Contact Me

Any time - drop me an email
miriamhendeles@gmail.com
1-323-243-7116

Contact Me

Any time - drop me an email
miriamhendeles@gmail.com
1-323-243-7116

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Conversations With Grandparents

 

It’s  Chanukah and we’ve had a few family get-togethers with all grandparents (my husband and me!) and great grands (my mother-in-law), plus a few aunts and uncles and cousins. I always enjoy being with family, especially when the various generations get to mingle together on the holidays. During holidays, some grandparents reminisce about their past. Others are more quiet about their histories and need to be drawn out and engaged in conversation. And finally, there are those who try to reminisce and no one really listens. Or even worse, no one asks.

As a child, I was one of the few who had  grandparents. Most of my friends’ grandparents had passed in the Holocaust and my friends’ parents emigrated to the US to start new families.  My grandparents each survived the War and traveled to the U.S. with their children – my parents – in the late 1930’s and early 40’s respectively.

Many of my friends tell me that they didn’t grow up hearing stories about the Holocaust from their survivor parents.  Aside from the stamp that their parents  had on their arm indicating the years in concentration camps, there was little proof that they had experienced atrocities. These survivors were reticent to share their horror stories with their children and grandchildren.

And then there are those who do talk about their experiences. In his later years, my father-in-law who passed in 2001, freely shared stories of how he and his brother escaped from Poland and other interesting stories. My husband and his siblings lapped up these stories as well as those still being told by my mother-in-law who is well into her 90’s (may she live till 120).

Children ask a lot of questions but adults don’t always want to prod. They may have the dilemma of how much to probe, to ask, to engage in conversation. They may wonder: Do the elders really want to talk? Are their memories really accurate? Is this act of eliciting reminiscence really for their catharsis or therapeutic benefit? Or is it for us – so we can record it all for posterity?  How do we know if we are being sensitive to their needs?

This is the subject of a book that I’m reading now called The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey H. Konis.  Mr. Konis recalls his Grandma Ola whom he adored and spent a lot of time with, but after her death twenty years earlier, felt regret at not getting enough information from her about his family’s history.  His father never asked questions and he repeated the trend of not asking anything, despite having spent a lot of time with his grandmother. And so, he set out to write this book which is a recollection of his thoughts on his grandmother combined with what he did know about the Holocaust and his conversations here and there with his father. He weaves together all the warm and loving memories about his grandmother.

The book’s  title is somewhat self-deprecating if not self-critical. He wishes he would have asked more, started more conversations and he has a fantasy that his grandmother might have poured forth with story after story.

Notwithstanding his not having war discussions, the author had a most loving relationship with his grandmother.  His Grandma Ola –who actually was his “real” grandmother’s sister, raised his father after the war because the actual grandparents died in the War before his father turned nine.  Grandma Ola found her little nephew hiding on a farm in Poland and brought him  to America to raise him as her own.   Thus, Grandma Olga (“Ola”) was the only grandmother Mr. Konis  knew.  As a young adult, Mr. Konis spent time with Grandma Ola when he was in law school, living in her apartment which was close to his school. She doted on him, made sure he was comfortable and gave him the space to study, party, and be his own person.

Many of the elderly who went through the Holocaust do not want to relive their past. My own father (RIP) and my mother (till 120) were/are Holocaust survivors. Although their stories may be fewer and less dramatic than those of my in-laws as they did not experience concentration camps, they did not regale stories of their past. The only thing I remember is my father telling us bedtime stories about his childhood in Antwerp before the war. A few years before his passing, my brothers recorded him as he spoke on tape about some of the more fascinating escape stories – leaving Belgium, France and coming to the USA.

The opportunity to interview our elders – both informally and informally – are many but often we don’t grab the chance.  Either we think they aren’t interested in talking, or perhaps they really are not interested. Or maybe we aren’t asking the right questions to get them to talk and share.

Bottom line is that many of us go through our lives without having these important conversations with our grandmothers, grandfathers and even our parents.  Later we may regret those missed moments and conversations.

I think the message of Mr. Konis’s book is that we ought to delve into the situation with our elders and find out what and how much they are willing to share. If they are willing to share and reminisce, then we take out a pen and paper and write down what they say. Pull out the tape recorder or  video camera and record them talking. Make a collage or scrapbook using old pictures. Interview them, tape them and give out a CD to the cousins.

But if they are not willing to share, accept that reality. Enjoy their presence and glean your own stories from the time you had with them. That’s what Mr. Konis did and his story “Conversations We Never Had” is a testimony to his great love and memory of his time with his grandmother.

 

 


Clueless Bubby?

I often find myself sitting amongst people at a wedding, class, bar mitzvah or any random event. The conversation that I involuntarily overhear goes something like this:

“So what camp are you registering your kid in?”

“I’m putting him in a backyard day camp – where there are 10 kids, and it goes till 12 pm, which works well…”

“Really? Who is in charge there? Does she take kids who are not toilet trained yet?”

“I’m not sure – you’d have to ask her, but she’s really great with the kids…”

As I’m writing the above dialogue, I’m thinking that some young uns out there will read it and think several things: First, why in the world is a grandmother placed at the same table as younger folks?  Good point. Don’t know the answer to that right now. Second, they will note that I got some of my facts wrong. Another good point. But honestly I only hear bits and pieces of the chatter. It’s a good chance that I am misquoting a typical convo.

I’ve been there and done that. I have moved on. And to tell you all the truth, I’m embarrassed to admit: I am somewhat clueless about all of that. Continue reading


Different Strokes for Folks

This Land is Your Land

This Land is My Land,

From California

To the New York Island

From the Redwood Forests

to the Gulf Stream Waters

This Land is Made for me and you….

A song from the 1940’s  by Woodie Guthrie, and one that I sing to my elderly clients very often as a reminiscence tool. This tune is so popular that a friend of mine R. Seidel, RMT – – has revised the lyrics and composed new ones for a fun song teaching young kids to identify their eyes, nose, ears, etc. I have used it for many a sing-along with young pre-school kids in my work.  Here’s how  part of the song goes: (sung to the tune of “This Land is Your Land”)

This hand is your hand; It has five fingers; Wiggle them around now; And feel them tingle; Raise them above you; And then below you; This hand is yours and only yours.

This foot is your foot; It has five toes; Wiggle them around now: Do your socks have holes; Tap them on the floor now (tap, tap, tap..); Now make them stop; This foot is yours and only yours” (copyright 1994- R. Seidel, RMT)

Now that’s a powerful statement for any kid to hear – especially in song. Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your feet to yourself. They are yours. G-d gave them to you to enjoy, use and treasure. You are blessed.

I think one of the most important things in raising kids (not my job anymore) and in nurturing grandkids (I love that job these days) is enhancing their self image, making them feel good about themselves and helping them realize their specialness and uniqueness.

We all are different. Each one of us has a unique way of seeing things – doing stuff, and handling life. That’s a great lesson for children – and for adults to remind ourselves of each day.


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