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A Day in the Life

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a number of books, but out walking this morning I was thinking about his “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and I seem to recall the story had to do with Ivan walking either up or down eight steps.And as my thoughts rambled through my head, I was feeling what an emotional week it has been, with my granddaughter’s first walking steps, being separated from Howard, especially on Valentines- but made more emotional by the individual photos displayed of the lives taken of the adolescents murdered in Florida by a disgruntled student,

Yet as I am always aware, there are threads of good and evil everywhere, and the heroism of the teachers shielding their students and dying in their place makes one gasp: that in those ultimate terrible seconds, they reacted, ignoring demands for self preservation to shield others: defiant acts to counteract the overpowering presence of horror.

Last night I went with friends to watch a film called Act of Defiance. It centred on an unsung hero too, Bram Fischer, the legal defence for Nelson Mandela and nine other defendants at the Rivonia Trial in 1964 in South Africa. Discovered at the trial was that the well respected counsel Fischer was , as well, the head of the SACP ( South African Communist Party). On the surface, this Afrikaner lead a life of privilege from a distinguished family, his wife the niece of Jan Smuts who supported discriminatory acts. Yet Molly, Fischer’s wife, and Fischer himself worked tirelessly towards the implementation of a better world. He wrote, “

What is needed is for White South Africans to shake themselves out of their complacency, a complacency intensified by the present economic boom built upon racial discrimination. Unless this whole intolerable system is changed radically and rapidly, disaster must follow. Appalling bloodshed and civil war will become inevitable because, as long as there is oppression of a majority, such oppression will be fought with increasing hatred…”

Although the movie by the Dutch filmmaker Jan Van de Velde garnered many awards, it moved – for me- almost laboriously to present the story. Yet there were scenes that fleshed out the Fischers’ characters with their children, revealing a depth of moral feeling in both public and private situations that illuminated the deep love the couple shared for state, justice and one another. Fischer’s double life could have been the topic of a Jean LeCarre novel: from courtroom to collusion with anti- apartheid groups and arrangements to procure passports out of the country for dissidents to dinners at the bar association and country club. My friends and I had never heard his name although we were familiar with Joe Slovo, Helen Suzman and Nadine Gordimer. I had read Andre Brink’s A Chain of Voices years ago and heard his intensely emotional interview about returning home to vote against apartheid. As many films do, this one expanded our education, filling in gaps, amplifying events, detailing historical information, providing a semblance of the times, struggles and persons.

And when I taught my post colonial literature course I had shown my students Dry White Season and Cry Freedom that focused on Steve Biko. I have written about experiencing first hand the photos of the open fire on school children protesting against sub standard education and books written in their own language in the museum next to Hector Pieterson’s Memorial in Soweto. One has to marvel at children and all of the people of conscience who defied the laws of their country when the majority of the population submitted. Of course, included in these brave behaviours are those who hid Jews during the holocaust, putting themselves and families at risk.

The questions regarding freedoms and rights and justice become more twisted in regard to Israel. A second film I viewed this week, An Israeli Love Story by Dan Wolman , bases its story on another important struggle, but moves the conflicts into a romance between a rising actress and her kibbutznik boyfriend Eli, son of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s 2nd president. In 1947, the Jews were finally allowed a homeland; armed resistance against the British and the Palestinians substantiates the political backdrop for this awakening of first love. In both films, Wolman and Van de Velde’s, the protagonists fight for justice not readily espoused or accepted by the status quo. In both films the people caught up in politics decide to choose to overthrow societal rigours and proceed to change. If we are honest, we will admit the difficulty and pose the question,”What would I do?” After the fact and the struggles, it is easier to cheer those who have participated. But truly, how far would you go to alter circumstance? With the “Pussy”and #MeToo marches and rallies, there is communal support, groups standing with linked arms, challenging and demanding. And so we have seen, finally, charges brought against offenders.and better late than never…

I’m thinking about what each person needs. (My grandfather used to say you could only wear one suit at a time) . But terribly at present, South Africa heads towards a country without water, a country emerging from years of corruption, and discrimination, a country so beautiful with its vistas, landscapes and natural wonder it dazzles the mind and gives one pause, pondering the disconnect between the physical beauty and the ugliness of most men who have governed there.

And the number of students gunned down in the states makes one shake at the madness of the world to allow citizens to carry guns for their own protection. On 60 Minutes, Kristen Gillibrand who replaced Hillary Clinton as senator for New York, actually voiced awareness that after speaking with and listening to victims of violence she had changed her mind, out right admitting she had been wrong to support laws allowing people to carry guns. To hear a politician opening admit and publicly change a stance was mesmerizing. So everywhere there have been and are tiny rays of hope peeping through the darkness.

As I write this after the movies and the killings, I wonder at myself to seize the good in the midst of doom:for I am no Pollyanna, much more glass half- empty than half- full. I surprise myself that I focus on the heroes not the villains. But if our children and grandchildren are to persist in a world, we should turn our eyes to the possible. With the incredible feats of the Olympics( although set in a landscape that could be Post- nuclear with its crags, cold and bareness!), especially the prowess and elegance of the skating pairs, we can imagine better and beautiful, what is good in the human, echoing the child Anne Frank.

My husband upon watching our grandsons, reflected that he wished we would be around to see how their stories end , where their lives will take them, what kind of men they will become, what paths they will follow. My son countered, “ The stories never end…” Let’s hope so.

Las

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Family Reunion

He was always Jon, never John, differentiating him from the common John, my eldest cousin Jon, his second name Howard, given him as a cover should he need to hide his Jewish last name.

It had been years and years since I’d seen him, but by chance he and his engaging wife Elaine were in San Diego so we were able to reconnect.

In the spaces that often separate people by year and location, we had heard the odd story of moves from Charleston to Nashville, job promotions, the family expanding: the kind of chatter old aunts discuss as they contemplate the “ what if’s” had the family stayed in the home town. Jon, the first born, had lived in the flat on Brunswick Avenue above my parents and the grandparents as people did, years and years ago, so his earliest days from the outset of my parent’s marriage had been entwined in my own history, but mostly my recalling his odd dinner with us as a student at U of T.

So an opportunity to meet, have conversations as adults was truly an event to be anticipated with excitement. And my cousins did just that, filling our time that expanded into hours and more pleasurable hours, together, recanting family stories, providing missing pieces, retelling the tales I had thought I knew, some tweaked, some only partly remembered, revised- and I sat in wonder at the recollections. There were additions and reworking of the strange and the bizarre, guffaws, noddings of agreement, some with open mouth surprise and sweet smiles of acknowledgement over the two days we walked, and talked, and rambled, and discoursed and wandered into one another’s lives.

These memories would not have been complete without focus on our shared aunt, Marion.Our Aunt Marion and Uncle Sid were in deed a most peculiar couple. They were the first ever in Canada to import baskets from Eastern Europe, building over time a lucrative business, Bacon Basketware, particularly known for their willow sewing baskets lined in silk, usually bright red: before anyone else had considered how these goods might enhance or improve one’s living space. Yet Sid, our aunt’s second husband, who stood according to my mother “as tall as an arrow” , according to Jon, fancied himself a acome again Fred Astaire , dancing beneath the stars with a new paramour, his hair slicked back, smoking marijuana every night before bed. Marion and Sid’s marriage was superficially a romance, a rags to riches in Forest Hill, but laced with my uncle’s many betrayals that ended in divorce.

