|Four LeBrint children in 1918: Clara (on the pony), George, Rose, and Mary standing|
This year I turned 80, the same age my sister Rose was when she died. I have now lived longer than all four of my siblings. And thinking about them reminds me of a sheet I typed years ago, which contains a summary of my parent's life, including the birth dates of their five children. I casually shoved it into the "Family Record" section of my Jewish bible where I have recorded family (and friends) births, marriages, and deaths over the years.
I'm curious about what I wrote, so I take the bible out and find the sheet, which starts as follows.
My mother died Dec. 3, 1964; my father, Nov. 5, 1960. Mother was 78; father, 74.
Born 1886- both
Both died of cancer, Mother, lymph; father, in the body. I suspect they died of anguish and broken dreams, for themselves, their family, their country.
My parents were wed Aug. 15, 1908 - and five children came along fast enough. They were: Mary, Oct. 13, 1909; Rose, Jan. 24, 1911; George, June 15, 1912; Claire, Apr. 5, 1914; and Perle Oct. 30, 1918.
Of them, Rose, at 71 and I at 68, are the only survivors.
My parent’s life story (short form) doesn't include the dates when Mary, George, and Perle died. But I find them on the Death page of the “Family Record.” I see that tragically Perle, the youngest child, died at age 46 in May 1965. George died less than a year later at age 53 in January 1966. Mary died in November 1970 at age 61. My last entry is Rose's death, January 2, 1991.
I am brutally reminded that with the exception of Rose, my other three siblings died too young. I need some relief from my sadness at being the only LeBrint sibling left, so I go through old family photos and I find the mounted sepia colored photograph of me, George, Rose, and Mary and a pony! I’m about four years old, sitting happily on the pony. George is holding the reins. Rose and Mary are standing next to George, with big smiles on their faces. Photographers at the time came through immigrant neighborhoods with a pony and families, including mine, paid good money for such keepsake photos. Perle wasn’t yet born, so she missed her chance to pose with the pony and lucky me, being the youngest, I had the honor of sitting on its back.
This photo teases me into imagining an ideal childhood, where I was pampered by my two adoring older sisters and had good times playing with my fun-loving brother. But that wasn't the case. The proof is in the rest of the story, which hints at why “I suspected my parents died of anguish and broken dreams” and why my childhood was not all full of happiness.
My parents were first cousins... and as George and Perle were ill so often, Mother blamed herself, saying the relationship was responsible. I inherited Mother’s uncertain nervous system. In fact, a teacher, in about my second grade told me to tell Mother I was a “nervous wreck.” And I did.
Mother wanted us to do well— marry well, have careers, take vacations.
Father- I don’t know what he wanted for us.
I wonder if my “nervous nature” at such a young age contributed to the nervous breakdown I had at age 34 (a story I’ll get to at another time). Or perhaps it was Mother’s treatment of me when I disappointed her by not “marrying well” and worse than that, not marrying at all. Mother died three years before I married Rolland.
Hmm… Perhaps I could only marry him after she died?
According to Mother’s way of thinking, only her oldest daughter Mary married well: to Joseph Krammer, a successful furrier. Rose married Leonard Fuchs, who had a law degree but never practiced law. Mother never understood this and never forgave Rose for marrying Len or Len for deserting the law. George married but Mother didn’t like his wife. Perle and I were unmarried. So Mother’s wish for her children to “marry well,” didn’t happen for the most part.
Regarding careers, Mother only cared about George having a career. After she pushed and prodded him, he finished law school and became a practicing attorney. However, George’s practice didn’t thrive which was another disappointment to Mother.
About vacations, we did OK. Mother and Perle went on annual vacations without Father, to Florida and other warm places in the U.S. Mary and Joe traveled the world and brought home proof in the form of pictures of Mary standing in front of the pyramids in Egypt, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and other famous international landmarks. Rose and Len and their children took driving trips in the U.S. When I was in my forties, I traveled with girlfriends, our best trip being a European tour. But Mother didn’t care about my trips as a single woman. I was supposed to go on vacations with my husband after I married.
Father was a shadow figure in our lives. It’s true what I wrote – we never knew what he was thinking.
There is so much more to write about my family and my childhood. But I’m tired. Writing is hard work and as I’ve always told my writing students, save some stories for another day.
This story is from Clara’s Scrapbook: A Novel Inspired by Photos, Stories, and What-Not Saved by Claire LeBrint Metzger. The novel is a work in progress and Claire, the narrator, writes her stories at age 80 in 1994 .
The Clara Stories are dedicated to
Claire LeBrint Metzger, of blessed memory
b 1914 - d 2002