The Things We Remember

My husband and I were in the car driving, listening to the radio, when Mozart’ s Serenade 13 in G Major (Eine kleine Nachtmusik) came on the radio. In case you are not familiar, here it is.

My mother immediately came to mind. I could picture her at the ironing board, her glass Pepsi bottle with the sprinkler top on the ironing board, as she ironed my father’s shirts. When she was ironing she always had music on. This was my introduction to Mozart. I am able to hum along with every piece that was on that album. Her other favorite was Harry Belafonte. The album cover was red with a photo of Harry Belafonte on the cover. Day-O was a favorite, but Jamaica Farewell was the song she sang with. My mother did not have a singing voice, this was no secret in our family, she could hold a tune, but her voice was not strong. But when she was at the ironing board and Jamaica Farewell came on she didn’t care. Not only did she sing, she danced as she ironed. It was more swaying with the music as she sang, sprinkling the shirts to wet them and then pressing the iron to them, gliding it across. All to the calming beat of Jamaica Farewell.

Music is so often tied to our memories, we hear a song that takes us back to where we were in life at the time. It surprised me at how vivid this memory was, how my association with these songs allowed me to conjure up an image so clear in my mind some close to 50 years later. I smiled remembering those ironing moments, when my mother, not one to reveal much of herself, or to let her guard down, was able to do so behind her ironing board with iron in hand. To come out of herself a bit, and perhaps that is why I remember it so strongly. It was unlike her to be so uninhibited.

As my husband and I continued to drive, I looked up Jamaica Farewell on my phone and played it out loud. I still knew every word.

Father’s Day-My Father Myself

Father’s Day….. every few minutes a new post seems to pop up on Facebook or WordPress. Lovely reminiscences about fathers that are no longer here, fathers who played major roles in the lives of their children, fathers whose children are estranged from them.

My father was a complicated man; loving on one side, the other side a short fuse with a temper. Giving, but don’t cross him or his vindictive nature would come out. He could cut people off and out of his life. I share many of his traits, and often wonder if it is learned behavior or genetics, or a combination of both. He and I  became estranged for almost 14 years through my 30’s & 40’s. His doing, not mine. A new wife, a different life, his ego all contributing factors. I was glad I was old enough to understand the whys, and glad that while I was growing up he had always been there for me. I needed him less as an adult. We reconciled 4 years before he died when I found out he was sick. I thanked him before he died for playing such an instrumental part in my becoming who I was as an adult. The many good qualities I had that I knew came from his teaching.

He grew up poor with an alcoholic father and no education past high school, but succeeded in rising above it and away from it, following the lead of people willing to help him, observing people, paying attention to how they got to where they got to, and reaching those heights himself because of it. Did he have a darker side, yes, but I am happy to remember what was so wonderful about him, and understand where the darkness came from and why it was a part of him and accept it.

One of my earliest memories (I was 5) is of us going bird watching together. He was an avid bird watcher and part of a club. We would leave the house before daybreak, and meet his birding group. I remember spotting a Snowy Owl once- a major sighting! My love of nature and birds stems from those early morning trips.

He loved music and loved to sing. He had hoped to become a professional singer in his early 20’s, but real life came along and he needed to be able to make a living. His love for music was infused throughout our home-he always sang to us and for us, he played the banjo- old folk songs with verses we could all join in on.

My father recorded a few songs in a studio when he was thinking he could turn his singing into a career. The recordings were on 78 rpm records. Shortly before he died I was able to have the recordings converted to CD. I remembered hearing the recordings as a child, but had literally not heard them in 45 years. At the sound of the first note of him singing, what a rush of emotion- music or a song can always take you back to another place and time- but to hear his voice! What a gift to be able to hear that beautiful voice again.

His favorite poem was Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.

He read it to me many times, and always reminded me of the importance the following lines held for him.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I am thankful to have had a father that understood me, helped me to grow as a person, and who lives within in me. I feel my ability to be a good listener, to search for deeper meaning in things, comes from him. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to tell him those things before he died. I made the following photo montage with one of his recordings playing in the background, if you’d like to take a listen.






A Mind is A Terrible Thing To Lose

Our Uncle Henry is 92. Up until about a year ago he was doing pretty well, a pain here, a pain there, but overall things were pretty good. Recently things have become more challenging with his moods, and for our Aunt, who is 90 but you’d never know it, life has become difficult. Their sons felt an evaluation should be made to determine the cause of his anxiety and erratic moods, and it would have to be done within a hospital setting. A psychiatric hospital. I think in some ways Uncle Henry was relieved to know they would “get to the bottom of it” he just didn’t expect it to mean he would be there for a week already, and possibly many more.

My husband and I went to visit him today. The hospital grounds were beautiful and the hallways eerily quiet and empty. We were buzzed into the unit and opposite the front desk sat about 12 people lined up in chairs, including Uncle Henry. I found it rather disconcerting, no one was doing anything, there was no TV in that area, there were no conversations going on. Everyone was just sitting. Uncle Henry saw us and called out hello, and the nurse wheeled us over to an area with tables and chairs looking out onto the grounds. He told us some of his aches and pains had improved, but then began to launch into how the place was like a prison and other complaints, some we determined to be real, some imagined. Upsetting to know that his reality was not reality- that what he was was saying was irrational and not real, but to him was very much so. We spent two hours with him during which we made an attempt to validate his feelings, and to try to steer him to a better place of understanding. He asked our Aunt when she arrived if he was allowed to tell the Doctors he wanted to leave – and would they let him, or would he be held against his will.  The truth is he could leave at anytime, but until the medication they are working to adjust to help him, begins to work, it is not a good idea. His frustration and unhappiness understandable at hearing that, but his inability to really grasp it upsetting.

