Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Therapy for Life

I'm OK, You're Not.

Those other people aren't the same;
they're different, they must be to blame.
If only they were more like us,
who would we throw beneath the bus?

My brother Mike Gale recently published a book called Of Wisdom and Ignorance and the Fine Line Between Them. 

I want to say it's a poetry book, and it is, but really, it's a book of short, to the point observations about life.  "Wry" would be the word I would use to describe these little gems.  Oh, yes, and they do happen to rhyme.

Here's a few more. 

From the section, "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder."

My next door neighbor has it all;
Two cars, a boat, a house so tall.
When asked what he thinks of me,
he craves my life's simplicity.

From the section, "Chaos Theory."

Order is so hard to keep;
endless things to fix or sweep.
But as I fix or sweep each day,
The mess in me is swept away.

From the section, "Good Sports"

Why do people love their sports,
silly men in silly shorts?
Weekend warriers think they're bold,
Cause when they stop, they start getting old.

And the poem after which I've titled this post, for its delicious little double entendre:

Your family members you can't choose;
With some you win, with some you lose.
They bring you love, they bring you strife.
They bring you therapy for life.

By the way, you can read them all for a mere $3.58.  Yes, I'm shameless!

Monday, April 11, 2011

To Us and Our Good Fortune

Rose:  The Belle after the Ball
 It's quiet here now.  My parents are tucked away in their big bed.  My Aunt Carol is in my parents' comfortable guest room.  My cousin Michael ("Aunt Carol's Mike") is downstairs on the fold-out couch.  My brother Mike ("our Mike") is folded into the little sofa in my dad's office, and I am parked on the couch in the sitting area off the kitchen.  

There is one more couch - in the living room - if you need a place to sleep tonight.

Over at my cousin Sam's house, Sam's two brothers, Howard and Ethan, Ethan's wife Rona and son Mac are scattered in spare bedrooms and on couches around the house.  Ariella, my 22 year old cousin from Melbourne representing the Australian branch of the family, is also camped over there somewhere, maybe sharing a room with Sam's daughter Imerie. 

From Ariella I learned that Australians do not want to make their own coffee, even from Starbucks beans, even if it could taste exactly like their favorite brew.  The act of leaving the house each morning to pick up the morning coffee is part of a soothing ritual.   

Howard's audacious son Shai and my hip cousin Larry the psychologist are already missed terribly, somewhere in the skies over America, winging their ways homeward.  They should both be landing soon, Shai in Washington, D.C., Larry in Berkeley.  Tomorrow we lose Ethan and clan to Connecticut.  Mike, Michael and Aunt Carol to Seattle, New York and Israel respectively.  Ariella to New York to visit more cousins before heading back down under.

My cousin Stanley and his wife Erica (from St. Louis) went with Stanley's brother Gene and wife Melanie (from Las Vegas) to the graveyard this evening, to visit Stanley and Gene's parents.  They are all still in town until tomorrow.   Next week Stan and Erica will host my daughter for first night of Pesach because she will be in St. Louis for a Wash U reunion (already?).  They promise to get the skinny on the new boyfriend, notwithstanding I feel I already have it.  There is never too much information about a new boyfriend. 

My cousin Lauren and her husband Kenny (they make a really cute couple) are still here somewhere.  Not sure whether they stayed with my Uncle Neil and his wife Gloria, or Lauren's mother, Judy.  They will head back to St. Louis in the a.m.   Unfortunately, I did not adequately connect with Lauren's brother Steven, and I am worried about him.  I will check this with Lauren later.   Oh, and yet more really cool cousins, Matt and Daniel, brothers to another "local," Sarah, all three more of Rose's grandkids. 

And those are just the out-of-towners.  Today we toasted my Great Auntie Rose on her 100th. 

My great Uncle Lou, whose birthday it is also, did not begrudge his big sis her occasion.  He's about sixteen years behind her, after all. 

The social hall at the Shalom Geriatrics Center was overflowing with people, some who have known my aunt for many decades.  Yesterday, sitting around the table at my parents' home, we picked out faces we knew from Auntie Rose's wedding photo.  "There is something about the Goller boys that looks so much like Uncle Sol."  There is my beautiful grandmother Ruth, in her prime, with the man Zayde ultimately forbid her to marry, the immortalization in this photo of their prohibited relationship some kind of heavenly poetic justice.  Some of these people must be Uncle Sol's family, or the happy couple's friends.  Who, we wondered, are the two little girls sitting at the foot of the bride and groom?   Then, today, two women walked up to take the mic while we are telling stories of Auntie Rose's life.  These two women, in their 90s, announced themselves to be the flower girl and ring bearer at Auntie Rose's wedding.  Mystery solved.

