Kleine Schwester (little sister)

 

IMG_2389A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double.      

Toni Morrison

The photo was  taken in 1972. We were either at the Tower of London, or  at Windsor Castle.  It might have been Scotland or somewhere in between.  She was 14 and I was 18.  We were on a bus tour of England and Scotland with our parents.  I always glowered. She still always has a beautiful smile for pictures.  We tried to stay awake during the bus rides but invariably we both slept until there was another ruin or a castle or a church to see.  We were the youngest by probably twenty plus years.  I still like the picture which tells a story of two girls who shared a room for most of their growing up until I graduated from college and got married. It was no castle and we were hardly princesses.

I always wanted a baby sister and my parents cooperated…the narcissism of thinking something will make it so. It was February 18th, 1958.   I remember going in our 1950-something hunter green 88 Oldmobile, with a velvet rope on the back of the front seat, and driving with my father to pick up my sister and mother from the hospital.  I wore a light blue dress, my best dress, because this was a very important day, and a very important baby.  I liked staring at her in the bassinet and watching her.  I would stand outside the crib as she got bigger and encourage her to stand up. I could barely reach over the railing but would try to get her up by her hands.  Finally, she stood and held on and screamed like bloody murder.  She was so afraid but I was so proud of what she had accomplished.  It was the beginning of being proud of her although I rarely treated her that way as time went by.  We shared a very small room which was about nine feet by ten feet.  It contained two beds, two dressers, bookshelves and maybe a desk.  I wanted the window and she wanted the closet.  I was older by four years, three months and five days.  It was never easy.  We were, however, in cahoots, when it came to being in trouble with the adults.  We were sent to our cell (room) and had to manage to tolerate our differences.  I was a pain because I constantly wanted to rearrange the room so I could have privacy. I insisted, when I got to high school, that my parents get a folding three-panel screen to which I installed a small doorknob and cordoned off the window area so I did not have to deal with her, and her with me.  She had the closet because I couldn’t figure out how to effectively assume all the real estate.  She was a great student and the antithesis of how I learned.  She excelled academically and I actually liked her friends.  It would not have been cool to let her know that at any cost.  We were very different but we knew how to make one another laugh.

It is inconceivable to realize that I truly have known her for her entire life.  I was too young to remember a life before her.  We grew up and managed to both end up living in Massachusetts.  I remember when she called to say that the silver lining for moving from NYC to Massachusetts, was that we would both be in the same state.  That was quite a while ago and I would have to say that as a result,  life went from silver to platinum from my perspective.  She is a good woman who can keep my secrets and know my myriad of flaws but is still kind and such a good listener. We have mothered our children together and grieved losing our parents together.  We both live full lives and when we stop for a moment and share a few hours, I realize that I could still share a room with her. I would even give her the window.  I love you, my kleine Schwestie.  The world is so much better with you in it.  Happy 60th!

 

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Just another four letter word

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Not sure what there is to talk about that I haven’t talked about a couple of times.  Anything I put here tonight reeks of mundane platitudes.  Here’s the deal, once again.  I am a social worker/counselor in an urban high school in Massachusetts.  We have about two thousand students.  We are an economically, i.e. poor, community with limited resources,  a multitude of social challenges, and a constantly changing climate in reaction or sometimes in response to the world around us. In other words we are just like a lot, or more than a lot, of other schools.  Wednesday night, that feeling of horror and disbelief.  Thursday and today, pull out the duct tape and try and piece together our students and staff who wonder if we are safe, ever.  Here we are again. Here we go again.

Somehow, because I am a social worker, I am supposed to have a better handle on why people do what they do and what they don’t do.  Maybe I used to feel more competent to offer an explanation.  I still can muster up a whole lot of compassion but a reasonable explanation does not come to mind.  I’m as lost as everyone else.  That also scares me as this new reality is unchartered.  I am no sage.

