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  • My grandfather was rounded up and taken to a Polish Police Station after standing guard at a Jewish Socialist party meeting. Between being told to wait and anticipating what would be his punishment, he walked out of an open door and subsequently was ushered out of Warsaw by friends and family.

    My grandparents met in San Francisco, married and joined the Petaluma Chicken Farmers – a well-known socialist Jewish community. My grandmother hated living in the country and they moved back to San Francisco where my grandfather started a furniture manufacturing company.

    We would visit my grandparents in their plush home on the Peninsula. French Victorian furniture, porcelain figurines, a hula-hula Hawaiian figure and the ever enchanting, dark wooden cuckoo clock, with a pendulum ticking off the seconds till the cuckoo birds sang.

    Passover gatherings were a blur of my grandmother’s operatic voice, the baby grand piano and the formal dining room. After reading from the Haggadah, my grandmother’s foot mysteriously pressed the buzzer under the table. Swinging out of the kitchen door was James: white uniform, black polished shoes and trays of matzo ball soup, kefelte fish, lamb, vegetables, and deserts.

    James - forever behind the scenes – taking orders, cooking, cleaning, and changing uniforms. With black cap and white gloves James became my leftist-leaning grandparents’ chauffer.

    Grandma had purchased a small house, intended for another family member, yet it became James’. James had several children and - somewhere along the way - his wife left with a few of their children, leaving James with the boys she chose not to take. On occasions the sons would help at Grandma’s house, raking leaves and taking out the trash.

    One Passover, when I had moved away and my grandfather had passed on, the family gathered for the annual Seder dinner. After the requisite service my grandmother pressed on the buzzer once, twice, and became increasingly aggravated as she pressed again. My recently married cousin and wife went to see what was going on in the kitchen. James was slumped on the small kitchen chair and leaning on the table - his left arm hurt. My cousins quickly ascertained a heart attack and, were instructed to take James to the hospital, as the party carried on. Upon James’ admittance to the hospital my cousins learned his name never was James.

    James was too sick to return to work. My grandmother hired other help. One night my grandmother woke to two burglars. She must have yelled as they hit her over the nose with a lamp and she passed out. They took her furs, her silver and her jewelry.

    After returning from the hospital Grandma calls James. She says she doesn’t want to press charges against James’ son, but she wants some of her belongings and she’d be willing to pay. In so many words James affirms, that he’d do what he could.

    Photo Credit : JalilArfaoui from Flickr.com ©CreativeCommons
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