Very Curly Hair

I have curly hair.

When I was a child, my hair was a nuisance. It tangled easily and I hated it when my mother made me sit still for what seemed like hours so she could comb it out. The comb would catch a knot and pull at my scalp, bringing tears to my eyes and howls of protests. Even worse, strangers we met on the street wanted to run their fingers through my hair. I still detest my kindergarten teacher because she would comb my curls with her fingers every morning when I arrived for class. I became very good at hiding behind other children when we entered the door, in an attempt to elude her keen eyes.

As a teenager, my curly hair was the bane of my existence. I desperately wanted silky long straight hair like my friends. They wore shoulder-length bobs that seemed to float in the wind, silky strands of (mostly) blond beauty that I coveted with all my being. Or they pulled their hair back in smooth pony tails that bounced gracefully with each step they took.

My hair was a mess of thick ringlets, each coil doing what it wanted to do – bouncing off in a direction that I had no control over. At one point, I grew a pony tail, pulling it back as straight as I could, holding my breath and clenching my teeth against the pain as I pulled the strands back as hard as I could. I wanted bangs like my friends so I would smooth globs of hair product on my bangs, tape them down across my forehead and paste them in place with the hair drier. When I removed the tape, the bangs stayed where they were, thick strands of dark brown spaghetti plastered across my forehead.

But alas! In an hour the first hairs would begin to escape the ponytail, falling in curly whorls across my cheeks. By mid-morning, more curls would join them, some choosing to head up, down or across. About the time I sat down for lunch, the glue on my bangs would give way and they would bounce upwards to join the rest of my curly mop. When I finally cut off the ponytail and went back to curly bob, my friends sighed in relief and told me how much better I looked.

As a young adult, I not only came to terms with my curly hair but learned to enjoy it for the easy care it provided me. I kept it short and called it “wash and wear” hair. I even began to enjoy the compliments I would get from other women on my easy care hair. Then I gave birth to a daughter who was born with red curls. When the nurse brought her to me, she had tied a blue ribbon around some of the top curls and she was, without doubt, the most beautiful child in the nursery. I forgot about my early fight with my curls and was unprepared when she reached her teens and began the same odyssey that I had endured.

Like me, she fought her curls and worked even harder than I had at trying to tame her hair and force it into the long straight styles of her classmates. And like me, she was a young adult before she realized how beautiful her strawberry blonde ringlets were and began to allow the curls to cascade to her shoulders in a natural way that, to this day, elicits words of admiration from friends, family and strangers.

And now she has a daughter, our granddaughter, who turned eight last week. And yes, she has curly hair and yes, she hates it. However, our granddaughter (“S”) is part African-American so her curls are tighter than her mother’s and her grandmother’s and her hair has a different texture. It tangles very easily and is difficult to comb out. And, you guessed it, she desperately wants long, smooth shoulder- length hair!

My daughter has brought “S” to the beauty shop several times in an attempt to get her hair combed out but the experience has ended up with “S” in tears and her hair still in tangles. Finally my daughter brought her to a beauty shop that specializes in styling African-American women’s hair and for her birthday, she had an appointment at the shop. And I was invited along.

First, the stylist had to get the knots out. This was a long, arduous process that involved taking a small clump of hair one at a time, spraying it with water and lotion and carefully working out the tangles. It took an hour and there were moments when we wondered if she’d be able to finish but by the end, she proved to be a trouper, sitting in the chair with a look of determination on her face. Then the stylist combed a conditioner through her hair and had her sit under the dryer for thirty minutes. The next step was a shampoo. Finally, the stylist blow-dried her hair, then used a hot iron to smooth it, one small bunch at a time. By this time, we had been in the shop for three hours!

But the result was amazing. “S” slipped off the chair and looked at herself in the mirror. She had silky straight almost shoulder-length hair. When she twisted her head, the hair swung with her. It was the hair that she, her mother and her grandmother had always dreamed of having. She couldn’t stop looking at her new hairdo in the mirror and I didn’t blame her. “Who are you and what have you done with my granddaughter? I asked her.

Of course it won’t last. The first bath, the first shampoo and the curls will be back. She will be disappointed and eventually will have to decide if she can come to terms with the curls or if she will learn how to use the hot iron and be willing to spend the time to keep her hair straight. However, I think she’s beautiful no matter how she wears her hair. But I also know that she has to figure this out for herself.

One big thing that I learned during my afternoon at the beauty shop was how many hours African-American women must spend to wear their hair in a straight style. I watched several other women who were in the shop with us (and were still there when we left) go through processes like my granddaughter to straighten their hair. And I realize they will be back to repeat the process in two weeks or a month. I have a new appreciation when I see African- American women with straight hair and I wonder what I would do if my hair were that curly. I also wonder about women – all of us – and our battles with our hair! And for that, I have no answers. I only know I love my daughter and my granddaughter and no hairstyle can change that!

