Archive | October, 2014

How the Royals World Series Run Inspired Me to Finish my Mother’s Projects

30 Oct

I have a sense of completion. A sense of a burden lifted from my shoulders.   An empty container sits in my spare room. It held the pieces of an afghan that my Mom began knitting for my niece over seven years ago. This blue and white afghan made in Penn State colors was supposed to be used at college. That never happened.

But thanks to the Royals, I completed this afghan! Their drive to succeed and never give up gave me the inspiration to finish projects that my Mom had started years before she passed away.

My Mom started two afghans at the same time; a blue one for my niece and a green one for my son. She knitted large panels, completing five for both my niece’s and my son’s afghans.. She even started crocheting borders around the panels of blue that would one day become my niece’s afghan and green for my son’s.

But my Mom never finished either project.

My Mom working on the afghan for my son. My Mom working on the afghan for my son.

She could make the panels, but she never put them together. I have my opinions as to why she could not finish.   Partly I think because she had the pieces in two separate homes. Some she worked on in their apartment in New Jersey. Other pieces were completed at their home in the Catskills.

Any discussions of the afghans became a ‘tease.’ “Grandma, are you ever going to get them done?” She would nod her head and say she was working on them.

But she did not finish them.

My Mom died suddenly.  The afghans were left undone. But we were not thinking about them. We were trying to deal with life without a wonderful Mom and Grandma.

Nine months after my Mom died, my Dad died.

There were even more unexpected sorrows. My siblings and I left our parent’s homes untouched. The apartment and the house stood empty. We could not deal with the memories that awaited us. The afghans waited, forgotten.

In May of 2013, we began to clean my parent’s apartment. It had been almost two years since my Dad passed away.

While we cleaned, I found a container with some pieces of the afghans and some yarn, but not enough to finish the project. Since I am the only child who knits and crochets, I decided to send the pieces to my home in Kansas. Perhaps I could do something with them. But I knew she had completed more pieces. I just was not sure where they were.

In July of 2013 my brother and I went up to the home in the Catskills. I found the rest of the completed sections of the two afghans along with extra yarn, her crochet hooks and knitting needles, and the instructions she was using to make the afghans. My brother shipped these to my home as well.

I left the boxes in my spare room for a year, packed and untouched. I could not bring myself to open the boxes. I knew what was in them. I knew I needed to do something with them. But I just did not know if I could actually complete them.

But this summer, I finally tackled the boxes. A neighbor, a young woman I have known since she was in preschool, was raising money for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society by helping people organized.   Although I am usually organized, I needed help for this project. For my donation to the charity, I received five hours of help.

We went through all the boxes. We unpacked all the yarn, thread and instructions. We placed the pieces of the two separate afghans into two separate containers. I could see what needed to be done to complete the afghans. But I still was not quite ready to work on them.

I was not quite ready to pick up the pieces that my Mom had started so long ago. I was not ready to touch the afghans she had worked on so lovingly. My son and my niece both celebrated birthdays this month. Both are October babies. And with the Royals in the Pennant Race, I began to think more and more about the afghans. I felt that she wanted me to finished them this year. I could not give up on this project, just as the Royals would not give up on their October quest!

Game four of the World Series, Royals versus Giants. Since we live in the Kansas City metropolitan area, this is a very big event. My husband was out of town.   I was home alone, watching the game by myself. And I decided it was time. I could work on an afghan as I watched.

My niece's afghan, what my Mom had completed. My niece’s afghan, what my Mom had completed.

I brought now the tub that had my niece’s afghan. I put the pieces on the floor. I could see that my Mom had completed white borders around two of the panels, and started the borders around two others.   I set myself the goal of completing the borders while I watched the game. COMPLETED!

I then examined the pieces. My Mom had made each panel a slightly different size. I think this might be why she did not put them together. She did not know what to do.   I did not want to change these panels. I had three long ones (one very long) and two short ones. So I made a design using the shorter panels to go above and below the longer panels.

I began to sew them together, gathering as needed. I put the longest panel to the outside. And I finished that during Game 5! Then I began a border around the entire afghan. First I did a row of single crochet in white; then a row of double crochet in white. I knew my Mom would never leave a white border. So I added a single crochet of blue, and then a double crochet row of blue. It still did not look right. I then added a scallop. Perfect.

My niece's afghan completed during game 6. My niece’s afghan completed during game 6.

I finished it the day before my niece’s birthday, during Game 6. Yes even during all that excitement, I was able to crochet.  I mailed it to her on her birthday, in the afternoon before Game 7.

I thought finishing the projects my Mom started would be too painful to accomplish. But I was wrong. I felt a burden lift from my shoulders as I began to crochet. I think my Mom would be happy to know what I was doing!

The pieces my Mom finished of my sons afghna. The pieces my Mom finished of my sons afghna.

Before Game 7 of the World’s Series, I brought the container that held my son’s afghan into my family room. I took out the five pieces and decided what I needed to do. This border was different than the one my Mom had put around my niece’s afghan.   I began to crochet.

Sometimes my mind wandered to my Mom. I thought about her knitting and crocheting these panels. My stitches have a slightly different tension than hers. But it does not matter. When I crochet, I feel close to my Mom.

The Royals lost the game, but they showed so much vitality and good sportsmanship. Even when our catcher was hit hard in the leg with a pitch, he battled through the pain. I felt for him!

He never gave up.

Finishing my Mom’s projects during the World’s Series seemed like the perfect project to accomplish.   Soon my son’s afghan will be completed as well. Thank you to the Royals for a great October and for giving me the inspiration to succeed in a project as well.


A Night in the Hospital Used To Be a Nightmare for Children

26 Oct


My actual Candy Striper Hat from the early 1970s.  I had to wear it at the hospital.

My actual Candy Striper Hat from the early 1970s. I had to wear it at the hospital.

When I was a sophomore at North Bergen High School I volunteered as a Candy Striper at North Hudson Hospital on Park Avenue, in Weehawken, New Jersey. For about a year I went once or twice a week after school or on the weekend to work mainly in the children’s wing, doing whatever the nursing staff requested. I also made origami animals for the children in the wards.

