I left one episode out of yesterday's post. It didn't fit with the overall tenor, but it exists out there. I was teary, standing outside the voting area, and an elderly man and woman smiled with are you okay? looks on their faces. I smiled back at them. "I just voted for a woman for president and I'm a little overwhelmed." The woman smiled back as the man said "Yeah, get ready for a woman president." "From your mouth to God's ear," I replied, channeling G'ma and Bubba and all the women in my lineage who never had the opportunity to hope for this very moment....... and he GRIMACED! Say what you will about Hillary, growing up when we did it was impossible to imagine a female POTUS. What she had to do in order to get to this place, without tons of money (Diane Feinstein comes to mind), on a national scale, for sure left detritus in her wake. How could it not? But she has my same body parts, has had my same experiences, and is poised to smash that glass ceiling into a million pieces. I wish there were less baggage so that we could all revel in it, but I'm not letting that get in the way of my joy. This is a seminal moment in American politics, and, like the sun coming up this morning, I was here to see it. By definition, it's a very good day.
You were in pre-school today, all the way across the country from your grandparents. That's the only reason I didn't take you with me this afternoon. Your absence is the only unfortunate part of an otherwise remarkable day.
I voted for a woman to be the President of the United States.
I didn't see her opponent's name on the ballot; my gaze stopped right at the top. PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES - Clinton/Kane was all that I could read. There were tears, FlapJilly, real wet tears in my eyes.
The world is a far more accommodating place right now than it was when I was 2. You'll never need a man to co-sign a loan or a credit card application. No salesman will refuse to talk to you without your husband standing by your side... no salesman with whom you'd do business, that is. You can secure birth control without a marriage license and a willing gynecologist.
You'll never know a world where race or gender determines whether you can run for office, even for the highest office in the land. This is the piece that touches me most deeply. In my lifetime, a black man has sat in the Oval Office and, fingers crossed and breath bated, a woman will sit there soon. We've gone from Jim Crow and parietal hours to looking beyond the exterior and judging on value and merit.
Is that really true? Are voters choosing policy and content over the externals? I'd like to think so. Perhaps because she's 69, no one has wondered if her menstrual cycle will affect her judgment. Don't laugh, kiddo. That was a major talking point when I was in junior high and high school whenever this issue arose. Hard to imagine, perhaps, but definitely true.
Women were viewed through the lens of biology, deemed inferior because we were different. Disabled people were excluded from public life because steps precluded their entry to the buildings. People of color used separate water fountains. There were quotas not to be exceeded when Jews were considered for admission to our nation's top institutions of higher education; your great-uncle Martin was one of the four Jews at MIT his year. It rankled, but it was our reality.
It wasn't something we talked about, not until the Civil Rights movement woke us up to the fact that major change was possible if right was on your side. It wasn't easy or painless but the fight was the good fight and, burning bras and draft cards aside, it was won with ethical arguments. After all, it's really hard to make a case for exclusions based solely on gender or race.
And so, my darling grand-child, you will never know a world where a woman can't be President and the Cubs can't be in the World Series. Today is a very special day, indeed.
I have a Facebook friend I don't really know. Do you?
She connected with me when I was perforated back in 2011. Among all the high school friends and acquaintances (there were 600+ of us in the class) she is one of the few who maintained the relationship. I've watched her grandchildren grow, even as I wondered how I knew her. The yearbook picture didn't help. Who was she?
Finally, I asked her. It took a lot of courage to decide to say "I don't remember you from high school. Why weren't we friends? I think we would have liked one another."
The pause she took before answering my question left me hollow in my heart. Had I insulted her? Was my carefully crafted questioning, developed over several days, shared and vetted with my closest friends, more annoying than we had supposed? I didn't want to lose her, but I had to know.
Just before it got really awkward, she sent a little laugh over the phone and into my ear.
"I was from Island Park (a neighboring town which sent its K-8 graduates to our high school) and I was kind of a hippie and I kept to myself. But I remember you - you were always nice to me."
I was always nice to her.
