Tag Archives: family

Your Heart Just Gets Larger

26 Jan

Recently my cousin uncovered a photo, I had never seen before. When my Grandma Esther died, my Dad and his siblings divided up the family photos.  My cousin is now investigating the ones in her Dad and Mom’s album. This photo actually had something written on the back of it.  And I am the one with the story, because of my story.


When I married, I never expected infertility. I was in love, we were healthy, there were no problems. So when decided to get pregnant, I was devastated when we seemed unable to have children.

After the first year , I was sent on to a specialist and started on years of tests, surgeries and medical treatments.  Throughout this all, I had one major supporter, my Grandma Esther.  In her late 80s, Grandma was not one to let me give up. During a time when long distance phone calls cost extra before 11 pm, Grandma became my late night phone call.

I lived in Kansas, so when my phone rang after 10 pm, I knew it was an East Coast call. If it was not my parents, it was Grandma Esther with advise!  Her first calls were to tell me that she also had problems when she first tried to have children. She told me to stop stressing and go to the ocean. She and grandpa went to the ocean and she got pregnant with my uncle.

Well, I could not go to the ocean from Kansas. But I felt the love. Over the next few years Grandma’s phone calls came with more involved medical advise. I could see in my mind’s eye, multitudes of grandmas sitting around and coming up with cures.

Eventually I did have a healthy baby girl. My Grandma was so excited. At age 88, she flew to Kansas to be here for my daughter’s naming. Grandma’s advise did not end. Having nursed three infants, she was an expert. She announced one day that I was doing it all wrong. “If you are going to nurse, you need to do it the right way,” she said. With in minutes she had placed cushions and a footstool around me, and nursing became so much easier.

I wish I could say that was the end of my struggles, but it was not. I was unable to have another pregnancy. But I was not done with motherhood. My husband and I turned to adoption.

It was not easy. We had two strikes against us. One, we already had one child. Two, we were Jewish. Agencies in Kansas were basically religion based. We were told we could register, but when a better qualified (Christian) family came, we would be put to the back of the line.  We tried private adoption. But two weeks before the baby was born, the mom changed her mind. Again difficult.

Finally we found the Adam’s Center, a local agency that helped Jewish families.  No longer in existence, it helped about three dozen families adopt babies. Not all were Jewish.  We were one of the fortunate ones, and our son arrived.

My Dad was a bit nervous about this. On his way home from a business trip in California, he stopped in Kansas to meet his newest grandson. My sister called in advance, “Dad is nervous that he won’t love him the same.”

No worries. Dad arrived. I put the baby in his arms. My Dad looked up and said, “how could you not love that punim, that face.”  And then he told me, “With each child and grandchild, you do not split the love you have. No your heart just gets bigger and bigger.”  My parents had big hearts.

Dad was still nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92.  She did not fly out, but she called. She was so happy and told me the story of her cousin, Messuganah Esther.  She told me  in the old days, early 1900s, people, who had no children,  often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  So when Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshugganah Esther. (See previous blog, Too Many Esthers.)

The photo is touching. It shows Chamka (Champy) holding Meshugganah Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.


Needless to say, when I brought my son back East for the first time, my Grandma Esther showered him with the same love she gave every great grandchild. She had a handmade afghan waiting for him as she did for all 18 of her great grandchildren. Because in my family, with every child, grandchild and great grandchild, you do not divide your love, your heart only gets larger and able to hold more love.

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Jigsaw Puzzles and True Love

13 Jan

A jigsaw puzzle in progress can almost always be found in my family room.  My husband loves to work on them, especially after a long day of work. It is his way of unwinding and relaxing. Many evenings we sit in the family room, him finding the right piece for the right spot, while I am busy crocheting my next creation. It is peaceful and fun as we chat, or even sit comfortably in silence.