I had a conversation this evening with my millennial son, who is almost a year from the finish line to become a nurse practioner.  He was livid.  He ranted.  Perhaps it was less of a conversation than a listen to the next generation’s charge to me to explain what the f*ck is going on in this world, like I created it.  I am often in the role of moral compass.  I’ve got nothing  to give, but some trite words.  I certainly can’t tell him there is no Santa Claus.  All I have is my emotional resume’, written in hindsight.  He had a bad day today for a multitude of reasons, the least of which was the national news.  Yesterday he had a good day because someone thanked him for being kind.  Then the rant became a conversation.   Sometimes it is therapeutic…this is the social worker hat…to tell your feelings and thoughts out loud.  To release them is sharing them.  I told a young woman today that eating a whole cake by herself might make herself sick although it might be what she felt like doing.  Giving me a piece might make her less sick and be an opportunity share something good.  I am the queen of metaphors.  Back to the angry son…he calmed down and said that he tries to do what he knows I try to do “help just one person at a time.”.   People are mostly predictable, until they are not.  The signs are there if we stop and really assess what is going on.  It takes a bit of time and desire to help…to be kind.  So, a refresher on my rules….if you can’t seem to follow them, figure out what’s in your way and try again

  1.  Learn something every day.
  2. Teach something every day.
  3. If you hurt someone, say sorry.
  4. Be kind.

For me, writing is like talking it out.  I am not happy with the human condition, but I allow myself time to process (a social work thing).  There is an awful lot of ugly but perhaps hope is another four letter word we can use along the way.

Old song, with some good lyrics, for my generation to remember and for the newbies to listen to:

 

Bless us all to gain the wisdom to fix things…some day soon. Peace.

 

A Short Rant

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I was seventeen when the Pentagon Papers were released.  I had just graduated high school.  A year earlier the massacre at Kent State happened.  The nightly news reported the numbers of casualties and losses  in Vietnam.  I read the New York Times daily,  and asked a lot of questions.  Walter Cronkite was in our living room every night delivering somber news about a place I could find on a map but was on the other side of my globe.  I was headed to college in the fall and didn’t know anyone who was drafted.  It was the time of the draft lottery.  People I knew were making arrangements to go to Canada or to get a student deferment or were going to be conscientious objectors.  I was sheltered by my middle class, educated standing in the world of New York City.  I didn’t have a clue.

I am not a big believer in coincidence.  I don’t think it was a coincidence this past weekend,  that my FHB and I should have gone to see a movie in Plymouth Massachusetts. “The Post”, is  about what became known as the Pentagon Papers and their release by the New York Times and Washington Post in 1971.  Plymouth is home to the famous but underwhelming “Plymouth Rock” which is supposedly where the Pilgrims landed after leaving England because of religious persecution.  All of New England has ties to the Founding Fathers and the wish for independence almost 400 years ago.

Living through those times (not Plymouth Rock or the Tea Party) did not make me a student or true witness of history.  The film brought those times to light and evoked feelings that I was witnessing  the history of my growing up years almost fifty years later.  I knew the music. I recognized the faces of the politicians.  I knew the names of the reporters.  I read the papers, every day, but I didn’t know how to understand how it effected my life.  Was I naive?  Absolutely.  I saw protests and felt the passion of my peers  and others who were angry and hated the war.  There was only one war…the wrong war, a friend called it.  The film, despite the Hollywood creation, left its mark. It was good writing, great acting and a sense of clarity that showed that we had bad guys right in our backyard.  We didn’t need to go around the world to figure that out.  I remember signs that said “Don’t Trust the Government”.  Now I get it, just when it seems like it’s coming around again.  The film affirmed the role of emerging awareness by women to rise up and push back and take their places at the helm.  Katherine Graham, and Meryl Streep’s performance in that role was powerful.  The character showed development of her moral conscience and the actress delivered it.

I enjoy a good drama until it seems as though life mirrors art daily.  I can’t read the paper without anxiety.  I don’t read the NY Times as much but check in on line.  The media bombards us with information that conflicts and contradicts with no immediate resolution to anything.  Recently,  I pulled up a clip on Youtube…. Remember Howard Beale?

 

It’s been 42 years…or has it?

