Stand-In

All those evenings
I drove down to Brandeis Avenue
To see my great-aunt
Leah Salzman Miller

1986-1992
I remember
Mev joined me once
And took photos of Leah and me

Leah was fierce
A widow for decades
Her only son died
In his early 20s

She kept his room
Exactly as it was
On his last day on earth
She showed it to me, proudly

I wonder what she made of me
Grandson of her sister Bessie
With whom she had little contact
But I was curious

About Leah
Who told me the names of her
Other eight siblings
Most of whom I’ve forgotten

(I remember Dora
And Rose but that’s it)
She told me about the family
About her life

As a Mary Kay salesperson
About her Jewish life
From her I heard words and phrases
I’d only read in Leo Rosten’s The Joy of Yiddish

All told I probably visited her
12 times over those years
She died was I was studying in Berkeley
I didn’t fly back for the funeral

My dad went and reconnected
With his uncle Albert Salzman
Now I just remembered
When I took a trip to California

I went to San Diego
To visit Dora for the first time
And I was so unnerved
I left over a couple of hours

She looked like Leah
I sensed she was high-maintenance
And so just as I flew in
I flew out of her life

That visit was abrupt
But how would I feel about
Some distant cousin
Knocking on my door

Wanting to become acquainted
Saying he read The Book of Mev
And so made a special trip to
Saint Louis, Missouri

During those evenings of conversations
I spent with Leah
(I listened much more than I spoke)
She was a stand-in for my granny

In whose company I’d spent
Less than six hours of my adult life
A few more
When I was a child

Leah connected me
To the Jewish line
Of my being
In a way my grannie

Never did
Probably never even
Thought about it
Why should she?

Leah delivered
But so did I
Perhaps she welcomed me
As much as she did

Because in her imagination
I was a stand-in
For her son
Whose kippa she gave me

But his name too
I don’t remember
All this mattered twenty-something years ago
But I haven’t thought of it much this millennium

Leah Salzman Miller
Leah Salzman Miller

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