We have found that jigsaw puzzles are wonderful for opening a conversation. People who come to our house for the first time, will often sit at the table and start working on the puzzle. Then they start to talk.  It takes the stress out trying to make conversation for some. To be truthful I think jigsaw puzzles should be part of every host/hostess’ repertoire entertainment.

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Our son in law had two of his brothers working on a puzzle.

When our daughter got married, her future husband and two of his brothers stayed at our house for several days before the wedding (They are Canadian.). The jigsaw puzzle was a great success.  In fact, his brother, the best man, said during his toast that he was worried at first about staying in our house. “But once I got there, I saw a jug of real maple syrup in the refrigerator and a jigsaw puzzle on the table.  And I knew it would be just fine.”  And it was.

Almost everyone enjoys them. And even those who do not, will sit around and talk while others complete the puzzle. When we have a house filled with guests, we make sure one is always out. Whenever there is down time, someone can be found working on the puzzle.

My sister and her family are great puzzle workers.  We got our jigsaw puzzle love from my Dad.  We often had a jigsaw puzzle going on the table in the Catskills.  Great rainy day activity!  I also remember the one we could never finish!! It was so difficult!  But I digress.

Recently a friend came over with her 7-year-old granddaughter. She was amazed when she saw my husband working on his 1000-piece puzzle.  “I have never seen a puzzle with so many pieces before,” She stated. “How do you know where to begin.” My husband had a great time talking to her about puzzles! He welcomed her to come back any time to work on one. I do know that she was gifted a 300-piece puzzle for Christmas, which was put together by her family.

As my sign of love, I usually buy my husband jigsaw puzzles for his birthday, Fathers’ Day and as Hanukkah gifts.  I search them out. The best stores I have found for puzzles are Tuesday Morning and JoAnn’s Fabric. But I have found some on line and in specialty stores. I am always searching and keeping a stash hidden and ready for a celebration.

This year I went out of control in my puzzle buying.  My husband had surgery in July, and I thought jigsaw puzzles would be great entertainment during his time away from work. I knew he would be bored so I purchased 15 puzzles!  It did not work out as I thought, as he had a brace on his neck and could not look down.  The jigsaw puzzles stayed in their boxes for months. Finally, we could take them out and work on putting them together. The good thing about puzzles is that they do not go bad!

I do not always buy them.  I have found that jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts will trade puzzles when they are done.  Which we have done. I have met friends in parking lots and at home to exchange a bundle or trash bag filled with boxes of puzzles.  My husband always puts the puzzle pieces into a ziplock bag after completing one and then into the box. And we have found other true puzzle enthusiasts do the same.

I have a friend with a second- hand store.  She is great about giving us puzzles she thinks he will like so that he can put them together and see if any pieces are missing!  Then we return them with the answer to that important questions, “Are all the pieces there?”. I will admit that there was one puzzle my husband loved so much that was missing a piece. He spent days working to make a new piece for it.  I won’t go into detail, but I will say he did a wonderful job.

Friends and family members often purchase puzzles for him. They are the perfect gift. No matter how many we have, we always have room for more. I see the gift of a new puzzle as a sign of love.

We have another couple with whom we get together every so often. They also love to compete jigsaw puzzles. Twice now we have tried to finish a 500-piece puzzle in one evening.  Each of us takes a different part to work on.  It makes for an enjoyable evening for all of us.

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I think I will sit right here!

One major issue in working with the puzzles our tortoiseshell cat.  She seems to think the puzzles are there for her to enjoy.  We often see her trying to get into the box and run off with one of the pieces.   Her favorite place to sit is in the middle of a not yet completed puzzle… as we are working on it.  She believes we should be paying full attention to her and not the puzzle.  It is a dilemma because if we chase her off, she disrupts the puzzle.

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Current puzzle with the plastic cover!

We have been covering up the puzzles with old poster board when we weren’t working on them to protect them from our cat.  But now, we no longer have to do that!  Our son’s girlfriend gave us the best ever gift!  She purchased a sheet of clear plastic and four clear placemats for us to put over the puzzles when they are not being used.  It is great!   We can still see the puzzle, but our cat cannot mess it up when she sits on it.

