If you live long enough, it’s quite likely that many of the family members/generations born before you will have predeceased you. Moreover, the family members born before them, two generations-plus behind, are most surely to be geshtorbin (Yiddish for dead) as well. The effect: memory loss. Specifically, the memories lost of a generation of great grandparents – and beyond, you probably never knew or for whom you have extremely limited knowledge; after all, you were an infant when your maternal grandmother died. And when your widowed mother died nearly nine years ago, you lost what may very well have been that final anecdotal connection to your family’s history, especially if your Jewish and your grandparents immigrated from Russia, Romania, The Baltic States, etc. before World War II where recorded history of Jews was evidence not documentation.
It just so happens that in my family, in fact, our closest surviving cousins, Ronnie and Gil, who themselves are in their 80s, are alive and extremely well and living with their daughter, Jayne, in Massachusetts. This past weekend, Ronnie and Gil drove eight hours to visit my brother Richard and me. And though we are regularly in touch over the phone, it has been years since we were all together in Washington, D.C. And being in their company, naturally we reminisced – ALL WEEKEND. What spawned this column was a comment Ronnie (a singer/pianist in Boston for 25 years) made in response to a question we asked about whether there was any other musical talent in the family. She said quite matter of fact that my maternal great grandfather – who I had never met or even heard of before, “was a cantor in Russia – with a beautiful voice” (who never left Russia). “What! I never knew that.” I don’t recall knowing anything about my great grandparents, maternal or paternal.
You see, Ronnie was there almost at the beginning. She was the first born to my mother’s oldest sibling and only sister, my Auntie Lee. My mother was the baby of the family – after two brothers were born. As such, the age difference between my mother and Ronnie was about 14 years, atypical for a niece and an aunt. As a result, Ronnie was witness to lots of family history that I thought might have been lost forever when my mother died in 2008. As a few examples, Ronnie knows who was present at my mother’s “Auntie’s” house for Passover Cedar in the early 1960s. She knew that “Auntie” was my mother’s mother’s brother’s widow, not my mother’s mother’s sister. I certainly didn’t. She knew that three families/our cousins lived together in this three-story home and all worked together in the family market: Levine’s. Still more that I didn’t I knew.
Another family connection Ronnie and Gil reminded us of was a family line we have in South America. Again, before World War II, one of my maternal grandfather’s (Hyman) brother’s Simon (Shimon) immigrated to Argentina where to this day exists first (Eduardo) and second cousins (names I’m afraid don’t know) I’ve never met, though Ronnie and Gil have met numerous times in Miami and in Argentina (Ronnie and Gil used to live in South Florida). The more we talked, the more we travelled back in time. But I won’t self-indulge myself and bore you any longer. I will try to wrap it up in the next paragraph.
My mother, Celia died in Dec., 2008, my father died in Dec. 2006. With their passing, my brother and I lost – among a million other things, their first-hand, on-site accounts of our Lourie/Blacker history dating back 150 years or so to Russia/Eastern Europe, before any of my relatives immigrated to America. Ronnie, my mother’s cherished niece, knows as much about our family history as there is still to know and her husband of nearly 63 years, Gil, knows almost as much. Their visit wasn’t just a weekend. It was a lifetime. A weekend of a lifetime for which Richard and I are extraordinarily grateful.