What Did Grandpa Know and When Did He Know It

Dad’s world is closing in.  He can understand some things.  But, he no longer tries to understand the intricacies of his care, his insurance, etc.  He refers any material matters to his children.  I think that is freeing for him, even as it is an admission — a resignation — that he can’t navigate the bigger world anymore.  We are here to catch him before he falls.

But at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, when he slowly came to the Bimah and — relying decades’ old some-kind-of-muscle memory — chanted the prayers before my son read Torah, I imagined that Dad understood that his grandson was being called to Torah as a Bar Mitzvah.  Linking the past with the present.  From generation to generation.

My son did a magnificent job, by all accounts (including mine).

Dad was in and out of reality during the day. He enjoyed dancing at the reception, as always, cutting up the floor.

But did he understand what happened?  Did he understand that his grandson accepted his birthright to become a Bar Mitzvah? To hold the Torah and read from it?

In my mind, I said, “Of course, Dad knew!”

But I had no idea.

Then my son said to me, days later, “Grandpa didn’t understand what happened at my Bar Mitzvah, did he?”

“Dude, I think he did, in moments, but I am not sure that he always understood.”

Silence. Resolution. Generational connection lost.  I could feel it in my son’s look and posture.  I felt a desperation to keep the connection alive.

Today, I asked his health aide (who was with him at the Bar Mitzvah), “Tell me for real, FOR REAL, did Dad understand what was happening at the Bar Mitzvah?”

“Well, this week, he told the visiting nurse how his grandson read from Torah so beautifully!!  Some days the light is on and others he is a little in the dark.  But he knew it then and sometimes he knows it now.”

And that is all I need.  I hope it is enough for my son.

Life Cycle

sc0003369c - Version 2This is a picture of my parents at Jamie’s Bar Mitzvah.  Jamie is my second cousin once removed.  I have seen him three times in my life.  But he and his father, my mother’s first cousin, had special relationships with Mom.  I get that. That Bar Mitzvah was probably a little over 30 years ago.  Don’t Mom and Dad look great?

My son will be called to Torah as a Bar Mitzvah in June.  My mother won’t be there in body.  My dad will be there mostly in body only.

The only child of our Mom’s and Dad’s grandchildren to be called to Torah. And they should be kvelling (filled with pride), standing next to him, making the blessings before he reads from Torah.

I robbed my mother of this moment by having him so late in my life.  Fate robbed me by taking Mom to her grave too early and by taking Dad’s mind from him.

My son’s Bar Mitzvah will be a joyous day but it will be incomplete. Because Mom and Dad will not be there — in the ways I imagined they would be — and I will miss what I imagine as their inevitable tears of joy and pride.

But I know that Dad will labor up the steps to the Bimah, with help.  And he will say the blessings, from memory instilled long ago.  And he will be present, infused by Mom’s spirit hovering over him, as he stands next to his grandson as his grandson reads from Torah.

And, in my mind’s eye, I will see Mom and Dad as they are in the picture.  Vibrant and proud.

And I will cry tears of joy and loss.

Ritual

SOB (sister of blogger) and I set out for the cemetery to unveil the gravestones of ULOB (Uncle L of blogger) and AROB (Aunt R of blogger).  This ceremony is not formal tradition. It is not required by Torah or rabbinical teachings. In fact, because of that, this commemoration more befits AROB and ULOB than any set ritual.

BACKSTORY:  It is a long-standing Jewish custom to place a marker on a gravesite. The marker is made of stone or metal, a permanent substance that represents that the person lives on, although the body does not. The treatment of the body itself could not be more different. It is shrouded in linen and the coffin is made of unvarnished wood with no metal hinges. The body is supposed to return to the earth (dust to dust) as quickly as possible. But the memory lives on. And the gravestone is our communal memory.

In truth, we could have blown it off and no one alive would have known or remembered.  No one, that is, except us.

It was this growing internal call to take hold of the mantle of keeping our family traditions, just as our mother did for her generation and our grandmother for her generation.  We have completed the generational shift and assumed the roles of the keepers of the memories and the traditions.