 

 

Looking Forward

 

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

 

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.

I Hate Packing!

 

I’m a lousy packer.

I love to travel but I have failed to master the intricacies of packing a suitcase. Actually, packing is not the problem; deciding what to take is the real problem. When my husband and I visited our daughter in New York for three days, I ended up taking the large suitcase better suited for a month’s visit.

In retrospect, the real problem is the weather. We visited our daughter in October. That’s Autumn, the time of the year when it could be 90 degrees one day and 40 degrees the next.  It could be raining; it’s even possible to have an early snow storm. So what should one take? Shorts and a t-shirt or long pants and a sweater?  Sandals or boots and a winter coat?

There’s still another issue: activities. Are we going to stay home most of the time or go out for dinner and the theatre? Will we end up working together in the yard or will we visit relatives? Do I need “at home” clothes or should I bring a nice outfit? Maybe I need more than one nice outfit in case we go out several times; the fashion police frown on wearing the same thing two nights in a row. And, of course, I need shoes to go with each outfit. With all these questions unanswered, there’s only one solution: bring everything.

However, we still haven’t touched on the other essentials such as make-up and medications. There’s dry skin lotion, deodorant, face cleanser, electric toothbrush, regular toothbrush (in case the electric brush runs out of power) and toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, style gel, hairspray and sunscreen. Of course we can’t forget daily medications (which seem to have doubled and tripled as we age). I also bring a large bag of “in case I need them” medications. These include Tylenol, an antihistamine, left-over antibiotics (please don’t tell my doctor), pain medicine in case someone (God forbid) is injured and in pain, (a prescription I filled but didn’t need after a dental procedure), bandages and an antiseptic. I was a Girl Scout at one time and I’ve always believed in that motto, “Be Prepared”!

I imagine at this point you are probably feeling very sorry for my husband who has to lift my heavy suitcase into the car, out of the car, onto the airline baggage check, etc. Not to worry- I consider this his weight lifting training and believe ardently that my suitcases are keeping him in good shape. But I am also aware that not everyone packs like I do.

For instance, I have a friend who travels a lot and she is masterful at packing. She takes one medium suitcase wherever she goes and has certain clothes that she knows, through trial and error, travel well and can be washed and will dry overnight. I did manage to pack like this once, when we went to Africa on an animal sight-seeing Safari. We were limited to one medium bag each, a condition that truly tried my abilities. I started packing three weeks ahead, taking clothes out and putting new ones in; then replacing them again. I do have to admit that having a smaller suitcase and fewer clothes definitely made traveling easier but by the next trip, I fell back into my old habits.

My seven year old granddaughter was here for a visit and she has a very unique method of packing. My husband and I watched while she unpacked two rather heavy containers of children’s hand lotion, two stuffed animals, three small dolls, four bottles of children’s nail polish, an iPad, a comb, three DVD’s of children’s movie, one book, and a folder of math problems to be solved before she returns to her class. Our concerns about clothes were quickly solved when her mother entered the room with an armful of t-shirts, skirts and shorts. I was left to wonder what kind of packer she would be as she grew older.

Of course there is always the “I don’t need anything but the clothes on my back” kind of packers. They tend to be in their early twenties and in “seeing the world” mode. A backpack with essentials (bottle of water, one change of underwear, small package of soap and a little money) seems to suffice. When their clothes disintegrate after too much wear, they simply wire home for enough money to replace them. Ah, to be young again – although I must admit I don’t remember ever being able to travel this way.

On one trip I was forced to exist with the clothes on my back for three days when the airlines lost my suitcase. Except for a few essentials I purchased at the drugstore, I slept in my underwear and wore the same clothes every day. In some ways, it was liberating. I never had to think about what to wear or what was appropriate. And everyone we were traveling with knew the situation so I received a lot of sympathy. However, I was awfully glad to see my suitcase when it reappeared.

Someone once told me that packing is a metaphor for life. If you take too much, you may be carrying around too much baggage in your head. If you pack light, you’ve let go of all that old baggage. I don’t agree; I think the only baggage I’m carrying around is literally in my suitcase and my problem is simply that I’m afraid whatever I leave home is exactly what I’m going to need while I’m away!

But in the end, it’s not the things you take with you but the journey itself (I think that’s a quote from somebody). Please do not emulate me; take only what you absolutely need and enjoy your family, your travels, and the rest of your life. Travel light, my friends.

