Monday, November 26, 2007

The Immigrant and the Beauty Queen

My parents met in 1927 and married in 1929, just in time for the Depression. My sister jokes they fell in love with one another's good looks. In photos from the 1920s Dad looks like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn. Ambitious, hardworking, he longed to become a physician, but because of the Depression, he turned instead to podiatry.

In his 70s, he moved to Palm Springs, where he passed the California board exam and started a second successful practice. In his early 80s, even after heart surgery, he continued to work.

Hyman David Swerloff (1880-1929), father of my father, was an orthodox Jew, and the first Sward. In 1905, in the company of other survivors of government-sponsored pogroms, Hyman and his family journeyed from Poltava, Russia, to New York City. Immigration authorities at Ellis Island changed the Russian "Swerdloff" to the more American "Sward," as in "greensward, turf green with grass." In Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, for example, the poet speaks of "A thick carpet of most delicious greensward." So it was a twenty-five-year-old Russian tailor immigrated to America to have thrust upon him a name with Old English roots dating back to A.D. 900.

An aside: My Dad's sister, my Aunt Leah, described the pogroms, the Czar and his followers on horseback charging into Poltava, beating and killing Jews for no reason. For me, the word "Liberal" has a wonderfully positive connotation because Leah would say, "and then there were Liberals, good Czars who kept the peace, who cared... no men on horseback."

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