Actually, SOB and I dreaded the day to some degree.  We asked AROB’s nephew and wife to come, as well as POULOB (paramour of ULOB) about whom we learned around the time that AROB died.  Having a joint unveiling would have been hard on POULOB.  Dancing around the complexities detracted from the purpose of the unveiling and would have been hard on us.

BACKSTORY: For the crazy backstory, you need to read http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4980; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5014; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5029; there are some others, too.

As fate would have it, only SOB and I were able to make it.  And so we were able to pay tribute in our way, to the giants of our childhood, even though we have long since reconciled the differences between who they were and our childhood memories of them.

ULOB and AROB lived their lives, making up the rules as they went along. What they didn’t like, they banished. What they loved, they gave it their whole hearts. The same with those they loved.  There were the students they taught and neighbors they helped.  Yet, they loved in their way. They accepted love in their way. They let you know you were entering a minefield when you probed a subject that was off-limits. And they guarded their independence even when they needed help the most.

They lived according to the ancient principal of our people, “love me, love my meshugas [craziness]”.

And the great moments remain in our memories. For SOB, BOB (brother of blogger) and me, growing up with them was magical — they captivated us; they spoiled us; and they opened us up to the arts.

And today, there we were, at their graves. And, looking back on their lives (and all we now know since their deaths), we remember them, with love. Always with love.  As imperfect as they were. As imperfect as we all are.

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The truths about roller coaster rides.

The first truth about roller coaster rides is that it can be scary, exhilarating, fun and vomit-inducing, but, at its end, it delivers you to its starting point and you wobble out onto terra firma.

The second truth is that you don’t need to go to an amusement park to ride one.

Thursday began like any other day.  I was late getting to the office for a call with opposing counsel. I didn’t even try to blame the trains.  I emailed him on my subway ride to push back the call 15 minutes.

When I get out of the subway, I receive a text from Dad’s home health aide (HHA).

“Have your sister call me immediately.”

My sister, SOB (sister of blogger] is a doctor.  This is not good.  I call SOB immediately.

SOB, it’s [Blogger], call HHA immediately.  She just texted that she needs to speak with you.  Call me after you speak to her.”

I am shaking.  Is this the day?  I don’t exactly remember the walk to my office.  But as I start to turn on my computer, my ringing cell phone snaps me back.

“It’s [SOB], HHA had to call 911 because Dad is basically non-responsive.”

Is this the day that Dad dies?

SOB and I know that we have to run to Dad’s house before anyone takes him to a hospital, so we can evaluate the situation.  He is almost 94 years old and has told us, again and again, that he wants to die in his bed.  And, unless there was acute pain or discomfort to relieve, being in a hospital is only torture for a person his age.  Old age is old age.  This is not a curable condition.  It is a fact of life.

I run part of the way there.  SOB is still in traffic.   I look at Dad.  He is now alert and comfortable on the gurney.  He knows me and seems relieved I am there.  He has no pain but looks so tired.  He smiles as he does when family walks into the room.  Our embrace is awkward because he is on a gurney.

“Dad, [SOB] is coming any minute and we will figure out whether you need to go to the hospital.”

“Yes, darling.  Let’s wait for [SOB].”

The EMTs tell me all his vitals are good.  Apparently, Dad slumped over at breakfast and HHA couldn’t rouse him.  She literally lifted him and had him lean on her while she got him to his bed in his bedroom.  The EMTs said he was non-responsive when they got there but with a little rubbing on his sternum, he started to wake up.

Dad hovered between life and death and came back to life.

So, TODAY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE DAY.  Still, the crisis isn’t over until the EMTs unstrap Dad from the gurney and they leave his house.

And Dad had mentioned heart disease, so the EMTs want to take him to the hospital.

“Dad is in mild heart failure.  Who isn’t at almost 94?  There is heart disease in his family, but he takes no medications, except an evening scotch.”

And then Dad says:

“They might not get paid if they came all this way and don’t come back with a patient.”

The EMTs smile.  They understand that my father wants to do the honorable thing.  They are also a little confused by his seeming clarity in one moment and his dementia in another. The EMTs wait for SOB to arrive (G-d bless professional courtesy).

