Some facts: My mother, Marie Magdalena Perzin (or Perzynski), was born in 1898, probably in or near Wilster, a town close to Hamburg, Germany. As a young teen she left home to live with another family. She never explained why. She drew pretty pictures and wrote poetry. She fell in love with a boy who was an artist; he was declared insane and sent to an asylum. Her older brother emigrated to New York. Her younger brother, clearly her favorite, had one blue and one brown eye. He went to South America, returned once, went back to South America, and was never heard from again. Marie herself emigrated to America between the wars, lived for a while with her brother and his family in New York, then went to San Francisco. She worked, I believe, as a bookkeeper. Just before returning to New York she met my father. He later drove his Model A Ford across the country to marry her. But that is a different story.
Marie did not talk much about her past. In Germany, after the Great War, hyperinflation was rampant. She told me they once filled a wheelbarrow with cash, and used this money to buy a single loaf of bread. She refused to talk about her parents, and why she left their home. I know virtually nothing about the boy she fell in love with who went crazy. Why did she like her younger brother so much? He's the last picture in the set, above, in a rather formal pose, in a double-breasted suit. You can see his eyes are differently colored, even in the black and white photo. Somehow he looks adventurous to me. Why did he go to South America? Was he escaping their parents, just as she did? I imagine him in the Amazonian jungle, his sleeves rolled up. His eyes would have startled people. Did he suffer the same wanderlust as me? Marie's older brother, in the straw hat, looks more conventional, but he too left. When Marie applied for an American visa, he had to guarantee her livelihood in New York. He refused to do so unless she agreed to work for him, free of charge, for some years. She refused this offer. Later he repented, but she had to wait again to rise to the top of the visa list. After she married my father and they moved to California, she cut off contact with him and his family. Again, she would never explain why. Once, when she was perhaps 70, her brother came to California. He sent his son to our home in Hemet, asking if they could meet. She refused him. I learned this from my own brother, who was there—I was somewhere else in the world, perhaps South America.
The above photos are the few that I can find of her before her marriage. I like the shot of her at the helm of the ship. She looks young, wide-eyed, hopeful perhaps that she would steer her life in the way she wished. The photo was done in Germany, but there is no date on it. The photo of her with the other girls—after a night out with her friends, I presume—amuses me. She looks half-asleep, in the back row, next to the girl with the cigarette. All the girls look rather deliciously scandalous, except for my mother. We see silk stockings and lipstick. What was my mother doing in such fast company? She was proud that in her life—her entire life!—lipstick had never once touched her lips. There is a hand-written date on this photo: February 19, 1927. I think she was in America by then, so these were probably all American girls, and perhaps a bit wild....
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