Lessons Learned

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Grandparenting is a lesson in velocity.  Time and distance.  I can’t explain it from the scientific view, but only from the emotional one.  One of the only reasons I took off some time from writing was to spend time with a very important four year old.  To say we are taught lessons we need to learn in life, is to know that our teacher may be a small child.  Being in the moment and responding to a request to read a book, color a paper or “come and see this, BeeBee” was a test of my usual behavior.  I always have something else to do, until I have reason to be there right now.

Moments while I was in the midst of preparing pancakes or waffles were going to evaporate.  Waffles waited, and pancakes paused.  It was as easy as breathing to sit on the couch “right there!”  and be BeeBee, and read a book to the sweetest audience. She leaned against my hip, and listened to Amelia Bedelia, which has always been one of my favorite books.  Amelia Bedelia is still as funny as she was back then and appreciated more.  The nuances of her adventures perhaps were not fully understood but it was about the listening and the attention my voice drew and the knowledge that this was the best feeling, right here and right now.

Penguins are funny creatures who lead with determination and energy, not unlike this grandgirl.  She stood mesmerized watching the constant motion as the birds swam past and she patiently waited for them to come close and then to move along.  I learned that these days together were much the same.  Long distance love relationships are difficult.  Long distance relationships with grandchildren are beyond that.  My FHB was sad before she arrived thinking about her leaving.  I had to corral him with a little bit of Dr. Seuss and remind him “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” before we picked them up at the airport.  We both know that the next time she will be different in many ways, because four is a special age that challenges what is real and what isn’t and that so many questions are asked of us with curiosity and wonder.  It is important to pay attention to the question as much as in preparing the answer.  The synergy of influence between us is the lesson in itself.

Making memories that will carry us all between visits is like taking a picture and not knowing if you captured what you hoped for, until the time has passed.  Four year olds are in the now.  The world is all encompassing and to hear “I want to show you all ‘the Nemos’ ” meant we were invited into her world and her world view. At the aquarium,   I could totally see how Disney saw the magic in clownfish and offered it up to wide-eyed four year olds to enjoy.  I got to bring her to my favorite library and sit on a tiny stool and a tiny chair and look face to face at a smile that lights up my heart.  I did need help getting up but that’s what FHBs are for.

We were given commands to sit down, and sit here, and read this and read that, and our compliance was one hundred percent.  I only pushed back when she wanted me to color a picture of shells and I just really don’t like coloring in the lines.  She was pretty patient as we negotiated that I would color two, but that I didn’t want to do two more.  I, too,  can be four for a minute.

The morning that I had to say good bye I squatted down so that we were face to face. I  took in her serious expression as I told her how much I would miss her, and that having her  with us for a few days was the best.  Her big eyes listened, and her hug was tighter than I had remembered.  Love hurts for a minute, but we’ll always have Nemo.

Meandering

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When I have something that I need to get done because of a deadline, either my own or required by something or someone else, I can find so many other things to do instead of what I need to get done.  It isn’t a matter of procrastination, which is a different form of avoidance.  An example….I wanted to write this blogpost an hour ago.  Instead I agreed to watch a show on television.  I don’t watch television because I don’t have the attention span unless there is something else I need to do.  Mind you I never sit idle.  I worked all day at one job, drove to the cleaners, and then to the second job.  I left work and headed to the gas station.  I let the gas tank get to a pretty precarious level and then I fill it. I was putting that off but I don’t like to challenge myself in that arena.  I drove home, parked and came upstairs and began baking a cake and biscotti.  While I was in a flurry of activity, I had started writing in my head.  Translating that into actual virtual writing took a bit of time.