Although now described by Jon as not particularly generous, to my mother Sydney ( as he romantically referred to himself) was something of a godsend, rescuing her from days of drudgery by whisking her off to see a ballet once or maybe twice a year, my aunt always blamed for any impecunious attitude. Now it seemed, Sid was non too generous either, denying them a small amount when needed. He was a world federalist, a real communist, even briefly detained on Ellis Island for protesting the Rosenbergs, but later in life one of Moses Znaimers’ speakers in his extravagant symposiums. In deed, even as the last holdout at Sutton Place Hotel, Sid was an unforgettable character, his grand flourishes, whether purchasing Picassos or commandeering great pianists to perform at his extravagant birthday parties.

I was tarnished by my aunt’s favouring me : especially an extended trip to Europe when I was eighteen, travelling first class on The Queen Elizabeth to England and all over Scandinavia, exposing me to the life of culture and expense, yet also visiting day cares and synagogues. My father despised his sister’s “airs” so any similarities between aunt and niece were not to his liking. Yet I was invited to her soirées with film and television celebrities, and hours spent discussing the styles of artists formed a core of love deep in me for her as she made me feel special, even smart. Sid, on the other hand, was a somewhat shadowy figure, both of them eccentric, but he given to such exaggeration that he did not figure in my appreciation of them. Their daughters too were irrelevant to me as well, only my aunt special.

Still Marion’s return from an exotic trip was an opportunity for her to expound and explain at length on Sunday afternoons, describing in inflated minute detail the gifts she had chosen for us. Gathered at her feet, we were required to hear an unending provenance on some trinket whose story was not at all in proportion to what she was bestowing. But we sat quietly, her performance essential to her presentation. My father, barely able not to scoff, resented losing an afternoon that didn’t include music or cars.

During our reunion with my cousins in San Diego, there were threads about other members of the family, questions concerning why the family had returned from California: worries of polio or my grandfather’s involvement in unions. We brought Uncle Joe, my grandmother’s brother, back to life, the flamboyant auctioneer in Las Vegas, dying a pauper in Florida. But he too had dazzled me, showering us with gifts and those jewellery boxes with tiny spinning ballerinas. Mine still in my bedside drawer at home. Once I had even penned a poem to him. Jon mentioned Mimma Dvora and another Mimmas( aunts), only distant whispers and blurs from my past, he able to put a face to the person, no doubt even wizened even then.

And my grandfather Zaida Sam’s furious Romanian temper… chasing Jon around the table, Jon’s eyes lit with remembering Zaida’s face red hot and I too recalling how he had taunted my father into giving me the only slap I’d ever received from him; Jon’s own father’s deep relationship with my father’s: “ like brothers”, we knew. Some saying he preferred my father to his wife, Goldi credited with being an outstanding cook (although both Jon and Elaine did not support that pronouncement) and the eye witness accounts that I had heard told by my mother of the Friday nights of Zaida Sam’s family shmisses of cackling women, card games, all but blood relatives forbidden to attend: my grandmother Molly derided for her desire to be “ modern”, wanting a washing machine; my father’s potency questioned when polio had destroyed his limbs. Then memories of our cousin C. who when manic, broke into a government building late one winter night, seeking to know her “true” paternity; her stoic solid frumpy sister cutting off all communication with the rest of us when her mother, our aunt, set out her will.

We asked why Jon’s family had fled Toronto and I was reminded of the anti Semitic stance of the school board for hiring Jews. The quota filled, an opportunity for a music teacher at a school in Windsor had determined the fate of the family. Jon’s father was so loved by the community that Inuit sculptures were donated in his memory to the museum. But always memories of my parents’ big smiles and easy welcomes should Jon’s father come to visit. He and my dad became two boys huddled over some new piece of electronic equipment, scratching their heads, consulting consumer reports, searching out the cheapest avenue for purchase, consulting one another, dialoguing, engulfed in their company, enjoying their time , laughing- where my father hardly ever laughed. I always remembered Jon’s father not walking, but almost skipping along to the sound of the music in his head he conducted in the navy. My father adored him.

And new stories that revealed more of my cousin to me, such as moral dilemmas he faced as a doctor, making choices where although the answer might have been clear, the paths towards resolution not so much. He was always the premier contact, the scientific perspective before my parents sought medical advice elsewhere: “Call Jon”, someone would insist. Now too, I could talk easily with his wife, sharing creative pursuits, mother’s fears and wisdoms, a closeness never imagined previously.

These were stories like spider webs of people attached to our central core, relevant but several times removed or connected through marriages, stories that stranger than fiction concerned cartels, extravagance, and peril in South America, almost trysts. And to be sure we chased down the facts on Google, our eyes wide with amazement, thinking how our lives are inadvertently tied to bigger stories: as ours were when we stumbled into The Black Dog on Martha’s Vineyard and sat at the table across from Bill Clinton, Hillary, and friends. Or the night we dined with Charles and Diana on The Royal Yacht Britannia. Our tales lucky ships that passed in the night;, theirs permanent couplings of trains headed in the same directions.

There seemed a well of bottomless narratives that might dry up with the passage of time, tangled family bits one wanted to dislodge from the skein of years, untwisting them to locate personal relevance, a bit of me, a bit of you unknown or rediscovered in the tight tie of family history. All these stories in Jon’s head revived in two days to amplify and modify my own.

I cannot end this piece here because I anticipate that will continue…

Family Reunion

He was always Jon, never John, differentiating him from the common John, my eldest cousin Jon, his second name Howard, given him as a cover should he need to hide his Jewish last name.

It had been years and years since I’d seen him, but by chance he and his engaging wife Elaine were in San Diego so we were able to reconnect.

In the spaces that often separate people by year and location, we had heard the odd story of moves from Charleston to Nashville, job promotions, the family expanding: the kind of chatter old aunts discuss as they contemplate the “ what if’s” had the family stayed in the home town. Jon, the first born, had lived in the flat on Brunswick Avenue above my parents and the grandparents as people did, years and years ago, so his earliest days from the outset of my parent’s marriage had been entwined in my own history, but mostly my recalling his odd dinner with us as a student at U of T.

So an opportunity to meet, have conversations as adults was truly an event to be anticipated with excitement. And my cousins did just that, filling our time that expanded into hours and more pleasurable hours, together, recanting family stories, providing missing pieces, retelling the tales I had thought I knew, some tweaked, some only partly remembered, revised- and I sat in wonder at the recollections. There were additions and reworking of the strange and the bizarre, guffaws, noddings of agreement, some with open mouth surprise and sweet smiles of acknowledgement over the two days we walked, and talked, and rambled, and discoursed and wandered into one another’s lives.

These memories would not have been complete without focus on our shared aunt, Marion.Our Aunt Marion and Uncle Sid were in deed a most peculiar couple. They were the first ever in Canada to import baskets from Eastern Europe, building over time a lucrative business, Bacon Basketware, particularly known for their willow sewing baskets lined in silk, usually bright red: before anyone else had considered how these goods might enhance or improve one’s living space. Yet Sid, our aunt’s second husband, who stood according to my mother “as tall as an arrow” , according to Jon, fancied himself a acome again Fred Astaire , dancing beneath the stars with a new paramour, his hair slicked back, smoking marijuana every night before bed. Marion and Sid’s marriage was superficially a romance, a rags to riches in Forest Hill, but laced with my uncle’s many betrayals that ended in divorce.

