A Legacy of Their Own

By Joanna Drusin

Published September 16, 2005, issue of September 16, 2005.
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Carol and Gila Daman share the same bright eyes and affable smile. And though they’re more than 30 years apart, they also have an academic home in common: Brandeis University. Carol graduated from the Waltham, Mass., school in 1973; her daughter, Gila, has just started her sophomore year.

As she moves into her new room this fall, Gila is no longer a stranger to college life. She has learned the ropes; she knows what time the dining hall closes and where to party in Boston, and she has found her niche within the campus Jewish community.

And yet, as she begins her second year, one aspect of Gila’s life will be dramatically new: For the first time ever, she will be living somewhere her mother has not. During each of their freshman years, both mother and daughter lived, by pure coincidence, in the same room: Shapiro 110A. “We even both happened to choose the same bed — the one on the right!” Carol told the Forward over cantaloupe in the Damans’ Scarsdale, N.Y., home.

“It was extremely exciting, just amazing, to find out that Gila would be living in my old dorm room,” Carol said. “I didn’t feel there were any ghosts watching over her or anything like that — but I was thrilled to think that we could be enjoying a similar experience. Except for the new carpeting, the room was basically the same. Well, with more electronics, obviously.”

As for dorm life, it’s not just the gadgets that have changed. When Carol was a first-year student, Shapiro’s halls were not yet coed. There was one phone at the end of the hall, and the residence adviser’s rule for inviting boys into a room was “3 feet on the floor.”

Gila joined Carol at both her 25th and 30th college reunions and enjoyed meeting her mother’s friends, whom she recalled as “balding and a little overweight, but really sweet, fun people.”

Both women are beautiful in a simple and straightforward way. Gila explained that her mother “almost never wears makeup or jewelry. We both like to be kind of plain and natural, just being ourselves and feeling comfortable in our own skin. Maybe that’s why we both like Brandeis — because it’s full of kind, down-to-earth people.”

As she begins classes this year, Gila will be forging her own path. “I thought that living in the same room was comforting, but now, living in a new room feels symbolic. Even though there are so many ways that I’m like my mother, I keep realizing ways that we’re different.”

After graduating from Brandeis, Carol went on to Hartford, Conn., to work as a paralegal, and then to Yale to attend law school. She became a contract lawyer, but stopped to raise Gila and her brother, Avi. Gila does not share her mother’s interest in law; she’s more interested in psychology and nutrition. “She has a lot of qualities I don’t have,” Carol said of her daughter. “She’s a lot more organized than I am, and less of a procrastinator.”

“We’ve always had a very open relationship where I would tell her everything and she’d usually approve,” Gila said. “Now, living on my own, I feel that I can make my own decisions. I’m becoming more independent. Obviously, I will usually tell friends when important things happen, but I don’t need to tell so many people because my mom is still the first person that I tell.”

Joanna Drusin, a student at Brandeis University, is a staff writer for the N.Y. Blueprint.

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