Then Dad said:

“Before we go anywhere, I have to say goodbye to my wife.” 

The EMTs look at me and look at HHA, who is 50 years his junior.

“NO, NO, NO,” I say.  “Look at the wall.  See the painting?  That is Mom in 1967.  He needs to say good-bye to HER.”

341279902308_0_ALBOMG OMG OMG.  This still could be the day.  Oh, SHIT.

The EMTs were fabulous.  One was a little circumspect, probing about my knowledge of Dad’s medical and mental state.  I appreciated his concern and we walked a little away from Dad.

“Look, my father has been exceptionally healthy his whole life.  He is at the end of his life.  If he is not in pain or gasping, why would I want newly minted doctors (it IS July, after all) poking and prodding him?  But, let’s wait for the real doctor, my sister.”

Then that EMT starts to test my knowledge of Jewish culture and Yiddishkeit. The Blogger family name is stereotypically Jewish.  And he was testing me to figure out if I understood the Commandment to honor my father and my mother.

SOB walks in and consults with the EMTs.  Then she says to both of them:

“Last time he was in a hospital, it was for a brain bleed resulting from tripping on the sidewalk.  Although he was in neuro ICU and was watched by a private nurse, he got out of bed twice and fell both times.  Since then he wanders.  A hospital is not a safe place for him.  He has terrific 24 hour care at home.  And my sister and I are each a cab ride away.”

Both EMTs understood.  The circumspect EMT (who turned out to be an observant Jew) was more comfortable when we knew some Yiddish and when we told him that we had been through this drill before and we had tended to our mother in her dying days.

He said, “We have to call the supervisor.  I fear Hashem [G-d], my wife, gobblins and my supervisor, and your dad said he wanted to go to the hospital before you both arrived.

“I get that.  Make yourselves to home.  Can we give you something to drink or eat?”

The observant Jew demurred.  The other EMT said, his wife packs food.  So I asked, “you fear both your wife and Ha-Shem on this score.”  He nodded.

The EMTs and Dad start to talk.  They ask how he feels.

“It is the end.”

“End of what, sir?”

“The end of my life.”

Those words hang in the air, until interrupted by the arrival of the supervisor.  The supervisor calls the doctor on duty.  Everyone groans.

“What’s wrong with this doctor?” I ask, thinking the nightmare has just begun.

“He’s been sued a lot.  He will want to enforce transport to the hospital.”

WAIT. WAIT. I have power of attorney.  My sister has health proxy.  We, and our 24/7 nursing care, take excellent care of Dad.  We see him all of the time.  We know his wishes, his medical history and, hell, what he eats in the diner and what he hates in a museum.  We speak to him everyday and see him every weekend.  Dad has told us what he wants and he trusts us.  And we love him.

DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT HE WASN’T AFRAID ANYMORE WHEN HIS CHILDREN ARRIVED?  THAT HE PERKED UP? HOW CAN THIS DOCTOR OVER THE PHONE ENFORCE THE TRANSPORT TO THE HOSPITAL?

Well, he did.  SOB and I would not stand for it.  Dad was sitting in a chair talking and feeling comfortable.  He didn’t need to go to the hospital.

“Call the doctor back. NOW!”

At this point the EMTs are rooting for keeping Dad home.  And I was ready to name Dr. [Blank] in a lawsuit.  After the doctor spoke to Dad, he asked to speak to the daughter who is the lawyer. NOT THE DAUGHTER WHO IS THE DOCTOR.  This is some paranoid dude.

“Yes, Dr. [Blank}.”

“Ms. [Blogger], BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH” – I made the universal hari kari sign so everyone in the room could feel my pain — “Your father could have any number of issues.”

“Dr. [Blank], he is almost 94 years old.  Can any of those potential issues be prevented by a hospital visit today? We can agree that the answer is no.  And you have our family’s thanks for not compelling transport to a hospital.  I appreciate your advice on guardianship.  Thank you, doctor.”

The EMTs cheer the outcome.  We hugged one EMT and I said to the observant Jew, “I won’t hug you or shake your hand, but I would if you weren’t observant.”

