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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/501935-The-first-book
Rated: 13+ · Book · Community · #1031057
My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
#501935 added April 15, 2007 at 7:57pm
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The first book
Today in the Parade section of the newspaper they did one of their periodic listings of occupations and salaries. I am drawn to that page, as I’m sure many are, with one thought in mind. How does my salary stack up against all the others? As always, I am fascinated with how little some people make for the job that they do and how much some people make for the job that they do. It leaves me wondering just where, as a society, our priorities lie. It makes me wonder if any of us truly appreciate what we have here in this country and if we really know the sacrifices that those before us made and that some are still making even today so that we may enjoy the prosperity that we do. Once in a great while you come across a story that really hits home and yesterday, for me, was one such time, and the storyteller was my mother.

We had just finished watching a PBS documentary on anthracite mining in Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. (1900) Mining runs deep in the veins (so to speak) of our family on both sides and my mom made the comment about how she remembered living through all that. I knew what she meant but jokingly I said, “Mom, you didn’t live through that, you weren’t born until 1924.” She gave me a good-natured scowl, waved her hand to dismiss me and said, “You know what I mean.” I laughed. Then she said. “Did I ever tell you the story about when my mother threw me in the river?”

Now, with an 83 year old mother and a 92 year old dad I am accustomed to hearing the same story more than once, but this was one I either hadn’t heard, or it escaped my memory, so I said, “no’, and settled in to hear what I assumed would be an amusing tale from my mothers childhood.

In my mom’s words, as best as I can remember them.


         “It was during the depression and nobody had any work. The mines were shut down, everything was shut down, and people were starving. Up town, they came to hand out food to the needy, so my mother and I walked all the way up town (about three miles one way) one day to get some food. We stood in a long line waiting our turn to get food from the back of the truck and when we made it up to the truck the man handing out the food asked my mother how many children she had. She replied, just one, pointing at me. He then asked her to wait over at the side until they had finished taking care of the families with more children and then they would help her. My mother looked at the man and said, “Oh, that’s all right. No food for my child. I’ll take care of the problem.” We then started to leave. The man stopped her and said she should wait until they had taken care of the other families. My mother repeated what she said and continued to leave. He asked her how she was going to take care of the problem and my mother said. “When we get to the river on the way home, I’ll just throw her in since I have no food to feed her.” With that we left and started the long walk home.

          Along the way we passed the Jewish bakery and the baker was in the front yard doing some work. He asked my mom how she was doing and my mom repeated the story about how she was made to wait because she only had one child. “One child starves just like any other”, she told the baker. He agreed that it was unfair and made us wait while he went back into the bakery and brought out bread and some pastry treats that he knew I liked. My mother said she couldn’t take all that, people would wonder where she got all the food. The baker finally convinced her to take a loaf of bread and one pastry for me, saying he would drop off the rest when he was down by our home.

          When we got home my mother told my father what had happened and he agreed it wasn’t fair, but what were they going to do. I went into the back room to play and a short while later there was a knock at the door. When my mother opened the door there were two policemen standing there and they demanded to know what my mother did with the little girl (me). My mother, still feeling the hurt from how we were treated said, “The little girl? You’re too late, I threw her in the river an hour ago.” The cops started to get angry. My father spoke to my mother in Russian telling her to quit fooling around and tell them the truth. After she brought me out of the backroom, the cops relaxed and told her next week when the truck was in town with food she should go back up. My mother said she wouldn’t as long as she was treated like that. The cops left.

          Next door lived a German lady and when my mom told her the story, she agreed it wasn’t fair. Later that year, the German lady put our family’s name in at the church she attended to receive a basket of food at Christmas. One day, as Christmas approached, there was a knock on the door and two people from the church were there with a basket of food. My mother argued with them saying we couldn’t afford to pay for the food. They told her it was a gift from the church. My mother said, “We don’t go to your church.” And they said it did not matter. In addition to the basket of food, they brought a book for me. When they tried to give it to me, my mother stopped them and said we couldn’t afford to pay for the book. They assured her it was a gift, a Christmas gift. I took the book and went to my room.

          You see, I loved to read and I read anything I could get my hands on, but I had never ever, actually had a book of my own. This was my very first book. And I never forgot that.”


I turned my head away and wiped the tears from my eyes before my mom could see.

There are a few things you need to know. After my mom had told the story, she told me how she had always wanted to write a book about her childhood, but she never did. My mom has Alzheimer’s disease. So here is at least one of her stories that people can read. My mom kept her love of reading throughout her life and passed it down to her children. While we might have been refused the purchase of the latest toy in the store, we were never refused the purchase of a book. I sit here in my home surrounded by books. My fridge is filled with food, as is my belly. I never had to worry about putting food in my children’s mouths, though if the truth were known, I did think about drowning them (grin).

Take from this story what you will. For me it offers hope, hope tinged with a bit of sadness.There are people out there, good people; the silent heroes; the Jewish baker, the German neighbor, people who help, just because they can.

Years later, when my mom fell in love with my dad and they planned to marry, they looked for a church to get married in. My mom was raised Russian Orthodox. My dad was raised Lutheran. In the end they got married in a Presbyterian church, the very same church that gave my mother the first book she ever owned. They’ve been faithful members their whole lives.

© Copyright 2007 Rasputin (UN: joeumholtz at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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