“Kalman, I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a long time…you have a sister.”
I was 24 in 1959, when my grandmother gave me the stunning news. From early childhood on, I was told that my Mom--her name was Rozlon-- had died of an illness, when she was 22, and I was just two years old. My Dad, Harold, who suffered from severe depression, had separated from my Mom and lived with his parents; I was raised by my grandmother (I called her Nanny) and great-grandmother (I called her Grandma).
When I asked
Nanny where my sister was, all she could tell me was that a childless Jewish
Not long after
their deaths, I moved to
When Olga and
our children moved to
Finally in August 1973, after delivering a
book to my publisher, I had some spare time. I asked Aunt Lucille, my late
Mom's only sibling, where her older sister Rozlon had died. “In the city
I entered the building, was directed to
Room 213, and told the lady I was trying to find a sister, born in 1937.
She said that normally a court order was required to obtain this information,
but since so many years had passed, she pulled out a large ledger, written in
ink, turned the pages, pointed, and said that a "Dolores Wagenheim"
had been adopted, and her name changed to June Lydia Goldman. Her adopted father, Louis Goldman, age 37 at
the time, was a schoolteacher at Central High in Newark, and the mother,
Frances, age 28 ,was a housewife. They
record made note of an “
I was so
excited to obtain this information that from a payphone in the lobby I called
nearby Central High (733-6897). It was summer vacation, but a Mrs. Celiano
answered. I asked about Louis Goldman.
Miraculously, she told me she remembered “Lou” fondly, that he had
retired some years ago, and had a cute little adopted daughter. “I think she
lives up in
In just one week, I was surprised to get a reply saying “Please be advised that Mr. Goldman died in February 1961, and our files are closed for him. G. Severino.”
The next day I went to the Newark Public Library, and searched for February 1961 obituaries in old editions of the Newark Evening News. One brief death notice said:
longer obituary said he had been an English teacher at
it was 12 years after Mr. Goldman’s death, I decided to try my luck, contacting
one of his relatives in
explained the reason for my call, she surprised me when she said she knew who I
was. I told her I was anxious to contact my sister, who, according to the
obituary of 1961, was residing up in
Sept. 10, 1973, after some hesitation, I picked up the phone and called her.
Twenty-three years later, while vacationing together with my sister and her
Kal: “You said ‘hello.’”
June: “I had just come from school. You said ‘hi, this is Kal Wagenheim.’ You sounded very nice. You asked ‘does the name Wagenheim mean anything to you?’ And it did! I had heard the name like in whispered conversations over the years, not to my face. So I said ‘go on.’ I thought you were going to tell me you were a long-lost relative.”
Kal: “Then what did I say?”
June: “You started very gradually, to tell me, well…the whole story. I remember I started out in the kitchen and ended up, with the phone, in the dining room. When you said ‘I’m your brother,’ I was really shocked. Complete shock.”
Kal: “I had the advantage over you. I had known for years that…”
June: “Then you asked ‘when can I see you?’ It was a Monday, and I said Thursday. I had to digest it. I had to call my mother. I went through the next few days in a daze. I went to work. I called and said ‘Mom, I got this phone call from a Kal Wagenheim.’ ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘We always knew, and we meant to…’”
Kal: “Did they say when they were planning to someday tell you?”
they died. (Laughter) When you first called, I felt a little distance. I
thought, ‘he lives in
Kal: “I was a little worried, too…”
June: “A Jewish princess from the Weequahic section…”
Kal: “I said to Olga, ‘Some brothers and sisters don’t get along…”
June: “But the minute I saw…it all dissolved.”
later, on the afternoon of Thurs., Sept. 13, I drove to June’s apartment at
Kal: “The night I came over, I brought a family photo album, which included a photo of our maternal grandmother, Lillian (Nanny), as a young woman. I recall how your eyes widened with astonishment as you stared at that photo.”
June: “There was an amazing resemblance between us... We sat for a long, long time. And when I said to Becky and Lowell ‘this is Uncle Kal’ they acted like nothing had happened!”
Kal: (laughs). “The same with my kids!”
