Happy 100th Birthday, Henriette (Rita) Rosenbaum Jarolim

Happy 100th Birthday, Henriette (Rita) Rosenbaum Jarolim

I’ve taken to writing posts in the late afternoon and then finishing them in the morning when I’m clear-headed. Good thing. I had a post prepared that was only tangentially related to Viktor Kornmehl, the subject of this part of the family history writing challenge. It was interesting in a look-what-I-found-I’m-so-clever kind of way, but it was bloodless. I’d veered pretty far from family history and was having a hard time finding my way back.

Then I woke up this morning and heard on the radio that it was George Washington’s birthday. February 22nd was my mother’s birthday too. I looked at the family tree section of this blog to check what I suspected and sure enough: My mother was born in 1913. She would have been 100 years old today.

Absences and Presents, Past

Where to begin?

Golda Meir, victim of my mother's ageism?

Golda Meir, victim of my mother’s ageism?

The actual celebration of my mother’s birthday is as good a place as any. She was really annoyed when, in 1971, Lincoln’s Birthday and George Washington’s birthday were conflated into Presidents’ Day. Her birthday used to be a national holiday. Then it became lost in a generic shopping holiday observed on the third Monday in February. She complained about this every year.

I don’t remember what it was like to buy presents for my mother when we were younger, but in the last decade or so of her life, it was a struggle. One year I bought her a black cashmere scarf. “Black,” she said. “Isn’t that a little morbid?”

Another year I bought her a biography of Golda Meir. “You’re buying me a book about an old woman?” Seriously. She said that.

Then Valerie Jean Dates came to my rescue.  I went on a trip with friends in the Palm Springs area — destination: Indio, for the camel races, but that’s a whole other story —  and came across a funky little stand selling dates. I hadn’t realized until now that the stand was famous, home of original date shake, and that its mail order business had been patronized by everyone from Pope Pius II to the King of Morocco.  I just knew that she was thrilled when the gift basket filled with selected dates — candied, chopped, coconut dusted… — arrived. She loved sweets and could justify eating as many dates as she liked because she believed they were healthy. She thanked me effusively, at surprising length.

I had Valerie Jean Dates sent to my mother every birthday for the rest of her life. I once asked her if she was bored by getting the same present, year after year, and she said, no, I love these. We were both happy, thanks to Valerie Jean.

This Year’s Present

Rosenbaum family, Summer 1938, probably the last family picture taken together

Rosenbaum family, Summer 1938, probably the last family picture taken together

I’ve often wondered what my mother would have thought of this blog and book to be.  She didn’t talk much about her past and, to my  endless regret now, I didn’t write down the few things she told me. She did translate for me a cache of letters from her parents during the war, she in America, they left behind in Vienna.  Sadly, the original letters and translations were destroyed in a flood in my New York apartment building’s basement.  This blog was started with a few pictures, a handwritten family tree, and my memories, though it’s gone much farther with the help of family and friends. And a lot of online history sites.

I’ve written two memorials here so far, one for a teacher who wrote a book about our family, one for a lawyer who co-founded a synagogue. I was glad to be able to honor their accomplishments. My mother did none of these things. She finished gymnasium (high school) I believe, and got her GED in the U.S., but she was a fur finisher. She wasn’t religious and she wasn’t a proud community member — if anything, she was anti-social.

And, as you might have surmised by the birthday gift saga, she sometimes drove me crazy. She could often be critical. But she loved me very much and I know she was proud of me. I loved her very much too, and the more I learn about her life, what she must have gone through, the prouder I am of her.

These writings have always been for her, to reclaim her family when they were in their prime, not old like Golda Meir. I’ve been attempting not to make them morbid, like a black scarf, though the Holocaust keeps intruding. Today, I try to emulate the sweetness — and substance — of the dates she loved. I hope this gift would have pleased my mother, born 100 years ago today.

This is day 22 in a Family History Writing Challenge that I’m very glad I’m taking. If I hadn’t gotten in the habit of writing every day, I might have missed this occasion entirely.

18 Responses to Happy 100th Birthday, Henriette (Rita) Rosenbaum Jarolim

  1. Oh I’m in tears. This says everything.
    Diane Schmidt recently posted..What is the point of something illogical? (Photos)My Profile

  2. Andy Kubrin says:

    Nice piece, Edie. I like the bits about the birthday presents you got for your mother. The scarf, the dates, and her take on the Golda Meir book–it’s always the details that make a piece come alive.

  3. Lynn Palermo says:

    Edie, what a beautiful, heartfelt and honest tribute to your mother. By the way, she must of had you late in life for how can she be 100 and when you’re only…29! 😉
    Lynn Palermo recently posted..Write Your Family History Using the Tools of Creative NonfictionMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thank you very much, Lynn. You’re right, she did have me late in life. I’d like to say it was soooo late that I was a miracle baby but… well, let’s just ignore the math here.

  4. Karyn Zoldan says:

    Good for you to keep trying to please your mother with gifts. I gave up. Everything I sent her was put in the closet or in a box in the cellar which was later found when the house was sold. But my brother fared far worse. She would send the stuff back to him and say, “I don’t like the color.” Oy.
    Karyn Zoldan recently posted..Tucson Tails: Canine College Graduation – Feb. 23My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      This comment made me laugh out loud. Oy indeed! It’s usually the son who gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to presents. I guess your mother was an equal opportunity gift rejecter!

  5. Kristin says:

    My mother’s birthday was on February 12, Lincoln’s birthday and she had the same complaint once President’s Day came along. I enjoyed getting to know your mother.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      That’s funny. That change must have irritated a lot of people with Feb. 12 and Feb. 22 birthday. Thanks for coming by.

  6. Sharon says:

    Happy Birthday Rita…..how well I remember your Mom! Sitting in the kitche, watchingJeopardy together( I still watch it)…. Eating Sara Lee pound cake!
    Remember when my Mom was in the hospital I had dinner at your house and
    Your Mom made Hungarian goulash….she was always great to me….warm and friendly…and I thought she was so smart!
    So again…Happy Birthday Edie’ s Mom!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      That’s funny; I remember eating Entenmann’s for breakfast at your house, but not the Hungarian goulash when you stayed over. So nice to have someone come by who remembers my mother — thanks, Sha!

    • Lydia Davis says:

      I love the way Edie writes about her mother. And now you’re adding a different perspective, Sharon. Do you remember what left that particular impression–that she was smart? I’m trying to imagine the way she talked. Watching Jeopardy and eating pound cake sounds like fun, and cozy.

  7. […] than trying to make research findings coherent. So when I realized that Feb. 22 would have been my mother’s 100th birthday, I allowed myself to write a personal post. It was a good break, a mini-mind […]

  8. Jana Last says:

    This is a beautiful tribute to your mother. You’re an amazing writer Edie.
    Jana Last recently posted..Follow Friday ~ Fab Finds for February 21, 2014My Profile

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