i'd have written this.
My father's parents? Nowhere. Dead, gone, with a calamity known within my family, and many other parts of the world and indeed Ireland, as the Troubles. My paternal grandfather, my Daideó, had grown up knowing that somewhere in County Cork, his own father was imprisoned for daring to say that the Irish had a right to a Free State. He took part in an uprising in 1916. Many of his compatriots were executed for doing the same thing. As such, my poor Daideó grew up dirt poor with four siblings in his tread. My great-grandmother...there is a photograph that exists of her, and everybody always says that she was simply beautiful, Aine(they called me by my Irish name, too insulted by the fact that my father had chosen 'Kimberley' instead of the 'Meghann' or 'Sinead' they were hoping for). Simply beautiful, awn-yah. Knowing that beautiful women in my father's family come perhaps once a generation, I believed it. She was said to have had grey eyes, like the storms that plague the Irish Sea for the trawlermen every season. Russet hair, and a fierce, protective love for everybody around her. My Irish name...was named for her. Greatgrandmama Aine, who was also said to adore flowers, and never knew how to read or write, one, perhaps two generations down from what the world knows as the Irish Famine. We call it An Gorta Mor. I remember seeing a banner at a soccer match in Scotland, about An Gorta Mor:
ONE MILLION DEAD. THREE MILLION DISPERSED. THE DESCENDANTS REMEMBER!
An Gorta Mor triggered the Irish diaspora; three million Irish people, mostly Catholic, desperately searched for a better life than the one that God had given them in Ireland. They took up post in America, in Canada, in Australia, in New Zealand, in South Africa, in Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia...my family, perhaps too connected to their roots to leave, stuck it out. The first of the MacGowans, also known as the Smiths, did not arrive on Australian shores until 1963. 1963, a year of hard luck for the Irish; the Irish Catholic American President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (known affectionately as 'JFK') had been assassinated in Dallas that year. It was also a year of perhaps good luck; Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and The Beatles exploded, creating wonderful music that my father's generation and my generation in turn would be fascinated with.
My maternal grandparents arrived in 1960.
My Oma was heavily pregnant at that time with my uncle. One year later, my mother would be born also. My poor Oma had no idea how to speak English; she only knew German, Hebrew(though she had tried many times over the years to forget that language), Yiddish(ditto) and Portuguese, thanks to her Sephardi parents who had finally fled Portugal after more anti-Semetic activity in the country. However, she loved Portugal; perhaps more than she loved Israel/Australia, and visited there many times. She had told me once, concealing her disappointment in my Catholic faith with a sweet smile, that she would take me to see the Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, and that if she was not there by the time I felt I was ready to go there and worship, that she would somehow make sure that I got there. She was an amazing cook, cooking Kosher versions of Paella and different types of bacalhau. She was expressive in her introverted way; using her hands to talk, and her eyes and head to communicate. A lot of me....comes from her.
My grandfather was not as sweet.
My poor Opa could not forget. I do not blame him. What Oma could cover up with her sweet, shy personality that I inherited....my Opa could not. He was the strong, silent type. I've seen photographs of him from the 1950's/1960's, and I was proud when I exclaimed in a rather Josie Alibrandi-like fashion: "Who's the handsome man. Oma?!" and my Oma giggled and said that was her husband, my Opa. Opa was just the right amount of cool Russian suave and fiery Jewish wisdom, though he looked more Russian than Jewish. I inherited my stony stare from him. He was very tall, 6'5 by the time he was 21, compared to my Oma's petite height of 5'1 by that age. He had blue eyes, strikingly blue, and in one of his first photographs in Australia he is wearing a leather jacket, white t-shirt, and those jeans which folded up in the ankles. Ray-Bans complete the look, and his hair is casually slicked back. My Oma stands next to him, wearing her first pair of Roman sandals and pushing her hands shyly into her Capri pants. Add a sleeveless blouse, and voila! My grandparents were the epitome of style. It is amusing to see my mother plopped down by their new car with a book, and my uncle about to pinch her ear. Their youngest children, my cousin Moises and I, have the same relationship--I was born three days before him. Moises, if you read this, this is just a friendly reminder that you are a faggot of gargantuan proportions. :)
Back to Opa....what he went through in Auschwitz, I will never know. His parents, my deda and baba, knew what was going to happen after they stepped off of the train. Their own parents had been slain in the Russian pogroms of the Tsar, which my deda and baba had escaped. They went to the furnaces humming old Hebrew folk songs under their breaths, hoping that their children would perhaps return to Israel, the Promised Land, for them.
Only one survived.
Opa and Oma, I'm so fucking sorry that you went to the depths of Hell and back. But you also made it out, and you escaped East Germany later, and I am so fucking proud of you both.
Somehow, my Opa survived Auschwitz and my Oma survived Bergen-Belsen. One day in 1959, Oma had chosen to take a light stroll around Berlin; perhaps she would stop in at one of the new trendy vegetarian cafe's for a light lunch with a couple of her school friends. She certainly didn't want to think about that rascal Joachim Bedermann, who had held her hand for a whole day and then didn't want anything to do with her.
It was that day that Tzipora Betancourt and Joachim Bedermann fell in love. The Berlin Wall would tear them apart, but somehow, they arrived in Australia in 1960. My opa dyed his hair blonde for the occasion, and it actually really suited him from what I can see in the photographs.
More to come later.