bloggingboomer

A fine WordPress.com site

Archive for the month “October, 2016”

Here I Am :Jews in America

Books that have Jewish connections have always appealed to me. As early as kindergarten and only subliminally aware what being Jewish even meant through family dinners and Sunday school, I was drawn to stories that featured families that somehow conveyed to my developing brain that there was a connection, something “yiddishkeit.” Early walks with my mother to the library resulted in finding scary tales of the holocaust and children who were abandoned or hidden. Soon followed Anne Frank and her bravery. Eventually Bernard Malamud, Chaim Potok, Saul Bellow, E.L. Doctorow, Joseph Heller, Elie Weisel and Philip Roth, among many others were my predilection for gleaning the face of Jews of the diaspora, these authors American who had lived knowledge of the “Der goldene medina”–the land of gold.”

Canadian versions of immigration from my parents’ quiet talk concerned a subtle anti-Semitism with shocking references to “ dirty Jews”, number restrictions in the professions and an alignment with any who had broken through the Jewish barrier to be acknowledged without any slur to their religion. Forest Hill-where I attended school although our store was perched at the farthest edge of the public boundary- celebrated more Jewish holidays than I knew existed and the population was almost 100% Jewish. So in spite of the wealth and airs of the country club kids and their summer camps, there was a safety in numbers and a push towards the student body making their mark in the world and not being defined by religion.

For whatever reason, Roth spoke to me of a contemporary American (and Canadian ) experience relatable to my personally alienated condition of life. Goodbye Columbus presented the misfit, the worries, the search for the American dream, all part of my own growing up and awkwardness. My Jewishness was not overt, but it was there. Brought up with traditions that forbade mixing milk and meat, eating pork, being a mensch, giving anonymously and feeling insecure, particularly about my curly hair, along with a need to know who might hide me should another pogrom or holocaust erupt, Roth’s scenes felt familiar. So throughout my life, I followed Roth, sometimes growing away from his exaggerations and hyperboles, but occasionally embracing them. In deed, much much later, I was caught breathless when he published American Pastoral, now a film I refuse to see- lest it dislodge the strong images he has engrained with words in my imagination. What shook me in American Pastoral was his depiction and the demise of The American Dream. If The Great Gatsby was the apostasy of the dream, American Pastoral was the crushing ruin of broken America in pieces, perhaps our own contemporary reality of the ruination of unattainable dreams, racism, and discrimination. In shock at the dissolution of the family and by extension America, I grieved for the loss.

Jonathan Foer is a worthy successor to Roth. His most recent book Here I Am is much like the proverbial stone that ripples outward and poses so many essential questions, wherein personal crisis stands in for the public one. Jacob Bloch, the protagonist is first an everyman representative of the metrosexual who is a sensitive, loving, a hard working screenwriter. He too is a Jew, a Jew in America whose Jewishness is as familiar to me as is his privilege in society, his wisecracking irreverent humour ( he wonders if the Germans will run out of “ guilt and lampshades”), his listening to NPR podcasts, his support of civil libertarianism, his Vitamix, his Ball & Farrow paint, his upscale home in Washington, D.C. There he espouses the markers of Jewish life: bar mitzvahs, the two days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur at synagogue, family suppers celebrating minor holidays, a certain lapsing devotion to one’s parents, kvetching, questioning, sarcasm, and a loose relationship with Biblical stories from Hebrew school. He is a familiar face of a certain kind of non-observant Jew still governed by the tales and traditions of his faith.

Somewhere between the holocaust and the creation of Israel as the safehaven for the Jewish outcast and the wandering American Jew stands this story, the novel caught between a sadness for the relatives one can never know and Israel the tenuous land where one will never live. Foer’s ripples extend from Jacob’s progenitors to his sons and then on to his cousin Tamir, a sabra who lives in Israel.

What does the Jew in America look like? He is indistinguishable from anyone else. He eats bacon and shrimp, protests unjust causes, cares deeply for his children, is careless about his email, ponders putting down his dog, and worries a lot. But because his heritage is Jewish and Foer the writer is too, there is an embediness of Jewish schtick, the Woody Allen angst in much Jacob does. He is a likeable man in spite of his technological sloppiness and his self awareness that makes him try over and over again: to get it right. Much like Sisyphus, he rolls the stone up the hill, only to be dragged back down to the bottom of the heap. He confronts his fears, as early as the night before his own bar mitzvah, jumping into the lion’s den at the zoo like the Biblical Daniel, the intensity of the moment surpassing almost all others. Yet he laments to Tamir, regretfully,“ I am smaller than life.”

