Although my Grandfather came to America from Imperial Russia alone, in his teens, and never saw his parents again, he remained in most respects a product of Russia. He worked odd jobs during the day, attended school at night, and eventually was graduated from Rutgers with a degree in Pharmacy. During the 1920s he opened his own Pharmacy on the upper East Side of Manhattan, married, fathered my Mother and modestly prospered.
Following Baron de Rothschild’s motto: “When there’s blood in the streets, buy property” he purchased a number of tenements that lined Third Avenue in those days— which he lost, one at a time during the dark days of The Great Depression. But he managed to keep the Drug Store open and was able to continue paying his two clerks: Mr. Glassman and Mr. Muller. Mr. Glassman was almost blind from Diabetes, and Mr. Muller had a severely deformed leg; neither was able to perform his function without the help of the other: Muller could make prescriptions, while Glassman could get around the store and wait on customers. But as times grew worse, my grandmother urged Grandfather to let them go and hire one of the many fit and healthy unemployed.
But Grandfather continued to reply “Who would hire them? They’re unemployable. Their families would starve.” And he continued to work 18 hours daily helping his “staff”.
Finally, one Sunday morning he returned home shortly after leaving for work. (My Mother and I were living with them since my father was unable to find work and provide for us, and had moved back with his parents.) Grandmother asked why. He explained that the Union had called a strike. Muller and Glassman were marching in front of the store with signs: Muller limping along with his cane in his other hand, and blind Glassman with his hand on Muller’s shoulder, shuffling behind.
“Both of them apologized” he said, and told him that they would be thrown out of the Union if they didn’t follow the Strike Orders.
“So why didn’t you open the store” asked my Grandmother, agitatedly.
“What? Me? Cross a picket line? NEVER!” replied my Grandfather. And he sat down beside six-year old me, to read the Strike circulars and explain to me, over Grandmother’s wailing, that in hard times people must help each other and that is the bonding that holds society together.
He didn’t open the store that day: nor the next. But the strike finally settled. And seventy years later I remember it as clear as yesterday and, as I tell the story about My Grandfather, I wonder if anyone knows what I’m talking about.