August 2014 Posts

Chapter 3: The Secret

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Chapter 3. The Secret 1967-1982 

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midge at 27

I have weighed 89 pounds for some time now, my weight in a downward spiral from regular 120 pounds. Married at nineteen and twenty-five at the time of the birth of my third child, I begin restricting my caloric intake and take a handful of laxatives on a daily basis in an effort to lose my ‘baby fat’. I continue this behavior for some time for when I look in the mirror all I see is my swollen belly, as if I am still pregnant.

My Mother says, Marjorie, “What are you doing to yourself? You look awful. People ask me if you have cancer. You need to eat.” I tell her I am not dieting anymore but don’t tell about the little trick that lets me eat and still stay thin: I purge after most meals. Soon my trick becomes a ritual practiced during the hours the children are in school. Strangely, after the ritual, all the tensions and anxiety within disappear,  I am left feeling quite peaceful.

My husband tells me he has heard me purge and visited a doctor who assures him purging will not kill me. After all, don’t women vomit during pregnancy?

I am surprised my husband sought out a doctor, but despite his apparent concern for me, what is troubling is the disappearence of the passion and intimacy in our relationship,

me, jamie, liz and max 1978

me, jamie, liz and max 1978

leaving us more and more isolated from each other. I am, however,  increasingly conflicted by his unwillingness to allow me any financial independence. He does not allow me a credit card, savings or checking account, or allowance. He is generous, but does not understand having to ask for everything is demeaning. But I am unable to change his mind, thus I swallow my anger and smile. It is the early seventies, the end of the Madmen era and the rise of feminism. Gloria Steinem and other political and social activists for the women’s movement become my guru’s. The more I involve my self in the movement, the angrier I get.

When I experience  chronic indigestion, my doctor offers treatment for the symptoms never looking beneath the surface for the cause, or mentions my low weight. When I find I am unable to stop the cycles of bingeing and purging I find a therapist. After two years of twice- weekly visits, my relationship with my ritual remains. Out of sheer desperation I act on my unspoken desire to run away from my marriage with a man who offers to take me away from my world and into his. As well as getting away from him and her I think I will also leave my ritual behind. I do not yet comprehend my ritual is an addiction. I think of addiction as a dependence on alcohol or drugs, a substance that visibly alters one’s behavior. My ritual, I believe, is under my control and all but invisible. Ha!

However, it took two years for me to find the courage to tell my husband I wanted a divorce. When I did he simply stood up and left the house without even his toothbrush. When I told my Mother I was leaving my husband she said, “Women don’t leave men like him”. It would be years before we spoke again.

It is while making plans to move to NH I read story in the Boston Sunday Globe’s Dear Beth column, telling of a young woman who refuses to eat anything, who’s low weight is life threatening. She is hospitalized at McLean’s psychiatric clinic where she is receiving IV feedings to keep her alive. The column discusses the explosion of eating disorders now being recognized by the medical community and goes on to tell of the Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Society recently opened in Lincoln, Mass. offering support for persons with these disorders.

I call the office and sign up for meeting. That first day when  I enter a room I see it  is filled with women like me, middle class suburban housewives. Relief washes over me as I  realize I am no longer isolated in  battling my ritual while struggling to maintain a dignified life. Most important is my ritual now has a name. Along with the other women I am desperate to understand what it is that holds me in its thrall. When we discover eating or not eating is both a symptom and mechanism for muting our real inner turmoil, I wonder what mine is?

The insights explored at these meetings bring significant relief from my rituals. When July comes and moving day arrives I have qualms about leaving my group, but I am ready to begin a new journey, one  I have not yet told my children as they are powerless to change my decision. I think it best to let them enjoy their summer at camp in Maine before telling them their lives have been changed forever. I am counting on the power of love and the adaptability of children to get us through.

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NH trailer

As the house will not be ours till October we first move into our ski home, a trailer in North Woodstock. Come October we move down to Holderness without the man who set this move in motion. That he is no longer in our lives is inevitable. Too many differences our passion can not override. That it does not take me years to figure that out and act on it, is positive. More troubling than his departure is my ritual, which returns at  first in fits and starts, and then with a vengeance. I am flummoxed by its reappearance.  Not knowing where to turn for help I place an advert in a newspaper in search of a support group for persons with similar behavioral issues. From the ad I learn about Womankind, a woman-based therapy practice in Concord, where, with the help and support a wonderful therapist I begin exploring why the joyous, curious little girl with the butterscotch hair, who married her Prince Charming, and lived what appeared to be charmed life, lost her way.