He wants to believe that his son Sam has not written inflammatory words in Hebrew school and champions him. He engages in truthful conversations with his other sons, attempting not to scare or scar them. With Julia, his estranged wife, he practices how to explain the marriage separation to the boys. Unable to fulfill Isaac’s, his great grandfather’s, last wish to be buried in Israel, Jacob sits beside the corpse for days, a responsibility usually fulfilled by Jewish others at the funeral home. He assumes the burden of putting down Argus, rubbing the animal’s stomach to ease him to sleep. And because Foer adores lists, when Jacob tells the reader about the times he will not forget, the last “times” the tiny details of our lives are noted, they resonate with our experiences, particularly with our children as babies, toddlers, and adolescents: the last bath, the last bedtime, the last bedtime story, the last whiff of an infant’s head.

But this is more than just a story about Jacob as it moves outward into America and gives us Israel. Like Roth, who teaches interesting information in American Pastoral such as how to make a glove in his factory in Newark, New Jersey, so Jacob a student of language also tutors us. He tells us that a group of swans are a “lamentation”, hummingbirds a “glittering,” orioles a “radiance.” After all, he is a storywriter, but also an enquirer, curious and wanting to learn, even writing a novel based on his family.

The stories of Jews are here too. At Isaac’s funeral, the young rabbi in running shoes with laces undone, surprises Jacob with his insight and visits to his grandfather, his eulogy focused on the Bible: what did Moses do with the broken tables hurled down from the mountain when he saw the golden calf used for worship? Why did Pharaoh daughter spy Moses in the bullrushes? What is Jewish crying like?

We learn there are three ways to mourn: with tears, silence and song, each proper in its own time and place. The word Israel comes from the root “ to wrestle”, a theme that we attach to Jacob’s manner of dealing (or not) , and are reminded that Jacob’s name in the Bible was changed to Israel when he wrestled with the angle; and even in Max’s bar mitzvah speech, he reflects, “What we don’t wrestle we let go. Love isn’t the absence of struggle. Love is the struggle”. The emphasis on words, writing, miscommunication, word games and the need to communicate paramount in this novel.

Later when the prime minister of Israel summons Jews from around the world back to the homeland, he picks up a shofar and blows. The Biblical story of Abraham having to choose between sparing his son or responding to G-d is the backdrop to this novel. When G-d calls out to Abraham, he answers, “I am here”: the same words that are the title of this book. Abraham willingness to sacrifice what is dearest to him is also recalled by Jacob’s admission that he has too much love for happiness, that his love overpowers being happy for his children. Cousin Tamir asks,” You find such complicated ways to say such simple things”, but life for Jacob is incredibly complicated. And there are so many questions that this novel does pose: do we maintain tradition just for the sake of it? Are words so much more powerful than deeds that they should destroy a marriage? What role does Israel actually play for the Jew of the diaspora? Is it neurotic to love one’s children so deeply? Which choices are the right ones…

The novel is a meditation of sorts on loving one’s children, and how we must let them go. Sam’s bar mitzvah speech works out a compromise as he explains that unlike Hamlet’s question, to be or not to be is NOT the question. The question is “to be” AND “not to be”. The carefully drawn children are believable as they disregard their parents, mock them, experiment and find themselves. Sam’s extensive explorations into masturbation with rice pudding, “alien green aloe vera” among other substances and his desire to construct ( and demolish) a synagogue through the machinations of his female alter ego avatar on the internet’s, Other World, are likely the stuff of adolescent boys, even recalling Roth’s Portnoy’s fantasies.

The seemingly calm Tamir, Jacob’s cousin is his foil. Hairier, less worried about social niceties, out right brash and concerned for the fulfillment of the present, especially Israel, Tamir puts his own life on the line in the fight to save his country as does his son Noam. Tamir and Jacob, along with Sam and Noam, are two sides of the same Jewish coin, the one who stays; the one who goes, repeating their fathers’ and grandfathers’ legacies. In spite of the macro-conflict occurring in his life, Tamir patiently and kindly listens to Jacob’s micro-conflict with his wife, the destruction of the family paralleling the bombardment of Israel by a united Arab front when an earthquake happens there to destabilize the country.