In those days there were strict visiting hours. Parents could not spend the day, much less the night with their children. And children were often lonely and scared. Since I was allowed there at times other than visiting hours, I could visit with the children. Making the origami figures cheered them up. I always gave my creations to the children when I was done. I worked enough hours to earn my 100-hour pin and more.

My volunteering came about because of my sister and my own experience in the hospital. When I was six, I had tonsillitis. For months I had tests and blood tests. They told my parents I had leukemia, which then was a death sentence. It turned out that I only had tonsillitis. What a relief! But I needed my tonsils out!

I remember my Dad taking me to the hospital in the morning and promising to be with me all the way. But after the nurses took me on the gurney to the elevator, my Dad was left behind when the elevator doors closed. I remember screaming for him all the way to the operating room.

I was traumatized. So was my Dad. He told me years later that he would hear the sound of my screaming in his dreams.

Because of this horrible experience, when my own daughter needed surgery when she was six, I looked for options.   Things had changed over the years, but most important I am married to a pediatrician.   We knew the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. My husband was allowed to scrub in and go with our daughter into the operating room. Once she was under the anesthesia he had to leave. But at least she was not alone, like I was so many years before.

It was not only this event that made me want to be a Candy Striper. I was hospitalized several times as a child for bronchitis, which I found out later in my life, was asthma. Those few days alone in the hospital without my parents, except for short visits were horrible. Scared and alone, I would often cry.

But the worst was my sister. When she was in elementary school she had an emergency appendectomy.   The surgery went fine, but they put her in a room with other children and she developed all sorts of diseases: strep throat, a staph infection and more. She was in the hospital for over two weeks.

It was a horrible time for my family. I remember my parents crying and worrying. They were only allowed in the hospital for a short period two or three times a day. Traveling back and forth was difficult. My parents were both working. My brother and I were not allowed to see her, as children were not allowed in the hospital.   I remember going there one time and sitting in the car in the parking lot. My Mom went upstairs and my sister waved to us from the window, we got out of the car and waved back.

My sister finally came home. But she was home from school for another two weeks. We were a totally stressed out family by this point. Everyone was on edge and scared. That two-week period is nothing compared to what other families faced. Not being able to be there made it so much worse!

Life is so much better now that parents able to visit their sick child in the hospital whenever they like, even to spend the night with them. Not that anyone should get sick. But at least if they are sick, parents are allowed all the access they need and want. Children’s hospitals do all they can to make hospitalizations as easy as possible. Bright colors and decorations make the hospital look cheerful. The scary old look of hospitals is eliminated as much as possible in today’s children’s hospitals.

Another change is the limited time spent in the hospital. When I had my tonsils out in 1961, I spent two nights in the hospital. When my daughter had her surgery she was sent home that evening, partly because my husband would be home in case of an emergency. But even if she stayed, it would have been for less than 24 hours. (I will admit that I spent the night on the floor of our daughter’s bedroom.)

Part of the reason for the limited hospital stay is exactly what happened to my sister. Patients in the hospital have infectious and contagious diseases. It is best not to be around them. Now children have private rooms with space for the parents to stay. Then my sister was in a room with at least one other child at all times. There was no room for parents. And the other occupant could spread disease.

So with this history, as soon as I was of the right age, I volunteered at the North Hudson Hospital to help children. I had a great time for about a year. Then something happened. All I knew is that I was in the office of the head of volunteering and my Dad came to get me.   I honestly did not remember what happened, except that I was sick to my stomach.

I never went back to the hospital after that. And I decided I never wanted to be a nurse or a doctor. (I still think it is strange that I married a doctor.) But I kept my Candy Striper hat because I was proud of what I had done.

Years later, I was telling my daughter about being a Candy Striper and how I loved being with the children. She asked why I stopped. I told her I really did not know. My Dad happened to be with us during this conversation. He said, “You don’t remember? You went into the wrong room. A man had, who had been in a car accident, died, and you passed out.”

No wonder why I have always hated the sight of blood and disliked going to the hospital. It all made sense. But I am glad I volunteered for the time I did.

Luckily for me, my children never had to spend the night at a hospital. But over the years, many of my friends’ children have had surgeries or have had to spend a night. I am so glad their experiences are so much better than they were in the 1960s! I am so glad that parents and family can visit and give the children the love and support that they need. I am glad that it no longer is a nightmare for children who are sick to spend the night in the hospital.

The Ghost In The Basement: A True Ghost Story

23 Oct

When I was 9, my family moved from one side of North Bergen to the other side, to a house on 78th Street and Boulevard East. It was a great house with a wonderful backyard on a street with lots of children and fine neighbors.

Next door, our neighbor grew peaches and when they ripened he would give us some. There were two other girls my age, plus children for my brother and sister to play with. Up the hill at the other corner lived James Braddock, yes Cinderella Man, the great boxer.  We were one block from the park and could easily look across the Hudson River to New York City. There was so much to do and so many places to explore!

I loved my street. We had great games of stickball, played at each other’s homes, and wandered over to the park. And we even had the Grandma of one of my friends watch over us when our Mom was still at school; Mom was a teacher. It was a wonderful community.

As for my house, I loved it sort of…well…. except for the ghost in the basement. From the moment we moved in, I knew he was there. I would see him or feel him in certain areas of the basement. But my parents did not believe there was actually a ghost. They thought I just wanted to avoid chores. When we first moved there, I was really scared. I would confront my parents and cry to them, “There is a ghost in the basement! Really. There is really a ghost. I am not making it up!!”

But nothing ever changed their mind. I still had to go help with the laundry and do chores. I eventually just came to accept the ghost. He never hurt me or really did anything spooky. He was just there, in the basement and on the back stairs. He just became part of my life. I stopped talking about him.

I set up a little house in the basement for my dolls, doll furniture and me. And I would often play there. I put down scraps of linoleum to mark the outlines of my house. I felt safe there, within my ‘house.’ I always felt a sense of warmth when I sat in my area. But at night, when it was dark, or on rainy days, I would get a different vibe from our basement dweller. And I did not want to go down the basement then.

When I got older, I dreamt about the ghost. I knew, in my heart, that he was from the Revolutionary War, and I knew he died in battle. But it did not make sense because even though my area of New Jersey was part of the original settlements. The battles around Ft. Lee were several miles from my home. I could not understand how a dying soldier could make it that far along the Hudson River and the cliffs of the Palisades. But I knew he was a soldier. I just did not know about any battles close to home.

