Follow the adventures and travails of two multi-generational families, from a poor shtetl in the Polish Ukraine, and upper class Vienna as both families undergo the hardships of immigrating to America. How they come together takes two generations, and is the meat of the novel.
The Girls & Me
The phone jars Rebecca awake: “Naomi in jail. Come,” says the heavily accented voice. Her eldest daughter has been helping the rural poor in ‘Nicador’ for months. The mother and her younger daughter, Sadie, fly south two days later to get Naomi out of this foreign jail, only to discover that the issue of her release is ‘if’, not ‘when’. All three must find a way to cope, and to have a life in the midst of this painful new reality. Like the Julia Alvarez novel, “In The Time of the Butterflies”, it is the strength of the relationships between these women that will get them through the hell they find themselves in, each in her own way, and each with the succor and love they have for one another.
Little Nancy: The Journey Home
A Memoir and Workbook to help you find your lost child, by Nancy Alvarez
“I seem to have lost you, and I don’t know where you’ve gone. I stare at your expectant little face, filled with delight as you smile into the camera with assurance that something good is on the way, and long to step into the frame with you in order to recapture that feeling. Years ago, so many I don’t remember exactly when, you used to wake up in the morning with a thrill that a new day was about to begin, sliding your feet all over the smooth, percale sheet beneath you and glorying in the feel of the fabric. Even on a rainy day, you loved to watch the light as it filtered through the window shades, and breathe in the smell of coffee coming from our mother’s kitchen, although you didn’t really know then what it was. I know you smiled with contentment and well-being back then because you trusted what the day would bring. You trusted it would be full of wonder. You trusted that your body could easily run, jump, twirl and dance. You trusted that your mother would put something delicious in front of you at the kitchen table for breakfast. You trusted that you would be cared for and loved. ”
“At 60 my world is not right; my life is filled with peril. Whatever the day has to offer may not be good. I wake up afraid, but I don’t know of what. These fears, and the familiar difficulty I have breathing each and every morning, are becoming very distressing to me. Most of my friends would not believe this frightened person is me. I am competent, mouthy, spirited, and still full of curiosity, or that is how most people in the world experience me. Even my closest friends do not know the depth of my unease. What bothers me more is that I rarely experience true joy anymore. ”
“She was my Mommy and the way she smelled was totally reassuring. Often when she took me to the park, she would play on the teeter-totter with me, push me on the swing, and when there weren’t other mothers around, even coast down the slide with me, pushing so we would go faster and screaming with me. It was so much fun. At night she read to me, letting me follow along and point to each picture as she identified and read the words beneath it. When I began to say the words too, she let me continue by myself. I felt so proud. I knew very early on she believed in me. The night I first read the words by myself I made myself stay awake until my father came home. I heard her tell him, “Nancy is reading, honey. Isn’t that marvelous?” Her voice rose with excitement even before the door closed and he was fully inside the house. ”
“I was called a creative child from a very early age. I asked lots of questions of everyone on a wide range of subjects – parents, teachers, aunts and uncles. Curious about everything that went on around me, I wanted to ‘understand’ it all. I still feel better when I understand the dynamics of a situation; as a child, it felt exciting to soak up the information I garnered from the adults around me. Some of them thought I was a pain in the ass; others were amused by my curiosity. When no one would answer my question, I made up my own answers, the first stories I ever invented.”
“At least I was no longer a virgin. Before he said a word about protection, I made an appointment with Lena Levine, the gynecologist Mary McCarthy had written about in “The Group”, although I didn’t know that at the time, and utilized a free afternoon to take the subway down to the Village where she had her office. My sister had given her name and number to me the summer before, ‘in case I needed it’. She never asked, and I didn’t say. Sex wasn’t a subject we were comfortable discussing with one another. I was forever grateful, however, for the name. I didn’t find the exam particularly frightening because of all that I had been through with my bladder. But when the doctor handed the diaphragm to me so that I could practice, the damned thing popped out of my hand and hit her far wall. She laughed immediately as she went scurrying after it, which somehow made it less embarrassing. We both had to catch our breaths before she was able to suggest I try again. The second time was the charm. Now I would be safe; and there was no way my parents could discover what I was up to.”
“The only decision in my life I’ve never regretted was having children. Jules didn’t object to taking a Lamaze class with me. He may have been nervous about the birth of our first child, like me, and been reassured by the class as well. I never thought about it back then, and never asked him afterwards. He sat behind me, as did all the prospective fathers in the class, and counted my breaths for me as I leaned into him in pretend labor. One evening the teacher invited a former student to speak to us about her experience. The young woman had been starving on her way to the hospital, so her husband stopped at MacDonald’s to fortify her for the hours she would be in labor at the hospital. Neither Jules nor I had ever eaten a MacDonald’s burger in our lives. On the way home from the class we decided it was time for us to join the proletariat. We both ordered burgers and fries and were both sick by the time we reached home. We laughed about that night for years, and the fact that our daughter survived it.”
“The more lonely and stressed I became, the more I thought of myself as a failure for not living up to the image of Jane Wyatt waiting at the front door on “Father Knows Best”. I had taken that image as gospel from as far back as I could remember. Jules was building his business and meeting interesting people, people who were certainly livelier than I was. We didn’t communicate well about personal stuff under the best of circumstances, and never had. Jules had never thought it important, and I didn’t believe many men enjoyed ‘wallowing’, as Jules called it. As our lives diverged, and we both became busier, the distance between us became a chasm. I had no idea how to bridge it; I don’t know that Jules minded. I was happy with my children, unhappy in my marriage. When I tried to talk to my mother about it, she told me “You made your bed. Now you have to lie in it.” In my heart of hearts, I agreed with her. By that time there was very little play left in me; I was too busy trying to survive my overwhelming life.”
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