If you follow my Facebook page you’ll remember that just a couple of days ago I posted a mysterious two and half page ‘autobiography’, which I found in my grandmother Mitzi’s papers.
The woman described a life so tough it was enough to make you gulp and by the end of the first page you were crying for the child that was holding her mother together, running the household, unable to go to school, and after moving to the United States, worked as a button-holer at 12-years-old in a miserable factory.
She was paid just three cents a button hole and it’s mind-boggling to think that with that measly pay she was saving whatever she could to help bring her mother and other siblings to the USA, the land of opportunity, milk and honey… and child labor.
Was it simply that the story was gripping and deserved to be told that explained how it ended up in the same envelope as letters from her uncle Louis B. Mayer, Joan Crawford, Norma Thalberg, and Buddy Rogers, Mitzi’s Hollywood film connections?
All I had to go on was that it was signed with the writer’s name and had ‘1955’ scrawled at the top. I did a quick search but found nothing, and with quite a bit on my plate I figured this one was going to have to stay a mystery.
That’s until my friend got involved. He is a search freak and insomniac and I could tell he was desperate to crack this one. So I emailed him the writer’s name and birth year and seriously, in no more than 10 minutes (and a flurry of 30 emails) he returned with enough detail to blow my socks off.
He learned where the writer, a woman, had lived in California, and sent me a screenshot of the apartments as they look today. He found her husband, his travel documents with the affixed B&W photo, and how he had gotten stuck in Germany during the worst time!
Then he sent me obituaries… and with that, of course, came the names of descendants. The living, breathing people who walk the earth today, thanks to the woman who had that incredibly tough life and the man who thankfully got himself out of Germany in time.
As my friend was sharing his finds with me in real time (across the globe, mind you – also incredible!) I was reminded that so much of our lives, and that of our ancestors, is ‘findable’ these days, thanks to digitized records, notices, our own information, social media, etc.
So within 20-30 minutes, thanks to my pal, I was reaching out to the writer’s granddaughter on Facebook Messenger. After the initial ‘WHO ARE YOU and why do you have my grandmother’s autobiography!?!’, which is fair enough, we had a great chat back and forth.
We eventually figured out that the connecting point was definitely the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), as I had suspected. The granddaughter told me her grandmother was a resident there until her passing.
My great-grandmother, Ida Mayer Cummings (an older sister of Louis B. Mayer), had dedicated her life to fundraising for the JHA for decades, and was ably assisted by my grandmother, Mitzi, for most of the years. So what I think happened is that the woman gave her brief manuscript to Mitzi because of her background as a writer, and maybe the film connections, and she just held on to it all those years.
Fast forward a few decades later and I find it in an envelope…
After we exchanged Facebook messages, the granddaughter called her 99-year-old mother at her seniors home and told her about hearing from me. She was absolutely amazed, enough so to say that she was going to head downstairs for ‘beer hour’ and “toast my mother-in-law!”
As for me, well, today I’m going to take those precious three pages off to the post office and away they will fly, back to where they belong.
I wish them safe journey…
[WATCH: My Facebook Live regarding the manuscript.]