I didn't know that I was powerful enough to make that much of an impression. It never crossed my mind that anyone would care whether I was nice - to her or to anyone - or not. I thought I was living on the edges of several groups. I wasn't integral to any of them, or so it seemed to me at the time. I was surprised to find that my opinion of someone else made a difference.
I had good friends. I wasn't ostracized. I just never felt like I fit in to a specific group. The girls from Bayfield Boulevard were friends. The cheerleaders and pep squad girls were friends. The cool kids and the greasers knew who they were and who was not. I was there, but looking in from the outside. In the overall scheme of things, it never seemed to matter if I like someone or not.
Yet here was a classmate, 40 some years later, remembering kindnesses I never knew I shared. "You were always nice to me" leaves me wondering who was mean to her, and why. What could I have done or said that made a lasting impression? How did she remember me, out of all those other kids, when I had no memory of her existence? And that always..... that's the part that makes me smile the most.
It's nice to receive a commendation, even after decades have passed. It's nice to know that, at least for one person, I was a smile in the middle of the day. It's surprising to consider that I was important enough to have made a difference.
The display on the table attracted my attention as I was leaving the gym. A lovely woman, a bit younger than I, wondered if I wanted to take 30 seconds and determine my body mass index.
I held that weird device in my two sweaty palms, arms straight out in front of my chest. She took it from me almost immediately, asked my age, told me my number and directed my eyes to the chart on the table.
I smiled. I was ideal.
Not average, or low, or high. Ideal. Sounded pretty perfect to me. I was proud, and expected the gym's health and wellness person to share my joy.
No such luck.
She wanted to get me off my high cholesterol medicine (even though I failed already on a diet-and-exercise regime). She knew that there was more I could do and she and her trainers were ready to help.
I smiled, shook my head, told her I was satisfied with ideal and left.
I refused to be aggravated. I was having too good a time with ideal.
Have you heard of them? Ask a youngster with access to YouTube to show you one, I refuse to link to such nonsense.
Following on the heels of an unsubstantiated report of children being lured into the South Carolina woods by an evil, scary clown, the interwebs have exploded with videos purporting to show teens battling fright wigs and face paint. Mr. 11 and Mr. 13 spent a recent evening talking sports with TBG as the game was on our tv and begging me to watch the clown videos.
No, thank you, I have no interest in being scared. It's not scary. It's funny. Watch this one..... this one.... this one....
Since nothing is more persistent than an 11 year old on a mission to improve my life, I looked. A car full of kids crushing a clown beneath their tires, over and over again. A clown with a machete chasing a kid. On and on and on it must have gone, but two were enough for me, but not for Mr. 11. He giggled until it was time to leave.
Fast forward a week or two, to my nail salon and Thiu, whose fingers I carry around on the ends of my arms. Her 4th grade daughter is refusing to dress up for Halloween. She's scared of it all.... especially the clowns.
Yes, it's on YouTube. Yes, all the kids with phones show it to everyone. Yes, she's terrified.
So I shared the beginning, the middle, and the end of Mr. 11's story, hoping to help. Here's the end:
Amster called me the next morning, laughing. Guess where Mr. 11 slept last night? In my bed... because the clowns were scary.
I'm really glad I didn't see any more of those videos.
I allowed myself to buy into the hype this year. I was foolish and I was forgetful and I got what I deserved.
Only 2 out of the last 20 winningest teams in baseball have won the World Series. When you hit a losing streak in a seven game series it's hard to regroup, to recoup, to make the fans smile again.
And so, tonight, when I should be able to turn to Fox Sports One for an escape from debate, I have no alternative but to stick with Hillary and The Donald. I'll have a belly ache no matter where I land.
Woe is me, I'm a Cubs fan. I don't mess with the mojo. When we checked in on-line and saw that Chicago was ahead we knew that we couldn't start the tape delay until it was all over. They were doing just fine without us.
And I fell right back into it, along with half the crowd in Dodger Stadium. Russel and Rizzo broke out of their slumps and everyone was smiling and, once again, I was reminded that the roller coaster nature of the relationship is half the fun.
I know what you're going through. I had a difficult father, too.