Sometimes, I make a list and count the items and then organize them by importance.  Sometimes I decide to alphabetize the list and then list them in reverse importance.  Sometimes I write the list backwards (sdarwkcab) just to put off what I need to get done. Several months ago,  I had a report due that was required by an attorney.  It was important to my client.  I hate writing reports.  Instead that day, the spices in my cabinet caught my eye, actually both eyes.  I realized, with horror, that some of them might have expired.  I realized that I might have duplicates and could throw out the old ones.  I did a google search and found out which ones lose their essence first and the shelf life of others.  So for those who didn’t know this, some spices last four years but others only 1-2.  Saved you a google search. You’re welcome.  I took all the spices off the shelves and out of the drawer.  I would agree that I have a lot of spices.  I then cleaned the shelves, sorted through the spices and did the discard and then reorganized them both by height and alphabetically.  It’s not a waste of time, even though to the untrained eye it might appear that way.  I felt better, and the report then was written.

In many ways I am a point A to point B type of person.  I live with a point A to point S and back to point J and then possibly to LMNOP.  He is a  meanderer.  I have learned to slow down and take the long way.  The first time we drove a long distance I was sure that I was going to celebrate a couple of birthdays during the time we were on the road. It just seemed so long and winding.  I was waiting for the destination, per usual.  Then I started to pay attention to realize that there were a lot of back roads and alternatives that my FHB knew.  We ended up where we wanted to go, albeit slower than I might have considered.

Writing tends to be where I meander.  Baking is as precise as I get with good results.  Writing requires having blind faith in my own ability to let the words lead me to a satisfying end.  Knowing when something is done is also a skill both in writing as in baking.  To go off half-baked would leave some hungry for more or dissatisfied, and would make me seem flaky.  I’m done.

His story, my life

Today would have been Edgar “Eddie’s”  96th birthday.  He has always been a big presence in my life.  Without him, I would not be.  Because of him, I am, in part, me.  He was not a large man in stature, only 5’6″.  I would say, I get my lack of height from him.  Even as I grew into an adult, he would always be taller than me and I somewhat liked that. He was strong in character and broad in knowledge.  He was respected for his wisdom, if he did say so himself.  His humor was dry and his wit was punny.  He had a grin that made you wonder if he was serious when he told stories. When he told difficult stories of hard times in his life, there was no grin, but a lesson to be listened to, and to be learned from.

He was my first teacher, along with my mother.  I was not always a good student and tested his patience which was probably quite normal .  In some ways as his daughter I was invited to learn about less traditional female endeavors, like hooking a worm or gutting a fish.  I was expected to not be squeamish and somehow I wasn’t.  He was strict/firm in his expectations and tolerant, when I probably was less tolerable.  He taught me lessons of parenting by learning how he would wait for me to come clean and recognize that when I messed up, I needed to acknowledge my behavior.  One clear memory was when I was in seventh grade and received a D in French.  I did not want to disappoint my parents and worked hard to change the D to an A on the report card.  He said nothing when I showed him the report card.  The day after, my parents went to teacher conference, with said report card in hand.  He came home and sat with me.  Up until that point, I thought I had gotten away with my “clever” solution to my problem.  He said, “I find it interesting that all your grades, except in French, were written in blue ink. I noticed that the A was in black ink and appears to have had a red inked circle around it but it seems faded, almost erased.  Anything I should know?”  I remember holding the report card up to the light like Sherlock Holmes assessing a piece of evidence.  I remarked “no, looks fine to me”.  I felt my face get hot and the tears began to stream down my face.  I moved a few inches away from him as I felt his gaze on my face.  He then said “I had a good conversation with Mr. J. You might have done better changing the  D to a B and using blue ink.”  Nothing more needed to be said.

