In life, as in art, we sometimes stand too close to the people we love, and miss seeing exactly who they are. My whole life I thought of my mother as someone who was just always there-to cook (as no one else could), to clean, to take care of 4 kids, a husband, a few boarders, my grandmother. She didn't work outside the home, she didn't drive, she didn't have a high school diploma, she was embarrassed about her English.
But in preparing to say good-bye to her today, I take a step back and see such an amazing woman! As a young woman in her early twenties, she had the courage and resolve to lead herself, her mother, her sister and future brother-in-law, and her then fiance (my dad) out of Sokolov, out of the jaws of the Nazis. She did not freeze in the fear of "what if"; she did not allow herself to be comforted by false hopes of "maybe it'll be alright." We are leaving, she said to my dad, "choose". My brothers and I were trying to figure out last night how many people's lives that courage saved-in addition to the five who left-and we counted up 27 already with, G-d willing, many more great grandchildren and great great grandchildren to come.
And her courage didn't stop with their leaving. There was surviving the Russians, planting herself in a Russian police station until they told her where they had sent my father, trying to create normality in a DP camp, coming to a new country-America-as a life-marked woman in her 30s with two littles ones and little else. And almost immediately giving birth to the daughter she had so wanted.
And I often marvel to my own children today that little more than a decade "off the boat" she and my dad had established a home, had a 4th child, found a way to make life seem normal and anything possible. One humorous scene keeps popping into my head as I wonder at my mom's adaptability. Me at the age of 12, them still little more than a decade off the boat; me a very Americanized adolescent going off to school in a tight orange cashmere sweater, with white lipstick and a teased bouffant hairdo out of Grease. And my mom letting me out of the house with not a word of criticism although I must have looked like a space alien to her. I have used her lesson of forbearance very often as I allow my own daughters to grow and develop on their own.
So in ways big and small, as I step back and see who my mom really was, I realize that she was truly an Eshet Chayal, A Woman of Valor. She saved so many and gave so much in life. I only pray that life gave back to her some small measure of what she deserved.