Grandma’s Fan by
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Belle Potocsky Beckenstein was married in Bialystock, Lithuania (part of Imperial Russia) in 1902. She was quite lovely, though I have no photos of her from that exact date. I do have the fan she carried at her wedding. She brought it with her when she, my grandfather Samuel and their two small children fled their home after the 1906 pogroms I described in My Grandparents’ Story .

My mother (not yet born) was always proud that they came over second class, not steerage. As a result, they were able to bring several treasures that are now in my possession, like her mother’s candle sticks, in the photo below. After arriving on Ellis Island, Grandpa shortened the family name to Stein, adopting the “B” from the former name as the middle initial for himself and his children.

Belle and her two oldest children, Anna and Joe

Grandma’s candle sticks

The fan has survived these 120 years more or less intact. My Aunt Ann (the small girl in the above photo) gave me the fan on my wedding day. I brought it to my wedding, 48 years ago, but didn’t carry it. I carried my confirmation bible (which has my name imprinted in gold letters), an intricate lace handkerchief (also a gift from my aunt) and of course, my floral bouquet.

The feathers fluff at the stems and there is some sort of sparkle adhering to them that is barely visible. I’m sure it was quite elegant in it’s day. You can see in the photo that some of the feathers are partially broken on the edges.

When my Aunt Ann’s great granddaughter was married in 2003, I brought the fan to her so she could be photographed with it, as I was on my wedding day. It seems fragile, yet somehow, also sturdy, carrying the dreams of the immigrant generation along with precious memories of my dear, long-gone grandmother.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Knowing how you so carefully save and cherish family memories, I knew you would have something wonderful to share with us, Betsy. And I love how you have chosen just one object for this story: your grandmother’s wedding fan. That is certainly something we don’t see in today’s wedding ceremonies — and probably not just because of air conditioning. But, as you so nicely put it, it was probably quite elegant in its day.

    And, to me, the best part of your story is your last sentence, where you beautifully tie the fan in to not just cherished family memories, but the dreams of an immigrant generation.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. I have actually been revising the story this morning, so you may want to take a second read, but the fan does have a lot of meaning for me, and I share those with my own cousins.

  2. What a beautiful story. What makes the fan so special, in addition to its beauty, is how it harkens back to an era of elegance and…….no air conditioning! And of course, ladies would use fans to flirt and tease.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    What a treasure, Betsy. I also love the candlesticks. Some of my friends have inherited similar ones, but all of my grandparents came here before they were married and there was nothing like that to pass down.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I do treasure them and now that I have a granddaughter, I no longer have to wonder to whom I will pass them on to. Though your grandparents married in this country, I’m sure you have objects from them that you treasure, even if they weren’t from “the old country”. I know you have wonderful photographs; those can be equally meaningful.

  4. Marian says:

    I am amazed and happy for you that the fan has survived for so long, Betsy. It’s incredibly beautiful and by sharing it, you have enhanced its value. My great grandmother brought her candlesticks when she fled from Odessa, and we now have them. They are not as ornate as yours, but are irreplaceable because of where they came from and how they got here.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      The fan is in a perfectly fitted box labeled “Mother’s fan”, which probably helped to keep it preserved all these years. It now resides in a bottom dresser drawer in my bedroom.

      My mother had two older sisters (the one in the photo, plus two more girls, including my mother – the youngest child, both born after the family’s arrival in the US). My grandmother died when I was 15 and still at home, but the older sisters were empty-nesters, so could clean out Grandma’s apartment and claim whatever of her’s they wanted. I am always surprised that my mother wound up with the candle sticks, which I really do cherish and use quite a bit. I quite agree with your assessment of your grandmother’s candle sticks. I feel the same way about mine.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I never thought of such a thing as a “wedding fan”, but of course it makes perfect sense, and looks beautiful. I’m so glad you have been able to preserve it and use it for wedding pictures generations on. Something very special indeed, with a story to match.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Khati. I never thought about its actual use until Retro folks commented, but it makes perfect sense that it was used to cool the women, all corseted and buttoned up. It is a lovely thing and I feel honored that it came to me and I can share it with the next generation of my family.

  6. Suzy says:

    I love the wedding fan that has survived 120 years, and that you brought it to your wedding, as did your great-niece(?). That is very special. The candlesticks are beautiful too, and probably something you can use, because not as fragile as the fan.

    No wonder you suggested this prompt! It turned out to be a good one!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Suzy. Annie (the bride in 2003) is my first cousin, twice removed (I am the one my family who knows this stuff; they all look to me for the guidance). Her grandmother is my oldest maternal first cousin.

      I do use the candlesticks all the time (when my kids went to religious school and we said the Friday night blessings, they were used every Friday; less frequently now, but still on holidays).

  7. Lovely story and lovely fan Betsy.

    In the 1950s my father-in-law returned from a business trip to Japan with a beautiful fan.
    It’s mounted behind glass in a lovely fan-shaped frame and is now on our wall!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Dana. We visited Japan in 2007 after our kids graduated from college and high school, respectively. I am not a souvenir shopper, but did bring back a nice blue and while ceramic box that I have here on the Vineyard, and a lovely fan, which is mounted in our den in Newton. They can be quite beautiful.

  8. Susan Bennet says:

    Absolutely astonishing, Betsy, is the condition of your beautiful fan. The things we pass down to our female family members are sacred indeed. I loved your description of the items you carried on you wedding day. Somewhere your lovely grandmother is appreciating your loving care of, and respect for, her precious fan, and her memory.

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