On Self-Preservation

Once again, I am at the beauty shop, getting my hair colored and cut. The color is already in, seeping through my hair follicles, changing the grey roots and faded color to vibrant auburn. In twenty minutes or so, the stylist will shampoo the dye out and then I will sit quietly in the chair while she trims my hair, shaping it back from a shaggy mess into the style I like. I will watch her work in the large mirror I am facing and, once again, enjoy the metamorphosis from tired old lady to vibrant fifty or sixtyish some-what attractive woman (or so I hope).

My mother had red hair and when it began to fade, she quickly turned to dyes. At 92 years of age, her hair was still red and she looked at least a dozen years younger than she was.  When she died, she left behind a drawer full of creams and lotions to diminish wrinkles, freckles and age spots plus a large bag full of makeup. In my 30’s and forties, I observed her efforts to fight aging and vowed long before I had even one grey hair that I would go into maturity gracefully. I would accept the changes in my body (and on my head) as a natural part of life. Dye would never touch my head and I would celebrate the wrinkles on my face as evidence of a life well lived.

Then I attended a workshop titled “Finding Your Colors” and discovered I was an “autumn”.  My color wheel (the colors that complimented me) was the same as the September/October landscape in the northeast; burnt orange, brown, shades of yellow, darker reds, muted greens. With this knowledge, I began to shop for new clothes that would complement my hair and skin tones. I bypassed black and grey items and, over the next few years, my closet started to resemble a glorious fall day.

Then the first grey hairs appeared. At first, I either ignored them or pulled the offending strand from my head. Of course, that hair grew back and it was usually accompanied by a dozen more. Eventually I was confronted with a choice: Do I stick to my feelings of aging naturally or do I accept the fact that grey is not a good color for me and do something about it?

First, I discussed the choices with my hair stylist. She suggested a natural hair color that would wash out more quickly but would not harm the environment or my head. This seemed to be a good compromise. Immediately, I loved the color (auburn) which was a close match to the natural color of my younger days. I received a lot of compliments and felt like I’d shed at least a dozen years. However, this color didn’t last as long as I would like and, as my hair turned grayer, the product failed to cover my roots.

I was faced with a hard decision: stay with my original declaration and go into old age looking old (plus wearing a color that wasn’t in my palette) or give it up and dye my hair on a regular basis.  I pondered this important existential question for at least ten minutes.

A few years later, I began to notice that my eyes were not as prominent and my eyelashes were fading. One day, I was walking past the cosmetic section of the department store when a young woman in a colorful smock stopped me and asked if I’d be interested in a makeover. I had never worn much makeup but this sounded like fun. So I said yes, sat down in her chair and gave myself over to her ministrations for the next 30 minutes. When she was done and I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. My first impulse was to go immediately to the bathroom and wash my face. But then I looked a little closer and there were a few things I liked, such as the eyeliner and mascara. And that large red spot on my right cheek had totally disappeared. Before I walked away from the cosmetic department, I had spent over seventy dollars on makeup, which was, of course, what this was all about.

So I added a few new items to my bathroom drawer. That’s when I became aware that getting dressed in the morning or going out in the evening was taking a little longer. The eyeliner would slip from my hand and leave a crooked black line above my eye. The mascara would smudge and run down my cheek. I was going through a lot of tissues.  When my hair stylist told me she would soon be offering permanent eyeliner treatments, I actually considered it. My pledge to go naturally into old age was disappearing as fast as the wrinkles were appearing!

The dermatologist was my next downfall.  I went for my yearly check-up and, while I was in the waiting room, I noticed a cabinet full of skin products. I went to check them out (which is exactly what they wanted) and noticed a wrinkle cream that was “Dermatologist Recommended.” Well, why not give it a try? Unfortunately, my insurance didn’t cover the cream but I was hooked. I’m still not sure if it works, but I’m addicted, certain that my face will fall into total disrepair without it. However, I now see a dermatologist who has a sign in his office that says he neither sells nor recommends beauty products.

I know I should wear my age gracefully and proudly. I have seen other elderly women whose faces openly show their age and the trials of their lives and I admire them. When I encounter these beautiful faces, I am entranced with the wrinkles, the crevices, the laugh lines, the faded but vibrant eyes, the (sometimes) sparse white hair. I stifle the impulse to talk to them and ask them about their lives and usually settle for secret glances in their direction. I am drawn to the beauty of natural aging.

And yet, I have chosen, as my mother did before me, to make use of a few products to either slow down the aging process or to hide it! My biggest fear is that I will someday be in the hospital or nursing home without my hair stylist and my little bag of cosmetics and will be unable to apply a little lipstick, a thin line of eye liner, a splotch of mascara and my children and my friends will say, “Wow. She looks so bad and has aged so much.”

