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I think that the images I have of my grandmother Léa, and my mother’s last years explain a lot.
Family lore says that Léa, my grandmother, when she turned sixty, sat down and said:
“Now I’m old and I am not going to work any longer”.
My brother, who was born in 1934, remembers how during the war, when the family had to cross the demarcation line which separated the Occupied zone from the Free zone of France, our grandmother said that she was too old to go on, sat down on a tree trunk and said she wouldn’t go any further and that was that. To which my mother got furious and ordered her mother-in-law to get up and walk if she didn’t want to put the whole family in danger.
Mémé, as we called her, died when I was sixteen, and was thought to be around 76 at the time. I’m saying ‘was thought’ because the Gregorian calendar used in Bulgaria was not quite the same and the family had no passport or birth certificate with a reliable date.
he photo above was taken in 1947, (I was three), when she was around 63. As far as I remember, I never saw my grandmother wearing shoes, but slippers, or walking, except at home with a cane.
I have images of her with a cigarette or sitting by the window, twiddling her thumbs, playing cards with one of her sons or with me, or playing solitaire.
I loved her dearly, but wouldn’t have chosen her for a role model. As far as I know, she had always been a dependent woman. Dependent on her husband who abandoned her, and later dependent on her children who gave her shelter. She stayed first with her older son, my father, and his wife, later with her daughter Fanny, and finally with her younger son, Victor. Léa wore whatever clothes her children bought her, she went where they took her, she couldn’t read French, and there were no books in Ladino around, so she didn’t read, and I now realise how lonely and depressed she must have felt.
She deserves my thanks. She has taught me the lesson of independence.