By Jo Strausz Rosen
When I was a child, I used to spend rainy days sitting on the floor in front of a pine bachelor chest of drawers full of old photos. My father supervised me with these precious mementos, and he also loved looking at the photos and sharing stories about his youth and extended family. He laughed with tears in his eyes reminiscing about meeting my mother in the Army and his boxing days, as we viewed the photo of him with his dukes up, fists in gloves, shirtless in boxing shorts, his fly unzipped!
My father spoke in loving terms of his life in Chicago with his doting older half-sisters, Jean and Myra, and how his mother, a widow, met his father late in life. My father, born in 1917, grew up in the depression and his father struggled with some hard times. My father used his sense of humor to come to terms with a complicated childhood, and I learned from him that laughter is one of the best ways of dealing with hardship.
On my mother’s side, I only saw my Buba once a year during our annual visits from Michigan until her death when I was in my early twenties. Buba kept fascinating family photos in the top drawers of a carved walnut chest in the dining room of her Peabody, Massachusetts home. There were photos of my mother, her four sisters and younger brother with their families on the beach. The family was close, and everyone loved to speak at once. I remembered being a child in her arms, when we visited from Michigan. My cousins and I loved looking at the photos that captured my fashionable mother’s Mona Lisa smile, and dark, wind-tossed hair, in a form-fitting tie-collar blouse and slim, high-waisted pencil skirt.
I come from a bloodline of strong females on both sides of my family. Each had special strengths and skills. They were well educated, proud, accomplished, and amazing cooks. Some were quietly brilliant; others were vocally opinionated. My father’s oldest sister, with whom I spent time as a child in Chicago, was the funniest, most delightful, and loving woman in my life. In my heart I sit taller remembering these women and knowing they are part of me. They each took care of me and inspired me in some amazing way, and I return often to the memories of my time with them. All of us together, playing games, singing, laughing, dining around large tables, as I quietly observed what it was like to be a grown woman.
These memories are so very precious to me. I draw my sense of self from the wonderful women who populated my childhood. So many of us see our memories slip away as we age and it may happen to me too. But even if it does, I will hold tight as I can to the indelible memories of the women in my life.
I know I am not alone in cherishing my memories of the people who formed me. We are so fortunate to have a program on our JSL campus that helps adults with memory loss make the most of each day. The Dorothy & Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program has been providing engaging programs and services for people living with dementia and their family care partners for over 20 years. They help keep participants purposefully engaged in activities to enliven memory with music, art, yoga, cooking, group discussions and cognitive exercises. This program allows their caregivers some much needed respite care. The Brown Center provides dignity and respect, inspiring families to thrive even when faced with difficult challenges. I direct many people to The Brown Program which has talented staff at two locations, in West Bloomfield and in Southfield. If you need to learn more about this essential program, please reach out and let us help you and your loved ones thrive while coping with memory impairment.