Fanny had a twin sister, a girl whose name has been lost to the sands of time. I don’t know if they were identical or fraternal twins, but regardless, they were apparently not identical in the realm of culinary arts. When a prospective husband for Fanny (by the name of Daniel) materialized and was scheduled to the family home for dinner, the nameless twin was pressed into service to cook a delicious meal for which Fanny would be credited. This was a good plan, whoever came up with it: because of this good meal and sisterly kindness, Fanny married Daniel and I am here today, with the full benefit of Daniel’s genes for height and Fanny’s for minor falsehoods.
Fanny and Daniel, my great-great grandparents, came to the United States in the 1880s from a small town in Poland called Rajgrod. In Cleveland, surrounded by a huge extended family transplanted from Poland around the same era, they raised 7 sons and 3 daughters and were pillars of the Jewish community. Though they did not have much money at all, their table was always open to others – as was the rest of their house, where multiple nieces, cousins and sisters lived for periods of time when they needed support. The youngest son, Sidney, was the only child to go to high school and when he earned a degree as a mortician, he and his father went into business as undertakers (the hearse was apparently a very popular vehicle for my great-grandfather Charlie and his other brothers to borrow for dates). The older brothers did not have the benefit of much education at all (though Charlie still wrote a beautiful hand, as my grandmother will point out), but with their native intelligence and street smarts began a family-owned salvage and wrecking company in the 1920s, a company that my father and grandfather still ran throughout my childhood.
Later in their lives, Fanny and Daniel lived pretty comfortably, perhaps helped out by their prosperous sons and sons-in-law. Pictures like this often show them in fancy clothes, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Many of those children and grandchildren were very tall, and all of them impeccably dressed.
Last year, I went to my first family reunion ever, where I was surrounded by the other descendants of Daniel and his 4 siblings. For the first time in my life, in this room of almost complete strangers with whom I shared the intimacy of my genes, I was not tall but simply average. When we took a group picture, I thought of the 1920s and how in this picture, just as then, many of us were very tall and all of us impeccably dressed.
Whether I am the only one with Fanny’s talent for the white lie remains to be seen.