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When Granny Beat Back the Klan, Armed With an American Flag and a Frying Pan

With an American flag in her hand, my immigrant grandmother stood up to a gang of Texas roughnecks

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Marc Grossberg’s grandparents in their wedding photo. (Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; wedding photo courtesy of the author and flag photo Shutterstock)

I was agog. “Granny, did you have a shotgun?”

“Papa had one. He fired it once a year.”

“Did you know how to use it?”

“No.” Her blue eyes twinkled as she smiled the smile of a triumphantly mischievous young girl. Even to that day, she was enormously proud of her bravado.

“Did they leave?”

“Yes, very quickly and very quietly.”

I wondered what would have happened if they’d called her bluff, but I didn’t mention it.

“Then Barbour filed criminal charges against me. Battery. The trial was in Houston. At the end the judge said, ‘Mrs. Hochman, I am sorry that in these proceedings I only have the power to find you not guilty. I wish I had the authority to give you a medal. You not only defended yourself and your family, as you had every right to do, but you taught us all an important lesson.’ ”

But the story doesn’t end here. I remember that Granny frequently referred to herself as a “brave soldier,” but it wasn’t my impression then or now, some 60 years later, that she called herself that because of her moment against the Klan.

After my grandfather died in 1928, the jewelry store was liquidated, leaving only a few souvenirs for each child to keep. After the traditional period of mourning had passed, no further sadness was allowed in the house. My grandmother went about the business of life for her children and herself. She took in washing. She kept a milk cow in the back yard. One of my mother’s chores was to walk the milk in pails to sell to the dairy, which she did, less her reward, the cost of a pickle, which she ate on the way back.

The people I respect the most are the ones who plow ahead in the face of hardship and accept the responsibilities they have chosen or that have been thrust upon them, rather than the ones who have distinct moments of glory. Society depends upon people like that.

Not one of my grandmother’s children felt herself or himself to have been deprived or short-changed of anything but the loving presence of their father. The only son, the youngest, got a college education and a law degree. All the children grew up to be hardworking, honest, responsible, and socially conscious members of their communities, helping to provide the children of the next generation with the opportunity to reach their aspirations.

I am so proud of that moment in Goose Creek when my grandmother, flag in hand, cold-cocked the roughneck bigot. But I’m even prouder of the years she spent keeping a family together, being a brave soldier.

***

This article was originally published on July 2, 2010.

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What a pistol. I am afraid at times, that the strength of will of that generation has been lost in this country. Time we found it agains and made them proud.

What a lovely story for the Fourth of July. God bless the momeory of Yetta Wachstein Hochman.

Ed Karesky says:

The bravery and willingness to stand up for the rights of themselves and others personified most of the Jewish immigrants and their children all the way through the immigrant era to the civil rights period in American history. I wonder whether that remains true of most the Jewish children born during the post WWII era and their children. I see several generations of self indulging and privileged children who, as a group, feel they “deserved it all” with little understanding of what it took to get them to where they are today.

Arnold Kragen says:

As a Texan, as my Grandfather landed in Galveston, I always relish the stories of the Jews in Texas. Now living in the east, many have a hard time believing that there were actually Jews in Texas in the early 20th century. My Grandfather, Yankele, and speaking of “roughnecks,” even worked part time in the oil patch in Duncan, Oklahoma. I still recall the many stories of both my Grandparents as they made a life in the Southwest in the most difficult, unsusal circumstances. Also, I recall growing up in Fort Worth, Texas as part of the Jewish community that represented less than 1% of the city population. Finally, I will say, we were well aware of Judaism and went to Hebrew School and were Bar Mitzvad and continued on as observant Jews whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. We were proud of being Jewish and never hid it in what was the”buckle of the bible belt.”

Julia Wolf Mazow says:

What a beautiful essay, and what a wonderful tribute to your grandmother, whom I would love to have known. And how proud she would be of you.

