I can only imagine what most people see when they watch the war in Ukraine on TV. In my mind, I see possible cousins running for their lives. I see amazing farmlands through the memories of my grandmother.
My grandmother Julia was born in Ukraine. Her mother was from Vienna, Austria, and her father a Ukrainian farmer. When her parents met, her grandfather in Vienna did not approve of the match as she was a wealthy young woman. The farmer stood up and explained that yes, he was a farmer, but he owned six farms. So, they were married and went to live in Ukraine. They had two daughters.
My grandmother grew up to be a rich young lady too. She still did farm work and enjoyed it. Julia loved everything about living in Ukraine but one thing. The Cossacks, who were the henchmen of the Russians, would steal, kill, and sometimes take children never to be seen again. They did worse but I won’t mention it here.
Her father decided of his two daughters he would send one to New York on a holiday. She could stay with her uncle’s family there. Off, Julia, went on an ocean liner.
My grandmother arrived and was greeted by her uncle’s family. Then World War I broke out, and she was unable to return to Ukraine, which had become a battlefield. The country was split in two, half fighting with the Russians. Half with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (Julia had an uncle who was a spy for the Austro-Hungarian Emperor but that’s another story.)
Julia’s uncle in New York was now her guardian, and he figured that meant he controlled her money. He confiscated her jewelry, furs, and money, putting her to work in the kitchen of his Manhattan restaurant. She became the poor cousin that was a burden on their family.
In these old days, women were not waitresses. They worked in the kitchen and handed out the trays of food to waiters through a window to the dining room. Then the window closed to further separate the rooms.
Before the war started, my grandfather Menelaus James Issideridy had come to New York with his brother George to start a furrier business here. Grandpa ate his lunch in that restaurant every day. As the window to the kitchen opened, he saw the beautiful face of my grandmother handing out the trays.
Over time, he arranged a table closer to the window and would smile at her with every chance. She would smile back. His heart was captured by the pretty young woman with blue eyes and auburn hair who would smile and shyly turn away.
After a while, he asked the manager about her. That was her uncle. He said he had two daughters of marriageable age. The one in the kitchen was his impoverished niece, who he was forced to house and feed as she was stuck in the United States because of the war.
Menelaus would not give up. He kept asking about Julia. They kept flirting through the window. She knew a little English. So did he.
Finally, her uncle called her out when Menelaus proposed. Julia wanted to marry him. Her uncle agreed under one condition. There would be no dowry. The money her father had given her, the jewelry and furs would all become his property. He was giving her nothing. He would not pay for a wedding.
My grandmother protested. Her uncle said no to the return of her belongings. He said Menelaus could have her but only with the clothes on her back. My grandmother was angry but took my grandfather’s hand. They left and were married in St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan. Needless to say, her uncle and his family refused to attend the wedding.
My grandmother would write to her sister and receive letters back through the Red Cross. The war in Europe raged and the letters stopped. The last letter came from Poland. After that Julia never heard from her family again.
My grandparents became American citizens. They were in love all their lives and had two daughters.
That’s what I see when I watch the war in Ukraine on TV. I don’t know my cousins’ names. Sadly, the names were not preserved in our family history. Instead, I remember my grandmother telling me about beautiful Ukraine and the flowing fields rich with crops and sunflowers.
Susan Hanniford Crowley, Author of Vampire Princess of New York
Amazon Kindle Bestselling Author of Vampire Romance
The events there are heartbreaking!