“Thank you.  In this case, I fear my wife first.  Hashem, second.”

SMART MAN, THAT EMT.

All non-essential personnel left.  I went out to get pizza for everyone.  To celebrate success after the two hours that felt like ten.  We ate.  We all sacked out for an hour.

SOB went into Dad’s bedroom to check on him.  He was glad that he stayed at home.  He was glad to have his children around and he felt loved and supported by all of his children, even though our brother lives far away.  He told SOB what a lucky man he is and what a good life he has had.  The drift toward the inevitable is beginning.

We all got up a kibbitzed.  Soon it was cocktail hour.

“Dad,” SOB started, “there needs to be a new rule in the usual [Blogger family] protocol in these circumstances:  If ambulance comes, no scotch at cocktail hour.”

Dad wasn’t so ok with it.  So I had to draw it from him.  The new addition to our protocol:

IF AMBULANCE,

THEN

58128Dad fought it tooth and nail and enjoyed the tussle with his kids.  He was present in a way he is not usually.  His mind was more clear (but still out there).  He was a little pale, but he survived.

The day turned out to be a great day, because:

We met wonderful people — the EMTs — who care about the people they help.

And, Death took a holiday of sorts for our family.

SOB and I stagger off the roller coaster.  The ride was rough but everyone survived. 

The Years Spin By and Now the Girl is 50

Dear Mom:

So I have moved 50 times ’round the seasons.

And my dreams have lost some grandeur coming true.

There were new dreams along the way.  Some of them still matter; some were fantasies of youthful exuberance and abject cluelessness.

I am not scared of growing older.  (Ok, I am not happy with droopy eyelids you gave me.)

And now I drag my feet to slow down time (or the circles, to keep the Joni Mitchell motif).  Really, to hold onto to the stories and memories of you, Dad and the older generation.  I look at the old pictures to remind me of the people who made me (for better or worse) the person I am today.  Those fallible, lovable and wildly eccentric (ok, our family once was poor, so I think we only qualify as “crazy”) people.

I am starting to forget some of the stories. Dad has forgotten almost everything. I can’t lose you any more than I already have.  And I need room to experience and remember the joys of your grandchildren, all three wonderful boys, and especially my little guy, SOS.

Years ago, when I imagined turning 50, I thought I would have security, maturity and direction in life.  And I fully expected that you would be telling me the story about my birth, as you always did.  Life doesn’t conform to expectations; they are really hopes and desires locked into a time and place.

Even though life at 50 is nothing as I expected, I feel lucky looking in my rear-view mirror and I am (cautiously) hopeful about the road ahead.

Ok, maybe I am scared a little about the road ahead.  I have to remember that I am strong and the road these past years hasn’t been a cake walk and I am still standing.  And I have to draw on the memories of those who made me strong without wallowing in the past.

But it is hard when you, my biggest cheerleader, are gone.  And sometimes, late at night, when the world is too much with me, I need a guiding hand, a loving voice, and my Mom who had lived through so much, quieting my fears.  I try to imagine you.  It doesn’t always work.

Tonight, we had a pre-birthday dinner.  SOB and I fought over the check.  (Could you tell her to let me win just a few times?)  SOB and I told the stories you would have told about SOB’s birth, BOB’s birth and my birth on our birthdays.  The same stories, over and over again.  And they get better with each telling.

One of the best stories concerns SOB’s birth.  Aunt Gertie, who had three sons, waited until you opened your eyes to storm into your hospital room and screeched at Uncle Leon [Dad’s brother], “See, Natie could give Elsie a girl!!”  Mom, you always said that was the most painful part of childbirth.

Have I mentioned recently how much you would have loved and adored HOSOB?  Such a pity you never met.  And I know you would be so happy that Cousin Gentle rounds out the crew.  I know, I know, why can’t Dallas be closer to New York?  You tell me, Mom.  You are as close as they get to the Big Guy.  Ask Him to work on plate tectonics or something.   See what you can do.

