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The Girl Who Smiled Beads

When I taught my post colonial literature course, we sought out indigenous writers from what had been originally, referred to as “ third world countries.” When I took over the course, I immediately banished that epithet, attempting to remove the moniker of competitive ranking of worlds, peoples, countries and situations. The voices we offered our students in that gifted class such as China Achebe, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, were unique and played no second fiddle to lauded Americans or others who wrote about the trajectories of their own countries. Still, places like South America, the Caribbean and Africa brought with them their own special and recurring issues: civil wars, clan warfare, colonization and terrors.

From the Caribbean- born but UK educated V.S. Naipaul, I changed one book to Canadian Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey, the story of a Parsi family whose problems resembled most families worldwide: daughter falling ill; a son who wants to go his own way in opposition to his parents’ wishes, hard working parents, etc. The tone and narrative were accessible to Canadian youth and the novel imparted a way of life few of my middle class students had even imagined.

When I shared my interest in The Girl Who Smiled Beads, a friend disagreed and called out the protagonist, particularly for her attitude. The true life recount concerns the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the writer’s, Clemantine Wamariya , long journey as a homeless refugee. At age 6, she and her older sister, Claire, fled their grandmother’s home near the Burundi border, travelled through seven African countries to avoid killers, from refugee camps to slums to satellite settlements and eventually on to middle class white America, where she found herself to be “a curiosity, an emissary from suffering’s far edge.” Clinging to Claire, Clemantine appears to prosper, adapt and thrive in her new country, even showcased in a showstopping reunion in 2006 with her parents, once believed massacred, on Oprah Winfrey’s television show.

The book documents the difficulties of a perilous existence with fluctuating means of surviving extreme situations , but somehow she and Claire maintain their dignity and emerge from life threatening situations. Sister Claire appears the tougher, more resilient, who keeps her head down and participates in the world of hard knocks. She marries, gets beaten, has babies, negotiates small businesses, and keeps on, no time for tenderness. To support Claire, Clementine, the author is the bulwark, forced to grow up too quickly, becoming an ersatz mother to her niece, Mariette, before she herself enters puberty. Her backpack in which she keeps a few moments, provides a kind of lifeline to herself as a person with needs. It’s her one talisman.

The story is not told in a voice of gratefulness or triumph.Rather, it is one of resentment, particularly as Clemantine observes herself in the States, Illinois, in a home of welcoming and supportive foster parents: as resentful. She does well in school, plays basketball, is even a cheerleader. She believes her classmates view her as exotic and when she does reveal the horrors of her life, she is rebuffed, told by teachers not to be so sharp, so outspoken, so intense.

My friend with whom I shared the book expressed that the girl should have felt lucky : to have landed securely in a new life, given advantages such as a special prep school so she could qualify for Yale, a loving family who sought her emotional repair. She’s even wins scholarships and is recognized as an activist, intelligentsia of a sort. Yes and no.

We want to hear the gratitude that goes along with opportunities, especially those never possible from previous lives. We expect those who pull themselves up by their boot straps to at least thank those providing the boots. In stead, here, there is acknowledgment of a different way of life, but the dominant pervading emotion is a grudging acknowledgement , a focus of remaining “ the other” in spite of acceptance into a cleaner, safer, healthier, more stable, better world of advantage.

In many ways, ,Clemantine ‘s portrayal is cerebral, not that all of the gritty, messy, life threatening details are glossed over, witnessed or endured by the writer and reader. We learn that even constant foot washing will not eliminate the bugs and insects that have burrowed deep between toes that ever cease to itch, that nits are a pervasive never ending issue; that in a refugee camp, “others were invested in your suffering…their jobs and self-worth depended on your continued abasement, on your commitment to residing in a social stratum below them, the same old neocolonial scheme.” It’s an existence of fighting off disease, fighting for shelter, fighting for a place to exist, and always being on the look out for those who would use and abuse you.

Remembering as an adult, what she had observed as a child may ,perhaps, be understood as a stratification of survival and selfishness. Clemantine sees and relives her lost childhood from the consciousness of an intelligent educated woman, trying to make sense of a world that is incomprehensible to the child she once was, the descent from a world of nannies and brilliant flowers to malaria, dysentery, paper tents, scrounging for food, and an acquiescence of bare existence.

Constantly, she returns to Eli Wiesel’s hellish description in Night when he tells of his forced march from his holocaust concentration camp, ashamed to reveal the burden of his labouring father, and his desire for food: not the image of the suffering son whose only goal is to keep his father alive. He writes, and she echoes,“I was fascinated by Wiesel’s determination to view himself without pity, shame or sentimentality, to spell out the horrors he lived through and place himself in the fallen world.” Wiesel gives her language, words that communicate her response to being a child in the worst of situations. She says in conversation , “My name is Clemantine… I don’t want to be called the genocide survivor anymore. No. It’s a label. I am human.”

She reads vivaciously; Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald encourages her to go deeply into her memories.Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye also aids her to make sense of the dualities in life. Morrison’s tale is told with bitterness and regret from the purview of a once child as well.

In her essay, Objects of Memory, that drew Oprah’s attention, Clementine wrote in conclusion,”

It should be better by now. It looks better by now. But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that surfaces often deceive. I can play the part; I can wear the bracelets I make, drink tea with friends, lounge in the sun on the pretty grass in the park. But I am still stringing the beads together, still working on creating a life out of lost memories and scrambled time. I know, now, that to feel complete I need joy and peace. Those are the pieces that will make me feel whole.

When we see the images of children in refuge camps, at the Mexican walls, the long marches from Guatemala or El Salvador or even look into the wrinkled faces of holocaust survivors, we should hope their lives were or will be balanced with love, security and joy. The human condition endures, but at what cost?

Sharing my friend’s thoughts with my husband, we wonder if our reactions are in deed bound up with our own countries’ philosophy , especially towards immigrants and refugees. My friend lives in the States, communicating the message of how lucky to live here, stop your moaning, look at the opportunities you’ve been given: from nothing , you now have something! And in Clemantine’s life, it is something very special.

But, we as Canadians perhaps tend to see a larger picture, less jingoistic, more understanding of a life before life, willing to share our freedoms, but mindful of a past, a background that is not so easily erased: what we used to refer to as “the mosaic,” not the melting pot mentality.

Yet, truly, there is a need, even a responsibility to oneself, not to stay mired in the past, to move on and be able to claim the joys that do in deed make one feel whole.

Even Clemantine wrote that.