Then recently, on the “Town of North Bergen” Facebook page, some one posted a link to a booklet: “North Bergen Yesterday” by Michael K. Kruglinski and others, published in 1997. And right on the cover it says “May 27, 1780, Patriots Attack British Blockhouse at the Top of Bull’s Ferry Road.” Oh My Goodness! Bull’s Ferry Road, the scariest road in North Bergen, is easy walking distance from my childhood home!!! There was a Revolutionary War battle right where I walked many times. So close to my home!

This was it! I remembered back to my childhood haunting, and thought, The Ghost is explained!”

Now before you think I am totally crazy, I am really not the only one who saw the ghost. He never came into to our kitchen. He haunted the basement and would come up the basement stairs to the landing to the back door off the kitchen and stand there. He never went outside. He never entered our living areas. He just liked standing in the entranceway, watching.

One day, when I was a freshman or sophomore at North Bergen High School, I had some friends over. We were sitting in the kitchen having a snack, when one of them started to scream. “There is a man standing there.”   She was looking behind me towards the steps. I knew exactly what she saw.

“No,” I said, “Don’t worry, that is just the ghost from the basement..”

My statement did not go over very well.

My two friends started screaming and headed for the front door to run out. Oh no! My brother had just arrived home. He was coming in the front door and popped his head into the window on the door to look in before he entered. He startled them! My friends really started screaming then. As he opened the front door, they ran out!!!

A high school senior, my brother thought we were all insane. I really never was scared of the ghost once I got older. But when my friends started screaming, I did as well. They did not want to go back into my house, so instead we walked around the corner to one friend’s apartment. Once we got there, and they had calmed down, I told them all about the ghost in the basement.

We all saw the same thing.   A young man standing against the wall in the doorway. He had long brownish hair in a ponytail and was wearing a dark/black ‘turtleneck’ type shirt…or so it seemed, and a long jacket. He always wore the same thing.

I told them that he was safe. Not to worry.

That evening at dinner my brother told my parents the story of my crazy friends running out of the house. None of them believed that the ghost existed.   My Dad said my friends were being ridiculous that I probably told them about it, so they thought they saw him. It was just a matter of suggestion!

“But Dad, “ I insisted. “I never told them about the ghost. I never told anyone about him. They saw something and mentioned it first; they started screaming, before I told them.”

He did not really believe me. But it was the truth.

My sister was home during the great ghost sighting, although she did not see him. She actually never saw him, although she admits that “the basement was creepy!”

However, I believe other friends saw my ghost over the years. He would just stand there, always watching. I never spoke about him outside of the house, except with friends who had seen him.

In fact over the years, I stopped thinking about him. Once in a while I would remember the day my friends got so scared, but that was secondary to my ghost.

So seeing this book and this sentence about a Revolutionary War battle so close to my home brought it all back, just in time for Halloween. I hope he has found peace and is no longer haunting my childhood basement and stairs. It has been 234 years. I think he deserves some peace.

But I do wonder if the people who live in my childhood home ever feel the presence of the ghost in the basement?

Voting Is Your Obligation! Not Just Your Right!

20 Oct

I vote! Since I moved to Kansas and settled, I have voted in almost every election including primaries. I say almost, because for a long time I did not affiliate with either party. And as an independent, you cannot vote in primaries. But living in Kansas, I realized that being a registered Republican was the way to go, as that is the party where the most important primaries are held.

When I first got the right to vote, I remember my parents telling me that voting was not just a right, it was my obligation. If I did not like how the government ran, but I did not vote, then I had no grounds to complain. And then they pointed out that in Germany of the early 1930s if more ‘sane’ people had voted, perhaps there would not have been a Nazi Germany.   In fact the silent majority should never be silent. Their voices must be heard. And the ballot is a good place to be heard.

In college I studied politics as my minor. It was a good background for understanding the political process. Not one that is very pleasant right now, but I do understand it.

So for each and every election, I read. In the past it was just newspapers and articles in magazines. Interviews on television helped. But now with the internet, I do lots of research. In Kansas we even re-elect judges. There used to be a website to see how judges were rated. I went there as well. Now it is a little more difficult, but there is one to review the major judges.

Over the years I would keep a list of those candidates I wanted to vote for so that on Election Day I easily be able to cast my ballot. And I always listed the issues and the vote for those as well. At first my husband and I had separate views on voting, but over the years he slowly moved to my point of view. I vote for the person I think will do the best job whether they be democrat or republican. I have had signs for candidates from both parties on my lawn at the same time.

Eventually he just asked me for my list. We used to joke that I control his vote. But this led to conflict with our daughter.

When my daughter was a senior in high school, she took American Government as one of her classes. It is a class that all students need to take in Kansas, perhaps in other parts of the country as well.

It was early November. Not a big election, just local. We were at the dinner table when my husband asked me for the list, as he was going to vote early in the morning.   I had it ready. And as I gave it to him, I also explained the topics/issues that were going to be voted on, besides electing officials. I explained that for one a Yes vote really meant No and he should vote No, even though we were for a yes decision.

As we were discussing the list, my daughter started ranting.   “I cannot believe you are telling Dad who to vote for!! Don’t you know that in this country people do not have to tell who they are voting for?! It is private. Dad should be able to vote for and how he wants without you telling him!”

My husband and I looked at each other. And calmly, my husband responded, “Your Mom reads everything. She researches. She analyzes and she thinks about who and what will be the best vote for her. I respect your Mom’s opinion. And I do not have the time to do the research she does. She is not telling me who to vote for.   I am asking her.”

I thought it was great. Our daughter stomped to her room. And we continued the conversation.

2012 election, a long line to vote!

2012 election, a long line to vote early!

In Kansas we can vote early, so that Election Day is not so crazy.   And it helps especially for those who work long hours. I often go with a good friend and neighbor. We laugh because we know that we are cancelling out each other’s votes for most of the candidates. I think her husband thinks we are crazy. But we enjoy standing on line to vote.   Since my children vote I have been doing this more often with them.

Back to my daughter: that winter she turned 18. At her high school she could register to vote, which she did. I gave her the same speech my Dad gave me. In the fall she would be able to vote in her first election. It was a big one. President, senator, congressman, state and local officials were all up for election.

