My mom died Oct. 2, 1983.
I was the first of my parents (z’’l) three girls to be honored with the coveted title of First Generation American Born. It is a crown all my cousins, my sisters and I wore and still wear with great pride, the jewels in this crown representing all those souls Hitler guaranteed would never birth a first-generation American child, my dad’s family being among them.
Mom and Dad were married in a little town down the road from the village where my dad’s family lived; his sisters, mother, father, one brother-in-law and one niece attended their wedding. After Mom and Dad married, Mom brought Dad to America, where her family lived and thrived since arriving in the land of milk and honey, where the streets were paved with gold.
Dad promised to return to his village just as soon as he had the money to bring them all back to America. It never happened. Hitler got there first. My dad was tortured with this guilt all his life.
Shaina and Freidle were two of his sisters for whom I was named. I would become responsible for ensuring their names would never be sullied; that their spirits would guide me along my life’s journey.
Until 1983 I did not take this seriously enough.
As the story is told, while still in Bronx Hospital, mom was asked to complete my birth certificate; the space for a child’s name needed to be completed. She gave the nurse the two names they had chosen. The nurse was a bit unnerved and horrified.
“You can’t give her these names. This is America; she should have an American name.”
Mom and dad tried to explain why I would be given these old European names, but the nurse would have none of it. She told them they could call me whatever they wanted, but in school I should not be burdened with an odd name.
Little did this nurse know the names we would hear today! Apple, West, Seashore, Edge, King and Forrest, to name a few – seriously!
The nurse suggested her own name, Sandra. Sandra (S, for Shaina) was inscribed in the big book of names.
This little name trickery informed my belief that a name defined who I was and how I was to be in the world. Carrying the weight of the spirits of Shaina and Freidle was often disquieting and confusing. More than a few times I was reminded, “Remember who you are named after.”
In school I was known by Sandra or Sandy. Some family members called me Bubie (not pronounced Bubbie like in grandmother). Others called me Shaindle (Shaina and Freidle mushed together). In my search for my comfortable identity, I would often change my name.
There was the time faith in G-d was discussed in school. Yes, it was allowed when I was in school. I decided I was to be called Faith. I can’t even recall all the other names I tried on for size. Friends were OK with whatever name I decided to be called at different times in my life.
Mom did sometimes call me by my “American” name. Especially if I was being scolded, which frankly was quite often. But for her and Dad, Shaindle was me and I was Shaindle.
I grew up, married and had four girls. Did I give them simple names? No, I did not! Obviously, I ignored my own issues, thinking only how creative these names were. Thank goodness, my girls did not inherit my mishugas.
Then my mom got sick.
In retrospect, we realized she had not been feeling well for a long time. Maybe the flu? Maybe a bad cold? Maybe too much sun? Given they had relocated to Florida and my sisters and I were spread out in different cities, we did not see mom and dad every day. When we did visit, she was not as spry, seemed more tired than usual. She could not seem to “come back to herself.” At times, dad would share his concern with me.
My mom believed if you did not talk about it (whatever it happened to be at the time) it did not really exist. Sometimes the simple organic cure was “make a ‘pishy,’ take two aspirin, go to sleep.”
The summer of 1983 would become our last summer with her.
Before Mom died, we all had a few moments with her. The window blinds in her hospital room raised, privacy was no longer our biggest concern. The hospital room was totally not my mother’s taste. No pink carpet, no French provincial sofa and chairs, no marble coffee table, her teacup collection nowhere in sight. Also missing were her grandchildren’s photos. This was the true measure of how sick she really was.
“Shaindle” she whispered to me, “you’ll change your name for me? You’ll be Shaindle?” “Not Shaina Freidle?” I asked. “No, you’ll be you.” Oh my God, I had no idea she knew the name issue with which I had been struggling. I did not remember ever expressing it to anyone. Well, except my therapist, who, by the way, addressed me as Shaindle.
After mom died, I called an attorney friend to help me maneuver the legal system involved in the name change game.
Shaindle Wieden Schmuckler was officially born, a first generation American with a very old European name.