Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Wednesday Jan 2

Jan 2 imageI had an unexpected visitor
during the day. I. M. Duval,
The poor fellow told me of his

I again gave him $2.00 and
what else can I do for him? My
heart goes out in sympathy for him
suffering that dreadful disease

The radio my only companion
again entertained me in the
evening, The fine music
appeals so much to my senti-

Duty to my parents, I sent them
$5.00 today
Received a letter from father urging
me again to get married. -
(what a problem for me to solve)


Matt's Notes

This passage really packs a heavy dose of information about my grandfather's world. Like his references to the Capitol Theatre and prohibition liquor in his New Year's entry, the casual mention of a tubercular neighbor on a repeat visit to his apartment is as jarring to me as if a Dickens character suddenly walked into my office. (Apologies to I.M. Duval for objectifying him and his situation. In a world without antibiotic treatments, tuberculosis was probably a death sentence for him.)

In this entry he also touches on a few important themes in his life: His mixed relationship with his radio (loves the music; would prefer a wife), his charitable nature, his sentimentality and the ever-present pressures from his family in the old country. I'm sure everyone he knew sent a bit of their wages back home every month (as immigrants continue to do today) and I don't think he resented this "duty" to his parents too much, but his aside about the way his father pushes him to get married "(what a problem for me to solve)" is more complicated. At twenty-nine, he was probably long past the age when he was expected to be married, but I wonder whether his response betrays annoyance with his father for bringing up the obvious or if he feels genuinely guilty for letting his family down. Probably a little of both.



According to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum site, tuberculosis was on the wane in the 1920's, but was still the third-leading cause of death in New York City. The site goes on to say:

In the public mind, tuberculosis was known as a "Jewish disease", yet statistically Jews had a lower mortality rate than gentiles. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the highest rate of death from pulmonary tuberculosis was among Irish and Scandinavians and the lowest among the Jews. Anti-semitic views of Jewish immigrants as being unclean and diseased fostered this thinking. Tuberculosis was also associated with the clothing industry (it was sometimes referred to as "tailor's disease"), presumably as a result of an unhealthy environment in the crowed work shops which nurtured consumption. Perhaps because Jews were chiefly engaged in the manufacturing of clothing, the concept of the Jewish tubercular tailor grew.

1 comment:

  1. Matt,
    I thought you might be interested in this -- this is the place my grandmother went as a young girl with TB. http://www.trudeauinstitute.org/ Click on the link that says "history" for some cool info.