“Breaking up is hard to do”
– Song by Neil Sedaka
How true, how true these words are. I cannot remember the rest of the lyrics, or even much of the melody. Still, that line keeps running in a loop through my head.
It is hard to break up a home and end a relationship with a state and a community that began when I was in fourth grade at Arlington Grammar School. That is when my family moved from Rochester, New York, to Cranston, and then to Providence.
Warren and I moved seven times during our life together, from an apartment to larger homes as our family expanded, and then back to apartments as our children set out on their own.
With each move, whether upsizing or downsizing, we accumulated stuff. We were very proud of ourselves when, with our first downsize, we repatriated term papers and letters and textbooks. “Look how much stuff we got rid of!”
That only left boxes of legal documents (some outdated), snapshots and albums, Warren’s trophies, souvenirs of places we had visited, my collectibles, old report cards, and Passover dishes and utensils. Those neatly packed boxes followed us wherever we moved. And the number increased after the deaths of my in-laws and, later, my parents.
So many memories were bound up in this item or that. How could we not take them with us?
Storage was never a problem, as it happens, no matter where we moved. We always had a place for the boxes. We vowed we would look into them later and then triage the contents.
“Later” came sooner than expected, bringing with it a large dose of reality and difficult decisions to be made in a hurry – what to donate, what to keep. Be ruthless in culling these boxes, I told myself.
But each box was a treasure chest of memories made tangible. Each had a story to tell about a relative or a friend, special occasions or an event, where we traveled or when we found this souvenir to memorialize our happiness.
If no tears fell during this process, there was at a minimum a huge lump in the throat.
The first real item of furniture Warren and I bought was a marble-topped antique chest of drawers that graced the living room of each of our homes. In time, it became a repository for all sorts of things, ephemera, as it is known, photos and papers of all sorts. Be ruthless, I told myself.
A riot of color greeted me as I opened the first drawer; candles of all sizes and shades, half-burned tapers that had graced a dinner table, little birthday candles, and a few left over from Hanukkah; kippot in a variety of fabrics and shades, from cranberry to light pink, as well as black, brown, beige, blue and, of course, white. Each demanded an examination, and so I paused to read the names printed on the inside, and to wonder. How many of those boys and girls standing on the bimah on their special day realized their hopes, their dreams? How many of the couples remain united?
Other drawers yielded letters from Yad Vashem confirming the fate of an aunt and two cousins in the Ukraine during World War II, Yiddish poems written by my father, Berel Segal, and set to music by Stanley Friedman, which I thought I had misplaced; tributes and eulogies and mementoes of my mother Chaya Segal’s career as a Hebrew teacher; and photo albums – pictorial evidence of life-cycle celebrations.
How bittersweet the feeling as I paged through the papers and photos, the happy occasions and the wonderful informal snapshots of family in animated conversation. Most of those relatives are no longer with us.
With this miscellaneous mix of photos and papers, I could not be ruthless. They would come with me in their own boxes for future generations to cull.
Leaving your community is also hard to do. The poet Sara Teasdale wrote: “Into my heart’s treasury / I slipped a coin / That time cannot take / Nor thief purloin ....” The coin is a “safe-kept memory / Of a lovely thing.”
I have been blessed with many wonderful years in Rhode Island. Little Rhody is a beautiful and comfortable place to live. I shall miss the ambience.
I shall miss this Jewish community that I love and have always considered myself at home.
Forgive me if I sound maudlin. In truth, my heart’s treasury is overflowing with “coins,” wonderful memories of people I have met and friends I have made, and special places and events in which I have been fortunate to participate.
My daughter Vivian and I have relocated to New Jersey. From our new home, I send you all the best wishes for a happy and healthy new year. May it be a year that brings us peace.
GERALDINE S. FOSTER is a past president of the R.I. Jewish Historical Association.