When I turned 18, I thought I was an adult.  My parents had a nightly ritual when they both arrived home from work. They would sit in the kitchen and have a cup of tea and talk over the day’s events.  In those moments, there were no distractions, only conversation between a couple.  I was asked to bring my father a cup of tea. I complied.  They were deep in conversation.  My sister and I were raised with expectations of “please” and “thank you” and “may I be excused” after a meal.  We had designated seats at all meals.  I put the cup down on the table and waited for his “thank you”.  He and my mother was so engrossed in what they were saying nothing was said to me.  I turned, quite irate, as an 18 year old can be, and muttered under my breath…. “Say ‘Thank You’ you ……..(fill in the blanks with something completely related to the legitimacy of his birth)”.  That was a showstopper.  He roiled in anger and ordered me to my room.  I never had sworn in front of either parent.  They did not swear.  I was, up until that point, terrified to swear.  However, I was 18, an adult, and I could do what I wanted.  We did not talk from that day on until January 27th, 1972.  That was over two months.  My mother implored me to apologize.  I did not.  She insisted I buy him a birthday card. I bought a card that one would give to the old lady neighbor who lived down the hall who you didn’t like or never saw and barely acknowledged. It was cold.  I did sign it “love your daughter”.  No punctuation marks.  Could be read a multitude of ways.  He melted and I thawed.  He brought out some religious book and told me to “promise” I would never use that language ever again.  I couldn’t lie and I said I would promise never to use that language in his presence again and I never did.  That was a seminal moment.  I was his child and he was my parent.  Always and forever.  Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Bright One Queen

Braun Siblings

Naming a Jewish baby is not only a statement of what we hope she will be, but also where she comes from. Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of naming a child after a relative who has passed away. This keeps the name and memory alive, and in a metaphysical way forms a bond between the living and the dead.  I carry the name of my maternal grandmother, Bertha as my first name and my paternal great-aunt Regina, as my middle name.  Gratefully, on some level, I was not actually given their names but a first name that starts with ‘B’ and a middle name that starts with ‘R”.  I believe that had I grown up as Bertha Regina, it might have further constituted additional reasons to be targeted as a child.  The English translation of my Hebrew name is “Bright One Queen”.  .

Not personally knowing the person for whom you are named is a loss when you realize that for you to carry their name into the future, they are left in the past.  My mother talked often of her mother and some of the traits that she saw in me. She told me that she loved to entertain and cook, although she had a cook and maids which I clearly don’t have but I could probably get used to.  She said I was intelligent like she was.  Intelligent is a word that spans many levels and meaning. It is nice to believe that we had things in common and that we might have liked one another.  I don’t believe I resemble her as much as my cousin and oldest aunt do.

Tante Regina was an elusive figure in my family history.  All I have of her is the picture above, as she sits with her younger brothers.  My grandfather Sol,  is pictured on the left and my great-uncle, Siegfried, is on the right.  The picture was taken some time around World War I, as they are both in uniform.  I look at Regina and she looks “Queenly” and regal.  The story I was told by my father was that she was a seamstress, living in the town of Brauneberg or Dusemond, depending on whether the border changed from Germany to France.  It was in the Mosel Valley region, where some good wine came from.  She was single and although her brothers encouraged her to leave in the 1930’s, when Hitler came to power, she refused.  She remained.  She was stubborn.  She did not believe that anything would happen to her.  My grandfather and family emigrated to the United States in 1936 and his brother and family emigrated to Israel.  They never saw their sister again.  As my father recounted the memory of his aunt, he said “It was not the people in her town who came for her, but those from the next town”.

My sister and nephew went to Germany earlier this month and travelled to Bertha’s home town of Bremen.  They found our grandparent’s house where our mother grew up and the graves of our maternal great grandparents,  Adolph and Amalia.  While they were gone, I had it in my head to find out any information I could about Regina.  I used the  name search tool of Yad Vashem.  I had only her name and her approximate birth year.  Not much to go on but enough to find the records.

“Regina Braun was born in Brauneberg, Germany in 1882 to Daniel and Yohana. She was a seamstress and single. Prior to WWII she lived in Brauneberg, Germany. During the war she was in Brauneberg, Germany.

Regina was murdered in the Shoah.” The information was submitted by her brother Siegfried.

I don’t use my middle name as I chose to use my maiden name as my middle name, to honor my father’s family.  Every piece of information I come across feels like a baby step toward discovering and understanding where I come from.  My father collected pieces of our history and searched to make the connections.  It was his obsession until his death.  Tante Regina might have found my lack of sewing ability to be horrific but she might have recognized the quality that her nephew, my father, identified as stubborn in my personality.  She and all the rest are gone, but are not forgotten.