Mom, you are the missing person at every gathering, every simcha and every sad time.  And I miss your warm hand always reaching out to hold SOB’s or BOB’s or mine.  Even at the end, you always reached for us.

And we still reach back, hoping you feel us across the great divide.

I love you forever, Mom.

~ Blogger

Temple of Treyf

BOB came for a visit this weekend.  Dad and SOS were beyond excited.  SOB and I were consumed by logistics (but happy).

I was running late on Friday so I asked BOB (who, contrary to apocryphal legend, was, in fact, born and raised in NYC) to take care of ordering dinner.

I walked into Dad’s house, even later than I estimated.  All gathered were waiting for me to make decisions about the dinner menu.  Clearly, I have made life too easy on those assembled.

“[BOB] and [SOS], go and figure out what we are eating from this menu!”

SIDEBARI rummaged through the menus and handed one to BOB. Seriously, I could have phoned this in.

SIDEBAR:  Cuisine? You need to ask?  Chinese, of course.  After all, it is the Sabbath and we are Jews.

After two or three calls to the take-out place, I learned that BOB was a little rusty about ordering etiquette in NYC.  Nevertheless, as soon as he hung up from the last correction, the deliveryman showed up at Dad’s door.

SIDEBAR:  More proof for my hypothesis that someone stirs the wok on the back of the delivery bicycle and, no matter what we order, we get whatever the mobile kitchen whips up.

Let’s just say that this was not our usual selection.  It had a Texas flair.  We were about to eat HOG HEAVEN.  Because pigs died for our meal.

Earlier, BOB was bemoaning WOBOB’s fixation on having a pet pig.  I almost thought BOB’s aversion to a pet pig had something to do with his cultural heritage.  The dinner menu was proof otherwise.

Then, I had sympathy not for BOB, but for the potential pet pig.  Poor pig, thinking that if the family will eat his/her relatives, that the pet pig might be next.

As I have aged (and as life has steamrolled over me) I have become less doctrinaire about most things.  Still, not eating pork or other treyf wasn’t born of religious conviction.

SIDEBAR: treyf means unclean.  It is often used to refer to non-kosher food.

I don’t digest dairy well; I am allergic to most seafood; and Mom and Dad didn’t serve pork in the house.  The last time I remember eating spareribs was before BOB’s Bar Mitzvah, in 1974.

Nevertheless, I was shocked initially at BOB’s order: pork dumplings, spareribs, pork fried rice.  Every vegetable dish had meat in it.  “Part vegetarian” is now a new dish classification in our family.

And, remembering how Grandma ate from kosher plates with her own kosher food even in her beloved daughter’s home made me a little queasy.

Secretly, I have had a yen for spareribs for about 10 years.  I was inwardly delighted at being so close to the forbidden fruit and knowing we were so far away from Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) that, well, what the hell?

And, bonding with BOB over a sparerib and breaking any number of taboos in my parents’ house were gifts. And, when Dad is the way he is, and Mom is dead, and loved ones in our generation are facing down mortality, eating pork seemed so unimportant, especially in exchange for a shared moment with my big brother.

And we haven’t even discussed what was on the pizzas for Saturday night dinner.  I couldn’t even try it.

Let’s just say, BOB likes him some pork products.

BOB is a loving guy and, I have determined after this weekend, that while he wants to make his family happy, he is just concerned that a pet pig wouldn’t be safe with him.

After eating with him this weekend, I respect that.

 

Christmas

Tonight is a night of tradition.  In years past, we assembled, young and old, religious and not, to observe the Jewish rituals of Christmas.

First, we ordered in Chinese food.  And it wasn’t kosher in the least.

Sidebar:  Many years ago, there was only over-cooked Cantonese available. Then, we were blessed with Hunan and Szechuan.  And now, “Chinese food” is a term that includes the foods of all of the Asian continent.

Second, over dinner, we discussed which movie (at the local theater) we should see on Christmas day.

Sidebar: Until recently, there were no lines at the movie theaters, unless you lived in a particularly Jewish area, in which case you had to go to the movie theater in another neighborhood.  Also, no computers, internet or streaming movies.

Third, we searched the TV for something other than midnight mass from Vatican City or the Yule log.

