Lightning Struck My Great-Grandmother: a 120-Year-Old Story

I learned a number of years ago that one of the reasons I exist is because my great-grandmother was buried up to her neck in dirt. This may be apocryphal.

My grandfather told me this story. He passed away more than a decade ago. When he was running a furniture store in Poughkeepsie, a business man showed up one day raising funds for some charity. As that got to talking, it turned out this fellow had grown up as a young man in Lithuania, and where my father's parents four parents came from. Even more interestingly, he knew Janova, the city of four of those great-grandparents of mine.

Then my grandfather discovers, the guy had lived in his grandparents' house—he was a yeshiva bocher, which literally means a young man who is studying. They had taken him in, maybe as a mitzvah, while he pursued Torah or academic studies. And this businessman had a story.

My father's father's mother, Dora, had been struck by lightning as a girl and taken ill, while this man was staying with her family. This would have been before about 1895. Nothing seemed to improve her health. The village healer suggests burying her up to her neck in the earth—to ground her, quite literally. This apparently works (in the story).

So many unknowns in the story. My grandfather had a yiddisher kop (was a smart guy), but not always good at knowing if he was being spun a yarn. (His cousin, Selma, once told me that Yiddish for very smart was shpitzidick—very sharp—but I can't find that in any Yiddish compendia. She also taught me shpilkes in hinten—meaning antsy, or literally pins in your bottom.)

Did the charity fundraiser elicit details and then spin them back with this story? Certainly, burying someone up to their neck isn't an actual cure for being struck by lightning, even though it is still pursued. Small villages, like the shtetl that was Janova, might have had a healer or two, practicing folk medicine. Maybe a feldscher, which would be either a kind of moderately trained military field surgeon, or someone who used the name and pursued similar training.

I told my boys, aged 7 and 10, this story last night, a kind of thread that carries them back at least four generations—to at least my grandfather, who told me this story, and they never met—and maybe five or six, to their great-great-grandmother, who met me before she died, and even to her parents. And the story may even be true.