Archive | December, 2013

Blueberries Bring Back Catskills Memories

29 Dec

I love blueberries.

Almost every morning I add them to my breakfast menu.  Some days I have them for a snack in the middle of the day.

When I eat blueberries I feel joy.  When I eat blueberries I travel back in time.  I am no longer sitting in my kitchen in Kansas.  No I am now sitting at a table with my Mom, sister and brother.  It is summer time.  Cool in the mornings, warm in the afternoons…the perfect weather even when it rains!

Blueberries bring me back to the Catskills at Kauneonga Lake, BethEl Township, in Sullivan County, upstate New York in the 1950s and 60s.

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My entire childhood, we spent the summers at a small bungalow colony owned by my maternal grandparents.  Situated on West Shore Road, just opposite Kauneonga Lake, the bungalow colony was the home to all four of my grandparents, some aunts and uncles, cousins, other assorted relatives, and close friends.  We spent 10 weeks together every year.  The happiest times were there.

We biked, we swam, we played.  It was in the Catskills that I stayed up late to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.  And it was there that I watched the hundreds of thousands stream into town for the Woodstock concerts.  In the Catskills I spent time at the Firemen’s Festival, shopped at Newmans and Vassmers.   Worked in the town’s bakery.  I lived for the summers.

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 We were watched my five grandmas: Grandma Thelma and Grandma Esther, were my true grandparents.  Grandma Rose was my cousins’ other grandma.  Nana, or Mrs Anoff, was my friend’s grandma.  And Aunt Minnie was also Grandma Esther’s sister.  They ruled the roost.  When they wanted something done, it happened.  There were moms, dads, and grandpas as well. But the eyes of the grandmas were always alert.

Sometimes, when we got too bored or in too much trouble, the buckets would come out.

“Go pick some blueberries!”  One of the moms or grandmas would say.

And heaven opened.

Next to my grandparents’ property was a blueberry patch.  As a child I never thought about it.  But this patch was not just a few wild blueberry bushes growing on the side of the woods, no this was over an acre of blueberry bushes.  Someone at some time had to have cultivated it and planted the bushes in the symmetrical lines.  But there it stood…abandoned.   And so each summer it provided us with wonderful free fruit.

We would grab those buckets and run to the patch.  Filling the buckets was so much fun.  Two berries for the bucket, …one berry to eat.

“Look at the size of this berry!!  I am going to eat it!!!”

We would all run over to see the biggest blueberry ever!!!

And watch as it was eaten with glee and joy.   We all wanted to find the biggest berry!

The buckets always got filled. Then we would run back to our bungalows and show off our blueberries to our moms.  The next step was to fill a bowl with salt water and put in the berries.  The bad ones, the ones with worms or the ones not ripe, would float to the top.  These we put back outside for the birds.  The others we washed and ate.  Some got put in the refrigerator for later.

They made the best blueberry pancakes. I can still taste them.

But every once in a while, we were told to bring all the blueberries to Aunt Leona’s bungalow.  And there, my Grandma Esther and my aunt would make blueberry muffins for all!!!  Oh yum!  I can still smell the tantalizing aroma; see them warm from the oven and covered in butter.  It was a special treat.

So today when I go to the grocery store and buy pint after pint of blueberries, no matter the price, I am not buying my favorite fruit. I am buying a moment to revisit a moment of childhood and remember the joy of picking blueberries.

I am buying time with my parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles who have passed.  I am buying memories that I share with my sister, brother, cousins and friends.

I loved the blueberry patch.

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A new way to shop

23 Dec

Last week I shopped online with Lara.  We have always enjoyed shopping together.  A tradition we started when she was about 10 or 11.  Back to school shopping, holiday shopping, birthday shopping, spring shopping, several times a year we would spend the day at the mall getting clothing for both of us, and for others.

When Lara was in high school, she always volunteered for her homeroom to do the holiday shopping for the child her group adopted.  We also adopted two children for our family to buy gifts for the holidays.  Lara and I would hop in the car with the money she had from her classmates, and the lists for all the children. And we would spend the day shopping.  And yes, I did add some money to her bounty to make sure that everything her child wanted and needed was purchased.

