In a tiny town, next to the Rhine River, sits what was once a famous spa town. Famous for its water. Famous for its facilities. Famous for those who come to heal there. What it isn’t famous for is my family tree. What it isn’t well known for is the history that went before and is long since erased –a history of people whose sterling silver at breakfast lifestyle was transformed by politics and ignorance. And it isn’t well known for a woman fearing the actual (her husband impending death) and the theoretical (the threat of a Nazi future which seemed, at the time, a complete impossibility). I know very little about my great grandmother other than the fact that she wouldn’t leave her husband, the Rabbi, when the rest of the family was told it was best for Jews to get out of Germany. And I know that she didn’t approve of the marriage of her son, Rudolph, to the orphan, Eva.
Eva Kutchinsky came to Laser Weingarten’s orphanage when she was 8 years old. She was one of four children I think. Or maybe it was five. There was an older sister, long since moved to America. And a hunchbacked brother. And a much younger sister who would follow Eva around like a lost puppy her whole life (“I married one and got two,” my grandfather used to say). She was too young to be out in the world on her own and too old to start over with new parents. Too uneducated to be considered part of acceptable high German society and too pretty to be ignored. And even at that young age, even as an orphan from a different country – a girl with no home and no one to claim her – she caught my grandfather’s eye. My grandfather was fancy. He had cars and dogs and horses and a good education and a rich full life. He was older than she, though not by much. And he could have had any girl in town he wanted. But he wanted her.
There’s a story about Grandpa going away to America as a young man, and a story about a box of candy he gave her before he left – a box of candy with an enameled watch that still exists somewhere in jewelry box in my sister’s house. And the story of how he came back. How against his mother’s wishes (after all, Eva wasn’t “fine” enough for him), he returned to profess his love and court her (with her little sister following everywhere they went) and finally marry her. There’s the story of the veil that caught fire during the religious ceremony (which was not the same as the civil ceremony which took place months before). And the story of someone telling them, just at the right time though my grandmother was nine months pregnant with my mother, that it was time to leave Germany.
All of these stories are worth telling. And all of them are stories I wish I knew in greater detail – stories that lead to questions unasked and moments I’ll never know about. But mostly, tonite, I miss my grandma. I miss how soft the skin on her forearm was – how warm the pudge of her upper arm. I miss the image of her driving her hot rod two tone orange and black Matador through the valley and the way she fluttered around meals as though each time was her first in the kitchen. Sometimes, I forget that she’s gone and I fantasize about sitting at her dining table with a glass of tea and chocolate coffeecake ring from Weby’s. We’d talk and I’d ask her the questions I wish I’d asked her when I had the chance. I’d ask her what my mother was like when she was little and what it was really like coming to a country where she knew no one. I’d ask about losing her parents and what she remembered of her mother. And I’d ask, once again, how to make those big heavy matzo balls she made at pesach – not the ones for the soup but the ones she’d slice and fry that sat in my stomach for days on end but were too delicious to pass up.