But the future proves to be my greatest adventure, filled with people and events defining, for once and for all, I am at heart and in action, a bohemian spirit.  Come along  for the ride continuing next week in  Chapter 4…

 

 

Chapter 2: 1800 Russian Ukraine

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..if the earth turns to the right…I must turn left to catch the past

Franz Kafka

“Grandpa, do you like laying brick?”

“Midgie, I never think about this. What I know is doing a good job allows me to take care of my family, and the men who work for me to take care of theirs.”

Chapter 2

 Mottel’s Oddessey

My grandfather, Mottel Stupack, the red-haired second son of Anna Stupack, a pious and learned woman, and the first son of her second husband, Herschel Stupack, the town drunk, drew his first breath on June 18, 1888, in a small Russian village of Krasnostov, once a large, mostly Jewish, Ukrainian city, before being conquered by the Russian Army in the early 1800’s.

Once the Russians were in power, the Jews were visited by frequent attacks, more familiarly known as “pogroms”, the Russian word for devastation. These pogroms, which more often than not were massacres, left the land and the river bisecting the village red with the blood of its people. The Jews were sitting pigeons for every crisis that shook Mother Russia, and thus the victims of these pogroms begun in the late 1800’s and lasting thorough the 1920’s.

It was into this world my grandfather Mottel was welcomed by his parents and a half –brother named Yussel, from Anna’s first marriage. The family grew quickly with the arrival of another son, Shmuel, then a handsome dark-haired daughter, Frieda, and finally Tilly, the beautiful red-haired baby girl, who would not live beyond the age of three.

The story told about Herschel, the father, is simple, He got liquored up one to many times on a cold winter’s night and froze to death in a snowbank before Tilly was out of diapers.

Shtetl-02-e1363901364322After Herschel’s death, Anna found herself once again alone, now with four children, but not without resources. She had married Herschel not because he was great husband material (his love of drink was already well-established) but because he owned two successful general stores that sat across from the village square. With Herschel’s death Anna inherited the stores. Anna was also a mid-wife who’s services were much in demand, not only by the women in her shetl, (Jewish village) but also the women in the surrounding non-Jewish towns. Thus her store and her mid-wifery practice allowed Anna and her four children to live quite well. Perhaps not willing to tempt fate, and realizing she had no luck in choosing a husband, Anna never remarried.

The spring of Mottel’s eighteenth birthday Anna learned the Russians were scouring Jewish villages looking for young men to abduct into their Army. During the last search the Stupack boys had been too young for service. Now they were of age and in great danger. It was widely known these young men, torn from their families, rarely became soldiers, rather they were used as slave labor. Few survived the experience.

Anna, with her three, now army aged, boys, had prepared for such an event by hoarding her money and enlisting the help of her non-Jewish mid-wifery clients, who had agreed to help smuggle the boys to Odessa, a seaport on the Black Sea, providing them with the passage money and papers necessary to migrate to America.

I often wonder how did people in these remote villages know of America?   Perhaps this information arrived on the lips of some peddler traveling from town to town, telling of people from other villages who had made the journey.

To get smuggled to Odessa it was necessary for the brothers to pass thorough a forest Ukranian forestmade famous for its tales of ghosts and goblins who stole children venturing in its woods after dark. Even though the Stupack brothers were no longer children, they were held captive by these stories, and were filled with trepidation as they entered the woods at night. But, they had no other option. They were fleeing for their lives and the roughly drawn map given them for their journey noted the forest trails, lit only by a sliver of a silver crescent moon, were the quickest and safest route.

The noise of the wind whispering through the trees, the random call of an animal, the sound of every branch snapping beneath their feet, and every shadow that dogged their footsteps, left them breathless, holding tightly to each other’s hand until they emerged from the forest onto the road to Odessa. Once the boys regained their composure, checked their pockets for their passage money and papers, they felt sure they could handle whatever else lay before them.

What they could not know was no sooner had they left their village Russian soldiers arrived at Anna’s shop demanding her sons. Anna repeatedly answered the boys had run off, she did not know their whereabouts, all while the enraged soldiers were breaking her fingers, one by one.

