A Mother’s Day Gift to My Children – Part V

Charlotte was a survivor.  Accepted to two — two!! — medical schools in a time when women and especially Jewish women were subjected to severe quotas, she eschewed the career path and chose instead to marry my father Alfred, himself the survivor of a tragic life and already the widowed father of a troubled daughter.

Rudolfine and Henri Robinson with my father Alfred Burhans Swett (R), in 1946

Marrying Alfred has always seemed to me a way my mother chose to hide from the sources of her suffering — Europe and Judaism.  He was so foreign to her — descended from 17th Century Puritan and Dutch settlers in New England and New York; his sister was a flag-waving member of the DAR.  Mom could wrap herself in his overbearingly blonde musculature and protect herself and all her offspring from the horrors she’d come to know so well.  Taking on his 13-year-old daughter seemed like a calling, and she plunged into it with obsessive resolve, leaving her sisters and parents on the outskirts of the new village she and Alfred were creating.

Dad’s daughter Dorothy had difficulty living with them, and she went back and forth between their home and his sister’s. Alfred was in flight from his own tragic history, and he went from job to job and place to place with the ease of a wandering Jew.  We lived in eleven homes before I was halfway through fourth grade, and though my grandparents’ home in Queens was anything but stable, it seemed to me to be grounded in a granite that I was for some reason being kept from.

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