A Fork in the Road

I wanted the silverware more than I ever imagined, and they have proven to be magical wands full of memories.  I do not mix a can of tuna or turn a slice of meat in the pan without remembering the mannerism that I watched and absorbed all those years in the kitchen next door.  Our Italian neighbor could cook an entire meal and never have one dirty dish or pot left to show for it!  She was incredibly clever at keeping the counter clear and clean.  Unfortunately, neither her daughter nor I picked up that particular good habit.

But there is not a time that I pick up one of the forks that I don’t recall the tuna and red onion, or the breaded zucchini in the sizzling olive oil; or brains breaded and slowly browned on top of the stove; or anchovy paste, rubbed into the bottom of the salad bowl; or the celery sticks laced with her special cheese spread that decked the holiday table year after year.

Picking up a piece of the old silverware has nurtured my heart and comforted me when money was tight; I could always mix a can of tuna and smile. With a bit of luck and planning,  I can even go out into my own summer garden and cut fresh chard with the well worn, mis-sharpened blade of their old kitchen knife…and once again, transport myself next door…

Keyboard Harmony

Had I been asked back then, I’d have defined my parents’ definition of  “good music” as restricted to songs written before 1959, up to and including all Elvis gospel recordings and the weekly Lawrence Welk Show.  Period.

Beneath Daddy’s fatherly exterior was a former barbershop quartet singer who not only knew all four parts of any barbershop tune by memory, but also had performed at the Orpheum Theater during the thirties.  This was quite an accomplishment for young, first generation Americans.  Their quartet was billed as the Four Loose Leaves from the Book of Harmony. No recordings existed and the four had long since parted ways, but Daddy’s love for music remained.

Mom could sing, too, so as we grew and learned the words, we baby girls joined in.  Singing in the car became the norm, whether it occurred on longer trips to Livermore or shorter ones to visit our cousins.  So, you could imagine the folk’s excitement when at age nine I expressed interest in taking music lessons. I mentioned that my best friend at school was taking accordion lessons from the music store on the boulevard.  My parents agreed to speak with the store and an elderly gentleman wearing a hearing aid came to our home to “test” my musical ability.  He had me hold a guitar and I strummed it however many times.  Yes, their daughter definitely had talent. I expressed interest in the guitar.

Daddy’s response was both immediate and adamant:  a guitar was NOT an instrument. An accordion,   Daddy pursued, now THAT was an instrument. I wasn’t following all the nuances in this conversation, and I’m sure neither was the elder gentleman, so Daddy further explained.  In simple terms, an accordion could carry the entire melody.  The discussion ended.  I should take accordion lessons.  The gentleman left and it was forward march, literally, as I learned to play simplified renditions of John Phillip Sousa.

What was good enough for me was also good enough for my baby sister.  We actually excelled at the accordion, having slowly absorbed the old world musical rhythm, harmony, and appreciation for the more traditional forms of music, i.e. waltzes, polkas and the before mentioned marches.  It wasn’t long before we girls could identify our country’s armed services’ theme songs – all five of them – and knew at least the first verse from each.  One can imagine just how “cool” it was to play an accordion during the Pepsi Generation…and while Coke was teaching the world to sing…  NOT!

By the time performers like Joan Baez and Judy Collins sprang onto the music scene, I once again considered playing guitar.  Secretly, I pictured myself a stage performer or, better yet, the voice of a Disney character in a full length feature film.   Because I normally carried the melody on car trips, the idea seemed feasible.  I braved it and shared my thinking with the folks. No go.  Parents ruled in our household.  I would stay with the accordion, even if it meant Mom still having to help me carry the heavy instrument down to the boulevard… Daddy had discovered another two loose leaves and he was not about to let us drift away on some musical tangent.

“You call that music?” was the rhetorical question during my junior high years, especially when four young Englishmen first invaded our American household.  So, I learned to hedge my bets and glean the best arrangements I could from the current circumstances.  It was Daddy’s musical generation that he shared with us and, if we played it just right, we could get out of doing the evening dishes.  Keep the 1930 top ten melodies coming and Mom would soon join us in harmony, dish towel in hand.

