Friday, August 22, 2008

The Secrets of the Drawer

My grandmother's life (burried next to my father) was very different. Born in 1895 in Arad (1 out of 5 children) in a secular Jewish family owning a declining China porcelain business, with almost no dowry, she was forced to mary the much older Austro-Hungarian officer who occupied one of their rooms during WWI. Her impecable education of an Austro-Hungarian lady destined her to a better life she could only wish for. As after that war Transylvania (including Arad) became part of Romania, the former officer could no longer serve in the army, the only profession he knew and apparently liked. He entered the timber wholesale business and tried others, mostly unsuccessfuly. Their roller-coaster like household pendulated between extremes of living-in servants and furniture forclosures. She never worked outside her household, a child-like economic dependence in Eva's view. She made an impact on both Eva's and my education, me sharing a room with her since I was born till she died in 1981 at the age of 86.

In that very room, there were 2 mahogany-marble-glass cupboards from her small dowry, manufactured in 1860, in Vienna. The larger one features a wide drawer under the marble plate, that contained documents and used to be locked, which made it extra interesting for me to discover.

One thing I discovered was a beautifully caligraphed application of my grandfather to the Austro-Hungarian authorities to change his name from the Jewish Stern to the Hungarian Sebestyen. My cousin Eva changed Sebestyen to the Romanian Sebastian. Then she married to Bucur, divorced and became Sebastian again. Before you get to the judgemental "the more we want to be like them, the more they hate us", you should know she wasn't the only one in our family to change her name. My grandmother's youngest sister, Rozi, the Budapest pianist who helped them financially after the frequent furniture forclosures, got fictively married to the gentile Ferenczy, which turned her into Ferenczy Albertne, a name that saved her from the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
I also discovered in the drawer different documents with the name Scheer Ana on them and this is how I found out my mother was previously married to the hunchback Scheer and got divorced. I can envision how this arty-lazy womanizer who could not earn a decent living exasperated my practical mother. They had no children. What makes a relationship work, I ask myself 2 days before our 28th anniversary and promise to dedicate a special blogpost to my insights on the subject.
There was also a bunch of letters sent by my father to my mother when he courted her. I felt uncomfortable reading them, so I made do with the first row. Beautiful romantic music to my ears.

After the drawer disclosed its secrets and before we immigrated to Israel, we sold both closets to my friend's parents. I am really happy they didn't go to strangers, but to the nice Vlaicu couple, the parents of Rely (my friend who lives in the UK) and her sister Dora (who made these pictures and some other beautiful ones to come).

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