by Jan Krulick-Belin
In the spring of 1960, five-year old Jan Krulick's father was sneaking from their house in Bell Park Gardens, in Queens, New York. Little Jan stopped him, claiming a hug. "Daddy is sick and has to go to the hospital for a little while," Bill Krulick said.
That was the last time Jan saw her father. After a painful fight with cancer, Bill died. Consistent with that era's mores, his children were not allowed to visit him in the hospital or attend his funeral.
If this were Dickens, little Jan would have grown up in misery and want. Fortunately, Love, Bill is a joyous compilation, for the most part. We are given snapshots of a happy family—despite Bill's death—growing up in a neighborhood full of relatives and friends. Bill's wife, Dorothy, raised her children, saw her grandchildren and moved multiple times to be near her family. Each time she moved, she carried a box of letters, written by Bill during their courtship. Dorothy's worldly possessions dwindled, but the box remained intact.
Upon Dorothy's death, Jan began the search for the father whose death had left a "cavernous hole" in her childhood. She sought out relatives who had known her parents, discovering secrets along the way. Her parents' lives had not been a Doris Day movie. Bill was madly in love with Dorothy, but (Jan learns to her shock) she married another man, Max, while Bill was in the service.
Her search is methodical, but never dull. Using the letters as a framework, she gives us a picture of young Bill, nervous and needy, pleading for Dorothy's love. She fleshes out the scene with military documents and historical references. Interwoven with Bill's story is her own journey, tracing her father's both spiritually and physically, from New York to North Africa to Europe and back.
Krulick-Belin is a museum curator and art historian by profession, and the meticulous provenance she compiles for her father's story enhances it immensely. Generous with her research, she even provides an appendix of references for others who might want to make a similar journey.
Her writing sounds the right tone throughout. Never too flip or maudlin, Krulick-Belin has an innate sense of when to let Bill speak and when to quote other sources. As I read, I found myself cheering her on, totally caught up in her search for the man who had hugged her good-bye in 1960.
There is no happy ending, of course. Bill won't come back, Jan won't have a different childhood. There is, however, a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. And a damn fine read.
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Jan Krulick-Belin is a museum and art consultant, and art and jewelry historian with nearly forty years of experience at such institutions as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Denver Art Museum, Beaumont (Texas) Art Museum, and Smithsonian Institution. Retired as Director of Education at the Phoenix Art Museum, she still works with museums, art organizations, and private collectors, and serves as guest curator at the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum in Phoenix. Visit her website.
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