She sent away for her absentee ballot as she was in college in New Jersey. The ballot came back filled with names and issues.

The phone rang. It was my daughter.   “Mom,” she said contritely, “ could you email me the list?”

“What list?” I asked politely.

“You know what list. The list of whom you are voting for!” She said a little strongly.

“Nope. I cannot send you the list. I don’t want to tell you who to vote for. In the USA everyone gets to decide for themselves.” I thought telling her what she had yelled at us the previous year would make my point.

“OK, I understand what Dad was saying. There are so many people and issues on this ballot. I don’t know who to vote for. May I please have the list,” she responded. (I know these are not the exact words, but they are very close.)

So I emailed it to her. I now provide information for three voters. Since she lives out of the USA and does all her voting by absentee ballot. Since she does not know what is happening locally, I send her my list every year for her to fill her ballot. We do discuss the issues and the candidates. She can vote for whomever she wants to. But my list is the starting point.

As for my son, he is much more agreeable at times. And for voting, he never argued. He turned 18 one month before the 2008 election.   He was excited. He registered to vote immediately. In Kansas we don’t have primaries for presidential candidates; instead, we have a caucus. My son went with his Dad to the Democrat caucus. They allowed young people to come and caucus even if they were not registered Democrats. It was a great experience for him. The school was packed! What a wonderful lesson for everyone of democracy at work.

I was at the Republican caucus with my friend. We of course voted for different Republicans for president. But it was still an important part of the democratic process. And I am glad I participated.

When election time came in November, there was no discussion.   My son and I went early to vote. We stood on line together. I took a photo of him standing on line for his first election. A friend of mine is one of the election workers, and she was the one to sign him in for his first vote.   We were all excited. Voting is so important. I was glad my son let me go with!   I did not get to do this with my daughter, so I was excited to do it with my son.

He took his copy of the list and I took my copy of the list and we both went into separate voting booths and voted. I now advise four voters, myself included.

Voting is an obligation. Being an informed voter is also an obligation. Do not just go into the voting booth and push buttons. Know the issues. Know the candidates. Then vote! Yes my family takes my list. But I discuss every decision I have made with them. They have a choice. Once they are in their voting booth they can vote for whomever they want. I just provide information.

Remember now you have to bring identification to vote in Kansas. Do not miss your chance to have your voice heard.

Election Day is coming. VOTE!

Early Morning Fishing Expeditions Were Another Summer Joy

18 Oct

When the mist was still rising above the lake and the sun had not totally come out; when the cool air forced you to wear a lightweight jacket over your clothes, then was the best time to go fishing!

But fishing did not just happen. You had to prepare. First you had to gather the worms. We never went shopping for worms. NO! You got your metal coffee can prepared ahead of time: filled with dirt and holes punched into the plastic lid. Then you waited for a rainy day, when the worms crawled out of the dirt. Collection began then.   You had to collect the living worms, the ones that were still squiggly and crawling and pick them up and put them in your coffee can.

Success was at least 20 worms.

Next step was getting permission and finding an adult who would go to the lake with you. On the weekends, usually a dad would come along. And sometimes the dad who was up for the week would come. But we also had grandfathers who would sometimes go fishing with us. We just had to get up early, collect our gear and go across the street to our dock on Kauneonga Lake.   We would fish off the dock or stand in the shallow water next to it to fish.   This is the time before we were allowed to go on a boat.

Once the permission was granted and a supervising adult was found, then the day was selected. TOMORROW! We will go fishing tomorrow morning. You have to be up at 6 am…Ha. Perhaps 7:00 am. Usually a group of us went fishing together, carrying our fishing poles and our cans of worms. Wrapped up in a warm jacket, we made our way across the street.

I loved to fish when I was little. I did not even mind touching the worms. But I was a bit afraid of the hook. I did not want to put the worm on the hook. I had seen accidents over the years. The hook in a finger or stuck in a leg. Sometimes it got caught up in my hair. I had to wear my hair back when we went fishing. A hat was best! I did not like when the boys flung their poles to get the hook and worm further out in the water. That is usually when someone got hurt.   I liked to stand by myself a bit away from everyone else.

But I still liked it.   Oh, we also had a bucket filled with water to put the fish in that we caught. And we did catch fish. Some were too small and had to be thrown back in. But some were just perfect. And they went into the bucket. They would be dinner eventually!

Fishing usually lasted an hour or two, and then we would take our catch back across the street. Near the area when the cars parked was a big rock and wooden low wall. That is where we cleaned the fish.   When we were really little the dads and grandpas did the cutting and cleaning. But I have to admit, I was really good at it. When I was about 10, it became my job. I could cut off the head and filet the fish the best of all! I do not care what my siblings, cousins or friends say, I know I was the best.

In later years this skill became important. During high school and college I worked in a deli, both in North Bergen, New Jersey, and at Daitch Shopwell in Monticello. I was the best at filleting the white fish. People would choose their white fish and then ask that I filet it.   I very rarely left any bones in. So fishing gave me a lifetime skill.

But when we filleted the fish from the lake, we sometimes found lots of eggs inside and other interesting features. It was somewhat gross, but also somewhat intriguing. I liked to be neat and organized about it.

After the fish were filleted, we would clean them and then wrap them in white paper. This is when the moms would get involved. They had to be wrapped perfectly to go in to the refrigerator. Sometimes we had them that evening on the grill. Other times we waited for the dads on the weekend to eat our catch.

When we got older we could go out on a rowboat to go fishing. I used to go with a friend of my parents. I remember Bernie getting me early in the morning to go out on his rowboat and fish. I loved it. Bernie E and his family had a bungalow on the property that was next to my grandparents’ colony. They lived near my grandparents in West New York, New Jersey. And they bought their property because of my grandparents.

One of my cousins now owns this property along with a piece of my grandparents’ colony. He has a great view of the lake. When I see it now, I am amazed. He has one home when four bungalows used to stand. It makes me realize how small the bungalows really were!

Besides fishing, we also could collect crayfish. These are like little lobsters. They lived among the rocks that held up the docks. We never ate them. We just liked to catch them. The boys liked to play with them. During the summer you would get to recognize different crayfish because of a missing claw or a scar. Those were usually put back into the water.

