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Archive for the ‘Family Holdiay Memories’ Category

My birthday was quickly approaching and I’d always bought myself some kind of gift.  A nice article of clothing or a modest piece of jewelry would usually be perfect but I was coming up empty.   I was unaware at this time that my IPOD had suffered a stroke and would need a replacement.    

Stopping into Bed Bath & Beyond my attention was drawn to the strangest looking menorah I’d ever seen.  Used to celebrate Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights – menorahs are generally pretty generic.  My mom always kept an electric one in the living room’s big bay window of our home  on Long Island for the eight days.  But that was a very long time ago.  Despite my desire for a more extravagant present, I deemed this as my gift, determined to celebrate the festive holiday this year. 

My husband and I don’t have a bay window here in our Westchester, CA house of only 45 days, but there are several other plain windows facing the street. We are the new neighbors.  As I was considering where I’d place the celebratory ornament tonight, a rather uncomfortable feeling came over me.  I knew there weren’t any synagogues in this new neighborhood – but I had seen several churches.  Upon mentioning the discomfort to my husband – who was born a Christian but by age 10 had completely retired from religion – he reminded me of a story I’d once shared with him:

A month before entering my junior year in high school my family moved from Queens, NY to East Meadow, Long Island.  Our immediate neighborhood was primarily Jewish – but the town was split in half with a majority of Jews or Christians living on each side. I didn’t know the 11th graders in my neighborhood were enrolled in a different school.  I was about to experience what it was like to be the minority for the first time in my life.    

Being the new kid in school was scary, but a sweet 11th grader named Connie invited me to sit with her and a bunch of her friends.   Happy to be included anywhere I immediately said “yes!” A combination of sophomores and juniors – we giggled, shared teacher/ parent/family stories as well as general girl stuff.  It was fun and I definitely looked forward to lunch. Sometime during the second week I thought I heard an anti-Jewish comment.  Surely I was mistaken.   A few weeks later I heard another – which was followed by laughter.  I was unsure how to handle this.  Gratefully, weeks went by without any prejudicial comments and then came the third remark.  Everyone laughed except me – and except Connie.  She sat stone-faced.  I sensed she knew I was Jewish but was letting me handle the situation.  Rather than deal with the discomfort and discord, I followed up on an invitation offered by some Jewish girls to join them for lunch in a different area.

Lunchtime with these girls felt immediately more comfortable.  Paranoia-free, I didn’t have to think about being “different.” However, instead of the general laughter and silliness I’d gotten used to with the other group, I noticed these girls maintained an enormous focus on everything and anything negative.  So it was okay to be a Jew – but not so great to be happy.

“The lunch room lady with the cleft palate purposely shorted me on mashed potatoes today.  What a bitch.”

“Did you see Sharon Scott standing in assembly with the ugliest dress on the face of the earth?”

“I can’t believe Cindy O’Neil stepped on my brand new loafers during chemistry and now I have a scuff.”

We were only 15 or 16; we lived in middle class “prosperity” of the early 60s – had plenty to eat, sizable roofs over our heads and clean clothes.  These particular girls had no appreciation for life and generosity. 

By the middle of the second week of “Jews only” I decided to return to the first group aka the “shiksas*” and re-engage in heavy giggling and silly conversations.   I would keep my mouth shut –  they were just making harmless comments. 

That was until the second week when one of the girls noted that the gym teacher would never pick a Jewish kid to participate in the annual sports night.  I was shocked.  Wow!  They really didn’t know about my background; I just listened.  The conversation continued pointing out the teacher’s history of anti-Semitic bias – concluding “that” was a given – no Jews allowed.  I looked toward Connie and her beautiful blue eyes were dim; her pink lips were pressed tightly, appearing very white. 

“I’m a Jew!  I’m Jewish.”  It was like a volcano of lava spewing out of my throat clearing my heart and palate.  Quiet.  No one said a word – but there appeared to be a smirk on Connie’s lips – and they had returned to their natural pink color. 

“I don’t care about Sports Night, but I didn’t know I automatically couldn’t participate.”

“Well…uh…if you want to – I’ll talk to Mrs. Jensen” streamed uncomfortably out of Carol’s mouth.”

And now, as the official Jewish sentry:  “Maybe everyone should have a talk with Mrs. Jensen and Mr. Stevens!”  (The principal)

Amidst the frenetic clanging of dishes and silverware, the table became uncomfortably quiet again.  Finally, a sophomore named Margaret turned to me:

“I’m so sorry for the insulting comments and attitude.  Thanks for putting up with the prejudice.  I’m glad you’re here.”

