Saturday, July 31, 2010


Somehow I came down with pneumonia. I'm not one to get sick, especially in the middle of summer, but here I sit in bed.

Ben and the kids stuck with our plan for the weekend. They're at Ethiopian Heritage camp in the Santa Cruz mountains, hanging with other families who've adopted from Ethiopia and even some honest-to-God adult Ethiopians. I'm sorry to miss it. It was fun last year, even though we were still dazed from so recently bringing Mihiretu home. It's a delight to see families that look like ours and to get a taste, a scent, of Ethiopia.

So here I am with two days of silence and books and bed, exactly what I've been fantasizing about. It's a little alarming that it took getting pneumonia to make it happen.

My grandmother, Valeria, my mother's mother, died of pneumonia. This was 1935, just ten years before antibiotics. My mother was two when she died and I feel that her whole life has spooled out from that event. Her father, a destitute Romanian immigrant, was understandably overwhelmed with his three young motherless children and sent them to live in an orphanage temporarily. I never got a clear answer (or maybe - god, really? - I never asked the question) about how long my mom was there. I do know that she was separated from her brothers - boys went in one wing, girls in the other. I know that she, at two, formed memories of her misery there.

Eventually my grandfather managed to bring his children home. But he also procured another wife. Stella (a name I love but could never name my own girls because of the connotations for my mother) was the prototypical evil step-mother. She beat and ridiculed my mother, much more than the boys, lord knows why. She also was pathologically slovenly. Stacks of newspapers throughout the house, a mountain of dishes in the sink. My mother was once beaten for washing them without permission. Stella eventually grew so psychotic that my grandfather committed her to an insane asylum. Sadly, from what I can gather, this was after my mother had grown up and left home.

And so my mother, no doubt genetically predisposed to depression (every old photo of any Romanian ancestor seems laden with sadness) and even obsessive-compulsive tendencies became the often anxious, often melancholy woman I knew. She also, both in reaction to Stella and I think because it was her nature to begin with, was an incredibly kind mother and kept the cleanest house I've ever seen. And, later, as her depression became deeper and scarier, was terrified that we were going to commit her to a mental hospital - something, I believe, that's no longer legal.

And I, with my mother as a model, became a kind (most of the time, anyway), terribly orderly, sometimes sad and nervous person. How it might have gone if Valeria hadn't gotten that bit of bacteria in her lungs, I don't know.

And so here I sit in my sunlit, neat-as-a-pin bedroom, with the white bedding pulled around me, heavy-duty antibiotics coursing through my system, wheezing a bit and thinking on my beautiful namesake (Valeria is my middle name), the seamstress, the ghost that's haunted a couple of generations. I'm in 2010, thank god, I'm not (knock on wood) going to die of pnuemonia but while all this silence around me is lovely, I can smell the danger.

1 comment:

  1. Have you always been this beautiful a writer? Get well quickly and with the sounds of your children and husband enveloping you.