Sidebar:  Remember, this was pre-cable/internet/Apple TV.  Channel 9 always had a marathon of the Joe Franklin talk show — it was low-budget and he wore polyester suits and had a comb-over.

Fourth, we felt bloated and restless because, even though we didn’t need to go to a store, just the knowledge that the store might be closed caused claustrophobic reactions among those assembled.

Sidebar:  It is like the anxiety-induced hunger pangs a day before the Yom Kippur fast.

Fifth, we discussed each Anti-Semite we ever knew and practiced our usual Easter refrain, “It was the Romans!”.

Sidebar:  It is amazing what happens when Jews feel bloated and unable to shop.  And it is never too early to sway public opinion and why wait until Lent?

There was a spring in my step as I came home — for ’twas the night before Christmas and we had tradition to uphold.  Imagine my reaction to the smell of cooking — COOKING — emanating from the kitchen. Oy. Tradition unravels.

First: we ate quinoa, tofu and chicken soup.  (These were options; not one concoction.)

Second: we discussed what we would watch on Netflix.

Third: we couldn’t agree on anything, so we channel-surfed THOUSANDS of channels and found nothing to watch except something about antelopes, pronghorns, and bears.

Fourth: Amazon.com.  Enough said.

Fifth: Mere anti-semitism is so, well, quaint.  There are crazy people with nukes out there who hate lots and lots of people, all for the same stupid reasons.

But we still practice, “It was the Romans!

Merry Christmas to all.

 

Vestiges of a past cast off

ULOB was not a religious man.  During his adult life, he went into synagogues only for family rites of passage.  And only if my mother told him he had to be there.

When he was a boy, his mother wanted him to have a Bar Mitzvah.  His father — my grandfather — renounced religion and didn’t care.  But it was so important to Grandma.  She wanted ULOB to be a man — a Jewish man –before G-d.  Even though she was persecuted for being a Jew.

ULOB often talked of sitting with the foul-smelling rabbi learning to read Hebrew and practicing his Torah portion while the rebbetzin (the rabbi’s wife) washed the floor and did any number of back-breaking jobs.

I think his Bar Mitzvah was on a Thursday.  I got the sense that it was mid-morning.  My grandmother was possibly upstairs but definitely behind a curtain (michitza) and at least 10 old men were in the main room of the shtebl.

Grandma brought whiskey and some cake for the celebration afterward.  She had to save to put out that meager spread. ULOB said the rabbi and the other men scarfed down the food and drink so fast that there were barely crumbs left.  No one said a word to Grandma.  She was invisible.  But Grandma was proud.

ULOB never wanted to go back after that.  Even more, almost every touch of Yiddishkeit and every tradition that a Jew learns by osmosis in a Jewish home seemed to drain out of his body over the years.  The transition was so complete that he worked on Yom Kippur, ate ham and cheese on rye during Passover, and AROB and he celebrated Christmas.

Imagine my surprise when, as SOB and I were cleaning out ULOB’s apartment after his death, I found his tallis (prayer shawl) in a bag.  He had kept that tallis for 73 years.

The one vestige.  I bet he couldn’t let go of it because of what that day meant to his mother.

Minding the Elderly Can Age a Person

Today, the paternal side of the Blogger family buried one of our own.  My cousin was not even 37.  Family members spanning nearly a century — 4 generations — were present, as if to beam a harsh light on the tragedy that my cousin would never grow old.

BOB, who flew in from Texas for the funeral, thought that we should visit Mom’s brother, Uncle L., the last surviving uncle of blogger (ULOB), and that he should meet ULOB’s paramour (POULOB).

SIDEBAR:  Why not make it the day a total beat-down?  In for a little hearbreak, in for a trifecta.   Like that penny and pound thing.

This was so last minute.  And I didn’t want ULOB to think that BOB would come to town and not see him (even though that does happen from time to time).  So, I call ULOB from the car on our way back from the funeral and tried to frame the narrative:

“Hi, Uncle, it’s [Blogger].  [BOB] just came into town at the last minute for a [paternal Blogger] family funeral.  We didn’t want to call to early to wake you [ULOB sleeps until noon].  We would like to stop by and visit this afternoon.”

