Monday, March 24, 2014

From Ottynia to Perth

I had fully intended to finish up my tax returns today but two early morning emails derailed that plan. By “early morning” I mean shortly after midnight, not that I was awake to read them when they descended from the cloud into my mailbox.

I got up at a reasonable hour this morning, slightly before 8. That is, my eyes opened for good, though I did not get out of bed for good for nearly another two hours. I blame email. As most of you probably do, I check email first thing in the A.M. Never know when Linda the Realtor might have an ASAP project for me to complete (which she did just past noon which deferred my writing this post until evening). 

In quick succession I read two emails that opened up links with my past. The first was from Lisa, a Denver resident searching for family roots in Ottynia, the hometown village of my father in what is now western Ukraine. She had found me several days earlier after googling Ottynia. My blog came up at the top of her Google search. As she wrote, “Now that’s optimization.”

After reading and responding to her second email this morning, we communicated the old fashioned way, by phone for half an hour. Just prior to that call I answered the other email that jolted me this morning, from a distant cousin in Minneapolis who I had last seen about 20 to 25 years ago when I was making annual visits to the Twin Cities. A year ago I wrote about his father’s surreptitious entry into the United States in the early 1920s and his subsequent flight to Minnesota to evade being picked up as an illegal alien. Like Lisa, David had read about Ottynia in my blog.

So I began reading old posts about Ottynia, thrust forward also by reports of wreckage from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 possibly being spotted some 1,500 miles west of Perth, Australia. There in one of the blogs from October 2009 was a promise to relate a story about my father and mother’s visit to Perth.

One of the hallmarks of my parents’ 53-year marriage was their open expression. In other words, they argued, sometimes in earnest, sometimes in jest. My father never let my mother forget that his first love was Dora, a woman he met in Danzig prior to World War II. Though he asked her to come with him to America in 1939, as an only child she chose to go with her parents to Australia. Sadly, within six months of arriving Down Under, her parents died. She tried to reconnect with my father, but could not. 

My father married my mother in 1942. Whenever my father would tease her about his first love, she would respond she was ready to buy him a one-way ticket to Australia. 

My father had many friends who left Poland in 1939. They were spread around the world. They agreed to meet in Israel in 1989, but one of them, a doctor in Sydney, Australia, had cataract surgery and could not travel. So my parents decided to visit him. As could be expected, before the trip they argued about something, my father mentioned Dora and my mother decided to call his bluff. Why don’t you put an ad in the Australian version of The Jewish Week and see if she responds, she suggested.

He had his doctor friend place an ad, asking anyone who knows a Dora who came to Australia in 1939 to contact him. A few days later, a friend sitting in Dora’s kitchen in Perth saw the ad. When Dora’s letter reached our home, it was hard to say who was more startled. Dora had married, had two sons, but was widowed in 1955. Hardly a day goes by, she wrote, that she did not think of my father.

Suddenly, a “simple” trip to Sydney was transformed into a romantic adventure. Her bluff called, my mother had no choice but to accompany her husband on his transcontinental trip back down lover’s lane in Perth. Indeed, whenever Dora was alone with him, she wrapped her arms around my father and said she would be there for him if he ever were single again. 

Ah, but my dad’s innate conservative morals thwarted any thoughts of seduction. Dora had told him she had boyfriends after her husband’s death. His ardor cooled, he returned to America never again threatening to run off to Australia.