Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tonight's the Night or Savtadotty, Frank and Me

Tonight's the night! Frank McCourt, author of "Angela's Ashes," is reading at Teen Spirit's middle school and Smartmom is going to give him a copy of Savtadotty's opus: "The Stuyvesant Story." As Savtadotty wrote: "Giving the story to Frank McCourt almost completes the circle... HE HAS TO READ IT to complete the circle."

It all started when Savtadotty, a woman who lives in Tel Aviv, read one of Smartmom's blog posts about Teen Spirit's high school quest. It prompted her to write a piece about the day she took her son to take the Stuyvesant test.

Well, like all good stories this one wasn't simple. And like all good storytellers, Savtadotty started at the beginning, the very beginning.

"I am the youngest child of immigrant parents. My mother was about 7 when she arrived to join her widowed mother and 4 older siblings in Manhattan. She had been left in foster care in the port of Antwerp until her mother, teenage sisters and brothers were settled."

Savtadotty paints a picture of life in Queens after the depression. "In my growing-up world, all mothers had a calling to be homemakers. From what I could see, they had plenty of "d" power: deciding décor, dress, diet, doctors, and dentists. The fathers were mostly salesmen, small business partners, or skilled craftsmen: they had jobs, not careers."

She describes her public school education in Queens: "Public schools were taught by teachers happy to have secure jobs after the Great Depression. In elementary school, most principles were men, all teachers were women. WWII was in progress and no new schools were built; materials were reserved for "the war effort."

Education is largely the focus of Savtadotty's essay. Her high school english teacher was a published novelist and a big influence on her life. "Mr. Calitri assigned us the New York Times Book Review every Friday. He had us eagerly reading and writing book reports and essays." Clearly he must be partly responsible for Savtadotty's luminous essay writing skills.

From here, Savtadotty's story takes the reader to the late 1960's when she was a married woman with two children on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. "To the extent that it was preserved at all, my sanity was attributable to choral singing and communing with the other Stay-at-home-moms in Riverside Park.

"We would meet at least once a day at the sandbox, where the topics du jour were much the same as mommy blogs today: Child-rearing Best Practices, local events of interest, gossip, pregnancies, twins, book and movie reviews. We founded a co-operative three-morning-a-week toddler day-care center. We founded a fresh fruit-and-vegetable co-op, supplied by weekly trips to the Bronx Terminal Market in Hunt's Point (in a borrowed station wagon)."

Smartmom found this part interesting for the way that some things never change. But it also resonated with her because she grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and played in these same sandboxes in Riverside Park (a few years earlier).

A move to the suburbs (for good public schools) was followed by divorce. Her son got into Stuyvesant High School and it was decided that he would live with his father in Manhattan. Needless to say, it was a tough decision for Savtadotty to make: "My thoughts wandered: the "today I am a man" message of the Bar Mitzvah, the meaning of puberty for males, and how few life-decisions young suburban teenagers get to make nowadays...Fathers as role models for sons who grow up in single-mom households...Something primal about young men and older men being together..."

So what does all this have to do with Frank McCourt. In part 6 of her story, Savtadotty finally gets to the punchline.

"I'm sitting in my Tel Aviv kitchen one day, reading "'Tis" by Frank McCourt. I come upon the chapter about his enrollment at NYU night school, and the wonderful writing teacher he encounters there: Charles Calitri!

Later in the book she finds out that Frank McCourt was a also teacher at Stuyvesant High School. In fact he was her son's English teacher. What a coincidence!

At this point Savtadotty begins to dance around the kitchen.

"In a city of millions, my great high school teacher taught my son's great high school teacher! Just like a small town! Engineering works!" she writes. "Will one of Mr. McCourt's students teach one of my grandchildren? Where? Tune in in another 12 years or so. The story is definitely not over!"

Smartmom chuckled at this unexpected finale. She was expecting something a tad more dramatic and yet, it was such a wonderful coincidence and a very deep one. Savtadotty's story, which is dedicated "to immigrants who study, and to their teachers," moved Smartmom a great deal.

On Monday, Smartmom sent a comment to Savta asking if she'd mind if she gave "The Stuyvesant Story" to Frank McCourt at the reading on February 9th—it seemed like the right thing to do. Savta encouraged her to do so and that's what Smartmom is going to do. Tonight. At the meet-the-author reception following the reading. She's gonna do it.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story...


At 12:37 AM, Blogger elswhere said...

How was it??

At 1:08 AM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

Hi SM, how was the reading. I loved Angela's Ashes. Were you able to give him a copy of Svtadotty's opus, The Stuyvesant Story - Was he gracious about it? keep us posted. MIW


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