As the days go by faster and faster, my pace of living has slowed down. Finally I have time to look through my old scrapbooks and photo albums and the piles of stories I wrote. Some stories were published. Some were not.
I asked my husband Rolland to move the files and boxes filled with my writing into the dining room and to pull down the scrapbooks and photo albums from the closet shelf. They’re on the floor and on the dining room table -- no room for dinner but who cares? I was never much of a cook; the best I could do most nights was heat up a can of spaghetti and meat sauce or throw together some sandwiches.
The first thing I see is my Roosevelt High School graduation yearbook and I remember….
My birth name, Clara Le Brint, and my nickname “Topsy,” given to me by friends because my hair usually curled every which way.
Inscription: “Luck success & what-not to All Clara Le Brint Topsy"
I never went to the University of Illinois - it was a pipe dream. And sometime after I graduated from high school, I changed my name from Clara to Claire, more American, more grown up. However, today I think Clara is a romantic name, fanciful and interesting because it reminds me of other youthful dreams, which by the way did come true, just not how I could have predicted.
I used to be very busy working, writing, volunteering, helping friends, meeting new people, and traveling. But I’m not doing that anymore. I’m too old, too tired. Don’t argue with me. Wait til you turn 80, then tell me how you feel and what your life is like.
My life these days is not very exciting. I have nothing to do except sit quietly at the Dixon (Illinois) Senior Center or visit with Rolland when he’s at home. Roll is eight years my junior and still out and about with activities, hobbies, and paid work as a part-time accountant and tax-preparer.
So here I sit at home, at the table and I pick up one thing, take a look and put it down and pick up the next thing. Nothing is in order.
I find a three-page handwritten biography titled The Life of Claire Metzger, written by a Dixon friend in 1991. I remember when we met and she asked me lots of questions about my life and wrote this story. Right away, two little white lies jump out at me – the year of my birth and my age when I met Rolland.
The world was blessed on April 5, 1933. Claire Metzger, formerly Claire LeBrint, was born in Chicago, Illinois.
…When Claire was 34, she met her husband-to-be Rolland Metzger at a Jewish Temple. They didn’t mean to meet; actually, Claire was there to meet another boy to watch a play, but she was stood up and Rolland came up to her and asked if she wanted any coffee, and they both stayed for the play. After the play, Rolland asked Claire if he could walk her home because they had found out that they actually lived on the same street and she accepted. So every time Rolland came into town they would see each other.
My dear friend and biographer (so sorry I have forgotten her name) insisted that my life story start my birth date including the year, which I told her was 1933, even though I was born in 1914. She also insisted that we include my age when I met Rolland. I fudged that one too. We met around 1960 when I was 46, not 34! I never told anyone in Dixon my age, rather I told them I felt “ageless.” My Dixon friends and admirers thought I was younger than my real age, so there was no harm done.
Whew, I’m glad the truth is finally out. I’m an old lady now so what do I care if you know my exact age. I’m still a bit confused about the age-thing and you may be too. So I had Rolland, who is a math whiz, make this chart for us.
April 5, 1914
Clara Le Brint born
After high school, I changed my name to Claire
June 14, 1922
Rolland Metzger born
March 25, 1967
Claire and Rolland marry
Claire 53 years old, Rolland almost 45
Claire writes her life story
Claire 80 years old
Rolland’s weekday home was in Dixon, where he had a Civil Service job as a Research Psychologist at the Dixon State School/Developmental Center. Most weekends, he came to Chicago and stayed at the house he inherited from his parents. Like me, Rolland went to Jewish singles functions hoping to meet a future mate. And it happened – eventually. We got to know each other when Rolland asked to walk me home. His Chicago home was a two-story brick cottage on Roscoe Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood and I lived a mile down the street in a “tight little career girl (studio) apartment,” as I called it in first published piece “The Painting Went Up.”
For six years, Roll repeatedly asked me to marry him and for six years, I put him off. I had been single for so long, checking out Jewish men and rejecting them as marriage material, or being rejected (or stood up!) by them. When Rolland came along, being indecisive by nature and having been on the look-out for so very long, I couldn’t make up my mind about him. Finally, in 1967, I gave in. He was too nice a guy to let go. But I was plenty nervous, and I shared some of my worries with him in a note sent ten days before we married.
Note mailed to Rolland March 14, 1967 (transcription below)
Dear Roll –
Please never ask me to make a decision late in the eve – or night – It wearies me, and invariably I feel pressed and pressured. Probably you do too?
So I beg you – in all things don’t set up deadlines or rushes lest good judgement give way to exasperation and error.
After we married, I never had to “make a decision late in the eve, ” but sometimes, especially when we were planning trips (for tax conferences or to visit family out of town), he did “set up deadlines” but his good judgement ensured there were few insurmountable errors.
Much to my surprise and delight, basking in Rolland’s love and support, I followed my life-long dream of becoming a professional writer. I became a News Correspondent for the Rockford Register Star and also had feature stories, play and book reviews published in the Dixon and Rockford papers, the Chicago Daily News, and some national magazines.
In my piece about Yasha Kaganov's painting, "I reflected. We are caught in the trap of the city, for years, for our working lifetime, but there is still hope, says the painted canvas, if we don’t forget there once was a dream."
I am forever thankful to my dear husband Rolland for helping me make my dreams come true.
This story is from Clara’s Stories: An Imagined Memoir inspired by the life of 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