Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Observation and Memory Americano

Born on July Fourth, I am stirred each year as the day to celebrate American Independence rolls around. Recently, thanks to an article by Jerry Burris of the Honolulu Advertiser, I was made aware of a Russian - Hawaiian connection in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Following the bumps and links of the issue, I learned of a little known episode that measures the price of freedom in tumultuous times in challenging climes.

Back in 1794, in pre-Bolshevik Eastern Europe, the most dangerous people to the existing established monarchies were not bomb throwing anarchists, but intellectuals and revolutionaries enchanted and inspired by the recent events across the Atlantic in the newly independent United States of America, and more recently in France. A number of idealistic young nobles, fired up in part by the liberty-minded writings of a couple of Toms -- Paine and Jefferson, actually left their own homelands to join the struggle under George Washington. Some of these volunteers to the cause of American independence played significant roles in the outcome of the war.

Among those who came to the cause of the rebellious colonies was one Thaddeus Kosciuszko. At age twenty Kosciuszko joined with Washington and was dispatched to assist General Benedict Arnold in the battle of Saratoga which was the first real battle the Americans won against the British King's men. Kosciuszko helped in the planning and execution of the battle plan and proved essential to the victory, a victory that dispelled the notion in Europe that the Americans were no match for the British. Consequently, France entered the war on the side of the Americans and helped bring the struggle to a victorious conclussion. Kosciuszko, at twenty, was educated as an engineer and was a social visionary who dreamed of an egalitarian society where peasants and workers were equal to the master aristocrats who literally owned the life and destiny of the underclass. To the monarchies of Europe he was persona non-grata and hunted down as such.

Nevertheless, Kosciuszko returned to Byelorussia against the pleadings of Jefferson to remain in America. Kosciuszko dreamed of an independent homeland free of the oppressive yoke of the Czar in Moscow who ruled over Poland, the Baltic states, Byelorussia and the Ukraine with an iron clad fist that made King George III look like a sissy in pink panties. The oppressed united against the oppressor and in 1794 at the battle of Maciejowice, in a bloody and vicious battle, were overwhelmed by the czar's forces. In this battle Thaddeus Kosciuszko was taken prisoner and locked in a cage. The guards that accompanied the caged freedom fighter had orders to "Pee upon him all the way to St. Petersberg." Cruel and unusual? What must this noble spirit have thought while suffering this gross indignity?

Kosciuszko was released in 1796 after spending two years in prison, swearing to Czar Paul I never to return to Poland. He spent the rest of his life in France and Switzerland.

Thomas Jefferson in his correspondences wrote to Kosciuszko:

"The effusion of friendship and warmth (I hold) toward you will not time alter. Your principles and dispositions are made to be honored, revered, and loved, true to a single object: The Freedom and Happiness of Man."

The American congress, in appreciation of his struggle for American independence granted him citizenship, elevated his rank from colonel to brigadear general and gave him a 500 acre parcel of land in Ohio. He was also allotted $15,000 dollars.

......part two.......

To answer mama's question, "where did they learn such behaviour?"

Jersey DNA

Time and distance don't mean a damn thing in measuring the influence of DNA in genetics and the twists and turns of convoluted personality characteristics. Thrown partially hog-tied into the miasmatic miracle of modern technology, I too can go with the flow and found myself strangely ashore on the deja vu banks of grandpa's stompin' grounds somewhere in Byelorussia. Papa left it, but it didn't leave him, that life sustaining river in Belarus . He thought he found it on the banks of the Raritan back in 1913, but progress undermined that dream. The river was polluted and poisoned, but that's another story.

Let's say it's three thousand miles from Minsk to Jersey. You'd think the link to Minsk was severed, but not so. In this personal reflection I will try to piece it together, for as grandpa told me once in a dream: "All events and experiences that make up your life are essential parts of the puzzle that combined are you - the complete person. And everyday that doesn't kill you, improves you!"

Granted, there are some events we would rather forget, and some poor, unfortunate souls get more than their share of these. This may be fate, or DNA or pure circumstances at work upon certain personal propensities; I leave this to the metaphysicians and psychologistas to divulge. Intuition tells me that sometimes we must grab Destiny by the throat and make some demands of ourselves.

Way leads on to way and one defeated will usually seek revenge more times than not. Teen-agers are like that for sure. Teen brothers will seek dominance especially if separated in age by only a few seasons of love. Something must have been fermenting in his mind, or maybe he thought it would be fun to humiliate and upset his stronger, older brother when the younger brother hatched the ill conceived plan. And, so, when elder came home from his after-school summer job and passed under the porch overhang, the younger filled with demonic glee, executed his poorly thought through plan and pissed upon his older brother's head.

The porch was crowded with the neighborhood extended family and all who saw this event were shocked into a pregnant silence which quickly burst forth into debilitating laughter. In the micro minute it took youger to zip up and recover from his most brief celebration, he was doomed. His aim in part was to see the effect of the "golden shower" on his fraternal adversary, but by the time he was reconstituted enough to make his escape, his victim was up the steps, somewhat dampened by the shower, but with a certain fire glowing in his eyes. Younger vaulted the back bannister, but weakened by laughter, could not cross the neighbor's garage roof quickly enough for elder was bursting with adrenolin and was upon his younger sibling as a cat sets upon a wounded sparrow. Younger slid down the back fence, but elder jumped the eight feet to the ground and was only an arm's length away from his quarry when they met. Besides being older and stronger, elder brother was also a bit faster and in the ensuing brief chase, succeeded in snaring his victim, and determined to resurrect his wounded pride and prestige to the hooting audience above, an audience whose uproar had drawn others on the ground - curiosity seekers to the gathering - a double tiered event was unfolding.

Among those alerted to this sundown summer drama was Mama who usually came out to the porch only when the noise level signaled that something extraordinary was transpiring. This was one such. Meanwhile the elder had dragged his younger brother across the yard to a spot in the garden central to the clear view of all. Revenge is sweet some say, in this case revenge was also wet and yellow, for elder had laid numerous blows upon his writhing younger brother, and being equipped with a full bladder for the occasion proceeded to repay pee for pee, pissing heartilly upon the instigator of the affair trapped and securely pinned beneath the knees of the conquerer. Before his bladder was completely emptied, Mama, wielding the wooden end of the garden rake was into the fray shouting in Polish, in Yiddish, in Russian and English. She landed several blows upon the back of elder, enough to dislodge her trapped younger son, who, half laughing, half crying slithered out from under, righted himself and dashed out to the street and disappeared.

The older brother was usually less inclined to laughter, but in this instance of triumph, he felt a smile was in order and it radiated as he acknowledged the cautiously joyous extended family bursting to mimic and mock as soon as it was safe to do so. Mama, whom nothing surprised anymore, was doubly dismayed, first by the utter shamelessness of two of her nine children, and perhaps equally distraught by the shambles made of her tomato patch and delicately groomed rose bushes. Inside, later, I heard Mama lament aloud while cooking supper, where did they learn such behaviour?

Well, I think I found an answer for Mama these 56 years later, thanks to the world-wide web: It's in the DNA, historically linked.


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