Monday, April 30, 2007

Mind over Matter

Sometimes you have those "Kodak Moments" and you have to grasp them in your memory just because you don't have a camera in hand. Today I witnessed one of those moments.

I haven't talked about my father very much since he came home from hospital. In a way, there's too much to say about him, and in other ways there's not enough to say. Progress has been very slow and there have been some setbacks, too. Let me put it to you this way: it is not easy on him, it is not easy at all on my mother. And it is not easy for his children to see the diminishment in capabilities and cognition. It seems as if the decline is faster than it was before, and no doubt it is, brought on by such stark medical traumas to his body and his mind.

The memory falters rather frequently, even in the midst of normal conversations. Weakness permeates his bones and his person. "What is happening to me?" has been a popular refrain, my mother tells me. And I've been witness to "Ich hab nisht kein koyach mer." (I no longer have any strength.) It doesn't help that my father, and mother, are battling very bad upper respiratory viruses/flus right now, either.

But every day is a new day. And every day that my father wakes up, is able to daven and say "Thank G-d," is a true gift -- for him and for us.

Today I saw a bit of my "old father." Not the old, old man he's suddenly become, regardless of his advanced years, but my father "of old."

We were talking about his hometown, Tarnogrod, and I was telling him that I'd been contacted by someone from JewishGen, who informed me that marriage/death/birth records from certain pre-World War 2 years were now available...for a fee. I also told him that I'd been on the official gov't site for the town and saw a photo of a large synagogue that was now a library. (see top right photo in official town link)

He began to tell me the history of the town, who founded it and when, and suddenly he started saying something in Polish. Although I don't speak or understand the language at all, I could tell that he was reciting something like a poem. He had regained a twinkle in his eye -- which I really have not seen in WEEKS!!!!!!!!! And he had a smile, or rather more of a slanted grin...almost like a "cat who ate the canary" look on his face as he recited. He was showing off! My father was showing off something he remembered from the past, from a long-ago past. And when he finished his recitation, he said to my mother and I, "I learned that in grade three." Imagine, sometimes he doesn't know what day of the week it is, and doesn't know the month we're in, but he happily and proudly recited something he'd learned all those years ago -- and we're talking close to eighty years ago!

For that sparkle in his eyes, I wish I'd had a camera.

For that lopsided grin and that look he threw my mother and I, as in " memory works just fine," I wish I'd had a camera.

For a glimpse at the schoolboy in him reciting an ancient Polish historical poem, I wish I'd had a camera.

No, I didn't have a camera, but those moments will no doubt linger in my heart.


~ Sarah ~ said...

treasure those moments.


marallyn ben moshe said...

what a wonderful post delicious for your tatteh to be able to have a moment back in time like that...good for you...i have mishpocheh named tarnoff...wonder if we are related lol...jewish prayers are with you and yours

Neil said...

How very cool to have that moment. Although it isn't surprising to me that a childhood poem would be more vivid than something recent. I think that's true for most of us.

orieyenta said... brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful that you were able to have those moments. You are all in our prayers.

torontopearl said...

Sarah: I know to treasure the moments and the people who supply those moments. And on that note, may your mother have a refuah shleima.

Marallyn: Yes, to reclaim that "lost youth" if only for a short time was very special indeed.

Neil: I can't imagine that my father learned that poem in "cheder" but rather in a public school setting. I try to picture my father as an eight-year-old having to memorize that piece.

Oriyenta: Thank you. And I'm sorry I made you cry.

TomfromNJ said...

Hi TorontoPearl:

Read your blog about your father and his recollections about Tarnogrod. It is a great story. My father is 80 yrs old and is in the middle stages of dementia. He can remember things from years ago and forgets things that happened the day before. But he still has a vedry good sense of humor and he can still tell us stories about his many experiences. The meds he's been on have been helpful (for Alzheimers and Parkensens).

I am the person who contacted you on behalf of JewishGen. I did a Google Search on Tarnogrod and came up with your blog. Thanks for posting the link to the website in Tarnogrod. I will have to show the picture of the synagogue to my mother-in-law. Her parents were born and married in Tarnogrod. Don't know if you've seen the this older picture of the synagogue before it was converted into a library.

When did you father leave Tarnogrod? If you ever have the opportunity you should try to write down some of the stories he told you. There is a Yizkor Book for Tarnogrod. There is a copy in New York. However, it is in Hebrew which I can not read. If you are interested I can send you an article from the New York Times about a memorial that was erected in Tarnogrod in the memory of those who died in the Holocaust.

While it is true that JewishGen is requesting money for the records - they had to pay the researchers upfront to index all the records. If the money is "re-paid" the records will be posted on the Web once they reach 100 yrs old. The older records that are available have also been indexed. I was able to obtain a copy of my wife's grandfathers birth record and marriage record.

My email address is
Best Regards,