I would have loved to share my joy in fishing with my children. But living in Kansas, with no lakes nearby made that nearly impossible. However, we had a chance. It just did not go well at all.

Lara fishing lake of ozarks

My husband’s Aunt Matt and Uncle Stan spent every summer at the Lake of the Ozarks, a large man-made lake, which supplied the water power that ran the hydroelectric industry in Missouri. They also owned two weeks in March of time-shares in what were known as ‘tree-houses’ at a resort called Tan-Tar-A. All the nieces and nephews in easy driving distance, those of us in St. Louis and Kansas City, had open invitations to spend time with them. My husband’s Mom died when she was only 59, and her sister, Aunt Matt, took her role as substitute grandma very seriously. So for us an invitation to visit was really a veiled command. One that we loved to obey.

When my daughter was about three, we went to spend a long weekend with them in March. Uncle Stan was so excited, “Precious (he called all the little ones Precious), Do you want to go fishing?” He said. She nodded. And his joy was immense.

The search for bait began. My husband and his uncle drove to several different bait places looking for minnows. Almost all were closed. The season had not yet started. But finally, after hours of searching, they found an open store and brought home minnows. They had forgotten that they had no containers, so they used a big plastic container. Our daughter played with the fish all afternoon. Later that evening, we noticed our daughter walking around with plastic container.   “Where are the minnows?” My husband asked.

“In the sink!” was the reply. She was done with minnows.

My husband and his uncle ran to the bathroom. Some fish were still alive. They filled the sink with water, hoping against hope it would work. No way. That chlorine wiped the fish out. There were no minnows. There was no fishing expedition in the morning. And to be honest, we never tried fishing again with my daughter.   Of course Uncle Stan and Aunt Matt were fine about it. Aunt Matt’s response was typical for her, “Wasn’t that cute?” Uncle Stan chewed on the stub of his cigar. He never actually lit it when children were around, but he did chew a lot that evening!

Years later our nephews tried to get our son interested in fishing. They lived close to Uncle Stan in the St. Louis area, and had gone fishing with him at a nearby pond. But they could not get my son interested. Sitting still and waiting for a fish to take the bait was not his idea of fun. They even gave him a used fishing pool in an effort to convince him to like it. Did not work.

It is the only summer joy that I never was able to instill in my own children. And although I wish they would have learned to enjoy fishing, my memories make up for their lack of enjoyment.


What IS Going On With Elections In Kansas?

16 Oct

What is going on in Kansas? We actually have a true election for governor, senator, state senator, congressman and secretary of state for Kansas.   It is wild here. Over the past two weeks, at my home, we have had eight phone calls from polling companies wondering how we, in Kansas, plan to vote. In Kansas we usually are ignored in national elections and even state elections. If we vote, everyone assumes we will vote Republican. We are a red state.

But not this year! This year people are really frustrated and annoyed. Our Secretary of State has wandered too far from Kansas. He is so involved with issues in other states concerning immigration and voter id laws, that he has ignored his role as secretary of our state. He is playing partisan politics when he should be focusing on the state of KANSAS. Could it be that Kris Kobach will lose his position to Democrat Jean Kurtis Schodorf? Wow!

Our senior senator does not appear to live in Kansas. It was obvious in the primary campaign that he has not lived in Kansas for years. He lives in DC and rarely comes back here to hear what the citizens of his state are thinking about or are concerned about. Now he, Pat Roberts, is being challenged by an independent, Greg Orman. But first there was controversy over the Democratic contender pulling out of the race. It was contentious and interesting.

Voting has never been so exciting in the 30 years I have been living in Kansas. This election is somewhat fun. The outcome is important, but seeing people actually talking about the elections is amazing. Elections are important, and discussing the pros and cons is wonderful!

However, the nasty commercials for senator have been disturbing. I know that both sides are getting money from outside of Kansas, and that this politics. But honestly, I think it is time for Roberts to go. I believe he is out of touch with what is really happening in Kansas. We will see what happens. Could an Independent win? Perhaps!

And then there is the governor’s race. Oh Boy Oh Boy!!! This race has really heated up the airways. I have to be honest, I find the commercials disgusting. I would not vote for Brownbeck after his character destroying ads against Paul Davis. What nastiness has developed in this election bid! The black and white and red photos of Davis and the nasty innuendos about his character and being at a strip joint are just out of line. And perhaps Brownbeck himself is not involved in these ads, perhaps they are from outside groups, but still he has to have known about them.

In Kansas we are nice and polite. These ads are more like the ones I would have expected in my childhood state of New Jersey. Not my adult state of Kansas. Of course there is nothing said yet about Docking, her family’s roots are too strong in Kansas. But I am waiting…

The Supreme Court decision allowing big money into elections is killing us and destroying common decency. And the nasty ads about Davis are the obvious result of this decision.

As for the federal congressional race, it is the Democrat with somewhat nasty ads focusing on an incident that occurred when our congressman was in his first term. And it is true he skinny-dipped in the Sea of Galilee, or Kinneret, in Israel. I will admit the ad is somewhat amusing, all those supposedly naked people and the jokes? But is that why we should or should not vote for someone? Because he went skinny dipping?   I do not know if Yoder or Kultala will win, but I wish they would focus on the issues at hand not the one time skinny dip in the lake!

In fact I wish that all the commercials would focus on the facts of our races not on Obama. Really, he is not running. What needs to be discussed is schools and school finance; abortion and women’s rights; gay and lesbian rights to marry and live as married couples if they married in another state, and the loss of revenue in our state due to the tax cuts.   I really do not care if Davis went to a strip joint when he was 26 and unmarried. It happens. It would bother if he was older and married. But he was not. So stop. Focus on issues that are important to the people who live here.

I wish we could have politeness in politics, not personal attacks. I want to know what our candidates will do for our state and our country and our citizens. Not how nasty they can be to the other candidate.

In Kansas we have early voting. It starts on October 20. My husband wants to know if we vote then can we somehow turn off all these commercials? They are offensive. As soon as the music begins and the black, white and red film begins, we tune out!

