It had been four months since Mum died, but I could still feel her presence in every part of the house. As I sat in her study, looking at all the family photographs on her desk, I almost expected her to shout out from the kitchen, offering me a cup of tea and probably a biscuit or piece of cake. She always seemed to manage to have something yummy and calorific to hand, and no matter how much I protested about being on a diet or not being hungry, I would always eat it. She said it made her happy to see people eat, and who wants to make a Jewish mother unhappy?!
My kids adored going to visit her. They loved Booba’s not-so-secret cupboard of sweets and treats, which she would open as soon as all grown-ups were out of sight. She would distribute the contents amongst her grandchildren – “my boobalahs,” she would call them in her strong Polish accent. She had spent most of her life in England
after fleeing Poland before the war, but she had never lost her
accent. The kids always laughed at the funny-sounding Polish and Yiddish words she would use.
Abigail had really taken it hard. As the oldest grandchild, she was the closest to Booba and had had her to herself for almost four years before the rest of the tribe had come along – Daniel, Katie, and my sister’s twins,
Sophia and Ella.
Mum and Abigail had a very special bond, and Abigail would dedicate to Booba every picture she drew when she was at nursery. Booba would proudly display it (no matter how much of a scribble it was) on the kitchen wall. “One day Abigail, boobalah, you will be a great artist, and I will be proud to give these pictures to the Tate for your
Now aged 14, Abigail definitely had an artistic flair, and she still loved painting, drawing, and taking photos, which she would always show to Booba, her biggest fan!
She loved spending Sunday afternoons with Booba, learning to cook some of the recipes that Booba had learnt from her own Booba, or asking her questions about when she was younger and lived in Poland.
Now sitting in Mum’s house tasked with going through her stuff, I wish that Abigail were here to help me. Mum certainly would not be happy at the mess I was making, going through photo albums and drawers trying to work out what to do with it all. She prided herself on her immaculate home. Even though she brought up four children and looked after five 5 grandchildren in it, her home always looked spick and span, more like a show house than a home. I had inherited many things from my mother, but unfortunately tidiness was not one of them. Despite having only three kids, a husband and a regular cleaner, my home looked like it was permanent bomb site.
My mobile phone rings, and I am pulled back into reality. I scramble to find my phone
under a pile of papers I have been going through.
“Darling, how you doing?” I hear my husband’s voice on the other end. It sounds like he is outside somewhere, probably rushing from a meeting or
getting some lunch.
“I just don’t even know where to start… there is just so much…stuff!” I say, feeling even more overwhelmed as I open another drawer to find more bundles of paper jammed in there.
“She did like to keep anything and everything; I can see where you get it from. Do what you can today, and maybe we can come back at the weekend to sort out some more. It may be a bit easier with two of us on it.”
“Yes, that would be good, but you may regret that kind offer once you see quite how much we have to go through…”
“Stay strong, and call me later. Maybe we could go out for a quick bite for dinner rather than be bothered cooking. You sound like you need it.” He always knew the right things to say, bless him. My mother had liked him from the first time she met him. A proper mensch she had called him, and she was right.
“Ok, call me later when you are getting on the train home.”
I pulled out another bundle from the drawer; a photo slips out from the pile and slowly
flutters to the floor.
It’ a black and white, but slightly faded with part of the corner missing. There are two older people dressed in heavy coats and stern faces, and some young children, awkwardly staring at the camera. They look like they are wearing their best clothes. Maybe it is a wedding or a bar mitzvah; it’s difficult to tell as they all look so sad.
A moment captured in time.
As I turn over the photo, I see in my mother’s familiar swirly writing. ‘Mama, Tati, Sara,
David, Ruby, Rachel and baby Gavi.’ I look back again and can recognise the faces of my
Boobie Rosie and Zaydi Chaimi, my aunties Sara and Ruby, and my Uncle David. But as I look again closely at the baby in my grandmother’s arms, I am
confused. I had never heard of Gavi.
Who was this little baby, and what had happened to him?
To be continued…