Although now described by Jon as not particularly generous, to my mother Sydney ( as he romantically referred to himself) was something of a godsend, rescuing her from days of drudgery by whisking her off to see a ballet once or maybe twice a year, my aunt always blamed for any impecunious attitude. Now it seemed, Sid was non too generous either, denying them a small amount when needed. He was a world federalist, a real communist, even briefly detained on Ellis Island for protesting the Rosenbergs, but later in life one of Moses Znaimers’ speakers in his extravagant symposiums. In deed, even as the last holdout at Sutton Place Hotel, Sid was an unforgettable character, his grand flourishes, whether purchasing Picassos or commandeering great pianists to perform at his extravagant birthday parties.

I was tarnished by my aunt’s favouring me : especially an extended trip to Europe when I was eighteen, travelling first class on The Queen Elizabeth to England and all over Scandinavia, exposing me to the life of culture and expense, yet also visiting day cares and synagogues. My father despised his sister’s “airs” so any similarities between aunt and niece were not to his liking. Yet I was invited to her soirées with film and television celebrities, and hours spent discussing the styles of artists formed a core of love deep in me for her as she made me feel special, even smart. Sid, on the other hand, was a somewhat shadowy figure, both of them eccentric, but he given to such exaggeration that he did not figure in my appreciation of them. Their daughters too were irrelevant to me as well, only my aunt special.

Still Marion’s return from an exotic trip was an opportunity for her to expound and explain at length on Sunday afternoons, describing in inflated minute detail the gifts she had chosen for us. Gathered at her feet, we were required to hear an unending provenance on some trinket whose story was not at all in proportion to what she was bestowing. But we sat quietly, her performance essential to her presentation. My father, barely able not to scoff, resented losing an afternoon that didn’t include music or cars.

During our reunion with my cousins in San Diego, there were threads about other members of the family, questions concerning why the family had returned from California: worries of polio or my grandfather’s involvement in unions. We brought Uncle Joe, my grandmother’s brother, back to life, the flamboyant auctioneer in Las Vegas, dying a pauper in Florida. But he too had dazzled me, showering us with gifts and those jewellery boxes with tiny spinning ballerinas. Mine still in my bedside drawer at home. Once I had even penned a poem to him. Jon mentioned Mimma Dvora and another Mimmas( aunts), only distant whispers and blurs from my past, he able to put a face to the person, no doubt even wizened even then.

And my grandfather Zaida Sam’s furious Romanian temper… chasing Jon around the table, Jon’s eyes lit with remembering Zaida’s face red hot and I too recalling how he had taunted my father into giving me the only slap I’d ever received from him; Jon’s own father’s deep relationship with my father’s: “ like brothers”, we knew. Some saying he preferred my father to his wife, Goldi credited with being an outstanding cook (although both Jon and Elaine did not support that pronouncement) and the eye witness accounts that I had heard told by my mother of the Friday nights of Zaida Sam’s family shmisses of cackling women, card games, all but blood relatives forbidden to attend: my grandmother Molly derided for her desire to be “ modern”, wanting a washing machine; my father’s potency questioned when polio had destroyed his limbs. Then memories of our cousin C. who when manic, broke into a government building late one winter night, seeking to know her “true” paternity; her stoic solid frumpy sister cutting off all communication with the rest of us when her mother, our aunt, set out her will.

We asked why Jon’s family had fled Toronto and I was reminded of the anti Semitic stance of the school board for hiring Jews. The quota filled, an opportunity for a music teacher at a school in Windsor had determined the fate of the family. Jon’s father was so loved by the community that Inuit sculptures were donated in his memory to the museum. But always memories of my parents’ big smiles and easy welcomes should Jon’s father come to visit. He and my dad became two boys huddled over some new piece of electronic equipment, scratching their heads, consulting consumer reports, searching out the cheapest avenue for purchase, consulting one another, dialoguing, engulfed in their company, enjoying their time , laughing- where my father hardly ever laughed. I always remembered Jon’s father not walking, but almost skipping along to the sound of the music in his head he conducted in the navy. My father adored him.

And new stories that revealed more of my cousin to me, such as moral dilemmas he faced as a doctor, making choices where although the answer might have been clear, the paths towards resolution not so much. He was always the premier contact, the scientific perspective before my parents sought medical advice elsewhere: “Call Jon”, someone would insist. Now too, I could talk easily with his wife, sharing creative pursuits, mother’s fears and wisdoms, a closeness never imagined previously.

These were stories like spider webs of people attached to our central core, relevant but several times removed or connected through marriages, stories that stranger than fiction concerned cartels, extravagance, and peril in South America, almost trysts. And to be sure we chased down the facts on Google, our eyes wide with amazement, thinking how our lives are inadvertently tied to bigger stories: as ours were when we stumbled into The Black Dog on Martha’s Vineyard and sat at the table across from Bill Clinton, Hillary, and friends. Or the night we dined with Charles and Diana on The Royal Yacht Britannia. Our tales lucky ships that passed in the night;, theirs permanent couplings of trains headed in the same directions.

There seemed a well of bottomless narratives that might dry up with the passage of time, tangled family bits one wanted to dislodge from the skein of years, untwisting them to locate personal relevance, a bit of me, a bit of you unknown or rediscovered in the tight tie of family history. All these stories in Jon’s head revived in two days to amplify and modify my own.

I cannot end this piece here because I anticipate that we will meet and continue,  my cousin and me…

 

 

The State of the Union and other stories

Years ago Jerry Lewis used to host the Muscular Dystrophy Telethonon labour day weekend. Stars, celebrities ,sports people, big contributors would make their pleas to the audience, and we would be tied to our screens for hours on end. For some reason that weekend was almost always a rainy one so there was little to do but watch.

My father was taciturn and not given to outbursts , his strong opinions easily read in his handsome face. Yet inevitably ,he reacted to the telethon almost spitting out his contempt, for he despised the segments, the heart wrenching vignettes of children twisted and wasted by the disease. Not particularly sensitive, yet he was infuriated by the use of children to tug at viewers’ heart strings. He felt it was cheap and ignoble to use the frailty of others to raise money- no matter the cause; the end, in this case, not ever justifying the means. And sadly after so many years, still no cure.

I recalled my father’s revulsion at the exploitation of children watching The State of the Union last night as the stories of unfortunates, from welders to policemen to the parents of servicemen were commandeered for Trump’s political edification of self. Now more than ever is the age of individuals and their narratives, a way to open out the inner workings of persons who are different or special. People/ viewers/ readers are more tuned into first person revelations, considering experience almost as valuable as fact for research or decision- making: at least there is an acceptance, particularly in journals that these accounts can provide validity and credibility.

And truthfully The State of the Union, made for a good “ show” , a way to connect with the hearts and minds of an audience, for this person called president. Mindful of my father’s reaction and my own sensibilities to difficult passages in a life, I felt it embarrassing and demeaning to watch someone paraded out for reasons that did not know involve the person themselves. During this scripted for television affront, a small baby, the child of a drug addict presumably, conveniently named “Hope” was abruptly woken from her sleep, her cover pulled down to expose her as artifact, to thunderous clapping. She screamed, rudely brought out from the security of her mother’s chest ( who did look uncomfortable) used for unsanctimonious purposes: votes, popularity, the edification of the demigod.

