A lovely article by Edan Lepucki in the Times this week had women considering photos of their mothers’ vibrant youth.
Can a son do the same? I would think so.
I went scurrying to the digital files I am assembling of our diverse family. My siblings and others have contributed photos they squirreled away in boxes or scrapbooks.
May Spencer Vecsey passed late in 2002, at nearly 92. It is bittersweet to look back at the serious young woman in the old black-and-whites – the student with so much promise, the daughter permanently mourning a beloved father who died in her early teens.
She does not strut her stuff for the camera. There is precious little smiling, even when her father was moving the family from Southampton, England, to Coxsackie, New York, with enough money saved for a large house in town and a farm just outside.
The father is English (via Australia) and the mother is Irish and they are now upstate bourgeoisie, until her father hits a tree protruding onto an old country road now used for automobiles.
This is the great tragedy of her life. (I saw her sob when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in 1945; he was her surrogate father.)
She apparently was always serious – a top student at Jamaica High School after her mother moved to Queens. A good friend of mine from high school says her mom used to talk with respect about May Spencer, writer and scholar.
The college photos are the same: the photo with the hat depicts a sober young lady at the College of New Rochelle, a star in academics, yearbook, essays. Her classmates and the nuns said she would go far, even in the growing Depression.
As Edan Lepucki notes in her sweet article in the Times, these young women in the photos cannot imagine what lies ahead. My mom would become a social worker, then a reporter for the Long Island Press, then society editor, where she would meet my father. (“They met at the water cooler,” my brother Pete has said. “Pop was buying.”)
They would share a belief, a passion, if you will, for The Left; they were management but they would go on strike with the workers, facing the Cossacks on 168th St., and would never get back in that building again.
Could she envision hard times during the War, my father fearing a blacklist but always having work in the newspaper business? Could she see herself learning to cook, clean, wash and iron, to care for five children within 10 years, to care for her dying mother, to go through hard times in the family and then get whacked by multiple sclerosis – and fight it off with long daily walks up to Cunningham Park with her loyal dog Taffy?
She was strong. I find no evidence of her mugging for the camera, no frivolous outfits. But I remember once, in a casual aside, my father compared her to a movie actress. Pop knew movies as well as he knew his Brooklyn Dodgers and politics and books, but I cannot remember which actress it was. His attraction was real. That’s all I know.
She put her seriousness and her morality and her intelligence into her family. All five of us are doing well. That studious young woman in the hat made sure we did.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.