It’s Saturday afternoon and they’re gone, not the leftovers, the relatives. The leftover turkey will last forever. Have you noticed that every recipe you use to get rid of the turkey actually extends its life? Its like Zeno’s paradox, you’re always using half of what’s left but it’s never quite gone. Eventually it will turn green and I will dump it.
But there are leftovers that will last longer than the turkey. Whenever family and friends are together there is talk. This year the talk remained civil and we’re all still speaking to each other. This is not the case every year, so there’s something else to be thankful for.
What are leftover this year are questions about my parents. I was very close to my parents and have always assumed that I knew everything about them. Wrong! Of course, in some ways we never really know our parents. If we’re lucky, they are the boring people who go to work every day and take care of us. I can see it in my kids eyes, that sense that we never had a different life, one in which we were as crazy and adventurous as they are. That’s all right, normal even, but there are other things that I don’t know about my parents.
At some point this weekend someone asked to see my parents’ wedding pictures. I have no pictures of my parents’ wedding. How is this possible? I have hundreds of pictures of my family including every stage of my parents’ life. The universal response to this lack of photos was, “How can you not have wedding photos, everyone has pictures of their parents’ wedding?” Not me. This always seemed perfectly normal to me, whatever you grow up with as a kid is normal. Not only don’t I have pictures of my parents’ wedding, I don’t know anything about their wedding. Was it at home, at city hall, at a synagogue? Who knows? Not me. What a family historian. I have found their marriage listed in an index of Philadelphia marriages and will certainly send for the certificate, but I fear I will never know the details. There is no scandalous excitement here, no shotgun wedding, no bigamy. I am sure this was just a normal wedding for its time and place, but I am truly sad and surprised that I never asked my mother about her wedding day.
In my quest to find their marriage certificate I was reminded of the fact that my mother had no birth certificate. A few years ago in order to satisfy some bureaucracy or other that my 97-year-old mother was indeed over 65 I was asked to produce a birth certificate. I filled out the forms and checked the box that said I needed the certificate for legal reasons. Just a few days later a very pleasant woman called and informed me that they had no record of my mother’s birth. There was another Henrietta Silver, born a month earlier to parents with different names. Did I want that certificate? Not really. I knew my mother had a social security card, a passport, and a raft of other things that require proof of age, and yet, she had no birth certificate.
I knew that at the end of the holiday I would have more questions than answers, but I never expected to be saying, “My mother, mystery woman.”