by Sandra Gurev
My father-in-law, Elias Gurev, was fifty-nine when I met him. He was tall, broad framed with a thick thatch of iron grey hair. His legs seemed mismatched with his body as they were thin. They didn' seem like they could support his broad chest. I never got to know him well due to a signicant permanent hearing loss from German measles at age sixteen. Our conversations were monologues and my attempts to ask questions went unanswered. His loss of hearing led to some degree of paranoia thinking people were talking about him.
When our sons were born in the late 60's, their grandfather would take Greg or Keith on his knee calling, "Come boychick, come and sit on grandpa's lap." They enjoyed being bounced on his knee and gave him their complete attention when he regaled them with stories from long ago. His stories almost always touched on his heroism. For instance, he told us about riding with Pancho Villa on his trusty mule, Rosita. I listened in on his monologue with the boys and envisioned him wearing a colorful serape, sombrero askew riding hard through mountain canyons calling to Rosita, "Andele!" The sunsets were brush stroked in lavender, mango, and magenta.
Other stories revolved around riding with the Cossacks through the Russian Steppes or as a sidekick to Genghis Khan. Some of his leaders were ruthless barbarians but it didn't seem to matter. Adventure abounded in his stories. Our boys sat with rapt attention , their eyes growing wider with disbelief with each ensuing tale.
One day my father-in-law became serious and his story took on a decidedly solemn tone. He described a memory of a time when he was about twelve. He lived in an expansive richly decorated home with his parents and sister in some unknown country. He spoke lovingly of running his fingers over the ivory keys of the family's grand piano. Then he said, "We had to leave and I knew that I would never see it again." Again his hearing loss prevented me from asking for more details, questions that I yearned to ask.
It wasn't until 2012 that I began to get answers to my questions. I came across a yellowed creased petition requesting citizenship to the British protectorate of Palestine. The year was 1930. I learned that my father-in-law was born into a Jewish family in Theodosia, Crimea. His father had a well paying government position working for the Czar. His family had enjoyed a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. Their lives changed abruptly when an empathetic Cossack calvaryman paid an unannounced visit. He had learned that the Czar's army was planning to launch a pogrom against the Jews of Theodosia. The man urged them to leave immediately. They needed to get on the first ferry to neighboring Turkey. The family hastily piled documents, photos, perhaps a pair of silver candlesticks for the sabbath onto sheets and escaped through the cover of night. His father managed to go to a bank before leaving only withdrawing enough money as he could without arousing suspicion. They fled their home leaving the door wide open and safely escaped by ferry. Most of the remaining Jewish residents were terrorized and killed by the army.
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Sandy Gurev is a wife of fifty-one years and mother of two sons and four grandchildren. Sandy was an elementary school counselor prior to retiring to Williamsburg, VA nine year's ago from Rochester, NY. Her volunteer work includes providing lunch to cancer patients and fitting women with wigs after they have lost their hair. Playing competitive duplicate bridge and belonging to two book clubs rounds out her time. Within the past two years she has written a memoir for her grandchildren and a couple of articles for the American Amateur Press Association. Sandy found that writing helped to reduce her perception of pain while she was awaiting back surgery.