Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Names, ancestors, mountains and asthma

Rose and Roy with Jerry
(undated/in front of what appears to be a ship)
Ross was named after his paternal grandmother (Jerry's mother), Rose Berkowitz.  After writing the first version of my previous post, I learned that Rose herself  had lived in Guatemala as a child and still had relatives there, which explains a lot about why Jerry was sent to school there.  (Thanks to Jerry's brother, Ross's Uncle Roy, for passing along that information to Dinah, who forwarded it to me.)  Ross never got the chance to meet his grandmother Rose, as she died before he was born. Indeed, as he explained to me, the Jewish tradition is not to name children after living relatives.  In any case, I am not sure if he knew his grandmother had grown up in Guatemala, though he did mention to me that he had relatives on his father's side who were involved in the coffee business in Guatemala.

The exact years Jerry was in school in Guatemala are unclear, and family members are not sure whether it was a regular school or a military school, but his brother Roy recalls that before going to Guatemala, Jerry had been very ill and hospitalized for months in New York for his asthma, and he was actually sent to Guatemala to improve his health--and apparently it worked, because Roy reports that Jerry was much better on his return.  Certainly, he recovered enough to be able to serve overseas during World War II.  He later revisited Guatemala with his bride during their honeymoon, so one can assume he had fond memories of his time there.

I did a bit of research on Guatemala and discovered that the climate is far more varied than I previously realized.  In the mountains in Guatemala, it is actually quite cool.  In any case, I imagine there was far less pollution in Guatemala than in Brooklyn, so Jerry's sojourn in Guatemala now makes a lot more sense.  This now makes a lot more sense to me--and in fact in the same period many people in New York City sent family members to the Adirondacks to recover from lung diseases such a tuberculosis, because of the clean, unpolluted fresh mountain air and sunshine.

My own Uncle Jimmy also suffered from asthma, and I had often wondered why my grandparents chose to send him to Fishburne Academy, a military boarding school in Virginia, unlike his siblings, who attended day schools at home in Washington, DC.

After getting the information from Roy and Dinah which helped me piece together the story, it now dawns on me that Uncle Jimmy probably went to Fishburne for exactly the same reasons as Ross's father Roy went to Guatemela, because Fishburne  was located in the mountains of Virginia, with cool, fresh, clean air during the entire school year.  (Washington DC classrooms were beastly hot and humid in September, May, and June.)

Also, at that time, I believe that many people still heated their homes with coal and the pollution levels in densely populated cities such as New York and Washington must have been terrible during the winter months.  I assume that rural mountainous areas would have had pristine fresh air.

Indeed, Paul Schaefer, the noted environmental advocate who built the home we live in and who also fought to preserve the beautiful old-growth forest adjacent to the natural burial preseve where Ross is buried a mile away from here, traced his own love of wilderness to a time in his childhood when he and his brothers accompanied his mother to the Adirondacks in the hopes that the mountain air and vistas would "refresh her spirits and restore her ailing health."

Ross had some asthma as well, though fortunately not as severe as his father's, perhaps in part because environmental regulations have greatly reduced air pollution levels.  I do remember that his asthma was worst during polluted times, and one of the reasons Ross loved living up here in Upstate New York since 1989 was that the air was far more pristine than anywhere else he had ever lived.   He and I both rejoiced in all the natural beauty of the mountains and the fresh clean air surrounding us.

[Note:  an early version of this post, which I created when I woke up in the middle of last night and couldn't sleep for a while, contained numerous errors.  I think I have now corrected most of them but appreciate hearing from anyone with more to share.  Thanks to Dinah and my mother for pointing them out.  I welcome any additional corrections, additions, and clarifications.]

1 comment:

  1. From Ross's Uncle, Roy:
    I would like to complement you on your revised comments on my brother's, Jerry's, early life before and after he went to Guatemala for his health.
    Jerry was 3-and-a-half years my senior, and my 9 year old memory is not very good and coupled with my 87 year old senility renders it even less competent.
    Educationally, our lives were very different. Jerry was a good and serious student who, with my mother's and father's help, went on to college after his military service. I, on the other hand, quit school at 16 and went to work, and went into army at 18. Simply put, I was something of a bum, and Jerry an intellectual (I did eventually go on to college after the army simply because the army paid for it and received a B.S. at Syracuse University).
    Jerry and I were very different types. The only thing we both had in common were loving and caring parents (Rose and Willie) when we grew up. And Jerry later became a loving, caring father to Ross and Dinah.
    I do have one other thing to share with you. I married an Irish girl from the Bronx at 35 and lost her to cancer about 12 years ago. It was a good and loving marriage. I remarried a year ago to an American Taiwanese girl, Mei, whom I love (She is a nurse case manager by profession which is also a plus at 87). Mei and I are deeply sorry for your loss, and would love to have you and your daughters visit us in NYC .
    Love, Mei and Roy.