Early Life isn’t All the things | by Robert A. Nichols

In response to:

Charm Defensive from the September 24, 2020 challenge

To the Editors:

I appreciated Simon Callow’s insightful and interesting overview of Life Isn’t All the things, the oral historical past and biographical portrait of my brother, Mike Nichols [NYR, September 24]. I used to be saddened, nonetheless, to see our mom, Brigitte, dismissed with the only phrase “nightmarish,” and I’ll try on this letter to narrate some info which may permit a fuller and kinder understanding of her. She was an clever and delicate girl whose demise in 1985 was broadly mourned, particularly by the various younger individuals in whose lives she took an lively curiosity.

Our mom suffered grievous losses in her early years: her mom, Hedwig Lachmann, died in 1918, a sufferer of the influenza pandemic, and her father, Gustav Landauer, was assassinated by right-wing militia males in 1919, leaving Brigitte an orphan simply after her thirteenth birthday. Her two sisters additionally died younger, one, Lotte, in a botched surgery, and the opposite, Gudula, in a bus accident in New York Metropolis simply weeks after arriving within the US in 1946 after surviving hidden away in Nazi Germany all through World Battle II, a dreadful and heartbreaking irony. Our father, Paul Nichols, a practising doctor, died in 1944 at age forty-four of acute leukemia, untreatable at the moment. Thus, Brigitte had misplaced each mother and father, each sisters, and her husband earlier than she was forty years outdated.

Alone now aside from her two younger boys, Mike and me, ages twelve and eight, and solely 4 years after arriving in a brand new nation after escaping Germany, she needed to survive and to lift her kids with none marketable abilities or clear technique to make a residing and information our small boat by means of tough waters. She typed dissertations and theses for graduate college students; bought leather-based items, tchotchkes, and costume jewellery from our tiny residence; rented out the only bed room in our residence whereas I slept on a settee and he or she in a hide-a-bed in the lounge and Mike was away at boarding faculty. In summer season she managed small accommodations within the Catskill Mountains, which catered virtually completely to German-Jewish refugees. Her attraction and wonder probably helped her to reach that endeavor. Regardless of these efforts she borrowed and borrowed and borrowed from Family Finance so usually that she was ultimately given a wall plaque to honor her trustworthy compensation of all of the loans.

All this travail took its toll on Brigitte. She was beset with fears and fear and maybe clung too tightly to Mike and me. Her potential to work together with the world in these tough days was restricted by a kind of agoraphobia. She suffered from bodily illnesses together with extreme bronchial asthma and was suffering from migraine complications. I ought to say that Mike did bear the brunt of our mom’s at occasions “neurotic” and controlling habits, and so they had too many merciless arguments to rely. I concede that a few of her habits, equivalent to guilt-induction, did function a template for later Mike and Elaine hilarity.

Regardless of all of the obstacles she confronted, nonetheless, our mom did prevail—she survived the storms and raised her boys to eventual independence and success. Mike grew to become Mike Nichols and I grew to become a doctor.

Brigitte remarried six years after our father’s demise and her life stabilized and improved tremendously. Her second husband, Dr. Franz X. Hausberger, grew to become a revered professor at Jefferson Medical School, and he or she was employed because the administrator and lab assistant in his productive analysis laboratory. In later life Mike was all the time very beneficiant to our mom and our stepfather Franz, shopping for them an residence in Philadelphia and a summer season dwelling on the Jersey Shore. He was all the time well mannered and indulgent to our mom regardless of the sooner challenges of their relationship and his lingering resentment.

Our mom actually had her flaws, as can we all, however she was a useful one that throughout a time of nice stress did the most effective she may with the tough hand she was dealt.

Robert A. Nichols
Rancho Santa Fe, California

Simon Callow replies:

I felt somewhat humbled by this letter: one writes so unthinkingly about individuals and occasions of which one has no private data, forming judgments on the flimsiest of proof. On the matter of his childhood Mike himself was largely silent. In Life Isn’t All the things, Dr. Nichols speaks movingly of his mom’s tough life after his father’s demise, of her struggles merely to outlive, her melancholy, and the way Mike bore the brunt of that, however there’s nothing within the ebook about her later life—her remarriage, the overall enchancment of her circumstances, and the good transformation in her relationship with Mike. It’s subsequently her neurosis and her recourse to emotional blackmail that dominate the outline of her within the ebook, as a result of these qualities featured so strongly within the Nichols/Might sketches, by which she appeared because the comedian Jewish mom from hell. I’ve little question that that was one of many many, many guilts that Mike nursed through the years. Comedians are immensely advanced figures, partly as a result of they so usually feed off their very own lives for materials, and to the tip Mike remained, within the broadest and noblest sense of the phrase, a comic.

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