Last year I drove to your gravesite for the first time since the day we buried you five years earlier and taped a silly silver HERE’S TO 100 YEARS birthday card to the marble bearing your name. I didn’t know what it would feel like to sit there face to face with your name and Grandpa’s, how it would all come tumbling up. In my day to day, you are with me everywhere — from my scarves to my rings to the black and white photos on my wall, and I think there’s safety in remembering you young, in greyscale, looking like me, because it obscures who you were to me when I knew you, when you were the greatest love in my life. Your red hair, your soft skin, the blue veins on your hands, the way you smelled of kasha and soap, your Tallulah Bankhead voice and the way you said my name.
It is so hard to sit here at 33 and wish you could know me now, a little less scared of everything than I was at 27, that I could share my grown-up life with you, my work, my travel, my heartaches and poems.
Every day I am grateful that I came from you. Today I sink into the celebration and grief of you.
Today is the birthday of both my grandmothers, my namesakes;
the Cal and Leah in Caleah, my middle name.
On the right, California June Curts O’Connell, the grandmother I never knew, who today would be 101 years old. She was born in Sutter Creek, was a barefoot girl in Ukiah and Grass Valley, came of age on Woodland Avenue in San Francisco, and graduated from Berkeley, an anthropologist who found her life’s work at the Legion of Honor.
On the left, Leah Lillian Brodsky Foreman, Canadian daughter of poor Jewish immigrants who was a girl in Dayton, Ohio, before she came of age on the streets of Chicago. At war’s end, she came west to her city of dreams and lived nearly 70 years by the bay, devoting her life to saving those persecuted for their beliefs.
One woman I knew so well I sometimes look in the mirror and see her; the other whose voice, poised and rich and Sylvia Plath-like, I’ve heard only on cassette tapes, but whose eyes follow me in the face of my brother.
June first is the first of the year for me: a day of memory and reflection of the women whose blood I bleed, and an honoring of their rich and varied lives.