Cousin Lily

At this point I should say a few words about my cousin Lily.  She was the youngest of Aunt Paula and Uncle Nuhim’s three children, and might have been about eighteen, but I wasn’t sure of her age then, and I’m not sure of it now.  As mentioned before she suffered from cerebral palsy and showed all the usual characteristics of that disease, the facial feature, the rigid hands and fingers, the inability to walk, and the occasional crisis, when she became completely rigid and contorted and emitted, loud, uncontrolled shouts.  I lived in terror of being  alone with her when one of these crises struck, but that never happened.  She slept in the bed in the combination living room/kitchen, but her waking hours were spent at the table, next to the stove,in her wood and cane wheelchair.

Although her disability made it difficult for her to handle cards, she spent a good deal of her time playing solitaire, and if suitable opponents were available she played a good game of rummy, the kind of rummy we all played at the time, with a double deck.

She also had two other interests.  The first of these was her jazz recordings.  She had several jazz records which she played over and over on her “portable” phonograph, a hand-cranked machine, which provided several minutes of normal music before it tired and slowed down to some very strange, whining groans.  Needless to say, Lily loved her records, and in retrospect I am surprised that her parents had been able to leave Germany with both records and phonograph.

Her other collection was made up of post-card-sized photographs of both German and American movie stars, as well as an occasional French one of such luminaries as Jean Gabin,  Fernandel, or some others whose names I’ve forgotten.  Her favorite star however, was a man she pronounced the handsomest in the world, the American Latin matinée idol, Ramon Navarro.  I think I enjoyed going through those photographs, but not as much as she did, because I didn’t know these stars, never having gone to a movie. However, in a world without very much children’s entertainment, I enjoyed going through those photographs with Lily and being told about the lives, the movies and the backgrounds of these stars.  For me, she was somewhat like a living fan magazine, although those things didn’t exist in those days.

Lily had never gone to school.  Handicapped children in those days simply weren’t allowed to attend.  However, somehow, Lily had taught herself to write.  She didn’t write an elegant hand, of course, her cramped fingers not allowing for that, but she did print in block capitals using a pencil.  And what she spent many hours, even days, doing was writing long love letters to her handsome, young doctor, Doctor Sperka, who made regular house calls (probably at considerable risk) to do whatever he could to alleviate her condition.  She never mailed and she never gave these letters to Doctor Sperka.  She knew better than to do so, possibly she was too shy.   They were her effusions of love for a man completely out of reach although nearby, written by someone who was for ever  confined to her wheelchair by her cerebral palsy, but whose mind, whose heart, was nevertheless that of an ordinary girl.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the “Final Solution” by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.

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