Alex Clark in The Guardian speaks to “ the fetishizing their inner lives… that flirts with taboo and exposure.” In this way and others, I think of Jonathan Franzen’s books, most recently Purity in a desire to connect with one’s family, the intrusion of technology, casual relationships, over indulgences in today’s world, and an over-engagement in meta analysis. At the start of Foer’s novel, Jacob and Julia play word and mind games, wanting to identify what is bigger on the onside than the outside. Likely it is this over thinking, the abundances of thinking about too many choices and their consequences that leads them into the dark night of separation: regretfully, this is our society today, one that lauds multitasking and unriddling riddles, with a backdrop of oldsters, the baby boomers, wishing for a simpler time: when kids could cross the street and not worry about the pedophile or car rage- or the absolute best face cream or nursery schools for their kid.

Foer’s novel has been criticized but also praised, and by non-Jewish critics as well. It touches a deep chord on more than one occasion, promulgating the “ what ifs” and causing the reader to reread or lay the book down and actually think about something that Foer has thrown into the “eruv”, what he describes as a space in Hebrew as cordoned off, differentiated from the public into private. I like how Foer teaches me stuff, even Bible stuff. He’s not a self-hating Jew, or a particularly Jewish Jew. He’s an American with Jewish problems. He is a representative protagonist in American literature who deserves more than a glance, Jew or not.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Even my week in San Diego cannot escape Trump

For a fall getaway, we fly to San Diego. Although one has to endure the bone crushing Rouge Flight because it is a direct flight, we always emerge from those five hours a bit shorter and in my case, slightly grumpier.

However, once here, I relax my shoulders and sigh, “Ahhh.” San Diego has come to be associated in my mind with a break from reality of everyday life at home. Of course one takes with them some of the baggage of the world: as in the Blue Jays’ final bid for supremacy in the realm of ball teams and the American election. Recently even away, I’ve been reading interesting commentaries and analyses on these games of thrones.. In particular both Margaret Wente and Mark Kingwell’s in the Globe had insights.

Wente talked about a change in attitude towards women. She described in her piece how her workplace long ago included unwanted advances towards her as a woman, and this male behaviour had -if not been acceptable, been openly tolerated. I too recall a bid for a job where the interviewer also went beyond polite questioning. Wente did not at the time complain and neither did I. Back in the 70s, we would have been scoffed at, encouraged to suck it up and act like a big girl and take it. Obviously today, that overreaching behaviour is no longer acceptable and loudly women cry out loudly “foul.”. Yet the women who did speak out against Trump were berated as “ fiction” on national television, and another woman Hillary Clinton was lambasted as the conspirator who had initiated the stories? Shades of Watergate paranoia? Or more likely just paranoia. However, no one believes this boy who continually cries wolf. His comments are only extensions of his attacks on Rosie O’ Donnell and no one , I consider, actually believes he did not take liberties.

Even a subdued Melania dressed in black did not rush to the stage to kiss Trump on the eve of the third and thankfully final debate. I foretell, maybe fancifully, her embarrassment to be tied to this awful, awful man and I would not surprised if the Donald is soon searching for another beauty queen to take her place. Yet her fixed face at the archbishop’s roast may hide her disgust at both candidates.

Others have also commented on Trump’s name calling, his abusive hovering( in debate two), his reactive rather than thoughtful responses. Truly Wednesday was not to be called a debate. For a moment, my mind wandered to FDR and how he had had to repair and rebuild America, and how that powerful businessman did it by not mongering fear or throwing panic and inciting violence into a devastated population. His new deals and creative supports did grow the economy but his attitude, his knowledge and desire to build substantiated his character and helped soothe a tattered population.

 Here in Trumpland ,we have so much lesser human, a whining bit of humanity who cries foul should the ball be taken away from his greedy hands. To accuse the media of rigging is disingenuous for someone who has profited and manipulated the media for his own advantage for his entertainment property, The Apprentice. My thoughts when running over him are ironically cliches: my way or the highway; take your ball and go home, might over right, etc.