Since I usually purchase the puzzles, I chose topics that I enjoy as well: Disney, cats, travels.  For my husband, I find space related puzzles, or Star Trek and Star Wars themes.  The one we are working on right now combines our loves; it is a jigsaw puzzle about knitting and crocheting. I realized my husband was at a disadvantage with this one, when I said, “That purple piece goes with the doily on top.”  And he said, “What doily?  Now I know he knows what a doily is, but these were very small and not what he was used to seeing.

We actually know someone who owns a jigsaw puzzle company.  I have been trying to arrange a visit to it for my husband for over a year now.  First, we were gone.  Then my husband needed surgery.  Then they were gone. I know it has to happen.  My husband is intrigued by the thought of seeing how the puzzles are made in person.  We did see an episode of “How It Is Made” that showed the process. But in person would be so much better.

My husband is extremely kind in his jigsaw puzzle work.  He knows that I am competitive and like to be the ‘winner.’   He always saves the last piece of every puzzle for me, and says, “Okay, here is the last piece, so you can complete the puzzle.”  In this way, I can say I finished every puzzle.  That my friends IS true love.

The Purloined Blankets: A Winter’s Tale

30 Dec
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Blue purloined blanket and plaid purchased blanket.

With the bitter cold weather, I am thinking about my Dad and one of his lessons to me.

Always keep a blanket in the car during the winter months, especially when driving long distances.  His insistence about blankets used to drive me crazy.

My parents would come to Kansas to visit and not understand the Kansas winter mentality. Many people here do not wear winter coats most of the time.  Since we have a ‘drive up to where you are going attitude’ in the suburbs.  We really do not walk around that much.  We get into our cars and drive to where we are going, then run in.  So why wear a winter coat? A sweater is more than enough. I admit when I was younger, I would do the same thing.  But I always kept my children bundled up.

This attitude sometimes backfires on our children.  My god son went from the Kansas City area to Madison, Wisconsin, for college.  His mom suggested that he take long sleeve shirts and a winter coat up to college with him, his freshman year.  No, he did not want any of that.  Then came Thanksgiving break.  His main request was a hat with ear flaps.  He was so cold walking across campus.  Winter coat, gloves, scarf and long sleeve shirts returned with him to Madison.

My daughter went to college in New Jersey.  She also was impacted by winter in this unexpected manner. Walking across campuses really is different than Kansas ‘run in and run out.’  Her request that first winter was a coat that covered her tush. I quickly agreed to that request.

But back to my Dad.  When my family was young, we often drove to and from St. Louis in the winter months.  My husband’s family lived there. It made my parents nervous.  So they purchased a plaid blanket for my car in case the car broke down.  Having a blanket in the car was their idea of safety against the cold of winter.

He also purchased a car emergency kit for me that had a first kit, jumper cables and a flash light. Even though that kit is long gone, I have made sure we always had one in every car. That makes sense to me. So I never argued about that.

It was the blankets in the car that really drove him crazy. He wanted me to have a blanket for each person in the car. What would happen if we were stuck? We needed a way to keep warm. His passion became stronger after the time my husband, children and I got stuck in a snow storm on the way back from St. Louis.  But we spent the night in Columbia…at a hotel… I told him.   It did not matter.  He was now truly concerned. I  needed blankets,  now!

Dad did buy me another blanket.  But I have to admit, even though he was an honorable, kind and gentle man, my Dad had one flaw that I hesitate to tell you about. But I will.  He was a bit of a goniff, a thief!  He stole the blue blankets from airlines. Do you remember them?  We used to get one each time we flew…not any more.  But years ago, they always had a blanket and pillow on every seat. (His favorite airline blanket….Continental.  The airline no longer exists, except for the many blue blankets in my life.)

