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Category Archives: Memoir

To Cry

She was ready for a shower. The day  long. The time stressful. The mind muted.

What was that  that Malcolm and Donaldbain said upon their father’s murder in Macbeth

Our tears are not yet brew’d/ Nor our strong sorrow/Upon the foot of motion.

Keep busy, and the emotion won’t get to you.

Shiva houses are busy places, especially when you’re not the mourner, but just the child of one. Chairs need to be rearranged, phones answered, messages taken and forwarded.  Food needs to be organized, prepared, cleared. There is no time to mourn for the mourner’s child, there is too much to be done.

But now she was home. And she was tired. And with the slowing motions of the day, the sorrow crept up and tapped on her shoulder. One minute she told it. I’ll recognize and embrace you in a moment; I’m going to shower and there I will cave. I will let you envelop me, crush me, overwhelm me. But I will be alone, and the water will soothe and mingle with my tears, so it will be ok.

She was ready for a shower and stepped into the tub. She was eager to cry. Ready for the catharsis. But the water was cold. She turned the knob; it would turn no more. The water was warm, but too cold. She was back in camp where showers were often cold and pressure low, and movement had to be fast. But she couldn’t move. She was frozen. The tears stopped, and mind blocked. Survival mode was engaged, to just get clean and out of the shower fast.

But she wanted to cry. She needed to cry. Cry away from her kids and her husband looking on sympathetically, but powerless. Urgently  she turning the knob though she knew it was futile. The water was cold. And then she cried. Not for her loss, not for her grandfather, not for the clenched fist around her heart. She cried that she couldn’t cry.

Bent over, dank clumps of hair matted her shoulders and she held herself and shivered. Tears fell, and her body shook. And she was cold. The water was cold. So cold. And she cried for her sorrow’s loss.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Family, Memoir, Writing

 

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Those Who Don’t Learn History…

I have so many childhood memories. Most of them involve me getting into trouble, or being embarrassed in some form or another. A story of my second-grade self just came up the other day while teaching. My students asked in wonderment “How do you remember that!?”. The answers simple, when you’re hurt, you don’t forget, because if you do, it might happen again.

I suppose when I think about it, I have the happy clichéd childhood memories, of sitting on our front stoop playing watermelon, and pretending that the etchings in the stones by the front of the house made a perfect hopscotch board, and playing tap tap trio, and eating ices, trading stationary and the like. They’re not individual memories though; they’re collective.

I don’t remember single times that I played elimination in front of the house. It was something we did every day. I don’t remember all savvy stationary trades I made, just that we did it often and I had a great collection. The only individual memories I have on these collective ones, are the bad one – where things went wrong – not super right. Like the time Elisheva Link bombed a ball into my belly and it hurt so much I sat out the rest of the gain and everyone laughed at my for being weak. Or the time Zahava Feller tried to trade my Lisa Frank stationary for her Snoopy reinforcements, and Miri, my sister, interfered and told her off for offering me such a bad trade. I suppose that should be a good memory, I was spared, but I remember feeling ashamed that I was almost conned, and why didn’t I know this myself.

I was recently reminded of a third grade tale – the time I returned a WAY overdue book to the Bais Yaakov libarary, and I was so afraid to tell Mrs. Florence, the librarian, because she was scary, she had a short pointy nose, blue eyes that bulges with veins, and of course the requisite high shrill of librarians. You can’t really blame a third grader for being afraid. So I put the book down on her desk, like it was any other return, and walked briskly away.

Later on in the day, there was a student messenger knocking on my classroom door. She held a note, which my teacher proceeded to read out loud. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember it, recounting what I had done, and the words “and ran away!”. My teacher read those words with much drama. I wanted to protest, to explain, and maybe deny, but I was just so embarrassed by my actions being revealed publically, not just revealed, but reprimanded, and in a way, almost mocked.

Why did they have to do that, both of them, the librarian and my teacher. What point and purpose was there for the librarian to write a dramatic note to my teacher? Address my mother, or me, or really address it, don’t just point out my wrongdoings. And why did my teacher read it aloud? What gain was there besides for just shaming me into more misbehavior.

