Love Letters and Bubbie’s Sweater
Its been a busy art making summer so far for all the Rise members, including me. Since mid May I’ve been enjoying my two day a week schedule at Otis (as opposed to four during the school year) and I’ve been putting in a lot of time at the studio preparing exhibition proposals for work that’s been completed over the last three years and digging into a project I began last fall…
In 2004 when my family and I cleaned out my grandparent’s home after their deaths we found a bundle of letters written from my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother. The plan was that I would take them all home, scan them and distribute CDs of the files to our immediate family members. I started scanning some in 2005, then several other projects took over my time and I didn’t get back to it until this past October. My grandmother’s sister has since died (back in December 2009), and we’ll be spreading her ashes in Central Park this summer. She would’ve loved to have read the letters, as Zaydie Bernett (Ben) Kahn and Bubbie Pauline (Zuckerberg) Kahn were her parents. What I find fascinating about the letters is not only the great love affair between Ben and Pauline, but also the descriptions of turn of the (20th) century New York City, Long Island and parts of Europe while Ben was traveling with the US Army – a great example of immigrants serving their new country before their citizenship was earned, but that’s another story… The letters are written mostly in English (which I believe was not a first language for either of them Ben being from Russia and Pauline being from Latvia) with bits of French and Yiddish, although I think my sister and I are the only ones in our family who referred to them in Yiddish, and I recall my grandfather yelling his corrections, “NO! ONLY MY MOTHER IS BUBBIE!” But whatever, to me any woman from the old world with grandkids and great-grandkids is “Bubbie.”
Although memory can play tricks, in most photos that I recall Bubbie Pauline wore a turquoise sweater, shell top and skirt set that she knit herself. I could tell that it was her “dressy-casual” attire. While everyone else seemed to have different clothes on, and many photos are clearly from different time periods, she seemed to wear this same outfit on so many occasions that were not weddings or bar mitzvahs, but still called for family photographs.
While in high school I inherited a matching sweater of a different color, also knit by Bubbie Pauline. My grandmother, who must have gotten it when her mother died, didn’t want it anymore.
It was a perfect puke-green color and I wore it all through high school, college, and graduate school, until a slightly embarrassing moment, when after years of wear and tear, a professor that I knew from undergrad whispered to me while at the 2000 CAA conference, “Its good to see you, but you shouldn’t wear that sweater anymore.” So Bubbie’s sweater went onto a top shelf in the closet and each time my husband and I made thrift store donations, her sweater was spared.
In addition to scanning the letters Bubbie received from her loving boyfriend who later became her husband, I began to unravel her puke-green sweater, with the intention of using the yarn to embroider something inspired by the text in all the letters. I am still not sure what exactly that will be, but for now I’m not worrying about that.
Partially through the first hour of unraveling, I felt a slight sadness. I was destroying one of the few remaining artifacts from that generation of my family on my mother’s side – the others being a set of Shabbat candlesticks and a ton of snap shots. But after a while, and I worked on this for several months, I felt a sense of satisfaction as I realized that my hands were touching every strand of yarn in the opposite way my Bubbie’s hands did.
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Now you need to learn how to knit and make something from all this yarn. My grandmother took knitting lessons and spent a lot of time making these outfits of hers. I had a dress of hers one time and wore it until I decided I did not like how it looked on me anymore. I don’t know if it would fit me now or not, but it doesn’t matter as I don’t have it anymore.
I look forward to reading the letters and wish I had been able to do so while my mom was alive.