Some children survive parochial school; I survived accordion lessons. Two decades later, we two daughters fully appreciated being the only ones under forty years of age who could share nostalgic moments at a piano bar with AARP octogenarians.

Now THAT was cool.

Because We Are All One

For many of us born between 1946 and 1964, World War II was relegated to the history books; not because veterans didn’t live among us, but because too many who had served had experienced a private hell on earth.  They had seen too much, and could not speak of the horrors without reliving the moments; so they spoke seldom and far too little. War widows, like my youngest aunt, moved forward, raising her young son with help from family until she remarried; and my cousin once again had a father.

Apart from personal stories like this, much of World War Two’s history came to some of us baby boomers from the printed pages of encyclopedias and historical textbooks.  I emphasize some of us.  I didn’t know my grandparents because they had passed away years before I was born.  But my friend Elaine Karen – whose Hebrew name was Elka – never knew her grandparents because they had died in the Holocaust.

Thank God Eisenhower requested that Congressional members and Allied leaders visit the death camps.  As Commander of the Allied Forces, he desired no more than all of humanity be reminded: such atrocities were real and had occurred from the hands of men.  One quotation featured in the Hall of Remembrance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is from the man who was known affectionately as Ike:

 

 

The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were…overpowering…I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’

Written by General Eisenhower after his visit to the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, it is one of many quotations featured in the museum.  This year, from April 7th thru 14th, marks the 75th official Day of Remembrance, also signified by the motto, NEVER AGAIN.  Take a few minutes, in between checking emails and other daily routines, to peruse the United States National Holocaust Museum’s website .  

 

Because we are all one; and today we are all Jews…

 

Did You Have History When You Were Little?

My daughter was learning her manners and just barely past two years old at the time of this conversation:

Mommy, tie shoes PLEASE?

Okay, Honey.  And what is the nice word you are going to say to Mommy when she is finished tying your shoes?

DONE, Mommy?

When she had reached fourth grade and was learning about US History (or some of the highlights), she came home one afternoon and asked me:

Mommy, who was president first… Lincoln or Kennedy?

BOING!!!!  Help me, God…I’m becoming my mother….

History is REAL.  As I learned too quickly, it is REAL for those who lived through the headlines; it only STAYS REAL if SHARED…   SO?  What to do this Memorial Day?

JUST BE AVAILABLE.  While military tributes are on-going across this great land of ours during Memorial Day Weekend, recall that Veterans from  WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq War will be in attendance; and some of these survivors are not completely healed themselves, yet are there to honor their fallen comrades.

Hence, it is incumbent upon us all to stop and reflect upon the ones who grieve among us.  Don’t underestimate the value conveyed in the simplest expressions of a supportive arm or a respectful nod… or a sincerely expressed “Thank you for your service.”

 

CROCK-POT OPTIMIST

Written to the tune of Cockeyed Optimist from South Pacific, with my apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.   I couldn’t help but toss a melting pot of ingredients into the crock pot during this political season, especially after listening to one endearing “movie tradesman” remind us of our roles…

 

WHEN MY VEGGIES ARE SPENT AND RATHER SORRY…

I COMBINE EV’RY LEFTOVER I’VE GOT

SO THEY CALL ME A CROCK-POT OPTIMIST

ADDING COLOR AND SPICE TO MY POT!

 

I GREW UP WATCHING MENTORS BRAG AND BLAZE NEW TRAILS

BLESS THIS GROUND IN ACCENTED ENGLISH TONGUES;

BUT BECAUSE I’M A CROCK-POT OPTIMIST

WHERE I WISH, I CAN CLIMB ANY RUNG!

 

I SEE THE RISING DEBT!  I FEEL OUR CHILDREN’S FATE.

SOLUTIONS SEEM BEYOND OUR GRIP

EVEN MOVIE TRADESMEN KNOW:  FREE MARKETS FEED JOBS’ FLOW

TAKE BACK THE HELM! LET GOOD TIMES RIP!!!

 

DO NOT THINK THAT THE OLD DAYS WERE THE BEST OF TIMES

OR THE WORST; THEN IGNOR OUR HISTORY

OF ONE VOICE, WITH ITS STRENGTH AND TO WHAT GREAT LENGTH

IT CAN SHAPE!  IT CAN BUILD!  IT CAN SHINE!

