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Archive for January, 2010
I love dogs. Actually I love all animals, even the wild ones in Africa who kill prey in the most violent, horrible ways possible. But then they do have to eat and they do provide and protect their young. I can accept all that goes with the “survival of the fittest” and the balance that needs to be maintained in nature for all the species to survive. I should add that I don’t “love” snakes and reptiles and fish, although I can appreciate their beauty and the necessity of their existance in the survival chain for all species.
I also know there are many people who do not love dogs or cats, or any animal. That’s fine with me. But it led me to think about us human beings. Do all mothers and fathers automatically love their children? Unfortunately not. We have fathers who not only abandon their offspring and mates, but sometimes even abuse them. We have mothers who do the same thing. Although I’d like to think that happens in smaller numbers.
My cat purred the entire time she was in labor, delivering her four kittens. She purred when she nursed them, she protected them from any strangers and expressed her love for them by licking them whenever they were near. I thought that beautiful, natural, instinctual love was automatic with mothers of all living things.
However, I know of parents who seem to love one child and not another. Sometimes it is more love for one child, less for the other. What makes the difference? In Becoming Alice I wrote that I thought my mother preferred my brother over me, fully knowing that I was my father’s favorite. In later years, after my brother and I were in mid-life, the equation changed. My mother was disappointed by the relationship that evolved with my brother after his marriage. Her feelings for him diminished and grew for me. Perhaps the depth of feeling for your children is not automatic and genetic. Perhaps love is based on some other qualities, such as the physical appearance of the child, the sex of the child, the intelligence of the child, the nature ( dominant/submissive) of the child, etc. If all that comes into play, then love is not automatic and a newborn baby has to be pretty lucky to have the qualities necessary for his/her parents to be able to love him with all their heart.
The same thing goes for a man and a woman. It has been said, “I fell in love with her the minute I met her.” Another has said, “The more I saw of him and the more I got to know him, the more I grew to love him.” So many qualities come into play in the love beween man and woman, it couldn’t posibly be automatic. In fact it is quite a wonder that love happens at all. Those of us that can love are the luckiest of all!
Aunt Miriam died yesterday. She was 100 years and six months old. One usually doesn’t count a half year but I remember an uncle of mine saying that people over seventy change yearly as much as a child under six changes every year. In those perameters, the changes are enormous. Maybe. Aunt Miriam seemed to be pretty much the same between the years seventy-five and ninety-five. She spent most of them in an assisted living facility and later in a nursing home. It wasn’t until the last year or so that she began failing. A pretty good run, I’d say. Since she had no children, it has fallen to my husband Bob to make arrangements for her burial. I know the Rabbi will want to know about her life so that he can make the appropriate remarks at the gravesite. That is what brings me to wonder what will be said.
I am reminded about being in a Rabbi’s study about a decade ago when Aunt Miriam’s sister died and we were called upon to tell him about her life. My husband and I sat in our chairs and looked at one another trying to find something to say. We couldn’t think of anything that set her apart , some characteristic that made her unique, some interest she had that enhanced her life or one in which she could give to others. We could only say she was a “good and nice” person. She took care of her family and performed a homemaker’s tasks. Perhaps that is enough. In Aunt Miriam’s case we could add that she gave music lessons to children and worked to raise funds for the City of Hope. I liked that about her.
And then there was that other funeral I attended many years ago for an aunt of mine who was generally disliked by everyone who knew her. the Rabbi who spoke at her funeral didn’t know the first thing about her. However he eulogized her in glowing terms: “And now we lay to rest this noble soul, etc. etc.” It was then that my cousin looked at me and said, “Are we at the right funeral?”
All this makes me wonder what will be said at my funeral. I’d like to think they will be able to say more than that I was “nice” and I “played the piano.” I certainly hope that the attendants to my departure will not wonder if they are at the right funeral if anything complimentary is said. But then, I wouldn’t know about it anyway.
I love being with my granddaughter Emma any time but I especially enjoyed her when she was about five or six years old. The whole world was new and exciting for her and she was learning skills as fast as they came her way. When I was with her, no matter what I was doing, stirring gravy in a saucepan, planting marigolds in the yard, or buttoning her sweater for her, she’d shout, “I do it!” She’d push me away, her eyebrows drawn together on her forehead, with a determination to succeed that I wished would be there for a lifetime. She’s outgrown that phase now that she’s eleven. Yet, when the phone rings, she’ll snap to attention and shout, “I’ll get it!” Of course, I do understand that most of the time that call is from one of her friends who will end up talking to her for an hour.
Now imagine that my husband Bob and I are not visiting Emma who lives clear across the country in Connectiut, and we are alone watching TV in our house in California. The phone rings and we both say in unison, “You get it!” This happens more often than not: Bob will tell me we need to buy dog food at the pet store. I’ll respond, “You need to get it. Here’s the five dollar coupon for the pet store.” Or I’ll mention to Bob that we are out of orange juice for breakfast and he’ll say, “Pick it up when you do the grocery shopping.” If I say to Bob that perhaps we should call our friends the Jones (ficticious name) to see if Linda (ficticious name) is over her flu, he’ll reply, “You do it. You know them better than me.”