This bullying figure rarely puts together three coherent sentences, although the childish muttering of “ nasty” or “ liar” shake of the head connotes for any parent, an angry little boy who wants his own way. Refusing to acknowledge Hillary in a successful bid for the presidency, the petulant child cries , “ Just you wait and see”, as he stamps his feet and assumes an indignant puffed up presence of the adder who may just have other ugly plans to be played out.

What has bothered me greatly is referring to the present president as “Obama” without the prefix. There is a disdain , a rudeness here, a lack of respect reminding me of an episode on the Australian Netflix series Rake in which a high school teacher protests that no one says what they mean and language has become meaningless. For his efforts and confusion, the series’ character winds up jailed! In the presidential reality show, this antagonist in his single syllable words cares little for the impact of his words, throwing them carelessly at the target he deems appropriate. I do not dismiss Hillary either. She is a politician and one in many many cases not to be lauded or grievously to be totally trusted , but when must choose between the devil and the deep( more cliches!), one swims madly for someone who at least has experience saving women and children in a boat that is tottering but more or less stable.

Trump thinks himself beyond the law, as in not accepting whoever the new president will be, but also in enacting civil behaviour for, if I disagree I need not follow the protocols. At one point last night he struggled to find the correct expletive for Hillary , struggling to.finally with much distaste, blurt out ” this….person”.This behaviour is so unacceptable. People who would be role models must behave as such.With the breakdown in dress, language and standards, not surprisingly, teens on buses and subways, heads plugged into devices, do not yield their seats to older travels, or allow the door to slam on women with baby carriages, aware only of their own egos and ignoring the space of others. And that is just one example. Think of plagiarism , of bullying…

So I had begun this blog with thoughts to share on the beauty of Solana Beach, its charming coves where the high tides races with your toes, the delightful breaks with friends over the deep rich Peet coffee I prefer to Starbucks, contemplating our new Mexican alebrijes in our little condo, the glorious blue of the sky and perfect weather, but sadly we cannot escape the world. Even as I furiously knit a red cape for my granddaughter, it does not avert my eyes from life that comes to us through the press and television so we in spite of ourselves we stay connected. And this piece is yet another diatribe against the evils in the world. Ironic, isn’t it?

Magical thinking, suspension of disbelief be Trump-ed

Magical thinking, suspension of disbelief be Trump-ed

What I hate most about myself is my belief in magic: that life will replicate fairytales and all bad, evil, and terrifying will end happily ever after. It makes me gullible and results in cynicism, for when life proceeds as it does, I, am crushed, saddened and angry. Who taught us that we would eventually gasp at silver linings and bouncing pink lambs? Certainly the holocaust tales I savoured as a child did not forecast miraculous resurrections to parents lost or burnt, and even the three pigs did lose their houses of sticks and straw. Where did I imbibe this penchant for gold at the end of rainbows? What is it about me that yearns to put my faith in places that turns out as life does: some good, some bad, most so- so.

Back as a student in third year U of T, daydreaming in classes I must have somehow alighted on Coleridge’s mantra of willing suspension of disbelief. Stated by Coleridge in one of his tediously verbose books of criticism that I likely only skimmed, ”…. so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” True enough, he was thinking about literature and the banishment of superstition and witches and the supernatural as once acceptable forces in the 18 th century. Ironically as he pushed medieval and shetl superstition further away, he and the Romantic poets opened the door to another ‘ imaginative’ way to perceive the world with a passion for nature and believing in a pantheistic spirit, allowing for a viewer’s eye that saw beyond the foliage of rustling trees, deeply, connecting one to the great beyond of G-d, of Beauty, of Truth. Keats’s ode on a Grecian urn froze but extended the meaning of the racing figures carved into the sides of the pot so he could write, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. (lines 46–50)

Wordsworth’s reverie on the woods taught him about himself and the world around him. To escape the noisy, bustling cities, the result of the first industrial revolution, he took to the countryside, to find solace. These magical moments, are escapes from a world too much with us” he penned .

Ironically, the present day political race between Trump and Clinton satisfies my needs for diversion in a strangely complex way. From the start Trump for some of us was a terrible possibility – as we yearned for the Camelot of Kennedy or the clever honest machinations of even Lyndon Johnson. Barack Obama was a star that somehow entered and won the race and brought with him healthcare, even as it appeared not fully realized. But the race between the businessman and the standoffish unlikable but experienced Hillary made me wonder at a world where two such unsavoury characters might clash and yet one take hold of the reins of the country to the south of us.