Memes and Quid Pro Quo

I’ve always loved reading. Not a big surprise that a former English teacher admits it. I’ve found it interesting to hear new (really old words) or expressions revived, somehow finding their way into common day usage today. Especially as my eyebrows rise as words or entire sayings are being morphed to their essential bits or just plain ( not plane) letters.LOL, BTW.

My theory is that there is an elite unit or governing body that wishes to destroy our use of writing, hereby being able to control us, returning us to the dark ages of illiteracy and pre writing. Communicating in truncated letters in texts is not much more than the vernacular of grunts or the base fragments of words undressed to bare minimum. No need to cover those naughty vowels! Avoiding correct spelling, of which I am terrible, or due to sheer laziness, people delight in acronyms or scruffy bits of reduced words. In truth, z’s and s’s have also made me wonder: which is which. Not which is witch? Although I suppose a which could really be a witch. But isn’t that the fun, the untangling of homophones such as bear and bare, not homonyms such as to, two or too, and certainly not homophobes – which is something totally different all together.🤣 Language opens up a way to play, express, confound, confuse and dazzle. Just ask a politician or a comic how they entwine, pun, draw on metaphorical language: to manipulate their audiences to respond in guffaws, wildly cheer, jump to their feet or erupt into applause.

However, both the Quid Pro Quo example and memes reminded me of stories from my life. Of course, “quid pro quo” is Latin and I adored my Latin classes, even being elected president of the Latin class in the terrible days of high school:the role of president which actually no one wanted because everyone thought Latin incredibly dull and the responsibility was not cheerleading, fund raising or welcoming new students; it consisted of taking over lessons should the teacher be late or absent.

I thought of Latin as a game. Most decried its uselessness as a dead language and unless, they quipped, it was only necessary if you had decided to go to work in the church. Not something that 99.9% of Jews at Forest Hill contemplated as a profession. But for me, it was a hoot, playing with declinations, even the names of ”ablative, accusative, genitive, dative.. “ were a tickle to my mind. Much like English grammar, but more confusing, you had to prethink, parse, create. I wondered how Virgil and Ovid had managed a fluid sentence when every word had to be parsed differently.

And who could not love the first introductory expression we learned upon stumbling into our Grade 10 class , over which we giggled ourselves silly : semper ubi sub ubi. Or always wisely, always wear under wear. So Latin was not only a code language, it was hilarious. In Latin, I shone, recognized, in spite of my awkwardness and curly hair, as a star. But truly, who wanted to be a star in a dead language that most in that class would not have chosen if it had not been a required course. For after all, our school motto emblazoned over the auditorium was Non Nobis Solum which when I just checked meant “ Not for ourselves alone” although I had recalled it as something about reaching for the stars, Per aspera per astra: as most of the overachievers did at that school. Like spices to the soup, Latin sparked up the conversation or added a hint of mystery. Although, who ever dreamed of lowering their eyes and fluttering Latin bon mots seductively to their suitors.

The recent reference to the word “ memes” also awoke a memory. I never really understood the words “meme,” or even how to pronounce it properly . I did seek dictionaries, but like the difference in east and west coast time changes and/ or some mathematical equations, I don’t get them, believing there is a faulty wire in my head that refuses to ignite the synapse that makes meaning in those departments. Back in the 90’s when I taught at Northern Secondary, not only was Atwood’s Handmaids Tale ( not tail) on the curriculum, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the choice for Grade 12 Gifted. It is the truth is stranger than fiction kind of book that follows seven generations of the Buendia Family in a series of repetitions amidst real and terrible events that actually occurred and are documented in South America, but are transferred to the fictional Macondo, a city of mirrors. Even names such as Arcadio and Aureliano, for boys or Ursula, Amarante and Remedios for girls are used over and over again throughout.

I’m ashamed to recount that the when I taught the book, I did not focus on Renata Remedios’ nickname which was Meme: one aspect of the brilliance of Marquez’s genius escaping me in the meaning and tautological cleverness!True, I think I did a pretty good job of pointing out the iterations, reoccurences,etc except for the attention to Meme’s name. I most definitely recall an assignment that allowed students play to explain a particular theme, likely the recycling or repetition of an idea. I remember one girl, maybe Kristen, baking copious amounts of pale sugar cookies to explain the proliferation of fecundity of the seasons as even the animals at the Buendias could not stop reproducing. David, I think- it’s been since the 1990’s- diagrammed reoccurring waves of abundance and scarcity in physics, linking a mathematical equation to explain the rise and fall of the fortunes of the family.

In all the discussions, I did not address the meaning of Meme and why it was so well chosen and woven into the surreal story. Mea culpa. ( see how useful Latin is. Even avoiding regret sounds loftier in Latin) , but again this expression has made its way into our daily usage too. Funny that. But these days, as I hear the words, no doubt correctly pronounced and used over and over. With the current focus on “memes”, I again returned to sources, and re- examined both pronunciation and meaning.

A formal definition states,

“’ Meme’ was coined by the often controversial evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. In it, he states the following: We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”.(Jun 25, 2012).

On the Internet, I found Today I found out: Feed your brain, the writer almost reflects my confusion, when they say,

In its early days, “meme”, which incidentally is often mispronounced as “me-me” or “meh-meh”, but in fact should be pronounced “meem”, primarily was only known and used by certain academics, but today this neologism is beginning to reach widespread use thanks to describing the viral spread of jokes, ideas, etc. via the internet.

So ah- ha, the Internet has contributed to the spread of viral memes, BTW, viral’s etymology associated with virus – which is not a good thing at all.

For me, I give myself numerous lashings and apologize to all of my former students for not pointing out the connection between Meme, Remedios and all the repetitions in that wonderful book.

Meh.

Or WTF.

On coming home: a useless rant against a horrible week

Ok, maybe it’s me or the weather, but the world this week is in disarray. Turn on the television today and listen to the story of a 2 year crushed to death by an air conditioner not properly held in place, follow Trump’s denial that there was no quid pro quo , open your eyes to the climate that is so bizarre, fluctuating from tornadoes to wild fires. Honestly, you could weep. Except forJohn Oliver, Stephen Colbert and hiding your heads in series like Jack Ryan or Catherine The Great, it’s a dreary, painful trip. When my daughter sends me a picture of her little girls, my head and heart breath a sigh of relief and release some angst: that there still remains some loveliness in life.

Returning from 77 degrees in California, walks on the beach and the freedom to move my limbs without fear I will twist an ankle on ice, I am plunged back into an ice breaking cold spell. One expects mid or late December to be the thing of greeting cards, snow lightly dusting gingerbread houses, but these bone chilling temperatures send more than shivers through my incredulous body this week.

