Excerpt from “Lost and Found”* published in 2010 as part of the Cahier Series by AUP Press, Paris, France and Sylph Editions, UK in honor of what would have been my dear Aunt Dorothy’s 100th birthday:
Both sets of double sheets are gone from the white linen trunk.
The door to the little freezer compartment of the small refrigerator
has broken off exactly as it did on the last refrigerator.
The white plastic door is now propped across
the compartment in which Lily’s year-old borsch soup
and several Boss ice cream bars are frozen solid
After my shortened stay in Hydra, as Dorothy was failing, the plane touched down in Newark at 3:30 p.m. Dorothy “passed away” at 3:55. It was June 9th. I made it to her place in time to kiss her many times, say goodbye, stay beside her until the men from the funeral home came to fetch her and the apartment was sealed by the police. My sister, Maggie, had (by amazing chance) been with her when she died. Maggie, choosing clothes for the burial, found a pair of shoes, said, “Look! Only Dorothy would still have Hush Puppies in perfect condition.”
We spent Wednesday at the Redden Funeral Parlor on 14th Street making arrangements, and Thursday morning at Surrogate’s court on Chambers Street submitting papers so that the apartment could be unsealed; Friday was the funeral. My father (Dorothy’s brother) would not be coming. We were told three versions: first, that he didn’t remember who she was when he was told; second, that he remembered, but did not react when he was told of her death (these told by our mother); third (told by the live-in nurse who heard him crying and asked what was wrong), his reply: “My sister died and they won’t let me go to the funeral.”
The rain poured down upon our small cortège – two limousines, one hearse – as it drove along Bleecker Street, just south of my parents’ apartment, where my father remained. The cortège then went over the Manhattan Bridge, through parts of Brooklyn where Dorothy and my father had spent their (impoverished) childhoods. Dorothy had been a member of my grandfather’s burial society, Zosmar Young Men’s Benevolent Association, his membership brought with him from Russia 100 years before. My grandfather, grandmother, great-aunt (whom my grandfather married when my grandmother died), and one uncle are buried in nearby graves in the cemetery so near to the Belmont Race Track.
Redden’s arranged for a Rabbi who met us at the puddled entrance to the cemetery. The grave was open, a mound of wet dirt and a shovel. The Rabbi said a few prayers, the twenty-third psalm, several short prayers in Hebrew, and finally Kaddish. Then my brother-in-law, David, played the Internationale on his violin while Maggie and I held a large black umbrella above the fine violin.
This would have made you smile: My neighbor’s lost love bird landed back on his terrace railing. When my neighbor carried its cage to the door of the terrace the love bird dropped a glistening tear of chartreuse shit on the railing, then hopped back into the cage.
Allison Leslie Gold Shalom,
By chance I found your book Fiet’s Vase at a bookshop on Be’eri Street and I was surprised by the photograph of the cover. For the women on the left is my mother.
I do not know if you are aware of the details. The photograph was taken by the American Army in the Gare de Lyon, Paris, when young Jews were sent to southern France in order to take a boat to Palestine. The photograph in your book is only half of the complete one, which shows the dreamed of Israeli flag made by my mother, Yetty Halperin, who was liberated from Bergen Belsen after spending two years there. My mother passed away in 1983. The woman on the right was liberated from Auschwitz and lives now in Tel Aviv. I know her, she was the best friend of my mother after Liberation, but she does not want that her name publicized. The photograph belongs to the US Library of Congress.
If you want more details I am happy to help you.
Kol Tov – Be Well
P.S. We think the photo was taken on 12 April 1945 because my mother told us that when the photo happened she spoke with an American soldier who was crying. She asked him, “Why?” The answer was that his president had passed away that day, 12 April 1945, the day President Roosevelt died.
Aunt’s Dorothy’s official Death Transcript was issued by the Surrogate’s Court on June 10th, 2009. The work of inventorying, separating, dispersing, discarding the contents of Dorothy’s entire apartment could now begin. Packing boxes, garbage bags, tape, black sharpies, sponges were assembled.
Nancy (who owns the B & B) drove in from upstate. She arrived with large iced drinks and got to work. She and Maggie (the film director) went through the clothes, dividing them into “vintage” and “give away” (a distinction I would not have been able to draw). When closets and dressers were opened, we realized that Dorothy had probably not thrown away a single article of clothing in her entire life. I found a pill box containing gold in the shape of crowns that must have been removed from her teeth when the time had come to get false ones.
Inside her apartment, it was peaceful, the light soft. I went into the bedroom. The bed was askew (probably from lifting the corpse) but the sheets showed no sign of violence. A garbage chute not ten feet from the front door meant that disposing of rotting food from the refrigerator was easy. I emptied what remained in the seven bottles of pills into the bathroom sink and kept the hot water running until the pills of various sizes and colors had dissolved. We filled dozens of plastic bags with surface junk, phone books, a thousand hoarded coat hangers. One packing box was unflattened, reinforced with tape, labeled “treasures.” Found Dorothy’s High School diploma (Franklin K. Lane High School, Brooklyn, New York, June 1932), a small prayer book, crude torn photos of my Russian great-grandparents looking like proper mujiks.
Among the mass of papers there was information about Dorothy’s family that is no longer known by another living person. The birth date of my Russian grandfather Sam, as we knew him (or Zalmon as he was originally known), was April 15, 1892; he arrived in America in June 1910 from Brody, Russia, via Trieste; his profession, broom-maker; race, Hebrew; date of death, November 8th, 1969. Papers showed that my grandmother Minnie’s date of birth was never known. Minnie’s profession was listed as “baker.”
We discovered the original of a letter written by my grandfather’s sister from Russia thanking him for sending $20 that she used to buy medicines for her sick child. The letter was dated August 17, 1939. Neither she nor any relative from Russia (but for one cousin of my father’s who fought with the Red Army for five years) would ever be heard of again. The locations were listed of each of the other graves in the cemetery where Dorothy had been buried.
I went through years of cancelled checks and bank registries, state and federal income tax returns. Finally, we stopped, planned several dates on which to return and continue. It seemed that though we’d worked the better part of the day we’d barely scratched the surface.
I left wearing a gold deco ring with two stones: one mauve, one pale yellow. As someone who was also set against throwing anything away, Lily, you would have felt for my Aunt Dorothy.