December 14, 2015
I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room when two men walked in the door, holding hands. As they approached the front desk, one man put his arm on the other’s shoulder, giving it a soft pat of reassurance. At the same time, I heard the woman sitting next to me click her tongue. When I turned to look at her, she shook her head sadly. “I can’t get used to this,” she said. “It’s against everything I was taught growing up. It’s just wrong.”
“If it doesn’t hurt you or change your life in any way, why is it wrong?” I asked.
“I’m too old to change now,” she said, and turned her attention to the magazine in her lap, cutting off the conversation.
For a moment, I studied her thinning grey hair, her face which had a few more wrinkles than mine. There weren’t that many years between us and yet, I felt decades younger than her. At home, I told my husband about the encounter and asked, “Why do we accept change so easily? Why are we so different from this woman?”
He didn’t have an answer either. Then, I saw Gloria Steinem interviewed on TV and she was asked what she felt her most important contribution was. She responded that she couldn’t possibly know that since she was still active. “I am always future oriented,” she said.
And that is the difference. My husband and I are still future oriented. Although we remember past events fondly and even recount them, our lives are not rooted there; we are still making new memories. We not only embrace change; we encourage it. The right of gay people to marry, adopt children, live and work without discrimination should have been a reality ages ago. Unlike Supreme Court Justice Scalia, I believe in Affirmative Action and feel African Americans should have the right to an education at any college they chose.
I am not afraid of the Muslim people. I welcome Muslim settlement in our country and invite them to make their home here just like the Jewish immigrants, the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese, the Chinese. They want the same things that my grandparents wanted when they traveled across the ocean to a better life in this country.
I AM afraid of mentally ill white men who have access to as many guns as they want. And I must admit that I am afraid of the people who attend rallies for Donald Trump, who cheer him on, who believe the outrageous things he says. They are the woman in the waiting room, the people who stopped the buses filled with Mexican children last summer, the individuals who attempt to burn down mosques. They are living in the past, afraid of change and afraid of anything or anybody that encourages them to accept an inclusive future.
Now, instead of wondering why I am future oriented, why I can accept new ideas, I wonder why some people can’t. I wonder if there is a way to help these people conquer their fear of change, to help them understand that change is how we grow, both as a person and as a nation. I want to tell them that we all benefit from accepting new ideas, new ways of doing things and, above all, new people. We are enriched by each group of immigrants that enter our country. They are our future doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers, philosophers. In one or two generations, we won’t even remember that they were once the new immigrants because, by that time there will be another group to take their place.
And now, I am wondering what I can do, what all of us can do to help people who can’t accept a changing world, to embrace a new wave of immigrants to our country, to allow them to make us richer by introducing us to their culture and religion. Perhaps all we can do is speak up when we hear anti-gay slurs or hate speech against any race or religion. But we need to respond in some way; we cannot allow those people who are afraid of change or afraid of immigrants to shape the message of this country. We need to speak up, all of us who know how to look forward.
Past Lives of Possessions
December 9, 2015
This afternoon, I covered our dining room table with the white tablecloth my grandmother embroidered over 100 years ago. It’s my favorite tablecloth and I only use it for special occasions, such as Passover, Thanksgiving, or Hanukah which we are celebrating with friends this evening. Every time I spread it across the table, I admire her handiwork; the intricate floral design in blue, green, yellow and rose hues, the blue border and the colorful geometric lines in every corner. I love it because it’s beautiful but mostly, I love it because I know my grandmother created it and used it on her table. I smooth the fold lines, even out the drop on each side of the table and feel close to her even though she has been gone for over 60 years.
I keep all my tablecloths in a pine cedar chest that serves as our coffee table in the living room. When you open it, the sensuous smell of cedar surrounds you in a cloud of perfume. I always look forward to opening the hinged cover and inhaling the first fumes that have been locked inside since the last time I raised the lid. The chest belonged to my husband’s family and was delivered by moving truck along with other hand-me-down antiques to our home in California over forty years ago. His family was hoping these beautiful pieces would be treasured by the next generation just as they had treasured them. With love, my husband refinished the chest and it found a permanent home in our living room.
We weren’t able to find room for all the pieces that were delivered that day but a pine breakfront has presided over the dining room of every house we have lived in. The upper half, which is easily removed from the bottom for moving purposes, has a glass door with shelves to display many of our other treasures. If you look closely at the peaked top, you might notice that a portion of the wood has been repaired, the victim of a pet cockatiel who loved to peck at the surface every time we forgot to watch him.
The dining room table in front of the breakfront is heavy, solid oak with two extension pieces that can be inserted in the middle of the table when it is cranked open with a special handle. I found it at an antique shop somewhere along the ocean drive in Southern California. During the years our children were growing up, it was our family table, always large enough to handle any extra children or adults who stayed for dinner. It has been refinished twice and still looks brand new. When I sit at the table, I like to think about the families that might have sat around it before us; I wonder who they were, what they talked about and why they couldn’t keep the table. I wish the table could talk.
After a lengthy search, we finally bought a table for our lanai. We spend a lot of time in this small room, where we eat breakfast, lunch and (most often) dinner. The room is long and narrow so we needed a rectangle or an oval table that was long enough to seat our children when they were visiting. I visited outdoor furniture stores, Florida furniture stores and classic furniture stores with no luck. Then, my husband and I wandered into the large antique and collectable warehouse store across from Burns Court Theatre in Sarasota and there, in a back corner almost covered by other items, was this long oval wrought iron table with a thick glass top and six chairs (that needed reupholstering). The base had a grape-vine design and an unusual leg structure that was very stable but the top moved gently when you pushed it. The shop owner told us it had been designed especially for a condo balcony in New York City. I imagined the condo owner sitting at the table, a cup of tea in front of her ( I was certain the owner was a woman), staring down at least 20 floors at the people walking in the street below her. Then she moved to Florida and the table had finally ended up in this store on consignment. The table was perfect in every way – it was the right size, came with chairs and had a history! It would find a welcoming home among our other antiques.
Of course, there is still more. We have a small serving table, with large wheels and two drop-leafs, bought in a small shop in Upstate New York. The proprietor told me a man had made the table from a tree that had fallen in his yard and had given it to his daughter. I wondered what had happened to the daughter and why she would give up such a wonderful gift. The cart is a little clumsy and some of the pieces don’t fit quite right but the story sold me.
A large oak hall stand with hooks for your coats, an umbrella well and a seat to take off your shoes commands our doorway, another possession acquired at an antique store during our years in California. It has the stature of furniture created in the North East and I imagine that someone bought it there, then moved to California. I have filled the umbrella well with canes which (unfortunately) I have had need of several times.
We have many possessions that remind us of the three years we lived in Japan: a rattan coffee table and two end tables, two plaques embedded with semi-precious stones found in an antique shop in Hiroshima, two wall screens, several paintings. Our possessions are filled with memories, both from our family and the ghosts of previous owners. Someday our things will move on also, a few to our children, perhaps to our granddaughter, but most will be acquired by new families and will go on to be a part of their life stories. And that’s the way it should be. Maybe I’ll attach this essay to each piece that I’ve mentioned so the new owners will have a little bit of history to go with their new possession.