My father, Zygmunt Moryl - Zygy - was as unique as his name. He was born in Fulton, New York on Feb. 13, 1914, an American citizen by birth to Polish/Austrian parents who had immigrated to the United States in the first decade of the 20th century.
When my father was six years old in 1920, his father contracted T.B. and wanted to go back to Poland, his homeland, to finish out his life. He did so - taking my father with him and leaving his wife and their youngest son in New York. He was dead within six months.
Instead of returning to his mother, my father lived with his uncle on a rural, back-breaking farm somewhere close to Krakow. I never knew the name of the place where my father spent his next 13 years; he didn't talk much about it because there were bad memories he did not want rekindled. Although his uncle was good to him, his aunt resented having another mouth to feed.
He worked hard on that farm to earn his keep. A tall, skinny boy and then young man, he never had enough to eat even though food was not scarce. Sitting at the communal table, he was self-conscious about reaching out to the platters and bowls of food, knowing full well that his aunt's reproachful eyes were always on him. So he would eat his first and only serving of food and then retreat, leaving the table still hungry.
He had a small space allotted to him where he would fall into the exhausted slumber of an overworked farm laborer. So sad for me to think that this is what my father considered his "normal" life.
He gave his uncle credit for taking him in. But from the time he was six years old, my father lived without the love of a true family, without the love that should have been his inherent right at birth.
In 1933, six years before Germany invaded Poland, my father was 19 years old, and was nearly inducted into the Polish Army. Finally, 13 years too late, my grandmother sent the money for him to get on a ship and come home. By this time, she had a new husband, a new son and was operating a bar/restaurant in Syracuse, New York.
He arrived at Ellis Island in New York with an identification tag around his neck. After 13 years in Poland, he no longer spoke English. He was Polish through and through in spite of having been born on United States soil.
Catching his first glimpse of Lady Liberty, he sailed into the harbor with excitement in his heart and a huge smile on his face. His new life had just begun.
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