the back story
Composing the speech for Junebug’s baby-naming ceremony cracked open the floodgates of S’s memory. Writing about her grandmothers’ lives and looking through old photographs of their younger days, S tried to reconcile her recollections with the stories she had heard from her parents – it’s not easy to paint a portrait of someone’s life when one only shares in that person’s twilight years.
The task was easier with S’s maternal grandmother Rochelle – both because growing up S saw more of her than her paternal grandmother, who lived in Canada, and also because Rochelle exuded such a tremendous force of personality throughout her life that it was quite easy to visualize her strong character in the stories S’s mom recounted of her younger days.
In an era when most women stayed home, Rochelle worked as a bookkeeper and ran a successful small business. She knew what she wanted and she went after it, and her adventurous spirit would be contained by the boundaries of neither her home state nor her country. After divorcing, she met her lifelong partner Bob on a singles cruise, and though they spent several decades traveling around the world together she refused to remarry – once had been enough. Instead, she kept her own apartment in New York while Bob lived in Washington D.C., their mutual independence forming as solid a bond for their relationship as their love. What S loved most about her grandmother was that she knew how to party and even more so how to throw one. She was the one who brought the extended family together for Hanukkah and Passover Seders, and more often than not she was also the life of the party.
Whereas Rochelle’s legacy in S’s mind is one of fierce independence, her paternal grandmother Miriam represents the flip side of the coin. Not only was she a dedicated mother and wife, who kept a meticulous home, but also her identity was so inextricably linked to her family that S and her sister called their grandmother not Bubbie, as is customary in Jewish families, but Bubba Lou – because her husband’s name was Lou and it made sense to their young minds that Zadie Lou and Bubba Lou would go hand in hand.
Considering that Junebug most likely will spend her childhood in a state of geographical flux, we hope the legacies of these two very different women for whom she is named provide the yin and the yang of her personality. On the one hand, we would love nothing more than to raise a fiercely independent daughter whose thirst for adventure and curiosity to explore the world would do her great-grandma Rochelle proud. On the other hand, considering how far away we frequently are from home, we also hope that she values the bonds of family as much as Bubba Lou did.