My mother’s name was really Bronislawa, which doesn’t have an English equivalent. So they called her Blanche.
Her dementia took over all of our lives for the past decade. Now that she is gone, my mind has cleared enough to remember her as she was before.
She was born in America but spent 8 years in Poland with her mother and siblings between the World Wars, when she was a pre-teen. Her father stayed behind to keep earning money, and the rest of the family went to live on the family farm in Poland. She was bi-lingual. She was the oldest of three sisters. She never graduated from high school. She had two brothers. None of her siblings is alive.
This is her and her mother and sisters when they returned from Poland to live in Yonkers.
At the age of 16, she went to work in the Alexander Smith and Sons carpet factory. Her family struggled financially, so they all had jobs. She often recalled that her father had to wrap her arms with ace-type bandages because they would be so sore after a day of work. Until the day she died, she had an indentation in her right forefinger, which she said was caused by the thread she had to wind around her finger day after day.
She was always slim and petite. And pretty. Not beautiful or striking. Pretty. He was handsome. “All the girls were after him,” she often said, “but he picked me.”
This is her and my dad when they got engaged.
She also was a great social dancer and, of course, loved to polka. For many years she danced in a local Polish dance troupe. That’s her, on the left, and one of her best friends, who is still alive and who attended her funeral.
Even toward the end of her life, when she pretty much stopped speaking and walking, my mom would follow my lead in the fox trot and waltz if I held her close to me. She loved music. Loved to dance.
She also liked to sew. When I was a child, before every Christmas, all of my dolls would disappear for a day or two and then show up on Christmas Day all decked out in new dresses that my mother made for them. She liked her clothes to fit well, and she was always sewing them in, letting them out, hemming and correcting. I have that same tendency. She taught me to knit, crochet, and embroider, although she never really spent much time doing those things. Mostly, she was the full-time wife and mother and much-loved member of a group of Polish/American women who played Canasta once a week and socialized, family-style, other times.
I lost count of the visitors at her wake who said to me “She was a real lady.” Proper behavior and stylish clothes were important, and she bought the most fashionable shoes, which for many years had very pointy toes. She liked pumps and bought them narrow so that they would stay on her feet. Her toes suffered for that vanity, and when she got older, it was hard to find shoes that were comfortable.
She chose the suit and blouse that she wanted to be buried in more than a decade before the event — and with pearls around her neck and in her ears, she looked like a VIP, which, to many, she was.
Her portrait, for which she posed to have painted in the 1950s at my father’s request, still hangs in my brother’s house.
Elaine, These remembrances of your mother and the accompanying photos have given me
some idea of the type of lady she was.
What an amazing lady she was!!!!!!!
My cousin Cris included the following in an email to me, and I put it here, for posterity:
“The thoughts and recollections in what you wrote resonated for me. I remember the enigmatic smile she always wore, like the one in The Portrait. I never remember her upset or angry. She was always dressed impeccably and I remember her love for Ferragamo shoes.
Odd what we remember from our past — the strange minute things that become permanent strong memories and the important things that fade away. I always remember the bathroom at your house on Nepperhan — the l-o-n-g narrow pink bathroom with a door at each end (how cool!) and how it always smelled of green Palmolive soap. I remember your mom cooking and running back and forth to the kitchen and not sitting down and enjoying her own meal.”
Elaine, what a lovely post. The portrait is beautiful and quite striking.