Auntie Rose is a woman with an interesting life.  She was born in Biale, Poland and traveled as a preteen with her younger sister Ruth (my grandmother) and their mother (my "bubbu Lesky") to the United States to be with my great-grandfather, Ben, or Zayda, as my mother called him.  I never knew Zayda because he died six weeks before I was born.  In fact, I was named for him.  Zayde preceded his family from Poland by eight years. As a young girl, Rose trailed her father around his business whenever he allowed it.  As a young woman she followed in her father's entrepreneurial footsteps.  After she married her handsome prince, my Uncle Sol - an ambitious tailor - she did the unheard of thing for a woman of those times - she opened a business.  She secured a loan with the help of Uncle Sol, and built a fabric store. 

Somewhere along the lines, Auntie Rose and Uncle Sol finagled a house in a development with covenants prohibiting Jewish residents by convincing a non-Jewish builder friend to buy the lot, build the house and sell it to them. 

Why, I once asked her, did you even want to be in a development full of people who didn't want to be around Jews? 

"Honey" (HAH nee), she answered me in her sweet, patient, little bit shakey voice, "why - how could they KNOW they didn't want to be around us until they had a chance to meet us?"  She knew she'd win those gentiles over, and she did.

Although my Uncle Sol eventually bought the mens furnishings factory where he got his first job, he never stopped tailoring, and was the tailor to President Truman, before and during his time in the White House.  The famous quote from Uncle Sol about Harry Truman, from an interview with a Truman Library historian, is this:

"I’ll tell you, my experience with Mr. Truman . . . In fact, I told him one time, that only in the United States could this happen—I’m Jewish—and only in America could a Jewish boy from Poland grow up to make clothes for the President of the United States. This could never happen in any other country especially in Europe. And he says, “In the United States, everything can happen. I was a farm boy and I became president. Anything can happen.”"

Auntie Rose's home has always been adorned with pictures of Uncle Sol standing with famous political figures of the era, for some of whom he tailored suits.  Auntie Rose traveled extensively with Uncle Sol, for both business and pleasure.  I'm not entirely sure who cared for their daughters (my first cousins once removed) Shirley and Laurel while they traveled, although it's highly likely that certain summer escapades that were the stories of my youth happened at my great-grandparents' country farm while their parents were away.

Auntie Rose has weathered a lot of storms too.  She apparently has the genetics of the energizer bunny.  She has miraculously survived multiple by-pass surgeries, lived through the gut-wrenching sadness of losing her oldest daughter Shirley (mother of Sam, Ethan and Howard) to cancer, and the natural death of her beloved Sol.  I think what keeps her ticking, quite frankly, is the way she collects and surrounds herself with friends, and also the way she recalls her life. 

As for her friend collection, everyone she's taken an interest in feels they have received something substantial from the relationship.  Even in the short time she's been a resident of Shalom Geriatrics, she's already become the belle of the ball.  One of the speakers today, a man who exercises with her in the indoor pool and has apparently not lost his eye for beautiful women in swimming attire, noted, "She's still hot."  Howard, emceeing, put the mic to Auntie Rose after this statement.

"Boiling," she retorted.

And... well... a lot of how she remembers her life is not exactly as it really happened.  But she puts the best dress on it from her vantage, and although it occasionally irritates those who were also there and remember it differently, her stories sustain her. 

# # #

Sleep, in my parents' sitting room, has been particularly hard to come by.  Someone wakes in the night and drifts into the kitchen for water.  Someone else gets up early and can't control themselves.  They pick up the end of the blanket draped over my head to shield me from the inconsiderate light coming through floor-to-ceiling windows, just to see if I'm there.  Well, duh.

But it is hard to complain. 

Last night I sat with my brother and cousins at Sam's house, eating kosher fried chicken and whatever else they had left over from the night before's Shabbat dinner, catching up on the plans and dreams of these wonderful people with whom I have a forever bond.  Listening with amusement or awe or pure pleasure to the younger generation of our family, coming up behind us and beginning to make lives of their own. 

I so wished my daughters were there.  I so wanted them to meet their cousins, see that these people they barely know because they did not grow up in the same community are nevertheless so much like them.  The genetic pool or maybe it's the values pool is such an amazing thing.  We speak the same language, we communicate so easily, we understand each other as though we share a skin.  We joke, we support, we agree, we suggest.  The conversation ranges from technology to ethics to newly begotten drivers' licenses to photography to politics.  The laughter flows like wine.

