i flew down to memphis last spring to interview my grandmothers. we did a lot of talking. we did a lot of driving, visiting old haunts.
i asked jojo a question i somehow had never asked before:
“jojo, where did the cheese come from?”
“oh, some little podunk town in lithuania. it probably doesn’t even exist any more.”
“well, did it have a name?”
“pushville? that doesn’t sound lithuanian – or yiddish.”
“well, clare, that’s what papa always said – he came from pushville. pushville in kovne guberniia.”
i was in the midst of planning a trip to eastern europe, so i scoured the internet for any mention of ‘pushville.’ there is a pushville road in greenwood, indiana. but no pushville of note in eastern europe.
i went anyway. i started in kiev, where my paternal grandfather’s family was from. i took a day trip to berdichev, where mimi’s mother was born. i made my way up to vilnius. my last stop was riga, latvia.
while i was in vilnius, i started feeling guilty for not having made more of an effort to find my great grandfather’s shtetl. i was so close. not to find the home of the cheese and go there seemed almost like adolescent irresponsibility on my part. there had to be another name.
so i started asking around.
it wasn’t long until i found the town of poswohl/ posvol on a map in the jewish history museum in vilnius. the lithuanian name is pasvalys. the next day, i boarded a soviet era bus bound for kovne guberniia.
i arrived at dusk in the middle of a rain storm. no one spoke a word of english. there was one room left at the only inn in town. i had to leave for riga the following afternoon.
when i awoke the next morning, i stumbled upon the town’s agricultural museum. there, i found some english speakers who took me on a tour of pushville (small town, short tour) and informed me that the main industry of their town is: CHEESE!