Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fani

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was this week, I'm deviating from my general rule of not mentioning other people by name on this blog to profile an important person in my life. 

Her name is Fani, and she is the woman who raised me from the time I was five days old until I was twelve or so, while both my parents worked full time and long hours. I probably spent more time with her than any other single person in my childhood. She doesn't use a computer so she will never see this, but she knows how much I love her.

I visited her at her apartment in Northern Manhattan when I was in New York City last Christmas, and I worried it would be the last time, and the last picture we would take together. (She is in her late seventies and quite ill). She speaks four languages: Romanian, English, Yiddish (which she calls "Jewish" and pronounces "Djeweeesh"), and Hebrew.

When Fani was a baby in Romania, the Nazis rounded her up along with her mother and her two older sisters and sent them all to a concentration camp in Russia. Her father went to a separate work camp, also in Russia. She didn't see him again for three years, and when she did, he was a stranger to her. Miraculously, all five members of Fani's family survived to be reunited in Romania and later in Israel and the United States. 

Fani spoke Romanian to me as a baby and I understood it but couldn't speak it. I didn't actually realize how much Romanian I had absorbed, until years later at work when I heard a judge speak with a familiar accent. I instantly thought he was someone from my childhood. Turned out I'd just never heard anyone else speak with a Romanian accent.

Fani had lots of old world beliefs about things like fresh air and chicken soup. I ate a lot of chicken soup and got lots of fresh air. Sometimes we would walk all the way from my parents' apartment, on 254th Street in the Bronx, to her apartment in Manhattan at 207th Street several miles away. She loved to watch "The Price is Right" and she let me eat as much candy and watch as much crappy TV as I wanted. In fact, my best Romanian phrase was "I want to watch more television." But mostly, I enjoyed talking to her and I spent a lot of time doing it. 

I would ask her to tell me her life story again and again: her post-Holocaust childhood in Communist Romania, where everyone was impoverished and the ice cream truck was a cart with two flavors of ice cream, and kids would run from their homes with a spoon in their hand and get a spoonful of ice cream for a penny. We would look through old black and white photographs of her young adulthood as an actress in Israel, and she was hilariously bold about exclaiming how beautiful she was. (It was true).

I often spent time at her apartment where she lived with her husband and only child, a son who was about 15 years older than me. She loved to read me cautionary stories from the newspaper about kids being kidnapped and would squeeze my hand on the bus every time she saw a suspicious character we were supposed to avoid. It was like our secret code. We would sometimes visit with her two sisters, both of whom lived in the same apartment building as her.

As far as I'm concerned, Fani is a living treasure! I already miss her every day. And I am really going to miss her when she's gone.




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