So I am thinking of pre-hiring a friend or a cosmetologist who will automatically be contacted if I’m in this position and she will apply the necessary elements to improve my looks. And then, wherever I am, I will be happy.

 

L’Shana Tova

September is the beginning of the fall season. When I lived in the Midwest and the calendar turned the page to September, I looked forward to the beautiful fall colors, cool breezes and a return to pursuits I had left behind in June. For me and for Jews around the world, September also means the High Holy Days are approaching.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is first. Jewish families attend services and listen to the blowing of the shofar. We spend time with family and friends, getting together to enjoy traditional foods such as chicken soup, brisket and honey cake. We wish each other L’shana Tova, a good year. Ten days later, we meet at the synagogue for Yom Kippur, a time for fasting, introspection and forgiveness, both for our own misdeeds and those of others. We pray for a good year for ourselves, family and friends.

Although my husband and I both grew up in more conservative homes, we have been Reform Jews for most of our married life. We have grown used to services that are primarily in English and usually not more than two hours long. This year, our synagogue is searching for a new rabbi and an interim rabbi presided. It quickly became obvious that he must be conservative. The service included more Hebrew and didn’t skip a page! It was three hours before we heard the Shofar blown and finally arrived at the last page in the prayer book. On the way home, my husband and I compared this service to the ones of our childhood and we reminisced about the High Holidays in our small towns.

B’nai Abraham, the synagogue of my childhood, was located in Virginia, Minnesota, a small iron ore mining city 200 miles from Minneapolis. Over the years, the congregation ranged from 50 to 70 Jewish families. In our home, preparation for the High Holidays began a month before when my mother would (literally) haul me to Duluth, the nearest big city, to shop both for school clothes and a few special outfits for the High Holidays. Our first stop after the 60 mile drive was usually a visit with Cousin Minnie who lived on one of the impossibly hilly streets in the city. She always served us drinks and sweets and I would sit quietly, wondering if the house was going to slip its moorings and we would go tumbling down the hill to the bottom of the street.

Our next stop was Oreck’s, the department store in downtown Duluth which was, thankfully, on a level street nearer to Lake Superior. My mother would deposit me in a dressing room while she roamed the store, looking for appropriate clothing for me to wear to synagogue. Sulking, I would try them on, rejecting every outfit until she finally made the decision for me and we could move on to the hat department. In those days, hats were fashionable and a head-covering was imperative at the synagogue so I usually ended up with a small pillbox hat that languished on the shelf in my closet for the rest of the year – until another one joined it the following September.

Once the clothes were hung safely in our closets, the kitchen became the hub of activity. My mother worked hard to produce traditional meals for her family, not an easy job since she had been raised in an orphanage and had learned to cook as a new bride. The recipes for all the traditional dishes had been passed down with love from my aunts and cousins who had probably inherited them from the previous generation.

Chicken soup simmered, honey cake sweetened the air, potato kugel baked until it was covered with a crisp, crunchy top layer. My mother made her own noodles for the chicken soup, kneading the dough, rolling it out into impossibly thin layers before cutting it into long skinny strips. The strips were laid out to dry on a floured sheet that covered our dining room table for several days. We lived in an apartment above our grocery store and to this day, I wonder if the enticing smells that drifted down the steps increased sales during the Jewish holidays.

On Rosh Hashanah eve, my father and brother went to services and the women (my mother and I) waited at home, setting the table and getting the meal ready for their return. The next morning, we were all expected to attend services, but once I was in my teens, I procrastinated as long as possible. Finally I would give up and put on the new wool plaid skirt, cashmere sweater, nylons, patent leather black shoes, and pill box hat and go out the door into a 75 degree September day. We lived two blocks away so I could walk by myself, leaving as late into the morning as possible.

Built like a traditional European synagogue, the building had a balcony which was originally where the women sat. By the time I came along, the balcony was only used by children looking for a place to giggle, whisper and escape the service below them. But downstairs, many families still used the traditional seating. My father, brother, uncles and male cousins sat in the first two or three rows to the left of the bema. The men of other families who had been in Virginia since the synagogue was built in the early 1900’s, had inherited other front row seats. The women, children (and a few younger men) sat in the middle and back rows. I always sat in the back and as close to the door as possible for a quick escape route.

Sometimes during the High Holidays, our small congregation would hire a student rabbi from another city to lead the service. But most of the time, services were led by Sam Jaffe, an older member of the congregation who had the most knowledge of Hebrew and of the service itself. The men stood on the small bema, davening and praying, all on a different page. I never understood Hebrew and had no idea what the service was about so my main preoccupation was usually how long it would be before I could leave. I would give my mother hopeful looks every ten minutes, waiting for that moment when she would give up, take an exasperated breath and favor me with a nod of her head. And I was off, down the street and running for home, anxious to take off the new clothes that were sticking to my back and scratching my legs.