He asked a young father at an adjoining restaurant booth if his almost-2 year old son was "retarded.... why isn't he talking if he's not? Are you talking to him? He should be talking......" and when the over-6'-tall-muscled-and-furious gentleman stood up, I just shrugged.
"Go ahead. Smack him. He's totally out of control." And then, because I really didn't want him to come to any physical harm, I added this harmless lie: "You should see him when he's off his meds."
I ushered my embarrassment and my never-medicated-even-though-he-should-have-been paternal unit out the door, apologizing to the point where the insulted father smiled and shrugged back.
"Good luck," he said, "you've got your hands full."
And so do you, Ivanka.
The difference is, I recognized my father's outrageous behavior, and never considered it anything other than reprehensible. I knew him to be a warm and loving Daddy, when he wasn't creating tumult for the sake of creating tumult. Those delightful times made it easier to ride out the nauseating ones, but, eventually, I decided to keep him to myself and not foist him on others.
My parents missed many graduations and championship games because Daddooooo couldn't be taken out in public. The Ballerina had a similar parental situation, and she loved me enough to be the one sitting beside him at the soccer games we could not avoid. Off to one side, in low chairs that, once-he-was-in-he-couldn't-get-out-of, she kept him occupied and away from anyone he might have insulted or annoyed.
I kept him involved in our lives but refused to allow him to become the center of attention, even if that meant not inviting him if I couldn't keep him contained. That's what you do with those you love who can't be taken out in public; you protect the rest of the world from their madness while doing all you can to maintain a relationship. This is neither easy nor fun. There's guilt and there's trying to fix that which cannot be fixed and there is, at the end, resignation.
Daddooooo and I had many fantastic adventures.... just the two of us or with The Cuters.... surrounded by love and by those who could call him on his nonsense. He loved us. He listened to us. He was often surprised that we were remembered the words. It was more than the content. It was being the center of attention. It was the celebrity.
I had no problem with that around his adoring grandchildren and me, his semi-tolerant offspring, the one most like him, the one he never worried about, the one who began calling him Herb when she was 16, because a Daddy wouldn't treat his son that way. Was he hurt? It never crossed my teenage mind to wonder. I bought him personalized Herb the Superb gear and he seemed to love it.
But, Ivanka, even at 16 I knew what was right and what was wrong. I didn't stay silent.
You, however, are enabling the behavior, and the rest of us are suffering.
Y'know what, kiddo? It's on you. Daddooooo had a wife of many decades whose Oh, Herbert, Shut UP! was the Muzak of my childhood. Since most of us think that one of your dad's wives leaked his tax returns, looking in that direction probably won't get you very far. Your brothers don't give me much confidence and Tiffany is wisely staying away. You're all that's left.
And honestly, sweetheart, don't you want to tell him to put a sock in it?
Your father is talking about International Bankers, Ivanka. Those are your people, the Jewish people, the ones you dunked in the mikvah to join, and I bet that the phrase resonated with the Kushners even if it didn't for you. Has no one mentioned it to you if you didn't get it yourself? They've come for us before and there's hardly a Jew on earth who doesn't worry, in a small corner of her mind, if they'll come for us again.
Us, Ivanka. Not just me and mine, but you and yours.
You father is pandering to a very dangerous element of our society, an element which until his rise was suitably hidden under a rock. He's brought it into the sunshine, and that is terrifying to me and, I think, it should be terrifying to you.... and your children.
He's your father. You're stuck with him. Perhaps you could do the rest of us a favor and tell him to Shut UP, Donald!
This is not the face I see when I think of myself. That face is younger, smoother, tauter, darker and so much less grey.
That's the ME which created the SHE who they see.
FlapJilly will never know the scurrying, go-on-forever, sure-I-can-do-that-with-you woman who was lost in 2011. She'll have lots of fun with the wait-for-Gramma woman who will take her to the park and throw rocks into the river and push her on the swings; of that I am certain. But I wish she could have hung out with me before bullets took my flexibility and my stamina.
