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Everyone's story begins with one that isn't their own; a prologue to every living being and all the ones who are no longer. Thus, I begin my own tale with not my birth, but my mother's.
Elsa Breth was born in Czechoslavakia, and was the 5th of 10 children; also the youngest to survive past 12. My father met my mother when she was in her late teens. Their ten year age difference struck a cord with my father's family, making a very romantic love story of their affair, but nevertheless, they were married. Three times in fact. Once aboard the ship to America where they planned to start their life anew, the second in city hall, and the final was a grand wedding. Flowers laced the aisles like the linens were laced across each table. The night of their final marriage, my sister's, Edith's, story began. And five years later, so did mine.
The reason I use my mother's story as an introduction into mine is because you never know who your real father is. Such is the belief that determines you a Hebrew; a sacred descendent of Abraham; or not. And by my mother's blood and womb, I can be classified as such. My status as a Hebrew was confirmed on August 7th, 1928. I was able to watch through blurry eyes, as many much older than I were doing, as lurid, incoherent and vibrant shapes of the Roaring Twenties faded to a washed-pale grayscale society. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The Depression seeped not only into the economy, but under doors, through the cracks and into homes. It engulfed my mother's heart when she found my father on a park bench one afternoon. She was taking me for a stroll in my rickety carriage, perhaps to get away from an apartment now clogged with the fumes of poverty, when she came across her husband. My father had been coming there and reading the paper for the past several months whilst claiming to be at the office, insuring rich men's insurance money, slowly being drained by rich men's wives. His company had gone under for their generosity and the inability for those they aided to pay back their debts. To support our small but burdened family, my mother picked up sewing and tailoring clothes. She was skilled with needle and thread, mirroring magazine pictures onto her faceless manicans. It was a good business, since those who had money during previous years of prosperity still wanted to feel like they had that money without feeling the dents in their pockets. But, no matter how much money my mother brought in, she could not afford enough to fumigate depression out of our home. My father died of an overractive thyroid just before my sister's 6th birthday. He was 32.
My mother stopped sewing. The needles would pierce her fingertips within shaking hands and all she could do was watch as the blood trickled down and splattered the cloth she was working on, wishing it was enough to succumb her to her husband's side once more. If it weren't for my sister and I, I'm sure she would've driven that needle where it hurt most, as if to try to sew the broken pieces back together once more. That was the one tear she could never fix. She was always married to my father and no one else. I recall the night before her death; I was over at her house, and she was rummaing through old boxes. She came across love letters, scrawled in German,Yiddish, Polish, and the rest of the eight languages my father knew. Her hands quivered with these needles that could not mend but stab at her already ripped heart. I asked if I could read them, but she tore them up and took the words to her grave. She died in her sleep hours later.
Growing up, I did not find it strange to not have a man in the house. I had never known him through conscious mind or memory, so I would not miss him when he was gone. But, I did miss the spot he should have filled. I lived in New York City. The Germans resided on 86th, and the Irish were on 69th. Of course, we ended up with those drunkards and gamblers, saved by Christ each Sunday and devoured by Satan every other day of the week. We were the only Jews on 69th, that's for sure. Edith and I picked up German from our mother and family members when they wanted to have private conversations that did not welcome young ears to understand. But, being young meant that we were still capable of learning new tongues, and when we joined in a conversation that we weren't meant to, our mother was shocked. She asked us only once if we understood German, and when we said "Yes", they all switched to Yiddish on us. I can still remember most of the language, but now that I don't have anyone to talk to with these words, my English mind makes me forget.
New York was much safer in those days. We slept on the fire escape when the nights were too hot, and the milkman delivered and took away more than bottles. The most dangerous thing that ever happened back then was the school catching on fire. However, I always found myself crying during the 40's, even if you won't see me cry now. I worked at the American Women's Volunteer Service during World War II, rolling adhesives into bandages and aluminum into spheres to fill bullets. We would visit the hospitals where soldiers were shipped back to when they were too battered for battle. Jewish girls were never nurses, though. Nursing was for the girls around the corner from 86th street. Our extended family still lived in Austria and Czechoslovakia. During one of their visits, Hitler took Czechoslovakia. We shouldn't have let them go back. That was the last I saw of my Aunt Greta. She was taken into a concentration camp for an overdue book. Her husband waited behind for her, but was arrested himself just for being who he was. They died; the sacred descendants of Abraham burned in the flames of the Nazi's man-made hell, God-forsaken and lost in an unholy land. This did not stop the rest of the family, however, and my mother was greeted by her parents, her two remaining sisters, Marta and Beatrice, her brother Irwin, and their spouses and children at the docks. I never knew what happened to my father's family in Austria and Poland after the war, for their distaste for my mother outlasted the massacre. I have not once met my father's parents, or his sister, who passed away, wrapped in the Swatztika's deathly jaggered silk. We all cry, sons and daughters of Abraham, we all cry; tears of blood for those voices who could not say "I love you" to those they once resented. Our Stars of David are now tainted with shame and ragged from over-wear; frayed at the seams where none can stitch it whole without pricking a memory or two. Back then, people cared more than they do now. Now it's all about whose left. Whose sick, whose divorced, whose grandchildren call the most. I believe that all souls are pure, raw and real, but the Hebrew souls wear darkened, dirty cloaks to keep their purest part concealed. And with each day, and with each night, the cloaks darken and grow longer yet. There are more burdens to carry, such as tears that have passed and memories wept. And with each rise and fall, the cloak drags down the bearer, so the stitches fray to come undone. We should stitch on to another to help carry the load. Hebrews, come stitch onto another until we all are one.




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Helene said...
Jul. 26, 2010 at 10:15 am:
Very heart warming and well written analogies.
 
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