mardi, septembre 22, 2009

Marsella 28, Mexico, D.F., 1954

I went looking for my parents this weekend at the 1902 brownstone house in Brooklyn -- and they'd gone. Checked out. How clever of them to leave before the sale. The rooms were bare of all but some cleaning supplies, wrapping paper, a bed upstairs, a sofa in the living room. We're paying my sister's boyfriend to come in and get rid of the little bits and pieces of 45-plus years of family life that remain.

It's easier to leave a house that has been stripped -- easier to put the alarm on and walk down the street, cheerful with children and mothers and fathers on their way to Prospect Park. We walked towards Seventh Avenue, searching for one last drink at the Connecticut Muffin, one last brunch at John's. "They'll let us visit, won't they, Mom?" asked Mr. C. I said that often the people buying homes don't like to know a lot about the families who lived there before -- don't want to be reminded that it was another person's home before it belonged to them.

I don't know what this family will do. It will be interesting to see if they seek us out at all.

But in a kitchen drawer, with my dad's wedding ring, I did find a letter that my sister had left. Noting that it was addressed to my aunt "Marilyn dearest" I didn't read it until we were traveling back to Pennsylvania.Sitting on the train, I struggled to make sense of the small, lovely handwriting of more than 50 years ago. Handwriting is quickly becoming a lost art.

Grandma, what were you doing?

"Hotel Meurice" Marsella 28, read the thin paper. I tried to find the Hotel Meurice online -- probably long gone. My grandparents used to travel south during the winter, even when my mom and aunt were at home. And south didn't mean Florida. Apparently, it meant South America and Mexico.

Best I can figure out, this letter was from Mexico City. Grandma and grandpa were staying, it seems for a while, at a hotel. They'd been to San Cristobal, near the Guatemalan border, then gone on to Oaxaca. This hotel was apparently run by the "Mrs. J." Mrs. J was icy, but thawed a bit when they arrived -- not when they left, writes my beloved grandmama mischeviously.

It seems that Grandma had been doing something subversive --- hauling an English grammar book like a magician out of nowhere, she offered to tutor the Indian women who worked at the hotel. Nothing secretive -- only Grandma Sarah didn't tell "Mrs. J" what she was doing. 'Daddy said I should have asked her -- I knew darn well she would say NO -- SO -- I didn't!'

But another guest told Mrs. J, and the lessons were halted. Too bad they didn't understand English better, wrote Sarah near the end of this two-page letter. I would have really "done her dirty" and told them how they were being exploited. Though grandma was worried that Mrs. J would take it out on the women, they told her that they would be alright. As far as I can tell, she left her English grammar book with the women.

I couldn't find my parents. But I treasure the letter from the woman who influenced me more than almost anyone else. Thank goodness people wrote letters -- thank God their descendants kept letters. This one echoes with the reformer's zeal, a bit of the missionary, and a leavening sense of fun so intrinsic to grandma. She never stopped educating, with a gleam in her eye, passion in her voice, and the mischief of the youngest child she was.

Voices carry.

1 commentaire:

Gail Martin a dit…