Sunday, December 22, 2019

Solstice-Hanukkah-Christmas Prayer

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
at this time of the winter solstice
at this time of the crescent moon
  At this darkest time of the year
we light lights and give thanks, in our overlapping traditions.

Strangely and sweetly
we greet each other in fellowship and friendship
with wishes for health, merriment, good food, good company and Peace on Earth.

Strangely and sweetly
we come together and pray to you 
with thanks for miracles noticed and remembered
  At this darkest time of the year:
for the miracle of the return of the sun
for the miracle of victories over tyrants
for the miracle of a small crucible of oil that burned for eight days
and for the miracle of the birth of a baby who brought illumination into the world.

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
as we light lights
  At this darkest time of the year
generation after generation, year after year
we ask again for Your help Your love Your comfort Your support
that we may be partners with You and with each other
to bring our greatest hope our most desired wish our highest need: Peace on Earth.

Holy one of blessing, God of many names
May it be so. May it be so.

Prayer inspired by “Hanukkah Lights” in the Unitarian Universalist Hymn Book, Singing the Living Tradition


You are welcome to print this prayer and/or copy it into a file and share it. 
This is my holiday gift to all. 

Betsy Fuchs
betsywfuchs@gmail.com 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Clara's Stories: 1930-1941 Jesus Pena de Alonso


I find fifteen letters and two postcards from Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain. Jesus and I were matched up by our foreign language teachers when Jesus was fifteen and I was seventeen.  Jesus’ first letter is dated November 5, 1930, the last March 11, 1941. He wrote in Spanish and I replied in English. We continued to write on and off after we both completed secondary school. For eleven years!

I don’t remember my Spanish anymore so I had my good friend and neighbor Alex Alvarez, a Spanish speaker and an avid student of history, translate Jesus’ letters into English. Alex told me some about the tumultuous history of Spain in the 1930’s and acted as a consultant to me while I wrote this story. Thank you Alex.

Just like in the U.S. a lot was going on in our two countries during the time Jesus and I corresponded. Of course, lots was going on in our young lives. It makes my head spin just thinking about it. 

In the U.S, we had the depression and FDR and the New Deal and the beginning of World War II. And I became a working girl, more interested in having adventures and pursuing creative endeavors than in getting married. In Spain, political unrest led up to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Jesus attended University and then went to work in his father’s factory. He must have witnessed much of the war, since many of the battles took place in Madrid (the capital of Spain) and the surrounding areas. Jesus didn’t write during the war, and after our correspondence resumed, he mentioned the war only briefly. Who can blame him?

Looking at Jesus’ letters (and envelopes) today, I am struck by his beautiful script.


In his letters, Jesus addressed me as Clara, my birth name. I liked that.

For the first couple of years, Jesus’ letters were friendly and informative. I don’t have copies of my letters to him, but I can infer some of what I wrote in his letters to me. We wrote about our interests – his in football (soccer), swimming, and travel; mine in writing, journalism, and theater. He wrote me about “an ancient royal castle … converted into a museum” and sent me postcards of the beautiful salons in the castle. I wrote about the much younger skyscrapers in Chicago and sent him a postcard of the thirty-four story Tribune Tower. Today thirty-four stories seems like nothing, but in the 1930’s the new skyscrapers were amazing, tall, architectural marvels.

In 1932, I sent Jesus U.S. currency and he attempted to send me Spanish currency but couldn’t.

Dear Clara,
I had written a letter to you, but because I had sent along some currency, the Central Post office refused to mail it.

Alex explained that during the early 1930’s the Spanish government forbade sending currency out of the country due to the on-going political crises.

Jesus’ letters continued along this same line, breezy and conversational, until 1934 when we exchanged photographs. His was a studio portrait and I liked how he looked with his half smile, bedroom eyes (or so I perceived them), slicked down hair, and beautifully tailored suit. I was mildly charmed by the inscription that read (in translation) “To Clara as a token of my admiration and fondness Jesus.”

However, Jesus was majorly charmed after he received my publicity photograph taken for an amateur production of the play Death Takes a Holiday, in which I had the lead role of Graziela.

Claire LeBrint Publicity Photo 1934

From that point on his letters became romantic.

From October 1934

Beautiful Clara,
I don't know how you dare to call me a flatterer after sending me a photograph so superior to anything I may have imagined. Truly, the more I look at your photo, the more difficult it is for me to believe that you are an American woman, as the beauty of your eyes is not surpassed by the Grenadine dolls.

The letter continued with a brief reference to the trouble in Spain “…the police have been using my car, they have even requisitioned many automobiles,” and ended with more affection and devotion towards me.

Furthermore, dear friend, I continue to maintain much serenity, as I have never had the joy of having at my side someone as precious as you. My most respectful tribute, Jesus                

Being compared to a Grenadine doll (from Grenada, Andalusia Spain) seemed a high compliment. Alex found a picture of a 1950’s Spanish doll and made a Xerox color copy for me. Color copying – what a marvel of technology. We both agreed that this must look something like the “Grenadine doll” Jesus referenced. What a compliment Jesus gave me!


Little did I know that Jesus’ romantic feelings would grow into an obsession and possessiveness toward me.
From February 1935
. . . I have a sister who was also taken with the idea of becoming a writer like you and who now has abandoned those ideas because she is soon to be married. Has the thought occurred to you of doing the same?

As you have asked me to advise you in the past, I hope you will allow me to advise you now not to leave the house, so you will find no diversions, you will speak to no one, you will be dressed in your oldest dresses. And if you will be following these suggestions, I believe that when the time comes, you will be spared the inconvenience of marrying the man who would have to murder your husband.

