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28 GROWING UP JEWISH IN PREWAR LATVIA Mama never told me how she and my father met. I believe they must have been formally introduced by a marriage broker. A contemporary photograph reveals that Mama was a beautiful woman. Having met her, Papa acted promptly and forcefully. Emma wrote to her daughter Clara that my father’s sudden decision to get married caused some consternation among the mothers of Riga’s eligible young women. Nevertheless, in June 1914 my father and his mother traveled to Dvinsk to meet the prospective in-laws, for the formal announcement, and to settle the dowry. In a letter to Clara, Emma described them as “very respectable and nice people, the motherin -law is especially pleasant and very German [my emphasis]. The bride is pretty, but makes the impression of a good, lovely girl. For the engagement Dietrich presented her with a fine diamond ring. The wedding is planned for October, but Mr. Gr [Eli Griliches] must first deposit the money.” It was a promising match between the offspring of two well-to-do families , and Emma seems to have been impressed. The wedding had to be postponed several times because the start of World War I interfered with the preparations. There was a story relating how Erna went shopping in Germany with her mother, where they were caught by the start of the war and were able to return to Dvinsk only with great difficulty. The wedding took place at last in March 1915 and must have been an elegant affair. A copy of the menu, printed in French, lists a ten-course meal. The war did not permit the outfitting of an apartment, and the newlyweds rented a furnished place in Riga. Within several months of their wedding, the whole Michelson family (except Clara and Leo, who were in the West) left Riga before the Germans occupied the city and moved to Moscow. When they returned to Riga in early 1919, after the war and the Russian Revolution, my parents rented an apartment in town. Several months 5 My Mother and Our Home  MY MOTHER AND OUR HOME 29 later Emma and her younger daughter Thea went to Berlin, where they stayed for several years. Upon Emma’s return in late 1921, the entire family moved back into the villa next to the factory . My mother now went to live in her mother-in-law’s house. Even after my grandmother’s death in the spring of 1935, my mother was not greatly concerned with or interested in running the household. Other than discussing the daily menu, she left control of the kitchen up to our cook. When we were young my sister and I had nannies, and Mama was only minimally involved in our day-today nurturing and supervision. Our residence, a two-story Victorian villa designed for formal entertaining, had been built in the late nineteenth century. Downstairs it had large rooms with high ceilings and large crystal chandeliers. There were two sitting rooms and a small library, all furnished with elegant, overstuffed sofas and chairs. The doorways were hung with dark, heavy, plush draperies. The visitor was left with a distinct impression of quiet, dignified opulence, an impression Emma had worked hard to achieve. Although large and impressive, the villa was not a comfortable home. It was poorly insulated and drafty. There was no central heating, and the large wood-burning brick ovens did not provide an adequate and longlasting source of heat. In the winter it was nearly impossible to maintain a comfortable temperature. During exceptionally cold weather we would get up in the morning to find the water pipes in the kitchen had frozen. More than once I overheard Uncle Eduard say to my father: “The house is uninhabitable . We must rent a modern apartment in the city.” We never did. Whether it was because of the convenience of being right next to the factory or simply inertia, we continued to live there. We were not a demonstrative family, and much passed unspoken. Nevertheless , it was not hard to see that my parents had a good marriage. They loved and respected each other. They also worked well together, my mother acting not only as office manager of our factory but also as her husband’s My mother with Sylvia, Moscow, 1916. 30 GROWING UP JEWISH IN PREWAR LATVIA secretary. Even though she did not use the touch-type method, she was a fast and accurate typist. My parents...


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