Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Bright Future Right At Home

A baby girl prematurely pushed her way into the world.  It wasn't easy, considering that her mother had been given belladonna as most women were at the time.  She spoke far earlier than she walked.  "Take the baby to the park," she would say, referring to herself in the third person.

Her mother, an immigrant woman who had descended from a long line of rabbis, reluctantly gave her little girl bacon.  It would give her strength, the doctor advised.  Her husband, who saw an opportunity for a ham sandwich, had his requests sharply turned down.  If he wanted ham, he would have to go to the diner for it.

The little girl's parents took in her father's brothers and their families, so their apartment always seemed full.
Some would stay but a few days, others a few weeks and some others would stay for months at a time.  Between that and running a millinery store, the little girl's mother got worn out.  Later on she would learn that
her mother had had a nervous breakdown. While her mother recuperated, the little girl went to school in a one room schoolhouse in Michigan.

Two years later, the little girl woke up with a sore throat, a scarlet tongue and a fever  She had scarlet fever, and was very sick. She was bedridden for a long, long time.  Since they lived above the millinery store, her mother was able to take time to give her lunch and play the piano to cheer her up.  When the little girl recovered, she had to learn to walk all over again.  She never really relearned how to walk like an eight or nine year-old girl would.  Many years later she would explain to her own daughter that physical therapy was only available for the wealthy, and that is why she never recovered her gait.

Her cousins wanted her to go some place with them. The girl called up her father to ask for permission. Much to her consternation, she was unable to hear him. It was only  then that she realized that scarlet fever had left her deaf in one ear.  That did not hinder her ability to learn languages.  She never learned to lipread. She adapted by learning how to position herself so that no one was ever speaking into her bad ear.  Few people ever knew.

"Sis, " her father asked her, "will you open the store tomorrow morning?"

"Yes," she murmured.

What her father didn't realize was that his teenaged daughter was sound asleep.

The following morning the store didn't open on time.  Her father slapped her face.  It's the only time
he ever did.

One day her father took her to the campus of Northwestern University.  "You will go here one day," he said.
Then he took her to the campus of the University of  Chicago.  "Some day you will go here, too."  She attended both universities, but not before spending a year and a half  at the Sorbonne.

The young woman stood on the deck of the SS Normandie.  While she was disappointed that she had to cut short her studies at the Sorbonne, she realized the dangers that Hitler's invading armies posed to her safety. No doubt her aunt and uncle would have to do something drastic  to survive  the war.  She wondered, too, when she would next hear from them.  She figured that they would somehow be OK.

As she gazed out over the Atlantic, the young woman wondered when she would hear from the
person who was supposed to contact her once she got back home. She was to hand over the
silver fox stole she had agreed to smuggle into the States on behalf of this family.  She had a hunch that there were things sewn into the stole's lining.

The young woman pushed all of that out of her mind. Her thoughts shifted to the life she had left behind in Chicago.  Soon she would be reunited with her mother, father, and kid brother.  While she would miss her friends at the Sorbonne,  she looked forward to once again working in her folks' millinery store.  She was excited about enrolling at Northwestern in the fall. She would miss Paris, City of Light,  but she felt certain she had a bright future right at home.


  1. I envy you your deep knowledge of your mother...not in a begrudging way, in happiness that you have had such a relationship. And you write very well..

  2. Thank you, Cindy. I know how fortunate I am to have had the relationship with my mother that I did. Not without some mother/daughter friction, mind you, but overall very good and loving.

  3. What a beautiful post, Debbie. I look forward to reading about your mother. She sounds like an extraordinary woman, and I am not surprised. Look at the daughter she gave to the world. Thank you for sharing.

  4. She was extraordinary in some ways. She had a tremendous amount of courage. She was not one to roll over in the face of adversity.

    As for the rest... aw, shucks. I hope to be half the woman she was.