TBG mourns the fact that I never really knew his mother. Nannie had her first cancer surgery while her son and I were on our first date. I met her when she was old; the cancer diagnosis changed her, he says. I knew her when she was in her recliner in the tv room. He remembers her pitching fastballs and swimming and whistling for him to come home with a blast heard 'round the neighborhood. That's the mom he remembers, the woman whose personality was unaltered but whose physical appearance said tired, worn-out.
I'm not afraid of aging; surviving perforation did that for me. My wrinkles and grey hairs are honestly earned. I'm proud of each and every one of them. But they are not what I see when I think of myself. I'm amorphous in my own mind, the reality bumping up against the pictures I conjure. I'm not surprised by the image in the mirror, but I do give myself a faux-face-lift sometimes, pulling my skin tight and seeing, for a moment, who I think I am.
Weird. Very weird.
Not, perhaps, as weird as how I am sure my parents always saw me:
The Cubbies clinched the first of the three series, and they were on my mind. They defeated the San Francisco Giants, so Marin was on my mind as well.
I never think of watching sports in California without remembering Bunionella and her brood, cheering in front of the bigger-than-ours-with-more-than-quadrophonic-sound media system her husband and son had installed in their family room.
They didn't watch much tv beyond Nat Geo and sports, but they did watch their sports. And so did we.
And so it wasn't totally surprising that Bunionella called me as I was driving into the parking lot that morning. I was thinking of baseball and so was she and our thoughts collided in the quantum sphere and there we were, Did you see that game???? talking for a minute or two.
It's been months since we spoke. It may well be months until we speak again. But we both know that we'll each be thinking of the other as the Cubbies play on.
Good friends are connected that way, in the ether and in the world. I wouldn't have it any other way.
An earlier version was published on 10/14/12, three weeks after we hosted Little Cuter & SIR's wedding.
It was always very confusing - was his birthday the 12th or the 14th of October? One of them was Columbus Day and the other was Herb's Day and to this moment I still have to stop and think.... and it's gotten harder since the bureaucrats moved Chris's Day to the generic.
But he was around me in spirit at the wedding he missed by a decade or so, and he's not having an easy time returning to his life on the other side.
Yes, I am much happier blaming him for intruding than wondering why I am conversing with dead people. In my defense, we're not so much conversing as he is hovering and I am feeling nudged.
For example, I misplaced the green metal hiking pole I've been using to keep me balanced and symmetrical. I could have used the metal one with the "I Love Tucson" sticker crookedly affixed just below the grip, but it looks too much like rehab and not enough like life.
Then, I found myself with Daddooooo in the potting shed, leaning on the wall above the bucket of handmade walking sticks he'd crafted from fallen branches of the pin oak in his backyard, personal walking sticks measured for each and every member of the family.
I have been using G'ma's all day. Herb's been chattering in my ear the whole time.
That was his way. Deaf-as-a-door-nail, hearing aid batteries constantly squealing or dying or resting comfortably in the breast pocket of his plaid wash-and-wear shirt, he monopolized conversations so that he would know what was going on. That works well until your audience hits second grade or so; after that, it becomes a full fledged "Herb Attack."
I know this because I have been guilty of them, myself.
His tales were fascinating. If the facts weren't really facts, well, they should have been. He went to City College with Richard Feynman. He lived down the block from Jonas Salk. He knew every cobblestone, every cornerstone, every brick and street sign in Manhattan. Serving as tour guide in The Big Apple made him about as happy as anything else I can imagine... and I've been sitting here thinking about it for a while.
Surrounded by his grandchildren-of-a-certain-age, those who were sentient but not yet sarcastic, he was the tour guide of his own life. He could sit for hours, regaling them with stories about the chickens they raised in the backyard on Hessler Avenue, about the boat he and his brothers built one summer... the boat that almost floated, about the time it rained frogs, and about all the times he got into trouble at school, because he just wouldn't stay still.
He probably deserved a diagnosis or medication; for those born in 1916 those options were nowhere on the horizon. He was "just being Herbert." He continued being just himself, sui generis as I called him in the obituary I wrote for the New York Times, until the very end.