There are others who could not join us, and their absence is particularly felt.  Aunt Betty and Uncle Lou have one child, Jody, living in town.  We feel the absence of their other three terribly.  I wish my brother Jon was here, but he stayed home tonight.  We brought my niece Nina to represent his clan.  She is upstairs doing who knows what with Imerie.  This makes me smile.  We keep her out way too late.

The silly term, "these are my peeps" suddenly takes on the proportions of the Exodus from Egypt.  I would go anywhere, do anything, for these people.  Cousins. 

And in fact, we decide to strengthen the bonds.  To explore a reprint of the family cookbook.  We talk about taking the wonderful family tree work done by my Uncle Lou and cousin Lolly and put it "in the cloud" so that we can all contribute to it.  We talk about gathering stories so that the begat chart can be fleshed out while there are still those who remember.  We speak of visiting the family who isn't here.  About finding the family we haven't really met.  About traveling one and all to far-away places to look for lost relatives.  A sense of sudden urgency overcomes us.  It's getting late. Our parents are getting old or gone.  For the most part, our grandparents are gone.  Why are we just now having these conversations?  It suddenly seems like time is sliding out from under us and we are just beginning to appreciate the enormity of what we have.

I so badly wish my daughters were here too.   

I have some guilt about not bringing my children up in the vicinity of their cousins.  I don't think they will ever have what those of us who grew up together in Kansas City have.  But, maybe if we put our family up in the cloud, connections and reconnections will happen.  Facebook has already instigated a bit of this.  Maybe Lisa and Shai will discover each other's writing.  Maybe Jessica, Natalie, Ari, Jody and Lisa, sisters and cousins of relatively the same ages living on two different continents, will somehow connect, with God's help.  Maybe if all the parents and grandparents already up there can sway with the Universe just a little bit. 

After the first party this morning, just the family - meaning probably 40 or 50 of us - retire to Laurel & Mike's home for real food and familiness.  Laurel has pulled together both parties and can't seem to get enough of us.  We oblige her by eating her out of house and home, and taking photos of every configuration of family grouping we can think of, officially and methodically in the library with Auntie Rose, and haphazardly on the staircase, grabbing whomever is passing by.

Already the pictures are beginning to find their way to facebook.  Cousins who could not make it are "liking" what they see, and joining belatedly in the celebration.  People are promising to make it to Israel, Vegas, Phoenix, Australia.  Talking about traveling together as cousins.  It feels very, very cool. 

Being joyous together is different from the reunions we've had around funerals.  Not a funeral this, but a simcha, a celebration.  A bit of a heart-felt knock off below.

"God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor. 
How much more can we be joyful when there's really something to be joyful for?

To us and our good fortune.  Be happy! Be healthy!  Long life!
May all our futures be pleasant ones, just like the present one,

Drink l'chaim!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tell Me What You Really Think!

Do you wanna know a secret?  Ooh ah ooh.  Do you promise not to tell?  Ooh ah ooh.  Wo-o-oalk closer.  Let me whisper in your ear.  Ooh ah oooh.  All the words I long to he-e-ear.  I'm in love with you.  Oooh ooh ooh ooh.  Oooh ooh ooh ooh.

I was reading an article about "social proof," the term that denotes a measure of peer approval for an idea.  The article contended that we're all influenced by the knowledge that a lot of our "friends" like something.  In fact, if many friends like it and we haven't tried it, we're likely to think we're being left behind! 

While as a generic thing, it's undoubtedly true that we are influenced by friends' opinions, the article was specifically talking about the little "like" icon that shows up next to all kinds of things these days. 

You know, I admit to being influenced when a foodie friend lets me know she had a really good meal at a new restaurant.  I admit to being influenced when certain friends tell me they loved a new best selling novel.  But... there's nothing about an anonymous tip that gets me going. 

Part of the friend-influence factor is who the friend is, and my level of respect for their expertise in the thing "liked."  Back to my foodie friends: I am more likely to be interested in their take on restaurants.  But say a date wants to take me to their mother's favorite restaurant - and it happened that way not long ago - I am suspect.  I know my eating habits are not even remotely like most of my own generation, let alone my parents' generation.  Or, if someone is a conservative, I'm highly unlikely to agree with her opinion of a policy article.  Or, since I'm a health food nut, I'm unlikely to be swayed by the number of "likes" next to a Frito Lays advertisement.

In other words, I think the bean counters are missing the boat.  I don't really care how many people click the little "like" button.  What I do care about is whether people I deem to be in the know think something is hot, hot, hot! 

It's not how many friends have an opinion.  It's the right friends that makes you smart.