rule. He immigrated to this country, arriving on November 26, 1912 and went to work as a "cutter" in the garment factories (which he called "the needle industry") in New York City. When the United States joined the First World War, my grandfather joined the American army and thus earned his American citizenship. Armed with his American passport, he went back to Bialystok in 1920 to see his family.
His visit occurred at a dangerous time. During his stay, the Bolsheviks who had attempted to take Warsaw had failed and were in retreat through Bialystok. The city was in a state of siege. No one was allowed to leave Bialystok even those with American passports. My grandfather must have panicked for he decided that he and his father must escape. At the last minute, his sister asked if my grandfather would also take with him the older of her two children, a boy of ten years.