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Vilna Stories

Family Stories by Beckie Levine Shopnick
My Great Aunt, Beckie Shopnick, wrote wonderful stories about her
childhood in Vilna, her early days in America, and her friends and
family. They are funny, touching, opinionated, and enlightening
go to ;

By Beckie Shopnick


A moment in my life just came to my mind: my parents and some members
of my family were escorting me to the train on the way to this
country. That was a dream come true. It was a dream of independence,
of opportunities, of helping my parents to ease their struggle for
existence. Everybody seemed to be happy, though somewhat envious of my
departure. But my father, however, felt different. When the last
minute came and the hugs and kisses began, he became very emotional
and started to cry, so I said to him, "papa, don't cry! You have to be
happy-- I am going to America!"

And so here I am on my first ride by train, trying to adjust myself on
the hard bench with my meager baggage under it and a bundle of
immediate accessories and food on my lap. Within minutes, the city of
my birthplace was a thing of the past, but memories of my growing-up
came to focus. Memories, which I am first aware of, rich in content as
well as in, scope... Memories of happiness and tragedies... Memories
of hunger and want. They were all crowding up in my mind in swift
motion trying to catch up with the speedy rhythm of the train, but
here-- what is it?! Was suddenly being awakened by the glorious sun
through my window. Vast horizons appearing which my eyes could hardly
follow, thick forests, small towns, villages, or just a cottage here
and there half-sunken into the soil with smoke coming out of the
chimney. (Very likely a peasant boiling his own grown potatoes or
baking bread of his own wheat raising.)

Most of these sights take me back to the place where I was born. It
was a suburb of the city of Vilna, Poland. It was called the new city.
It really looked like a small tom in more than one way. A great big
marketplace in the center of town and all sorts of stores on both
sides of the very wide cobblestone street. Side streets with mostly
old cottages with shaky porches half sunken into the ground, also, a
couple of two- or three-story brick buildings with a court and an
out-house and a well or pump of fresh, cold water -- all facing the
unpaved streets with no sidewalks. The town was located on a
considerable steep hill about a half-hour walk from the big city where
my father had an iron shop; and, in order to make both ends meet, my
mother had a grocery store located on the very top of the hill.

The sunsets over that hill were magnificent. I was intrigued by its
beauty of color. It brightened up my soul and spirit in one of those
beautiful, shiny days. We also had misty, gloomy and gray days. It
just reminds me of one of those days, when I was watching a funeral
procession and associated the mood of the people who were escorting
the body of their loved one to its last resting place. The sorrow and
compassion for those people are still in my heart.

The landlady next door to us had a mill run by horses. I had the most
wonderful time following the horses round and round, the landlady had
a couple of grown-up daughters who made a lot of fuss over me, more
than my parents could ever give me for lack of time. I must have been
about three years old at the time,....
for the rest go to;