I used to believe Canadians were wiser, more thoughtful and less brash than the folks in the US, but last weekend we visited our daughter in Philadelphia and were confronted by a fact that pierced our illusion. Sitting at breakfast we began to chat with a pleasant man at the next table. The tv in the room was turned to CNN and the latest Trump fiasco was interrupting and spoiling our waffles and coffee.. The man beside us explained he was one of our First Nations from Canada, but having inherited a farm in Pennsylvania he was now an American. Disparaging of other aboriginal people who were still complaining of their treatment by “ a few colonials who passed through” his hometown, he was now a businessman. And he was voting for Trump, that the personal and public personas were different and in spite of the media’s love of inflaming any news story, his vote was for Trump. I mentioned The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, which I had just finished reading, and he didn’t exactly scoff. Similarly a very nice border patrol agent a few months earlier had also affirmed his support of Trump. Although Hillary was no light at the end of the tunnel, how could these people actually take a chance with this megalomaniac. Once again my heart sank and I considered whether I should run into the woods as Wordsworth did or imagine myself into a field of roses.

Trump’s new repulsive business( language) regarding women appears to have turned the tide although from the outset Trump’s behaviour, his ignorance and arrogance has been for me consistent. My husband says in American politics, this is “The October Surprise”- although it may be a surprise for Trump, it is not for the rest of us. Yet as has been noted by many columnists, the dramatic split in the States between voters may eventually herald a Donald clone.

Last week’s Globe reviewed a book by Daniel Levitin that caught my eye as it seemed to target the rhetoric that has made Trump a candidate for president . What Trump appears to do according to A Field Guide to Lies:Critical Thinking in the Information Age is to provide the appearance of truth. Because of economic inequality( how the disenfranchised could believe that Trump will level the playing field for them is way beyond my imagination!),the tweetable quotes that take precedence over facts extend an atmosphere in which everyone’s view resonates credibility. Much as celebrity endorsements or disparagement do with the public and some still insist as Jenny McCarthy did, that vaccines cause autism. Levitin refers to this as basic logical fallacy: B happens after A, therefore A causes B. NOT.

Perhaps too, the sensationalism of the media propels the truth into hyperbole or the loss of any truth has been reinterpreted by any one’s take one it, changing and perverting the facts.Therefore, if the news is circumspect with its outrageous “ flashes” and blinking lights, the converse quiet fearful thoughts of Everyman is also truth. Levitin says, “ We’ve grown quick to outrage, quick to form online lynch mobs: we trade our opinions and “ facts” as though they were beads at a bazaar.” So Trump’s denial that he did not vote for invading Iran or his regret at the loss of housing for the poor somehow stands as truth even though the record, the emails, the actual proof counteracts his lies. Yet his supporters accept what they want to believe:, reality, truth, facts be damned. Like my magical thinking that only occluded the truth as I hide in my imaginary fields of frolicking lambs beneath rainbows.

The demise of Trump, Clifford Owen from University of Toronto, suggests in The Globe October 13, will be missed, he suggests. His presence in the media, the caricature, our loathing, his place as scapegoat ave become a preoccupation, a diversion for many, particularly the civic minded, watching a new soap opera unfold. Some, I imagine, have blocked it all out, deciding not to vote and escape into their own mental reverie. ). Rabbi Elyse Goldstein from City Shul in her Yom Kippur speech addressed the impact of the media. She targeted peoples’ readiness for diatribe, not discussion and the inability to listen to the perspectives of others, thereby engaging in thoughtful debate: what Bahtkin referred to as the dialogic conversation wherein people actively listen and build on the other’s utterances. However, no matter what, as exemplified by our breakfast mate, some will follow him to the end and support Trump’s sneers that everything has been rigged against him, been manipulated by the media intent on lambasting and dishonouring the celebrity of the celebrity. Rather, these are “ tale[s]…told by an idiot . Full of sound and fury.Signifying nothing( Macbeth, Scene v)

No wonder Keats, Wordsworth and the others when the world became too much with them fled to the woods to contemplate the beauty in the trees. The madness of Trump makes one want to turn back and embrace the suspension of disbelief.fluffy clouds and billowing curtains, all.
 

