My mystery grandmother turns out to be Anna Pearl Burns, born in Russia or maybe Germany or maybe this country, the documents are inconsistent, and the proud resident of the Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane for at least 40 years, maybe more. She has one brother, Victor who works for the City, and three sisters, Rose, Beatrice and Bertha. Victor is single his whole life but all three sisters marry. Bertha Pearl is a novelist and writes Sarah and her Daughter and The Love Child, both published by Thomas Seltzer in the 1920’s and set in the Yiddish community of New York. She marries Blaine Moore. They have no children and I think she dies young.
Rose marries Samuel Holstein and has a son Robert, Beatrice marries Benjamin Steinberg and has a daughter Helen. The children are a few years younger than my mother.
In the mid-1950’s my grandmother is released from the asylum. She comes unannounced to our apartment in the Bronx, by then my father is doing well and we have moved to a place on the Grand Concourse with an elevator and smoked mirror in the lobby. Somehow she has tracked my mother down, now this is the child she hasn’t seen in decades and when my mother sent her sad desperate letters from the orphanage could not or would not respond, ever.
I don’t know if my grandmother expects to be welcomed with open arms. According to my mother she says she has cancer and wants to meet me, her granddaughter. She says how pleased she is to see my mother’s comfortable surroundings and beauty.
My mother, however, is not pleased. She gets my grandmother’s address, tells her that she will think about it, and shows her to the door.
When my father gets home from work that evening my mother tells him about her visitor and says, I never want to see or hear from her again. So my father writes my grandmother and encloses $100.00 with a note, we will send you this amount of money every month on the condition that you stay away. She agrees, and my father sends her the allowance like clockwork until she dies.
I don’t know about this encounter until I am all grown up and prodding my mother for details of her life, always a challenge. When pushed too hard my mother says, you don’t want to know, I have done bad things.