My Mother's Daughter provides
Alice Hartsuyker, My Mother’s Daughter, Delta
Printing Solutions, 2005, 313 pages, $20.
A cousin once visited the Lower East Side tenement where
Aileen lived with her children and suggested that she “move uptown and be with
your own kind”—that is, with other members of the extended Irish-American
“They were concerned with neighborhood and political
issues but besides supporting uplifting causes, they had a comradeship that was
lovely to see,” the author recalled. “Those
women cared for me when she was ill and when our situation became dire. She
loved the Jewish community and when she died, one of the club members, Molly
Weinstein, planted a tree in Israel in my mother’s name.”
A color reproduction of the tree-planting certificate in
the American Bicentennial National Park in Israel is included on the book’s
dedication page. It is dated
September 20, 1977, in memory of Aileen Veronica Scott.
Except for this certificate, we might have thought that
Hartsuyker’s mother was known as Aileen O’Mahony, because it is the
struggles, superstitions, adventures, and high-spiritedness of the O’Mahony
clan that fills most of this richly sentimental memoir about Hartsuyker’s life
during the Depression years.
The man of the last name “Scott”—presumably
Hartsuyker’s father—is banished from the pages.
One possible explanation guides our understanding about how the author
felt about her father, that being the very title of the book: My Mother’s
Daughter. By what circumstances
Aileen was left to raise her children alone, we don’t know—but we come away
from the book convinced that whatever traumas her marriage had suffered she did
a remarkably good job raising her children.
For Jewish readers, these essays open a window upon Irish
immigrant life, through which we also can see a mirror in which our own
immigrant roots are reflected. A
neighbor, Bella, was known for malapropisms that might have made the movie
producer Samuel Goldwyn sit up in self-recognition. “The president became Franklin Rosenfeld, women wore
pessicoats, and she observed that ragtime music was worthless, else why would
they name it after a schmatte? We
all liked her because she lacked malice and was generous-hearted.
She gave me my first matzoh spread with chicken fat….”
Delightful, also, is Hartsuyker’s girlhood memory of an
upstairs neighbor who awakened from a Friday afternoon nap to find she had
forgotten to turn on the apartment lights, and now Shabbos was upon her.
The Orthodox woman called from her window to the street, summoning Hartsuyker to
come upstairs to the apartment.
This book is well worth having; it may be ordered through Hartsuyker’s website, http://www.alicememoir.com/order_page.asp