Maurice Sendak illustrates his father's words.
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In the town where I was born, in Mishinitz, in Poland, after heder I listened to stories told in the shul, stories about dead people rising from the graves in the nearby cemetery. The stories frightened the children, and after school, when it was dark, the teacher's helper had to guide us past the graveyard with a lantern.
My father's name was Israel; my mother's, Bluma. I was the third of five children, three boys and two girls. We brothers fought all the time.
My papa was president of our town's shul. When I was very young, a new rabbi came. He preached against a group of intelligent men who met in the synagogue. My papa supported these men and asked the rabbi to resign. The rabbi was angry with Papa and left town, saying that our village would not have any joy from its children.
After the rabbi left, I came down with typhoid, and so did my brothers and sisters. My littlest sisterdied. Mama cried and pleaded with my father to find the rabbi and lift the curse. But Papa said no; instead, we moved to the shtetl of Zembrova, where my father's father lived and where I grew up,
Ours was a beautiful town. It had a central marketplace, and every Thursday the peasants came to buy and trade. In winter I would skate on a large pond behind our house. Khaytcha, a girl my age, skated with me. We fell in love.
Khaytcha was apprenticed to a tailor, studying to be a seamstress. Two of her brothers lived in Philadelphia, and she wanted to go to America, too. But her father refused to let her. Finally, after much quarreling, he relented.
After Khaytcha left, I wanted to follow. My father flew into a rage. I argued with Papa, but hewouldn't listen. As a result, I wanted to leave home. Because the whole town was like family, I was able to arrange to hire a droshky, even though I had no money. When my brother saw that I was leaving, he tried to stop me by yelling and hitting. I sprang into the droshky and ran off to my mother's father, my grandfather in Mishinitz.
I wrote Papa and begged him to let me go to America. Finally, Grandpa pleaded for me, and Papa sent my sister with money for the trip.
I left for America from Mishinitz, and I have never said good-bye to my mother and father.
I arrived in New York on July 8, 1913, on the ship President Grant. I went to Philadelphia. Khaytcha was married. Her brothers didn't let her write to tell me. So I returned to New York, where I worked as a tucker in a shirtwaist factory.
I was doing very well. Hymie, a landsman, was getting married. Everyone came with presents to the wedding. It was there that I met your mama.
Mama read aloud from Sholom Aleichem, and I went up to her and talked with her and with her friends. I courted Mama every Saturday and Sunday, and in May we went to City Hall, Bronx, for a marriage license.
Mama and I first took a room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Then we rented three rooms in East New York, on Livonia Avenue, and bought furniture.
Natalie was born. She became sick. She coughed and turned blue, and Mama was very frightened. Natalie had the whooping cough. Every day she nearly died. I took her to Coney Island for the air. After a while she began to recover.
I became foreman at Keller's factory, and then, with Braverman and London, I left to start our own factory, which we called Lucky Stitching.
Jackie was born. He looked like an old man, thin and homely. Then he grew more beautiful.
Four years later Wall Street crashed, and because business was bad, our factory had to close down. I went to look for a job again.
Maurice was born. Dr. Brummer said the child would not have a natural birth. The doctor put his instruments in a big pot and boiled them. With the tongs he took the little head and turned it, and Maurice came out all by himself. That was the only time that I saw how a child is born. Maurice's laugh was a little bell.
We moved: West 6th Street, Kings Highway, West A Street, 58th Street, 18th Avenue.
I lived my whole life in Brooklyn, and everything was alright. My wife was never ill. Now I am alone. I have lost my wife, and everything is a blank to me. When I close my eyes, I see her and she wants to talk. I ask her what she wants, but she doesn't answer.
My children try to make me forget. My son asks me to write a children's story. I have tried many times, but nothing comes. When I was young, I heard so many stories and was able to tell wonderful tales. Now that I am seventy-five, I can no longer imagine myself in a child's life.
But since I have nothing else to do, I will write a story that my father told us when I was a child.
"Little children, be still! I will tell you a story," my papa would say. And when it was quiet, and the children opened their mouths and ears, he began his tale...In Grandpa's House. Copyright � by Philip Sendak. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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