One year, when I opened the large double doors of the synagogue to go outside, I was surprised to find many of the men of the congregation standing on the steps, huddled around a transistor radio broadcasting one of the games of the World Series. Prayer had been superseded by a baseball game.

On Rosh Hashanah afternoons, we usually went to Aunt Bess and Uncle Carl’s home, located in the second story of a large house just far enough away for us to take the car. The living room was usually crowded, every chair taken by my aunts, uncles and cousins. The children sat on the floor, leaning against their elders’ legs. I always gravitated to the dining room table, groaning with home baked Rosh Hashanah goodies. A core of women (my mother included) stayed close to the kitchen, making coffee, cutting cakes and washing dishes as they appeared. My most indelible memory of those Rosh Hashanah afternoons is the pungent smell of my Uncle Carl’s cigar which, to my memory, was always in his mouth. To this day, I love the smell of cigars.

Yom Kippur came ten days later. In our home, we ate a traditional meal before the Kol Nidre service, but when we finished, we were expected to fast until dinner the next evening. As usual, my family would leave for services by nine the next morning and I would follow several hours later. At services, I kept my eyes on my father and when he got up to leave around noon, I would follow him. At home, I usually found him in front of the refrigerator, door open – my signal that it was okay to eat. My mother would yell at both of us but Dad would wink at me and I knew it was okay.

When I left home and went to college in Minneapolis, a friend invited me to attend a Reform Sabbath service with him. I was surprised to find that most of it was in English. I could read the words and understand what was happening. But even then, my friend had to explain much of it and tell me when to stand. Understanding the service made it much more meaningful and I realized that, even though I had grown up in a unique Jewish environment that I would always treasure, I felt more at home in a Reform synagogue where the prayer books and rituals were also in English. I finally could comprehend the services and the underlying meaning of our holidays. I already knew what it meant to be Jewish from a cultural perspective and now I was learning what it meant to be Jewish from an educational perspective. I believe my grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles would approve.

With loving remembrance to my grandparents, Charles and Jenny; my parents, Paul and Sophie; Uncle Carl and Auntie Bessie; Uncle Fred and Auntie Ann; Uncle Chaim and Auntie Pia.

 

Help! I’m stranded in the Philippines.

 

When I turned my cell phone back on after my dentist appointment, it rang immediately. It was my husband calling to tell me our house phone had been ringing constantly for the past hour. A swell of anxiety crept up my neck. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Have you checked your email lately?” he asked.

I clicked on my mail and a long line of new messages appeared. They were all forwards from friends and had “Greetings!” in the subject line. The first sentence was always some version of “I got the following email from you. It looks like you’ve been hacked.” The rest of the email consisted of the following (reprinted in its exact form):

I really hope you get this fast. I could not inform anyone about my trip to Davao, Philippines. Am in Philippines to see my ill cousin she is suffering from Kidney disease and must undergo Kidney transplant to save her life the condition is critical.

Kidney transplant is very expensive here, so I want to transfer her back home to have the surgery implemented. I really need to take care of this now but my credit card won’t work here. I traveled with little money due to the short time I had to prepare for this trip and never expected things to be the way it is right now. I need a loan of $2, 950 USD from you and I’ll reimburse you at my return. I will really appreciate whatever amount you can come up with. If not, get back to me. I’ll advise on how to transfer it.

Jean

My first reaction was relief that everyone in our family and many of our friends were not only all right, but smart enough to know a hoax when they see it. My second reaction was how wonderfully funny the email was. I would definitely give the hacker kudos for creativity and chutzpah! But I think anyone who knows me also knows I don’t have a cousin in the Philippines. And I would never capitalize the word “kidney” unless it was in a title or the first word of a sentence. (Okay, maybe they wouldn’t notice this) Add to this the fact that my husband is a physician who would certainly know about kidney disease and would be in close contact, if not traveling with me, on the trip.

So I was feeling pretty certain that no-one I knew would send money to the Philippines. Then I got an e mail from a high school friend who moderates a “Classmates” blog for the men and women from my high school class. She had heard from several people who were concerned about me. I had not been in touch with them for many years so they knew nothing about my present circumstances. And then I understood how this plea for money could be effective.

Almost everyone who called and emailed suggested that I change all my passwords. So I got to work. First there was the internet search engine; then my email and finally, my blog. With my husband’s help, I managed the first two but the blog threw me. Every time I tried to change it, I would get the wrong message. Finally, I checked my handy notebook of important phone numbers and called the help desk. Two hours later, my helper gave up and sent me an e mail with step-by-step directions on changing my password. I really didn’t blame him; he wasn’t the first help desk to give up on me. Then I called my in-house help desk: my husband. He was in the next room and couldn’t very well walk away – after 54 years of marriage, he was stuck!