He died at home, between the first and second commercial of the 10 o'clock episode of Law and Order on the Saturday night before Thanksgiving. There's some confusion about the date, since the hospice nurse didn't get there to sign the death certificate until early Sunday morning. Like his birthday, I need cues to keep the date straight. Like most things Daddooooo related, this is not now nor has it ever been easy.
The funeral home attendants gave her a moment in the hallway before they wheeled him out the front door. G'ma leaned over, kissed him, and then admonished him, one last time: "Behave yourself, Herbert! Don't give them any trouble." The paramedics were bemused. My mother looked right back at them. "If you'd known him, you'd understand."
Happy Birthday, Herb, you strange and singular father of mine. Happy Birthday to YOU!
Big Cuter's high school lacrosse team got no respect. The administration, the athletic department, the other students, no one seemed to care. Parents hired coaches and tried to cobble together practice schedules on fields that were never available. One year, they used a paved parking lot and the grassy overflow area behind it.... and they had to travel to another town's Rec Center to do so.
Then, a private/public partnership was proposed. The Community College would allow the high school to renovate the college's playing field. In return, the high school could hold lacrosse practices and games on the College's campus. We had the money, they had the flat land, the field was in disrepair, the kids needed a place to play.... it was a perfect plan.
Parents were dunned for the funds, of course. There were a lot of fabulously wealthy families who were more than able to fund the whole expensive-but-not-obscenely-so project without blinking, but TBG and Blake's Dad stepped up and paid for it themselves.
At the first game on the new grass, the parents sitting beside me in the stands wondered where our husbands were. "Down there, sitting on their field," said we, pointing to the guys, on the side of the field, down by the crease, in their low-to-the-ground-portable-game-watching-chairs.
They paid for it and they were going to sit on it.
Fast forward, to yesterday. I was explaining to TBG that we were buying four 70 oz. Metallic Brilliant Blue Garage Floor Kits for SIR and Little Cuter's anniversary/new house present. No one sets up a better garage/workshop than SIR (unless, perhaps, it's Big Bob, his father). Here in Tucson our lovely (if often dusty and dirty) garage floor factored heavily in our decision to buy the house.
So, SIR's desire for shiny blue flooring was a simple solution to my shopping dilemma. "But," said TBG, "it's not a present if he has to do it himself. That's work, not a gift."
After reminding my spouse that his daughter had married a man who loves projects, who loves his garage, who is already grinding the existing nearly-but-not-perfectly-pristine floor, whose wife is delighted with the idea, I smiled.
He has two sons. He's paid for the ground beneath their feet twice now.
Today, October 12, is Columbus Day. Not Amerigo Vespucci Day. Not Leif Ericson Day. Columbus Day. It was certainly not Indigenous People's Day... unless you want to celebrate the beginning of the end.
But, I digress. Today is Columbus Day. Chris and his fleet landed at a place he named San Salvador on October 12, 1492. Of course, that was according to the Julian Calendar. In 1582, a papal bull (and what an image that conjures in the brain) restructured the concept of the leap year and named the new calendar after the Pope himself. Suddenly, La Nina and La Pinta and La Santa Maria had landed 9 days later, on October 21st, Gregorian time. Adding 3 days every 4 centuries doesn't seem like a big difference, but try telling that to Columbus. Someone must have agreed with me on this, since we celebrate his arrival on the Julian date. I love it when things that shouldn't change don't change.
And that's why I'm smiling about today being Columbus Day. Because, in actuality, Columbus Day is now celebrated on the 2nd Monday of October, regardless of the date. That's just wrong. Totally and completely unacceptable. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, George Washington was born on February 22nd. Neither of them was born on the 3rd Monday in February... or at least not every year on the 3rd Monday in February. Holiday-declarers need to get with the program. Certain things should not be messed with.
But today is October 12th. And it's Columbus Day. And all is right with the world.
