Monday, August 21, 2006

In Her Own Words

Bea was a copious letter writer. She enjoyed writing and realized the value of words, asking family members to preserve her correspondence. One handwritten letter from Europe is 50 pages long!

When I moved to France, Bea wrote at least once a week. I placed all her letters in shoeboxes, which are now stored away in my brother-in-law’s Parisian basement, 20 years of love waiting to remind me of her the day I can retrieve them.

Bea kept drafts of some of the more important letters.

Several blogs ago, Vassar friend Louise filed a wedding report and commented on the easy camaraderie between Bea and my grandparents. Bea explains why in a letter written Nov. 23, 1977 to my brother and me:

“As I see it, all young people struggle to free themselves from dependence on parents. I remember my twenties and early thirties. You both know enough about my family situation and now, from his book, about your father’s, to know we each had a hard time.

Father was married to Laura Harris for 10 years before I met him … Laura asked if she could come and see Sandy when she was a few months old. Then she wanted to have dinner with me, so I met her in a small restaurant. She asked me to acknowledge that Father was a difficult man to get on with. I would not. I was aware of difficulties, but I looked on psycho-analysis as a means of resolving them and probably did say that I thought psycho-analysis had been helpful, but I would not concede what she wanted to hear, that, yes, he was difficult. I am sorry now that I did not, as it were, betray him to that extent – to acknowledge what I knew to be true, but I then could not bring myself to do it and resented her wanting me to.

Incidentally, I knew why their marriage had failed, but I did not, of course, tell her. She had sided with him when he criticized his parents and was openly hostile when they came to the United States, not realizing that there were two sides to his feelings. She disregarded the positive side and deliberately alienated him from them, thinking it was for his own good. It wasn’t.

The intensity of your father’s feelings about his parents is shown in two instances. Before we were married, and I was living in New York and Father in Washington, I saw something of them and frequently took them to dinner at the Vassar Club or brought them some cold turkey breast, which Grandpa specially liked, from a good delicatessen. I even had a tea for them to meet some of my New York friends, with Father there from Washington for the occasion. So, because he had warned me not to see so much of his parents, and I apparently had done so more than he wanted, one evening he punched me in the nose. It almost bled. I was aghast and wondered whether I should break our engagement, but I was buoyed by my knowledge of human motivation and realized that he was getting out some of his long-repressed resentment.

Shortly before Grandma died, we arranged for her to come back from the hospital to our apartment. Father insisted that I feed our family before I prepared her tray, and it was all I could do to prevent her from feeling his hostility. But she knew toward the end that he had made progress in his feelings about her for she said that there was a time when he had been hard but that now he seemed softer and attributed the change, in part, to our marriage...”

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