Monday, February 11, 2008

Mienckowski


This is Lomza, in northeastern Poland, near the Belarusian border.

My paternal great-grandfather, Isaac Manch, emigrated to Montreal from Lomza. His original last name was probably something close to the title of this post. No one really knows for certain (at least, not yet). From there he moved to Niagara Falls, New York, where he worked as a rabbi and glatt kosher butcher. Along the way he gave birth to my paternal grandfather, Joseph Manch. He grew up among the other Poles and Italians in Niagara Falls before eventually moving to Buffalo, New York. He met and married my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Strom Manch. I know very little about my grandmother's upbringing, except that she came from a very poor family, and that she had a twin sister I never met whom she harbored a lifelong grudge against.


My paternal grandfather excelled at virtually everything he attempted, from sports to literature. At the University of Buffalo (now State University of New York at Buffalo), he was a star football player and wrote his honors thesis on Jonathan Swift. Upon graduation he became a teacher, got his Ph.D., and eventually worked his way up to Superintendent of Schools for the entire city. He was an early and forceful advocate of school integration, and met with Presidents Kennedy and Nixon. He was also a gifted poet and photographer. At family functions, he would always bring his camera and write a special poem commemorating the event, which he would read in his sweet baritone. In 1987 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died shortly after the diagnosis. My grandmother was never the same. She was never as joyful or extroverted as my grandfather, and she sank into a deep depression after his death. She had a stroke in 1998 or so, after which she finally had to move out of her house in Buffalo (which she resented). She died several years later, in 2001.


I grew up in Arizona, a place without history. This is not entirely true -- it has a strong identification with the old West and Manifest Destiny, with the Mormons, and for the mining towns and families who settled. But as a half-Jew growing up in Phoenix, I was isolated from that history. What family ties I had came from Buffalo and my father's family (and my mother's, too, which will be the subject of another post). In one of my college application essays I wrote about this lack of history and how it defined me as a person. I concluded that my lack of history left me open to new experiences, and without attachment to the past (read: stagnation). I lied; my lack of history makes me feel more alone.


1 comment:

patty said...

I am a relative. My father , Julie Tucker felt very close to your dad. Was Al Manch your fathers cousin or brother? My grandmother, Bertha was a Manch . There was an uncle Abe and uncle Izzy , both Manch too.

So guess we're cousins....

Patty Tucker (i know your grandparents were invited to my wedding