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Secrets of My Great Grandparents

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

No one knows how Jennie and Nathan

managed to establish a life together

after she had become

the sorrowful teenage kallah

in an arranged marriage to an older man

who lived in another shtetl raising pigeons.


Nathan’s parents had sent him to America,

but first, he took a train to Wales

to live with relatives near Cardiff

while he learned a trade

in clothing manufacturing.


Perhaps the two traded love letters

across the ocean, making promises,

waiting until the time was right.

Did her husband die or did she divorce him?

Did she make the trip with her sister?


What we do know is Jennie arrived

by ship in New York City,

caught a train to Philadelphia

with her two-year old son

who would one day earn a scholarship

to the University of Pennsylvania

and become a doctor.


For me, Jennie and Nathan’s story

began in 1888, when they married

and together added six more children

to the family—

all with blue eyes and dark brown hair.

Pauline, their first-born daughter

was my grandmother.


by Lois Perch Villemaire


Lois Perch Villemaire writes poetry, flash memoir and fiction. Her work has appeared in such places as Blue Mountain Review, Ekphrastic Review, One Art: A Journal of Poetry, Pen In Hand and Topical Poetry. Anthologies, including I Am My Father’s Daughter and Truth Serum Press - Lifespan Series have published her memoir and poetry. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Lois lives in Annapolis, MD, where she enjoys yoga, researching family connections, fun photography, and doting over her African violets.

grandparent emigrant pigeon Jewish

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