“Aussie, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking for Brutus. I know he’s here somewhere because this is where Lori released him.”
“Brutus the Bunny? Come on, Aussie, let him have his life.”
“Am I a hunter? Is he prey? Our lives are intertwined!”
A day after Lori released Brutus into the wild, Aussie sniffed him out in front of the house. Lori beamed. Maybe she had a hope that he’d hang around the house, lots of greens around here. She also left small mounds of hay for him to munch on. But that night the rains returned. Two days later they returned again, and we haven’t seen him since.
Anything could have happened. He could have moved away. He could have been caught by a predator. For a while, the sparkle left Lori’s eyes. Who wants to save a tiny bunny, nourish it and give it life, carefully monitor its growth and size, release it back to the wild when you think it’s ready, and then wonder if it ever weathered the weather? Or weathered life?
I returned to the Farm the other day and walked down the road on top of the hill. Weddings are conducted there each weekend, and this particular walkway is lined on both sides by trees. You enter through a sunny arch and walk towards the other end where there’s another sunny arch, and in between lots of shade. That’s true of so much, not just marriage. Light and shadow constantly playing with us.
My Aunt Tzippi was really my great-aunt, my grandfather’s sister. Both grew up in a Russian shtetl poorer than church mice. So poor, in fact, that the boys left home under the guise of going off to study Torah, but actually to enable the remaining family to eat. The girls, of course, had to marry, but there was no dowry for any of them.
I only met my Aunt Tzippi, short for Tzipora (which means bird), when she was old, living in Montreal and occasionally visiting us down in New York. She was elegant even then, with a refinement I didn’t see anywhere else in my father’s family. She was also a natural raconteur and I a natural listener.
“I was considered quite a beauty when I was young,” she told me. “I fell in love with a young man. He didn’t have money but we loved each other very, very much. Your great-uncle, on the other hand, was a coarse and ignorant man, but he was rich; he came from the richest family in the district. They had fields of wheat, orchards, grapevines, servants, everything a person could want. I didn’t love him. He asked my father for my hand and promised not only that he would take care of me, but that he would take care of the entire family.”
“It was impossible to say no. I didn’t care about the things he offered me, but I had my sisters to consider, and my parents. Who would marry my sisters without a dowry? I tried to talk to my father, but he shook his head. Here was a chance of a lifetime for our family, he said. All it took was for me to marry a man I didn’t love and never see again the one I did.”
She married the man who would be my great-uncle. She not only had two children, but she also used that time to educate herself. She studied German poetry and music, learned how to set a resplendent table, ordered Limoges china and Flemish lace. When I talked to her many years later she’d quote long Goethe poems in German—none of which she learned at her father’s home. Her gestures were graceful, as though her fingers had only touched silk.
That ended when the Nazis entered Russia and they were quickly exiled. Due to his connections, her husband got advance notice, sold property and converted it into diamonds, and had her sew the diamonds into the hem of the clothes they wore. At the border they were caught and the diamonds confiscated.
Eventually they made it to France, and after the war she recalled selling hot, wet towels on the street outside the Paris Opera for audiences coming out on a cold night in order to support her family. Eventually they made it to Montreal. Her husband, crushed by his losses, could barely get out of bed, but their children prospered and were happy.
“Your family did well,” I remarked to her.
“Yes, my dear,” she said, looking at slender hands that once wore gold and rubies, but now had become thin and crinkled like paper-mache. “But I gave up the only man I ever loved.”
To this day I remember sitting with her in her Montreal living room, a devoted daughter living just a block away, the phone ringing with calls from her doting grandchildren, her blue eyes still hard with anger, regret deeply lining her features. She’d lived through so much, had been so close to death, but what she couldn’t forgive was losing the one chance she had for a man’s love.
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