I am not usually a big fan of Mother’s Day. It’s always seemed like a “Hallmark” holiday to me, manufactured for commercial purposes to sell cards and overpriced meals at overcrowded restaurants. And I say this as a mother, not as a daughter. But this year I’d like to pay tribute to all the mothers I’ve learned about through my genealogy research.
First, to Bessie Brotman, my great-grandmother, who journeyed to America like so many other immigrant women alone with two young children, who took in the young children of her husband Joseph’s first marriage and raised them. Bessie then lost that husband after being in the US for only ten years and after bearing three more children with him, one born just months before he died, leaving her as a widow with three very young children and several older children. Bessie remarried and then took care of not only her children but the numerous children of her second husband, Philip Moskowitz. She was a sweet and loving woman who brought love to all those children.
I’d also like to pay tribute to my other great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Ghitla Rosenzweig Goldschlager. She also made the journey to America, only to find when she arrived that her husband Moritz had died months before her arrival. She also persisted and survived, as did her sister Tillie, also widowed shortly after arriving in the US and having seven children to care for herself. She had a generous enough heart to take in my grandfather and his sister Betty after their father died and before their mother arrived from Romania. The third Rosenzweig sister Zusi also lost her husband and raised her son Nathan on her own after losing his twin brother as a month old infant. All the Rosenzweig sisters suffered such terrible heartbreak.
I am thinking also of my grandmother Gussie, who never spoke of her childhood and who lost her father when she was only five years old. She then moved in with her sister Tillie when her mother remarried rather than live in a household filled with stepsiblings and a stepfather she did not like. She took care of her younger siblings from a very early age and then took care of her three young nephews before marrying my grandfather and raising three children of her own. Despite her own unhappiness, she was a loving grandmother and always made us laugh and smile.
My grandmother’s two sisters also come to mind this Mother’s Day—Frieda, who died from complications of childbirth and thus never got to experience the joys of motherhood, and Tillie, who my mother and her siblings remember as being a devoted aunt who took them places and brought them baked goods, gifts and most importantly lots of love and affection.
My other grandmother, Eva Schoenthal Cohen, whose story I’ve not yet told, also lost her husband at a young age and managed to move on, remarrying later in life. My memories of her are of a soft-spoken, beautiful woman, who had experienced a great deal of sadness but carried herself with a lot of pride and dignity. I also think about my two great-grandmothers, my father’s grandmothers. who took care of him and my Aunt Eva when his parents were not able to do so.
All who read this blog know that my Aunt Elaine was our family matriarch, the one who kept the family history and saw to it that we all knew each other and were part of each other’s lives. She was thirteen years older than my mother and often like a second mother to her as well as her sister and friend. She could always make us laugh, always make us feel loved.
And, of course, I am thinking of my own mother. She is and always has been a devoted, loving mother who gives her love unconditionally. Alhtough she has said that she was so young when I was born that she had no idea what she was doing, she did everything right. She, along with my father, have always made me feel special, loved and valued. I grew up believing that I could do and be anything I wanted. To this day my mother is someone I turn to when I have something good or bad to share. She is always there to listen, not to pass judgment, but to listen and to provide support.
And finally, I am thinking of my daughters, the ones who enabled me to take on the title of mother myself. Somehow despite all my mistakes, and there were many, they both grew up to be amazing young women who love with all their hearts and bring joy to all who are lucky enough to know them. They taught me how to be a mother just by letting me watch them become the people they were always meant to be. I don’t need cards or overpriced meals at overcrowded restaurants. I am just happy getting to be their mother every day of the year.
Happy Mother’s Day to all!