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times past that still live

by Judy
May 22, 2016

Can a place be a moment in time - a time past which was not even when I lived, but a moment that lives in my memory, an expansive memory that includes more than what was said; it includes a whole feeling sense. That seems to be the case when I think about the home where my mother grew up. And as I reflect and write about this home, it includes so much of my mother’s spirit; what she valued and who she was. My mother’s home lived so strongly and dearly in her memory and now lives in mine. It’s part of my inner landscape.

She told me about her home so many times and always in listening to her, I felt like I was going back into an old-fashioned movie, a nostalgic time that no longer exists. Did it ever exist in the way she told me? I will never know. A three story home in Borough Park, Brooklyn. There was a mama from the old country who came over when she was sixteen years old. A papa who was quite a bit older; also from the old country. He worked very hard, owned a cafeteria in Queens and came home late every night, carrying a greasy bag with doughnuts. My mom as a little girl would sit on his lap and eat the doughnuts. She didn’t see him that much. He died at the onset of the depression when she was sixteen years old. He remained always the papa of her youth who she adored.

My mom was the youngest of four; two older brothers and one older sister.

The three story home had a big enclosed front porch. I can imagine sitting on that porch and watching life go by…hanging out with one’s brothers and sister, chatting, laughing at jokes, gossiping, knowing so many of the neighbors.

Mom always talked about the beautiful furniture in the house with such detail, like they were old friends - the Persian carpets on the floors and the rich velvet brown sofa. I imagined rather dark, maybe slightly exotic Eastern European rooms that glowed with the warmth of Jewish days now long gone.

The kitchen was large and the center of the family’s life. My grandmother kept a kosher home so there would have been separate dishes for dairy and meat and she would have lit candles on Friday night. My mom didn’t talk so much about this, but it was all in my extended memory. I can see my grandmother now, earthy with large breasts, pumpkin face and soft wide nose, and such a warm heart cooking pot roast, and a homemade apple pie in the oven. And my mother would be right there beside her helping with the cooking.

All the children played instruments – two violin players, a piano and clarinet player. My mom said when they played, tears would roll down her father’s face and he would say it was better than the Philharmonic.

Mom was the youngest. When young she was plump, curly hair… looked a little like Shirley Temple. She was like a little mother even when young and would make sure her family always dressed well. She had apple cheeks and always had a cheeky expression on her face from the photos I saw. You could tell they were happy times. She shared a bedroom with her older sister, Alice, by five years and said how she would cuddle up to her in the bed and her sister would try to move away, but was not very successful.

And then there was the big German Shepard that lived next door behind a wire fence that had once bitten my mom and always barked. Forever more mom did not like dogs; nor did her mother. She would tell me how her father would sometimes bring back stray dogs and then they would mysteriously disappear. It seems her mother would take them out for a walk and not come back with them. This was all told in humor, many years later.

Aunts and uncles all passed through this home as my grandma, being the oldest, brought gradually all her family into America until they found a home of their own.

The home now and all of them, including my mom, are gone. A moment in time…just a whisper…and yet it has such a strong impact on me. It has a stronger impact than the home I grew up in…Isn’t that strange? But it’s true. It’s the home, the people and it’s also my mom telling me about it over and over again…all of that lives in me now; it’s part of me in a way I would not have realized before it all disappeared – the home, but more importantly the people in the home that breathed and loved and laughed and left their imprint.

From one perspective, this landscape, for me now, is one of loss and tears as I still grieve for the loss of my mom and everything and everyone that was a part of her world and yet from another perspective this landscape enriches, embraces, uplifts and forever encompasses me in its warmth.

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