Echoes Past and Future

Gus Ruchman - Senegal


November 27, 2010

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

Don’t worry about me. I’m doing more than okay. I know that wherever you are in the limitless beyond you are finding a way to worry while you watch over the family, but you don’t have to.

I think about you quite a bit. In fact, I think about you quite a bit more than anybody realizes. Your voices and memories are stitched seamlessly into my consciousness. I took you with me to Israel—to the very heights of Masada and the electric base of the kotel where I recited kaddish twice, once for each of you—and now I have taken you to Senegal.

Grandpa, I think about you, all those years ago, in Morocco. Did you hear call to prayer five times a day, and the soaring voices of Muslim brotherhoods chanting Koranic verses with no end into the heart of the night? Did you struggle to understand your alien surroundings even as you came to grips with your place as a young man full of potential and quiet optimism, an American son of immigrants, caught up in repairing a world that jumped the tracks miles up the line, far beyond your control?

The calm and resolve of your unmistakable character to which we all continue to aspire must have served you well in those years as you trekked across sweltering North Africa and up into the blood-soaked Italian countryside. You were such an important figure in my life, but over the past few years I realize more and more how little I truly knew you. Please, talk to me now. Provide me your counsel and infinite wisdom. Open my eyes and teach me to see, open my ears and teach me to listen, close my mouth so that I won’t interrupt.

Grandma, sometimes when the telephone rings during dinner back at home in Connecticut I half expect to hear your voice, just calling to make sure that all is well, and that you haven’t called in the middle of, say, dinner. Without a doubt one of my favorite memories of growing up is the convergence of the Ruchman clan on your cozy home for Thanksgiving, like a postcard painted from the words of a Frost poem. Thanksgiving has never been the same without you, but this year is, in a word, bizarre. Mom and Dad went to New York to see be with friends that are essentially family, Zach baked pie in the Middle East, and I shared bissap juice and pumpkin soup with wonderful strangers reunited at a hostel in Dakar.

You were a tough woman to know. Not a soul was allowed in your kitchen when the turkey was being carved. You showed up to terrible middle school concerts and plays at least an hour early. We ate mediocre breakfasts for lunch at the diner on the Post Road, and every bit was perfect. Whenever we parted I always had a faint red smudge, the artifacts of your lipstick, and the lingering scent of perfume on my cheek or forehead. Everywhere I go I smile at what you must say of these adventures, and remember your stubborn refusal to let any situation get the best of you. Help me be just a little more stubborn. Bring me brick and mortar for walls, and remind me to build an open door.

I’m thankful for family, living and living on. I knew that the holiday would bring the distant tugs of sentimentality to my mind, and I am thankful for that as well. In the rustling of the wind and the pouring of the àttaaya we remember them. At the meal around the bowl and the preparation of the IV bag we remember them. On the hike to the next village and the leap from the kaar we remember them. When the power goes out and the water turns off we remember them. For they are now a part of us…

I’m healthy and confused, happy and lost, learning and struggling. In other words, all is well and peaceful in Senegal. Enjoy the photos of family, friends, and recent Tabaski celebrations.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Gus Ruchman