What a great brave American Mrs Hochman was! Makes me proud to know that there were those out there that would pick up the flag and a fry pan and stand up for their rights. What’s happened since? I am a Jewish woman who has lived most of her life in South Dakota, Montana and Utah (and other global locations), and grew up in a home (US Air Force) that actively worked to protect our country. What I don’t understand today is where that stand tall attitude has gone. Mrs Hochman would be ashamed of what she sees now. Now we just write stories of the Mrs Hockman’s. I don’t see many out there following her footsteps of self reliance. I thank G-d everyday that I live in Utah.

Amazing story!! My grandparents came to the United States many years after your grandmother but I like to think that they are all pioneers and “brave soldiers” in one way or another.

Thank you SO much for sharing this story!

Jerry Goldman says:

Marc, after all these years after San Jacinto, I learn interesting antidotes of my old class mates.

The story about your grandmother was one of determination that seems to be missing in todays world.

Marc Grossberg says:

Julia and Jerry, so nice to read your comments. Julia, you would have liked her a lot and she, you. Jerry, I am more hopeful than you but share your concern. I hope we see each other soon.
And, thanks, Tablet.

Michael Miller says:

Beautiful memory piece. Thanks for sharing.

nan abrams says:

I so enjoyed reading this story. Well told and inspiring.

Bruce Gelber says:

Bravo.

Carolynn Sparks says:

Marc, What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother. I know that she would be very proud of you, Marc, her grandson.

Cathy Carter says:

Marc, I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said, but I certainly wish I’d met that marvelous woman and the entire family.
Thank you for sharing the marvelous memories.

roberta bremson says:

Marc, I really enjoyed your family’s story. You are very fortunate to know them.
I just found out my eldest uncle Jack Bender, of blessed memory, died a hero in WWII, when I was 2 months old. You see, our family never shared stories and now time has just about run out.

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

Everything that could have been said, has already been said about your wonderful grandmother.

Unfortunately, this year I am pessimistic about the backbone of Americans as was once taken for granted in this country. There was a time we assumed that each generation would climb up another notch in the ladder.

Our children are doing well but we worry about our grandchildren who must go to private schools to learn what a great country they live in.

Thank you, Marc for sharing this wonderful story with the readers of Tablet and thank you tablet for printing it.

Jeannine Bond McGowan says:

What a wonderful story about your Grandmother. You are so fortunate to be able to remember her & tell about her bravery in the face of a very scary situation.

Having grown up in TN & TX, I know what discrimination was even when I was a little girl. I never thought it was a good thing. & when I grew up & was married & my husband was in the Army, I learned people are the same, even tho they may be a different color, race or religion. The most horrible thing I have ever seen was the prison camp in Poland. What a waste of so many people. What a terrible thing to happen to so many families. Your Grandmother may not have known those times, but she knew she & her family were worthwhile citizens & those KKK’s were not.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Bob says:

Lovely, lovely story!

roger says:

Marc – you go cuz!

rog

Emily says:

A lovely story, Marc, and well told. Perfect for the 4th of July!

Joyce Gilbert says:

Marc:

I really loved the story of your grandmother. She was truly a woman of valor and you told her story beautifully. Yasher Koach!

Joyce

neal says:

I share the views of everyone else- a wonderful and inspiring story of courage. thank you for sharing this marvelous tale.

Ellen says:

marc, I enjoyed the article immensely. Thanks for sharing your birthday story with the rest of the world.
Ellen

Don Teter says:

Mark Grossberg, do you know what year your grandmother did her crime?

gretchen bohnert says:

This is inspiring, Marc. Please keep writing!

Gretchen

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WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..extra wait .. …

I am a convert to Judaism. Interestingly enough, it could have been one of my relatives she cold-cocked. Good for her!

JamesGarbarzewich says:

Tablet magazine goes to extraordinary heights with articles like this.

God bless Marc’s grand mother, God bless Marc.

God bless America the beautiful, the free.

mimsy18 says:

I loved this story. So much courage in such a little package.

this is a very inspiring story about fighting for a right. a right for everybdy regardless of color, creed or religion!

thank you so much

Isabel Herron says:

like Jack replied I am in shock that a stay at home mom can get paid $5370 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you seen this webpage w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

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When Granny Beat Back the Klan, Armed With an American Flag and a Frying Pan

With an American flag in her hand, my immigrant grandmother stood up to a gang of Texas roughnecks

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