Yesterday on the plane, the bare feet of my neighbour led me to ponder the bare feet of my ancestor, “Proud Man with No Boots” Julei.
Growing up, my mom told me that we had an ancestor who’d gone AWOL from Napoleon’s army during the Russian invasion and wound up in Bukovina. I always felt this made me exotic. It also indicated a certain familial hardiness, which I hoped men would find attractive.
A few years ago, a fellow Julie told me he’d done the genealogy and there really was a Julei who appeared in Danila, Romania (where my grandpa came from) around 1812 and that the locals called him, “Man with Lots of Pride but No Boots.”
I’d always pictured him as attractive, though incomplete in his outfit. But then, right as my neighbour had his feet splayed up against the flip tray, I read in my Prussia book about the Napoleonic soldiers who survived the Russian campaign:
“The noblest figures had been bent and shrunken by frost and hunger. They were covered with blue bruises and white frost-sores. Whole limbs were frozen off and rotting. They gave off a pestilential stench. Their clothing consisted of rags, straw mats, old women’s clothing, sheepskins, or whatever else they could lay their hands on. None had proper headgear; instead, they bound their heads with old cloth or pieces of shirt; instead of shoes and leggings, their feet were wrapped with straw, fur or rag.”
And I was like, my ancestor!
The book went on to say the peasants murdered a lot of these wretches. But, somehow my ancestor survived and made it all the way to Danila. And his pride was as noticeable as his lack of footwear. He became part of the community and had lots of descendants.
And we’re doing quite well, thank you.