Monday, 20 July 2015

A potted history (part 1)

A Potted History (part 1) #16

So this is a bit of a history lesson for you. I think it's important you know where my side of your family come from. I'll try get your mum to do the same.

It seems most of my family came from Russia. Between 1880 and 1920 many Jewish people fled from Russia because of the pogroms sweeping Eastern Europe. This is when my mum's side of the family came to this country.

My dad's side of the family came over a bit earlier in the 1860s. Maybe they sensed the tension. They were originally called Benedick but somewhere amidst the chaos the name got changed. I was always told someone's handwriting had been misread on a passport but no-one seems to know for sure. They came from a mixture of Poland and Russia but those countries weren't separated back then.

Lucky though. Your mum says if it was still Benedick she'd not have been so keen for you to have my surname. But she likes Benedict. It sounds more catholic than Jewish.

Families back then were huge. On my dad's side, your great grandma was one of six and your great grandad was one of nine.

My mum's side also came from Russia. She seems to think her granddad's family came over one at a time. So the parent came with one child and then another and another. It's almost impossible to imagine what the world was like then for me and you're five generations away from that.

I knew my great grandad. He was called David and I used to go and get my pension (sweets) with him when he collected his. I must have been around 3 or 4 when he died but I can remember him. I can also just about remember the day he died though I didn't really understand what was going on. My mum and grandma were crying in the hall. This is part of life though and he lived a good life.

Great Grandad David fought in the First World War and had false teeth because apparently he couldn't be bothered with the dentist. He had old blue-green tattoos up and down both his arms, I think they were ladies, and he used to wiggle his arms and tense his muscles to make them dance. I can remember never being able to see them dance but maybe that's where my fascination with tattoos started.

My mum says he always regretted having tattoos and always wore long sleeves. I hid my tattoos from my mum for a long time. But that's another story.

When your great granddad David arrived in this country people used to throw stones at him for being Jewish. This world you're coming into is a tough place. People can be very intolerant. It is changing slowly.

It's important that you know where you come from for this very reason. It's too easy for people who are comfortable to look at other people and pick on them or laugh at them or have little understanding and be drawn into the wrong views on immigration.

What people forget is that nearly everyone has migrated from somewhere. The world doesn't have dividing lines allowing some people to live here and forbidding others to live there. It is people who make those boundaries and that's a very wrong thing to do.

My mum's dad's family also came from Russia. He had five brothers and a sister. He was originally called Eli Narunski but he and his family all changed their names. They wanted to fit. He became Eddie Newton. And though that is a nice name, if you are boy, we have called you after his original name because it is a name to be proud of and we don't need to run and hide as people any more.

His mum, Bobby, only spoke Yiddish and his Dad, Zadie spoke broken English but couldn't write. To think how far we have come. Your mum and dad are both English teachers!

It is some of your granddad's last words that I have tattooed on my shoulder. Zay Geshunt - stay well, be healthy , goodbye.

My grandma, his wife, is called Anita. Her family also came from Russia. If you're a girl then you're Elsie Anne and that's partly where your middle name comes from. Hopefully you'll get to meet her.

My grandma 'Neets' was so warm and lovely. In her eyes I could do no wrong and I can remember curling up to sleep on her knee and sleeping through the afternoon. When I woke up, my dad would be home from golf and I'd be feeling all confused as I didn't quite know where I was. When I had a bath she used to clean in between my toes and it used to tickle and make me laugh.

This is part of your story. This is some of where you come from. It's just my side and your mum has her own story which is the other half which makes you. For all these things to happen to bring me and your mum together to make you is quite an incredible thing. You should always try to remember that.