Posts Tagged ‘I Am From…’

A Love-Fest With My Ancestors

A couple of years ago I began to write a book about seven generations of my paternal family in America. It was a labor of love in anticipation of the 100th birthday of my grandparents’ Adirondack cabin. The house, now owned by my siblings and our families, is located in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, in a tiny hamlet called Keene Valley. It’s across the brook from the site on which my great-grandparents’ home once stood. 

My Grandparents' Home: 1915

My Grandparents’ Home: Rushing Brook (1915)

The centennial took place in August, 2015, and included 3 glorious days of swimming, hiking and family story-sharing. 50 double cousins*, from 2 months to 82 years, gathered for the occasion. 

*Double Cousins: 2 brothers married 2 sisters. Julius Sachs married Rosa Goldman; Samuel Sachs married Louisa Goldman. Their offspring are double cousins.
My Great-Grandparents' Home in 1890

My Great-Grandparents’ Home: Waldfried (1890)

I circulated my first draft of the book at the event, and asked family members to check for errors and omissions (there were plenty). It’s difficult to describe how deeply I loved working on this project, which felt almost as if I was traveling back in time, meeting my ancestors one-by-one, and falling in love with many of them. The year turned into a virtual love-fest in my imagination.  

It all began in 1837, when two young Jewish men met in a synagogue in Würzburg, Germany. Both excelled in their studies: Joseph Sachs (20) was gifted in languages, Marcus Goldman (16) in mathematics, and the two quickly became close friends.  

The custom in 1840s Würzburg, was that well-to-do Jewish families boarded poor students. Joseph was the poor student, and his generous hosts were successful goldsmiths who were also the parents of brilliant, young Sophia Baer.

Sophia Baer Sachs

Sophia Baer Sachs

Joseph Sachs

Joseph Sachs

The student and the young lady fell in love, and when Sophia’s parents objected to their daughter “marrying an impecunious teacher”, the young lovers eloped to Hamburg, then sailed for America in 1847. Marcus followed suit in 1848, and the very day he arrived in Philadelphia he and Joseph bumped into each other! Their chance meeting foreshadowed a future alliance between the two families (albeit 30 years later) that would influence the world: Goldman Sachs & Co.

Bertha and Marcus Goldman

Bertha and Marcus Goldman

Meanwhile, Bertha Goldman (no relation to Marcus), was a young seamstress who had also arrived from Germany in 1848, then moved to Philadelphia in 1851. She met Marcus, who wished to court her with a bouquet of flowers; because his work as a peddler left him no money, he surprised her with a bunch of radishes hidden in his hat! It worked. The two fell in love, and were married later that year.

Joseph, Sophia, Marcus and Bertha were my great-great-grandparents. Feeling connected to them is visceral to me, although Joseph and Sophia never even visited Keene Valley (alas, they died too young). Their spirit, however, is everywhere surrounding Rushing Brook: in their commitment to “do what you love and give it your everything”, and in their unflagging support and trust for family.

Steps to Waldfried from Rushing Brook

The steps to Waldfried from Rushing Brook (2015)

When I was 12, my parents invited several musician friends and their families to bring their instruments and join us for a long weekend of music and improvisation at WaldfriedThe sensory experiences that summer were unforgettable: hearing and playing the music, feeling the freezing water on our bare feet as we ran across the brook and back, throwing meals together on the run… it was creative collaboration. I didn’t know at the time how deeply it would impact my future career.

This summer I feel privileged to literally follow in the footsteps of our ancestors: down the old moss-covered-stone-steps, across the brook, and back up the other side, inhabiting their space, which I believe, on occasion, hosts their spirits as well.

A love-fest indeed. What a gift.