I knew that Jesus’ letters indicated he was “crazy-in-love” with me. But did he really imply that I should stay home, alone, away from all guys and that if I should happen to marry, he would come to the U.S., murder my husband and expect me to marry him? I thought Alex had gotten the translation wrong. “It’s right for sure,” he told me and added, “I even had a Spanish teacher friend of mine from Sauk Valley Community College double check my translation and she confirmed I got the crazy-talk right.”

You might be asking yourself why I continued writing to Jesus.

I was having fun doing some heavy-duty flirting in my letters to him, goading him on, encouraging his growing attachment to me. We girls did that kind of thing, and my girlfriends loved to read his crazy letters. It was our own personal soap opera and I loved being the romantic lead.
Besides, Jesus was far away, as he wrote in another letter when he was again pondering whether I was married or not, “If it happens that you now have a husband, tell him that he lives because of the distance between Madrid and Chicago.” 

There is so much in Jesus’ fifteen letters, and I was getting tired from reading them and thinking back to when I received the letters. But before I put them away, I decided to skim through the rest and a few sections of letters jumped out. First was the letter Jesus wrote after the Spanish Civil War ended.

From September 1939
. . . I am sure you can easily understand the many circumstances which have prevented my writing to you during these trying times.

And then I found the only letter where Jesus referred to experiencing the war, where he used the war as a reason to threaten my male friends. In my letters to him after the war ended, I must have casually mentioned the guys I was seeing (not seriously) and continued teasing him, flirting with him. No harm done, I thought. Not so for Jesus.

From June 1940
. . . As to those two boyfriends . . . after three years of being witness to war and guns and shooting and killings, they would not pose the same obstacles as was the case previously.

That letter frightened and shocked me when I received it in 1940, as it does to this day. His threats were no longer funny. The amusing soap opera had become a horror story.
It took me a long time to reply to that letter, as Jesus wrote in March 1941, when he chided me that he “was not able to read (my) last two letters because (I) didn’t mail them.”  True I wrote several letters that I tore up and I have no idea what was in the letter I finally sent.
But I finally was done with Jesus and wrote him one last letter. I remember that my message was short and to the point and it went something like this.

Jesus,
It is not acceptable that you continue to make threats against my gentlemen friends. You have no right to claim me. You are not my boyfriend, fiancé, nor will you ever be my husband.

This correspondence is over. Please do not write me anymore.

Claire LeBrint

Jesus Pena de Alonso of Madrid, Spain must have gotten my message loud and clear. He wrote no more letters and you better believe I was relieved.

But, as they say, it was fun while it lasted.

This story is from Clara’s Stories: An Imagined Memoir Inspired by the life of 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


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Clara's Stories: 1906-08 My Parents Come to America

MY FATHER ABRAM LOBERANT and his cousin Anna Menkes, my mother, were both born in 1885 in Czarist Russia. They lived two hundred miles apart, Abram in Kishenev, Bessarabia and Anna in Ovidiopol,/Odessa, Ukraine. In spite of never having met, the families decided they would marry – in America, in Chicago.

Here's an excerpt from "My Family's History in Russia and the U.S." written by Rose LeBrint Fuchs, my sister and, I must say, a fine writer. 

Terrible pogroms swept Russia in 1905, especially in the south where most of the Jews lived.

My mother’s mother made up her mind. Two half-brothers of my mother (Anna)  were well established in Chicago with their families and kept urging that my mother be sent to them. Quickly an engagement was arranged between my parents-to-be. My father (Abram) had already been inducted into the Russian army so my mother was sent on ahead, to earn a little money, to borrow some from her half-brothers, so that my father could bribe his way out of the army, come to America, and marry her.

My mother said that parting with her mother was the most terrible thing that ever happened in her life, both before and since. She cried a river of tears, begging not to be sent away. Her mother was ill and both of them knew they would never see each other again.

Nevertheless, the plan was carried out. Two years later my father arrived in Chicago and began his life-long love affair with this country.

I cry a river of tears every time I read the part of this story about my mother Anna having to leave her mother forever. There must have been so much love between them. I cry for her loss and also for whatever it was that made my mother – in America – unable to love me. I could speculate that by the time I was born, she was weary of having babies. I was the fourth child born to her in five years. Or it could be that I was born after George, the sought-after son, and that Mother was not very interested in yet another daughter, the third daughter after Rose and Mary. But what’s the use of dwelling on this. I try to stay positive, so I will stop speculating and get back to the story about my parents coming to America.

During his time in the Czarist Russian army Abram Loberant had a photograph taken of him in his Russian army uniform. Even though Father was conscripted into the army and anxious to get out, he was very proud of this photographic portrait. He and Mother had it handsomely matted and framed and during their lifetime, it was prominently displayed in their living room for everyone to see.


 Father came to America in the winter of 1907 and took the name Abraham LeBrint. August 1908, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. Abe and Anna married. In a photograph taken on their wedding day, they are standing stiffly side by side. Anna wears a white dress and has flowers in her hair. Abe wears a very American suit and tie. Also in the picture are Anna’s half-brothers and their wives


Besides their wedding picture, among all the photographs saved by my sisters Rose and Perle that are now in my possession, I’ve only found one other picture with the two of them together. It was taken at my older sister Mary’s wedding in 1931.



Good looking couple aren’t they? And don’t they look prosperous? They were doing well financially due to Father’s successful print business in downtown Chicago.

But they were so different. Mother was bossy and often angry. Father was a mild man who worked long hours and when home, he tried to stay out of Mother’s way. And I for one couldn’t blame him.

When I look at these two photographs and think about my parents, I feel sorry for them, that they never had the kind of loving relationship I have with my dear husband Rolland. That's all I'll say on this subject for now. More stories about me, my siblings Mary, Rose, George, and Perle and my parents coming, I promise. 


This story is from Clara’s Stories: An Imagined Memoir inspired by the life of 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