I've always like Columbus Day, because it's not a birthday party. It's the celebration of an event. Being born isn't anything to congratulate the infant about. If we had pictures of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Washington there would be reason to say "Nicely Done, Ma'am". The babies really didn't do much at all. Columbus, on the other hand, sailed across the flat world (although I've recently learned that the whole flat earth thing is an 18th century allusion taken much too seriously by American text book writers) to find a faster route to India's spices. Though his math was a little shaky, and he really wasn't in India at all, he found the Bahamas (which had been doing very nicely without him except for just a little bit of internecine warfare) and laid the groundwork for the casinos at Atlantis.
You can avoid the political controversy over the whole celebration because, really, if you stop to think about it, there was no way that all of Europe was going to stay on their side of the pond forever. Globalization was bound to happen. Would the indigenous peoples have been better off remaining un-found? It's a moot point. The world is and was and always will be a series of inter-dependent spheres. It's only the access points which change. Need an example? Go to Erie, Pennsylvania and see the results of progress.
And so, I avoid the political and enjoy the celebration.
No one expects you to be at her house for dinner on Columbus Day. You don't have to eat special foods or dress in any particular color. You might not have to work (it's a Federal Holiday) and there's probably a raft of politicians marching down the main street of the nearest major metropolis.
Columbus Day is a holiday without structure, without musts, shoulds or oughts. It is a break from school when you can go apple picking or clothes shopping or jump in the leaves. You can hike or take the kids to a museum or just clean your closets, all while enjoying an official holiday.
After yesterday's rant, I want to write about a lovely use of the spoken word. I want to bask in the aura of someone using the language in thoughtful ways. I want to recall the comfort of knowing that verbs and nouns will agree while perfectly positioned among interesting clauses.
Bob Costas, the man whose post was hi-jacked over the weekend, earned this post on Saturday night. He's a baseball guy and a smart guy and I can overlook his failure to visibly age because, like Mary Carillo, he makes sports watching an enjoyable experience.
His encyclopedic knowledge satisfies TBG's No Stupid Sports Talk rule. He appears genuine in his enthusiasm, and his boyishness just adds to his charm. But it's what comes out of his mouth that makes me smile.
"A likely reprise of the Game 1 match-up...." left me dancing with reprise and unable to tell you anything more about the match up. He could have said repeat; I appreciate a man who resists the urge to dumb it down. Reprise is such a lovely word.
And then there's his delivery.
He describes a team's "ghastly post-season resume." There's no hint of the drag queen in the remark; it's straight up Edgar Allen Poe. It was even better to hear him pause for my smile; he knew those of us listening with half an ear had been drawn back to his words.
"As I'm sure you know," began his discourse on a truly arcane bit of baseball trivia. He was sure that we knew, so TBG and I both listened, shaking our heads, wondering why we'd never heard the story before, feeling vaguely out of the loop. There was that pause.... a small, amused chuckle.... and then, deadpan, "To be perfectly honest, I had no idea."
He's one of us, laughing at himself. He's at the mic, with ESPN's baseball nerds throwing inane trivia his way, and, because baseball is a whole lot of empty air time waiting to be filled, he's not above having a little bit of fun with us.
It doesn't hurt that he loves my Cubbies, that the Cubbies won both home games. I probably would have smiled even with Bill Walton calling the game. How lucky I was to share the weekend with Bob Costas, instead.
Should some words be bleeped out in audio? Should some words be repeated by commentators?There was no consistency - neither within nor between the outlets.
How private are your words? Is wearing a microphone enough evidence ?
How about giggling at those words? I heard no embarrassed twittering; I heard coarse laughter.
And there was much discussion of the meta-issue, the framing of the dialogue. And this is where it got interesting.
Predatory (those tic tacs) Sexual (that word we're not saying) Assault (without waiting). Not bad language. Sexual Assault.... that which boys all over America, Freshman Orientations heavy on respect for boundaries still ringing in their ears, have now heard the Republican Candidate for President announce that he'd disregard it all, and it's okay, because he's a star.
This is about all our children - boys and girls.
CNN's John King's defense of men in locker rooms was the first time anyone on tv repeated what TBG has been shouting at the screen since late Friday night. That was when locker room banter became synonymous with you can say whatever kind of shit you want. Like my husband, his outrage was palpable.