*keep scrolling..more to come

When my grandfather and his brothers boarded the rusty hulled ship sitting at the dEllis-Island-passengers-on-ship3a13598uw.jpg1ock in Odessa, filled to capacity with people migrating to America, they were unaware how rough the seas would be for most of their journey. Seasick most of the way, fearing, when thy could eat, the food was not kosher, clean, they nibbled on a boiled egg, toast and jam or sweet tea. When the ship finally docked at Ellis Island, and the brothers finally stepped onto firm ground, they vowed to never again get on anything that floated, a vow that would be broken. On land the Stupack brothers found themselves hustled into a huge room where they joined a seemingly endless line of men, women and children making their way to long wooden desks, where men in uniforms began the process of determining who would stay in American and who would not. When the Stupack boys finally stood in front of these desks, translators, who spoke Hebrew or Yiddish, tried to help the brothers answer questions about names, ages, papers, where they came from, if they had any funds, did they know anyone here? Have a sponser? When the questions ended people were sent to stand in other lines leading to rooms for required medical exams, which the brothers passed all the exams with flying colors.

Now, with their documents stamped, they stood in the last line, the one for the ferry, their vow now forgotten, as they looked out over the water that separated them from their next journey, to the city of New York, realizing nothing would ever be the same. Certainly not their names, which had been forever lost in translation: They would step off the ferry, onto the streets of New York as Joe, Max, and Sam Scotch.

What must they have thought when they reach the lower East Side, with its smells of food and coal fires, of human and animal waste; with the Hebrew and Yiddish signs announcing kosher markets, bakeries, deli’s, dry good and clothing shops; about sidewalks and streets teeming with people and pushcarts offering every imaginable good or service? Everwhere they looked was foreign to these young country boys.

                                    What I do know is they stayed in a rooming house, joined the bricklayers union and within a few months they were all working steadily, and saving money to bring their mother and sister to America.

One night Sam and Joe decided it was time to have some fun. There was a social offered by some organization and they wanted to go. Not Max. He was a shy man and said no, over and over, until his brother’s wore him down and he reluctantly joined them. That was the night my grandfather Max met the love of his life, my grandmother, the beautiful Jewish, American-born, Lilly Bass, who spoke flawless Yiddish. Lilly was immediately smitten with the quiet, strong and handsome red-haired foreigner. When, my grandfather Max proposed marriage, a few months later, Lilly agreed over the strenuous objections of her mother, who didn’t want her daughter to marry an “am-ha-aretz”, a greenhorn, no matter he was Jewish, he was an immigrant who didn’t speak English, and so was someone she looked upon as illiterate country bumpkins. But Lilly was a rebel and no one could stop her from marrying her Max.

pic#2     Soon after the marriage the Scotch brothers secured a job in Boston, a town experiencing a building boom. The area promised good work, and better living conditions. Lilly and Max, along with Joe and Sam, moved to Roxbury, an area populated for the most part by Jews. With more of and better paid work the boys soon had enough money to bring their mother Anna, sister Frieda and her husband, to America.

When Anna arrived and went to embrace her sons they were horrified to see their Mother’s hands, the fingers swollen and twisted, the result of the torture she had endured. Overjoyed their beloved mother was now safe. They visited her often at the apartment where she lived, as she did in the old country, with her daughter Frieda. It wasn’t until some month’s later Freida took Max aside and spoke of Anna’s unwillingness to eat.

Anna had taken it into her head kosher food in America was unclean. Frieda, who had always kept a strictly kosher Orthodox house, assured her mother the food was every bit as clean in America as it had been in the old country. Although Freida was able to entice her mother to eat a boiled egg, a slice of toast, or sip some tea, it was not enough to sustain her. She was skin and bones. When Max looked at his mother and saw how painfully thin, he asked his Rabbi to intervene. But with the same obstinacy and stoicism she displayed in not giving in to the Russian Army’s questions as they tortured her, Anna, to the horror of her family, slowly starved* herself to death.

 

 

*Anorexia, starving oneself, is a clinically recognized behavioral syndrome that emerges when certain persons are unable to resolved psychic and emotional stress. There are some who argue behavioral syndromes have a genetic imprint.

 

 

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