Add that to that domestic issues of trying to replace a refrigerator that is threatening to stop, salespeople who lie and then equivocate, replacement sizes that are not as listed, delivery men who refuse to follow directions and the end result being two refrigerators, one blocking my ovens, neither working. And when I go to the company to confront , no one will speak with me. Most likely because I am a woman, I think.

On top of that is Canada Post. Having had a package delivered to my daughter’s because I was away, I receive a card to pick up my offending package. Arriving with email notification, I am told her permission is required. I argue, showing my last name is the same and the communication was actually sent directly to ME from Canada Post.The man at the counter tells me I need her written permission, so home I go and ask her to email me, her authorization and her driver’s license with her address. I return, wait( of course) again and this time I’m told they need a letter on paper. When I suggest they photocopy, he lies and says we do not have a photocopier or printer. In deed, how is it we both share the same last name, I have her permission, proof of identity and even her phone number to be contacted. The manager will not return for an hour, he tells me, it’s freezing out and snowing and why will the manager be more willing to use their brain to come to a reasonable conclusion that the package can go home with me.

When I call Canada Post, I am kept on hold for 30 minutes, and basically, they concur with the immovable man at Shoppers with my package, but do suggest that there is some discretion possible by the clerks. Obviously not at St. Clair Wychwood.

My sister too tells me she does her telephone follow ups en route to work in the car because 20-40 wait time is de rigeur. This I know because of trying to straighten out on line purchases or alternatively Rogers ,who are for the most part, useless too. How many times have I been told to wipe everything off my computer, and found myself in a worse situation?

Having grown up in a world where people take responsibility for their or their company’s actions is a thing of the past. Now, the mantra is “ I’ll transfer you.”

In a world of hypocrisy, we teach recycle, reuse, but every object purchased is headed for obsolescence crafted from materials that cannot be fixed, poorly made or are actually irreplaceable. Even Oticon hearing aids has changed aps almost monthly. And should you call for service on an appliance, do not be surprised at a price tag of $250 to come to your door with a 15-20 minute incremental charge. So why repair, if in deed, your item can be fixed but a new one is cheaper, even should a part be available.

So unable to walk briskly to a store, as now condos have made it impossible for small stores to persist, dangerous trucks and construction materials block your passage and the road is icy as hell, you hop in your car, remembering to add an extra 1 /2 to one hour to your commute because you will encounter delays, more construction and roadblocks. You may look with sad eyes at the shops hidden behind barricades at Crosslinx, knowing the merchants have been forced from business as work proceeds for maybe 6 or so years; or alternately turn on music as you wait and wait for the non ending lines of cars to creep ahead. Of course once you arrive at your destination, there is the challenge of finding a parking space and please beware: the green hornets circling should you find a spot. Do not talk to me of the TTC as the North Toronto bus is so slow you will be turned to stone should it arrives, and the only other choice is a 20-30 minutes( weather permitting) walk to the station. And yes, if the weather is fine, I’ll put on my walking shoes but at present, snow and ice make that journey prohibitive.

And think too of the disabled, and those even more senior than I, with walkers, canes, etc.

Our grandchildren grow up in this world, a world of more bullying, more insouciance, less responsibility and human warmth or caring ( find a human voice on the phone if you can) and think it’s normal. Everywhere- on the Internet, fake messages of support and compassion. Talking heads, companies interested in you as a commodity , a purchaser.

I’ve said it before: I sound like my mother. I can just imagine how she might have reacted to my week.

More than a Joker

What makes a great movie?

On Tuesdays in San Diego, some movies cost $6.00- all first run.

Because I had had heard somewhat hazy talk because I hadn’t focused in on the hoopla reviews, some criticism about Joker being a negative portrayal of mentally ill people, and gratuitous violence, I wasn’t really considering seeing it. But due to the cheap cost and Howard was interested, along with a friend of ours, off we went.

From the first moment, I was riveted by Joachim Phoenix and his performance. In line with perhaps TaxiDriver, the old De Nero film, and all the creepy under heroes, antiprotagonists who inhabit and portray the unlucky, hapless, unattractive shmliels we pass on downtown streets. Our first encounter of Joachim Phoenix is of a guy employed as a clown on the overloaded bustling rat- infested streets of Gotham, but he is also an aspiring comic, even working a crowd in his off hours. So he’s a fellow with dreams, aspirations. He’s no roving vagrant seeking out trouble as he submissively lives with his mother and he interacts with fellow employees.

When his sign promoting a going out of business sale is snatched by insouciant teenagers, he gives sturdy chase but falls victim to their attacks. We learn quickly he has mental issues and takes seven different kinds of meds, but he’s seeing a therapist or social worker and he is wrestling with a kind of low level survival within societal bounds: as a devoted son, working at a job, attending counselling, he even attempts to entertain a kid on the bus with funny faces.It’s hard to watch Joker and not empathize with him considering what he’s experiencing. “Is it just me?” Arthur/Joker ponders. “Or is it getting crazier out there?” Unplugged in their review writes, “The movie shines a sad light on the desperate plight of those coping with the intertwined pathologies of mental illness and poverty.”

But as more challenges due to societal breakdowns accrue, Arthur/Joker’s tenuous grip loosens and a sick individual with scary tendencies starts to more strongly emerge as he is able to take advantage of a crumbling world and opportunities : such as the gun given him for protection by a fellow clown. The comments of the billionaire Thomas Wayne, running for mayor broadcast on TV, who refers to the poor as “clowns” provide the personal attack on the guy who ekes out his living dressed as one.

Todd Phillips, the director of Joker underlines the darkness of Arthur’s life through ponderous almost palpable music and backdrops of alleys, elevators, rooms with almost no light. Amidst this, shines Arthur with insight into his own being and a creepy self awareness of how he would like to be: as he collects his rambling messy strange thoughts in a journal. The film merges reality with illusion so we, like Arthur, are confused with what might be truth or fiction. In deed, we question why Sophie, the pretty lady down the hall, wants to hang out with Arthur even after a pleasant encounter on the lift. When he is invited to appear on a popular television variety show, we wonder if he is imagining the invitation to perform his routine. The role of television is a haunting contributory voice as it reinforces Joker’s loneliness, hopes, taunts, that permeate into his inside spaces and even motivates him to action.