At one time, I knew more about computers than my husband. Our son had introduced the first computer into our house when he turned 13 and was flush with gift money after his bar mitzvah. He wanted to spend it on a computer. We were perplexed. Why would he want a computer? What possible use could they be?

He bought a Franklin, one of the few choices at the time. I wasn’t very interested until I learned that you could not only write on the computer, but you could even make changes and corrections. I could throw out my case of white-out! I could forget cutting and pasting. I started to read the instruction book and when he left for school, I sat down in front of the machine and began to check out word processing. Within a few days, I was madly in love. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship – with occasional bouts of anger and separations when my computer had a sudden blackout or tried to show its superiority by losing my most recent work.

Then Barry retired and began consulting from home. Very quickly, he not only became proficient on the computer but also tackled the inner workings of this mysterious machine. Much to his chagrin, he became my “Help Desk”. My pleas for help when the computer let me down were usually frantic (I tend to make a lot of noise when the computer is not behaving) and probably much too frequent. But he has never failed to handle my cries for help with patience and humor.

And so he stepped in again and helped me change passwords. Now I have so many completely unrelated passwords that my notebook with the list has become my most treasured possession.

Yes, this hacking is a nasty nuisance but all the news is not bad. I have heard from a lot of people I hadn’t talked to in months or even years. Once they were certain I wasn’t in the Philippines and didn’t need money, we had lovely conversations and caught up on the time we hadn’t been in touch. My three children called to warn me and my son even offered me a kidney. I thanked him and told him to be sure and keep it on ice.

But I do worry about the hacker a bit. Maybe he or his cousin really do need a kidney. Or maybe he got fired and needed quick money because his wife was pregnant and his son was very ill. Most probably he was just looking for a quick way to make money. But his assault on my computer demonstrated three things:

  1. I have very considerate friends
  2. I desperately needed new passwords and a better firewall! (Done!)
  3. I’m still in love with computers and word processing (Except for ten minutes ago when my entire contact list disappeared)

 

Where Has The Time Gone?

 

Where has the time gone?

I heard my mother say these words many times when she was in her seventies and eighties. She was looking back on her life and couldn’t believe she had reached this age. When I heard her say these words, I would pat her on the back and say something inane like, “Oh, Mom, you’ve still got plenty of time left.”

But now, in my seventies, I understand. She wasn’t thinking so much about the end of her life as she was about the rush of the years gone by. They had passed so quickly, too quickly. And now I’m asking that very question: Where has the time gone? Why hadn’t I paid more attention to each event? Why hadn’t I savored every moment?

These thoughts came to me because we are spending two weeks in Upstate New York in a condo on one of the Finger Lakes. I look out our window and see this beautiful expanse of water, dotted by swimmers, boats and kayaks and think about my childhood summers. We had a cottage on a small lake in Northern Minnesota. Every chilly morning I would dress in layers, beginning with my swimming suit; then a t-shirt and jeans, followed by a sweatshirt pulled over my head. As the morning wore on and the temperature came up, the layers would come off until I was back down to the swimming suit. Then I would plunge into the lake, swimming with the joy of summer and youth

But those days passed too quickly and I reached junior high and adolescence. My family became less important than my friends and the lake was not fun unless a friend came along. Boys and parties, football games and dances, clothes and girl-friends took precedence. The angst of beginning the journey to adulthood and dealing with new emotions colored every event. The future was like a cloud in the sky, shifting each day into another shape.

When high school was finished, college began. I moved into a dormitory, away from my family, and made new friends. For two summers, I worked as a counselor at summer camps and when the sessions ended, I found even a few short weeks at home before school began were too much. My most important work during these years (besides studying) was to choose a major and a direction for my life but these decisions were elusive. One minute I was certain of my future; the next second everything had changed. In my junior year, I met a special young man and a large part of my future was decided.

The next thirty years went on forever and were over much too quickly. We raised three children, moved more than ten times and I continued to vacillate between professions, moving from nursery school teacher to journalism and finally into communications and public relations, with newspaper writing on the side. Our children grew up and left home and suddenly, we were back to the beginning.

When I think of those years now, the busiest time of my life and perhaps the most important, they feel like hundreds of puzzle pieces spread on the table with part of an event here and another piece of it over there. It would take me another lifetime to put them in the proper order.

Now we are retired and finding new challenges and activities, enjoying time with friends and reading books we never had time to before. However, sometimes I wonder: why didn’t I pay more attention at each stage, carefully placing every memory into a special file where I could revisit it any time I felt like it and say to myself, “Ah yes. That’s where the time went. I remember that.”

