My grandmother’s first husband was Jacob Smith, the name changed from Schmiko when he immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, from Poland. But his new Americanized name and youth, his grand handlebar mustache and his young wife couldn’t protect him from the tuberculosis epidemic—known in those days as consumption. He died at the age of thirty after a long illness leaving my grandmother, Anna, with nothing but four small children, a meager grocery store and her own cold heart.
Tending to her few customers, she left her small daughters to the streets of the Scovil Avenue neighborhood. That is, until the day a neighbor paid a visit to the authorities and reported Anna Smith’s appalling neglect of her three little girls, who, dirty and hungry had been running wild in the neighborhood for weeks, months. My mother, Florence, was three years old, her sisters, Lillian and Mabel, five and seven.
Soon after, a man with a walrus mustache and a watch chain showed up at Anna’s grocery store, emerging with papers in his breast pocket. One at a time he lifted the squirming, screaming little girls into the wagon, (the baby, Della, was too young to be taken) climbed in behind them, and as the neighbors watched through their windows, jiggled the horse’s reins and disappeared, rattling down the cobblestone street...
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