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checking in

I am sorting through the packed boxes of family photographs, partly inspired by my new fourth cousin Lesley, and partly because it had to be done anyway. And the more I look at the family back to the twenties in New York and England, the more I marvel that I exist at all. Here, my mother’s small family of restrained Victorians, rooted in the British soil for centuries and poor as church mice, sipping tea, sitting decorously in deck chairs on the occasional beach. There, my father’s huge family – my grandmother had ten siblings, though she only spoke to some of them, and my grandfather six – of boisterous immigrant Jews, noshing, arguing, climbing inexorably upwards with cleverness and very hard work. 

And yet Sylvia and Gordin fell in love and stayed together for four decades, not without great struggle. A tribute to them both. Now that I know more of the family story, I see more in the photographs – a bunch from the summer of 1958, for example, our family reunited after two years of separation and anguish, I see how tentative is the happiness on our faces. I see much that makes me sad – my British grandparents’ wedding picture, so young and serious, my stunning grandmother marrying the wrong man simply to get away from her harridan of a mother; and much – my toddler father’s pugnacious face, my American grandmother’s scowl – that makes me laugh. 

A few of the hundreds or even thousands, including some I’ve never seen.

Yesterday, I spoke to my psychologist, once my psychoanalyst. How fortunate I am to have this woman in my life. I lay on her couch for a few years, and once I graduated, so to speak, have continued to consult her regularly. Last year I called her during an excruciatingly difficult crisis with a tenant and later in the year with nothing particular going on, just to check in. And yesterday also. There’s always something valuable that comes up, a nugget. She’s only nine years older than I but I think of her as the mother I never had – someone who understands and cares and sees me clearly. A gift of the greatest value.

She told me she’s retiring next February. I will call her more often this year, to stuff myself with her calm wisdom before she vanishes. Thanks to the gods for pushing her into my path. 

It’s going to be seventeen degrees today; Jannette is coming later and we’ll do more pruning. As I’m doing now, at my desk – pruning the photographs that tell the stories. 

Watched a doc about the extraordinary, marvellous David Attenborough last night. A lucky man who began young to do what he loved and was very good at and has continued to do his entire life, while making a positive difference to life on our planet. A mitzvah. In the midst of this #$% pandemic, which is getting worse all around us, so many mitzvahs.

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2 Responses to “checking in”

  1. theresa says:

    The wedding photograph is so beautiful, him kind of puffed up and proud, and her wary. A story in itself…

  2. beth says:

    1917. He was not accepted to fight in the British army because of health issues, but was working repairing leather saddles and equipment for the horses. They met at teachers' college in London and after the war both went on to teach. Many stories!

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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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