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My Most Intriguing Ancestor
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As the daughter of a family who immigrated in the 1930s from Europe, I have a slew of very interesting ancestors. If I had to pick one to highlight, it would be my  grandmother, Regina. I actually studied her life in great depth for my memoir, REGINA’S CLOSET: FINDING MY GRANDMOTHER’S SECRET JOURNAL (Beaufort Books, 2007).

At the age of twelve Regina was orphaned at the age of twelve in Poland during World War I.  Her mother, who she had to identify on the infirmary’s floor, died of cholera and her father, who could not handle the loss, died shortly thereafter. Regina was left to care for herself and her younger then ten-year-old sister, as both her older brothers fled to Austria, Losing both her parents caused Regina to grow up quickly. She continued to go to school while holding down a number of part-time jobs.

She later decided to move to Vienna to be near her brothers. She was able to work part-time in banks but all along her true passion was to become a doctor. However, she did not have the emotional or financial support to get into medical school. While still working at the bank,  she decided to attend modeling school. This was where she met her husband, Samuel.

 

They married, and had one daughter, Eva, my mother. In 1937, just before World War II broke out, the three of them emmigrated to the United States. She raised Eva and worked in Sam’s retail store. With her continuing passion for medicine, she decided many years later, in the early 1950s, to write a letter to the NYU Department of Medicine for admission. They immediately turned her away because she was a woman and she did not have any financial support. Regina continued to work at Sam’s retail store while still lacking an intellectual challenge.

At the time of my birth in 1954, she decided she wanted to become my caretaker because my mother wanted to work full-time. When I turned ten and started to show signs of independence, she no longer felt needed. The torments of her childhood were still deeply imbedded in her and these torments coupled with my independence, resulted in her suicide in 1964.

Many years later and about the time my parents moved out of my childhood home, we  discovered her journal. It was a retrospective journal depicting her life in Europe and being orphaned during World War I. This was the basis of my Regina’s Closet. While writing the book,  I realized the important role she played in my life as a writer. During the time when she took care of me, she taught me to write stories on her Remington typewriter which was perched on the vanity in her room. After reading her journal, I also realized that I had inherited her journaling gene, because for years, journaling has also been my passion. For all this and more I thank my amazing and intriguing grandmother.