Monday, July 2, 2012

I Love Gootie by Max Apple 1998

"Gootie left her grandson a rich inheritance of Yiddish culture and folk wisdom, and a love of storytelling. Apple’s biography is thus also about the source of his unique writer’s mind; listening to Gootie, it’s easy to see the origin of his ability to spin a good story. Fresh, affectionate, and moving."
 from a review in Kirkus Reviews 5/9/1998

In this charming memoir, a sequel to Apple’s popular memoir, Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story, the author writes about his grandmother, Sheyni Gootkie, whose family name became Gootie.  In the introduction he explains that in his book promotion tours for Roommates members of the audience would frequently ask questions about his grandmother and he would put them off by saying she was a private person, she always stayed at home, there wasn’t that much to say. But at one point he realized that in fact if he summoned up her Yiddish voice, her life and the stories she told became quite vivid. And he understood that her story telling was a gift she gave him.

Max Apple (b. 1941) grew up in an old-fashioned extended immigrant Jewish family. He and his two sisters lived with their parents and their mother’s Yiddish-speaking, religiously observant parents, Rocky and Gootie Goodstein, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Apple, the younger of the three children and fluent in Yiddish, was particularly attached to both of his grandparents. His grandmother stayed up with him at night while he did his homework at the kitchen table, and it was during these late hours that they forged their bond. She lived in her mind in the shtetl Serei in Lithuania and recreated life in the shtetl with great vividness, enthralling Apple with tales of her family and the community. He especially enjoyed the long involved story she told of her betrothal and marriage to his grandfather, and he remembered vividly her stories about terrifying pogroms.

Gootie never fully adapted to American life. She shopped in America, she had a bank account, but she never learned much English and interacted mostly with family – predominantly with Max’s family but she also had three brothers nearby. She had old-world values, didn’t trust much of what modern America had to offer, and tried to impose her values on the author by inventing a future for him and urging him to live it. Education was unimportant to her. She imagined him being economically secure as a store owner, wearing a suit with a vest outfitted with a gold pocket watch, and she pressed her points. When he was still in high school and he told her thought he’d become a printer, she was not pleased. She didn’t want him dirtying his hands on someone else’s machines. If he owned a store, she told him, he’d only have one machine to deal with – a cash register.

The tension between the old world and the new – Apple’s love and respect for his grandparents, but his also understanding that he was committed to living in a different world – is what drives both memoirs. In I Love Gootie his grandmother’s enduring love for him is palpable. It is clear that he realizes how much he is in her debt.

To read an earlier post of a review of Max Apple's Roommates, click here.

To read an interesting first-hand account of returning to Serei, Lithuania in 1998 which includes photos written by Chana Rosen, click here.

Beryl Leib – Rachel Leah
Joseph – son of Beryl Leib and Rachel Leah; married Sarah
    Louis - son of Beryl Leib and Rachel Leah
    Leo – son of Beryl Leib and Rachel Leah; married to Yachy
    Eserkey - son of Beryl Leib and Rachel Leah
    Sheyni Gootkie – daughter of Beryl Leib and Rachel Leah; married Yerachmiel Goodstein
        Mottele (Max) Goodstein – son of Sheyni and Yerachmiel
        Bashy Goodstein – married Sam Apple
            Max Apple – son of Bashy and Sam; married Talya Fishman; author
            Bailey – daughter of Bashy and Sam
            Maxine – daughter of Bashy and Sam
Sol Levinsky
Ben Rosen


Serei, Lithuania
Yagistov, Poland
Odessa, Russia
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Muskegon, Michigan
Alma, Michigan

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