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The Strange Roads that Fate and Accident Send Us Down

My Uncle's Tale: A Tuberculosis Diagnosis and the Life of a Man

by
Barry Rubin

Bio

October 12, 2012 - 12:44 pm

Shattered, and expecting not to live very long, Julius fled New York without telling his sister or Sophie. My great-grandfather, Julius’s brother-in-law, wrote, after Julius finally sent his new address from Asheville, that the family wasn’t the least bit mad at him but that Sophie was shocked to hear the news of his departure for an unknown destination only after searching for him at the Strauss store where he’d been employed. Julius was a real gentleman in the best sense of the word and didn’t want to cause Sophie harm. But in his view that meant not giving her the choice of marrying a man who had no future, even if she’d wanted to do so. They never spoke again.

For a couple of years Julius lived in a sanitarium. He had no friends, no one visited him, and he was so very lonely. Finally, they released him but warned him to be careful. There was no cure. And so he virtually never left Asheville again. He moved into a nice little house right next door to a boarding house owned by the Wolfe family, and was almost certainly the first Jew ever met by the owner’s son, a budding novelist named Thomas Wolfe, who would head for New York — influenced by stories told him by Julius — and become famous for such books as Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again. Wolfe didn’t go home again.

Julius became an American success story on a more modest level. He worked in clothing stores, then became a partner, and then bought a four-story building for his own store, Lowenbein’s Smart Shop. He was hit hard by the Depression, which rendered the stocks he owned worthless. Julius lost his car and store, but didn’t give up and went into the manufacturing end on a small scale.

He never married, doubting his health and worried as to what fatal malady he might pass on to any children. His niece, Charlotte, came to live with him in the early 1920s after her mother, Julius’s sister, died. In 1941, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, he begged my mother and grandmother to join him in Asheville to escape what many thought to be an imminent Japanese invasion of California. They did and lived with him for several years, leading to a process that would eventually result in my existence and thus you reading these words.

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