Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disorders and holidays

I think a lot of kids have, or former kids had, some sort of disorder, an irrational fear or something resembling OCD that may have required magical thinking or magical acts to keep the evil at bay.

I was afraid of the kinds of elevators that had gates so you could see the shaft. My school building was 13 stories tall so I did take them, but I stood near the back. Elevators stopping between floors still scare me. Elevators dropping a floor or two, forget it. (I guess I carried the elevator thing somewhat into adulthood.)

I also had a few about swimming. At the bungalow colony where we stayed, there was a very nice pool, but I was terrified of the drains. There were hockey-puck-sized indentations in the floor of the shallow water and one in the deep water (which was 8 or 10 or 12 feet, not much more), which may have been plugs, but I wasn't too sure so I avoided them. The monster was that big black hole at the side of the pool, I can't really remember if it was one or two of them, in the middle section or the deep water, and I have no idea if they were drains or if they filled the pool, but they were large and black and scary. I was terrified of them, no matter how many people I saw casually hanging out by them with no problem. If I was playing a game with friends, I had a real problem if I had to be stationed by one.

Also, there was a weird pool at one of the day camps we went to, Floradan. (Was it Floradan or Floridan?) It was filled with water diverted from some stream or lake, so it entered at one end and exited at another. I think the deeper end had a cemented bottom and sides, but not the shallow end. But there were *things* in that water, I knew it;the tiny snails that climbed the cemented sides were proof. I don't know if I'd already seen The African Queen or if some dopey kid just said, "I heard someone got bit by a leech here once," but I was not getting into that damn pool. This, by the way, is the pool where Donny Most was a lifeguard, his nose permanently coated in bright white zinc oxide.

I sometime get antsy about the ocean, not just our lovely local Brighton and Coney, but even the beautiful ocean in the Caribbean, though for different reasons. (Barry and I have been to Puerto Rico twice, and spent our honeymoon in Aruba.) Locally, you can never stop worry about medical waste and other weird garbage, though I've personally seen very little. But even the "good" ocean has jellyfish and sea urchins and stuff. Didn't stop me, tho. Being shoulder-deep in salt water just plain feels too good. I don't get out in nature that much, and being in the ocean really gets to me; there's a certain amazement that conquers the fear.

I'm thinking about me now, but I guess this topic came up for me because I was lucky enough to see my nephew Walter yesterday. Walter is six now, and I find myself charmed by the fact that he has opinions, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor and a very friendly personality. He also reminds me a lot of my brother, and that's a really rare thing for me, since the last person born in our family was my brother, forty-two years earlier. I look at this kid, and I just *know* he's related to me, he has my little brother's mouth from when he was a kid, we're just somehow, at least in part, made of the same stuff. (This happened to me once before, when I met a first cousin of my father's who lived in Mexico City; he and me dad were both maybe in their late 50s. It was incredibly obvious to me that Fievy was related to dad, even with his Yiddish-Mexican accent.)

We actually got the whole family together yesterday, with the exception of my uncle Howard, my dad's brother. His wife Tina's mother is 92 and in a retirement community, so I expect they will spent holidays with her for the time being. The big deal is that my brother and sister-in-law and Walter came in from Rhode Island. No one makes the trip too often and things are a little rough between my brother and my dad. Our family is slightly odd in that my stepmother is Catholic rather than Jewish (which is what the rest of us are), and her sister is a nun. She's not a habit-wearing nun and in fact refers to habits as "penguin outfits," but I really like about her is that she lives in a spiritual and practical manner: she wants to see kids educated and fed and women in the priesthood. She has a master's degree which is more than I ever got. plus, and it's a huge plus, she's not judgmental about other peoples' faith or lack of faith or how they worship or don't. All I have to try to remember is not to curse. Now what's even more interesting is that she has lived with another sister from her order for many years, and the other sister's family is not very nice, so she spend the holidays with us, too, and is as much a part of the family as anyone else. The sisters are kind of like a couple but if they are, I'm almost positive they're celibate. They're in that weird space where they obey the Pope, even if they don't agree with him. And by the way, the second sister has a Ph.D., and I've always thought she looks somewhat like Vanessa Redgrave.

Anyway, the sisters live in Bay Ridge, so they've been driving us out to Long Island for Thanksgiving for a number of years now. I'm getting to look forward to our annual dose of quality time.

The other thing that's happened in my family, since my father was never very observant and was not surrounded by observant family, is that the Christian stuff started tin "win." Christmas started immediately, if Passover and Easter were too close, Easter won, etc. (There were also things like "PassEaster." It involved Jewish stars on dyed eggs. It involved gefilte fish and ham.)

Today's Yiddish lesson: gefilte fish. This literally means "stuffed fish." A few kinds of fish, usually carp, whitefish, and pike, are ground, and a few things are added like onion and matzo meal (ground matzo). It's made into balls and poached in fish stock. It's usually served cold. It used to be stuffed back into the fish skin, but I think everybody decided it was too gross. When it's cold, the broth is kind of jellied, so you have the jellied broth and the cold poached fish balls, often served with some matzoh, a slice of carrot, and a dollop of horseradish. (Sublesson: the Yiddish word for horseradish is chrain, using that "Bach" sound on the "ch.")

Anyway, I was very glad to marry into a family where there were a lot of observant Jews and where there was a real Seder and a real Succoh, and I could learn some more Yiddish words. My mother was from a generation that was very "modern" and "American," and Yiddish was something her mother and grandmother spoke -- in fact, my great-grandmother, who came over from Austria, spoke no English -- and so it wasn't spoke in my home. My mother used it with my grandmother when she talked about something she didn't want "the kids" to hear. So it was used against us, not taught to us. Talk about your lost folkways!

But my new family -- I had my mother-in-law until two years ago, my father-in-law until a year ago, and Barry's brother, who died young at 56, 6 years ago -- had a lot more Yiddishkeit ("Jewish-ism") going on than I was used to. Even my mother's kosher parents, when they had big Seders, never did the after-dinner part. I really wanted a religious wedding to Barry, even if it was reform, but he had had a religious marriage to wife #1, and even if they hadn't taken it to seriously, I thought it only right to have a get, which is a religious divorce. I went with him and it was rather awesome, a whole row of rabbis, one writing Hebrew with a feather quill pen.

Another thing that was lucky for me was that my husband had a last name that was easily identified as a Jewish name. My maiden name...let's say it was hard to spell, didn't seem to indicate a particular nationality, was a source of ridicule in school, and was way the hell back in the alphabet. Since my sister-in-law was brave enough to take it on, I figured 42 years was long enough to deal with it, and I took my husband's very easy, very Jewish name. It's true that I use my maiden name as a middle name when I do certain types of writing projects, because I was known by that maiden name, but I often do without it. It's fewer letters and has better alphabetical placement.

Listen, I don't mean to be any more insecure than I've already revealed myself to be, but I haven't had a single comment on this blog and it's really freaking me out. I know of one person who's subscribed to this, and I seem to be too big an idiot to install a counter on this thing, and I don't known if I'm getting read. It would just be nice to know. Not that I'm going to stop one way or another, but I'm curious.

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