In Hebrew school or history classes where the horrors of the past were included in the curriculum, we could turn our eyes away from the human skeletons, the naked starving children running from the hideous intrusion of napalm, the huddled, the dead laid out prone and butchered in fields and in the streets, the starved, the slaughtered…; however, we were being educated into the evils of the world, that never again would or should we have to confront the terrors and stupidity of the past, the wars; and the photos were burned into our consciousness. These to which I refer were photos and movies, and often ,too, in forums survivors of holocaust and genocide, although objectified in the former, did speak for themselves in the later, the stories from their own lips, relating the atrocities of their own lives. They sat with their audiences or if they stood before them, they, the subject or focus of their own stories, not a sideshow for the gratification of another- but last night, the false self congratulatory moves of a person who cares more for gilt than race, colour, infirmity or need, yet attempting to pose as empathetic, a caring human,( in between clapping for himself), using the pain of others for himself.

Of course, these “ special guests” last night were not forced to appear, to stand, to wave, to have their stories shared. Note, however: they did not tell the tales in their own way, in their own time, they allowed Trump’s speechwriters to frame their pain, their endurance, their American triumphs for his purposes. Most held back tears as they waved or involuntarily, a tear escaping from a tightly clenched smile. And perhaps most ironically with my mind returning to the scenes of the devastated in WWII, was it to watch the young North Korean man, his eyes overflowing, brandish his wooden crutches. And I pondered that these crutches are like a red flag, a provocation to another crazy dictator, igniting another reason to let flourish nuclear genocide on the world, causing the death, destruction, the need for more crutches for more amputees among fields of the tortured and dead. Such a circus, such a ridiculous game, such a cruel terrible provocation by a stupid stupid man- who will be locked safe in his golden cage as the bombs fall and destroy, lauding the need for smaller weapons of destruction. A utopian dream, he falsely dismisses.

Not surprising that most events today are showcases, the CNNs of catastrophe of the week- from the Las Vegas shooting to Hurricane Harvey: opportunities for hyperbole and the manipulation of human tragedy for money and political obfuscation. The human stories are in deed human, but just as Facebook makes every personal detail public so too the boundaries are crossed, putting out there to the millions who gawk and could care less the private stories of people who have suffered. Unlike Metoo, where the voices of all sing together, in protest to end human tragedies, what we witnessed last night, was used to fan the flames of an egomaniac who cannot be trusted to keep the world safe. These narratives were mere chess positions appropriated for the biggest and most terrible show on earth.

I believe in stories. I believe in people telling their own truths. I believe in the multiplicity and authenticity of voices that can rock the world, not their usage for a showmanship’s ulterior motives: one of destruction that although inspiring the façade of hope, momentarily and superficially, is beneath the surface, a tottering rotten platform for manipulation.

What’s Age Got to Do with It?

By the time you reach 70, you probably are aware of your various predilections. For example in California I do yoga and Pilates. My dear neighbour goes to a gym where she does a half hour of elliptical training. Which made my hips even more uneven and messes with my back. She also does a half hour of rowing. This seems to make sense to me and I imagine her in a jaunty striped sailor suit on the little rivers all over Holland where she is from. Another friend likes the jump, twist, moves of NIA where the exercisers dance away to the selection of tunes chosen by the instructor, most recently Hamilton. And often too, I observe at the community centre the hardcore circuit masters as they become part steely machine, their arms attached to pulleys , their feet pumping madly. I think of myself as the little girl in Grade 3 walking the sidewalk curbs, attempting to precariously balance like a circus performer but inevitably tripping and arriving home to my mother with knees gashed and bleeding for my efforts.

In my classes, we attempt, at least I do, to manage tree poses , standing on one leg, toes tucked into knees to form a triangle in yoga; or in Pilates, posed to keep one extended leg in opposition to one arm while precariously mounted on a box on a reformer. We’re advised in yoga to keep the four points or the tripod of the foot in contact with the floor but it’s not easy although many I can attest do perform these feats neatly and smoothly, their limbs not trembling like my jellylike parts to locate where the right and left will coalesce in peace. Makes me think of the Ralph Waldo Emerson line from eons ago of finding the middle path. But I was always more an excess person .

At a certain age after years of experimenting, we come to a point that we believe what works or is good for us. I try not to scoff at the young salespeople in Sephora who preaches the products that will make me wrinklefree in just two days. Others seriously maintain that a full month or longer is necessary to see results. There’s no use imploring them that is not the case, or wearing vitamin C in the sun will attract age spots. Usually it’s the smell, texture, familiarity of a product that keeps me coming back, or the illusion that I will return to a thirtysomething appearance. Silly me. So I’ve found ’tis better to listen to a diatribe( based on their studies???), than to vent my own experience. At worst they proselytize, at best they nod, no doubt thinking, “ whatever you say, old lady. “ So it is with how you like to present yourself to the world. In spite of its quirkiness, one fellow I knew only wore bow ties, even sending to Italy for the choosiest of silk fabrics. Did he imagine himself at a dinner party dining with royalty or the ironic clown commentator ?

And yet in my head I don’t feel like an old lady, even if I joke about my age as if it means something. In deed today I will try a “Silver Pilates for 50 Plus”, hoping it will work with my regime at home, constructed for me and my parts that have been worn away through years of living, in my particular group of misaligned body quadrants. Later I will survey the faces and bodies in this particular group, measuring myself against their agility, sags and smiles, eventually relaxing into a fabric where I, like they are the strands that curl and stretch to our instructor’s commands. But honestly 50?Does anyone today believe that 55 marks one as a senior, ready to laze on a couch and drift into the sunset?

.

For my birthday celebration party,I spied a white cotton lace dress by Chloe at Holts. Showing a picture of it to daughter number two, she queried why I would want something that looked like paper doilies? But worse yet loomed my mother’s voice in my head as I imagined her responding to the frills at the sides,” Pat, act your age”: a comment thrown at me once before when I had chosen a white lacy thing and yes, with modified batwing frills. As if lace and frills belonged only to the young! And yet too I am scrupulous of clothes that will hug the tummy indicating that time has softened its folds and bulges, or patterns so bright that they seem more appropriate to the schoolyard than a romantic dining spot.

In my mother’s mind, there was a certain age requirement for presently oneself to the outside world in good taste: when one should emerge from their boudoir appropriately, elegantly, nixing the extravagances of clothing the body, no doubt using Queen Elizabeth’s knee length sensible skirts as a guide. No point in pretending the tummy wasn’t as flat as it once was or the carriage as upright. I’d heard stories from her of the appearance of Easter bonnets in the Beaches in Toronto and when white gloves might appear- and disappear. I like to recall the Grace and Frankie episodes where the stunning Grace, Jane Fonda refuses to allow her young lover see her in bed before she primps. And I now know why Blanche only received her gentleman caller at night when the light was kinder to the landscape of her face.

