Our Family Biographies

A Gold Medal

I found among my mother’s possessions a golden medal larger than a silver dollar. The medal, shaped like a scroll, was decorated with a chased border, and etched with Victorian swirls — a wreath of laurel leaves encircled it — St. Gaudens himself could have designed this medal of honor. “For excellence in Confirmation class, Temple Sinai, 1912, ” the engraved letters said. I held the smooth shining object in my hand. On the back was engraved in script, The Virginia Lazarus Memorial Medal ; my mother’s name, F. Vera Scherck was inscribed at the bottom.

When I first saw the ornate golden medal, a voice inside me mocked, as I wondered, who was this child, my mother, who was first in her Sunday School class? What kind of proper too good child was she?

Then one day I found a yellowed photograph. In the center was a young man in a white hat; he was wearing a dark jacket, a high white collar and a tie. On either side of him, was a seated girl, their hair bound with ribbon bands. It was a picture of my mother, her cousin Edna Burkenroad, and their cousin, Leslie Burkenroad, who was visiting from Omaha, Nebraska. His oval face and large eyes were like my mother’s. She looked beautiful, her dark hair parted in the center. My mother, dressed in white, wore on a chain around her neck, the Virginia Lazarus Medal.

My feelings changed. Instead of ridicule, I felt a sense of discovery and of sadness. I was sad thinking of names almost forgotten, young Virginia Lazarus, who also died too soon. And, I felt nostalgia, recalling a more innocent time, even understanding my mother’s pride in being good.