“Can I invite [POULOB]?”

“Of course.  Does 4pm work?”

“See you then.”

Great.  Death. Destruction. Tears. Lamentations. And a visit to the apartment that is gross by the slums-of-Calcutta standards.  I guess I am not getting a nap today.

BOB and I walked [3 miles] to ULOB’s apartment.  It was good to talk to BOB.  I don’t think we have an hour to talk just the two of us in three decades.

But, we were running late.  So I called ULOB’s apartment.  No answer.  Hmmmm.  Odd.

We arrive at his building.  He lives on the fourth floor of a five story walk-up in what is formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen.  We buzz his intercom.  No answer.

I call again his phone again.  No answer.  BOB leans his palm on ULOB’s buzzer.  I go inside the first door (which is never locked) and start buzzing every apartment in the building until someone lets us in.

We walk up four flights to his apartment.  There is a radio blasting.  We go inside his apartment (don’t you mind the details), expecting to find a body.  BOB says helpfully, “you know, bad things happen in threes, so this would be event no. 2.”

SIDEBAR: BOB needs a refresher in the Blogger family protocol, as in “unhelpful comments in scary, potentially life and death situations are punishable by a different kind of scary, life and death situation.”  Rule No. 3, for those of you following in the handbook.

The place looks like it has been ransacked.  BOB is a little rattled, but I remind him that that is usually what the place looks like.  I am still calm.  I start to look around for a body.  The stench of 54 years of filter-less cigarettes would cover any smell of a decomposing body.

No body here.  Thank G-d.  But nobody here either, so he must be dead in the street.

BOB and I decide not to panic.  Instead, we sit at an outdoor cafe doing our version a TV crime drama stake-out, only with cocktails.  I watch his building while BOB looks for him along the street.

We leave countless more messages on ULOB’s message machine in case he shuffled in while traffic was stopped and a bus obscured my view.

ULOB doesn’t have a cell phone.  We don’t have any contact information on POULOB except her address and her phone number is unlisted.  (I tried.)  This is the time when I wish I didn’t avoid information about her and just embraced her, regardless of their relationship’s beginnings.  Sometimes, principles just bite you in the ass.

SOB knows POULOB’s phone number.  Except, SOB is in London. My phone is running out of juice. And I am rattling off phone numbers to BOB as my phone dies.

BOB calls SOB, “Hey, [SOB], [ULOB] is a no-show at his house.  But he isn’t dead IN his house.  We need POULOB’s number.  Oh, I love you, [BOB]by.”

We abandon our stake-out after 1.5 hours.  Police work is not for me, unless lubricated with a nice cabernet.  BOB goes to Dad’s to have dinner with him.  I go home, preparing myself to call hospitals or go to POULOB’s house and knock on the door.

I get home. The doorman hands me a message from ULOB and POULOB. They were here, thinking the gathering was here. The message says they are at a nearby restaurant. I RUN there.  We clear up the miscommunication.  POULOB says ULOB told her we were having a gathering either at 2, 3 or 4.  They opted for 4:15. Ok, I am not so devastated about missing them.

I say, “we were at a funeral, although I could understand the mix-up”.  Wow, cabernet is the opposite of a truth serum.  Because, who, in the world invites guests, who don’t know the deceased, to a post-funeral gathering?

We resolve the following things:

  • ULOB needs a cell phone.
  • POULOB needs all of our contact information and we, hers, because she is here to stay.  And she does take really good care of ULOB.
  • Nobody dies on my watch.  And when I say nobody, I also mean no body on my watch.

I did remember to text SOB that we were really sorry we gave her a heart attack, especially when she would get care in the UK hospital system.  I called Dad to tell him to tell BOB that all is well, but Dad already started cocktail hour, so at some point I ask him to pass the phone to his attendant, because I could not live another moment in loopy land.

This Abbott and Costello afternoon happened on the heels of the real tragedy — my young cousin’s untimely death.  Today I experienced universal grief, elderly confusion and existential anxiety, some at both ends of the spectrum of life.

