I am hopelessly nostalgic, especially when it comes to family. I treasure the beautiful black and white photos in our dining room of my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents mugging for early prohibition-era snaps. One of my top “save in a fire” possessions is the beautiful, fragile, crumbling album that they came from, rich with imagery of Atlantic City Boardwalk visits, country homes, and general silliness in the face of this newfangled camera thing.
But mostly, I just think it’s so important to know where we come from, to the degree we can.
Recently, my daughter’s first grade glass may have participated in my favorite school project to date, creating a gallery of sentimental family heirloom objects. Walking the rows left me breathless, seeing this diverse group of children posing proudly with items as varied as vintage Seder plates, porcelain teacups, African dresses, a weathered, generations-0ld fur hat rich with family lore, and a photo of the single cabinet brought from “the old country” when an ancestor immigrated.
Not a lot of Mayflower memorabilia in Brooklyn. We are not Greenwich.
Thalia chose the original naturalization certificate of her maternal Great-Great Grandmother Tillie, the one I was lucky to inherit when my grandmother died.
Thalia was named for Tillie. In fact, she was nearly named Tillie, but my insistence would have lead to the speedy demise of Nate and my relationship. (So bless you Name Candy for the kind approval of my children’s names. You have noooo idea. No idea.)
Tillie was the first working mother in our family, that I know of. The strong matriarch who, divorced at a time when such a thing was shameful, made that trip from Russia to Philly by herself to create a better life for her children. She arrived in the early 20th century, and was officially naturalized in 1925.
This is the paper that let my Great Great Grandmother move to the U.S.A. in 1925. Her name was Tillie. I was named for her. It is special because she died and I never met her.
While my mother lived with her grandmother, my own memories of Tillie are vague–I recall running around a coffee table in circles, ducking under her legs each time as she grabbed my four year-old face, gave a good squeeze, and uttered in Yiddish, Shana Punim. What I didn’t know then was that she was one of the early ILGWU workers who worked her tuchus off to support her three children alone with her sewing skills. It goes a long way to explaining my passion for supporting mom-run businesses on Cool Mom Picks.
I was only five when Tillie died, but I remember her memory carrying on through those old Look for the Union Labels jingle on TV.
Remember somewhere our union’s sewing, our wages going to feed the kids/and run the house.
We work hard but who’s complaining…
Every time it came on, parsing episodes of The Price is Right or Bewitched, my mother nudged me and said, “that was your Great-Grandmother” and we watched and listened and beamed with joyous pride that our family was in some small way part of something that helped America and helped families and merited its very own TV commercial.
So I’d imagine it’s no coincidence that my grandmother, my mother and I each have had an ardent commitment to family expressed both through love and through work, whether that work was in the home or outside of it.
I’d imagine Tillie had a little something to do with that. Or a lot.
(And man, if only there were an organization writing commercials extolling the importance of all moms, and not just the ones who work out of the house. Wouldn’t that be progress?)
In a few weeks, I’m so honored to be acknowledged for some of the things I do out of the home, the way so many in my Great-Grandmother’s generation never were. Working Mother Magazine and the Advertising Women of New York are naming me among their 2012 Advertising Working Mothers of the Year and I am wildly humbled by it.
The best part about it is that my children get to escort me up on stage.
The second best part about it is that the nomination was submitted by my own father. Because it’s not just mothers who are proud of their daughters.
I assume I’ll get some sort of plaque, and my kids will have the memory of sitting there, feeling good about what their mom is doing for their family, and maybe understanding it a little better. Even if they miss me sometimes. Even if I can’t make every pediatrician appointment or every PTA meeting.
Maybe one day it will be Thalia’s Great-Granddaughter who brings that plaque in to her own class’s family heirloom day.
Or maybe she’ll bring in something of Thalia’s.