Mendel Letters 21: Hard Times
March 13, 2021
I know how hard it was for us, I can only imagine how hard it was for you. You and Mommy were married in 1945, I was born in 1950, my brother in 1952, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1957. For the next four years she was in and out of the hospital having multiple surgeries until she died at age 34. I had just turned 11. My brother was not yet 9. I remember you bought her a car six months before she died pretending that she would get better, a car she never drove and a car you couldn’t afford.
By the age of ten I was doing the family shopping and laundry and lifting her out of the bathtub with my eyes closed. She struggled to go to work in an office until two months before she died. I later learned this was so we would be eligible for social security benefits. I have almost no memories of her, certainly none of her being well.
When she died neighbors and relatives I had never met gave us packages of used clothing and bundles of books. It was the nicest clothes we ever had and the first time we had books in the apartment. I still have one of the books, Sons of the Swordmaker, a collection of Irish folk tales by Maurice Walsh. My favorite story is “Face of Stone” and I reread it when I need a boost. Stone Face is a traveller who walks the Irish coast unarmed. But villains beware when he is angered or senses injustice. Sometimes I liked to imagine I was Stone Face.
You married a widowed neighbor in the building when I was fourteen and we moved into her apartment. I think you and she waited until some of her children had married so there would be enough room for us. People have asked me what it was like having a new mother when you are a teenager. After years of difficulty, I really appreciated having clean clothes to wear and supper.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.