Throughout Arthur much resembles the guy on the bus, the one you might intuit is troubled, feel for him, but prefer not to sit next to. There is much angst in Arthur because of his upbringing, his victimization and his inability to be able to rise above his challenges. In rat infested Gotham, he is one of many, suggestive even of Trumpian followers who are angry at a system that cuts benefits and keeps them down, jeering at them, deriding them as clowns and losers, Arthur is one of those guys. The De Niro, Murray Franklin here, host further derides Arthur by showcasing his very unfunny act in which only Arthur is laughing- ridiculously -albeit because of his condition. But maybe not. As the props fall away from Arthur’s life and his tiny grasp on dignity, he continues to lose his balance, ready to take revenge on the inclement jeering world of bullies, teasers and loud mouths. And ironically his off balance behaviour has catapulted him to the attention and state of a hero of sorts by those who would emulate him, wearing the Joker mask, overrunning the subways and streets in protest of their subjected lives.

In itself, Joker is a movie with great acting, good script, action, etc, however what impresses me is that the production extends way beyond the screen: connecting to other stories of failures, abused and sick individuals in a crumbling unkind world. From classic books and plays, we can now situate Phillips’ joker– in this particular piece- as a fascinating character worthy of examination extending him beyond the flimsy comic book, so much more than a trashy black- white scribble of good and evil. He is a person, someone with hamartia, hubris, an essential flaw motivating him, pushing him on. He’s Shakespeare’s bumbling fool who speaks truths, he’s Everyman on the bus, he’s Oliver Twist without a happy ending…

We leave the theatre, not lumping him with superheroes Batman and Robin and Captain America, sated by the technical extravaganzas that morph Robert Downey Junior into a steely machine that propels him head on into his avenging foes, but rather, we extend our faces to nod to the homeless shuffling on the street as we pass. Joker has like Pinocchio been transformed into a real boy.

My friend admonishes me, lumping Joker with TV killer Dexter, suggesting I have a penchant for witnessing the awful, the terrible in entertainment, but it is not true. Instead I see the possible humanity, the rational behind some hideous and pathetic behaviours. And yes. I turn my head away when Joker does violence, blood splashing onto his leering face. But yes, too, I cannot look away as Joker’s ravaged emaciated body twirls by himself, a metaphor for his twisted self, a misfit out of sync with societal music or a human dance that should but cannot celebrate smooth, well placed steps of grace or even contentment. He is a freak and because of the direction and script, we want to peer deeper, peeling away the layers of the onion. What comes to mind is this quotation from T.S. Elliott’s Murder in the Cathedral:

We do not wish anything to happen…. we have lived quietly,

Succeeded in avoiding notice,

Living and partly living.

There have been oppression and luxury,

There have been poverty and licence,

There has been minor injustice.

Yet we have gone on living,

Living and partly living. . .

But now a great fear is upon us . . .

. . .We are afraid in a fear which we cannot know, which we cannot face, which none understands,

And our hearts are torn from us, our brains unskinned like the layers of an onion, our selves are lost

In a final fear which none understands…

Joker engages us to think- beyond creepy character, beyond violence, and consider the societies we inhabit, weighing, assessing, pondering the whys of us and them.

Truly scary stuff. Happy post-Halloween.

Modern Love

Modern Love is a refreshing look at romance, its variations and manifestations. Eight stories highlight some of the definitions associated with love:

Storge – empathy bond.

Philia – friend bond.

Eros – romantic love.

Agape – unconditional “God” love

In the Amazon Prime production, the narrator involves the viewer immediately and unlike Game of Thrones, Fleabag, When They See Us, Outlanders. and other popular shows, the mood is light, no violence. And yes, there is, of course,- turmoil for sure but the everyday situations that regular folks experience: from yearning for a dead parent, searching for romance, hoping for a baby or finding love even at an advanced age are all gleaned through upper middle class families. Well known actors such as Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Jane Seymour and Andy Garcia all contribute to the scenarios that focus on love. Without being cloying, the eight episodes are sweet but I felt, truthful.

Anyone who has lived their life has experienced the pitfalls, the highs and lows of love. When Anne Hathaway cannot bestir herself from her bed, pulling the covers over her head, we recognize the opposition in her behaviour even if we have not been diagnosed with a specific condition that can confound a life. Recalling a breakup from a relationship of two years,I reimagine myself, down and struggling, even compulsively finishing a sweater with one arm ridiculously too long and hanging, to deliver to my former love. With Hathaway, she participates, as well, but in extremes from full blown dancing in delight in the street( even if it’s in her head to illustrate her glee),beguiling as a sexy, confident Rita Hayworth, in gaudy sequins, kicking up her heels at the thought of a new boyfriend to being imprisoned in her apartment. We empathize with the thrill of meeting someone special but equally know how it feels to be unable to continue that dance of enthusiasm. Whatever the reason.

Likewise when a young woman yearns to be free in New York but falls under the watchful eye of Guzman, the doorman, a former friend of her parents, she bristles. Yet his vigilant eye and constant being there become a true comfort when she finds herself in a difficult situation. Sturdy, reliable, alert, appearing to her as judgmental, he oversees her safety, his presence enduring and trusting: one upon which she begins to rely.

Similarly Jane Seymour’s speech of contradictions in “young”versus “old” love also rings true. Observing her and her running buddy Kenji snuggle together in a warm cosy bed reinforces that even old love need not pass away. Beyond retirement, the two run, albeit slowly, in marathons, she spying him as a possible quest for a love relationship. He explains sweetly that he will never forget “ his Betty” gone six years, and she comprehends the depth, the commitment that ensues even after death: this she accepts. But as with people who have learned from their former selves, she knows how to build on compromises and gain from sympathetic support of another.

The desire to be together, make a life, enjoy the unexpected adventures or simple togetherness of, for example, meandering through the zoo are all reinforced in this series, a series that feels honest about the emotions that underline love. But even , in contrast, we view boredom that has set in on Tina Fey and Robert Slattery’s marriage and brought them to a therapist. Their routines appear mindless, their reason for staying together perhaps has run its course. She particularly experiences the angst and aloneness, her bitchiness a consequence of tedious or no real communication. It’s a relationship that appears to sit and recline in an old chair, not dance or bounce. She wants more, or to end it . All eight scenarios feature a different stage of life and what is intrinsic at each.

When Tobin explodes at the surrogate in one of final pieces in Modern Love, we understand his frustrations of harbouring a very messy house guest, even if she embodies the qualities he once yearned for in a frivolous youth. Being free, traveling wherever, rambling unbound with no restrictions comes head to head with grownup responsibilities. Yet each, the surrogate and Tobin, in this moment, demonstrate admirable qualities that bespeak what love can come to mean. Able to empathize and see from the other’s perspective, they also compromise, acknowledging but putting aside differences for the sake of preserving respect for someone else, present and future.

