Does it mean anything, Dr. Freud, that I tend to remember almost all the memories of time spent with my father, but not so much with my mother?
For example, I have ABSOLUTELY no memory of going with her to Paris. The only reason that I now know I went is that my father forwarded an old aerogram my mother wrote to cousins detailing our trip. I do remember going with her to Madrid and a bit travelling through Spain. I also recall going to Munich specifically to go visit Dachau. By train. We also went to Switzerland, the Netherlands, but that for sure was with my father joining us.
This was the summer of 1970. I had a job set up that summer before starting college in the fall, but the job fell through. So…my mother was going to stay in Frankfurt where my father had been working, and I ended up tagging along.
The first letter that my father sent told all about our couple of days in Paris. Again, we travelled by train, which, apparently, I had insisted. Since I had been there two years before, I think that all my memories merged into one trip.
I specifically remember originally going with the group of kids on our way back from Israel. I remember the pair of shoes I bought, the cobblestone streets, the Rive Gauche, and yes, the Eiffel Tower. I don’t have photos of any of it, so how do I know it really happened? But nothing that my mother describes in the letter.
But I do remember Spain. The soldiers on the rooftops of buildings. Those were the last days of Generalissimo Franco, and the contrast of the fright that I felt with the soldiers peering down to the sense of safety I always feel in Israel still stands out in my mind. I remember the warmth of the sun, the sense of Don Cervantes around every corner, tasting sangria for the first time. Who knew you could have wine out of a pitcher? At that time, I thought I was going to major in Spanish in college, so maybe that’s why I remember so much?
Yes, I also spoke French, and my mother recounts how I was able to talk to all kinds of people during our days in France.
So…maybe I decided to major in Spanish because I like Spain so much? No, I really felt uncomfortable there with the soldiers.
I remember the everydayness of living in Frankfurt. My father’s company had an apartment there, which was quite comfortable just for the three of us. I remember going to the supermarket via the tram. I could probably remember the names of all the stops, if I really had to. I learned kitchen German, just enough to get the food that we needed. The kosher market was owned by a woman. She was the widow of the only actual butcher in town. I have a vivid memory of watching her, this wizened hunchbacked woman with highly-lacquered hair, showing some young assistant how and where to move some large pieces of meat. My mother and I bought some ground beef and I made my first meatballs that evening.
So when did I stop eating meat? No, Dr. Freud taught us better than to connect all the dots, even if all is connected.
It wasn’t enough for my father to send that first letter. He sent along one that he had written these same cousins, and two more from my mother. These were all on onion skin, pages long. Oh yes, there is something we are missing today, a loss of texture of the experience of reading letters. My father’s large sprawl handwriting, taking two pages to write what my mother wrote on one-half a page. Maybe I took after her with that–I actually pitied them that they put up with my insanely stuffed script.
I thought to look for the letters that my father had sent me from that time period, to see if I wrote about Paris. But why would I have written them a letter if they were with me?
One of the most moving parts of the second set of letters from my mother was her expression of gratitude for me being there with her. She didn’t know what she would have done without my company, she wrote them. Yes, perhaps that I knew.
Everything that my father writes I remember. Going to see Fiddler on the Roof in Frankfurt. In German. They called it Anatevka, he wrote. Only 25 years after the end of WWII, remember! He wrote that I cried, but he didn’t know why. Or maybe he did.
But no, I don’t remember everything. He wrote about a cousin visiting, and that I stayed in the hotel with her for a few days during her stay. This is my cousin who died first, right around the age of 40. But at that time, she was a lonely poor little rich girl, travelling around the world on her own, looking for family.
Why don’t I remember that?