clare burson

silver and ash

home of the cheese

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?”
“yes. pushville.”
“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!

this is what i saw:
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the bus to pushville

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the oldest road in pushville – of course, it wasn’t paved when my great grandfather lived there . . .

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the synagogue of pushville used to stand on this spot. if you can read lithuanian, you can tell me what the current building houses . . .

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the stone wall of this building is the only structure remaining from the time my great grandfather lived in pushville.

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i think this is the beginning of the svalia river – seen with my back to the stone wall

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mailboxes – no relevance – i just liked the way they looked

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pushville cheese! being lactose intolerant, i didn’t buy both – just the processed version. it was tasty – nutty – something of a cheddar/ havarti blend.

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pushville logo/ mascot/ town seal

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1 Comment»

  Gay aka Bella Golda in “Pushville” wrote @

Clare, my paternal grandparents were from “Pushville”!!! And thanks to you, we now know the true spelling(s) and can see photos! Who knows, your family and ours may be long-lost relatives. Would love to hear more and compare notes. Thank you so much for making the trips abroad and seeking your history, which is part of ours, too. Congrats on your album and tour.


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