But in a way, I do have that file. I have my own memories plus the memories my husband, my brother and my three adult children share with me. I even have the newest memories made this past week when both of our daughters and our granddaughter joined us at the lake. Yes, the time went fast and yes, I wish I had savored more of it, but then, that’s life. I don’t know if you can fully live each moment if you spend all your time worrying about how fast it is passing. Because, the bottom line is we are, even in our 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, still living every day and still making new memories. So, I expect that, even twenty years from now, I’ll still be saying, “Where has the time gone!” At least, I hope so.

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Becoming Bionic

Thank goodness for physical therapists!

Seven weeks ago, I got a new left knee and if it wasn’t for the physical therapists who worked with me, I would probably still be limping around with a knee that was painful and unable to bend.

I know this because when I first broke this knee 60 years ago, physical therapy had not yet come to Virginia, Minnesota. I actually broke my knee chasing boys. I was 16 and had a serious crush on a boy in my class. My girlfriend and I were rushing to get to the front door of the school the same time as the boy and his friends so we could “accidently bump into them ”. However, it was winter time in Northern Minnesota which meant we were running down the school hall with our boots unzipped, our heavy coats unbuttoned and scarves trailing behind us. Halfway to the front door, I tripped over the scarf and fell directly on my left knee on the school’s indestructible cement floor.

A doctor’s visit and a three day hospital stay followed, along with a cast from the top of my thigh to my ankle. After six weeks, the cast was removed and I was sent home with a stiff leg. I worked on the knee until I could walk without a limp but I never achieved the whole range of motion. Then, three years ago, I had a bad fall and broke that knee for the second time, the final insult to a body part that was already in trouble.

I knew that knee needed to be replaced but I kept putting it off. When it bothered me, I would dig up the ace bandages floating around the house and keep them on until the knee settled down. I learned to ignore the mild ache, the twinges of pain and the occasional feeling of collapse.

This past winter, when the knee began to complain more than usual I decided the time had come. I saw the doctor, scheduled the surgery and did all the pre-op requirements. Then (of course) the knee stopped hurting. I went back to all my activities and gave the knee lots of reasons to act up. Nothing happened. It felt great.

“I’m going to cancel,” I told my husband. “The knee is fine.” After more than fifty years of marriage, he knew better than to respond. He looked at me and sighed deeply.

The next day, I had a change of heart. “I should get it over with, shouldn’t I?” I said to my husband. “It’s going to start hurting again if I don’t do it.” Another deep sigh from my husband. This went on for the entire month before the surgery. I’d pick up the phone to cancel and then change my mind. I kept wishing the knee would hurt but there was not even a twinge. Finally, as you already know, I decided to go through with it. The biggest reward would be never again worrying about when I should have the surgery.

Of course, I’m not the only one of my friends’ with a new joint. As we age, a lot of our body parts wear out. Knees may be the most popular replacement but hips run a close second. Golfers and tennis players tend to need new shoulders since that’s the joint they wear out swinging at balls. I know a few people with multiple replacements.

All of us who decide it’s time (or past time) to get a repair job have physical therapy in common. By the end of the first day after surgery the physical therapist arrived at my bedside and, before I realized what was happening, she had me out of bed and walking down the hall, bending a bit and sitting in a chair. My pleas of pain and exhaustion fell on deaf ears. But once I was safely tucked back into bed, I actually felt much better. Exercise and movement, I realized, was going to be the key to getting back on my feet – and my left leg.

After the hospital, I spent five days in a rehabilitation facility where I had physical therapy twice a day. The therapist was a lovely young woman from the Philippines who was so tiny I was certain she couldn’t manipulate my knee. I was wrong. Then I went home and arrangements were made for a physical therapist came to our house. This therapist turned out to be an old friend, a woman who had worked with me several years ago when I had an accident (don’t ask!). I was delighted to see her and, in addition to PT, we caught up on each other’s lives. After a week, I was deemed ready to attend outpatient physical therapy (PT). This was definitely progress.

Patients arrive at PT with walkers, canes and crutches. Others are protecting an injured arm or shoulder and some are stooped with terrible back pain. When I see a thin red line running down someone’s knee, I know that person also has a new joint. We smile at each other and start a conversation about our surgery. But everyone has one thing in common; we’re all here to work with these amazing physical therapists whose main goal is to see each of us regain our mobility and return to our normal lives.

My physical therapist was Jeremy. He put me through the exercises that would give me back my mobility. He pushed and pulled and worked me hard and I went home exhausted. But the next day, I was immediately aware that my knee was a little stronger and bending further. As time went on, my walking improved and I began losing my cane ten times a day because I would forget it. Time to walk unassisted.

