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Life Story Interview, Research Paper Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1531

Research Paper

I interviewed my best friend’s grandfather because I knew that he had an interesting life story and I was so close to my friend’s family when I was growing up that I was made to feel that I was part of their family. I knew that her grandfather had emigrated from Poland to the United States when he was a young man, but that was the only thing that I knew about his history. The interview took place at my friend’s parents’ house, where I arranged to meet with her grandfather on two occasions. I had spent a great deal of time in that house when I was growing up, so I felt very comfortable there. Mr. Brown, the grandfather, lives there and had been part of that household when I was a child. It was not difficult to schedule a time, and when I interviewed him, I took handwritten notes, and transcribed them more fully when I got home so that I wouldn’t forget any of the narrative. I came prepared with a list of questions that I wanted to ask, arranged in chronological order, beginning with, “When and where were you born?” It was not difficult to get the information, because he clearly enjoyed the attention and being able to speak about himself, uninterrupted, for two hours at the first visit and another hour at the second.

Mr. Brown was born in a town called Gabin, Poland, in 1922, the son of a wealthy Jewish family and was the oldest of three sons born to his parents. His father was a locksmith, and his mother remained in the home, raising her children. When Mr. Brown was about 10 years old, he recalls his parents being very stressed out, speaking softly out of the hearing range of the children, but he later learned that they were worried about rising anti-Semitism, and were feeling like if they remained in Poland things would not go well for the family for much longer. Because they had money saved up, they were able to book passage to the United States, where some of their family members had fled Poland several years before. Mr. Brown had very few memories of his growing up years, only images of his parents around the dinner table and playing with his brothers outside in the street. When the Browns arrived in the United States, the family that they had there had a full household and so were only able to give them a place to stay for a short time; he doesn’t recall how long exactly, just that his father began looking for a place to stay. The family came to New York through Ellis Island, and Mr. Brown has vague memories of arriving at the New York Harbor amid crowds of people, a chaotic environment. He was so afraid that he would be separated from his family that he held onto his mother’s skirt for the first several days in New York City.

Although his father was a well respected man in Poland, in New York he had no real identity or skills that could translate into a job there. He remembers that his father had a lot of trouble finding a job, and he ended up working in the garment district, in a factory making hats. His mother wept a great deal, because she missed her home and the family that she had left behind, and she worried a great deal about what kind of the future her sons might have. When Mr. Brown talked about his parents, he often became very emotional, which made me very emotional because it was so sad to see this very strong, proud man being so vulnerable. He became very emotional whenever he talked about his mother in particular, stating that she was never the same after they came to the United States. It sounds as if she was suffering from depression, but in those days they didn’t have a name for that nor do they have any idea about how to help someone who was suffering from emotional illness. When Mr. Brown described his growing up years in New York, it sounds as if his mother was just unavailable to take care of her sons, so that they basically raised themselves. They were unsupervised during the day when their father was at work, so they would try to find ways to make money by picking up trash in front of people’s homes and hoping that they would get a few pennies for their efforts. There were many other children in their neighborhood, all of whom played together in the streets all day long; some of them went to school, many of them did not. Mr. Brown’s father insisted that either he go to school or he make money, and he chose to find these odd jobs to contribute to the family’s income.

Sadly, Mr. Brown’s father died when he was only 18 years old, suddenly having a heart attack when he was under the age of 40. Looking back, Mr. Brown talked about the foods they ate that were part of their Polish heritage, sausage, red meat, fried food, all very delicious, but in the end, he recognizes now, that diet probably contributed to his father’s premature death. With little formal education, Mr. Brown ended up working in the garment district as well, only a few blocks from where his father had literally worked himself to death at the factory in sweatshop conditions (my words), six or seven days a week with little or no breaks to eat or drink during the day.

Soon after his father died, while working at the factory Mr. Brown met his future wife, Eliza, also a Polish Jew whose family had come to the United States in search of religious tolerance and a better life. They were exactly the same age, and had come from towns in Poland that were within 10 miles of each other, coincidentally. It seems very fateful to Mr. Brown, he always believed that God matched him with Eliza, so that they could both have a bit of the home country together. The couple quickly had three children, two girls that were two years apart, and the boy that was seven years younger than his younger sister. Mr. Brown chuckled when he talked about how surprised everyone was that another child came along when he did, even though by then, he himself was about 30 years old, which, he explained, was considered to be old to have an infant child in those days. Mr. Brown clearly enjoyed talked about his family, his children when they were young, and how hard he worked to make sure that they all went to school, and that two out of the three of them went on to college. All of this occurred because of his tremendous sacrifice, working hard for low wages in terrible conditions for years, just to make sure that his children had a better life.

The major transitions that the family went through were leaving Poland to come to the United States for a completely uncertain outcome. They had a good life, prosperous, in Europe until the climate there changed and suddenly they were immigrants in New York City without jobs, in an unfamiliar setting, unable to speak the language, like so many other immigrants, and particularly Jewish immigrants during those days. Mr. Brown’s major career would not necessarily be considered a “career” because his lifetime was spent working in a factory; however, he said he was happy going to work every day, knowing that he was putting food on the table for his family. The family’s Jewish heritage was important to them, although he said that he is disappointed that his grandchildren do not seem to follow the Jewish religion the way he would like them to. Still, when the family gets together on the major Jewish holidays, he is extremely happy and grateful, despite the difficult life that he has had in the United States. He expressed that it was all worth it to see his children grow up happy and healthy and successful, professionally, in good marriages and with good families.

Sadly, Eliza died about 10 years ago from breast cancer, and Mr. Brown still gets tearful when he talks about her and how much he misses her. He describes her as a “wonderful, smart, beautiful woman” who was as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. He is only sad that she was not able to see her grandchildren grow up to become the wonderful people that they are today.

Mr. Brown’s core values are hard work, loyalty, the importance of family, sacrificing for those he loves, and honoring God in a way that makes him the best person that he can be. Those values came directly from his own parents, who sacrificed a comfortable life in Poland to make a better one for their children, despite the tremendous difficulties of being in a foreign country with little support, a language barrier, and few opportunities for work. Nevertheless, he has prevailed and serves as a wonderful model of a good, decent man who has only been a positive influence on everyone he touches.

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