Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘Mothers

What’s genetics got to do with it?

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Motherhood is, in the end, one of the most tangible ways to leave your mark on the world. Your children represent parts of you regardless of whether they carry on your political and ideological beliefs. Your children represent you whether or not they are genetically tied to you.

Since starting this blog I’ve spent more time than ever thinking about someone I have never met. Walking around Brooklyn, I try to imagine a woman who was my age when she lived here with a young daughter and her husband away at war. Even though she has always been a mysterious presence to me I can’t help but look for how I am connected to her and how I might resemble her.  But I don’t want to get caught up in the notion that my family, or its legacy, is important just because of my biological connection to the people in it.

I always felt lucky, growing up, to have four living grandparents. There was my mother’s father, John, who shouted “Don’t come back with any holes in your body,” when I was seven and walking out the door to go get my ears pierced. Of course, this caused me to anxiously turn to my mom and ask if he knew what I was about to do.  There was my maternal grandmother, Joan, who was straightforward and loving; laughing at my one pathetic attempt to embroider and miraculously not hurting my feelings. (She was also exceptionally good at “The Price Is Right.”) Then there was Alex. But I can’t talk about motherhood without introducing Sophie, Alex’s second wife, and the woman that I grew up knowing as my paternal grandmother.

Sophie, the last of my grandparents who is still alive, doesn’t posses quite the same sharpness of her younger years. She is without a smidgen of doubt my grandmother. The term step-mother doesn’t get a lot of use in the family and its “evil” connotations have no place here. She was a teacher, having earned a PhD is childhood education. When she joined the family she had a son named David, too. (Yup, that’s how my dad and his brother came to share the same name). A notoriously bad cook, we relied on my grandfather’s culinary skill for our weekly Sunday dinners in New Jersey.

Grandma Sophie and Dad

While this blog may have grown out of an attempt to understand Sylvia, it is also about understanding a heritage that has little to do with genetics. My family, like so many families, is a network of people that is not constrained by biology.

Without replacing Sylvia, Sophie became another mother to the family and has helped me understand that above all, family is about inclusion – not exclusion.

After all, it was Sophie who saved the letters that Alex and Sylvia wrote to each other so that they could be passed on. It is Sophie’s handwriting on the box of letters that says “For David and Adrienne.” That’s motherhood.

Written by Molly

May 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm

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Mommy says we have to be practical not beautiful.

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Sometimes Sylvia wrote to Alex as a wife and sometimes she wrote as a mother. This is a letter from 1945 that Sylvia wrote out in the voice of Adrienne (Cookie). Still, she can’t help adding some of her own adult language. At this point Sylvia was living at 133 Navy Walk in Brooklyn. Alex was stationed abroad on the S.S.Pennsylvania.

Mothers are complicated entities. Sylvia shows how in the span of two pages a mother can be loving, caring, forthright, honest, and pragmatic.

Wed. March 7

Hello daddy –

Here are some more pictures of me – Hope you like them. We took these in that park on the lower east side – near Bubbie’s house where you and Mommy used to take me when I was a baby. When you come home, we’ll all go there together to take pictures.

Yesterday Mommy splurged – she bought me a blackboard and chalk so that I won’t write on the walls – well, I write on the floors instead! Some fun. Today Mommy couldn’t resist 2 ivy plants (75cents + 75 cents) and with all this spending she says we’ll be broke soon. Anyway, we wouldn’t have had enough until the end of the month as I need new shoes (so does Mommy, but she said she’d wait until she had her new suits and then maybe you’d come home with some money.) And I needed some new overalls. Mommy bought me 2 pairs – and they’re so damn big on me – size 6! But Mommy says we have to be practical not beautiful. She says I’ll grow into them. Anyway, daddy, I’m still a well dressed baby, as you can see from the photos. And Mommy doesn’t look so bad either. But whatthehell [sic] do you look like? How about sending us a picture of yourself?

Darling daddy, Mommy can’t write you as she had a bad toothache – but she’ll go to the dentist tomorrow and have it taken care of. That tooth has kept her awake for 2 nights now and she’s acting a little groggy today.

All my love to the grandest dad in the world.



Written by Molly

May 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm


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