The final presentation in the series fills in a few gaps, gives us views of all the personages glimpsed throughout. True, no big surprises stop the viewer and make us wonder, scratching our heads. Even the lacuna, the final linkups slide away: our psyches sated, our desert ending an enjoyable meal by accomplished actors. The narratives based on stories from The New York Times are touching and realistic. They leave one hopeful, and unlike the self-centred actions with which we are confronted every day, we remember that there is love all around us, transformed by space, time and people.

The Guardian and most other reviewers report that the series is ho hum, not adding to the discourse of relationships, betrayals, mating, romance., etc. Yet maybe that is the point: that love does not change. That over time, what defines those relationships persists. And although the other reviewers found it saccharine, perhaps I am opting for the idealism that seems lost in a world of Trump, Trudeau and Brexit. When snarled in traffic, gazing on sky high condos, reading of the latest shooting or unending bullying, I’m happy to view something that lifts my spirt, knowing that the more life changes, the more some things stay the same.

Yorkville Reminisces

My mother and I used to do lunch on Saturdays. Years back the Colonnade on Bloor was our preferred choice once we informed my father of our intention. Saturday was her hair day, so properly coiffed and lacquered, she would put herself together and we would pretend to be ladies, perusing the fancy shops we could not really afford. However, she always managed the cash for lunch. There was that handtooled red wallet my father had made for her in polio rehab in which she set aside any coins for petty extravaganzas once the weekly demands had been met.

She always looked put together, nice, and we established a being together time, away from my sister and father. Although the weekdays were flurries of cleaning, drudgery, ironing, minding our store, TeleSound, ensuring a home, Saturday was the respite, the small flight into fantasy. Even into her 90’s, our Saturdays were ours alone, although by then it was a BLT at Tim’s close by, she by then wearing loose trousers, hair no longer coiffed. Still she looked not fancy, but fine.

But the Colonnade on Bloor Street of our younger days even back then had continued to morph- even years back and we eventually segued to The Coffee Mill, home to émigré Hungarians a few streets north. Here, we continued our tête-à-tête, she with her open faced olive and egg sandwich on rye, me with my Coffee Mill salad bowl. And in the summer, there was nothing more delicious and cooling than their mocha frosted mixture of crushed ice, ice cream and coffee, set out on small tables outside in a tiny shady courtyard, long before the Frappaccino appeared at Starbucks: which could never ever hold a candle to the Coffee Mills’. After lunch, we would wander through Yorkville, checking out the irreverent designs in charming boutiques by up and coming designers, discussing the merits or extravagances of fabric, design, cost. We parked nearby, the cost a quarter that later zoomed to a dollar. Not overdressed but properly turned out, we believed we fit into the scene. The love of finery, the flirt of slightly risqué design, the stroll into a unique neighbourhood, the dreams of possibilities illuminating our minor adventures.

Many years later when I shopped for a Vera Wang gown in New York for my son’s wedding,I was stopped and asked for directions. My mind quickly flitted back to those days with my mother, nicely turned out, elegantly but not overly attired in fresh, stylish clothes. And this from a pair who waited for sales, and awaited the visits to Buffalo for Susan Van Huesen shirts at $ 2.98 or insisted we turn our Honest Ed’s bags that contained underwear inside out should a classmate spy us and giggle.

The Coffee Mill was often the lazy Friday meeting place for my college friends as we wandered from university class to coffee klatch, close enough to campus, secluded enough to gossip about boyfriends, classmates, assignments, posh enough to pretend we were regulars there, too, in our hippy- styled jeans and ironed hair. Aware of The Riverboat, The Penny Farthing, real coffeehouses that opened their doors late at night, the dense grey musk of cigarettes practically obscuring those lolling or hanging out the front doors, the appearance of folksingers, Joni Mitchell,Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia , Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and others, yet juxtaposed to up and coming boutiques such as Potpourris or Peach Beserk.

From louche adolescent to pigtailed student to chic young mom, I had to introduce both husband and children in strollers to the goulash and weinershitzel at The Coffee Mill- also Saturday mornings, extending their worlds as my mother had done mine to the Colonnade, once imagining and moving beyond the limitations of our home, glancing, judging, gauging those on those streets and how I might dress the part and appear a local.

Now, I see that like all else Yorkville is succumbing in recent days and even my treasured Coffee Mill has long since vanished . Where has Over the Rainbow, the first real jeans emporium , relocated? And Hazelton Lanes through numerous reiterations has been renamed , some shops like Andrews, but few others, enduring change after change, renovation after renovation.Watching these mainly Saturday haunts for me have now disappeared and transformed is much like throwing out an old teddy bear, for so many delightful shared experiences, trysts, meetings occurred years back in these locations as I learned the value of trending style, forbidden hookups, and an tantalizing ambiance that prompted and shaped my self concept of who I might want to be.

Other points of reference on Bloor Street like David’s, the shoe store, a mainstay for umpteen years is gone: not that I ever could afford one of their fanciful offerings, but oh! so wonderful to window shop and imagine manoeuvring on sky high heels by famous designers. Or the old Colonnade, and the sweet memory of actually purchasing the dress I had coveted, so slim then I, and finally on sale, for my bridal shower before I married- more than 40 years ago. And our wedding rings from the expensive Kres and Bernard, now gone, those rings gold filigreed , his thick, mine thin. His now encased by his knuckles because he refuses to remove it. Mine still slipping on and off with ease, the filigree well worn away.

Viewing the rich and famous on those downtown streets had added to a tutelage of a life quite different from my own, an evolving one from behind my parents’ store, one where money meant little, a bit flashy but one that taught with some imagination, a sexy walk , pretty smile, a sarcastic quip, or eye roll could catapult you into another world and you need not think of yourself as the awkward misfit with too curly hair at the edge of your own borough.

The allure of Yorkville never left me: as escape and desire. Even when I worked at OCT, into my 50’s, my lunches were spent ambling through these trendy streets, watching smart people, observing the latest or most interesting fashion developments, checking out the people in their expensive Escada suits, planning for the eventuality of sales on overpriced clothes, thinking, rambling, daydreaming during that precious hour before returning to work. No longer pretending but transforming through my mother’s weekend lessons.

Like these unique shops vanished, the iconoclast shops and misty cafes now sweet memories, my youth that unhooked me from one place and helped me develop into the person I would become. No runaway, just a minor rebel with an eye towards fashion, fun and freedom, stretching boundaries, exploring new neighbourhoods , my mother my mentor, wise enough to know how to move beyond…

Ritualized Behaviour

It’s true that we ritualize our behaviour, even from the time we were babies ourselves: sleep at certain times, eat regularly, out for fresh air, go to school. It’s how the world works. If we all followed our own clocks and predilections, there would be chaos.

