The last time I was in Paris, it was just for one day. I flew over from London where the rest of the teaching team was planning British witch camp. I went specifically to see my Aunt Edie.
Edie, my father's sister, moved to France after World War II to help resettle refugees from the camps. She liked it there, found a great job in the financial sector and stayed for sixty years. She, her husband and son lived in an apartment in the swanky 16th arrondissement that was so small I could not figure out how they managed a peaceful coexistence. Their kitchen, for instance, was hardly bigger than this blogpost. Of course in Paris, going out to eat is not chore. Yeah. But still - that apartment was so tiny.
We spent much of our time together sharing family stories. She regaled me with tales of the years when my father and mother were good with each other, happy even. They worked together in politics mostly and were great allies, a good team. I had never seen them happy with each other; her stories were such a gift!
The other thing she gave me was a name, one word she pulled from an old book or something, one of the random things that ended up in the U.S. when my grandfather came through Ellis Island. She believed it was the name of our ancestral shtetl.
It was a wonderful 24 hours during which my auntie kept saying, "You don't want to go see the Arc or the Tower?" Nope. I just wanted to hang out with my aunt.
It was that one word, in my aunt's handwriting on a scrap of paper, that I took to the library at the Holocaust Museum. The librarians told me immediately it was not a spelling they recognized - not Polish, not Ukrainian, not Russian. Edie told me the location of the shtetl was west of Lvov in modern Ukraine. With just two bits of information, the EXCELLENT librarians found the shtetl and a pictorial archive not only of that town but the other small towns close by. There is a Yizkor remembrance book in a library in San Francisco, written in Hebrew. Some day I would love to get some of those stories translated. The librarians said the Yizkor books are kind of hilarious, compendiums of shtetl gossip. I would love to read some of that!
Aunt Edie was glad for my company as she was grieving the loss of her husband. They were married almost all the years she lived in Paris. Coco, as she and all of us called him, was someone she felt she really could not live without. I'm grateful for that 24 hour visit. My aunt died three months later.
I cherish the gift of that final visit with my funny, haughty, wickedly intelligent auntie. I cherish the gift of family myth, also the misspelled name of the place where my ancestors lived for centuries and died all at once, asphyxiated in volkswagons on August 9, 1941. I'm thinking of my aunt with a lot of love this morning. Hey Edie! I know you're flying high. I love you. Thank you! Shalom.