My Grandfather’s Ghost

by Barbara Fischkin

My father David Fischkin and my mother Ida Siegel Fischkin at their wedding at the Rockaway Mansion, Livonia Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. February 23, 1936

Again, I thought about changing my name.

I dreamed about publishing essays under a new byline. I tried out pseudonyms for my next book. I wrote down alternate names, said them out loud. A name change would make introductions easier. Now, when I extend my hand and say “Fischkin,” people look at me funny, as if I might be holding live bait.

I can live with Barbara. As a first name, it is dated. But Barbara will come back in style. First names do. I was almost named Benita. Benita Fischkin. Think of that. My mother loved that name, until a friend said a cute nickname for me could be Mussa—close enough to Mussolini.

That was all my mother Ida Siegel Fischkin had to hear. She was a passionate supporter of the State of Israel, a lifetime Hadassah member and a child survivor of an antisemitic pogrom. Benita went down the drain. As a little girl, bored with Barbara—too easy to spell—I asked my mother if she had ever wanted to name me something else.

“Benita,” she said. My mother hid little from me.

Wow, I thought, wishing she had gone through with it. A name like that dripped with fame, fortune and beauty.

Benita as a baby name for a newborn girl must have been making the rounds of pregnant mothers in our Brooklyn neighborhood, circa 1954. Very odd since this was less than a decade after World War II. My guess: When it came to villains, Hitler was the main event. I bet no one ever said: “For a boy, how about Adolph?” Read more »

Nostalgia

Nostalgia, according to Webster's New World Dictionary1, is “a longing for something far away or long ago”. We all feel it, and it seems to play a larger role in our lives the older we get. Which makes perfect logical sense because the older we get the more we think about the “good old days”. Eventually there comes a point where there are more days in the past than in the future.2

I recently went with my wife and our two children to her high school reunion down in Centreville, Maryland. She graduated from Gunston Day School, class of 1985. I never had an experience like that when I was in high school (or college for that matter). Since Gunston at the time was a boarding school, my wife lived there during the school year and obviously went back home to New Jersey when summer came around. I never left home. I took the bus to high school, and I commuted to college. When we arrived at that reunion, I could feel that nostalgia even though I never went there. I could tell my wife had this sense of such joy from remembering all her best friends from high school. That was accompanied by a feeling that you can never get back to those days, the sadness, the brink of tears.

It's that mix that describes nostalgia for me.

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