Tags:Levitin, Keats, Wordsworth, Trump, Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian, Clifford Owen, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, City Shul, Bahktin, dialogic, Macbeth, Globe and Mail,A Field Guide to Lies:Critical Thinking in the Information Age, Jenny Mc Carthy, Yom Kippur, October Surprise., Keats, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, holocaust.
Categories  

Beginnings and endings at Rosh Hashana

T.S. Eliot once wrote

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time. ( The Four Quartets)

The season of autumn is perhaps correctly dubbed” fall”. It is that midway point between summer and winter, the leaves burnished, the flowers fading, the end of sunshine and the commencement of a more somber quiet time. Fittingly for Jews, it is Rosh Hashana, the new year, days that herald the excitement of new beginnings but also atonement and reflection on what we have been less than proud of during the year. Coupled with the fading light of the day, it is a sobering time. Yet, there is an anticipation that we can renew and improve ourselves.

For me, the days of food preparation for the big supper is a combination of old favourites of the perfectly stuffed turkey, but also another attempt to emulate my motherinlaw’s perfect gefelte fish . Mine either lacks correct spicing or is too watery. Usually the food receives compliments, but at my table, I believe the fish is consumed as part of the new year’s pattern that fish precedes soup which proceeds kugels, en route to multiple deserts.( I heard once of a family that had deserts for supper one night a week and thought that sounded delicious😋). I wonder if some special ingredient is missing from my fish.

My buby Molly was legend in her realm of cookery, but my aunt Goldi confided that the” family” cabbage rolls were transmitted to others without the squeeze of lemon so that the original recipe could go to the grave with the original chef who no doubt thought it a family secret to forget one ingredient. So like a story whose sections are embellished or deleted in the telling, some recipe are not transmitted – even between relatives- completely in tact

And because I always leap to other places, my mind flies to the whispered repetitions of coveted foods in women’s sections in concentration camps during the Holocaust where a scrap of paper or shoe leather was the repository for a special dish. This reconstruction of a lost moment, a treasured memory of a tangy smell, a delighted taste stimulated the beloved faces and cherished voices of family, and a necessary hope that life would eventuall resume. The food, the preparation, the coming togethers were only just stalled until mothers, fathers, children, the entire mishpucha could once again reunite for the holidays and be together, safely around the table clothed table.
At this time of year, I too hold close the memories of my parents and the Rosh Hashana dinners at their house. Never a thought was given to the work it took my mother to rise early in the morning or fall into her bed at night after the last plate was washed or dried. There were squabbles over who would sit next to my father who always commanded the head of the table. He quickly and quietly beamed at us, taking our families all in while saying the few prayers over apples and honey. My mother darted back and forth with food, serving and perching frequenting. Her mother, I recalled, disappeared into the kitchen to eat by herself, no doubt collapsing into whatever chair she could find: to suck chicken feet, I recall – if I glimpsed her behind the swinging door to their dining room where uncles wore fedora hats and aunts wore special dresses, and cousins waited expectantly for he moment when they could leave the table and play games without adult supervision. 

We were not religious people but we came together as a family at the holidays. These suppers reminded me of Bella Chagall’s memoir Burning Lights as she narrated the annual celebrations in the shetl,Vitebsk, the end of the harvests, family arriving by horseback and carts and women labouring with heavy pots, and unending dinners that featured many many dishes.

Years ago my son invited his school friends from Vancouver and I set myself the task of seeing how many different kugels I could make: fortunately all but the potato could be frozen. From zucchini to eggplant to sweet potato with raisins, I scoured books that offered an impetus to create the puddings. Finally at table, we would chortle, attempting to identify the vegetables that all began and ended with eggs, onions and matzoh meal. Since then the meal has been pared down with only two potato kugel, one sweet , one plain, 3-4 fruit pies and of course a honey cake and at least one other completing desert contributing to eating ecstasy. Maybe the strangest event culminated in the sudden delivery of grandson two when the supper concluded. No doubt he could no longer battle all the kugels crowding his space and so decided to exit 6 weeks early.

But as well, this time of year holds unforgettable events- sad events that marked our life. My father succumbed to polio one labour day weekend when I was 18 months old. Interestingly, no one ever mentioned had Rosh Hashana been “early” or late that year. I imagined his family’s dinner seated more quietly than usual, especially my buby Molly at the edge of tears, and my mother clutching me as I squirmed in her arms. And my mother many many years later shortly after hearing the shofar blown in her hospital room passed too. She always was anxious around this period of transition.

