Monday, April 2, 2012

Messages from My Father by Calvin Trillin 1996

"The book says something about all immigrant families and their aspirations in the US that's especially apparent in the way it makes clear that the senior Trillin never lost sight of the America he wanted his son to be a part of." from a review by Geoff Edgers in The Boston Phoenix, May 16-23, 1996

The writer Calvin Trillin, originally from Kansas City, Missouri, has written this lovely, moving memoir about his father who, he realizes, had far more of an effect on his life than he had thought. His father, born Abram Trilinski, came to America as a child with his parents and siblings from Ukraine and arrived in Galveston, Texas, an alternate immigration port. They originally settled in Saint Joseph, Missouri with other Eastern European Jews where the author’s grandfather, Kusel Trilinski, soon opened a grocery store.

When Abe Trilinski became an adult, following in his father’s footsteps, he too opened a grocery store. He eventually owned a group of five. He had one foot in the old world - he was fluent in Yiddish - but he worked at being American. The writer guesses that that was his motivation for his changing the family name from Trilinski to Trillin and naming his son Calvin (after Abe's father Kusel Trilinski). Intent on seeing his family succeed, he worked six days a week, getting up at four to go to the wholesale market. Calvin Trillin characterizes him as an optimist and apolitical. This behavior Trillin contrasts to the New York Jewish community he came to know when he moved to New York.

What stands out is his father’s dream that his son go to Yale so that Calvin could make more of a mark than Abe had. Many of his father’s traits and opinions Trillin, in his humorous way, characterizes as absurd and lovable at the same time. His father got the idea of Yale from a book he had read as a child and he systematically put away money in small increments for his son’s tuition way before he had any idea whether his son would apply and be admitted. Looking back, the author is moved at his father’s singlemindedness and self-sacrifice. He realizes that his father knew that on some level once his plan for his son came to fruition, he would lose him: that after four years on the east coast at Yale his son would most likely be lured permanently away from the Midwest, which is exactly what happened.

Trillin realizes that his immigrant father succeeded in this country but hated the business he was in and felt unfulfilled in the world beyond his family. He narrates the realities of his father’s life in a light vein but with great tenderness, admiration, affection, and gratitude.

To read an article written by Jacob Schiff in 1914 discussing his instigation of the Galveston project that brought Jewish immigrants through the port of Galveston, Texas, click here.


People
Kussiel (Kusel) Trilinski – married Anna   
    Abe (Abram) Trillin (Trilinski) – son of Kussiel and Anna;  married Edyth Weitzman
        Elaine Sue Trillin – daughter of Abe and Edyth
        Calvin Trillin – son of Abe and Edyth; married Alice Stewart; author
            Abigail and Sarah Stewart Trillin – daughters of Calvin and Alice
    Sadie (Scheindel) Trilinsky – daughter of Kussiel and Anna
    Maishe Trilinsky – son of Kussiel and Anna
    Hannah Trilinsky – daughter of  Kussiel and Anna; married Jerry Cushman
        Keith Cushman – son of Hannah and Jerry
    Earl (Schroelik) Trilinsky – son of Kussiel and Anna

Benny Daynovsky – Kusel’s brother-in-law (exact relationship unclear; maybe Kusel’s wife Anna was a Daynovsky)

Ben Weitzman – ? Ginsberg
    Edyth Weitzman – daughter of Ben; married to Abe Trillin (see above)

David Ginsberg – brother of Ben Weitzman’s wife

Acquaintances
Gershon Hadas

Places
Sokol’cha Ukraine
Kansas City, Missouri
St. Joseph, Missouri
Leavenworth, Kansas

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