My mother’s mother’s mother, Marie Auguste Emilie Antoine Goetsch Weinman, sometimes called Mary, is vague to me. I have no memories or documents. These photographs came to me only recently as jpgs. Indirectly, I am named for her, since my middle name is Marie. Shortly before her daughter, my Grandma Marie, died, she told me that she was the fifth Marie in a row – and now, for three generations in a row, it is the middle name of choice, shared by my aunt, my cousins and myself. My cousin’s daughter and my own carry on the tradition of having “Marie” as a middle name.What I know, I know from my mother’s stories, and these stories are sparse. Marie was born on September 13, 1886 in Germany and came to the United States at age two. After that, she never lived outside of the Detroit area. Before her marriage to William Henry Weinman, she was a fine professional seamstress. After her marriage, she continued that work on the side, while raising Eric, Marie, and later, Doris. (Above, Doris and Eric with William and Marie Weinman.)
She was a woman of definite opinions and decided energy – a suffragette. Her determination helped to found the Detroit area YWCA and the Cadillac Boulevard Presbyterian Church.
In the late 1930s, fearing deportation because she couldn’t prove her birth date, Marie sent to Nazi Germany for a copy of her birth certificate. Issued by the Third Reich, it arrived emblazoned with the infamous swastika in time to allow her to remain. Marie was known to her grandchildren as “the cookie grandma” because there were always, always freshly baked cookies at her house.
When I started college, I learned that I have a mild congenital heart murmur that matches the one that caused Marie trouble all her life. She died on February 22, 1946, when my mother was not quite ten years old. My mother remembers that Grandma Goetsch’s funeral was the first one she’d ever attended. It was held in Grandma’s living room with the casket wide open.
Because I know so little about her, she almost seems more distant in time than other great-grandparents. Her face is a variant on the very familiar face of my Grandma Marie. Her white shoes in the photograph above are surprisingly gleaming and poised. They remind me of the shoes of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers immortal and magical heroine. The numinous quality of these shoes is a signal to me that here I am standing on the boundary of fact and imagination, the border of the country of Faery, a good place to conclude this four-part series.
FOUR-PART CONCLUSION: WHAT I AM DEALT
As I think of these four very different but somehow analogous women who are connected to me, I think of them as the Queens in my very own familial deck of cards. Taking the metaphor a step further–as I, a poet, am inclined to do, although I know quite well the limitations as well as the power of metaphors–one might assign each to her own suit.
Mae was the Queen of Clubs, lashing out to gain her ends, believing there was no need for defense if the offense was unrelenting. Clara was the Queen of Hearts, paving the road for those she loved with sweetness and calm. Katherine was the Queen of Diamonds, artistic and educated, keeping her integrity even when splattered with the mud of scandal, the scald of neglect. Marie is, to me, almost unknowable. She remains the Queen of Spades, a mysterious presence from whom I sprang, the link to the old country, the dispossessed child in the arms of wandering parents, seeking a new home in a new world. The thought of her has on me the effect of the Vietnam Memorial – pulling me down to search the polished black surface, sheer as the cut sod of a grave, only to be confronted by reflections from my own life and memories. At times, her silence seems to influence me the most powerfully of all.
As I conclude these four weeks of family stories, I am more convinced that a great share of the power of family derives from the power of story. All the great-grandmothers are removed beyond answering my questions, but they are still with me. Silence doesn’t answer but only gives back the question: “Who am I?”
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