My mother, who died on December 3, 2010, was living in a large condominium complex for seniors that also had assisted living services. I asked the management if I could see what she had put in her storage locker in the basement.
There were two empty suitcases and a box filled with papers. I would like to have one of the empty suitcases, it would come in handy. One of the suitcases had a plastic label attached to it that said “Ruby Cohn,” with a San Francisco street address. When I looked at the papers inside the box, there were several envelopes addressed to “Ruby Cohn” and some literary manuscripts. I realized that the belongings in the locker assigned to my mother did not belong to my mother, but rather to Ruby Cohn.
I knew a Ruby Cohn in San Francisco. I asked at the desk to see if this were the Ruby Cohn who had taught French and literature at San Francisco State College, where my father had also taught for a few years before he died in 1964, and it was. I had a survey course in modern European drama from Ruby Cohn at SF State in the winter of 1967, what would normally have been my last semester at Lowell High, but I graduated early from Lowell and took three courses at SF State instead. This was one of the best courses I ever had, certainly one of the best lecture courses I ever attended. I have wonderful memories of Ruby Cohn, who was rumored to have had an affair with Samuel Beckett. I cannot see or hear about a 20th century European play without thinking of Ruby Cohn. I ran into her several years later. She was on her way to the library at U.C. Santa Cruz and I was on my way back. She was a visiting professor there, I think I remember telling her that I was then a graduate student in Classics at Berkeley, so I don’t know exactly what I was doing at Santa Cruz, where I did my undergraduate work. But she remembered me well and wished me well, I had got an “A” in her upper division course, I was precocious.
I would very much like to own the suitcase that belonged to Ruby Cohn. It somehow seems destined that I should own it, since it has been sitting around empty in a locker for 2.5 years. It appears that Ruby Cohn died while at my mother’s complex just before my mother arrived there. I had no idea that Cohn had ever been there before visiting the locker, nor do I know what sort of physical condition she had been in. On the one hand, it is not terribly surprising that an older upper middle-class woman on her own who had lived in San Francisco for many years would live in this facility at the end of her life. On the other hand, it is surprising that the things I discovered in what was supposed to be my mother’s locker turned out to belong not just to someone I knew, but to someone whose influence on my life was greater than that of all but a few people.
Whether or not I get the suitcase, because I have asked to have it, I think I will interpret this incident as a sign that I am supposed to be writing imaginative works. I think that is what Ruby Cohn would have wished for me in my later years of relative leisure.