But being retired actually allows one to put their own markers in place, when we want them. It is strange after so many years to direct our own paths, and often it is difficult. When I left my job almost 10 years ago, I felt at odds, unhappy not having the whir, the buzz, the time constraints against which to set my clock.

But the most dramatic rule of thumb is that life changes, no matter our attempts to hold back the tide. In many cases, our minds and bodies, at least mine, have altered although we certainly cheer on the clarity of Hazel McCallion, or Tony Bennett’s voice or all others whose genetics have allowed them to ignore the boundaries that Shakespeare delineated in the seven stages of life: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste…

These days when I meet with my friends, our first topic of conversation is our health, most complaining about eyesight or backs or stamina. A few of us, me especially, admitting to quickie naps. It is a strange time of life, as your gaze reaches far back to times without tiny computers, the world run on technology, slower music, no dating apps, actually no aps whatever. You wonder how those even older than you manage the transitions. On Colbert a few nights ago, Hilary Clinton and Chelsea were promoting their book on gutsy women, Chelsea commenting on her mother’s long hand approach, Colbert even providing evidence of Hillary’s foolscap, arrows and the thinking that occurs on paper when pen touches paper. The audience along with Chelsea chortled. Imagine writing long hand. What a dinosaur, so quaint and old fashioned.

And me, reminiscing with the checkout clerk at Mastermind yesterday, recalling when Hostess chips cost a nickel and movies were a quarter.

But our old bones are also in tune with the seasons and the chill of cold , the rustle of yellow leaves send us searching for winter coats or turning up the heat. For me, I’m ready to return to San Diego where the skies stretch bright blue and maybe a light sweater is the only outer garment required. It is the lotus land of the older folk. Many of course opt for Florida warmth, closer by far but California is rooted in my youth with adolescent grunion hunting, days sunning on Hermosa beach, the shackles of parental demands absent, bands of roving teenagers out all night waiting at mountain top for sunrise. So how could those memories not draw me back to free and frivolous youthful conceptions?

Here, the fracas of everyday living with climate protest and a noisy rude debate among our so-called leaders, sounding like rabid ducks, squawking over and at one another. Arrogance, authority, so much so that I turned the channel, hoping for a minority government and the emergence of someone who is truthful, humble, kind and willing to make real changes to the climate to avoid the horror that not doing so will incur for the future.

Moving from global concerns to the smaller sweeter ones, I was heartened by my grandson’s visit as he wrestled with a small construction problem in the form of tiny erasers, concertedly working at it for more than an hour, eventually using Mr. Google only for backup, and staying the course to diagram the solution. And previously he shared his excitement about a library visit and I remembered how I too loved the school librarian at West Prep who always took the time to direct me to Ramona or B is for Betsy books. I recall her still, soft welcoming eyes and lovely smile.

So before working with the eraser puzzle, he read his new book, cover to cover, enjoying the quiet of turning pages, following a tale. When I asked if he wanted to tell me the story, he said no. I respected that, for the diversion was his alone, a happy, even enchanted one that he had shared with the characters in his little book. There was something sated, satisfied with being able to devote oneself to beginning and ending a book, like a delicious meal , or a twirl on a carousel: that fills you with the feeling of gladness, fullness.

So here the future and the combination of the old ways, holding a book in your hand; and the present day one, of grabbing an IPad and finding immediate responses to your queries that can illuminate your questions. But truly , this kid as all grandchildren are- is special. And all of us pray, especially during our holy days for a sustainable world for these “kinder” wherein some of the rituals will persist while others will interrupt, tear through, and provide epiphanies to make a better, kinder, more just world.

Maybe it’s the holidays that make me nostalgic, even teary, for the warm embrace of our parents who hoped for a world improved.So strange to be replacing our own parents in that quest.

Delayed weekly blog

Years ago I taught Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. This play’s themes focus on corruption, betrayal, sex, religion,  women’s roles and  morality.  For some reason at present, the following quote came to mind, “Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?” Act II, Scene II.

Here the  moral question asks whether or not we should condemn a misdoing but forgive the person who commits it, placing humanity, forgiveness and justice at the forefront. Just as Heather Mallick  in The Saturday Star reaches back to Hieronymous Bosch’s paintings, especially The Last Judgment, she correlates the picture’s images to Trump’s stay in The White House , the lust, depravity: more than seven deadly more sins. Always blaming others, never admitting collusion, gluttony, guilt, self- interest, Trump and his brethren, shout it’s not me, it’s climate change, it’s taxes, it’s a misconstrued ideal. It’s not my fault. Mallick  describes the famous painting, intertwining Kushner, Mar-a- Lago, Jeffrey Epstein, Paul Manafort, Ivanka and others,

” Lust is Bosch’s tower of naked men pierced with branches and lances…its pure Abu Ghraib…gluttony is a bird with a fish fins and human legs eating what might be a rat- turtle…devils will eat anything…the scene is packed with weaponry, as  is the United States…it is a landscape of constant activity…Everyone in Bosch has a job- to do harm and to suffer harm , eternally.”

It is a hideous work but as was Bosch’s intent: to teach a lesson and repent.

So too Angelo and Isabella in Shakespeare’s drama, Measure for Measure, hide personal flaws and deeds  behind the abstract, projecting blame beyond themselves: on the deed, the actions. Isabella is often viewed as naïve, innocent, pristinely on the throes of religious seclusion, but some critics have found her manipulative and cagey. Herein of course is Shakespeare’s language, his brilliance at making his audiences weigh in, become involved, playing and jostling at his character’s inner monologues, grappling with  words that pique us, stay in our heads. Make us think.

Eventually, however, instead of relying on equivocation, on the one hand, but on the other, one must take a stand, deciding for themselves, finding a path through to acceptable and just behaviour.Hamlet quips, “To be/ or not to be…” How existential for the days, and yet, even now, most refuse responsibility for their commitment to deeds that impact on lives of others.

One tires of hearing about the ongoing garbage Trump heaps upon the moral, political and intellectual climate- so much, that even the momentary laughter we share at Stephen Colbert’s impersonations and reading of the tweets grows slightly stale. Bill Maher’s serious outrage underscores the depth of depravity. And we shake our own limp wrists in outrage, bobbing our heads in agreement at extreme behaviour that terribly has been so normalized. What a strange,  perverted world in which admittance but no prosecution of pussy- grabbing” exists  side by side with  “ Me Too” tales of unwanted sexual attacks, slack gun regulations and doublespeak bipartisan demurring. Wherein courting dictators and locking up children harks  back to the dark days of the holocaust. So too, did these treacherous henchmen not also proclaim, it was the job, not me, I’m blameless.