Both of them have spent lots of time in lots of locker rooms. Neither of them had ever heard anything like that. But they don't stop there. To be sure, they insist, if either of them had heard it, the speaker would have been shoved up against the wall and told in no uncertain terms that the locker room was filled with sons and brothers and cousins and uncles, men who have no use for that kind of behavior.
They are offended on behalf of their gender. Just as TBG was offended on behalf of all middle aged men managing younger women when Bill Clinton didn't have sex in the Oval Office, so Mr. Trump's assumption that his words are acceptable in a naked, single gender environment offends the athlete in him.
But mostly, I go back to the words.
Princess Myrtle posted the best(?) catcall in a while - Lady, I'd vote for you for President this week, so we know that words are still being flung at those not yet invisible women who dare to use the streets. I can't begin to fathom being a survivor of sexual assault who listened to those words, over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Words matter. No matter where or when you say them.
A friend vented this afternoon. She called her mom for a recipe - her Every Sunday Apple Crisp - and got chaos in return.
Everyone was upset. Mom couldn't remember anything, and was concerned and then even more confused. My friend was mortified to have reminded her mom of the sorry state of her mind, was distraught that her mother couldn't remember something which had always been readily accessible, was sad and lonely and hurting.
At the end of the phone call she typed to me, knowing that I'd been there and done that and come out, smiling, on the other end. It's not easy, watching a parent slip away. G'ma was comfortable with her inability to remember - Will it help if I get aggravated? And who wants to be around a cranky old lady, anyhow?
I thought about how I had a harder time with it than she did. Especially in the beginning, when denial was easier to fall into. I thought about the beginning, and how I didn't want to admit that my mommy was getting old. Her planning skills were failing, she had trouble with menus, she was no longer asking for books from the library, but I refused to accept that something was amiss. She looked good. She seemed safe enough. She wasn't that old.
And then I thought of Daddooooo, whose mind was intact to the end, although his body failed him over time. I can tell you exactly when I knew that he was getting old:
Remember when AT&T was the only phone company? Remember when you rented your equipment? Remember that the phone was connected to a wall outlet, and that only the phone company was authorized to install a new outlet - an extension? Well, Daddooooo, who could fix anything that wasn't plastic, took to installing a new outlet in our house whenever life was treating him poorly.
Miss the train? Screw the phone company and put an outlet in the bathroom. Argue at work? Show Them! Wife, you now have an outlet over the washing machine in the basement. The phone company was in no way connected to his wedding dress business, but it was the only Other at close hand. And so, I grew up in a house where even the master closet had an outlet.
This was a job he could do blindfolded, with one hand tied behind his back.
Fast forward a decade or two, to one of our first houses in Marin. There was a phone jack in the garage, but it was inside the storage closet instead of outside in the bays. The ringtone was impossible to hear unless the door was propped open. Though I could have done it myself, I asked my dad to drill through and move the gizmo to the correct side of the wall.
Hours later, a dejected parental unit trudged up the several flights of stairs to the kitchen. I'm just not going to be able to finish that, Suz.
That's the moment.
Where were we when Peachellow and Yeach were discussed?
You know the color, somewhere between peach and yellow, as the sun is setting but it's still bright outside. It's the color of coming home early enough to play outside, for a little while, anyway, before it got dark and Mom had to make dinner.
All four of us remember discussing it. Big Cuter and I know it was in Chicago, though he thinks we were still on Lake Shore Drive and I know we were going west on Fullerton, where the Mies van der Rohe building is set back enough to afford a great view of an urban sunset. Little Cuter and TBG are cresting a hill in San Francisco; though she is certain it was Geary, TBG only recollects coming over the top of a hill.
It's interesting that we all agree that the conversation was vehicular in location. I think I was driving the kids, without TBG.... and only believing he wasn't there because I was behind the wheel.... which wouldn't have happened had he been conscious and in the car. Little Cuter thinks she was alone with her father and her brother doesn't remember her one way or the other.
But we all share the memory and the color.
