In this season of giving, I think of the most valuable gift I received. It was no less than 45 years ago when my great-grandmother, who I affectionately called my “Bubby” was babysitting me and my little sister. Bubby gave me special treatment – not only because I was her first great grandchild – I was also her only great grandson. My parents had named me after her deceased husband, Charles – and my given Hebrew name – Gedaliah – was his. Not only that, but my Bubby and I always celebrated our birthdays together as hers was March 5th and mine March 4th.
It was New Year’s Eve of 1976, (when I was all of 12 years old) my Bubby and I sat together on her easy chair to watch Dick Clark ring in the New Year. Shortly after the ball dropped, she reached into her pocketbook – taking out an 1890 Indian Head silver dollar coin.
She went on to explain (in her Germanic-Yiddish accent) its significance. “When I was a very young girl, my father fled to America to escape the pogroms in our native homeland of what was then Austria. He didn’t have enough money to secure passage for my mother and me and had to work several years on the lower east side of the city to earn the money necessary to bring us to New York.”
She told me of her fear that when she got to America her father wouldn’t recognize her or love her. Her mother answered that thought was nonsense, of course, but in the 1890s, overseas communication (delivery of letters) was difficult and rare. She had little communication from her father since he left.
Bubby described seeing the awe-inspiring Statue of Liberty as her ship sailed into Ellis Island, and the fear that during the immigration processing she would be diagnosed with tuberculosis or some other disease and not allowed entry.
Finally, she made it through the ordeal, after which she and her mother were reunited with her father, who she described as a large man with a booming laugh and big furry beard. He scooped her up in his arms and gave her this 1890 silver dollar – which was an American coin dating to the year of her birth. Back then – at the end of the 19th century – a silver dollar was a lot of money, too!
“This silver dollar signifies the riches that America brings us in our new life together!” he exclaimed. My Bubby kept that silver dollar with her every day of her life.
At that moment she handed it to me. “Here, my dear Craig – I want you to have it,” she said. I tried to refuse but she insisted. Later that year my Bubby would die of cancer – none of us knew that she was even sick that New Year’s Eve. I still think of her daily. She was a sweet, loving, and kind woman.
For one of my birthdays, my wife framed that silver dollar along with a picture of my Bubby and I celebrating the last birthday we would have together. Today, more than 45 years later, it hangs in a prominent place in my home, and my three daughters all know its story. In fact, my family purchased a place for her name on a plaque at Ellis Island. It was an emotional moment for me when visiting there with my wife and children, telling them this story – and seeing her name inscribed near pictures of the steamships that brought so many people to a place that promised hope and a new life.
While anyone might purchase an 1890 Indian Head silver dollar on the open market for $90 or $100 – it is invaluable to me. It ties me to my heritage – to my ancestors – and symbolizes the struggles, hopes, and dreams that they lived and died for so subsequent generations of the family could live in freedom and enjoy a fruitful life.
My Bubby’s silver dollar reminds me of the risks that they took – leaving everyone and everything that they ever knew for a land that offered promise – even though they hadn’t yet learned to speak English – all so that their progeny could thrive.
As far as inheritances go – I’ve never expected to receive much in the realm of money or property from my family. They’re not very wealthy people. But we do have a rich heritage – and I was given a gift of far greater value – a piece of my history.
© 2021 Craig R. Hersch learn more at floridaestateplanning.com