Definition of miscommunication: I know I heard what I think you said.

When last we left, Maija and Carl were forming a life-long bond based on mutual misunderstanding.

Carl was so smitten with Maija that her thirteen-year old daughter wasn’t a problem for him. Maija was so smitten with the idea of moving from war-torn Paris to New York City, that Carl could already be married and it wouldn’t have bothered her. He wasn’t. My mom was just happy to get out of the prison convent. Carl proposed; Maija accepted.

While Carl sailed back to the States with his unit, Maija bragged to her friends about hooking an American from NYC and living the dream life of a posh city woman. She and my mom boarded another military vessel and made the several-week crossing to America, along with many eager huddled masses earning to be free. The ship was no luxury-liner. The crossing was difficult. Seeing “Lady Liberty” meant more than hopes fulfilled; it meant an end to perpetual sea-sickness.

Um, what happened to "women and children first?"

Due to a snafu in paperwork, mother and daughter spent an uncomfortable night at Ellis Island. Carl met them, got things straightened out and they all boarded a train at Grand Central Station. Destination: home. The women were amazed at how large NYC was because the train ride “home” took over eight hours. Their awe and naiveté crumbled when they exited the train and got in Pépé’s beat-up truck for the 45-minute drive to a ramshackle, dirt floor, no-indoor-plumbing abode that would be their home for at least a year–a home they shared with Carl’s drunkard, lecherous father.

Lisa Douglas from the Green Acres TV show knows how my grandmother felt. Only Mrs. Douglas had it much better.

If my grandmother hadn’t perfected the Evil Eye yet, I’m sure she did during that year.

The U.S. Government had a program to escort disappointed or bigamous war-brides back to their homelands, knowing that American G.I.’s tended to lose their memories judgement while overseas while engaging in liberating and drinking celebrating. Maija and Carl had not yet married, and she certainly was disappointed, but she chose to stay with Carl. Her pride prevented her from going back. She married Carl in a quickie civil ceremony while my teenaged mom waited in a car, never knowing about the marriage until they came out and told her.

The "happy" couple years later

Mémé was a unique grandmother. She never became an American citizen like my mother did, telling us that she didn’t like America or Americans. I think she was referring to her husband, but she was great at generalizing. She loved her grandchildren, all three of us, but I don’t think she considered us truly American. Carl eventually built her a house and worked hard all of his life to provide for her. Nothing he did, however, could undo the fact that he wasn’t from New York City and he lied to her (in her mind). Pépé knew his place in the marriage, and it was perpetually in the doghouse.

Mémé was definitely the matriarch of the family.

For as long as I can remember, they had separate bedrooms; although my mom remembers a time when (probably due to space constraints) they slept together. Sleeping was probably all they were doing. In an odd moment of openness when I was in my early teens, Mémé warned me off from men and sex. We were having afternoon tea–a ritual in our family–when she all of a sudden became a sexpert. Maybe she knew I was noticing boys–something our nuclear family sorely lacked, except Pépé, who didn’t count. Mémé knew things about what others (meaning me) were thinking. That scared me. She said in her seriously broken English, “Sex. No good. It wife’s duty. Anyway, only do when have to. It not fun.” That scared me more. I didn’t even know what sex was, but follow-up questions weren’t allowed. She never mentioned sex again. No wonder mom was an only child.

I'm just saying nothing good ever comes from a man wanting to use his you-know-what down in you-know-where.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s and to Mémé’s supposed deathbed. From what my mom told me, her confession went something like this, only in French and without the occasional gasp for what she thought was her last breath:

“I must tell you about your real father.”

“The French soldier who died in the war?” My mom tried to help her along.

“No. Your real father.”

This was breaking news for my mom. “Okay…”

“I met a man when I was out dancing one night. He was your real father.”

“What’s his name?”

“I can’t remember.”

“What did he do for a living?”

“He owned a market. Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Because he was a Jew. I couldn’t be associated with a Jew. Not then…before the war. I was afraid. He asked me to marry him but I said no. We’d all be dead by the Nazis if I married him. Even his brother said he would marry me. I told both of them I never wanted to see them again. I put you in a Catholic convent to keep you safe.”

That’s all she ever said no matter how many times we would ask her for details. She said she didn’t know what we were talking about until senile dementia took her away and she even forgot who she was.

My mom found out in her 50’s that she was half-Jewish. I found out in my mid-thirties that I’m a quarter Jewish. When I told Chuck, his response was, “Well, that explains a lot.” I wonder what he meant?

Okay. So I like to wear a tiara, don't mind a little attention, can take you on a guilt trip like no travel agent ever dreamed, can say "chutzpah" with the proper phlegm-ish, and make the best Challah this side of the Gaza Strip...

But that’s not the only surprise about my family that I got in the mid-1990s…