Every shopping experience was wonderful.  Sometimes we went shopping with my sister and niece in New Jersey.  Other times we did three generations shopping extravaganzas with my Mom or my Mother-in-law.  Women time:  it is not really the shopping that made it wonderful, it is the conversations.

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Of course there were a few times when she wore me out.  When the chairs near the fitting room were a welcome relief for me and all the packages.  I saved the stores with the best chairs for last.  So that when I was tired, I knew I could have a comfortable place to analyze what Lara was trying on.

Even when she was at college, although I missed her, we always found time to shop when she got home.  And although she could not be there when I did the shopping for others, for that one shopping experience, her brother, Mike, would come along.

I miss my girl.   I miss lunch with her.  I miss discussing options for items for our house…or for me. I miss her good opinions and her company.

Although Jay and Mike try to shop with me, their idea of a good shopping expedition is 45 minutes at Costco tasting food samples and searching all the electronics.  I feel extra pity now for my friends with only boys for they have never experience the joy of shopping with a daughter. 

So with Lara so far away, I have tried to do some shopping on my own.  But I find it not fun.  I have gone shopping with two of my close friends. And that helps. We shop; we do lunch, we have a great time. 

But shopping with Lara is a special time.  Just as shopping with my Mom and sister was always special.  Our times together always ended with jokes to my Dad about how much we saved him, especially when we returned from a big sale shopping experience.  Lara and I would continue that tradition with Jay.

So two weeks ago when Lara sent me an email about some leggings she wanted me to buy for her and bring when I visit, I avoided going to the store.  Shopping in her favorite store, without her seem sad.  But then coupons arrived in the mail, and I knew I could not put it off any longer.

When I arrived, I saw that the store was having a giant pre-holiday sale.  Two of the sales women helped me…I was the only one in the store on an early Tuesday morning.  But we only could fine one pair of the leggings Lara wanted.  I tried texting her to no avail.  Yes, I can text overseas, amazing.

Then I decided to try something new:  FaceTime from my phone.  She had called me several times using this Dick Tracy like application.  So I did it.  I called with FaceTime.  And there she was!!! On my phone, able to see where I was and look at the clothes in the store.

We went shopping together.  It was so much fun. Even the sales women got into it.

“Where is she?” They asked.

“Israel!” I replied.

“Really?  You are shopping with her from Israel. That’s wonderful.”

I admit, she got more than just two pair of leggings.  And I picked a gift for my son’s girlfriend as well.

When it was time to leave, I felt a little sad.  But at the same, I wondered how my Mom survived the year I lived overseas.  No phone, no email, no internet, no Facetime.   Just letters. 

A few days later, Mike’s girlfriend turned 21.  He felt badly that he could not spend the day with her.  “She spent the entire day shopping with her Mom,” he told me despondently.

“Hey Mike,” I replied, “When Lara turned 21, I did the same thing for her birthday.  Don’t be upset. Next time you see her Mom,  say,  “Glad you two went shopping…my Mom and sister would have done the same thing.”

Missing My Mom

15 Dec

My mother was a weather witch. Whenever she came to visit, the weather would go berserk.  Often my neighbors would call to find out exactly when Mom would arrive, to plan for snow.  

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So it was not surprising that my Mom died during one of the worst snow storms ever in New York City, over 27 inches of snow in less than 24 hours.  Everything shut down.  The day of her funeral, her coffin was placed in front of a window.  As my niece stated,  “ I know Grandma is in heaven,”  a great, giant, massive clump of snow fell off the roof and on the ground outside the window.  Lovely torrents of snow arched upward.  Mom was there … heading to heaven.

My mother had the mind of a vault.  Any information that went in stayed there.  She remembered everything.  So when Mom suffered her first TIAs, mini strokes, we were very concerned.  My sister and Dad took her to a neurologist.  Mom scored a 100 percent on the test.  The doctor said something like,  “I believe you when you tell me that your Mom’s memory is not as good, but if this is bad, your Mom was very high functioning.”

And that is true. 

My mother was the glue that held people together.   She taught school for 30 years.  And the group of teachers who retired would often get together.  My Mom would make the plans.  After she died, the meetings basically ended.   One of the group, Pat, told me,  “It was your Mom who would call us all and tell us when we were meeting and where.  Without her, we just don’t have anyone organizing.”

It is true, all my organizing skills come from my Mom.