So each time I tried on that birthday dress, I queried the salesperson to be honest, demanding an objective opinion, “Was it too young for me?” The answers were consistent: it’s fashion, not age, I was told. And in the end when the price was sufficiently reduced and I banished my mother’s voice, I bought it, no longer hearing her wise words in my head regarding the foolishlessness of my choice. And truthfully, I enjoyed wearing it, even forgetting the dress, and focusing on the surge of joy at my dinner party.

We arrive at a certain point and we are our own art product: of ourselves in terms of how we have crafted or recreated ourselves, bow ties, ruffles aside. Back in university psychology, the debate between heredity and environment had the newbies arrogantly aligning with environment as if every choice and context could inspire a new you, not dependent on granny’s genes. The bud only needed good food fresh water, vitamins and sunlight to not just bloom but shine. Only through the realization of all the self help books, the wisest of gurus, and the attempts to realign your body parts in the most positive of climes , but ignoring your own children’s similarities to their relatives, did we finally acknowledge that heredity undermines and holds one fast in its grip, as one is part of a clan, holding sorry secrets or wonderful surprises in the body. With resignation but acceptance, we comprehend that middle ground that marries the interplay of context, and understand that luck too can turn the sourest situation of family genetics sweet. I had to laugh at my sister who recently told me that those DNA tests advertised on television are able to reveal from which Biblical matriarch you are descended. Perhaps that is why some of us continue to enjoy watering camels. I responded with, quite incredulous, “Don’t you believe in evolution?” “ Of course, “she a student of science, responded.

Just yesterday, I read of a movie , Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool , in which an aging Annette Bening assumes the role of an aging actress who wants to play Juliet -to the smirks of the producer which might consider her for Juliet’s mature( read OLD) nurse. In our heads, we are still Juliets, and maybe we should be, dismissing the mirror for the voice of the soul.

TV Stuff

Last night I watched a show called Shameless on Netflix. My sister had suggested it, saying it was based on a British prototype. In the story, a drunken father,William R. Macy, and motherless tumble of children fare for themselves, the eldest in charge. The pilot I viewed was racy , with bare bums, oral sex performed on two brothers by a fifteen year old, the father brought home by cops, the discovery of pornographic material hidden under a pillow. It conjured for me books that I adored as a girl, those tales of family in which the mother was dead or missing and the children had to find their own way.Of course, back then, there were no episodes as vivid or glaring as what I observed yesterday, but there were the perils of surviving, finding your own way without any adult direction.

Although the sex is expected, it is made contemporary as one brother has homosexual leanings with his married Muslim boss who owns the local grocery. In spite of the caring next door black neighbour lady who happens to be a nurse, her live-in boyfriend and she enjoy kinky sexual relations, and the full frontal nude of him, privates splayed is no longer taboo. Yet these lower class barely surviving characters demonstrate cooperation, caring and deep consideration, even the family of children expressing outright love for the useless father who spends his disability paycheque endlessly drinking or sleeping in the middle of the floor. Simply put, he’s a brute and I doubt I will continue to watch this series.

The story of the destitute children is the same but pushed forward generations made modern through the addition of sexual innuendo and nudity, events made so commonplace and normalized that we hardly blink at the eldest sister -ersatz mother who dancing at nightclubs in a” borrowed dress” makes love with a boyfriend of an hour or so in the messy cluttered kitchen. She works umpteen jobs and watches over her sibs. Into this mess comes her Prince Charming who noting the broken washing machine delivers a new one.

I turned to Netflix because I was bored with the offering on the regular channels and here in San Diego there are over 5144 channels, in which you can watch in Spanish, give yourself a facelift, learn about cancer, dogs, stingray Jazz Masters,Buy a Bride, Eat a Bulaga, ( whatever that may be), catch up on Oregon ladies basketball and more useless esoteric matters that I doubt anyone truly cares about. And because we do not get Outlander here I will have to wait months to follow Clare’s travails between her loves separated by 400 years.

Here we finished The Crown, now knowledgeable about Jackie Kennedy’s apologies to Queen Elizabeth regarding her thick ankles. It was thrilling to see Elizabeth working out a way to avoid Ghana’s relationship with Russia by dancing with the president. More than a mere lover of her corgis, she is portrayed as thoughtfully grappling with political issues. She is direct and not moved by her prime ministers, Harold Macmillan and Anthony Eden.She does manipulate her sister Margaret’s life to Margaret’s unending scorn and resentment of her meddling sister. The very stylish Margaret careens from one bad choice to another. Yet we do empathize with her as artist Tony Armstrong’s mummy issues are revealed and his wild lifestyle is vividly presented.Philip as well shown is a recalcitrant philander, a good ole boy, but his treatment of sensitive hapless Charles is heartbreaking, particularly in Philip’s blackmail insistence to Elizabeth that his son endure the same rigorous horrid schooling that he did in Scotland. In spite of Philip’s own harsh and tragic family background, his demeanour was all ready coarse enough to triumph over difficult situations. Sadly, poor Charles succumbed, recalling his schooling at Gordonston as “ prison” and “ hell ”: as it is well depicted.Elizabeth stands by, unable and unwilling to change Charles’ circumstance.

The wonder of some shows is the new information the audience is now privy to. In deed when I googled the Jackie-Elizabeth dinner, I observed that the cast wore exact replicas of the original designer gowns and the conversations the tv viewers witnessed were pretty much the same although “ creatively” imagined. Certainly Elizabeth is humanized in these episodes, the problems and restraints of being a royal revealed. Claire Foy does an admirable job of presenting the tangle of a job few desire. Yet times change, and with the marriage of Harry to Meaghan Markle, one would love to be a fly on the flocked wallpaper, overhearing the discussions the dead- eyed Philip must be entertaining with his wife.

My children laugh that- give me actors in period piece costumes and I am happy. I’m only happy if the story is good and something new and interesting is revealed( OK, I do love lavish brocades and fabrics and styles, fashion ). When I saw Amistad, Borghum ,John Adams( with Paul Giammati), the Burns documentary on Vietnam Nam, Genius, stories that pierce the veneers we have been fed in the news – it’s as if I have discovered a delicious secret and that information now colours, explains, deepens or changes what I thought I knew. It’s the same in books when new information is disclosed.

Now I realize networks like Netflix do play fast and loose to attract viewers, events or details unearthed through research, diaries, memos, whatnot, previously not readily known: that intensifies the narrative. And truthfully I like that.

Another Golden Globe Rant and Ramble

These are such confusing times.Our grandchildren growing up must feel themselves on trembling ground. I cannot get the image out of my head of my own grandson going to bed the night of the U.S. presidential election, excited at the prospect of the first woman president only to awaken to his dismayed father who had to break the news: that the abusive host of the tv show, The Apprentice, the loudmouth insensitive lout, the one his brother cutely dubbed Donald Trunk had won. Incredulous, C.J. wondered why.

Similarly persons one has learned to trust, those granted authority and power are now brought to their knees for their abuse of power and people. Not just trusted doctors or CEOs, but the gods of movies who have inspired and defined what is altruistic, good and human on screen have been revealed as willing to subvert and ignore the values they have espoused in the best of drama and media. That talk of the casting couch was not a hidden secret or that factory foremen took advantage of their immigrant workers was just accepted and acknowledged as part of the work world: people seemed to know, but perhaps believed it a small part of the dirty gossip that was perpetuated to entice an audience in show biz , but even should it be likely true in other industries and institutions, it was the price of a job, the ticket to success or security. We always knew of bosses who took advantage, who spoke down and worse from their own tenuously elevated vantage points, but most of us workaday mortals in our ordinary places, even should we criticize, felt embarrassed to speak out, challenge and confront, except to one another, shaking our heads in mortification and helplessness. And do not forget, those scorned who were sufficiently brave to speak out, the Hester Prynnes ridiculed, ostracized, branded liars or paid off.

