Visiting Risie in Covid Times by Frances Ravinsky
These earrings belonged to my grandmother, a griner who came to Montreal from Poland in 1926 when she was 40 years old; small, unobtrusive earrings.
Unless you pay attention.
And then you see the flower; the circle of six curved petals; the centre stone that sometimes catches the light.
I imagine her wearing them in a Polish shtetl at a time of pogroms, in the years leading up to the Holocaust; a small unobtrusive woman declaring herself in a dark time in the smallest of ways, through the wearing of small, unobtrusive earrings.
I imagine. I don’t know.
I keep them in a paper box in the bottom of a drawer with other earrings and other boxes, stashed in a frayed black velvet drawstring bag. The bag’s mouth is edged in red and orange seed beads. My grandmother made it.
My Bubbie: Risie Loeffle Brenner.
I barely knew her though I was 12 when she died. I don’t know why she wasn’t more present in my life. She lived with my aunt and uncle in Montreal - our city, ma ville natale. If I thought of it at all, (which I didn’t), I would have assumed (as children do) that my mother and grandmother were close.
But I don’t remember my mother sharing stories about her mother; about who Risie had been or had become. Just silence.
My Bubbie was silent. She didn’t share her stories with me, perhaps because she only spoke Yiddish. Likely Polish as well. Or perhaps because her many losses had silenced her.
I couldn’t and can’t speak Yiddish.
These earrings remind me of my untethered self; of swimming through life without a clan. Without mishpocha. Without oyve.
They remind me of my habit of wearing an item of clothing, a piece of jewelry given to me by a friend, by my daughter, my sister.
Of holding on to my mother’s bits and bobs, my mother who died over 50 years ago.
Not because I like them (though some I do). But more as talismans, as tethers.
I’m a little girl sitting with my Bubbie on a single bed in a small room in our Montreal flat. It’s late afternoon, a winter’s dusk. Neither of us turns on the light.
My Bubbie is gray from the dying light; from her thin gray hair pulled back in a bun; from her shtetl-like dress and woolen stockings. I touch the curtains of the soft skin of her upper arms, curtains that I now have.
I notice the glint of her earrings. I notice her oyringlach.
We sit in companionable silence.
I’ve sat in many circles with folks from the North, with Canada’s First Peoples who experience the boundary between the living and the dead as porous; with folks who tell stories about visiting their ancestors through dreams and sacred rituals.
I listen. I don’t try to understand.
These Covid days I’ve wanted those visits for myself. But I’m an untethered woman. There are no visits.
Last week, I wore Risie’s earrings to bed.
You can come visit me Bubbie. I’m 5 years older than you were when you died. Maybe I can comfort you. You can see your earrings again.