Hussien Karoub had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood. He died at 79 in 1973. I was only 4 then, but I remember a warm, gentle man. My strongest memory is looking up to see him smile at me as I tore through his house with joyful abandon. Yet his legacy lives on through his descendants, including doctors, musicians, teachers, business owners as well as a lawyer, lawmaker and a journalist. And veterans of foreign wars.
We are Muslim, Christian, and other — a fitting multireligious legacy for a man who was both praised and criticized for embracing other faiths and not seeing his own as monolithic.
A century on, we are Arab-Americans, though we have become less Arab and more American. Yet there’s a pull to learn a little more about the front end of the hyphen. Maybe the urge is strongest when you feel fully connected, when reaching to the past runs no risk of giving up the present. But as the generations pass, the yesterdays become more remote. The trail fades.
It doesn’t surprise Elias that my family’s lore includes a Titanic tale. She once interviewed a man whose grandfather asserted that as many as 15 people from her Syrian village perished when the great ship went down. No record supports that fact, but Elias later learned where the story came from.
‘‘If someone left a village, let’s say in March 1912, to go to ‘Amreeka’ and they were never heard from again,’’ Elias says, ‘‘it was just assumed they were on the Titanic.’’
Speaking to so many descendants of Titanic survivors and victims, Elias realized the value of trying to know her own story: ‘‘Do you know how many said, ‘I wish I had asked more questions'?’’
I can’t ask Jiddo any more questions about his path to America. The Titanic tale? It probably wasn’t true, but no matter. I can continue chipping away at the myths, the facts and the blanks, knowing that his trip was the catalyst for my family’s larger one — our evolution from being a ‘‘them’’ to an ‘‘us.’’
In fact, as I look back at his journey through the prism of my place in this country, I spot something new, something I didn’t quite expect: The immigrant Hussien Karoub, it seems, was about as ‘‘us’’ as you can be.
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