My mother was the kindest person.   Another teacher told this story at a memorial for my mother:  “The first day I taught at the school, I was worried.  Where would I sit during lunch?  Would the other teachers welcome me?  I was black and Cuban.  I don’t know why I worried.  I entered the lunchroom, and it became quiet.  Frances turned around,  “Oh there you are.  I have saved a seat for you next to me.”  And I sat there that day, and the next day and the next day.  And I realized I did not have to worry where I was going to sit.  I was going to sit with Frances and her friends for the rest of the years I taught.”

And she did sit with them for over 20 years.

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My mother was a great friend.  Her two best friends, Wini, who she knew since kindergarten, and Judy, who she met in 8th grade, are still alive.  It is difficult sometimes to think of them without thinking of my mother.  They shared so many memories and adventures together.  After my Mom died, Wini and Judy were there for my Dad during the nine months he lived.  They still call me to keep in touch and to send love to my brother and sister.  Their love for my mom continues.  She was also a great friend to mine and my siblings’ friends.  She opened her home to them, always making them welcome.

She was a warm and loving hostess.

My mother was an excellent teacher.  Two stories.  Many years ago, when my grandfather was ill and staying with my parents, a young immigrant named Selma came to stay with Papa, while Mom and Dad went to work.  My mother gave Selma homework every day.   Not cleaning or cooking, rather her work was  learning to read and write English.  And when my mom got home from school, she would work with Selma on her studies.  Second story.  Several weeks before she died, I had to take my Mom to the emergency room.  An intern came over.  This young doctor said, “Mrs. Rosenberg. Oh my, you were my fourth grade teacher!  You were the best teacher ever.  When I found out I was going to have you, I was so afraid, because you were so strict.  But you were the best.  I am a doctor today, because you encouraged me.”

And it was true.  My Mom touched the lives of hundreds of children.

My mother was the best grandmother.  Every one of her grandchildren can tell you stories about staying with her and learning from her.  She made each child feel loved.   As my father said, for both of them, they did not divide their hearts of love with each child or grandchild, their hearts got larger. 

They both had very strong and large hearts filled with love.

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My mother had a wonderful sense of humor.  Mom loved people and spread joy quietly wherever she went.  She had a wonderful way to make people feel comfortable and an easy way to laugh.  A story, after my Mom’s TIAs she lost the ability to sequence things.  So cooking, cleaning and laundry became difficult.  One day she asked me.  “Ellen, Dad says my memory is not as good.  What do you think? “   I answered:  “Well Mom, do you cook anymore, or does Liz (their helper) cook?  Do you do laundry anymore or does Liz do the laundry?  Do you clean any more or does the service clean?  My Mom got very quiet and then said,  “Well you know Ellen, I never liked doing any of those things anyway!:  

And that is true.  Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry were not high on my mother’s to do list.   Teaching, visiting, talking, loving were her charms.

December 27, 2010, my Mom left us on Earth forever. But she is forever in my heart and the hearts of all her children, grandchildren and the many people she loved.

Not Quite Touching

8 Dec

It usually starts with a text message.  “You home?” One of us will type.  And then the other answers, and we start texting back and forth.  Usually it is me who writes…. “Want to talk? The texting is starting to bother me.” At times she is too busy and just wants to text.  But many times she types, “Sure.” Sometimes she initiates the move to a face-to-face chat. 

When we decide to chat, we both quickly move to our computers and click on the appropriate  ap.  “Ready,” she types.  I respond, “Yes.”  And she calls me.  Until I see her face, I feel a little anxious.  But then she appears, life size, on my computer screen.  And for a moment I feel as though she has entered the room.   There she is, my daughter, Lara, in my family room with me.  But at the same time she is thousands of miles away sitting in an apartment in Ramat Gan, Israel. 

The first time I ever chatted with Lara this way, I felt like I was in the middle of a science fiction movie.  Of course, like many people my age, the first time I had ever seen anything like this was in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  And now I was doing the same thing: chatting over the internet, without even a time lag, with my daughter.

It is amazing.  She has walked her laptop through her apartment so that I can see where she lives.   I have met her boyfriend, Zak, as well as her roommate, Bar, on line.  We have celebrated birthdays and Mother’s Day while chatting.  I have opened my presents so she could see. 

