The Hilarity In the Darkest Moments

In the last 10 or so conscious days of Dad’s life, he was present in a way that he hadn’t been in more than a year. 

He slept a lot.  And he seemed to dream because he smiled and reached out his arms.  I hoped that he was talking to Mom. 

But when he was conscious or semi-conscious, he was able to respond to our questions and if one of us said, “I love you,” he would respond in kind.

This was a gift to his kids in his final days.  

First, a back story:

BACK STORY:  Cocktail hour (with hors d’oeuvres) was a time-honored tradition in our family.  As old world as that sounds, we are Jews and so it was Jewish all the way — mostly food and a little alcohol.  Scotch was the drink of choice.  And the food was white fish salad, pickled herring, eggplant salad and, in a nod to the “new country,” mixed nuts.  Ok, so some affectations but we never forgot our roots.  In later years, Dad would alternate between scotch and wine.

So in those last days, we celebrated with Dad, as much and as often as was safe.  And we toasted his life.  Unfortunately, the serving set was less than ideal . . . .

So we all had wine together (scotch would have been too hard to handle).  And we hung out in Dad’s room.  (And when he slept, we had MORE.)

About five days before Dad died, when he was essentially unconscious, SOB (sister of blogger) had the brilliant idea to move a mattress in Dad’s room so that the three kids could be right there any case anything happened. 

SIDEBAR:  The usual night aides — wonderful women — helped us change him when needed and mostly slept in another room.

As I was helping SOB move the mattress, I looked at her and said, “You are on the other side of crazy.  And I am even more crazy for helping you.”  SOB nodded in a way that indicated, “true,” and was pleased that I acknowledged the sibling pecking order of — let’s say loosely — “sanity”.

BOB (brother of blogger) wasted no time throwing himself on the mattress and falling asleep.  SOB and I rolled him as necessary to make the bed.  SOB got on the mattress and beckoned me in the middle.

WAIT. STOP.  My brother tosses and turns and my sister wakes up at the slightest noise.  Is this 45 years ago and am I in the middle in the back seat of the car on family trips, feeling nauseated and poked and pinched by BOB?  Are you kidding me? 

“Nah, I just sleep on the comfy floor.”

“Are you sure?  There is enough room.”

“Yeah.  I’m good.”

Over the course of that first evening of Dad’s effective unconsciousness, Dad’s breathing changed to a Cheynes-Stokes rhythm — no breath for an insane amount of time and then four deep breaths.  Repeat, until you almost kill your children.

So, as you can imagine, that first night, SOB is lunging over BOB to check Dad’s pulse while I am watching wide-eyed and scared because Dad is not breathing.  And then he would start breathing again.

At dawn on each of those days, I would pick up my pillow and blanket and go into a different bedroom to sleep a few hours.  SOB would go to Dunkin’ Donuts.  BOB would continue going through photos.  Rinse. Repeat.  Wonder about sedation. FOR US.

And so it went.  And we shifted sleeping places over the nights. Because, we had some sanity left in us.

Dad died at 2:48am on a Friday with his kids around him.  No one pronounces a person dead, like in the movies.  You just watch it.  And let the initial wave wash over you.  And you know that, in the months to come, the waves will wash you up to shore with a mouth of sand while you are struggling to breathe.

Yep, there is pain.  But Dad had a good and long life.  There is no tragedy here.  There is no anger.  There is, in fact, guilty joy for being able to celebrate a long life well-lived.  An embarrassment of riches.

Ok, because I need to bring it back to humorous. 

Here are things I learned:

  • BOTH BOB and I snore.
  • Do not want to get between SOB and any patient.  Every now again I let my head get in the way of her arm reaching to feel Dad’s pulse.  A painful mistake.
  • BOB thinks I pick wine based on the freakiest or stupidest name.  He may be half-right.  My real goal was to make sure when Dad was drinking his last “cocktail”, we were giving him a good send off home to Mom.

And now I have to get all emotional. 

The greatest lessons I learned are:

(i) we siblings need our own bedrooms,

(ii) we have the craziest memories of childhood and they are all different,

(iii) we siblings are in sync in a crisis, and

(iv) SOB and BOB are the finest people anyone could ever hope to meet.

Yes, SOB and BOB are the finest people anyone could ever hope to meet

I am the luckiest person ever.

Lessons Learned Oddly Applied

Growing up, Mom and Dad made sure every visitor felt welcome in our home with a (proverbial or actual) warm and welcoming embrace. 

And our cultural, religious and family traditions had to follow suit.  My parents never cared much for tradition that didn’t honor everyone, engender both joy and remembrance and welcome the stranger.

I remember, at one Passover years and years ago, a relatively new friend of Mom (she made friends every day, even in the elevator or on a City bus) came over for her first Passover seder and brought something that she had made and  . . .  

WAIT FOR IT, WAIT . . .

there were noodles in it.  [NOT kosher for Passover.]

