Mind On The Run
: “The Past Also Rises”

By Anthony Kovatch, M.D., Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia

Beholden

Beholden

 

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — from “Requiem for a Nun” by William Faulkner, American author.

 

“A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun also rises and the sun sets; and hastens to its place, it rises there again.” — Ecclesiastes 1:5.

 

 

 

(Musical accompaniment: “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof.)

 

Call it whatever you will — stubbornness, perseverance, compulsion — but the baby girl would not abandon her fetal breech position and allow her mother the possibility of a natural vaginal delivery in the water, which she so cherished after a previous C-section. On the other hand, the date of birth was set, arrangements made for the simultaneous care of “wild man” brother Miles, and all mysteries put to rest except for the first name of the baby.

We had learned months before that the middle name would be “Rose.” My prejudice was simple — my daughter is a millennial and a disciple of the most modern generational school of child-raising. The name will be unique, not in any way influenced by convention, likely to jolt the sensibilities of the grandparents and other ancestors. “It will be Briar Rose (like Sleeping Beauty) or Rose of Sharon (from Grapes of Wrath), I contended with a boastful air, thinking myself a Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade (private detective in The Maltese Falcon, played in the movie by Humphrey Bogart). “The ancestors will be rolling over in their graves and my daughter (a physical education teacher) will be leading them all in their rolling and exercising, including me,” I humored.

I was right, but for a completely different reason. My daughter electrified the family, throwing us a curve ball (even a knuckle ball, if you will), and named the infant “Mary,“ a name deeply imbedded into the legacy of both sides of the family for generations as far back as I am aware.

 

Four for the Price of One

 

Mary happened to be the name of the infant’s maternal grandmother and great grandmother — a fitting tribute to the matriarchs most influential to my daughter’s pursuit of happiness. But the buck did not stop there. After some reflection, it dawned on this author that all four of the baby’s maternal great-great grandmothers bore that “grand old name” (or some variation thereof). As a clinician, I found it incumbent upon myself to assess the potential contribution of each of the four to the health and welfare of Mary Rose. All four outlived their husbands, were matriarchs of large families, and devout in their faith and devotion — and that is essentially where the similarities end. In the order in which I was least familiar with their stories……

Mariam, by all accounts, was a beautiful woman of German ancestry with red hair. Known as “Mom,” she seems to have been a “bon vivant,” in the likeness of Mame. She loved to cook and my wife recalls her talents as a culinary “engineer” who directed her granddaughters in the preparation of family meals even when bed-ridden in old age. When grandchildren came to visit, they left with a stash of candy.

Mary Irene was a gracile women of Irish ancestry with snow-white glowing skin — this was passed down to my wife. The family farmed land on their homestead in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. By all accounts, “Grandma” had a strong work ethic and tolerated none of the shenanigans of the Irish lads who married into the family. Like so many mothers of that era, she lost a son in the war. When grandchildren came to visit, they left with a stash of apples.

Marietta, by secondhand accounts (she died before I was born), was a dignified woman of Italian ancestry with olive skin. She bore 14 children to her husband, an ambitious man of the Horatio Alger ilk. Abandoning its European roots, the family championed the American dream — all the sons were highly educated professionals, including a doctor (my mentor), a dentist, a pharmacist, a lawyer, a CEO. The oldest son, an engineer and budding “Thomas Edison,” died in an electrocution accident. The four daughters were forbidden to attend even high school until my mother — due to stubbornness, perseverance, and compulsion — threw a massive tantrum and finally broke the ice. The family achieved modest wealth, and after the death of her husband, Marietta became a great benefactress. When grandchildren came to visit, they left with memories of her generosity. Financially, this allowed many of them to perpetuate the American dream.

Mary Kovatch was a diminutive woman of Hungarian ancestry who maintained a “superwomen” energy level into her nineties. Although 3 children died in infancy, she raised the remaining 8 as a single parent when her husband suffered the mental effects of working for years in the anthracite coal mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania. “Mam Mam” was blessed with a tireless habituation to work, earning her the moniker “Crazy Clean” among the jealous of the village; they should have called her “Crazy Mary — the Blessed One,” as she spent much of the days and nights of her life cleaning and worshiping in the local Hungarian church. When grandchildren came to visit, they left with sore cheeks from her ferocious kisses, paprika on their breaths, and a new Hungarian word in their vocabularies (some of which I later realized might have been “swear words”).

 

Is That All There Is to a Name?

 

Read no more of the lies above — they are little more than the perceptions of a commentator! Beneath the superficialities of beauty and benevolence lies a firestorm of closeted ghosts: hardships unable to be overcome, physical mutilations (Marietta suffered a gunshot to an eye), unresolvable vendettas between siblings, genetic mutations with far-reaching physical, emotional, and psychiatric consequences.

Are we not little more than the summation of our inherited genes — “coin tosses” won or lost at conception? Are our destinies determined more by Lady Luck than by blood, sweat, and tears and the love in whose debris we might perish? To what degree is any individual the summation of all the ancestors? Does a lifetime of knowledge provide a germ of truth? Can the story of our life be changed or are we merely driftwood on the turbulent waves of history?

Can I merely be HUSHED?

May my misgivings and accusations be forgiven by the Supreme Court Justice of the Universe. I had denied Faulkner’s statement about love — or had become so old that I had forgotten everything I ever knew about it:

 

“You don’t love because — you love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the faults.”

 

Whatever we fear has followed us from the past, it is vital to remember that the future is forever. The story of Mary Rose’s life will not be written by any of her namesakes, nor by any other of her ancestors. The story of her life will not be the newsreel of its major events: the awards, the birthdays, the graduations, marriage, etc. In the grand scope of things, the story of any person’s life is the story of what happens in the family room — the quiet, most meaningful trivialities and thoughts and reflections. In the family rooms of our lives, we are what we are and were intended to be. And as the sun rises and sets, so does the past.

 

Beloved. When they visit their grandparents, with what will they leave?