A Bird in the Wind

by longformphilly

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David Lee Preston | Inquirer Sunday Magazine | May 1983

My mother awaited her bypass operation without complaint. “I have lived 40 years on borrowed time,” she said. “I’m not afraid of open-heart surgery.”

She had survived the longest odds of the 20th century, the Holocaust — a convenient word for the grisly murders of two-thirds of the Jews of Europe, as if all six million had perished in some giant fire. While her world crumbled above her, she lived side by side with rats in a sewer in Lvov, Poland, for 14 months until the Allies liberated the city on July 27, 1944.

From darkness, she came to light, to America, where she married, raised a son and daughter and taught two generations of students in Wilmington. But the years had taken their toll, and now, at 60, her arteries were blocked and her heart was pained.

My father and I watched as they wheeled her into a Philadelphia operating room in December. “I love you,” she said. Smiling and serene, the survivor now entrusted her life to her family. Don’t worry, said the doctors, the risk was only about 2 percent.

But she did not survive. Twelve hours after the operation, her heart stopped beating. On this, my first Mother’s Day without my mother, I miss that warm heart.

Writer bio: David Lee Preston is an assistant city editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. Preston, who wrote for the Inquirer for 17 years, is a native of Wilmington, Delaware. This is the first article in a trilogy that documented his parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1986 for the second installment, about a trip with his father to the places of his father’s past. 

Continue reading “Part I: A Bird in the Wind.”

Part II: Journey to My Father’s Holocaust

Part III: A Story for my Mother