It reminds me so much of how it was in my home when I was a little girl. My dad always made my mom do all the telephoning. If the phone rang in the kitchen and he was standing right next to it, he still would call my mother, who may have been gardening in the farthest part of our yard from the house, to come answer the phone. One of the reasons for this was that he did not like patients to call him at home unless it was an emergency. It was up to my mom, who didn’t even have nurses training, to determine whether or not it was a medical emergency. I cannot count the number of arguments they had when she didn’t guess right.
If you’ve read my memoir, Becoming Alice, and had gotten to know my dad’s character, you would not be surprised to know that his order of “You do it!” was consistant with his behavior both at home and at the hospital in which he worked. It allowed him to feel superior to all others. He even carried this approach over to non-medical things. For example, he refused to carry any packages anywhere, no matter the circumstances. It was not unusual to see them walking down the street side by side with my mother carrying two heavy shopping bags, while he used both his free hands to light a cigarette. This happened often while they owned their grocery store, had no car, and needed to walk from the store to our apartment.
I must remember the next time the phone rings in my house to jump to my feet and answer the phone without saying, “Bob, can you get that?”
I remember when I was a little girl, my mother said, “When things are going really well, and you are as happy as you can possibly be, watch out! Something bad will happen. The pendulum has got to switch from one side to the other in this life. If everything always went perfectly well, and you were always happy, you would be in paradise. And there is no paradise on this earth. So, you better not ever let yourself get too happy.”
I never thought much about her advise. Things happen in life and my way of living it is to accept whatever is thrown at you, digest it, and keep on going. My philosophy about life worked pretty well for me until a couple of weeks ago when my mother’s warnings came back to haunt me. You see, my youngest daughter who had been divorced for six years, after spending twenty years in a bad relationship, remarried. She had found a genuine “nice guy” who seems to appreciate her for who she is and loves her. My daughter feels the same way. The wedding was beautiful. The entire families on both sides were there. The day was warm with the sun shining on all celebrants. The happiness quotient was at its maximum.
“Watch out!” I heard my mother’s words in my head but went on about my business. Several days later I walked into my bedroom and found one corner of it flooded. I checked the other bedroom. The adjoining closet was flooded. The plaster walls in the area were wet. The carpeting was stained. We discovered that the water softener tank immediately outside the bedroom wall had been leaking for several days and in our absence (while we attended the wedding), the water came into our house. The water softener company was called, the “restorers” arrived with two huge fans and two humidifiers , one for each bedroom. They were set up to run for three days and nights. Each bedroom sounded like a 747 airplane was taking off a runway. With nowhere to sleep except on a small bed in a guest room, my husband and I spent three sleepless nights with the noice of two airplanes inside our house. My mother’s voice returned: “Something will happen.”
A day later, my husband and I purchased some storage units for our garage. We were told they were on sale that weekend, for only two days, at 25% off. What a bargain. We wasted no time in ordering 4 units of varying sizes, to be assembled and delivered in a few days, between 11 am and 3 pm. At 3:30 pm I call the store, “What happened to my storage units?” I’m told the delivery truck broke down and they are sending another to pick up the items and bring them to our house. At 4:30 pm they are stuck a block away from our house, unable to drive their truck under an iron arch over the street to our house. The delivery men, very pleasant and apologetic prodeed to wheel the units, almost a full block in distance to our house, only to find out that they have brought the wrong units.
My carpets are still stained. The floor boards are damaged beyond repair. We don’t have any of the storage units we purchsed. And it is going to rain for the entire week. My mother’s voice comes back again: “Don’t get too happy. Something will happen!”
If you’d read Becoming Alice, my memoir, you’d know that my mom was a German speaking Viennese lady and couldn’t possibly have know about Murphy’s law. I think Murphy must surely have been Irish.
I poured myself a glass of wine and heard my husband say, “I knew they wouldn’t get this order right.” I didn’t think they would get it wrong. It didn’t seem to require an advanced degree in Business Management to fill this order and transport it to our address. In retrospect, what I had forgotten was that I had been too happy at my daughters wedding.
Nasty worked. I received my sales report.
I don’t know which I should be later this morning, nice or nasty. The adjuster is coming out to my house. What happened is this: While we were away from our house for a few days, the soft water tank, located outside our bedroom wall, leaked its water out and into two of our bedrooms, onto the carpeting. It not only soaked a good portion of the carpeting, but also the bedroom walls in that area. Our soft water company sent out another company which does restoration. A huge fan and dehumidifier were set up in both rooms to work for three days and nights, making the rooms uninhabitable. We are now left with a stained carpet and ruined floor molding. I do not dare think about the size of the electric bill we will receive next month, nor do I know about any mold that might have set in in the process.