When I was in High School, I met the librarian. I was helping out the school Chinese auction, and she was the grandmother of one of the heads. She came to “shep nachas” and put in a few tickets. I couldn’t view her as a grandmother. As a loving person. Someone who could care about someone else. I couldn’t reconcile that incident years ago, with that just being a facets of a person, or job really. It hurt me tremendously.

Most days I laugh at the story. Because it’s funny if you tell it over with the right voices and levity. But there’s a part of me that’ll never forget the eyes wide, and iced grip on the little girl’s heart when she realized that she was the subject in the note her teacher was reading.

People ask me why I teach, why I’ve always wanted to teach. I know I’m supposed to say that I love kids, and I want to share, and help them grow and all that too nice-smiley stuff, but really, most of the time, it’s that history doesn’t repeat itself.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Memoir, Teaching

 

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The Academic versus The Ego

The entire class was huddled together on the itchy patch of commercial carpet in the kindergarten classroom. Our heads craned upward, captivated, watching our teaching tell us all about the wonderful, stupendous, and incomparable letter “C”.

“Ka,” she enunciated the hard sound. “Can anyone think a word that starts with this sound?” All around me, girls raised their hands quickly.

“Candy.”

“Coat.”

I didn’t have any word, or was really sure as to the letter “c”, but they got approving smiles, along with a “Good Job”, and “Excellent”.

I just wanted attention and approval. I raised my hand high, and “oohed” the loudest.

She called on me.

I was so happy. A deep breath, wild and frantic thought for a word, any word, and I said,

“Pizza!”

She said the right thing,

“Good try, Esther, but that’s a ‘p’, not a ‘c’” and she moved onto the next kid.

But her face.

Her face, of course, told me otherwise. With lips twisted in a hidden smirk, right brow slightly raised, it plainly said,

“Seriously? A ‘p’ for a ‘c’? Moron.”

The teacher’s comment on my end-of-the-year report card read.

Esther is very withdrawn in class, it has not impacted her academic performance, but it is of concern, relative to her social interactions with her peers. We will be noting it, and keeping an eye on her progress.

I know “Lo habeishan lomed” (the bashful does not learn), but for me, I think Fiero of “Wicked” had it right when he sang, “Those who don’t try, never look foolish”.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Memoir, Writing

 

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My Version of Zaidy

I sat by the shiva and listened to the stories. We laughed at a lot of them, because my grandfather was a witty man, were in awe by many, because my grandfather is still an inspiration. I texted myself notes of the stories, so I could write them up later.

When later came, I had a lot of material, but nothing to write. These were other people’s memories and impressions of my Zaidy, they were representative of how they knew him.  I wanted to tell my story, my version of Zaidy, but my memory failed me. I could only think of one time where I could relate what he said, all the other memories, were just that, memories, fleeting glances and glimpse, small actions, and expression, no speech, or reaction; it was really all emotion. They all said one thing though, my Zaidy loved me.

Yes, my Zaidy was a baal chessed, yes, he was straight and righteous, yes, he was funny. He was all those things everyone who was maspid him said he was, and more really. For me, what I’ll always have is my Zaidy’s love, and the way he made me feel.

I didn’t see him that often honestly, nor did I call. I wasn’t the best and devoted grandchild. But from when I was small and fragile, and up until two days ago, when I’m now grown (and still a bit fragile), my Zaidy greeted me with, “Esther, my Esther.” Every wedding, bar mitzvah, sheva brachos, Channukah party, seldom visit that I saw him, he’d look into my eyes, clasp my cold hands tight in his perpetual warmth and say those words. I’d lean in and give him a kiss on his beard-scratchy cheek, pull back, and he’d look into my eyes again, smile small, and give my hands, still in his, a squeeze.

I was the only person in the world that mattered in those moments.

Yes, he told me stories, great mashalim for life. I remember his little notepad filled with all the funny anecdotes his kids did growing up, and him reading their mischief with pride. Yes, I spent a lot of time in the store and saw how he greeted the meshulachim, and how he made the kids say their “please and thank-you’s” to get paper. All these things, they made an impression, they shaped me, my perspectives, my priorities, they are so much a part of me, that I often forget where it started and often even attribute them to my father, who emulates my Zaidy in many ways.

