This week, we’re celebrating my dad’s birthday. It’s a special one, though he will insist we not make a fuss. He was born in April of 1919, before the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending the Great War (WWI).
In fact, he was born before women could vote, before Talkies at the movies, before the invention of television, the discovery of antibiotics, the creation of state highways, indeed before the vast majority of U.S. cities even had paved roads.
Born in Poland, my Dad fled Europe after a pogrom. His entire town was burned to the ground. Those who did not flee were eventually killed by the Nazis. With little to his name, but a work ethic and can-do attitude, my Dad came to America — his adopted country — lured by the promise on the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
He worked hard, he saved, he built a small business, he employed others, and he retired in relative comfort. Although he himself had only a sixth grade education, all three of his kids — which he had very late in life when he was almost my age — went to college: I became a lawyer; my older sister a financial advisor and tax planner; and my younger sister a nurse who cares for kids in clinical trials to treat some of the most destructive diseases imaginable. His grandkids — my kids — attend prestigious universities.
He is the quintessential American immigrant success story.
Part of only .01% of the population which reaches their centennial, the world my Dad now lives in is nothing like the world he was born into. Born in a horse-and-buggy town in Europe during the most destructive period of the 20th Century, he watched the takeover of cars, jets, personal computers, the internet, and smartphones. But one thing has not changed: the desire of people to make a better life for themselves and their posterity.
One of my favorite memories is of my Dad coming home after a long day of work. Typical of the generation of which he is part, he’d pour himself a whiskey and light up a cigar. We’d have dinner and then he’d grab a knife and a piece of fruit and take us for a walk around the block while he cut up pieces to give to us. To this day, I only eat fruit with a knife.
How will we celebrate? Dinner. And a whiskey. If he’s feeling particularly celebratory, we’ll take a walk, although a much shorter one on account of his age.
Happy 100th birthday to Papa Winograd.
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