Monday, August 15, 2011
Tom Blubaugh's "Night of the Cossack"
When I was four years old, my parents moved us to a small town in southeast Kansas. The only relatives I had there was an aunt, uncle and five cousins. The rest of my relatives were at least 120 miles away. We would go to see rest of our relatives on Thanksgiving. It was always a good time, but we had very little time to get to know them. I think I spent a week with my maternal grandmother once during a summer. Very rarely did anyone come to visit us. I’m not sure why that was other than it was a five hour round trip.
My mother had three siblings and my father had eight. Most of them lived in the same city so I met them and learned a little about them and their families, but that is pretty much, where it stopped. I didn’t know one single great aunt or uncle and no cousins beyond my first cousins. I really didn’t think too much about this until I became a grandfather and suddenly the realization hit me—I didn’t have a grandfather. Both of them died before I was born.
Oh, I heard bits and pieces about them, but I did not really know them. I started asking questions, but my father had already passed. My mother didn’t know much about my dad’s dad because he died when dad was six years old. She didn’t know much more about her own father, at least that she would tell. She would tell me that her accounts of him didn’t agree with her siblings. This mystified me because he was alive when she married dad when she was twenty years old. She did tell me he died of ALS and that he was an insurance salesman. Somehow, I knew he was born in Russia, was a Russian Cossack soldier, was a Jew, married my grandmother who was from Poland and was a Jew. They met in New York City where my grandfather tutored Hebrew in exchange for tutoring in English at New York University and that he was a streetcar conductor. That was pretty much all I got. I found out from an aunt that when grandmother and grandfather talked about the old country, they would talk in one of the nine languages they spoke because they wanted their children to be Americans. I found out in latter research that this was common among immigrants.
When my mother died, I was left with one aunt in her family and I decided I had better find out all I could before she passed. I asked her if I could interview her on tape. She agreed. For two hours, I asked her everything I could about my grandparents and their families. I gained very little new information—not even the names of my great grandparents or their families. I wondered how this could happen and made a decision this was not going to be the case with my children and grandchildren although I had developed the same pattern when I thought about my own situation. I made a commitment to change things.
Most of my adult life, I have written nonfiction, but I sat down at my computer with the intent to write a story about my maternal grandfather. I was intrigued with his being a Russian Cossack soldier. So I took the seven things I knew and started researching. As I researched, I found the things I knew fit into the history I was reading. I started writing a historical novel in which I was creating my grandfather for my heirs. They were going to have a heritage.
Long story short, it is a published novel, Night of the Cossack, and is available on amazon.com, B&N, my website (a signed copy) and in a few bookstores. It is written for the YA genre. I didn’t know this until after it was published, which you may find strange, but I wasn’t writing it for publication—I was writing it for six children and fourteen grandchildren, the majority YA’s and younger. No big surprise when I think about it—subconscious I suppose.
What is surprising to me is that I am finding out, as I talk to students in middle school and high schools, that a fair percentage do not have a grandfather and know very little about their ancestors. I encourage them to find out all they can while those ahead of them are still living—to create a heritage for themselves. I have had adults tell me they are in the same boat. I hope it is not the case with you.