At this very moment, the adjuster is on his way to set things right for us. And I am in the process of deciding my approach. If this would have happened to my Dad, you would know if you had read my memoir, Becoming Alice, that my Dad would have been on the attack, angry, demanding, and accusatory. My Mom would have been submissive, sweet, playing the role of the victim. How do I handle these situations?
I usually start out nice, stating my position and requesting service. If that doesn’t work I slide down the scale toward my Dad’s way of handling things. For example, I phone my doctor for an appointment that I think should be taken care of shortly. I am given a time two or three months down the line. When I complain, I achieve nothing. Then I go to the ultimate threat. I am terribly ill and if anything life threatening happens to me, it will be their fault. I get an appointment in two or three days.
My last confrontation was with the publisher of Becoming Alice. I had requested a comprehensive sales report from them on December 16th and was told it would take about three weeks for them to send it to me. Having received nothing in that amount of time, I called them. There had been no action on their part and my request hadn’t even been posted until a week after my phone call. I protested in a nice way. I was told to be patient … it would be sent. A week later I called again. After the same kind of back and forth with my publisher’s customer service, I changed my approach to nasty. Told them that if I didn’t get that report within three days, I would post on all my social networking sites that I could never recomment my publisher to anyone since they did not support their authors in any way. Two days later, I received my report.
Now, I am ready to start what I am sure will be the same process. Start nice, but be ready to go into nasty, if necessary.
I have a dear friend who made a remark yesterday that has rumbled around in my head ever since I heard it. I don’t know how to make peace with it. Let me tell you about it.
My friend was speaking about her husband’s sons and praising them for all the help they were giving their elderly and very ill father. They called often to see how he was feeling; they came to help at any time that he needed nursing care. They even offered financial help should it become necessary. My friend ended her repartee of these boys (men, really) by stating, “Yes, they have been wonderful. They are good Christian boys.”
Why does that remark bother me so much? I know what she is saying is how much she appreciates them and their love for their father. But why does that make them good ”Christian” boys? Does that mean any other kind of boy is not praiseworthy. Am I only sensitive to that remark because I am Jewish? Does that remark imply that Jewish boys are not praiseworthy? How about Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, or even atheist boys? Are they also excluded from the height of this praiseworthy fraternity?
I don’t think she would argue my point. I know her too well to put the label of bigot on her; I know she does not deserve that. I think only think that word Christian slipped out because there are still enough people in this world who actually think that it is both the only and best way to be a human being. I hope that will change in time.
The year twenty ten, as it is being called, is ticking away faster than ever. My new year’s resoslutions have not been forgotten. The only thing that has held things up a bit is that I couldn’t quite decide which road to follow in terms of my writing subject matter. I have done that now, and even gotten a few pages under my belt. The work will pick up a short while past the end of Becoming Alice and hopefully answer some of those “and then what happened” questions that I’ve been asked at so many of my speaking engagements.
The setting is still Berkeley, where I’ve left you readers off, but we must fast forward in time about four years. Those four years in between were good years for me, years in which I gained quite a bit of self-confidence, but years that were not very different from millions of other kids who grow up while going to college. In my case I added to that education a couple of years of post graduate work getting a Master’s degree in Social Welfare.
Then the day came when I’d handed in my last term paper and taken my last final. On my last day at school, I felt so relieved. I was so tired of going to school that I had to force myself through those last few weeks of school. As I walked toward Sather Gate, the southern entrance to the Berkeley campus, I felt a heaviness on my chest. I looked at the French barogue bronze and steel arch in front of me, and did not want to let go of it, as if it would shield me from the unknown world into which I needed to move. How could I have such diametrically opposing feelings all at the same time? The problem was that I had neither a marraiage or a job to look forward to. For young women of my age at that time in history, I was a failure. How fortunate it is that our culture has changed in those ways so much for the better.
My New Year’s resolution was to spend more time writing and less time marketing my memoir, Becoming Alice. Which brings me to my current dilemma: what should I write about? I have been interested in writing down the stories that friends and acquiantences have told me over the years, true stories that are unique and interesting, lived by people that I know well. Unfortunately that leads one to the problem of having those people, often friends of mine, recognize themselves in my writings. Perhaps they may not like how I portray them, or how I interpret their behaviors. I do not wish to offend any of them. I may mix the characteristics of the players and their events in their lives to such an extent that the work will seem like a piece of fiction. That is one route I can take.
The other is to answer all those who have read Becoming Alice, who have asked me, “What happened to your brother Fred?” or, “What did you do after you graduated?” or, “Did you ever see Tante Gretl again?” I had put an epilogue in my memoir, but so many readers had become engaged by the characters in the book that they wanted to know “What Happened Next?”
I had been reluctant to go into the part of my life that “happened next.” It meant introducing a number of characters that I hoped to keep anonymous. Conveniently, some of them have passed away and I no longer need to worry about their feelings any more. I had a writing teacher encourage me to write about that part of my life from the beginning, telling me it would be the most interesting part. I am talking about the romance thing, as you might have guessed.
I am still juggling the two subject matters in my mind. Perhaps I should take a poll and have you vote for one or the other. Good idea. Let me know what you think.