Coming to America

Samuel Reuben loved Chicago. When my mother made him leave the gray stucco house at 4907 North Bernard Street, where I was born, and move to the brick Tudor house in Glencoe, where I grew up, a part of his heart dug in its heels and shouted ďNo!Ē He couldnít bear to sell the beloved house in which so much of his life had been lived and where so many of his little chickadees had been born.

So he didnít. He rented it, instead.

He did the same with all the buildings he either inherited from his father or bought himself. Each became as much a part of his soul as the books that I write are a part of mine. They symbolized his love and his labor. They were investments of his hopes and his dreams.

All of us have purposes in our lives. Jobs. Goals. Short or long-range plans. The grocer sells fruits and vegetables, the actress plays Emily in Our Town, the gardener makes hydrangea trees grow, and the lawyer tells us what to sign when we are writing a will, closing a deal, or buying a house.

Although most of us arenít used to thinking of it that way, owning property, too, is a profession, a job, a goal, and a short or a long-range plan. Some people buy a piece of land as an investment and hold onto it until they can sell at a profit. Others own multiple dwellings and rent out individual units to tenants. The person who owns rental properties is called a landlord.

His buildings are his job. Iím absolutely certain that itís the worst job in the world.

Bad as it is for anyone who just wants to make a profit from his buildings, itís much worse for someone with the misfortune to have loved them.

My grandfather, Shepsel Reuben, was born in Lomza, Poland. When he was thirteen years old, he moved to Ireland to avoid being drafted into the military. He lived with a poor Irish family for four or five years, during which time he apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. When the Boer War came along, British Recruiters shanghaied him, and shipped him off to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Because Shepsel Reuben was a cabinetmaker, he was assigned the job of casket making, and he did this for the duration. After the war, Shepsel immigrated to Canada, where he met Eshke, who was to become his wife. He and Eshke moved to Chicago in 1909. My Uncle Jack was born in 1910. My father was born in 1911. Later Uncle Mike and Aunt Rose came along.

The Reuben family of the early twentieth century was poor, but so was just about everyone else. My grandfather, though, was purposeful and committed to achieving his American Dream.

He wanted to own property.

So he saved his money.

Instead of taking the bus or the train, my grandfather walked to work. Each bus he didnít take was a few more pennies in the bank. During the First World War, Shepsel and his brothers-in-law Moses and Max Posin trekked more than one hundred miles with heavy toolboxes on their shoulders to build ships for the U.S. Navy.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit

Copyright © 2009, Shelly Reuben

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