YES….. IT’S……….. TIME…

 

 

 

Look Mom, No Hands!

Sometimes we moms wonder if all the repeated teachings we perform as loving parents are ever really understood; emphasis on ever.  During her upbringing, My Only received every family storyline and set of values, including the proper respect one should show for the colors.

At our next downtown parade, I arranged to take her along with her little buddy. The kids had great seats because I worked right on the parade route; I could have the two of them sit along the curb and enjoy the parade until my shift began. As each unit passed by, I made the two of them stand up if the particular club or service group had an American flag color guard.  I explained that we were showing respect for the flag and the military who had served under it by our standing quietly at attention.  By the time the parade ended two hours later, both children said they never wanted to go to another parade with me again; they were too tired from standing up so many times!!!

More often than not, children do understand when we least expect it; to our great joy, their comprehension is often greater than the initial credit we give them at so young an age.   Such was the case during a patriotic assembly at my daughter’s elementary school years ago.

The program was in full swing.  The next grade to enter was my daughter’s third grade class.  Nothing unusual; I saw that My Only was standing in line next to her best friend; both seemed ready and willing to participate.  We two mothers were sitting together, remarking how cute the girls looked, dressed in their Sunday best.  The girls filed onto the stage with their classmates.

It was then I took a double take and let out a small gasp!  I remained sitting, somewhat speechless. When I recovered enough to look at my friend, she knew immediately what had taken me by surprise.  We both began to smile, tempering the glee that we felt as we turned our attention again to the stage.

My Only was wearing her one pair of white gloves.  She was singing with all her heart, her true blue friend standing right by her side.  When the pledge was recited, the small, white clad hand held over her heart was even more visible!

I sensed neither pretense nor any foolishness from my little lady’s countenance that day.  She was a genuinely focused, good student. My friend remarked that it was obvious that my daughter had comprehended the desired sense of decorum all the teachers had tried to instill to the school children for this patriotic assembly. We agreed; My Only appeared to be somewhat of a trend-setter, seemingly poised and very much at peace with herself, having accessorized her own outfit.  This was all more than we could absorb; the giggling began and soon we moms were almost out of control, trying very hard to retain a bit of dignity ourselves!

To this day, I don’t believe either of us even remembers much of the assembly; but I can still remember my joy and delight at the sight of my daughter’s white gloved hands.

 

Kitchen Hopping

On a regular basis, Winnie eagerly climbed the fence two doors away to spend time with Butch and her poodles.  I had many choices:  I could visit with Alice and her father, Mr. W., and sit in the kitchen learning embroidery under Alice’s tutelage, or cross the street to visit Anastasia while she prepared the evening meal for her family of four.  She liked having me visit because she had boys.

I could also venture up to Marian’s house and visit in the kitchen there, too, if her grandmother were visiting.  Mrs. L would be cooking, and would still talk with us while she did. I never knew my own grandparents, so I often found others’ grandparents truly fascinating; I’d surmise just how my own grandmother might have fit in to the various personalities of the older ones I met. I liked Mrs. L. She had white hair and dressed like a grandmother.

The woman with reddish-tinted hair who rented the upstairs apartment was not my idea of a grandmother, yet she had several grandchildren. For sure, my grandmother would not have worn formals in which she had to stuff herself into them and ask neighbors (like my mother and me) to zip her up so she could attend the next installation at her club events!  I found this wholly vile; of course, I was extremely opinionated at age eight regarding just how a grandmother should conduct herself.  How would she hug her grandchildren if she wore scratchy formals???

But most of the time, I simply walked across the driveway to our Italian neighbors back door.  They were like my second family, and I could sit on the kitchen stool, pour my heart out on all the serious issues facing me at so young an age while she finished preparing that night’s dinner, and wait until the mechanic came home from work; when he came through the kitchen door, I always got a big hug and kiss! He was always happy to have me around.  I could even sit at the kitchen table and have a bite of dinner with them.  I couldn’t eat so much that I wouldn’t be able to eat dinner when I returned home.

Hah! Like that was a problem for this food-loving little girl…