Several months ago, I got reacquainted with The New Leader, the longtime political journal, which discontinued its print version last year, but continues its long tradition of featuring fine pieces of analysis and incisive reviews of the arts at its Web site: www.newleader.com. And one of the distinct pleasures of reconnecting with the publication (which I had the additional pleasure of writing for every so often) was getting to read pieces by Ruth Ellen Gruber — the younger Ruth Gruber, not the grand dame of Jewish journalism.
The New Leader's Ruth Gruber happens to be a native of Philadelphia who's been living, for more than three decades, I believe, in Europe (she resides in Italy for part of the year), and has generally written about European politics and the resurgence of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, particularly.
But in the current issue of the online New Leader, dated Sept./Oct., she contributes a lovely piece called "How I Remember Mom," about the death of her mother this past spring.
Gruber's mother — an artist who went by her maiden name, Shirley Moskowitz — died out in California, where she and her husband had relocated after residing in Philadelphia for most of their married lives. She succumbed to pancreatic cancer, just three months after being diagnosed, her daughter notes.
"Mom's death was, in fact, a natural process; grievous for our family and friends, devastating to my father, but a passing we consciously try not to call a tragedy. It was Mom in her way who set the tone. 'I'm 86, I knew that one day or another something would happen,' she told me on the phone in January, when she informed me of the diagnosis. 'But I never expected it would be this.' After all, her own mother lived to be 96 and had a sister who made it past 100."
Her mother, writes Gruber, thought like an artist always; even as she slipped away, Moskowitz worried about what would happen to her artwork.
"Mom started doing collages in the early 1960s, first focusing on subjects that were of interest to her intellectually, but not on an intimate level — landscapes and cityscapes, for example, of Prague, Rome, Israel, even Egypt, where she had never been. From the late '70s, however, she became more and more immersed in her subjects, using her collages to project a richly textured vision of life as she lived and perceived it, among her family, friends, neighbors, and the local environment. Many of them are set in Italy, particularly, in rural Umbria. Bustling with activity and always exuding a touch of whimsy, they mix dreams and reality but are never sentimental or cliched."
But Gruber's piece doesn't just take the measure of this woman in terms of her creativity. Her daughter constructs a rounded portrait of this woman as mother, wife and friend. The piece ends up being quite touching without being mawkish in the least — quite an accomplishment in such a brief space.