We have chatted while I ate lunch, and she at dinner: private mother-daughter conversations that keep us up-to-date on family and personal events.

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And last week we lit the Hanukkah candles together.  It was afternoon here and night in Israel.  I received a text message: “You can light the candles with me.”   Of course I said, yes.

It was almost as if she was here.   But we were not quite touching.

I was glad that I could hear her sing the blessings (I tried singing with her, but the timing was off by just a second); that I could watch her light each candle  (I could almost smell the wax).  But at the same time, I was wistful….wishing that we were truly together.

When she talks to me from the computer, my cat, Misty, jumps up on the desk to be part of the conversation.  In the beginning, when Lara called, Misty would rub up against the screen and walk behind it to look for Lara.  Over time, the cat has realized that Lara is not in the room.  She cannot touch her.  But she can listen to her voice, and purr.

I AM the Grand Master GumShoe!!!

3 Dec

I love gentle murders.

Not real ones, of course.   Rather the ones in a ‘cozy’ mystery.  Where someone dies at the beginning of the book.  Someone I don’t care about.  But then my fun begins.  I get to try to figure out who committed murder.

I don’t like murder mysteries where the author puts you inside the mind of the murderer.  Or mysteries where you know who did it from the beginning. Or murders that are vicious and mean.

I want to be the detective on a murder, where I get to examine the clues and see if they add up to the murderer as the story unfolds.  I flip back to pages I read before to check facts.  Doom to the author and editor who make a fact error in the story!  I will find it!

Mysteries are my way to relax.  I read intense best sellers….I read literary ‘masterpieces’….I read Pulitzer and Booker Man prize winners. But for true enjoyment, I want … I need…a mystery.

I also love live performances.  My husband and I have season tickets to three different theaters in the Kansas City area.  And we attend additional shows at other venues when something catches our attention.

So imagine my delight when I discovered,  “The Mystery Train”! Every two months, a new murder occurs on a ‘train.’  The people in the dining car….a private room in a local restaurant… participate in the mystery.   There are four or five actors leading the show, including a conductor who keeps everyone on course.  But they also chose people from the audience to play some of the characters.  WOW!  Murder! Mystery! And Audience participation! What more would I want to do for an evening?

I have gone twice.

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The both times I went with my husband, Jay,  and good friends, Beti and Jules.  The first time,  I was chosen to be one of the participants in the story.  I was Mrs. Rita Radcliffe, a rather bossy woman.  (My sister called it typecasting when she heard the story.)

I loved it.  I got a bit of a costume and a bit of the story, along with a partial script.  I had to answer questions when members of the dining audience came to ask.  But I also had the opportunity to guess who was the murderer.

I did not do well.  It is very hard to discover information and form a hypothesis, when people kept coming and asking me questions about my character.  But I was polite and did the best I could.

We did send Jules to several tables to question the other characters in the play.  But even with this input, none of us did well.  And Jules is an attorney.

But we had a wonderful time, and a good meal.

So we decided to try it again, when the mystery changed.  This time we arrived a little late.  We were put at a table with other people, instead of one by ourselves.  None of us was chosen to play a part.  So I could devote my entire brain to mystery solving.

I LOVED it!

I listened to every word.  I took notes.  We sent Jules to interrogate the other actors and characters again and report back to us!

And I heard something that no one else paid attention to or noticed.

How do I know? I was anointed “The Grand Master Gumshoe.”   We had write “who” we thought did it, “why” and “how”. My deductions were correct, just like Sherlock Holmes.

I received my own magnifying glass and a blue velvet case to keep it in.  But more important, the actors told that I was the first person to ever mention one specific clue in my explanation.  They had not even realize how important that one clue was until I wrote it down. But to me it was “elementary, my dears!”

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I admit, I am proud of this accomplishment.  When my sister came to visit, I showed her my magnifying glass every day of her five- day stay.  She might have become tired of seeing it. But since she was in my house and had no escape…and I keep it in my family room…she was doomed to keep viewing it.

Beti told me to carry my magnifying glass with me at all times to show it off.  Perhaps that is a little much?  However, I am proud to let the world know that I am and was the Grand Master Gumshoe, of one showing, one time, one night of the Mystery Train.

How can I top that?