Thursday, March 31, 2011

Y is a Crooked Letter

"Y is a crooked letter."

I have no idea what this means.

But it's what my mother's mother, my Grandma Dunia, would say to my mother when, as a little girl, she asked those ten thousand questions little girls are wont to ask, the ones that begin with "Why...?"

Not big on answers, that one, my Grandma Dunia.

She was not fond of questions, idle curiosity (unless it was hers, about the neighbors), or anything deemed frivolous, extraneous, unnecessary.

She gave nothing away. Played her cards close to the vest.

And drove a hard bargain over everything else. A hard nosed businesswoman, albeit in a stained apron.

Some of it was probably guilt, survivor guilt over the disappearance of her very large family, the many sisters and brothers left behind to perish. She was the only one who escaped Eastern Europe in time, made it to America, outran the Holocaust.

She never spoke of her lost family. My mother never even learned their names, nor knew exactly how many Aunts and Uncles she had once had. Start to discuss it and Grandma would change the subject, walk away, a chain-smoking wall of stone.

Dunia was decidedly old school, a keeper of old world traditions; superstitions, if you like.  My mother had to bite on a thread if Grandma needed to sew on a button, repair a hem whilst a piece of clothing was still being worn. Otherwise my mother was deemed in grave danger of having her brains stitched together.

Salt, spilled, needed to be ceremoniously tossed over the left shoulder, promptly; praises or declarations of good fortune followed immediately by spitting towards the evil eye.

Walk out of the house having forgotten something?  Spin around three times before you head back, or you are asking for trouble and misfortune to follow you in the door.

The rules my mother lived by, and didn't ask "Why?'

Me, Mom & Grandma Dunia, 1974
I don't remember the day my dying father stopped asking and answering questions, I just noticed, eventually that it had happened. He lived in both an eternal now and also a somewhere and when else, simultaneously. No questions needed.

Jacob asks questions, but not that, most crucial one; the most open ended of all questions, the can opener of a thousand worms: "Why?" Another gift of his autism.

He can now answer "why" questions that have very direct, immediate, specific and concrete answers... or else they turn into cyclical, existential round-de-rounds.

"Why are you crying, Jakey?"

"Because I'm sad, Mommy."

"Why are you sad, honey?"

"Because I'm crying, Mommy."


But show him a picture of a very obviously crying boy holding a very obviously just broken toy, direct his attention to the toy in the boy's hands, point out how it is broken, and then ask him: "Why is that boy crying?" And you likely -- if he's on his game, not having an off day -- to get the answer: "Because his toy is broken."

Progress. Of a sort.

I'm not knocking it.

But I still want to know WHY Jake is sad.

And I still want him to ask me why water is wet, why the sky is blue, why birds fly... the ten thousand questions (typical) kids are wont to ask.

And I promise I won't brush him off with that useless nonsense: "Y is a crooked letter."

I will sit and hold his hand, begin with "Because..." as I did (and still do) so many times with his brother.  As I have dreamed so many times of doing with him, opening up the worm can, and feasting on "Why...?"

And, because it makes the "Because..." all the more delicious, fun in the answering?  The crookeder, the better, I say, so bring on the "Y."

Top Photo: "Mama" New York City, 1952, Jim Steinhardt. My mother named this photo, saying the mannequin reminded her of her mother, always wearing an apron, often stained, and with a torn pocket.

This post has been inspired by and linked up to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday writing meme. And "Y"? What's so crooked about it, really? Maybe it made more sense in Yiddish.

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