I think we need change in Kansas. It is time to recognize that marriage is a right that all our citizens deserve. Marriage is a contract that binds between two people that gives them certain rights in terms of insurance, taxes, property ownership, inheritance and parenthood. If two people love each other they should be allowed all the rights of marriage, and all the work that goes into keeping a marriage happy and alive. And with that I am proud of Judge Kevin Moriarty! What a mensch! He ordered that same sex couples should be eligible for marriage licenses in Johnson County!

If people say they want government out of people’s personal life, then please stay out of my personal rights. I, as a woman, have the same rights as a man. And if I want to take medication, I should be able to do it without some government official telling me what medicine I take. It should only be between a woman and her doctor. I do not see anyone complaining about men getting vasectomies! Or women getting their tubes tied. So if they want birth control, they should be able to get it!

Kansas we have a chance in this election to make a statement for the first time in years! It is exciting times in Kansas.

But everyone needs to get out and vote!!! We can participate in early voting beginning on October 20. I do not care whom you vote for. But if you do not vote, then you cannot complain about the election results.

We have real choices in Kansas this year. Make your choice and vote!

The Chicago Marathon as a Spectator Sport

12 Oct
The non-elite runners lined up to start the Chicago marathon.

The non-elite runners lined up to start the Chicago marathon.

My husband is running the Chicago Marathon for the 8th time in ten years. When he turned 50 he decided he wanted to run a marathon. So he started training and at age 51 ran his first full marathon.   Over the years he had to miss two Chicago Marathons due to travel or injury. But he continues to train. And this year, at age 60, he is running again. I also prepared, for my role as a marathon spectator.

This year was different. In January my husband herniated a disk in his spine.   It was at the most inconvenient location, but with the miracle of surgery, he was able to have a microdiscectomy and recovered. However there were some issues he had to battle. First with no exercise for eight weeks, his right leg muscles had atrophied. He battled to get his leg back into shape. Even with all he did, that leg is still a bit weaker than it was before and his training took a bit of a hit.

Second he is a drop slower than he was before. As I watch his progress in the marathon on text message alerts, I can see that he is running about 20 seconds a mile slower than he did last year at the beginning of the race. Not a major difference, but when you are going 26 miles…that adds minutes. And as the marathon progresses, I know he will slow down. So I am a bit worried in my role as spectator.

I do not run marathons. I do not run. I walk. I enjoy walking. I try to walk 2.5 to 3 miles daily. Yesterday, as we are in Chicago I walked 8.9 miles all along the waterfront, in the Field Museum and along Michigan Avenue. Over 17,000 steps, but that is my limit. I have no desire at all to go 26 miles. In fact, to a degree, I think my husband is mildly insane. As is his friend who is running the marathon as well.

The night before I went online and set up text messaging alerts so I would know when they started, hit 10 k, half way, 30 k and finished. It is important as a spectator to know when these events occur. I will admit, this year the notices were much more timely than they have been in the past.

They started out together this morning. At 7:00 in the morning, they left the condo and walked to the corrals. I got up for a few minutes to take their annual pre-marathon photo. Then they left. They would start about the same time, but since his friend runs much quicker, (his starting pace was 10:41 per mile), he will be done at least an hour earlier than my husband if he keeps this pace.

They prepared for this. They trained for this. They ate their pasta dinner last night. They have their special shoes, socks, clothes, their energy foods and drinks. They want to run. But at age 60 and one week; and age 59 and 10 ½ months, the training and the running take a toll.

Before my husband ran this year, his cardiologist ran a new test. And my husband’s heart was fine. The doctor turned to me and said, “I wanted to tell him he could not run this year. But he looks great.” And that is all my husband needed. He brings me doctor reports each year to prove all is okay, because I am nervous about this 26.2 mile run. But as a spectator, I had to go along with the doctor’s decision.

I fill out the back of my husband’s number bib with emergency numbers. I go to watch to make sure all is okay. They both know not to rush and to stop if it is too much. But with the weather as nice as it is, I know they will both finish this year.

As a marathon spectator, I cheer on everyone I can. If I see someone with their name emblazed across their shirt, I scream for them. I figure if they put their name on they want the encouragement. I love watching for those who are newly married or engaged. They often wear veils or announcements on their shirts. This year was not different. I saw a couple wearing bright yellow shirts. One said “she said yes.” The other, “Newly engaged.” This year I saw someone wearing a Royals t-shirt. Of course I cheered him on. As a citizen of the Kansas City metro area, we are all Royals right now.

There were people dressed as comic book heroes, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. There were people wearing capes, skirts and costumes. There was a man juggling as he walked.

Some were running, some were walking, some were stretching, some were drinking energy drinks. All were intent on their goal.

My friend and I always wait about the 16-mile marker to cheer our husbands on their trek. This year was a bit different. Usually we are part of a crowd of their children, spouses and a grandma. This year they all could not come. So it was just my friend and I. But we kept tradition. We waited till both of our husbands ran past. We gave them extra energy food and water. We provided each with encouragement. Then we completed another marathon tradition for us as spectators and walked to Athena Restaurant in Greek town for a delicious lunch.

We had roasted lamb and potatoes. And talked about our children and our husbands. Then we slowly walked back to the condo. Along the way I congratulated everyone we saw who was wearing a medal or a silver blanket. I figured if they ran that marathon they deserved a little praise. They all responded with a “thank you.”

I took a photo for a young couple who were taking photos of each other. Of course they wanted a photo together with their medals and silver blankets, so I took it for them.

When we returned to the condo we waited. The first text arrived. My friend’s husband was done. An hour later he returned. Tired, but happy. A short time later the other text arrived. My husband had completed the marathon. With his arrival back the marathon was officially over.

They both ran faster than they had the year before and were both pleased with their run. They were tired and sore. But had a great sense of accomplishment.

Now they start the plans for next year and another marathon. And I am ready to continue my role as marathon spectator. A job I enjoy!

Hidden Memories, They Do Exist!

10 Oct

Lately in the Kansas City area we are hearing much about ‘recovered’ memories due to a trial concerning the Catholic Church and a man who alleges he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a child. The man says he repressed that memory until he was an adult and a friend told him about another child who was abused.

And I believe him, because about three years, I had a similar event. Memories that I had repressed and forgotten were uncovered because of a conversation.