My mother, of all people, is the one who is at the edge of my thoughts during these days. There is so much I would share with her, questions I would ask ( about knitting, for example), so many fears or doubts I would look to her for assurance : that all would be well and turnout fine. And yet, she was fearful herself, often struggling tenuously to hold our world together like a jigsaw whose pieces might suddenly fall and need to be reassembled by her able handling and rearranging of our lives, a task she completed , like  The Little Red Hen story she never ceased to cite: “ALL by her self”, she would loudly affirm

If she were still on this earth and we were meeting at Tim Horton’s for Saturday lunch, I might behave slightly differently, not avoiding difficult conversations, attempting to banish them into non- existence, maybe probing deeper beyond the usual statements to really understand what she believed she had lost or forfeited  throughout her life. Not merely scoffing at her refrain that she had been a failure and wished she had been a nurse or an interior decorator, “ I would not counter now, to change he subject,”Well, an orange cannot be an apple”. Often I was afraid to listen, not wanting to be touched or hurt by some detail.

Once while my parents were away on a little trip and I stayed behind, I opened the bottom door of a dresser in my parents’ bedroom. Heaped inside were the remnants of their life before and during my father’s polio. I read the barely readable postcards sent from Riverdale hospital where he spent 9 months when he was only 28 years old, robbed of the muscular power of his limbs. With my father’s right arm destroyed by polio, he had attempted to learn to use his left. In their exchanges, they write my name as “Paddy”, as an Irish person would. Or maybe the crosses on the t’s are sloppy and resemble d’s, but the postcards break my heart as I glimpse the broken communication between my parents. My tears overrun my eyes as I sense the immense difficulty even a few words had taken to produce their daily interchanges, but I sense in the scribbled half formed letters the depth of my father’s love for my mother: whose countenance even when he was in a coma could produce sensation on his face.

 In my talks to my mother I did not want to re- experience these knives of pain and so we did not unshovel the past.Selfish as that may have been in my part.

So I approach new year with a mix of emotions, grateful but longing for my mother’s company, pondering my relationship with my father, but also anticipating a supper with most of my children and grandchildren present, observing their fingers coated with honey , and their chomping the Macintosh apples carefully chosen by my husband. I enjoy the look of the table with my grandmother’s silver and her fine dishes: ones I continued to refuse from my mother, but am so glad I finally belligerently accepted, even as they are ornate,  and not my style at all. Still I can appreciate their quality and ruminate on their history as evidence of immigrant acculturation in Toronto. I wonder what stories the plates hold, remembering what my mother had related to me: that a peddler would come to the door weekly, selling one precious spoon – and my grandmother would save and save until she could afford to purchase one here, one there , until she had enough to complete a full set.
No wonder that even at 90 my mother stooped to pick up a penny!
 In a recent Canadian Jewish News story, I read of a family setting aside their “ brogus” at holiday time so that bad feelings could be relinquished as the new year arrived. Yet, my mother and aunts related the weekly family gatherings of my father’s Rumanian family where everything new was mocked, such as the washing machine and refrigerator, how my grandmother was squandering money in pursuit of modern appliances, and how the brothers and sisters closed ranks on my buby Molly, making her daily existence so much more difficult. 

I wonder what my grandchildren will take from my suppers. Will they joke about the kugels, the unending offering of deserts, some strange detail that I recalled such as my own other grandmother’s delicious handmade wine from purple plums or the rollicking fun I shared with my cousins. Or the disgusting slurp of sucking chicken feet? With part of my family in Philadelphia, I feel the circle is incomplete, a gap between the beginning and the ending. We will fill that absence at the end of the week when Thanksgiving fortunately intrudes, but of course it cannot be the same. It is not that I am a religious person who looks to the suppers that fall at dusk as the commencement of the tradition.Rather, it is the meaning of passing down a closeness, a memory of what it means to participate in an event- even briefly -that is initiated by an old story, be it true or exaggerated, a story that interrupts the workday to stress what is the most important in life, that “time out of time”,as Eliot might conjecture,
” at the still point of the turning wheel”.

Post Navigation