My mother as a baby. Could it be her Nanny holding her?

What She Did Not Say – An Unfinished Memoir Part I

I have decided to write my memories of my youth, my life and now my “senior” years so that you will know your mother better.

So begins the memoir my mother started but never finished. It is handwritten on just three pages of a notebook which was once thick. I do not know what happened to the torn out pages. At the top of the first page my mother has written: For my much loved daughter… Unfortunately the first few “memories” she writes about include a description of who my grandparents were and outlines their escape from Russia and migration to France, all of which I already know.

Luckily, tucked in between the many documents I have yet to sort through, I found a handful of foolscap pages with more of my mother’s memories of childhood. I especially like this story:

It is interesting how certain sounds and smells bring back floods of memories – or perhaps just one bright vision of a time and place that had been long lost to memory. In just such a way the scent of hay on a hot summer’s day takes me instantly back to one of my earliest childhood memories.

The vivid picture comes before me of a country dirt road on a hot summer’s day, a crossroads with a road sign and a wooden seat beneath it on which I sit next to my Nanny. She is dressed in a starched white uniform with a folded kerchief over her head. Her hands are busy with a basket of blackberries we have picked and which she carefully removes from their twigs and gives them one by one to me to eat. The sun is high in a cloudless blue sky and behind us and to each side are fields of golden hay. For me, at this time barely three, the delight of the sweet taste of the berries, the feeling of security in the proximity of the human being closest to my heart and the warmth of the golden sun matched by the scent of golden hay under a brilliant blue sky is paradise indeed.

I can see my mother as a toddler, leaning on her Nanny and eating blackberries. But this story also brings up more questions for me. Why did my mother have a Nanny? Was my grandmother busy working? My mother writes that she is “in the proximity of the human being closest to my heart” which makes me think her Nanny spent the most time with her. Sure enough, upon turning the page, I find this:

          My childhood was a happy one. I was much loved by my parents and my “Nana”. Though I think I loved my “Nana” best. It was she who after all was with me all the time and took care of all my needs.

By this time my grandparents must have had enough income to hire a Nanny. But what were they doing? And where in France were they living? Slowly I am beginning to piece together their story.

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