Yet truly there has always been right and wrong behaviours. We tell our children, don’t hit, don’t hurt, don’t bully, care and support your sister, your brother. Only when miscreants are called out into the public domaine, do they protest, grabbing at some excuse or absurd rationalization to excuse odious actions. As long as they could maintain their behaviour unaccosted, they persisted, even bragging at the outrages committed. And some even as lately as Jian Ghomeshi or Albert Schultz protest at the unfairness, at being misinterpreted or misunderstood, that their partners were willing, complicit, actively participating in the deeds.

But lately there has been a barrage of perpetrators whose accusers have bravely come forward. And been heard! And even taken seriously. Yet, in many’s disbelief, the head of state, Trump, has been shown with his own words to describe his own unconscionable immoral behaviour. Strange incomprehensible times for those growing up seeking role models, and learning what is acceptable or appropriate in society when such activities go unpunished.

Discussing the Metoo campaign, Howard and I wondered why now, how had the tipping point occurred so that women were no longer silenced, willing to grin and bear it. In deed at a New Year’s Eve party here in San Diego, one older man queried without any sympathy or empathy, why did they( those women) wait so long , some seventeen years to come forward; other men in the group shaking their bald heads in agreement. Brie Simpson, editor of The Jewish Journal dismissed those weak unfeeling comments in her December editorial. In fact, she wrote, every woman she knows has had a confrontation . I absolutely agree. If you were a woman, you were free game, a moving target under someone’s telescope, especially if you were cute, sexy, smiling, attractive or not, naïve…

We talked more about women in positions of power willing to speak out now, exposing more regular everyday relationships in which they were unwilling to accept disparagement or worse –and in spite of Margaret Wente’s column in which she differentiated diverse treatments by salacious men, as if a wink, a squeeze, a grope, a pinch, a hug, a kiss, could be tallied more or less against forceable sex, ignoring any unwanted touch is an invasion.

We considered our present day society where a person might be willing to walk away from a job, go hungry and just hang out, rather than tie themselves to indignities. In the old world, you worked, you worked hard, no matter what. You had responsibilities that had to be seen to, children to feed and because you believed yourself lesser than the boss, you just took it.Often you were an immigrant person, relieved to have escaped the perils of your country; congruently, if you were a woman, you had been schooled on being subservient, knowing your place, being sweetly accommodating accepting the crumbs off a man’s plate, not causing a scene. Today there is pushback, equality between men and women, races, genders, etc. so people reflect,” I have choices”( even if you do not). There is a feeling that you deserve more.As truthfully, we all are due respect. And no one should be put in that position, between a rock and a hard place in order to survive any relationship, in or out of the work place. As well, the understanding that the personal, the “I” is as worthy a voice as the omniscient “one, “or the impersonal “they.”And stories do possess truth, often conveying more than objective facts, speaking to a truer reality, one lived by an individual whose voice quakes, cries, shouts, and wants to impart authenticity.

As always I return to the postmodern death of the paternal , the concept of nation, the rise of the individual, the interest in self versus the group and/ or the country. I do not say the post modern is a bad thing, and in deed instead of blindly following, questioning the rule or reign of dictatorships and monarchies it is a very good thing to think independently. But here is the rub: we talk of co- operation, but how often are our colleagues too busy to help us out. We talk of multiple intelligences, but give standardized tests or underfund programs or access for the disabled.We do put ourselves first, thinking we are special. So the women’s night at the Golden Globes was a spectacular moment for women to stand together.

And as always, it is not an either- or split, us or them. The solution is a balance of consideration of personal needs along side the needs of our community, for we do not live in this world by ourselves. Metoo. What we propose for our family, should be the same values we espouse for our neighbours. Far from joining arms and swaying to Kumbaya, I am suggesting that tired old Golden Rule of do unto others ,choosing respect and responsibility over pride, money and the sweet surge of power should not guide our behaviour, and should have been the mantras of the men, men who definitely knew better, but wanted to take advantage of vulnerable, tentative situations, in order to satisfy a base need or desire. But as in all things, what is clearest and simplest morphs into something twisted and complicated as we listen to the cries of the accused, refusing to accept the indictments of those they have victimized.

The Golden Globes was, I hope , a line in the sand, Howard noting how radiant the women were, shining in their stunning black dresses, a true feeling of solidarity in speeches and close clasping, with even women leaders of agriculture and unions accompanying the stars. And Oprah was the star, incredibly beautiful in presence and her speech washing away all others, including Elizabeth Moss’s reading Margaret Atwood’s words by Offred, no longer willing to be in the margins of pages. Oprah was a show stopper, the focused moment befitting her work, her image, her story, her journey.

However, Oprah, readying a campaign for the presidency and all ready supported by her fellow Americans is an entertainer- unlike but as unqualified as the man in power now. Unlike Ronald Reagan, also a media personality, she has not been a governor, and her work – in Africa, with the poor, in many causes does not sanction her as a viable candidate. Does anyone recall her call out to the base instincts of “ a car for you..” or providing Jenny Mc Carthy a platform for her incredibly unscientific views on medical issues I too was awed by Oprah, her brilliant delivery and presence , but The Rock also is contemplating being on the ticket. Neither, of course ,has cut their teeth in political circles. And I say this with respect that glittering Oprah in her grass roots ways has improved the lives of thousands, but I want someone who has been educated and knows the halls of power intimately. But I am a Canadian, with our own showy prime minister, dawdling over our physical assisted dying law, doing photo ops with the rich and newly released from captivity, so although in comparison Trudeau appears to shine, he, unlike his father, has not moved the country forward .

As Gary Mason in the The Globe wrote in The Globe, along with a string of others, Where does governmental experience, actual participation in the realm, the know how of politics occur? Why do we go to college if not to prepare for our future professionals.Where is the role of experience, preparation, research, investigation , etc.? And yet in this confusing world of fake news, such a man as unqualified was elected – no question, Oprah might have been a wiser choice. In this new world, should we not at least, some of us laud the age old values: attempting to build a renewed world that melds some from column A , some from Column B. Where is the wisdom that comes from living, honouring and acknowledging the mistakes of the past: to avoid redoing them in the future?

And we cannot forget or dismiss those like Governor Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania who has stood with women to vote against ridiculous repressive abortion laws, or Governor Jerry Brown of California who openly decries the building the Mexican wall and environmental destruction and Elizabeth Warren…There are , I have to believe good people who have dedicated their lives to working in politics, fighting the good fight, upholding the values I want my grandchildren to emulate.

It is perplexing even for oldsters such as myself, but what of future generations of children, what will they say of these times? Stranger and stranger “, quipped Alice.

