To Honor A Memory

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If my mom were here to celebrate her birthday, she would be eighty-six years old today.  It seems a bit surreal to think that she has been gone for eight years.  In our eulogies, both my sister and I acknowledged that she was a complicated woman, and arguably a complicated mom.  That was said and is written,  within a far broader context of how deeply she loved us and how much we loved her.   Not a day goes by…

I spoke to my parents everyday.  And when work kept me from my 9AM call, my assistant would call her to tell her I would call later.   It was a simple thing to do;  it made her feel good.  Honestly,  I remember sometimes it felt like a requirement instead of a joy.  She knew I spoke with my dad everyday until he no longer could (often acknowledged with the half-serious comment “you always loved your father better”) and I knew that if I ever curtailed those calls she would be deeply hurt.  Ironically, I still look at the clock at 9AM and feel the incompleteness that comes with a conversation that no longer occurs.

Why do I write something about mom on her birthday?  Because I want her memory to remain as alive to my children as it is to me.  Because I want those who know me to know that she was a remarkable, vibrant, artistic, beautiful woman.  Because some passages take a very long time to find one’s way through, and it’s possible that some  never really end.  Because my beloved niece still wears her grandmother’s gold whistle around her neck.  And because when my sister laughs so hard she ‘strips her gears’ (as my dad used to say), it evokes a delight in my heart that reaches far back to another place and time.  Dad and Deb laughing so hard they’d eventually start to hiccup and mom’s laugh bringing her to tears as she would hug her stomach with a delicious pain.   I was good for a laugh.  Don’t get me wrong – I was also good at causing my share of frustration too.

I re-printed her obituary from the New York Times last year and I will do so again this year.  Perhaps wherever she is, she will know how much she is missed,  how much she is loved and how today each falling leaf seems to echo her name.

“….Dee was the loving mother of daughters Deborah…and Mimi… .  She was the proud grandmother of Matthew…, Aaron…, Tess…, Seth…, Spencer… and Paul…, and generous mother-in-law of Roger … and Andy… .  She was the devoted wife and indispensable partner of the late Jack W. Jerome.  Dee was born and spent her early childhood in Vienna, making her one of that shrinking cohort who experienced and survived the monstrous storm of Nazi violence.  Her father and mother, Michael and Miriam Intrator, took the family out of Austria shortly after the Anschluss, making their way first to Belgium and then through occupied France.  The family made its way to Portugal, where on August 16, 1941, they found passage among the 765 other refugees on the Spanish freighter Navemar – one of the last voyages of escapees from Europe.  Dee’s children and grandchildren bear in their hearts eternal, existential gratitude for her family’s valor and persistence.  Her intelligence, humor and immense energy were a gift to us all.  Our family is particularly gladdened that Dee lived long enough to know of the safe return earlier this month of her eldest grandson Matthew, from Iraq, where for the past year he has served in harm’s way the country that gave his grandmother safe haven.”

My dad died shortly before Matt left for Iraq.  Mom waited for all of her grandchildren to be home and safe.  I refer to that time as the year I didn’t breathe, for all I knew was that I drew breath when I knew Matt was breathing – and we weren’t in touch enough for me to know with certainty that he was ok.  There are some things I’m just not prepared to write about – my heart censors my fingers.  As it should be.  The point is not to return to that time, but to remember that today’s mom’s birthday.  And she would have been feted and celebrated.  As it should be.  So for mom – your birthday is etched in my heart.  I miss you.

 

Never Forget

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This is one of the few pictures we have of my mom and her family before the war.  She was an adorable little girl who grew into a beautiful and haunted woman.  I think some of the relentless, unforgiving thoughts that defined so much of her persona were driven by memories such images evoked, further fueled by the unanswerable question, “what if?”.  “What if” there had been no Holocaust?  “What if” they could have remained in Vienna along with their sizeable extended family?  “What if” she had been able to grow up with frivolity?  “What if” her back story was so benign, so unremarkable that it didn’t inform her entire life?

Holocaust Remembrance Day – I wrote of it last year.  I honor it again.  Elie Wiesel once said, “To forget the Holocaust is to kill twice”.  With a bowed back, I realize that he is right – for this is a lesson the world has yet to embrace.  The irony of unanimous agreement that humanity is precious and the disparity that clearly exists in its definition.  And we bear witness over and over again – the self-righteous rationalization about the expendability of some people over others.  We’re not talking about Darwin.  After Kristalnacht, my grandfather went to schul with the conviction that the answer to this horror would be found in more devout prayer.  This is not about evolutionary theory.  This is a human tale.

My mother’s story lives now in my sister and I.  It has been with us since we were born, whispered to us as we were carried by our grandfather,  packed in our lunch boxes, tucked into our clothes.  We honored it because it was so big and inconceivable and intangible, yet as real and palpable as mom herself.  It was every nightmare that would wake us when she screamed.  It weighted every argument in mom’s favor when I fought my way through adolescence.  It remains as a part of every prayer I mouth to the sky in the morning – sending love to my parents, appreciation for  this life, my family and friends, and imploring that we all continue to be blessed with health and love.  It lives in me.  Perhaps it will remain in her grandchildren, and so on.  Time has a way of diluting even the starkest memories.  The ones you swear you’ll always remember.  Maybe the details will get lost, and what will survive within them is a more sophisticated palate – able to taste  the exquisite, indescribable sweetness to life.  The passionate advocacy for the value of humankind.

When mom passed away in 2005, her obituary ran in the New York Times.  It read in part, “Dee was born and spent her early childhood in Vienna, making her one of that shrinking cohort who experienced and survived the monstrous storm of Nazi violence.  Her father and mother…took the family out of Austria shortly after the Anschluss, making their way first to Belgium and then through occupied France.  The family made its way to Portugal, where on August 16, 1941, they found passage among 765 other refugees on the Spanish freighter Navemar – one of the last voyages of escapees from Europe.  Dee’s children and grandchildren bear in their hearts eternal, existential gratitude for her family’s valor and persistence.  Her intelligence, humor and immense energy were a gift to us all.  Our family’s particularly gladdened that Dee lived long enough to know of the safe return..of her eldest grandson, Matthew, from Iraq, where for the past year he has served in harm’s way the country that gave his grandmother safe haven.”

In acknowledging this day of Remembrance, I honor my family.  I honor the memories that once glared in every corner, and now have softened to shadows.  I will do my part to make sure that though they may dim and blur, they should never be forgotten.

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