And yet, news last week’s of possible impeachment gave cause for some celebration, yet knowing how all other exploits have slid off Trump’s Teflon  greasy skin, one wonders. For even with the charge, the Congress loaded with Republicans may again swear party loyalty and once again Trump will overcome. The idea of loyalty, solidarity, support not pricking the individual consciences of the people sworn into government. So as Shakespeare queried, the deed? Or the doer of the deed. Is there a difference? Certainly Yates queried in his poem, Among Schoolchildren, “How can we know the dancer from the dance.”

So much is talk, false allegiance. The march by students on Climate Change is heartening. And having read Greta Thunberg’s words that are articulate, clear, passionate and true, I believe in the sentiments abounding towards changing global emissions. She says, “ “My message to all the politicians around the world is the same. Just listen and act on the current best available science.”

But it takes people, ( the sinners, actually) not just the words to move towards a sustainable world and arrest global warming. And like  Marc Maron ‘s critique that now we carry bags, those small politically correct notions will not change the world.Big moves, concerted moves by leaders in concert.

The words of scientists that disclaim the antivaxers’ “ beliefs” are obviously not enough. My daughters’ three children all succumbed to cases of whooping cough, even though they were vaccinated, but the children of religious dissenters were not. And more horrifying yet was hearing the case of twins, again vaccinated who died of measles in three days. Heartbreak.

So again, what must be accountableare  people, not the notions, the abstractions, the so- called beliefs that impact on the lives of the innocent, future generations that will not be sent to Gilead or roam in the land of Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys .

Maybe it’s my advanced age that saddens at the activities of governments who talk, talk, talk or like Andrew Scheer did not even bother to provide lip service to the wondrous gathering of students who want to shake the world. Perhaps he was more honest by not even standing side by side with his political opponents, not even pretending as our present day leader does. But truly how does a leader foresee a future when he’s not even present to witness a protest of his future voters.

On Colbert, Bernie Sanders dismissed Trump as a rich kid, but so was John F.Kennedy, and yes, he engaged in Rat Pack movie star subterfuge and naughty  trysts with movie stars but he also made many of us want to reach for the stars and go to the moon as well as help venture into Africa in the Peace Corps.He sang  out, “ Ich bin ein Berliner. proclaiming he was interested in solidarity. In the commencement speech at American University in 1963 he  said,

“What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men(!) and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”

Truly we all grow up and old in different times. I consider myself fortunate to have had Kennedy’s optimism, his dream and his illusion of Camelot as a backdrop to my formative years. So too the sometimes arrogant  Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the intellectual, was also someone who gave us legacies such as  the 1982 patriation of the Canadian constitution, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He was seen as advancing civil rights and liberties( as in the government has no right in your bedroom) that become a cornerstone of Canadian values. At least we baby boomers had aspirations towards a better world, stars in our eyes, hopes for the future.

For the kids today, growing up in these times, I suppose they must look to their families to set goals, not the nation. With overriding technology, with no clear heroes, except the goop movie stars sell, with corruption in government here and abroad, they are tiny sailboats tossed about by Hurricane This and That and set adrift on the tides of Facebook and Rogers( and not Mr. Rogers either),the breakdown and stupidity of the Internet, more gun shootings – and the promise of global decay. Of which the present day politicians are unwilling to delay.

It’s worse than sad. It makes me despair, pondering why? How did Camelot turn into Bosch’s depravity and self interest?

We need dreams, practical promises, a life for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.At the beginning of Rosh Hashana, let’s imagine a better world where people take responsibility.

Just for Laughs with Marc Maron

On Thursday night, we saw Marc Maron at Just For Laughs.We were particularly interested because we listen to his podcast, WTF,, and have heard his interviews with such greats as Barack Obama, Jane Fonda, David Letterman, Carl Reiner, and many others from mainly media industries.As well, we have been watching his acting in GLOW( Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) on Netflix. What’s interesting about Maron is somehow at his advanced age of 56, he has morphed from a failed comic to a minor celebrity, and his prologues that introduce his WTF podcasts have been crafted into a quite wonderful comedy shtick.

Usually those prologues are self- serving as he ponders what a messed up guy he is, his crazy parents, his failed past life. He moans about his penitent for self destructive addictions, particularly dope. But in spite of his at least fifteen minute introspection, his interviews, for the most part are exceedingly excellent until he crosses the boundary of interviewer, creating an ersatz familiarity with the star, and inserting himself into the talk. Most often, he holds the line and it results in providing insights into the life and work of the masters at the other end of his microphone.

The Just For Laughs performance Thursday night segued that self serving dialogue with his wounded other self into incredible comedy. Using a variety of comedic formats from slapstick to irony to physical manoeuvres, Maron crafted a narrative: again based on self but truly elevated beyond sad guy talking about himself. The usual elements of annoying parents, useless religious gods, drugtaking loser guy were still present, but he had written a more than one hour piece that nicely transitioned his themes into a storyline with beginning, middle and end: a piece so seamlessly and professionally rehearsed and performed that his spontaneity allowed for calling out late comers to the show and appearing to be talking off the cuff, even commenting on Trudeau’s brown face. It was casual, entertaining and even insightful at moments. Maron soared as actor, storyteller and writer. Wow.

He asserted, “ It’s all story, folks” and he drew us into his unravelling story, now populated with Mike Pence, vaccine nay- sayers, Satan, climate change and Marvel comics. Going beyond his own deep neuroses, he used his life as the basis for his show, but incorporated them fully into his text.

Because I’ve listened to WTF, I was familiar with his continual gripes and search for meaning in relationships and life so I was sensitive to the tome he was unwinding. And it made me think of how much our professional lives are rooted in our personal ones. My daughter, the social worker , who has asserted her fears of death from an early age has catapulted her fears to her work life wherein she deals with multi levels of mortality. It’s the old adage of do what you know. And I’m quite sure it’s not easy to separate work and personal anxieties, but when you don’t professionalism can suffer. But those who are able to use themselves as primary research can ,in fact , soar in the areas of true authentic  knowledge, empathy, struggle and outcome.

My interest in Maron was the transformation of life into “ more” wherein life substantiates the trigger but moves outward and beyond the self. And perhaps ironically as one’s inner life is set outside one’s own consciousness, and used as fodder or clay, self doubt absorption becomes not only enlightening and helpful, but something else. That does not mean one is ever free from the anxieties that pound in one’s head or one is able to stroll blissfully through the streets downtown, humming show tunes, but one has been able, briefly or concertedly to keep themselves in check, to move the pain and suffering to another platform ,poke at it, and remove its personal terror factor- maybe temporarily, but in that time, the time that Maron was doing his act, I’ll bet he was more concerned with his pacing, his audience engagement, the jokes and humour of his work ,making the parts subsume to the whole. And in that process, he was controlling, not controlled by the issues that dog him.