A Birthday Holiday

Holidays are the spaces between, yet as one ages ,retires from work, life becomes in a way, a holiday. Without the demands of bosses, assignments, prescribed hours, one is freer to chart their own course. For me, the transition between work and “ holiday” was difficult as I had anticipated that I would ease out of my work world, work part time because I enjoyed the sphere I was in: it was exciting to present internationally , write policy and impact on the lives of many. But choosing between a rock and a hard place, I finally decided to take retirement, searching for some consulting gigs, hoping that writing might take me into a new career- and it did – but only briefly.

But life offers surprises and a windfall wound up propelling me into a new phase, and so I was able to move my winters to California. California has been three years delicious. Having scouted out the environs for my Christmas birthday last year, we selected Palm Springs, anticipating warmer and hopefully drier weather than San Diego had experienced in the previous two years. Although extreme sickness almost prevented one part of our clan from gathering, our littlest rallied at the last minute, her sweet smile re- emerging sufficiently to endure a five and half hour plane ride.

We have never rented a cottage so I imagine this time together resembled a summer in Muskokoa by the water up north. In Palm Springs, by the heated pools and backed by mountains, we slept, ate and played together, three groups related by Howard and myself and marriage. It is a task to remain considerate for an extended period, but two wings of the house provided early morning quiet. Food choices varied, with vegans, picky eaters, gourmets and gourmands😜, but somehow we managed to find meals that seemed to meet most tastes from roast beef to pizza. We had incredible takeout freerange chicken( apologies to Paul who thought that all the white meat was gone), amazing burgers, the Russian lady’s premier attempt at roast beef delivered on our first night as holiday traffic took four tedious NEVER- ending, not two hours of travel to gather us all at our location; and Jordan’s most valiant attempt that night to scurry back and forth to numerous stores endlessly collecting each family’s emailed list: from cherry coke to cream cheese to lactaid milk.

Cooperation is always a key, and children were parented by those other than their own. We had a jigsaw puzzle by Florine Stettheimer of silly salesgirls tending their clientele at Bendels in the 1920’s so random people stopped and placed pieces at their leisure, satisfying a need for order and calm. On the tv, my son projected group games that incorporated group drawing and concocting huge lies, so we, attended by the oldest grandkid delighted to be up late late with the adults, giggled uncontrollably at outrageous answers.We gave ourselves outrageous aliases too.Early morning swims, occasional naps, impromptu meals, and of course, glomping around the damn IPad. So it went for five days, some family members dispersing to Joshua Tree National Park, the Annenberg estate, or dinosaur parks, tennis volleys, or Howard and myself disappearing to an art museum: interested in glass works by women. We wandered and walked, coming together and being apart, moving to our own individual beats.

It makes one wonder about the notion of a family, more than just being joined by blood lines, how caring and cooperation and respect play into a group. I suppose we maintain our ties because it is more or less expected in a family, but often we reflect that we have no choice over family ties, and would we in deed bond with the people with whom we are related. But as in any relationship, there will be aspects of people we admire or really annoy us and the challenge may be to dig deeper or merely keep one’s mouth shut to avoid confrontation. Sometimes difference of opinions does arise, but during our little respite, my family was, as they say “ chill”; several sulkily cooling their heels or tongues before flames destroyed the unity of the group’s dynamics, consideration for another’s view, thoughtful of avoiding danger of sparking a momentary destructive flame.

As a parent, I listened to the resurrection of childhood memories, of trips we took together, shared accounts, both good and bad, laughter overflowing, retrieved secrets revealed by now older adults, as a special times of foods and adventures, pinches and parfaits, Prague and Montebuono, not totally consumed in their memories in the blaze of days. As a parent, you watch, you stand aside and hope you prepared the ground for their experiences, sowing seeds so some might germinate into the people you aspired they might be, reinforcing the values you deemed the right ones. “But you never know”( as my wise mother used to harp) if what you have done made sense to a certain burgeoning personality, or if life has unwound its numerous perils and unexpected twists to allow for the implementation of lessons.

A book on Mindfulness I read awhile ago softly suggested that we did what we thought best years previous- so let it go, forgive yourself for what you now understand to have not been the wisest direction or action. This is easier written than accepted, for one thinks of situations inadvertently created or words shouted or conversely not spoken that might have made a difference. These are the barbs that in your quieter moments ping your heart, too late to remedy, reminding you of a person you don’t much like. And so, cowardly here, I do apologize for those times. One hopes that with age comes wisdom.

Yet in our home, we tried to foster the growth of critical, thinking, independent souls who would make their own way in the world. So in spite of Howard and my desires, admonishments( don’t run with scissors), our children insisted on and charted their own courses. All hardworking ,admirable professionals of whom we are extremely proud, I might add. And because they are my children, and I did not want to make a speech on my transitional birthday, I will tell them how now and here how deeply I love you all, “in my bones,”again as my mother would say. And thank you for all coming together, being together, on this special occasion, hoping that these five and more days will live in their heads as they will in mine: flowers that will continue to appear from time to time, reminding us that- when we’re back in our separate lives- that we are endlessly connected, cherished and always loved- each and everyone of us.

Reunion

Last night my California cousins breezed into town. Leaving the raging fires behind, their arrival heralded our first serious snowfall as they continue on their way to treacherous Jerusalem for a family celebration. We gathered at my sister’s for the visit. Good souls that they are, my cousins reconnected with relatives, the last surviving of their ( and my mother’s )family: one past 90 in a hospital, the other close to 90 as spry and interesting as she always was, barely a year ago setting off by herself to India. I always figured because she was French, she had a lot of style- and obviously longevity . And actually Berthe is family by marriage, and she has the edge. Still it is wonderful to hear that people of her generation are mentally and physically alert, vital and engaged. Gives one hope.

When we get together with the cousins who departed for warmer climes when I was 10, whether here or in California, our shared past inevitably comes up, but interestingly new stories are often added: or perhaps I’ve forgotten them- such as actually knowing that my eldest cousin accompanied my grandfather to the theatres where he designed the stencils for their walls. Maybe I knew, but forgot, that beside the swing in their house on Atlas south of Eglinton, there were troves of paint. I certainly remember Buddy the dog. And maybe even, I had heard about the pizza delivery man passing the forbidden treat to nephew and uncle through the basement window to avoid my grandmother’s detection. I guffaw to recall that my grandfather actually tasted and enjoyed shrimp, a most unkosher delight.

I recall to my other cousin the terrible purple and black check coat and beret type hat complete with hideous pompon that I loathed to wear to school, trudging resentfully in my cousin’s handmedowns to WestPrep. And perhaps that was the reason I vented my misery on my younger sister whom my mother finally agreed to allow walk herself to school so I wouldn’t use a scarf to lasso her around her head, and drag her here and there on that perilous journey. As I sit here maybe 60 some years later, I can feel the anger in my body of having to shepherd my sib in that ridiculous clown coat. I suppose even then, I was aware of the importance of pretty clothes uplifting the spirit.

We review our shared past, the stories distorted or believed true by individual members of the family. We laugh, shake our heads at the incongruity of the narratives my cousins are privy to during this brief stay. In our postmodern world we now realize that each storyteller believes his or her perspective of abuse, inequalities or slights to be the correct one, their particular bias informing their view on familial relations.We chortle at the realignments that we think bear no resemblance to the ones we have grown up and old on. Still we laugh, open- mouthed at a tall tale about an apartment building.

