Mendel Letters 84 — My Inheritance
July 2, 2022
During his long life, 94 years, my Zayde Solomon, your father, had very little. It was definitely a hard life. Poverty as a boy in Galicia Poland. Hardship and hard work when he came to America. The death of his first two children from influenza. Periodic unemployment because of seasonal work in the garment industry and the Great Depression. The death of relatives who remained in Europe and the extermination of his village during World War II. I never expected much of an inheritance from him, but I did get one thing — vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a skin condition where pigment fades and pale white patches develop. It commonly happens on the face, neck and hands, but I mostly have it on my hands and arms.
I first started getting small patches of white on my hands when I was in my thirties. During the summer, when working or playing outside I would cover the spots using a sunscreen stick. Once summer sunburn faded, the spots were no longer visible. By the time I was in my forties my hands and arms had large white splotches and I would wear long sleeve shirts and pants, even on the hottest days, and I started to wear ski liner gloves when driving or biking because sunscreen made my hands slippery. If my hands and arms were exposed to the sun for any length of time I would get very painful sunburn. Sunscreen only provided moderate protection. At the beach I wore long sleeve shirts, pants, socks and a hat when not in the water and people would stare. That’s about when you noticed.
It seems Zayde also had white splotches on his hands and arms, something everyone attributed to the steam from the irons when he worked as a presser ironing clothes. You didn’t have the splotches and neither did your sister or brothers. It turns out that vitiligo, which is annoying to have but not a serious condition, is genetic and it skipped a generation. It is my genetic inheritance from Zayde.
By the way, it skipped a generation again and my son Solomon does not have it.
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.
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