Afternoon drive time and I’m talking to my college friend Danny as he commutes home from work in Baltimore.
At times people have confused us as brothers which has sometimes made us wonder how far apart we really were. Before family emigrations, how many days afoot separated our ancestral villages? It couldn’t have been much. Enough of my family came from Poland and Russia and enough of his as well. Lives and families cast vast to the winds. People move across the oceans. Children are born and people die. One hundred years later, the son of one family and the son of another ascend the stairs to the third floor suites in Silliman College to begin their freshmen year at Yale. They set down their bags, they catch sight of one another. They sense a vague recognition.
Now, twenty five years later, I tell Danny about my ancestry experience and he provides the names of his paternal and maternal grandparents. That night I go online and enter names and birth dates. Family trees and homes and turn of the century censuses coalesce and link to family trees compiled by other people. Danny’s maternal grandfather, Benjamin Mermelstein emerges out of the fog. Years in Baltimore. Naturalization, emigration. Poland. The Ukraine.
It’s two in the morning in California on an autumn night. It hurts to stir the waters and have this debris surface. I sense these people welling up out of Poland and the Ukraine and the Belorus in the 1880’s. Something ungood was afoot and by some miracle, Danny’s kin and my kin sensed it. They registered a tidal pull and one way or another they decided that now, in this moment, it was time to go.
Documents appear that identify Danny’s ancestral home. And here I feel a pit in my stomach.
Benjamin Mermelstein came from the village of Trochenbrod.