The Mysteries of Suzanne: Doctor Pierre (Part 3)


…When Suzanne arrived from France she got the name of a French society doctor with a Park Avenue office whom the consulate had recommended…

My mother had an older half-brother named Waldo, whom she dearly disliked. I remember Waldo as tall, humorless and prone to asking questions like: “Do you know who I am?” or: “Have you done your Latin?” As much as she disliked her brother, she loved his wife Alice who was one of the few people in my mother’s life who could do absolutely no wrong. Aunt Alice was a pediatrician and my first associations with her had to do with injections and that wooden stick they used to press on your tongue to look at the back of your throat. When my mother wanted medical information of any kind, she went straight to Aunt Alice. And so, of course, she asked Aunt Alice about Suzanne’s doctor friend.

PS Nanny Photo

(Centered) My mother, Franyo, with her own governess.

My mother, remember, was a German Jew, which meant she was an enormous snob and had very little tolerance for Jews of Eastern European descent. From Alice she learned that Suzanne’s beloved was an excellent and highly-regarded internist, and that his name, translated into English from German and French, was a combination of the words Bird/Finch/Sparkle (Finkel) and Stone/Stein (Pierre). Finkelpierre became my mother’s rather unkind nickname for him. As far as she was concerned he was a “Jew from Galicia,” a description that rolled off her tongue with disdain even though the doctor was French-born and she had not yet been formally introduced to him.

To my young ears this was very confusing. How could my mother, so appalled by racial segregation in the U.S., her adopted country, make these petty distinctions between Jews from different regions of the world? A much more interesting fact she learned from Aunt Alice was that as a young man Dr. Pierre had practiced medicine in one of those fancy European spa towns where wealthy people went to “take the waters.” There he had met his wife, a well-to-do lady from Chicago. To this day, I do not have many details about Dr. Pierre’s first marriage other than that the couple ultimately settled in New York, and that she was in chronically poor health. But my mother, who had glimpsed the doctor from afar at one or two benefits, and was pretty sure he had put in a brief appearance at Suzanne’s son’s wedding, was more disturbed by his Polish origins than his marital infidelity. By now I was headed for college where I didn’t last long due to a wildly mismatched marriage of my own.

To be continued…


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