For now, I am grateful to be in the middle.

 

Seder Part 2

Seder, Part 2:  Subtitled “Kol B’Seder?” (all ok?  literally in good order?)

Meanwhile, Uncle L looked slovenly despite his well-heeled paramour and family.  Just take a look at his coat:  No wonder his paramour thought we were wolves.  A generation from the ghettos of Europe, born in the country, and still.  But he is a Yankees fan, so some things are forgiven.

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Ok, so we started the Seder.  As commanded, we go through our “emblems of festive rejoicing” which are the symbols of Passover:  rebirth, renewal, bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom, and the remembrance of the night of death in Egypt that led to the Exodus.  But wait, there’s more.

In our family, we have our own symbols of festive rejoicing, requiring a second Seder plate.  First, G-d didn’t deliver us from Egypt, then the pogroms of Europe, then the Holocaust, then to two generations of prosperity in the United States for us to drink that gross Manischevitz wine.  So, we have a “Manischevitz Free Zone” in our house, where there is (reasonably) good Kosher wine and some good other wine.  Second, courtesy of HOSOB (we love him so), we have a Moses action figure (which was a bonus with any Nintendo purchase) that has detachable staff and Ten Commandments for the requisite slamming at the sight of the Golden Calf.  Third, have a watch to symbolize the ONE hour that SOB allows for the ceremony before she takes away the Haggadot and announces the first course will be served. In a nod to the modern age, SOB flashes her iPhone timer, so I know exactly, to the nanosecond, how much time I have left.

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Finally (not pictured here), we have a brisket and not a turkey, because G-d didn’t work miracles and deliver us from five millennia of trials and tribulations so that we would have to eat dry turkey.  No, G-d delivered us so that we could enjoy a nice, juicy, marbled brisket with just the right amount of fat to make it tasty and moist.  (Unless you are vegan or vegetarian, in which case we had a delicious Mediterranean bean dish.)  That is my interpretation of the wisdom of the ages.  You can have yours, just not in my house.

We tried a different approach to Seder this year — we would go quickly through the retelling of the story (see the cheat sheet on the chalk board)

photo(12) And then we proceeded to discuss who was the most righteous in the story.  I emailed everyone with the assignment to determine the most righteous person, and people really read up on it.

Sidebar:  GDJOB, who had never cracked the spine of the Bible, was at a loss until her spouse GDKOB showed up.  GDKOB was in charge of preparing for Seder.  Unfortunately, she was a little late for the debate but her righteous person was discussed.  They brought dessert, so all was forgiven.

There was a catch:  what is the definition of righteous?  Depending on our definitions, we had different answers.  There was a second catch:  there is no right answer, except that we can agree that among the wrong answers are: (i) Pharaoh and (ii) the Edward G. Robinson’s character in Cecil B. DeMille’s, “The Ten Commandments” (did he chew on a cigar or is that just my imagination?).

We came up with four righteous people (with our varying definitions of righteousness):

  • Moses (trite);
  • Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law who advises Moses;
  • Tzipporah, Moses’ wife who saves him when G-d tried to kill him; and
  • Pharaoh’s daughter, who, knowing Moses was an Israelite, nevertheless saves the baby from the Nile.

My choice? Pharaoh’s daughter.  Who has no name, except in Chronicles, the Koran and the writings of Josephus.  In the Hebrew Bible, she is known only by her relationship to a man, Seti I, who decreed that male babies of the Israelites must die.  She defied her father’s decree and saved a life and raised Moses as her son.  She stepped outside her rarefied, privileged world and extended her hand to a slave child.  Because a child is a child.  Because a life is a life.  And she risked everything, maybe for the knowledge that she was doing the right thing and her heart and soul would not be sullied by the death of a child.

And she was exiled when later it was found out that Moses, her son, was an Israelite.

Her name was Bithia.

Bithia.  A person to be remembered as a human who saved a life of a baby who would grow up to liberate a people.

Bithia was her name.  And at Passover, I remember Bithia.  Because she is the person I most admire in this story.

Chag sameach.  (Happy holidays.)