But besides for the lessons and inspiration my Zaidy was for other people, and for me too, when I think of him, my first reaction, and thoughts, are love. I just feel loved. I feel loved, important, accepted, which as young confused child, to a navigating adult, I needed. And still need.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Memoir

 

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The Culture of Growing Up

Close up of The Thinker

Close up of The Thinker (Photo credit: marttj)

You could run your fingers through it, old carpet. Shaggy, is the word for it. Mottled gray, soft with age and love. I didn’t know to be embarrassed of it at that age, or of kitchen’s linoleum patched with duct-tape. Or the hole behind the door of the foyer formed by the wondrous combination of metal and child’s play. The unhinged sliding door of the closet, the chipped paint from the doorframe, and sharing a bunk bed and trundle with three other sister didn’t bother me. Neither did ripped window screen in my room. It was happy home, and I was wanting from nothing

I’ve since grown up, and become self-conscious and ashamed. I supposedly know better, am cultured and beyond my humble beginnings. There are many moments though, I wish I wasn’t.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Memoir, Writing

 

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Deja Vu All Over Again

“You see this ring?” she holds it out to me, a thick gold band. I feel its weight in my hand. “It cost your grandfather $9.” She smiles at me, mischievous glint in her eye, “A cheap wife he got!” She directs the last comment across the table to my grandfather.

We all laugh.

The dessert course continues with ice cream. She leans in toward me,

“I love ice cream, E, I have the best at home – Magic, come over after Shabbos, I’ll give you.” I nod.

The conversation turns toward my sister’s single status,

“RL,” she starts. “I always say, the right one in the right place, right one in the right place.”

RL smiles, “I know Bobby, I know.”

“You see my ring, $9, your grandfather paid for it, cheap wife he got!”

We all give a light chuckle.

The table needs to be cleared, and a few of us grumble to our feet and start stacking plates, removing platters. My grandmother looks to my father,

“Nu, H, help your wife.” He smiles good naturedly, gets up and brings in a glass or two. She looks around the table when he returns,

“Marriage,” she announces, “is 50/50. You give 50, you get 50, that’s how it has to be.” We all nod our heads and assent. She smiles wide and impishly, “You know much this ring cost–$9! Your grandfather got a cheap wife!”

Nobody even smiles.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Memoir

 

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My Father’s Hands

My father expressed his love with his hands: a handshake, a hug, a pat on the back, and I was ashamed.

They were large, smooth, and warmest to touch. With a pat on my head, a squeeze on my shoulders, and on cold winter days, enveloping my hands in his to warm up, I knew my father loved me. But I didn’t want anyone to see them.

Do you know the intoxicating smell of ink? No, not pen ink, but the real stuff, the pails of densest black, seafaring blue, and Snow White’s, blood red. That’s what was imprinted on my father’s hand, embedded in every crevice, snaking every line: dried ink. Printer’s hands.

He’d wash his hands every day, scrub them really, with a brush course enough for your kitchen tiles, but the ink stained, blemished, tarnished and everyone thought they knew who my father was: a laborer.

They saw the back support belt when he carried the large shipments of paper into the store. They saw the dirty apron he wore, to protect his clothes. They smelled the high of the ink, and heard the clanging, suction, and rotations of the machines. And they saw his hands. Even on Shabbos, even by simchas, dressed in a Marcy’s suit, they saw his hands, his ink stained hands. And he was blue collar. And I was ashamed.

Two times a year they were pure, Succos and Pesach; he didn’t work on Chol Hamoed, so there was time for repeated washings without repeated contact. My father did those days, what his heart wanted the time to do every day, listen to a shiur, do a chessed, and really, love his family. I loved my father back those days. And I’d squeeze his hand in return; he was what I knew him to be: a ben Torah. For those moments, I was proud of him. I even took pictures of his clean hands.

Time has changed the printing process. Gone are the offset presses; everything is digital now. No more noise, plates, dark rooms, negatives, and no more ink. There are no more pails of ink, only drums and cartridges keeping my father safe from exposure. His hands are white these days. Clean, pure these days. Though I’ve grown older, and come to appreciate the stained ink, the dedication, the hard work, effort and sacrifice they represent; it’s still nice to hold my father’s hand today, hands that now reflect his heart.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Memoir, Writing

 

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