On my first day of school in seventh grade, our homeroom teacher had us write brief introductions about ourselves. Included within it was to be what we thought was our favorite subject and the one we liked the least.
My favorite was Science. After all, I was a nerdy fat A-student constantly pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. It was destiny. On the other hand, I loathed history. When asked why, I responded, “It’s boring. Who cares what happened before we were born?”
Funny how things change. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve grown older or because I now see the impact of one’s history in present day, or who knows, it could be a combination of the both.
My grandmother, Zlote Indich, was born August 3, 1899 in what was then called “White Russia.” We think she came from Belarus but records are sketchy. She, along with countless other Jews trying to escape the barbarism faced in their home country, migrated to the United States in 1924 to be with her brother Yosef, who had emigrated a few years earlier. Soon thereafter, she was married to Samuel Pinsker, and over the next half-decade she gave birth to my mother Ruth and my aunts Mildred and Eleanor.
The late twenties and early thirties were not kind. Of course, the great depression disrupted everyone’s life in October 1929 and the next year, a drunk driver who also maimed my grandmother killed my grandfather. Now 30 years old and hospitalized with a broken back, raising three very young children, and possessing a limited knowledge of English; she struggled but survived. Eventually, she ran one of the first women-owned businesses in Detroit, a junkyard.
So, why am I telling you this?
Every family has its history. Some chapters are buoyant and uplifting, others not so much. But, it’s noteworthy how a history of my family from nearly a century ago still plays out in my thoughts and actions today.
The rough periods through which my grandmother lived impacted her greatly, and obviously so. In Russia, her family starved. In the United States, she became obese. Her destitution, plus the impact of the depression and years of hand-to-mouth survival for herself and her daughters, caused her to not only become very cautious with whatever cash she had, but had the added outcome of making her somewhat of a hoarder in her later years.
When the harsh times of the depression were only a thing of bad memories, she still hung on to every scrap. Years of food insecurity were but a recollection when she aged, yet she continued to eat like she might not have sustenance tomorrow.
I point this out without judgment; it’s history and must be viewed in context. However, my mother – although definitely not a hoarder by any stretch of the word – continued to hang on to her mother’s poverty consciousness until she died in the year 2000. And, being totally transparent, visages of it still exist within my sister, my cousins; and myself; two generations and nine decades hence. My family has never gone without food (quite the contrary); we’ve always paid our bills; and none of us have ever been without shelter. We are fortunate or blessed or maybe both.
Yet we still worry about it. What’s that about?
Someone said to me, “Worry is interest on a debt not yet owed.” Sure, sometimes, things just plain stink to high heaven. However, when put in perspective and context, most of the time for most of us, we’re doing pretty well in present tense. Why do we diminish the actual good over bad that might never happen?
We learn from our history, maybe even celebrate it, but it’s just that – history. We exist only in the present and maybe by realizing how fortunate we are right now, we just might pass along a cheerier history to future generations than the one we brought with us.