The silence was broken and everyone had something apologetic to add.  That was fifty years ago and I am forever grateful for the experience.  Mrs. Jensen suddenly changed her mind and included “some” Jews; and that felt so damn good. I took action that was uncomfortable and it “mattered.”  

Despite this success and others I’ve had fighting discrimination in other categories, here we are in the 21st century and I’m afraid to display a religious reference to my heritage.  What’s this Jew to do?

ALL DRESSED IN WHITE…LINEN”

June 25th:  while the world is wiping tears, mourning last year’s deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, I am celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary.  I say I/my because my husband is sick and sleeping deeply under his cocoon of goose down feathers stuffed into a powder blue king-sized comforter cover.

So let’s evaluate this ten year marriage thing…

THE CON

  • Rob is constantly leaving errant dirty dishes in the sink, on the stove…and misplaces items already having homes…like the cutting board
  • Replaces items so I can’t reach them…my whole wheat English Muffins are within his reach at 6’3” but I can’t even see them at 5’1.1”
  • Wasteful – he uses two (2) enormous Costco paper towels to wipe his nose
  • Trims his mustache/beard hairs in the hallway’s double mirror onto the carpet instead of in his bathroom three feet away
  • Noisy…this man needs the noise of fans on all the time; this wastes electricity, drives me crazy and forces me to wear ear plugs
  • Doesn’t like baseball…hates basketball
  • Will not watch any episodic TV, entertainment shows, Days of Our Lives…and although willing to watch Wolf, makes jokes about his Situation Room…doesn’t watch Rachel, will no longer watch Keith or Chris…and sometimes I see him sneaking over to Shepherd Smith
  • Constantly criticizes my driving…while I’m driving
  • Still smoking

 THE PRO 

  • LAUGHS AT MY JOKES
  • Has the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever looked into and the softest, sweetest lips that have ever touched mine
  • Doesn’t need a wife; willing to cook
  • Supports my artistic endeavors; loves my writing and performing
  • Takes good care of me when I’m sick or feeling navy blue
  • Listens sometimes when I suggest…”We need to talk!”
  • Loves sitting and watching the ocean with his arms around me;
  • Loves being loved
  • Is an exquisite artist and appreciates nature so much more than I do
  • Has my back in this world and let’s me know it on a daily basis

 At this rate…we might make it to eleven.

I’m feeling painfully lonely right now and I can’t seem to shake it.  What if I feel this way for the rest of my life? 

It’s Memorial Day Weekend Sunday and I’ve made no plans.  Of course I’m feeling empty or sort of “without.” 

I look around me and make a mental “to do list“…

File hundreds of pieces of paper with my scribbling…clean stuff…clean me…go to the gym…play one of my purchased yet unopened exercise DVDs…write…make that dinner I’ve promised Rob…explore sexual intimacies…return phone calls and/or emails…

Instead, I sob into an absorbent Costco paper towel.   I feel better so I look around again…

                                                                             ********

It’s Memorial Day Weekend…1960, East Meadow, New York

Mom and Dad just returned from the golf course.  Dad went upstairs to shower while Mom runs out back to begin the barbequing of her outrageously delicious shish kebob with meat and veggies that have been marinating in a huge pot for two days.  I check the rice so it doesn’t overcook and stick to the pot.  My 12 year old brother does nothing but lie on his bed and read horror comics while Al Jolson sings “My Mammy” from his record player.  Methinks “Oedipus Rex” is looming.”  I find this strange and annoying and wish he’d close his door.

I’m finishing up my junior year at East Meadow High School and my brother Mitch is in the 7th grade at Barnum Woods Middle School just around the corner.   No one is helping Mom outside except for our collie, Lady, who loves running back and forth through the backyard trying to appear nonchalant about any possible morsels that might accidentally fall from the barbeque.  Lady always keeps Mom company.   They love each other so much that it’s a joy to watch the hugging and cooing sounds coming from both of them.

The pungent fragrance from the cooking food drifts through the kitchen’s bay windows as I lick my lips.  I couldn’t know that this luscious smell would remain with me as a beautiful memory for my entire life…long after the three of them are gone.  I’m going to let this image marinate with an absence of sibling rivalry and Dad’s frequent dinner time personality critiques.  

********

“Lonely” isn’t really being empty or without.  It’s the solitude or quiet which  presents an opportunity to hear what is thought or felt deep inside.    Now I’m ready to make Rob that dinner.

*Excerpt from:  How I Buried My Mom…While The Umbilical Cord Is Still Attached”


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