Mendel Letters 31: Cousin Wars
May 29, 2021
I was talking with a a young woman in my class who is from with a South Asian background and we discovered we had a very similar experience growing up, “Cousin Wars.” Whenever our families got together for holidays or celebrations our parents and aunts and uncles felt compelled to one-up each other by bragging about the achievements of their sons and daughters. As children we were in the background and always knew about it, but never cared. The boys would have rather you bragged about sports achievements than test scores, but none of us were ever that good a sports. When we grew older we were just annoyed.
In those days the “Cousin Wars” started when we were very young with reports on our enhanced development and stories about how clever we were. Who could write their name and got their library card when they were the youngest. In elementary school the measure was standardized tests (IQ exams and Iowa Skills), then it was who got into the SP class and specialized high schools, followed by grade averages, SAT scores, and college admission. I know you did pretty well in these battles until my brother and I got into high school when we stopped carrying about grades.
I think you played the game especially hard because of the difficulties in your own life, your vision problems, Mommy’s death, never moving to the suburbs, and construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway wiping out your Bronx candy store-luncheonette.
When I worked at Charles Evans Hughes High School in the 1970s, we realized that from 1919 to 1954 it had been Straubenmuller Textile High School where the city had a program for the visually handicapped. I searched the sub-basement and stored in a deteriorating cardboard box I found your high school official record. It took you an extra semester to graduate and your grades were less than impressive.
In retrospect, who cares about what your grades were in high school? The thing is, under the circumstances you faced you were a pretty amazing guy and dad.
Follow Alan Singer on twitter at https://twitter.com/AlanJSinger1.
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.