That’s another reason to love the arts. Whether you play an instrument, write a play, perform or paint, you set your task beyond yourself, and even if you engage in the arts just for yourself, not for audience consumption or laurels, there is a level that requires your mind, hands, voice, whatever to put yourself outside yourself and see/ hear/ whatever with the mind’s eye. It’s not that inner dialogue with self that merely beats you up. It’s something more as you become both critic/reviewer and performer. And it’s great because you are able to be objective, not wallowing on what was , what might have been, what could have been. “If apples had been oranges…”, for example, I used to chide my mother who wished she had pursued a life in nursing or interior design.( as always , it’s so much easier to dole out advice than take it yourself)

So it goes, we can’t change the past, maybe learn from it and leave it perhaps to rot as soil for new vegetables. Rehashing is only beneficial if something grows from the ashes. And so last night, the self flagellating Marc Maron took an impressive step in his professional life, showcasing himself as worthy of the acclaim he has been receiving, especially from GLOW and other acting gigs. So Bravo Marc.

Now , if some of that could transfer to his private life, maybe he’d be a happy dude, not the guy ruminating -and apparently according to the tabloids- still floundering , as the guy in those prologues still seeking redress as he castigates himself for growing into a talented successful man.

The Fall and Rosh Hashana

My sister reminded me how my mother approached the fall with dread. Where others might have fantasized about cooler nights, crisp days and the prospect of snowflakes, my mother recalled the onset of my father’s polio in those first days of autumn that altered her life forever. And interestingly, she passed away around the time of Rosh Hashana also -inthe fall.

Most Jews I think look forward to Rosh Hashana as the beginning of a new year, a spiritual cleanse and opportunity to wipe the slate, renew better behaviour and recharge their batteries. My mother’s dread overpowered her delight in any family gathering at this time of year and as she lead a particularly moral, good life, in truth she did not require refreshing. In stead, her perpetual reflecting and revaluation of her life might have granted herself a stay from Rosh Hashana re- examination.

For me, obtuse as I may have been as a child, sheltering myself from too much parental attitude, I did, in fact, associate the fall with the joy of Rosh Hashana. I did highly anticipate the burnished colours of the leaf change, the absenced days from school for dressing up for synagogue and seeing my cousins at the family dinners as we gathered at my grandparents.

I store Rosh Hashana in my own child’s eye as thrashing about with my cousins after dinner as we played long into the night while the grownups in pearls and Borsalino hats continued their prayers in the dining room above our heads. How I cherished and longingly anticipated our reunions back then,singing to myself, “ They’re coming. They’re coming.”

Downstairs, my cousin Allan, the captain of the kids, lead the assault between the teddy bears and rubber figurines knocking them off the bar top as we all hooted with laughter, falling on top of one another in belly exploding humour. Like a football crush, we were layers of interlaced combatants, enjoying the putsch against the adults distantly chanting above us. For me, the cousins were essential – especially my mother’s sister’s children who betrayed our love by moving far away to California after Allan’s bar mitzvah.

Yet now I think of my grandmother who dwelled in the kitchen between delivering food courses to all of us, to suck a chicken bone or to light a cigaret in the quiet of the moment, her eyes heavy, likely missing her own parents left in Poland. Only now do I consider the inner life this cold distant woman might have possessed. Mostly I dwelt in her harsh behaviours to my mother as a child, tearing up her books or refusing her a future of education. But in those peaceful moments, she too, must have regretted the fall when she became a servant to the cooking, cleaning, hosting.

I do not remember gatherings at my father’s parents, only associating them with their supper visits late Saturdays where my mother, after long hours of work, had to make them supper. They brought my sister and me chocolate bars but I can reimagine my wheezing stout Buby Molly, her feet barely touching the floor, enclosed in the pink brocade chair in the corner of the room, barely speaking. Occasionally there were meals at her house on Arlington, a small, dark place where we sat cramped together on a long bench behind a table. Noises of food being served, my father smiles at his beloved mother, but no true conversation. My grandfather, his full head of perfect white hair , commanding. And the tales of his violent temper silently enshrouding his presence at table.

Many years later, my mother with her pert scarf at her neck, her arms spreading to hug us at the door, she, too dead from the preparations, yet always the welcome, the love that clasped you around the middle and squeezed. And the unending fracas between my sister and me, desirous of my father’s approval. “Can’t you two ever get along?,” he would ponder.And only now, two ladies of advanced age, finally do.
And in my own home, a flurry of activity underscores the weeks before Rosh Hashana as I conjure the dinner, the food, the table set with my grandmother’s Rosenthal China, her Rosepoint silver divided between my sister and me. I visualize the flowers – of fall jewel tones, or more likely my favourite pinks, purples and whites. I think of the lit candle sticks warming, enhancing and glowing on the upturned faces of my family. I foresee my husband holding up two round, twisted challas, one with raisins, one plain, blessing them, along with the first rosy apples of the season, and passing them slathered with honey in its little honey pot shaped like a beehive. I smile to think of the children licking their stubby fingers, covering the good ivory napkins, but also their faces beaming behind streams of delicious sweetness.

And this year, the cousins, my grandchildren from Philadelphia will be united with their Canadian counterparts. I hope they too will make fond memories that will contribute to that feeling of belonging to a family. Will their tousled heads touch over the IPad? Will the oldest, like Allan, guide them into toss and tumble that will rock them into tears of laughter? Will the baby observe with her wise blue eyes and want to join in their games, to be included in a sweet moment with those she rarely sees or even knows, drawn by that string that magically entwines ?

I want my grandchildren’s Rosh Hashana supper to be filled with the notion of promise, good deeds, the warmth of their adoring grandparents, the clutch of their cousins, aunts and uncles. For me, besides the romantic idea of the mysterious dark, there is that feeling of being enclosed together in an evening with only the flicker of candles to suggest a greater sense of awe, that something unites us as a unit forever together.

As the holiday approaches and I cook my kugels and matzoh balls, I will miss my parents, especially my mother.

We silently greet them at our table, feeling them close, holding their memories dear. The words intoned at Yizkor during Rosh Hashana services at temple come to mind, “At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them…At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them. When we have joy we crave to share; For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.”

The fall of the year, sadness and joy, beginnings and endings: a time that marks and holds important days. Even if it’s fall.

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