Dad would not use his.  He would bring in to my house still wrapped in its plastic bag. It made me crazy. When he flew to visit in the winter time, he often would come off the plane with a blanket. When he got to my house, he would pull it out of his carryon bag and quietly place it in my car.  I soon had a collection of blue blankets. During the winter, I kept a canvas bag filled with blankets in my car in case of emergency. Some purchased, some purloined.

We had disagreement after disagreement as the blue blankets continued to enter my home.  Finally my Mom had enough.  “Don’t tell him not to bring you the blankets.  The more you complain, the more he does it,” Mom demanded.  She was right, once I stopped yelling at him and arguing, he stopped taking the blankets off the planes.

Dad passed away in 2011.  I no longer worry about the blankets in the car.  Or so I thought.

My son’s girlfriend lives over an hour away. They drive back and forth every weekend. One coming here, or one going there.  It is so cold today and she has to drive home, so I asked, “Do you have a blanket in your car?” The answer, “NO.”

Oy,  I feel my Dad’s spirit rising up in me!

The plaid blanket my Dad purchased for me over 30 years ago is going into my son’s girlfriend’s car. My son will get the canvas bag filled with purloined blankets.  When it is this cold, you do need a blanket in your car for long distance travel!

As we enter the new year, I realized more and more that we do become our parents. My sister also has our Dad’s safety gene. She gave me a Vera Bradley blanket that folds into a pillow for Hanukkah. It is my new car blanket.

Wishing everyone a safe, warm, and happy memory filled year!

At Times, I Hear My Dad Laughing

30 Nov

Sometimes I think I can hear my father laughing. It happened this past Tuesday. My husband, who is not religious, gets up early every Wednesday morning to attend our synagouge’s minyan.  He does not pray. But he is there as a tenth male for those who need to say Kaddish, the prayer said by mourners.  He calls it his community service time.  And he finds it very peaceful and soothing.

Tuesday afternoon, he told me that he is going to go on Friday this week.  I said, “Oh instead of Wednesday?”  “No,” he responded, “they need someone on Friday as well, so I said I would go. But only this Friday.”

I swear,  I heard my father laughing.  My husband’s lack of interest in religion was never an issue with my Dad.  But I know he would love the irony of my husband, of all people, helping to form a minyan of men.

Dad at Temple Israel

At Temple Israel in 2006. My Dad is with a scribe as they work on repairing older Torah scrolls.

After my Dad retired he became extremely active in his synagogue.  He started on the board, when he was still working, and then rose to the ranks of the officers.  When he became president, it was unexpected and tragic.  In a short period of time, first the president passed away unexpectedly.  And Dad became president.  Then within months, the young, in his 30s Rabbi, died in his sleep.  Dad was stunned as was the congregation.  And so Dad ended up doing so much more than anticipated and stayed as congregation president for 11 years.  YES eleven years.  I think he was on the board for over 25 years.  He was still on the board when he passed away.

None of us, his children,  ever expected to serve on a synagogue board.  We saw the anguish and stress Dad had over his term.  Finding a new rabbi, working on the finances, changing from traditional to conservative/egalitarian.  Dad faced many hostile members as he charged forward in his role. But he held the congregation together, as dad was a schmoozer. He was large and loveable and could charm people.  He was a born salesman, and he used these talents to get the board to work together.   When that did not work, I think he pouted.

In any case, we knew that being on a synagogue board was not for the feeble hearted.

When I was first approached to be on my congregation’s board, I demurred politely.   But they came back again and explained why it was important.  Yes, I am on the synagogue’s board.  I think I am in my eighth year.  Recently I was appointed to the rabbi search committee.  Daddy is having a really good laugh over that.  But I am doing my job as best as I can.   Often when I am at shul, especially those Shabbats when it is my turn to sit on the bima, I hear Dad’s laughter. His big belly laugh was especially contagious.  And when I walk and greet the congregants,  I feel my Dad’s schmooze rising in me as I chat with as many people as I can.  It feels as if I am channeling my Dad.

