Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not Exactly Family

My mother's first husband, Justin N. Feldman, has died, at age 92. He was a lovely man whom I enjoyed knowing, though ours was an odd connection. His New York Times obituary today was lengthy and fascinating. He was someone who made things happen, most notably as a manager of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1964 New York Senate campaign. Earlier, he was a campaign aide for John F. Kennedy, having entered reform politics in the late 1940s as a leader of the Fair Deal Democratic Club, a group of reform Democrats dedicated to breaking the political influence of Tammany Hall.

My mother, to whom he was married in 1942 (a complete fizzle of a marriage that lasted three years on paper though it was over in half that time), was omitted from mention in his obituary, and his second wife is described as his first. His third wife, to whom he was very happily married for many years, is Linda Fairstein, the former sex crimes prosecutor who is now well known for her thrillery crime novels. We had a warm friendship, my husband and I, as well as our daughters, with Justin and Linda, and the omission of my mother from the story of his life is strange, yet somehow it is not unexpected.

The New York Times itself (Mr Grimes, the obit writer, surely could have found this in his own paper's archive, if I can read it with two clicks) reported at length on their wedding on April 25th, 1942: "The marriage of Miss Andrea Swift Warburg, the daughter of James P. Warburg of this city and Mrs. Faye Hubbard of Bend, Oregon, to Justin N. Feldman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Hyman Feldman of Yonkers, New York, took place yesterday afternoon in the home of the bride's father and stepmother, Mrs. Warburg, at 34 East Seventieth Street...The bride and bridegroom dispensed with attendants. The bride wore an afternoon gown of beige crepe and a small matching hat, and a corsage of white orchids."

My mother's mother, "Mrs Faye Hubbard of Bend, Oregon," a.k.a. Kay Swift, was not there that afternoon. She was not present at any of her daughters' weddings. (When my aunt April was married soon after this, she wrote a letter to a friend remarking on this, saying "April has married her Italian, surrounded by no relatives, on Staten Island.")

I cannot imagine my mother even knowing what "an afternoon gown" might be, let alone wearing one in beige crepe with a small matching hat. It was another life, but a false start -- the start of another life she almost led -- a life I like to imagine would have been far happier than the one she lived, though I would not exist. Had Justin died before my book went to press, I would have written about this odd experience of reading his obituary which made no mention of my mother.

UPDATE October 3 -- The NYT ran a correction, not naming my mother, simply saying that they had omitted one of Justin's divorces.