I had grown up
It seems I arrived at an opportune time. June's husband Larry, a college philosophy professor, six months earlier had separated from the family. June was now on her own, beginning a teaching career, and raising two young children.
“Why was my sister’s birth name Dolores?” I asked my Aunt Lucille. She explained that in the late 1930s, when my Mom gave birth to June, the movie actress Dolores Del Rio was at the height of her stardom. Lucille also recalled that my Mom had won a tango dancing contest. As a tiny child, I must have heard her playing, and dancing to, tango music, which perhaps explains why, in later years, I developed such a love for tango.
For months after we first met, June and I talked constantly on the phone, and almost every Sunday we visited at each other’s home, connecting with relatives and friends.
June: “My God, the first time I walked in to your home, people said ‘she looks just like Lillian.’ It was so amazing that a granddaughter could resemble the grandmother.”
memorable moment was a Sunday when June came to our house in
Kal: “She walks into the living room, pulls out a photo from her purse, and shows me a picture of this handsome young man with dark hair, and asks me ‘do you know who this is?’ I didn’t have a clue. ‘It’s your father, Harold. I used to go out with your father.’”
June: “I heard
that she was very much in love with Harold. But his mother paid a visit to
Kal: “So a few
And then, there
was the memorable trip to the Spiritualist church in
Kal: “Do you
remember the time we went to see the Spiritualists on
June: “Yes. We went up the stairs of a brownstone building and sat in the living room. With all the chairs around. Everyone was Hispanic. There was the older man, the Reverend. And the younger one, he came right over to me and said ‘I see two mothers around you, in your aura.’ Can you believe that?”
Kal: “Then I
recall they invited you to return, because they were going to bring in an
English-speaking medium…a guy from the
June: “I remember now….”
Kal: “And he
said not to worry, or feel frightened, ‘it’s just your mother’s spirit; she
feels regret that she was never able to hold you in her arms.’ I recall we were in the car driving away from
June: “Yes…they were wonderful, caring people. It was a very searching time in a person’s life…that age…35!”
In the ensuing
years June and I were amazed at the power of genes. For example, during one of
our first visits to a seaside restaurant in
Six years after we reconnected, on Dec.
22, 1979, June married a wonderful guy, Ed Logue, a music teacher in
Thinking back to my early childhood, I
recall how at least once a year --it could have been some anniversary—Nanny and
Grandma would take me on the bus to visit my mother's grave in the Jewish cemetery
off South Orange Ave., in
Shortly after we met, June wrote this poem, which she gave to me, hand-written:
Upon Discovery of a Brother
The game is up,
the time has come
Now we know
where I am from
and my real name.
I liked not knowing who I was,
I could be from anyplace.
I could be anyone.Who needs the “Identity Crisis”
long past the time of leaving home.
The story, of course
was pure tragedy;
orphaned you, foundling me;
death, betrayal; an agony
I, the foundling, found a father,
and a husband; had a son,
even an analyst.
Learned to name, one by one,
my own dark sides.
Now comes a brother,
You were there all along.
What to make of this?
My Platonic missing half,
At last, a mirrored self?
I never was a sister
I do not know myself
in this role.
If I could throw
away like a ball,
the childhood I spent alone,
I would; and begin again,
whole, not rent;
And I, without knowing that June was writing a poem, also wrote one…
Sister, (a thrilling sound
for unpracticed lips to savor):
would it be so sweet now,
would you be sister-mother-child
to me had not our sun been quenched
so long ago, leaving us in darkness?
No. But nevertheless,
the time of
that veils young sibling love.
Sharing the sun
as we skip and run beneath
Rozlon’s radiant eyes.
The milestones, yours and
mine: flickering birthday lights,
wedding bands, solemn vows
to write or call.
not having missed you then.
and Rebecca came to be.
Three wars, famines, storms,
a billion people dead and born.
One-third a century’s laughter,
tears, murmurs, tranquil
Thirty-six voyages around
this earth, solitary voyagers we,
two specks on a vast uncaring globe,
shared blood coursing on
separate uncrossed paths. Now
into those gentle
glance away for fear
I’ll cry aloud just how much
I miss. I miss.