Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

I Planted A Lithuanian Tree Today…by Robert M. Katzman

by Robert M. Katzman © July 20, 2018

I planted a tree today.

The grayish-bluesy sky was gloomy, threatening to rain, and I was standing in my garden thinking:


 Some days drag themselves like there are elephants hanging onto each hour. I had no plans, no list of anything to do, no calls to make. I thought,

“Bob, plant a tree”.

Went to a local greenhouse, walked all around trying to select a delicate tree that would complete the triangle between Joy’s Blazing Autumn Maple and the flowering Crabapple tree that was already here. Found something that would be more of a footnote to the memorial garden than something that screamed: “Look at Me!”
After an hour, I found a woman with kind eyes, told her my limited budget and she lowered the price immediately. I was able to carry the lovely miniature Willow, about five feet high with drooping branches, by myself, and just as the cashier handed me my receipt, the skies opened up and heavy water fell, soaking me as I trudged toward my van, and I was thinking,
“Good, the ground will be soft, I can plant this little tree today”.
By the time I was home, the rain was petering out and I went to my garage and grabbed the short pointed shovel.
Knowing what to do, and eyeballing the diameter of the bottom of the tree’s plastic container, I pierced the wet earth, savagely, jabbing it like I wanted to kill it, like it was trying to run away. I imagine all sorts of dramatic scenarios when I do silent difficult work. I dug through black dirt, using my calloused hands now, dumping it into another plastic container, then reached the clay level, and it went into there, too, and then I hit some rocks and sand. That was deep enough. I was up to my elbows in all of this and it felt very sensual to be so close to the earth.
This is why I’ll never find another girlfriend in this rural small town tucked away between the lake and the faraway Interstate. So many woman seem to think dirt on a man’s hands has something to do with his status. That’s so dumb. A man who can gently coax small plants and baby trees to steadily grow in a graceful garden he designed and built, probably knows how to do all sorts of useful things with his hands. They should think that.
I digress.
I planted the Willow, carefully packing the removed dirt, clay and sand into every bit of surrounding space. I pressed all of this down, deep down into the vacant spaces I couldn’t see, to insure my tree was stable. I used my thick fingers–I have strong hands and fingers from doing things like this all of my life–then soaked it densely with water, packed more earth all around its base like a fallen crown.
Then I pounded a bamboo stake next to it, raising it high and then spearing the earth with it until the stake stopped, to give my little Willow a chance to take root and not be sucked out of the ground by the next fierce Wisconsin cloudburst. Then, using white cotton yarn, I tied the stake closely to the tree’s thin trunk with care, round and round , then tied it tightly in three places. Then I watered it again.
My Grandmother was an orphan from Lithuania, born in 1885 in Vilna. The reluctant relatives who adopted her felt she was not sufficiently beautiful enough to attract a husband and who would quickly take her off of their hands. They would be stuck with her.
So those fiscally practical relatives decided to unload her quickly, sending her alone to America in 1901, when she was a teenager, sixteen years old. One way or another, the charitable German-Jewish organizations helped the flood of penniless immigrants from Eastern Europe get settled in America.
These wealthy and sophisticated American Jews who arrived in New York City a century or more before than this current ragged wave of members of their Tribe were very kind, and as long as these stinking, poor, illiterate Yiddish-speaking and uncultured Jewish immigrants fleeing from the murderous Russian Czar Nicholas agreed to be farmed out on trains to small towns all across the country so as to not bring any shame or embarrassment to the established upper crust existing population in New York City and other similar places.
Charity with one hand held behind their backs.
In thirty-five years, the similar to the above American-German Jews in Germany, imbedded in every field at the top of that society, who felt, blindly, that all their German neighbors considered them Germans, too, after so many centuries of their living there, fighting in their wars, being scientists, professors, psychiatry, artists, writers and so on.
That was why the shock of their gradual extermination was so incredulous to all of them. Their neighbors never, ever, thought they were Germans. Being a Jew is a blessing and a curse. Better to assume nothing and be aware. The slaughter of my family in Europe has affected my whole life.
My grandmother met my Grandfather Jacob, a carpenter, in Newport, Kentucky. They quickly married, speaking their Yiddish for the next half century, like their children did, too. They moved by train to Chicago, Jacob found work, they bought a house on the West Side of Chicago and Rose gave birth to and raised five children, two of whom spent four and five years respectively in the United States Army in the Pacific Theater during Word War Two.
Those five American children all married and collectively had nine grandchildren. Fourteen great-grandchildren followed them. I lose track after that, meaning now.
The only time I read or hear about ancient Lithuania these days is, if Russia invades the three tiny Baltic nations, will Trump keep the NATO promise to defend them, or decide, well, they are simply too small and insignificant to bother risking United States blood and treasure to rescue. Or, rather a promise made by America really means nothing at all.
I’m so glad my Grandmother made safely it to this country and lived long enough to hold my son in her arms in 1978, before she died. Better she was here than having her descendents living there now, watching anxiously across their thin border with Russia and their huge tanks and massed troops. Watching and wondering whether a promise made after the war that her sons fought in for America, will be kept if ever Lithuania calls them for help.
I will name my young Willow tree Rose, after Rose from Lithuania, a brave soul who deserves to be remembered.
May my country be as brave as you were, more than one hundred years ago.
Love, your (partly) Lithuanian grandson Bob.
I remember you, Grandma. I remember you.
Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

My facebook Book site is: @dontgoquietly

Please visit my new website: http://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998  (262) 752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.


Comment by brad dechter

July 20, 2018 @ 2:07 pm

Wish I knew enough about my grandparents to tell similar stories- albeit never as well!
As ale=ways, thanks for sharing!

Comment by David Griesemer

July 23, 2018 @ 10:10 pm

Like Steinbeck, Bob Katzman has a penchant for discounted people. In this story alone, he holds up men with their hands in the soil, an orphan who is not sufficiently beautiful, poor illiterate refugees and small Baltic countries.
Go to dontgoquietlypress.com and read an excerpt about the unapproachable Katherine Evans.

Are you one of the discounted, or one of the sophisticates? Did you think you were the one and find you’re the other?
Read Bob’s post “America, Please Don’t Do This!” about the unwanted unwelcome ragged wave, defenseless and hated, past and present. How their precarious lives afford them a sanity lacking today. And how discounted people are the canaries who warn us all of calamity to come.

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