SOURCES: Birmingham, Stephen, Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York (Harper & Row, 1967) ISBN: 0815604114; Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Marcus Goldman:; Sachs, Bernard, Barney Sachs: 1858-1944 (New York, 1949: Privately Printed); Sachs, Ernest, M.D., Fifty Years of Neurosurgery, A Personal Story (New York, Vantage Press: 1958); Sachs Jr., Dr. Ernest, Goldman Family Tree (Privately Printed: 1981); Straus, Helen Sachs: Sachs Family Tree (Privately Printed: 1977)

Where Inspiration Spreads Wide Its Glorious Wings*

* Inscribed (in french) on the proscenium of the old theatre in the Carnegie-Mellon School of Fine Arts, my alma mater.

Once again I have returned to Baker Library in the town where I grew up: Hanover, NH. This is the place I wrote my term papers in high school…

The place I Iearned from a classmate in 1963 that Oswald had been shot.

The place I found a desk with a secret drawer filled with treasures.

The place of many flirtations.

The place “where Inspiration spreads wide its glorious wings”.

The place I am from.

Of the many rooms I love in this library, I’m drawn once again to the Theodor Geisel (Dr. Suess) “imaginative place to study!” Must be something about unleashing the imagination of my childhood.

Voices from long ago join me, yet it is silent and I am alone. An exhibit in the hallway about the history of printing and binding of books reminds me of my brother Jim (who invented the electronic book).

I ponder an illustration from Dr. Suess’s last book, published in 1990: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and I can’t imagine a more perfect place to work.

It’s time to disconnect: no tweets, no emails, no calls.

Over and Out.

In Memory of my Mom – Origins and Influences

Theatrical Intelligence in Triplicate

Mom died 2 weeks ago. Jeanne O’Sullivan Sachs: Oct 15, 1920 – July 19, 2009. I was blessed to be with her as she made her final exit, as were my siblings.  In her honor, I post “Three Moms”, taken by my younger brother Bob. It is the quintessential Mom: elegant, poised, and laughing at the delicious irony of life. “See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.”

I’ll be posting my thoughts about my mother as soon as I have the presence of mind to edit my daily “ritual writings”. She had Theatrical Intelligence in abundance!

In the meantime, I’d like to share the a piece of writing dictated by Mom to me on Thanksgiving Day, 2007. She was 87. Our family was playing a game from Mary Pipher’s Writing to Save the World, called “I am from…” It’s about origins and influences.

So ladies and gentlemen, in her own words, Jeanne O’Sullivan Sachs:

* I am from Mortimer O’Sullivan, Patrick Ahearn, Ellen O’Brien, Agnes Ahearn, and John Mortimer O’Sullivan.

* I am from Irish Catholics and Irish Catholics and Irish Catholics and Irish Catholics!

* I am from Ireland, Ballyporene and green and history and the brogue.

* I am from Billerica and Boston.

* I am from “Children are seen and not heard”; “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”; “A book is your friend, you must not destroy it” and mass on Sunday morning (as late as possible for Dad!)

* I am from Mildred McKean the music supervisor telling my parents “You have a very gifted child” and arranging a cello for me.

* I am from… (no, that sounds too braggy!)

* I am from my doll Betty, a gift from Grandfather Ahearn – tailor to Harvard Square – making me jodhpurs when I was thirteen.

* I am from cello recitals and music camp as one of the professionals (I don’t know how they found me!)

* I am from summers on the Cape with my brothers and sisters in Wellfleet.

* I am from sitting at the soda counter and ordering an ice cream sundae while Dad always had a coke and said “…add a little lemon.” That was so grown-up!

* I am from Children’s Hospital and Sidney Farber at Harvard and Faure’s cello sonata which was when Ernie fell in love with me.

* I am from daffodils and 4/3/43, our wedding day.

* I am from 54 months of pregnancy, six kids, being a chauffeur, learning to ski, teaching cello, founding an orchestra and getting my masters – it didn’t take very long – they gave me credit for life.

* I am from my six children and my thirteen grandchildren and my great-grandson Jack and more “greats” on the way. (Good “Jeannes and Ernies”.)

* I am from…four score and seven years ago!

R.I.P. Mom.

Your final words were “Love you”. Thank you for everything. Love you too.


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