It started simply enough. My husband and I were meeting a friend of ours for lunch and then we were going to the movies. My husband was going to a movie he wanted to see, and my friend and I were going to a ‘chick flick.’ But that is not what ended up happening.

When we met for lunch, my friend told us that she would not go to the movies, because another friend called and needed help with a party. My husband was annoyed. He said, “Well that takes care of that. No movie today.”

“Why not?” My friend asked. “You can still go to the movies.”

“No,” my husband responded. “Ellen does not go to the movies by herself.”

“You don’t!” My friend was surprised. “Why not?”

This is when I entered the conversation. I had never really thought about the fact that I never went to the movies by myself. I know lots of people who do, but I never ever went into a movie by myself.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t go to the movies by myself.”

My friend wanted answers, but I had none for her at that moment. But

as we ate lunch my brain kept thinking about it. Why don’t I go to the movies? There are many movies I want to see. When I go out of town, my husband always goes to the movies he wants to see that he knows I won’t go to. But I never do that. I have friends who go on their own in the afternoon. But I never do that. I wait till my husband or a friend will go with me. Why don’t I go to the movies by myself. It was really beginning to bother me.

Suddenly, I had a memory from my childhood, from a Saturday afternoon at the Embassy Theater in North Bergen. I remembered a bad thing.

“I think something happened in a theater when I was little,” I said. “I need to speak to my brother. He would know, because he was there.”

And that is where it ended. After lunch we went home because I really do not go to the movies by myself.

A few weeks later I flew to New Jersey to see my Dad. My brother picked me up at the airport. As he drove, I told him the story about not going to the movies alone and my memory of a man in the dark movie theater, sitting next to me, doing something nasty.

“Yes,” my brother told me. “It happened. “ And for the very first time that I remember, we talked about that day.

When we lived on Third Avenue, we went to the movies almost every weekend. There was an older boy, someone’s brother, who would take a group of us to the movies. About 8 to 10 of us would go each week. Sometimes we walked to the Embassy Theater and sometimes the fathers drove us. The older boy, a teenager, would sit in the middle of the group. My brother said the older boy was about 14; the rest of us ranged in age from about 7 to 10.

This one time, I had to go to the bathroom before the movie. My brother waited for me in the lobby. And then we went in. Because we were late, instead of sitting next to my girlfriend in the middle, I was sitting on the far left side. My brother was to my right next to the group. There was an empty seat to my left. When the movie started a man sat down next to me. He never touched me, but he exposed himself and touched himself.

I grabbed my brother on the arm. I was too scared to talk. I was about 7 or 8. At first he tried to push me off. But then he looked over and saw what was happening. My brother took my hand and pulled me to the older boy in the middle. He whispered in his ear. Everyone moved down and I was put next to the older boy.

I do not remember if he got the manager. I do not remember ever telling my parents what happened. I honestly did not remember the incident in my active brain at all. All I knew is that I do not go to the movies by myself. And I NEVER, EVER allowed my children to go alone to the movies until they were teens and driving, I always went to the movies with them. Even to movies I did not want to see!

When I go to the movies, I always sit to the right of my husband. So when I look to the left he is there. There is never a stranger next to me on the left. And I try to keep anyone I do not know from sitting next to me on the right.

My brother told me it was time to get over it, when he finished telling me what he remembered. Perhaps my brother is right. Perhaps it is the time to get over it.

But I do know that memories can remain uncover for years. That it is possible to forget something but still be impacted by actions that occurred when we were young.   And I know that an event or a converstaion can trigger the memory.

To be honest for a while I thought perhaps I was imagining it. Did this really happen to me? I did not want to ask my brother over the phone, because I thought he would laugh at me. I wanted to ask in person. I was lucky that my brother could confirm the memory. He was there. It did happen. I had a legitimate reason to be afraid.

Has my habits changed in the three years since I found out what happened? NO. I still cannot go to the movies by myself.


Oh How I Dream About Ice Cream in the Catskills… In the Summer

7 Oct

Sometimes I dream about ice cream. I know that sounds crazy, but since I became aware that I am lactose intolerant, I stopped eating ice cream about 20 years ago. It has been difficult.

When I dream of ice cream, I am always in the Catskills. It is summertime. I am standing on the side of the road by our dock and the Good Humor man comes by, and I get my favorite treat, a chocolate sundae. I am in ice cream heaven.

For years the same ice cream man came by my grandparents’ bungalow colony. Since it was situated right on West Shore Road, we would run up to the gate when we heard that ding-a-ling bell. There would be the big white Good Humor truck. Sometimes we were at our dock across the street. One of the Moms always had money to treat us. It seemed he came every day at the same time.

One year, when I was about 6, a new ice cream man was on the truck, as our ice cream man retired. But I was not forgotten. He had sent an chocolate sundae just for me. I do have to say, I was adorable with the cutest lisp when I was little. And chocolate sundae sounded like “ouclate undae. “

Ice cream treats were always the best. But it was not just the Good Humor man who made us happy.

When we moved up the hill to the new property my grandparents purchase, it had both a winter home and a bungalow, we were very close to Fink’s Kauneonga Park Bungalow Colony.   There was a small grocery store on the property, and sometimes my Mom would send us there to pick up milk or some other essential. She almost always gave us money for ice cream as well. I loved looking down into the freezer to chose a treat. I liked the cone with vanilla ice cream covered in hard chocolate and nuts.  Oh Yum!

We often got an ice cream treat at the Casino/Clubhouse at the White Lake Home Estates when we went to play bingo. And another favorite ice cream stop was Newman’s. There was an ice cream fountain there, and you could order a sundae, or perhaps a milk shake with two straws, or maybe a banana split, or a malted. Newman’s was extremely yum. The year we came up to the Catskills, and it was closed, we were devastated!

When we got older we often went to Poppy’s in Parksville. That was excitement. Usually a group of us drove there after a movie. The weirdest is that we once ran into our parents there having ice cream. We never saw them there again. I think they started going somewhere else. It was embarrassing to be out with a group in our late teens/early 20s and have our parents there. But I think they were embarrassed as well. They could not let go with their young adult children watching.

Lonely me sitting in the car watching everyone else in line to get Candy Cone!

Lonely me sitting in the car watching everyone else in line to get Candy Cone!