But then I was the most faithful of my family in going to services and making sure my children had a strong Jewish upbringing, sending them for at time to the local Jewish day school.  So in a way, if anyone would serve on the board of a synagogue it would be me.

I laughed out loud, along with the echo of Dad’s laughter in my mind, when my sister told me she was asked to serve on her congregation’s board.  My sister joined  a congregation nearer to her home after my parent’s passed away.  She did not want to travel as far, since they were no longer there.   In this congregation she had friends attending.   So when one friend suggested that she join the board, my sister accepted.   I gave her my sound advice.  And then just chuckled…for days.

Last time I was in New Jersey, I went to services with my sister, as she was the official greeter that day.   The Dad schmooze runs strongly in our family.  Dad would have been proud, even as he laughed.

I Love Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

22 Nov

To me Thanksgiving always means staying in my pajamas and watching the Macy’s Day Parade. Yes the Macy’s Day Parade! That is what I called it as a child and that is what I still call it in my mind.

Growing up in the New York City metropolitan area meant that the Parade was an important part of our life. We lived close to Hoboken. And as ‘everyone’ knows the floats are built in Jersey, the giant balloons are stored in Jersey and the participants practice in Jersey.

As a child I remember my Dad driving us to Hoboken in order to drive up and down the streets of warehouses and peek in. You probably cannot do it anymore, but when I was a child it was possible.

I remember seeing the color guards and bands practicing in the street.

It was part of the annual build up to the great event itself! The parade.

I loved watching the parade on television. But most exciting was actually seeing the parade in person. My Grandma Esther was the executive secretary for shoe company’s whose headquarters were across the street from Macy’s!

The best year of my life was the time we all went into NYC to her office. We watched the parade in the warmth of her office through the giant windows overlooking the Avenue. It was tremendously exciting! I remember the balloons flying right past the windows. Wow. I had such joy. Did I say I love the giant ballooons. Many people make an annual trek just to see the balloons filled with helium!

I will admit getting there was a hassle and getting home was the worst. But seeing the parade in person was worth it. I still get a thrill just remembering.

Watching the parade on television November 23, 2017.

When my children were little, we would lie in bed together and watch the parade. To be honest, they were not excited as me. It did not matter. Thanksgiving morning the television stayed on the Parade channel.

Eventually my children moved out. But it does not matter to me. I need no excuses to watch the parade. When the Rockettes make their annual appearance I smile. When the bands play and the color guard twirl their flags I feel satisfaction. Each broadway show tune makes me want to see a play. And then their are my favorite floats like Sesamee Street!

When Thanksgiving morning arrives I will still stay in my pajamas. Get a mug of coffee. Cuddle with my cats. And spend three hours watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a Thursday morning!

Too Many Esthers!

16 Nov

My Grandma Esther had a problem with her name.  She did not mind that she was named after her grandmother, Esther (Etka) Lew Wolf(f).  She enjoyed being named after the heroine of the Purim story.  She just hated that she had four first cousins all named Esther and all named for the same grandmother.

This caused her years of anguish….really.  She even told me about it when I sat down with her in the 1970s to get her family history.   She was already 80 when we spoke.  But  it still bothered her that there were so many Esthers.

Why?  Because each of the Esthers, except for the oldest, was given a nick name to  designate which Esther people were talking about.  There was Pepi Esther; Meshuganah Esther, Curly Esther, Little Esther, and of course, Esther (the oldest who could just be that).

When you look at the family tree, it is confusing, so many Esthers and some with the exact same first and last names! Part of the genealogist nightmare.. They were all born in the late 1890s, when census taking was not as organized as now. But my Grandmother’s memory was fantastic.  So I have an accurate listing of all her aunts and uncles and cousins, including the many Esthers.

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My Grandma ‘Curly’ Esther with her three curly haired children.

