Thursday, August 2, 2012
...love knows not its own depth
until the hour of separation.
Sam, at age seventeen, had the normal dreams and desires of a young man embarking on manhood. He hoped to marry a good and loving woman, to work hard and study, and to create a bountiful existence for raising a family.
But in turn-of the-century Polish Russia, a young man couldn't always hope to achieve his dreams. The threat of the draft loomed over every male of fighting age and burdened the heart of his parents. If a man was drafted into the Russian Army, he had little hope of ever coming home. He was drafted for life or died in service. Sam was destined to be one of those boys.
Some families accepted this fate as unavoidable and tearfully said good-bye to their sons. Others took the extreme measure of chopping off the son's right index finger- the trigger finger- making him ineligible for service, viewing mutilation as the lesser evil compared with prolonged suffering or even death. Sam decided on another course, and one that held larger dangers he could not even imagine- and the promise of a good life if all went well. He chose escape.
Sam wasn't just running away from the perils threatening him in Lodz; he was running toward something- or rather someone. He had fallen in love with Gussie, a young Polish girl, shortly before her family had fled Lodz for America. Sam had received word that she was safe in New York and missed him. Sam was determined to marry Gussie and fulfill his dreams, so he prepared himself for a treacherous and courageous journey.
His parents packed him food and water for the trip, but his most vital necessity was money. If Sam wanted to cross the German border, he would have to bribe the border guard. Sam's parents gathered all their savings, tied the money into a handkerchief and hid it deep under the many layers of clothing Sam would wear for the countryside trek, When, or if, Sam made it past the border, he was to find his way to some German friends who could help him reach New York.
As Sam embraced his family the morning of his departure, he wondered if he would ever see them- or Gussie-again. To pass the time and bolster his courage during the journey, Sam concentrated his thoughts on his love for Gussie and his plans for their future. This one hope would give him strength to complete his pilgrimage. Finally, Sam approached the German border, reached for his stash of money and froze in his tracks. He saw two guards at the border patrol; he had only enough money for one bribe. He couldn't possibly get through. Worse, one of the guards had spotted him, so he either had to advance or flee back home.
Gussie, Sam said to himself, I'm doing this for you, and I know God will not let us down. Sam prayed as he slowly walked toward the crossing. He needed a miracle.
As Sam drew closer, he recognized one of the guards as his father's friend, who had visited the family many times. Sam caught the guard's eyes. When the guard recognized Sam and saw the look on his face, he immediately understood what was happening. Suddenly, the guard started yelling wildly and pointing in the opposite direction. The other guard, distracted, turned away. Sam had just enough time to dash across the border and out of danger- and he still had all of hid bribe money.
Sam made it safely to New York, and he found Gussie. After they married, they used the unspent bribe money to start a successful business. Despite his new found happiness, Sam never forgot his family back in Polish Russia. Within two years, Sam was able to bring his three brothers to New York, and he and Gussie had a gift for the boys when they arrived; Gussie's single sisters.
This young boy whose future in Polish Russia had been so uncertain, lived long enough to see his grandchildren. In fact, I am one of those grandchildren. While Grandpa Sam was still alive, my cousins and I never tired of hearing the story of his courageous journey, or his ingenuity and self-sufficiency. But most of all, we treasured hearing about what brought him to Gussie: not a stoke of luck or a twist of fate-but a miracle of love.
1 August, 2012