In these 10 Days of Awe, as I reflect on my life with, perhaps, a bit more intention than on ordinary days despite my protestations to the contrary, I come to see the wonderfulness in the simple pieces, not in the bigger moral issues nor parental pride nor love eternal, but in the immediacy of a memory of word-play and careful consideration and defending your opinion and in the hug around my heart as we smile about it two decades later.
As a kid on Long Island, we had a family dentist. His office was a short bike ride away; going to appointments on my own was my first really grown-up experience. Down Benjamin Road, then cut through Ellen Terry Drive, which was named for the actress, not some builder's daughter. I liked knowing that. Ride under the giant poplars hiding the too-big-for0-the neighborhood, gated, wonder-who-lives-there house and then cross Brower Avenue. Carefully, very very carefully, looking left then right then right again because there was a triangle one block down that way and cars came from both sides of it and merged in front of the office. For a while, there was a little farm on that triangle, and that made crossing marginally easier. I came home from college one Thanksgiving to find 3 houses blocking the long view of the furthest right angle.... but I digress.
His office had crisp copies of Children's Highlights (or was it Highlights for Children? I just searched to find out and now it's just Highlights. This really didn't start to be a post about change...... anyway..... ) The magazines were fresh and plentiful and there were pencils to use for the games. There was a clean medicinal smell that made me relax and smile. I was sitting in the office all alone, without any parents or babysitters. I'm sitting up taller right now just thinking about how mature I felt.
His patient's chair was adjustable and I never felt too small. He himself had broad, flat, cool fingers. He'd finish his exam and then gently pat my cheek, lugubriously wondering aloud if I knew that he had children who would need college educations and with perfect mouths like mine he'd never earn enough money to pay for them. I was proud of my teeth and so was he.
Years later, one of those children cleaned my teeth just before my wedding. He'd taken over his dad's practice and most of the patients and their children were still around. It was one of my first experiences with a peer as a professional and I think it was odd for both of us. Well, I know it was odd for me. I got over it soon enough, and he listened when I told him that the smell the drill made was brown. Apparently, there was something called synesthesiaand I wasn't crazy to smell it or to know that 8+6=14 is numeric but also pastel. Yes, the 8 and the 6 are pink and yellow Cray-Pas and the 14 is peachy, with a bit of violet wisping through. I kid you not. This is true. And the new young dentist knew about it. How cool was that? Then we started laughing about his dilemma : what to reply when our-parents-age-patients asked him if nitrous oxide was like smoking marijuana. Oh, how he didn't want to go there.
I spent far too long rubbing gently but firmly as I heard my parents chiding me for allowing the silver to tarnish so badly. If I'd done it regularly, I wouldn't be suffering right now. Of course, this information came from the ghosts of people who, after polishing the decorative silver, would wrap each item in Saran Wrap before depositing it on the open display shelves of the hutch.
Though I didn't understand it then and I don't understand it now, I did enjoy spending time with my parental spectres. That's the best part of these holiday - the memories.
I have apples. I'll make a challah. I have honey from Tiburon's finest bees and a lovely glass of a fruity red wine.
I won't spend the day in prayer. I'll spend some time with memories and I'll try my hand, once again, at chicken soup. I'll appreciate the smells and the sights and the love while I'm at the dentist and while I'm playing Mah Jongg.
Perhaps, if I had family nearby, I'd go with them to sing the songs and revel in the familiarity. But here, now, I'm happy reflecting on the year past and the year to come within the comfort of my own, personal space
Daddooooo always made us pose for a family photo. This was never a pleasant experience. We were recalcitrant and the camera took adjusting and G'ma was ready to take off her shoes but there we were, under the big tree in the backyard, being hollered at to SMILE!!
Somewhere, in someone's basement or linen closet, is a box of 8mm films of those afternoons. Perhaps they are better left uncovered?
There were always new clothes for The New Year. Two dressy outfits, new dress shoes, and a haircut, whether you needed one or wanted one or not.
Fifth Avenue might have had the Easter Parade, but Brower Avenue had the Rosh HaShana Walk to Temple Parade.
I had a friend in graduate school who was born in 5700. He's 77 years old today.
He is, I think, the only person who always knows exactly what year it is in the Hebrew Calendar.