My sister produces some of my mother’s old photographs: first husbands and wives are recalled, and we debate who the little boy might be held by the neck by our grandmother in a shapely brocade dress and hat with a veil in a formal bar mitzvah picture, but even the names of Uncle Abe( who lost a leg when it was run over on a Brooklyn Bridge), and his second wife Ethel do not shed light. For the very first time I see Uncle Marks who came first from Europe, went to Boston and became a senator, his wide white moustache suggesting a bandito. I mention the family star, a second or maybe third cousin, definitely removed😜,Howard Shore, international musician, composer of numerous films scores, but he is discussed without surprise or envy, just another relation, son of Bernice and Mac , sister to Frances, Thelma, Irving and Sylvia. My sister contributes,” Terry just died”; who is Terry? I ponder. I recall my mother telling me Mac and Bernice started “ Gift’o’Fruit” so many, many years ago.

When the original family name is recalled, I explain that in fact, we are pronouncing it in correctly, for our explorations at Pier 21 to discover the true dates of our family’s arrival were futile. Futile until a Nova Scotian librarian activist produced a book that inventoried Jewish Polish names so that we could identify through the ship’s manifest the boat, the SS Amsterdam, our grandmother, mothers and aunt’s names and descriptions that had been tallied eloquently in fine penmanship. To this documentation, I remember my mother relating how painful the metal combs pulled through their hair were, digging deeply into scalp as the guards checked heads for lice. But as well, she would recall the red, red tulips they glimpsed at the port of Holland.

We note the number of cousins intermarrying in the shetl in Poland, responsible for the disease of “ the shakes” passed on even into this generation. We collectively shudder at what might still await us by this incestuous gene pool. Hopefully marrying beyond the village gates in Canada and the US has weakened the passage of such diseases.

But if the old or regenerated tales are the sand through we sift to find our common shells, we only begin in this way to rekindle the feeling we shared as energetic cousins thrown together because of blood, strange in a way because our mothers were not close at all. And yet the strong bonds developed as kids are real, we still wanting to be in each other’s lives. The famous stories of Sunday visits or Passover hoopla in the basement while grown ups droned on upstairs are legend, Allan the leader of the kids, commanding the battles between stuffed animals and rubber soldiers, the rest of us , rolling on the floor or jumping up on the bar. My visits to LA as a grade 10 student alone , changing trains in Chicago , with my lacquered hair and pink polyester pants newly purchased at Eatons ,still sharp in my head, and with the languid days roasting in a yellow pockadot two piece on Hermosa Beach, or riding on the backside of a motorcycle were the stuff of adolescent dreams, rescuing me from my dreary life where my existence of nose cosies, and shapeless winter wear dragged me down.

Best of all, we continue where we left off so many years ago. As we survey our wrinkles, curly hair, grasping one another close, we re view the past but also look forward to continuing our presence in one another’s lives. In an art review today a critic refers to Shari Boyle’s “ bridge art”, saying “[i]t’s work that identifies and reinforces our connections; ancestral legends, family histories, psychological landscapes, our struggles, fears and desires: The stuff of being human”( Chris Hampton, the Globe and Mail, December 14, 2017). These meetings with people we love and happen to be related to are like that, part of our personal tapestries bound by the the shared, lost and retrieved narratives- precious and binding ribbons. How lovely to be related to these treasured personalities.

Grappling

With the advent of my birthday celebration in Palm Springs, I’m trying to compose a little speech, but all that comes to mind are the usual platitudes: I’ve lived a good life, pretty well done whatever I desired, travelled, had an excellent marriage, and am exceedingly proud of my offspring; and what matters most is my family, the love I feel for them. Although timeless and true, pretty boring stuff.!The people at my dinner, I hope, will all ready know that I express these truths in my own unique way.

When my elder daughter had her bat mitzvah, I could discourse on her talents and how like a seedling that is cared for, offered environments, opportunities, nutrients and love, she had blossomed. When my son was married, I used the metaphor of a string of pearls-that there are the momentous times that stand out like the gleaming lustrous gems that draw attention, for example, the day you fall in love or are married-but the strands that hold the necklace together, the everyday events are likewise significant, and we need both to keep the necklace together. Perhaps my best oratory was my mother’s eulogy in which I surveyed her life as an immigrant girl chased down the streets with the incantation,” green horn, tin can, five cents apiece” to her fortitude when my dad succumbed to polio along with her roasted chicken loving prepared on Friday nights. After the funeral, someone told me he had heard JFK debate, and my little speech only came second to his remembrance. Incredible praise. The attending rabbi who tried to calm me before I spoke, nonetheless at my conclusion demurred,” You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”

My work at OCT involved presentations and I worked extremely hard to craft them, some lasting two days . I drew on a variety of techniques to engage my participants: from examples of paintings to closed eye visualization and response writing to direct talk. And although I am a shy, reticent and a somewhat withdrawn personality, I could perform like an actor turning on , heightening, even dramatizing key issues, with an aim always of engaging my audiences in my presentations. I could tell by the way I held their eyes whether I had been successful or not. If I am boastful, I can attest that my work at the College, particularly in working with the faculties was well done. And I am proud of those days: prompting them to make a connection with their own experiences, encouraging their reflections and offering new information for their consideration, as well as interactive activities in which they could relate new information. It was exhausting but stimulating work. In New Brunswick once, a government official remarked how different my private and public personas were.

Hardly surprising, I recoil from attending holiday functions , for I do not know how to make cocktail chatter chatter, and should an unfortunate guest decide to converse with me, I will not move away from their side, stuck like glue, babbling away, just to avoid not having to begin the process all over again.My mind flies back to those lunchtime tea dances in junior high, a single wallflower unable to vacate my spot in the gym, totally exposed in embarrassment as a misfit.

But at my tiny birthday soirée, I will ,of course , I hope be familiar to my small guest list, delighted to be with those I cherish most on this planet so I shouldn’t worry about a speech. , to pass on wisdom?, to say something they will recall when I am gone😳.In deed as it is being held in a restaurant, it might be too noisy for a few words to be heard anyway . Yet, there is a need to express in a memorable way something of import, as words whether written or used in my professional life, speak to the essence of who I am, and who I have been. Yet, perhaps because what I feel is so deep, I am unable to dislodge the entrapping emotions and put them out into the light of day. Still I fret for providing a way of sharing in speech and elevating it to suggest my heartfelt meaning.But likely, my contribution will be limited to A nod, a hug, a glance, a smile, a way to convey what is at the core of me that frankly eludes me in my imagined speech.

I am reminded of my parents’ childhood admonishments, “You don’t have to say EVERYTHING you know, Pat,” particularly when I divulged family secrets.” Think before you speak,”I was reminded often- as if my loose lips could sink ships. Ironically my work was to commandeer words to my students, and later at OCT in the formation of policy and the development of the standards into clear, concise language with words that ultimately conveyed meaning. And now as I write my blog, I describe events that as a boomer I continue to note on an ongoing basis.

Still, I am bereft of words for my own special occasion, and maybe that is the way it should be, for I hope I am more than just words, good or bad, some thoughtless , I admit. but a being who has tried to touch the lives of those who have granted me access to their souls here and there, allowing me to share their space, their dreams, their thoughts. No words can approximate.

In the end, love takes multiple shapes.

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