April 21, 2020

Article at The Reform Jewish Quarterly

Autobiography, First Chapter

My beginning was long and hot and slow,

the hottest day of that year, my mother

always reminded me, and twenty-four hours

of labor, twenty-four. I still feel apologetic.

I gave you a transfusion of my own blood,

my father would say. (We both have A+ like

a good mark, I imagined.) The beginning

for my sister was also in the same hot season;

the doctor pronounced our family complete.

Fear, she taught; don’t sled ride you’ll get into

an accident like Daddy did as a boy; don’t climb

trees, you’ll fall; but swimming was okay; jacks,

jump rope were okay. She shared her skilled love

of reading, embroidery, manners. Try it, he

encouraged: bowling, badminton, croquet, pool,

his version of the fox trot, all done with an elegant

rhythm that leaps out of the sepia photos of him

on the links, on the courts, from his “life before us.”

She looks sad in her school girl photo, alone with her

intelligence, wit, that bloomed only in the company

of relatives. In the rare photos she allowed, Mommy

looks happy if not in life. Daddy was happy anytime

anyone stopped to hear his jokes told with perfect

timing until the morphine quieted him. Sometimes

in a restaurant, I’ll hear myself tell his, “I’ll wait right

here,” to the departing waitress as she sets out towards

the kitchen. Or, repeat his philosophical answer to

everything, “That’s why Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors!’

I wear her thimble to change a hem; croon her

kartofelkopf - potato head - to my nieces, always compose

thank you notes by hand. Today. The legacies of

parents, written to the edges with imprints of memories.

Sorting them out? That’s the rest of my story.