What If?

I just returned from a trip to New Jersey where I visited my mother and daughter, flying up on April  10.  That date would have been Dad’s 95th birthday.

Considering all that happened during his lifetime, it is a miracle to me that he lived to celebrate birthday number 89. Unlike his brother, Tony, he did not die at the hands of the Soviet secret police. He survived a train accident in Valdosta, Georgia during the war purely by chance—switching seats with a man who died because of where he sat.

Dad traversed the Atlantic twelve times during the war, going to England, Scotland, France, and Nova Scotia—thankfully not a victim of the hostilities. On this day in 1945, his 26th birthday, Dad was at Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts.

He spent thirty-five years working as a chemist and liked to point out—actually he bragged—that he outlived all his coworkers who died of work-related exposure to chemicals. He observed the mandatory regulations that increased over the years requiring workers in his industry to wear protective outfits, but many of these laws were not enforced during Dad’s employment

I have thought how different his life and the lives of his family would have been if his parents had remained in New Jersey like my other grandparents. Tony would not have died at such a young age, but Uncle Pete’s three children would never have been born. His sisters and parents would not have suffered when they were forced to flee their home as the German forces invaded the Soviet Union. Aunt Helen would not have been a victim of post traumatic stress disorder resulting from the aerial bombings during Dad’s family’s time on the train as they headed east toward Kuibyshev.

However, as my daughter pointed out to me as I played this game of “what if”, Dad may never have met Mom. He may have married a classmate in Rockaway or someone he met at a different job. His five children, ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild would never have been born.

Life—the good and bad—sends us down a path that would be completely different if one decision is altered. So I guess that despite the pain and sorrow that resulted from the move to Russia, so many people may never have existed if my grandparents walked through a different door. I wonder what would have happened.

Have you ever played the “what if” game?

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About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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3 Responses to What If?

  1. jtlong121@verizon.net says:

    This was a very powerful posting tonight, Karen !!  You were very eloquent and poignant

    • kjw616 says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I am sure we all do this- what if I went to another college, what if I took a different job, what if I didn’t ignore that person? There are so many scenarios which, if done differently, could result in a different life. It is so interesting to consider.

  2. JUDY CARMICK says:

    Welcome home! How was your trip? I’m trying to remember how your father met your mom. How did that occur again?

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