My Grandma was Curly Esther, because she had very curly hair.  Thank goodness she was not called Meshuganah Esther, she told me,  that would have made her so mad. But then she said,  Meshuganah Esther was really crazy.  So there you go.  But I think, did the name depict her, or did she conform to the nick name she was given?  We will never know.

Grandma told me NEVER EVER to give my child the same name as another first cousin.   It is too confusing.  That is why, when my Dad was born, although he was given the Hebrew name David, his English name just started with a D.   He already had a first cousin named, David, and Grandma was not taking any chances!!. Her children would not have nicknames!

The Esther story followed me to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband and I spent two years there when he was studying.  Grandma said, you have cousins there.  You should go for Passover.  He is the son of Pepi Esther, Joel.  So of course, my husband and I had seder with my second cousin once removed and his family.

When we were ready to leave, I told him to say hi to his Mom, Pepi Esther.  He had NO idea what I was talking about.  Pepi Esther did not suffer the same trauma as my grandmother.   My cousin called me later that week to tell me he spoke to his Mom and found out about the Esthers.  He was laughing as he told me about his conversation with her:  “All my cousins call me Pepi,” she said.  “We just never used it at home.”

Later, when I had my first child, I received a sweater in the mail.  Knitted and sent with love, from ‘Pepi’ Esther.

Needless to say, I was careful about how I named my children.  Since my daughter was the first grandchild on one side, and only the second girl on the other side, I was safe.  She was the only one named after her grandmother who had passed away a year before she was born.  And, although I used her Hebrew name,  my daughter’s English name was different.. My son also was the only one named for my grandfather and my husband’s uncle.. So no duplicate names there either.

However, I now understand my Grandmother’s issue.  My husband and I each have a nephew named Josh.  Well they are both our nephews, but from different sides.   Whenever we talk about them, we add a qualifier, usually their last name or the name of their father.

I would never call anyone Curly or Meshuganah.. I know my Grandma would disapprove.

My Favorite Catskills Photo of Me

16 Oct

Summer 1957

There are many reasons why I have always Loved this photo. First it was taken in the Catskills when I was 2 1/2. I am blissfully happy sitting in the grass. I love seeing the old wooden outdoor furniture.  I know that bench is Blue. I spent many hours on it over the years. 

I love seeing the women on the bench. The one to the far left is my maternal grandmother. She and my grandfather owned the bungalow colony. And with many family members there, I was surrounded by love. To be honest I am not sure who the other woman is, but I think it is my aunt.  I love that bench as my paternal grandmother taught me to knit and crochet as we sat on it when I was about seven or eight. 

I love that my aunt’s feet are resting on that single chair, as I know she is really relaxing. They mothers only put their feet up when they were settled in for a rest.  There is another chair to my side. It indicates to me that there is a square table to my side as well … the table where my grandmothers, great aunt and their friend spent endless hours playing canasta. 

Further on I see some of the white painted bungalows. This was the original colony. Eventually my grandparents purchased more land and moved some of the buildings. Only two of the original bungalows still exist. The land has been sold off and newer homes were erected. Two of my cousins purchased some of the land, so I am fortunate that I can still walk this property. 

I love how I look in this photo. I remember my Dad telling me that this was his favorite picture of me as a child because in this photo he could finally see how I would look as an adult. But I also love it for the curl in the middle of my forehead. I had and still have thick, curly hair. I cannot tell how often one of my parents would recite this poem to me: “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good But when she was bad she was horrid.” 

I know that hat and outfit. It was red and white. Because of my black hair my mom often dressed me in red. I rarely wear red now. Blue is my favorite color. But when I envision myself as a child I am often in red or pink. But that hat I specifically remember. I must have worn it for several years before my younger sister was born and she have the chance to wear it. 

I wish I knew what was in the box I am holding. I am sure it is crackers or cereal. But I wish the front of the box was facing out. It would add to the memory. I guess it does not matter.  Whenever I see this photo, I am filled with joy. I am in my happy place. Our home in Kauneonga Lake, in the Catskills where summers were always delightful.