I did not allow myself to collapse into despair when Ephraim called me with the news. Rachel depended on me. Mim depended on me. Instead I asked if Ephraim wanted help with arrangements and telephone calls. He said Sidney had volunteered to do all that.
I went food shopping nextcan you believe it? I wanted to stock Rachel’s pantry, in case of any eventuality with her pregnancy.
Henry stayed home that dayit was a Friday, so the funeral would not be until after Shabbat, on Sunday. Henry told me later that Rabbi Stern did a commendable job. I had the good fortune to miss the funeral because I stayed with Rachel, who was confined to bed. Truth to tell, I wasn’t ready to watch them lower my Mim into her grave. Sunday morning I put a rose on Rachel’s breakfast tray, and I sat with her while we wept. Dagmar and Joshua were at a neighbor’s house, so it was just the two of us. The three of us, really. Mim’s presence was palpable.
Ephraim decided to sit shivah for all seven days. I have to say that Paul and Caroline, for all their shortcomings, took charge of the company that came to pay condolences and stay for the evening prayers. Henry and I took turns caring for Rachel and going to the shivah house. One time, Henry took the children to see Ephraim and the family, and Dagmar came home furious.
“Aunt Caroline made me wear a stupid sweater,” she informed me, as she munched one of the cookies Henry had brought home.
“You shouldn’t say ‘stupid’ to Aunt Florrie,” Joshua told her. “It’s not nice.”
Dagmar lunged at her big brother. “You’re not nice, stupidhead!”
“Bedtime,” I said, and I marched the two of them upstairs. Thank goodness, they had separate bedrooms.
I skipped my birthday in 1948. That first full week in April, the newspapers were full of the conflict in Palestine, particularly Operation Nachshon, to break the Arab blockade of Jerusalem. As I recall, Britain was ending its control over Palestine, and the United Nations had accepted a partition plan for the region. Jewish forces in Palestine had pretty much decided to go along with the UN resolution but Arab forces and neighboring Arab countries had not. Fighting broke out between the Arabs and the Jews, and between both sides and the Brits.
Rachel devoured every bit of information on what she called the war of independence for Israel. Suddenly this young woman, who had never been very religious while she was growing up and had married outside of her parents’ faith, was becoming an ardent Zionist. I still wonder about the connections in Rachel’s mind between Mim’s death and the birth of the Jewish state. Maybe if Rachel had had a chance to say a proper good-bye to her mother but I’m speculating. We’ll never know.
Passover came late that yeararound the end of April. Paul had the family seder at his house, and I honestly don’t recall who went. Hans and I didn’t. I helped Rachel with a mini-seder at her house, “for the sake of the children,” she said. Then Hans took me dancing. I couldn’t have gotten through the spring of 1948 without him.
The world works in mysterious ways. Rachel wasn’t due until the end of May, but her water broke on May 14. She delivered a baby girl that day. Miriam Hope Friis, born virtually the same time as the state of Israel. Rachel told me that the baby’s Hebrew name was Miryam Tikvah bar Rachel. Tikvah for HaTikvah, “The Hope,” the unofficial anthem for the new nation.
I could have given Mim’s prayer shawl to Rachel and told her about passing the shawl to this new baby daughter when the time came, but I didn’t know what to say then, and how to explain about Serakh. I decided that I’d probably wait until Ephraim had also passed awayhe was older than I and not in the best of health. Rachel had enough on her mind with the baby. No need to complicate matters. I tucked a note inside the prayer shawl that the shawl belonged to Miriam Hope Friis, and that I was holding it for her until “an appropriate time.”
I didn’t visit the cemetery until Mim’s birthday that July. I brought a folding chair so I could sit and talk. I told her about the horrific flood that had wiped out Vanport City on Memorial Day weekend and left thousands of people homeless. I told her that Bella had quit her job with the Housing Authority and that Vanport’s college had moved to temporary space in Portland. I didn’t know then, but I do now, that the college became Portland State University.
I told Mim about how Rachel insisted that the baby be named Miriam, rather than Mildred or Molly. “But she has a hard time using your name,” I said. “It’s always ‘sweetiekins’ or ‘nudler,’ which is Danish for noodles. Sidney is taking good care of Ephraim. Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.”
Miriam’s grave had a plain marker. There wouldn’t be a headstone until a year after her death, which is the custom for Jews. I put a pebble down on the marker, as a sign that I was there. We talked and talked. I reminded her about the whoopee cushion, and about how we played pranks on her brother Danny, when we were Joshua’s age. Some time later a breeze came up from the Bay, and then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
Hans. It was time to go home.