It was a shock to all of us that someone would make something homemade (especially to my mother) because, after all, we lived in New York City.

SIDEBAR:  No one “cooked” except for Mrs. Travers (of blessed memory) who made the same cherry Jello mold with fruit since the early 1960s.  Don’t laugh because it became so “groovy retro” in the 1990s.

So my mother was charmed and mortified all at once. Still, what to do about the noodles?

Without missing a beat, my mother put the noodle dish on the Passover table.  As everyone sat down, she thanked her friend for bringing it and advised those observing the Passover dietary restrictions that this was not a dish for them.

Just as it is written that, each of us was liberated from the land of Egypt and we eat the Hillel sandwich of the matzah and maror signifying the bitterness  of slavery and other symbolic foods, the Blogger family ate the matzah, maror and some pasta and veggies, in observance of our tradition and our parents’ rules about joy and welcoming the stranger in our house.

Fast forward twenty or more years to Dad’s Shiva.

Ok, “Shiva” was only one night, so it doesn’t even meet the requirements of the name, Shiva. And, a female rabbi who looked about 11 years old led the service. 

And THEN . . . .

My brother beckons me to the kitchen. 

SIDEBAR: It has taken many years but I think that my brother and I are in a good place.  I know we love each other.  And, I have a deep admiration and respect for him.  And, he is just so adorable and handsome and funny.

“Hey, E . . . . ” he says with his Texas drawl.  “SOB’s [Sister of blogger’s] birthday is in two days and we are going back to Dallas. We brought this birthday cake with these crazy striped pastries on top.  Like the ones Grandma and Grandpa used to bring from the bakery in Brooklyn.”

The following things ran through my head:

BIRTHDAY CAKE. 

SHIVA. 

A HOUSE PARTIALLY FILLED WITH MEN WEARING KIPAS,

A 12-YEAR OLD FEMALE RABBI LEADING MINYAN.

TRUMP THANKING MY FATHER FOR HIS SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY [see earlier post].

MOM.  DAD.  PASSOVER SO MANY YEARS AGO.

THE LOVE OF A BROTHER WHO DIDN’T WANT HIS SISTER’S BIRTHDAY TO GET LOST IN REMEMBRANCE OF DAD’S LIFE WELL-LIVED.

“BOB [Brother of blogger], great idea!!  Let’s wait until the Shiva minyan is over and those who would be totally offended have left, OK?”

So, when we thought “the coast was clear” and some of SOB’s friends were still around, out came the birthday cake, with candles and everything.

Also? It was GREAT cake. (Just sayin’.)

And, courtesy of BOB and his family, there was joy for us three kids amid the sadness.  And we bent the traditions so far back that they almost broke in two — but not quite.

And Mom and Dad smiled down.  They were proud. 

And the three of us?  We would not have done a thing differently.

A little tradition, a little Seinfeld and a lot of love.

Dad’s funeral service was really beautiful. 

(At a later time, I would like to share some of the eulogies with the permissions of the speakers.)

We headed out to the cemetery, located along the Long Island Expressway, where New York Jews have bought burial plots for generations. 

SIDEBAR:  The near universality of this practice has come in handy over the years.  I remember when both Mom and Dad were much younger, we had two funerals — one in each of their families. 

As we were rushing from one graveside service in order to be fashionably late to another, I heard my mother say under her breath, “a shtetl in life; shtetl in death.  Thank G-d!”

My father was a veteran and the last of his brothers to die.  We requested a honor guard because we thought it an important tribute not just to Dad, but to the whole generation, and to the ideals for which they fought and to the resulting scars that would never truly heal.

We arrived at the family plot.  The two cadets were waiting there in full uniform and at attention. 

When we were ready, one cadet started playing Taps.  As he played, everyone had their hands over their hearts.  I looked at my father’s coffin, draped with the American flag.  His generation went to war.  And they fought so that their children would not ever have to (or so that was the hope). 

Our family has demonstrated our love of country through these five brothers and their children and children’s children.

The sun was shining, and the wind was whipping, and the two cadets folded the flag with such precision that I felt as though our family was about to be given something truly priceless.

The more senior cadet walked to my sister and presented her with the flag, saying:

“On behalf of the President of the United States, ——

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!! STOP THE MUSIC.  CUT!! STOP TAPE!!!!!

WHAAAAAAT? We all stopped.  The spell and majesty of the moment were SHATTERED. 

Then a cousin saved the moment by muttering under his breath (but at the top of his lungs, as is our custom):  “He meant Obama!!!!!”

Ok, we could continue ———

——————— the United States Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Even with the snafu, the flag is indeed priceless.

And, in that moment, the sad and the beautiful, the creepy, the orange and the inspiring, the funny and the mundane all existed and were inextricably connected, as they are in every moment. 

The rest of the burial went according to tradition. 

And I was sad to leave Dad there in the cold but I knew that it would be ok because he was next to Mom. 

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.

scan 10025 Scan 23Scanned Image 110730006

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.