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The Hare with Amber Eyes

What I bought second-hand today: nothing. I found a beautiful man’s shirt from the exclusive London shop Pink of Jermyn Street, priced at $7, but I did not buy it, to hang in my basement until I found a man just the right size to give it to. For the last 20 years, I did just that. And I would find him, too.

I spoke to my mother this morning, to check in but also to ask her questions about an important period in both our lives, when my father got polio in 1951 and almost died. I’ve heard the story many times, but even so, she remembered new details that were fascinating and added to my understanding. When I recounted this later, in my U of T class, several students said they were eager to interview their elderly relatives, to record their stories before it’s too late, but felt too awkward to do so. It would look, said one, as if I’m saying, you’re going to die soon, so talk.
Get those stories, I said. Tell your elderly relatives you have an assignment for writing class and want to ask them a few questions. I think you’ll discover they’re happy to talk and be listened to. Ask. Remember. Write it down. If you don’t do it, no one will, and all your family stories will be lost.
Every time an old person dies, the saying goes, a library burns down.
Speaking of family stories, later I had to take “The Hare with Amber Eyes: a family’s century of art and loss” back to the library before I’d finished it. A friend is reading it, so I hope to borrow it and start again. But from what I read, I have to say: this is the book I wanted to write, the book I wanted “Finding the Jewish Shakespeare” to be – an eloquent family history written in an intimate, honest voice; a richly felt personal tale spanning continents and generations.
I skimmed the end, and the author actually goes to Odessa, where his relatives lived in the 1880’s. When I was writing my book, I wanted to go to Odessa; my great-grandfather also lived in Odessa in the 1880’s, and my grandmother, his ninth child, was born there in 1889. While he’s there, the author writes about realizing that it’s time his research came to an end. “I was missing my wife and children,” he writes, and for a brief moment, I felt blinding, furious jealousy of men. He has a wife back in London looking after the children, while he muses about history and genetics in Odessa. I was the single mother of two young children, with neither the money nor the freedom to go to Odessa and muse.
Nor, it’s important to say, the self-confidence. Edmund de Waal has written a supremely self-confident, accomplished book. I sat at my desk for years – it took 25 years, from beginning to end, for my book to be published – feeling overwhelmed, alone, discouraged. I know that I should not regret that it’s not a better book. I should be proud, given my life at the time, that there’s a book at all, and one that readers have enjoyed and praised. I should be very proud.
And I am. But also, when I read a book as fine as “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” I’m not.

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3 Responses to “The Hare with Amber Eyes”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I find that my "elderly" friends have done a lot of thinking about the approaching end of their lives, and often want to tell the stories, to pass them on. I encourage everyone to ask, to tape record and transcribe if the person doesn't feel confident about writing themselves. Print them up, create a simple book, make copies for family members: you'll find others appreciate the time you take: it's often the best gift you can give them and yourself.

    Now that I'm a senior citizen myself, I intend to offer free classes at my local "retirement community" to help the residents to tell their stories. It may require some additional volunteers to help one on one, and the local museum society may be one place to find same. These stories make up the true history of our place and time and values. Don't worry about offending anyone before you start!

    patsy

  2. beth says:

    Patsy, thank you for these thoughts and suggestions – particularly the idea of involving a local museum in the hunt for stories, and the thought that transcribing the stories is a gift not only for yourself, but for storyteller too.

    It seems impossible that the stunning young woman with flashing eyes whom I met and loved in 1971 is a senior citizen. And yet I guess it's true, since I'm not that far behind. And her eyes, I know this for a fact, are flashing still.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the images on this
    blog loading? I'm trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it's the blog.
    Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

    Here is my blog more

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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