I asked Jeremy why he decided to become a physical therapist. He told me that originally he was in the Air Force where he repaired airplanes, a profession he loved. He had even flown in the planes that precede the president’s to ensure his safety when he’s traveling. However, while working on the planes, he had several serious accidents that sent him to the hospital and then to physical therapy. After he recovered, it became clear he couldn’t return to his old job. That’s when he decided to go back to school and become a physical therapist. Jeremy told me that many of the therapists had spent time in PT themselves, which is why they chose this occupation and why they really understand what their patients are going through.

Seven weeks later, I’m getting closer to that “normal” line and am slowly reclaiming my life. My leg is stronger and straighter than it’s been in sixty years and bends a bit further. And for that I want to thank the physical therapists who helped me get to this point and all the therapists who have seen me through several other accidents. I think they are wonderful people and amazingly skilled at their profession. I’m glad they are there but I still hope I can make it through the rest of my life without any new parts or another accident!

Pet Love

NOTE: The following essay was written by my husband, Barry Steiger. When you read it, I know you will agree with me that he is not only an amazing and wonderful man but he also has the patience of a saint! Read and enjoy!

                                    Jean Steiger      jean@steigers.us

 

Pet Love by Barry Steiger

My wife, Jeannie, has a strong affinity with the animal world. I became aware of this early in our marriage when I was about to squash a spider in our apartment. After she stopped screaming at me, she demonstrated how to catch it between two cups and then release it outside. We were living in a third floor walk-up apartment in a condemned building in Minneapolis so I got plenty of exercise releasing bugs back into the wild.

We had many pets as our children were growing up. Dogs (sometimes two at a time), cats, rabbits, hamsters, a pet rat, a duck, fish, two chickens and probably a few others that Jeannie never told me about. We had a Siamese fighting fish in our aquarium that was wasting away. Jeannie put it in a bowl, wrapped it in a towel and took it to the pet store for advice. They must have thought we didn’t have a toilet. She brought an ailing pet rat to the vet. I’ll bet the vet is still telling his grandchildren about this woman who brought in a rat.

Jeannie was feeding tadpoles in a bowl on our porch and was upset for days when the cleaning lady disposed of them. She did some really hard things like saving two abandoned baby birds that needed feeding every two hours while still managing to feed our three children. She kidnapped a neighbor’s cat and had it spayed because it was having multiple litters in our yard.

We acquired one pet rabbit but Jeannie decided it was lonely and we got another one. They lived together in a hutch surrounded by a badly constructed chicken-wire fence in our back yard. One night we returned home and there were a dozen baby rabbits running around in our yard. This was educational. I didn’t know the female rabbit digs a hole, has the litter and keeps the baby rabbits hidden until they are several weeks old.

Jeannie put an ad in the paper that said “pet rabbits free to a good home”. The phone didn’t stop ringing. We soon learned that baby rabbits are a culinary specialty. One of the callers swore they would all be pets. He took them but I thought he seemed to be salivating as he returned to his truck. Now we just have one cat who brings geckos into our house which Jeannie rescues. She has become an expert with that two glass technique.

She is a good animal diagnostician. Not long after most of the rabbit offspring were given up for adoption. we discovered one rabbit missing and the other badly injured. Coyotes had been spotted in our neighborhood and we suspected they had a rabbit dinner. We put the injured rabbit in a box and hoped it would recover overnight. The next morning the rabbit was unresponsive and rigid. Jeannie said it had tetanus. I said rabbits don’t get tetanus so I took it to the vet for diagnosis and euthanization. I still remember the people in the waiting room with their poodles looking at me walking in holding a box with the legs of a rabbit sticking out of the top. They moved to the other side of the waiting room. The receptionist was barely able to restrain herself and shortly after she went in the back for the vet there was unrestrained laughter and I heard someone say “a rigid rabbit?” It was tetanus and I was pretty embarrassed.

In place of having multiple pets to care for, Jeannie now watches animal videos on the computer, especially cat videos. I am amazed at how many of these videos exist. She calls me often with “you have to see this one”. I politely decline. I frequently hear loud laughter coming from the other room and I know she is watching one of them.

She opened a cat video recently and the computer screen froze with a message to call Microsoft at a given number immediately to fix a virus invasion. We knew this was a scam but I spent an hour running scans. The worst part was I was watching the Tampa Bay-Cleveland game when the message popped up and she said I had to come immediately for an emergency. The game was zero-zero, two out in the ninth inning with the bases loaded.

I have agreed to look at only one animal video a day. She has agreed to use great care in opening unknown websites. Marriage requires compromises. Last night I watched a pig eating ice cream.

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