Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ABC Wednesday: O is for...


"aahhh...October."  the last word of the song Autumn Sea, by Robyn Hitchcock, posted below:




I'm not gonna do the Photo a Day Challenge anymore, I decided it was too much effort for too little return.  I like the ABC Wednesday share, because I can handle posting once a week rather than every day.  The Sunday Whirl is also nice, because I was looking for more writing prompts as well.  having an out of town guest for two nights put staying on top of posting way down the priority list, and once I fell behind, I didn't feel compelled to catch up.  my out of town guest was a cousin from my mother's mother's side of the family - she lives in Seattle, and is of my mother's generation though she's younger than my mom.  check out this lovely gift she brought me:

Mirjam Barnholtz Horowitz + family

the robust matriarch in the center is Grandma Miriam - Mirjam, to her husband - beloved mother and grandmother to my Aunt Ruth (to her left), my grandmother Gertrude (to her right, on my grandfather's lap), and two sons who I can't identify in the picture, if they're even there.  my cousin's parents, who introduced my grandparents to each other, are also in the picture.  my mom was very close to her grandmother, and she used to tell me that after her grandmother had died, she knew that if she had a daughter one day, that she would be named for Mirjam - and so I am.  I suppose that story had a more comforting tone to it before I found out I have a half-sister a few years older than me...and while I begrudge her nothing, it made me wonder if some of those faraway, dreamy looks I used to spy on my mother's face when she would utter this conviction from her past wasn't so much for the grandmother passed, but for the child lost - the Real Namesake, leaving me feeling a bit like an imposter in what I thought was my own story.

but no, say those who believe the Universe knows its work, the Name landed where it belonged.  while I am not the 'balabusta' Grandma was (stereotypical Russian-Jewish grandma, who cooked mountains of the best food ever, and radiated love in all directions), I have my skills and talents - I pass in the kitchen, and we surely don't starve over here.  That's basically all I know about Grandma - an angel, taken to early, greatly mourned, died before I was born, gave me my name.  I don't know who her parents were, if she had any brothers or sisters, or hopes and dreams.  I don't know what she died of, but I have a few of her handkerchiefs.  her husband - affectionately known as Grandpa to the great-grandkids as well - was a part of my life until I was a young teen, probably fourteen or so.

Grandpa came from a large family, he had 12 or 13 brothers and sisters if I recall correctly - I know I've seen a picture of them all together, with their little old mama in the middle.  he was a tailor, belonged to ILGWU - the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union - my mom still has his old foot-powered sewing machine.  I have several cassette tapes of him talking about his life in Russia before he came to the states, and it occurred to me to write some of those stories down, when I realized I no longer have a tape player...bummer, I'll have to figure that out.  I remember the stories about how some pigs drowned in his vats of bootleg whisky, how he had all his teeth pulled to avoid serving in the Czar's army, how he once escaped arrest (though I can't remember the crime, it may have been for bootlegging), and how he met and married his wife, my matronymic namesake.  He said our family tree began when Genghis Khan swept across the Steppes raping peasant women.  Grandpa was an ornery old man, but we all loved him, and he loved dogs.  He was the second person whose death I experienced - the first being Ruth's, his and Mirjam's youngest daughter, when I was a child.

the story of how my great-grandparents met, as I remember it, goes thus:  there was a big party in Grandma's shtetl (small village), where lots of folks from all the surrounding shtetls also came to celebrate - must have been a wedding, I'd guess - and that's when she and Grandpa met.  they didn't see each other again until that day at the train station (I don't know how long later) as they both fled the country for America.  he claims they got married on the spot, and 'laid together' that night - he would demand loudly with his finger in the air, "the first time!  I got her pregnant..." in his backwards, old-Russian-Jewish-guy syntax.  Grandma, you may recall, died before I was born, so there was no one to refute these claims, but I'm sure we were all too busy trying not to be grossed-out to worry about it.  so Grandpa ended up in New York, and Grandma went to meet up with some family in Missouri (Missouri?), where they told her they had a nice man for her to marry.  Grandma says, "remember Shike from the shtetl next to ours?  I married him at the train station back in (somewhere near Odessa), and I'm pregnant with his baby.  he's waiting for me in New York."  Grandma goes to New York, lives and dies there, and I am what's left of her.

