THE HISTORY OF THAT PIECE OF POTTERY-PART ONE
The history of that decorative piece of pottery shown above dates back to 1810. No, not the uniquely painted terra cotta pot that holds my aloe plant. Rather, the genealogical roots of that branch of our children’s ancestry, grown with the help of a creative cousin who happened to be a potter.
How we came upon the talented Zelda (Bloom) Danziger’s creation stems from years of devotion to researching and staying apprised of my family history. Keeping the ground watered, as it were. This was all done way before the advent of ancestry.com or DNA testing. It was so much more challenging yet personal; emotional and thrilling; and time-consuming yet rewarding. Many of the relatives I was fortunate to meet were in their 90s and from a closer peer group to the first generation of our ancestors, who had immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe.
My mad hunt for members of our clan all started in 1988, the year of the birth of our first child. It catapulted into full gear when we gave our parents the book A Jewish Grandparent Remembers, and saw how much they had either forgotten or never knew about their own ancestors. After writing to the known members of my clan, as well as my husband’s huge amount of relatives, I began carrying my notes to all family functions. That’s when I hit pay dirt.
Seeing me with my family tree files at her sister’s 80th birthday celebration, a cousin suggested contacting my mother-in-law’s 90-year-old first cousin. She was certain that this much older cousin would have all the family history to share. I called him the very next day. After our conversation, he followed up with a detailed letter about all the family members he knew, with a heartwarming description of the grandmother he shared with my mother-in-law. His sign-off, in a broken Engish/Yiddish expression, was the wording his grandmother used to bless her guests: Wishing you “ŎLL DŬS GOOTS” (”all the good”).
This family lure from an elder cousin helped me to go another generation back by highlighting the personality of my husband’s great-grandmother. Her warmth makes it little wonder, with her as the matriarch, that all the Bloom descendants I have encountered have pleasant personalities.
Along with the details he could provide personally, Cousin Morris also had a family tree from his mother’s family. The charts had been sent to him by none other than Cousin Zelda. Their grandparents were doubly related since two brothers had married two sisters. Lucky for me, a copy of Zelda’s recorded charts were included in Morris’s letter. For my husband’s branch, Zelda simply had his grandmother’s name listed. The funny thing is that my husband’s grandmother’s branch was the largest in the family tree, which included six siblings, one of whom was my husband’s grandmother’s brother Shepsal, Zelda’s paternal grandfather.
With the details Morris supplied on his branch of the family, coupled with Zelda’s charts, I had it made in the shade. Yet, filling in pieces of the puzzle was not the crème de la crème. The truly most rewarding part was getting to know all of these terrific cousins, and making a comprehensive living history for our children.
While Zelda and I were nearly 30 years apart in age, we were like-minded and extremely family-oriented. Once we connected, the memories and revelations we made could fill more than a chapter in my book of family history; Kitchen Talk is filled with Zelda anecdotes.
Like the old song we used to sing in grammar school - ”The hip bone is connected to the knee bone…,” Zelda and I never tired of making connections from the first time we got together at my mother-in-law’s house. That was around 1995. Zelda visited with another cousin, Gladys, who brought along a photograph of their paternal grandfather, my mother-in-law’s uncle Shepsal. That was a particularly appreciated gift since my husband’s middle name Shep is after his granduncle Shepsal, who, with his wife, arranged for all their siblings to come to America. Granduncle Shepsal’s picture revealed a distinctive facial feature, where one eyebrow is higher than the other, which my mother-in-law obviously inherited.
Over the years, the connections with our newly found cousins kept branching out. Just by talking, I came up with an interesting revelation. A man about my age was at our house to give me an estimate on new window treatments. At that same time, a contractor was doing work on our home and we all got into a conversation about our travels. I mentioned that if I ever have the opportunity I would head to Santa Fe again, even just for a weekend, since the food was so good. With that, the window treatment guy interjected that he had been to Albuquerque, where he had dinner by his wife’s cousin. I replied that if I ever got back to New Mexico, I would be sure to visit a cousin I had found who lives in Albuquerque.
I don’t know what made me mention Zelda’s name, and continue on with what her husband did for a living, but when I did, the man trying to sell me his goods came back with, “…we had dinner at their house…she’s my father-in-law’s cousin.” I thought he was joking, of course, until he started calling off the names of her three children. I ran to my computer and brought up the family tree. As the program opened on the screen, I exclaimed, “Yep, yep, and…yep!” With that, I emailed Zelda and she replied, “Hire him! He’s great!”
The story continues but this blog post is getting long. Check back next Tuesday to read more about our cousin Zelda, a talented potter with a yearning as deep as mine for family ties.