We were in the middle of the twentieth century. Approximately. Henry Friis could have told me the precise middle, but then he would have told me that time, the way I thought of time, didn’t exist. He and Mim (oh, how I missed her!) would have had a lot to talk about.
There was nothing middle-of-the-road about 1950, though. That was the year of taking sides. Joseph McCarthy saw to that. A U.S. Senator no less, and I thought Congress had more sense. McCarthy claimed that the State Department was infested with Communists.
McCarthy played on our fears. The Soviets had gotten the atomic bomb, and communists had taken control of China. Henry was furious and frightened, when a physicist at the Los Alamos Labs, Klaus Fuchs, confessed to giving secrets about the bomb to the Soviets during World War II.
“Fuchs was the son of a Lutheran minister,” Henry told me at Tilden Park with the children one Saturday, while Rachel was having her hair done. […] Continue reading
Miriam Hope (I called her “Little Mim“) became my life for nearly a year after Mim died. I can’t say I was the ideal surrogate grandmother, and, as you know by now, I’m not the motherly type. I’d expected to help Rachel with the baby for a few weeks until Rachel was well enough to handle all three children on her own, but I found I was still spending part of every day at Rachel’s even after Joshua started kindergarten in the fall of 1948, and Dagmar went to nursery school two mornings a week.
Hans and Sidney kept the art gallery afloat, while I drifted through the days. What got me out of bed in the morning was the thought of holding Little Mim. Hans coaxed me into bed at night. Then, in early 1949, two events helped to anchor me back among the living.
First, I got a letter from my friend Reginald in New Yorkdo you remember that Mim and I visited him in 1934? […] Continue reading
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. […] Continue reading
Mim and I did bring off the birthday party for Sidney and Ephraim with as much joy as we could muster under the circumstances. Sidney invited a young man to join usRobert was his nameand Robert helped to liven up the conversation by regaling us with antics from his hometown in Ohio.
“Sidney took a brave step by having Robert come here,” I told Mim later. I was tucking her into bed early, after she announced she had a horrible headache and left Sidney to get dessert for everyone. I knew she knew what I knew about Sidney, although we hadn’t talked about it before. Back then Sidney’s relationship with Robert was considered criminal.
“It’s good that he has someone to care for him,” she whispered. “Especially now.”
Especially now. I can’t tell you how many times Mim used that phrase over the next three months. The specialist confirmed in his medical mumbo-jumbo that a cancer that had apparently started on her ovaries had spread elsewhere. […] Continue reading
“I’m coming with you,” I said. Dr. Kravitz was Mim’s family doctor, and mine, too. Bertha Kravitz. Someone who, I imagine, had fought her way to get into medical school and to stay there, and to establish a highly respected practice in a male-dominated world. If Bertha had been our doctor then, Sidney would have gotten better care instead of nearly dying of whooping cough.
So I was there, you see, on December 29, 1947, to hear Mim tell Bertha about her symptoms: bloody discharge, bloating, general fatigue. I was there to read Bertha’s face, which belied her reassuring words. I was there when Bertha wrote down the name of a specialist on her prescription pad and told her assistant to make an immediate appointment for Mim.
“I’m busy all this week and next,” Mim stated, as if she were arranging to go to the beauty parlor. “Any time after January 11th.”
The assistant was about to object, but Bertha whispered, “That’s fine.”
There you have it. […] Continue reading
Had I known that 1947 would have the last Thanksgiving that all of us would be together, I would have used one of those new reel-to-reel tape recorders as a centerpiece for the dining room table instead of a bouquet of mixed asters. Well, the world doesn’t work like that, does it? Characters have no idea what’s going to happen to them, just like in real life.
Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” appeared in the March 6, 1943, Saturday Evening Post. This reminds me of Thanksgiving, 1947. The young man with the dark hair could have been Sidney. The young couple on the other side of the table look like Rachel and Henry. Mim never looked like the woman holding the turkey.
Thanksgiving, 1947, everyone was there: Mim and Ephraim; Paul, Caroline and their boy Benjamin; Rachel, Henry, Joshua, and Dagmar; and Sidney by himself as usual; and my dear Hans. […] Continue reading
Do you know how some years it feels like there’s a seismic shift in your universe? So many beginnings and endings. One of those years for Mim and me, after our road trip, was 1947.
First off, Stalin’s Red Army was reshaping Eastern Europe. I remember that Winston Churchill put his finger on it in ’46 when he said that an “iron curtain” had descended, dividing the democracies from the communist regimes. Poland, Hungary, Romania
one after the other. I don’t remember who first spoke about a “cold war” between us and the Soviet Union (now it’s Russia again), but the hostility was palpable. Hans was still working for the OSS, which had changed its name to the CIA. There were nights when he didn’t come home. The world had gone from Allied-Axis to Capitalists-Commies.
Jackie Robinson’s 1947 rookie card
Then there was another shift, this one for the better. […] Continue reading
In the joy category, see this fifty-dollar bill. That’s about how much Mim and I spent in honor of our turning fifty in 1946 (me in April and Mim in July). We celebrated on the California coast at a little townit was little thencalled Mendocino. Mind you, fifty dollars went a long way back then, and we had a glorious weekend, plus the drive there and back, which was an adventure in itself. The Mendocino trip was the second most memorable event for me in ’46. The friendship between Mim and me was close, if not closer, than when we snuck into the fortune-teller’s tent at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.
Of course a lot of other things happened in 1946. The United Nations got underway. The British Empire was falling apart, including British Mandate Palestine. The people of French IndochinaVietnam nowwere demanding independence from France. President Truman was getting the country back on a peacetime footing, and Bella wrote to say that the large earthquake on Vancouver Island could be felt all the way in Portland. […] Continue reading
And I thought I was at at my wit’s end in 1944? So much happened in 1945, that I can’t begin to tell you the half of it. What I remember most about that year is how often Mim and I criedfrom happiness or tragedy.
I’ll spare you the see-saw of our emotions, by giving you my aspirin-applesauce summary of 1945. Back then we didn’t have chewable flavored aspirin. Mim used to give her kids crushed aspirin in a teaspoon of applesauce, followed by a teaspoon of just plain applesauce. First the yuck, then the yum.
Churchill, FDR, and Stalin at Yalta, two months before FDR died
So, first the yuck: President Roosevelt died suddenly of a massive stroke on April 12, while he was resting at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. The strain of World War II and February’s Yalta Conference must have been too much. Hitler committed suicide at the end of Apriland I wish FDR could have lived to see that. […] Continue reading
The trip to Portland was a resounding success. Hans and I shared all the delights of honeymooners without the honeymoon. We wanted to take a side trip to Mount Hood and stay at the new Timberline Lodge, but the roads were too icy and the lodge had closed for the duration of the war, so we made do with a hike in Washington Park.
The trip did Ephraim a world of good. He drank less after that, as I recall, and he took to writing Bella every few weeks. She was there when he needed her then
Einstein was Henry’s idol. Henry refused to work on the bomb with Oppenheimer (on the right).
We arrived home to find Sidney and Snuffles in one piece, and Rachel in a snit. Apparently Henry had come home one day and announced that he was switching research teams at the Rad Lab.
“He refuses to go with his old group to the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico,” she explained to Mim and me. […] Continue reading