Grandpa lived until he was 86 or so, and he married a few other ladies along the way.  Mirjam was his true love, though, and he would call out to her near the end, during those strange times when he would be sitting in our living room, and the dog would become agitated and raise his hackles.  Grandpa would look up from where he was dozing on the couch and say to nothing I could see, "go avay, I am visiting mine fambily.  not now...".  the chills running up and down my arms told me his end would be coming soon - he was a tough old bastard, but even Grandpa couldn't back the Angel of Death off forever.  I wasn't sad when he went, because I figured his energy would be happy to be free of the confines of the old, decrepit flesh and brittle bones, to go find and join with its love again.  it seemed like a life well lived, to me, and I am grateful to have know him.

it is the later part of October, and the veil between the worlds is thin this time of year, so the dead haunt me, and I become agitated and eat too much dairy.  and it's cold and rainy today, too, so while my muse wants to huddle away in the dark behind her long, sad, hair, and drink illicit beverages while pining away for Oscar Wilde's wardrobe, I must insist on tie-dyed pants, a yellow umbrella, and rubber boots.  and so I've honored my great-grandparents on my mother's mother's side, which is the oldest known branch of my ancestry to me - Russian Jews, from somewhere near Odessa.  of my grandfather's family, I know next to nothing - only that they were from Poland, and there were several uncles, aunts, and cousins I once knew, a handful of which I can even name, and none that I still know.

there were no great-grandparents on my father's side, the grandparents were lucky to have escaped Europe with their lives.  they all went to Israel, and then on to Canada, where their children and grandchildren still live.  my father is the ancestor who calls to me the loudest, though, and while I hear him, I'm not sure what he's trying to say, if he's saying anything at all.  maybe he just wants to be here, to come by and visit when he can, to see the boy, and I feel the stir of his presence.  like Robyn Hitchcock intones in the last two words of the song posted above, "aahhh...October."  with all its dark and bloody ghosts howling through the bone-chilled nights, it's time to light the fires and pull out the woolens to cuddle up with warm, spiced beverages until winter puts us all to sleep beneath the gentle blankets of her snow.




16 comments:

  1. Well, I'm glad you're staying with us. Love your Paul Simon-like pen name too.

    And that's a great piece of history you've shared.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. you guys are great - such fantastic posts inspire me to do more, reach higher - thanks!

      Delete
  2. Oh what a beautiful old memory!

    Overjoyed
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

    I am your newest follower.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love the old photo and story. Very interesting!

    ReplyDelete
  4. The veil is thin right now-I truly believe it as I experience very similar things. Maybe someday more information about your grandmother's family will present itself to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know I'm not the only one who feels it - thanks for checking in, Paula!

      Delete
  5. Great post for O this week. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

    ReplyDelete
  6. That was a terrific read! My own family history is rather scant...and with everyone emigrating to different countries, along with the passage of time, our combined stories are brief and rare. I enjoyed yours very much.

    And like you, I'm settling in with blankets, books and my small dog for comfort...:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thank you - there seems to be more to come. I want to talk more about my mom's upbringing, and my dad's, how they met, and how my brother and I came into the world. I think I'm trying to define myself, as so many have done before me - as a person, an artist, and a mother. thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  7. Thanks for your post. The lives of your relatives must have been difficult, knowing that death is around the corner. The older I get the more I realize how lucky my mum, my two sisters and I were to have escaped from Java, Indonesia alive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh, so glad you made it! growing up in the states, we don't really get a sense of the danger that our ancestors faced, or that millions of people around the world still experience every day. it truly breaks my heart, and I wish I knew what to do to help bring an end to all wars and suffering. ♥

      Delete

I do so love to hear from you - please let me know that you came to visit (sorry about the word verification, but I've been getting too much spam)!