But the best of the best in Kauneonga Lake and White Lake is and was and always will be Candy Cone. Sitting close to the intersection of 17 B and Route 55, near to what was the Ritz Theater and across the street from El Monaco’s, Candy Cone is a Catskills dream come true. To this day, a trip to the Catskills is not complete without a stop at Candy Cone.

On the weekends my Dad would drive us up for a treat. There were so many cars waiting for people to buy soft serve ice cream. Sometimes we would get big containers to take back to the bungalow. But really the best was buying the cone you liked. I always wanted vanilla soft serve with chocolate topping. I loved how it froze and became solid on the ice cream. My Mom’s favorite was chocolate ice cream with sprinkles.   Everyone had a special.

During the week, and before we could drive, we often walked the two or so miles to Candy Cone. I will say my friend and I got in the biggest trouble on the way back from Candy Cone once.

Actually we, “D” and I, had walked around the lake, a seven-mile trek up to Happy Avenue then to 17 B then to 55 and Candy Cone and then back home!  I often made this journey with one or two of my friends. We were tired on our way back, even with the ice cream stop! I think we were about 15/16 years old. So we decided to try to hitch a ride. We stood on the side of the road and put our thumbs out to hitch. A car stopped. It was my Dad. (He was up a day early, having been on a business trip.) As we quietly crawled into the car, my Dad said, “If I ever see the two of your hitching again, I will break your thumbs.”

I honestly do not think he would ever do that, because my Dad yelled, but that usually calmed him down. My friend appreciated that he never said anything to our Moms. “Your Dad was cool,” she recently told me. “We could have been in really big trouble.” Which is true. If our Moms knew that we tried to hitch a ride, we would have been grounded, as we knew that hitching was forbidden.

Candy Cone is such a big part of our lives, that even though I cannot eat it, I still go. There is something special about sitting in the car watching everyone eating an ice cream. It brings back so many memories with our parents. In the back of Candy Cone there is a large deck to sit on. When you walk that is the best place to sit. I have been there many times with friends and cousins.

This past summer my brother, sister, nieces and I were up there. We went one time with my brother. And I thought we were done. But as we left on Sunday afternoon, and we were supposed to be on a rush to get home because my niece had to see someone, we stopped at Candy Cone.

“I hope you don’t mind,” my sister said. “ But I promised.”

And how could I let my sister break a promise to her daughter. So we had to stop. They enjoyed every bit of their cones!

There was something special about eating ice cream in the Catskills. It is no surprise that I still dream about it: that cool enjoyment of a swirl of ice cream in my mouth. Oh, how I dream about ice cream in the summertime!



Traditions Survive Across Generations

4 Oct

My grandfather was a Cohen. Born in Poland, he took this role seriously. Cohanim lead off the aliyot at synagogue; they have to be present at a “pinyon ha ben,” the ceremony for the redemption of the first born. They cannot marry a divorced woman. They do not go to the cemetery or funeral except for a very close relative. And for me the most intriguing, they lead the dukhanen on the high holidays

When I was a little girl I loved to go sit with Grandpa in shul. He had a large tallit ( prayer shawl) and would wrap me into it as I sat next to him. Whenever the Shema was said, he would lift his tallit so it covered his head and face. “Why do you do that?” I asked. Most of the other men just kept their tallit on their shoulders.

“When I say the Shema I speak to G-d,” he told me. “When you say the Shema you have to cover your eyes, ” he told me, “and think about the prayer .” To this day whenever I say the Shema I put my right thumb on one eyelid and my forefinger on my other eyelid to keep my eyes closed, just as Grandpa taught me. And I think about the words I am saying. I taught this to my children.

Because Grandpa was a Cohen on special holy days he would perform the priest prayer, the dukhanen, with other Cohanim descendants. They would be dressed in white kittals, robes, over which they wore their tallit. When they entered the sanctuary they stood at the front if the congregation and covered their heads with their tallit.

At this point my Mom told me to look away. “When the Cohanim chant this prayer they speak to G-d and his light comes. If you look once, you will go blind in one eye. If you look twice you will go blind. If you look the third time you will die,” she said.

How can you possibly die if you are already blind? Okay she admitted you cannot die, but still you must turn your face away and not watch. To this day I do turn away. I still cover my eyes. But sometimes I sneak a peek. And I said the same thing to my children.

Many congregations no longer do the dukhanen , but my congregation continues this tradition. At Rosh Hashannah this year, as I watched the Cohanim walk in and prepare for their chant I remembered my grandfather. In my mind I could see him walking to the front of the room.

My father was not a Cohen. As an Israelite, he had no special role, but he loved his Judaism and his congregation. My Dad was president of his synagogue for 11 years. A record I am sure. He worked to pass his love of Judaism to his grandchildren. Before each of my children’s bar/bat mitzvah, my parents came to stay with me. My Dad studied with them each day for the week before the service, listening to them chant Torah, helping. He was so proud as each of his six grandchildren reached this important day.

Grandpa kissing his tallit after touching the Torah.

Grandpa kissing his tallit after touching the Torah.

As the Torah comes through the aisles before being returned to its resting place behind the curtains and the doors, beneath the everlasting light,  I touch it with my siddur.  My Mother taught me to do this, as I watch the men touch it with the fringe of their tallit.  This I also taught to my children.

When I go to shul, I am never alone. Even if my husband is not with me, in my mind I see my grandparents and parents. When I chant the Amidah, standing with my feet together, I gently sway back and forth, Schukling. My children would sway with me when they were little. Sometimes my children would lose my rhythm and sway into me. Now just my husband is with me. And he sways into me sometimes with a lilt in his eye.

My husband is a Levi.  Although he does not participate in the dukanen itself, he is called out before it to help the Cohanim prepare.   Many times, he does not have to do anything, because there are more Levi than Cohanim. But he goes, he says for the exercise.  But I know that it is a tradition that remains.

When we daven together, I feel the bond lasts across the generations.
As I recently stood to say Yahrzeit for my Dad, my son was with me. He now wears my Dad’s tallit. On his head was one of my Dad’s caps. As I stood, he lean my Dad’s hat against my hand. When I sat, he turned and said,” I thought you would want Grandpa near to you.” And I did.

But when I am in shul they are always with me. Their voices swirl among the other voices chanting.