My husband and I were having dinner with friends recently and the topic of ageing parents, senior homes, and what to do with family heirloom came up. I’ve always been quick to toss things, sometimes to my regret, but I have recently realized how valuable family documents and letters can be.
In 2017, a few months after I moved to New York, my neighbor and now close friend told me she had a big stack of old family letters. They were from her uncle Edouard, started when he was living in Egypt, in 1922, until 1930, when the family finally moved to New York. They were all written in French. Would I be interested in translating them? Deanna asked. I went through them and said yes. Little did I know I would soon embark on a year-long project, during which I marveled, laughed, felt sad or stressed, following uncle Edouard’s transition from a witty teenager to an assertive and intelligent young man. I read about the every day life of a cultivated, well educated Jewish family in Egypt back then. I discovered close family members, distant relatives and acquaintances. I was transported through Edouard’s vivid descriptions of religious celebrations, weddings and births. I discovered mouth watering recipes, the scents of local flowers and spices, and the bright colors of the Middle East. Through his letters, I felt as if I had become a member of his family.
Deanna had the wonderful idea of putting those letters and family pictures into a book, to be shared with her family and loved ones. Two weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to the book launch party in Los Angeles. What an honor and pleasure to meet uncle Edouard’s descendants, hear them share their memories and family anecdotes. We were welcome by a warm and generous family. That night, at dinner, I gave uncle Edouard a silent toast. Thank you for this amazing journey!
And that’s why, we should think twice before tossing those old documents. Without those letters, there would be no book, and uncle Edouard’s legacy would have been lost to the family’s younger generations.