Goody with Bill and Red
From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
“Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity.” Kahlil Gibran
Whilst thoroughly cleaning my office, something I do every five years whether the office needs cleaning or not, I came upon a small cache of letters from my maternal and paternal grandmothers. Neither of my grandfathers ever wrote to me. Why I saved these letters—the most recent dated 1981—I do not know, having thrown out hundreds of other family letters over the years, but I’m glad I saved these because I had a fascinating time reading them and appreciating the influence of these two very different women on their progeny and grand progeny.
My father’s parents were white Anglo Saxon Protestants, intelligent, humorless, and proud members of the John Birch Society. They disowned my father when he was twenty-one because he married my Jewish mother. However, some years later when they needed financial help and eventually became economically dependent on my father, they re-owned him, and by association us, their half-breed grandchildren.
My mother’s parents were born in Michigan to Jewish parents who came to America from Poland in the late 1800’s. Goody and Casey (Gertrude and Myron) changed their last name from Weinstein to Winton during the Great Depression so they could get housing and jobs in that time of extreme anti-Semitism. Goody was brilliant and multi-talented and largely self-educated; and she loved to mix Yiddish with her English when she told jokes and stories.
Here is a birthday letter my paternal grandmother Helen wrote to me shortly before I dropped out of college in 1969.
This is to wish you a very happy 19th birthday. It was good to be able to spend some time with you on the trip over the hill to Santa Cruz. It seems like I’ve never had time to sit down and really talk with my grandchildren, so I hardly know any of you. I’m sorry for that.
This book [unknown] I am sending you I ran onto a number of years ago. It fascinated me, being, as I am, a frustrated archaeologist. I had borrowed the book and later, when I tried to buy a copy, I learned it was out of print. Then David [my uncle] picked up a used copy at a second hand bookstall in Athens, of all places, and when he had read it he sent it to me. Now, I discover, it is back in print and I want to share it with you.
History, archaeology and anthropology go hand in hand. The more we know about them the more we know about ourselves. Our genes carry the history of the world and mankind. In them are our roots and our roots tell us who we are. If we don’t know who we are, we are nobody.
Therein lies the tragedy of the dissolution of the family. The family is the closest touch with our roots. Today the world is full of wandering youth who have repudiated family and have, thus, cut their roots. They say they are “trying to find themselves”, and no wonder. Their road is the wrong turning. They are the modern version of the ‘lost souls’ that Milton and other poets and philosophers have written about. The allegories written about the ‘search for happiness’ are myriad, and all end much the same way. Just for fun read the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Well, anyway, I hope you enjoy this book. When we begin to realize that our civilization, so called, as we know it, limited as we may be, is just a speck in the history of civilizations that have occupied this planet, we should be somewhat humble. Our roots started way back someplace in antiquity, and it does seem that we should make them bear good fruits in us. Have a happy birthday. Love, Grammy
And here is an excerpt from a letter penned in 1970 by my maternal grandmother Goody. To best appreciate Goody’s tone, try reading this in the manner of a Jewish comedian.
I have two good stories. First: The aged Jewish wise man was dying. All of his disciples gathered at his side for a final profound idea. He declaimed, “Life is like a river.”
Down the long line went the word, beginning with the Number One follower down to the end where stood the dolt of the group who asked, “What does he mean that life is like a river?”
Up the line came the question until it reached the Number One follower who asked his mentor to explain the statement. The savant answered, “So, it’s not like a river.”
My dear grandson, can you appreciate that story as can your grandmother who lived in an Isaac Bashevis Singer atmosphere all her formative years with a father who was rabbinical in his parables?
The other story comes from another part of the forest. Lillian Hellman tells the anecdote in her An Unfinished Woman about her great friend Dorothy Parker.
Dorothy’s husband Alan Campbell had just died, probably a suicide though no charge was ever made. Among the friends who stood with Dotty on the California steps when the coroner’s car came for him was Mrs. Jones, a woman who had liked Alan, had pretended to like Dotty, and who had always loved all forms of meddling in other people’s troubles.
Mrs. Jones said, “Dotty, tell me dear, what can I do for you?”
Dotty said, “Get me a new husband.”
Mrs. Jones said, “I think that is the most callous and disgusting remark I ever heard in my life.”
Dotty turned to look at her, sighed, and said gently, “So sorry. Then run down to the corner and get me a ham and cheese on rye, and tell them to hold the mayo.”
Margaret Mead said her grandmother told her to learn to nest in the gale. What should I tell you, our dear grandson, except to say that we love you and miss you and we pray that you will find fulfillment. Love and kisses.
[See my interview with Todd Walton here. ~ds]