My Aunt and Uncle have been married over 70 years, and it is heartbreaking for her to see him like this, to have him ask to leave but know she must go home alone. Hardest is seeing him lucid and understanding and then crossing into his own reality and not understanding. The quote attributed to Bette Davis  “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” came to mind today. It takes strength and will and sometimes giving in and going along with what is beyond our control to “fix,”  as we grow older.

One Heart

I am sharing the following post written by my cousin, you can find the original here. An uplifting song written and sung by her daughter (and her band Iridesense) She writes; One Heart is all about diversity, and acceptance. It explores the reality of our differences. We all look differently on the outside. Different hair color, skin color, eye color. We even like different things. That’s not what’s most important. If you look at who we truly are, at our core, we are all the same. We need to spread this message to children, and to the world. Especially now when everyone is taking sides. Politically, religiously, etc. We are a multicultural world. Our differences on the outside make us unique, but our hearts need to be unified. One heart. It is also being made into an illustrated book for children.

I have used some of my photos as a backdrop for the song, depicting our outward differences, which often we are judged by, but should not be. Others show the love between people despite their differences. One heart.




It’s Still Your Birthday, Even if You’re Gone

Today is my brother’s birthday. Or it would have been his birthday were he still alive, though I feel that just because he is gone does not make August 6th no longer his birthday. His age will forever remain at 54, but the date will forever be his birth date. He died by his own hand in February of 2015. I wrote about him on the first anniversary of his death here.He wasn’t married, had no children, and struggled so the last years of his life. Today I choose to remember him before all that, to think of him long ago before the demons set in. To remember him with rose colored glasses on, filtering out the sadness and anger. Remembering him with a smile.82802100-SLD-001-0015



WP Discover Challenge: Identity

When my mother in law died, the job of cleaning out her home fell to me and my husband. Cleaning out 40 years worth of accumulation. Clothes, dishes, books, boxes of photos and papers galore. We found every birthday card and letter my husband had sent her from the time he was 14 and had gone away to school.

 Among the papers was a guest list from my husband’s Bar Mitzvah. It contained names of family members, some  we recognized, others we had heard of but had no idea how they were related or what happened to them. So my journey into genealogy began. I asked our Aunt & Uncle, who the people behind many of the names were, some they remembered while others they found familiar but had no idea how we were related. I got on the internet and started hunting around, sending away for death certificates, the social security application my husband’s grandfather had filed, which contained his mother’s maiden name. The family tree began to grow. I was dreaming about the small shtetl (village) where my husband’s great grandparents were from. A town called Niebylec, in what was then Galicia Poland.niebylecPostCard

My husband’s great grandparentsszdobba

I found many first cousins had married, (including my husband’s grandparents) I also learned how entire branches of the family were decimated by the Nazis. My head was swirling with dates and names and who was related to who. I found someone who turned out to be my husband’s 3rd cousin who lived in England, who told me of a relative who might have information. He was 96, but he might have answers. So I called him. We figured out he was a 1st cousin to my husband’s grandfather. And he remembered EVERYTHING. Names, dates, places, who was related and how they were related. It was amazing. Our tree took on new life, the branches grew, pages of connecting family. We spoke everyday, and I came to call this man Uncle Yakob. His father & my husband’s great grandmother (the lady in the picture above) were brother & sister. He actually remembered her. More amazement. I wrote about him here.

I received an email from someone who found me through a genealogy website. She was in Israel, she said her mother’s maiden name was the same as a name in our family. It was not unusual to get emails like this, trying to make connections within families that share the same names. I had never had luck finding any real connections, just a lot of maybes. I emailed her back asking for more details. When I received the details a chill ran down my spine. This woman’s mother (Yaffa) was a first cousin to my mother in law. Yaffa had become estranged from her family before the war when she left for Israel, and after the war had no luck finding anyone and thought they had all perished. Yaffa’s children were raised always being told they had no one but each other. This fact weighed heavily on Yaffa throughout her life her daughter told me, a part of her identity unknown, the generations to come lost to the Nazis. The truth was that many relatives had survived also coming to Israel after the war, and some to America. Yaffa had cousins living not far from her in Israel. And Uncle Yakob was her Uncle. Really her uncle. When I called to tell him, he kept saying,”You are telling me my niece is alive?” And so Yaffa, who had never left the Kibbutz she had lived on for 60 years, came to America to meet her very much alive cousins, and her Uncle Yakob.

So the papers in the box led to giving the last few years of Yaffa’s life a renewed vigor and zest- as she visited and got to know the cousins that lived near her. Her daughter told me it changed her attitude, she was “lighter” and happier. It is important to know we have these connections. I am glad I had looked through those old papers in the box, they turned out to be life changing, connecting not just names to names, but people to people.

Yaffa with some new found relatives in IsraelDSCN1907

Yaffa (center) & her first cousin, my Aunt, meeting for the first time in our home