Dancing among the tombstones

The year I was fifteen, I started my senior year of high school. That September (1962), while I was sitting and watching television, I found a rather big, hard lump near my right ankle. I checked the other leg. No lump there. It was a painless lump. Mom had me visiting a surgeon just a couple of days later.

Uxbridge Cemetery

It turned out to be non-malignant, what is called an osteochondroma. It was, however, pretty big. Big enough so in the short time between seeing the doctor and getting into the hospital, it more than doubled in size.  It had thoroughly wrapped itself around my fibula and the surgeon had to remove a piece of bone and replace it with a pin. I was in no mortal danger, but I was going to be on crutches for at least half a year.

Jamaica High School was (is) huge. Five stories including the basement (swimming pool level) and top floor — the tower where the choir and chorus rehearsed. There were no elevators. No handicapped access. It was also extremely crowded, no place for someone on crutches.

Old cemetary Uxbridge

Thus I came to be assigned a home tutor. I was not her only client and for reasons of her own, she decided to introduce me to another of her clients.

Mary was older than me, 18 years old. Which, at 15, seemed very mature from my perspective. She was a schizophrenic at a time when the drugs to control schizophrenia had not been invented. She was not at all violent. In fact, she was wonderfully sweet, a brilliant artist … and her view of the world was, to say the least, unique.

She loved cemeteries. Especially at night. One night, we went to see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which had just been released.

Cropped screenshot of Bette Davis and Joan Cra...

“Would you like to go?” she asked.

“Sure, why not.” I was always up for a movie. But this one, I didn’t much like. I still don’t. Just … not my cup of tea. Too creepy.

But my night of creepiness was far from over, because after the movie, Mary invited me to visit one of her favorite place … the local cemetery. Through which she happily danced, kissing each of the stones while declaring that these were the happiest of all souls.

Thus began my interest in cemeteries and tombstones. And the end of my brief relationship with Mary. I’m pretty strange in my own way, but that was a bit much for me.

We have great cemeteries here in New England. Old ones with wonderful tombstones, amazing old inscriptions. Come visit some time.

Jewish Jokes

My father was not a really nice guy, but he was a salesman and spent a lot of time on the road. Consequently, he had an enormous repertoire of jokes. Some I can’t repeat, not because they are dirty, but because they were mostly in Yiddish and they don’t translate, but others are universal.

That’s the thing about ethnic humor. It really isn’t “Jewish” or “Italian” or any other group. It is human. From group to group, there is often more truth in the jokes we tell about ourselves than in any other form of communication.

Mea Shearim in 2006 — Photograph by Ahron de Leeuw

The Nature of the Jewish Husband-Wife Relationship

So one day, a surveyor comes to the home of an Orthodox couple and asks if it would be alright if he asked a few questions about male and female roles in the household.

“Sure, why not?” says the Lady of the House.

“My first question is,” says the surveyor, “Which of you is in charge of making the important decisions about your family or do you split them up?”

“Oh,” says the wife. “We are very traditional. I do the unimportant decisions and he takes care of the really important ones.”

“What unimportant decisions do you make?”

“I decide how we will pay the bills, where to send the children to school, whether or not we need to move to a different neighborhood, how we will handle our healthcare, what we will eat, making sure the children learn about God and attend to their religious duties. That sort of thing,” she explains.

The surveyor is puzzled. “So what,” he asks, “are the important things your husband handles?”

The wife smiles. “He decides what relationship God has with mankind, how we achieve peace on earth, and the nature of righteousness.”

Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee — Israel Ministry of Tourism

Judaism and Jews

Twelve Jews are stranded on a desert island. They are there many years. When finally a ship comes by and they are rescued, the rescuers are surprised to discover that there are 13 synagogues on the island.

The ship’s captain is puzzled. “I can understand,” he says, “why you might have 12 synagogues, but what’s with thirteenth?”

Replies everyone in concert “That’s the one nobody goes to.”

(Note: Whether or not you find this funny depends on your ethnicity.)

Dead Sea – Israel Ministry of Tourism

An Israeli Joke

An Israeli man who studied in Texas gets an email from his old school mate saying that he’s going to visit Israel and can they get together?

Avi is delighted and prepares to show his country to his Texan friend. But while he’s giving his friend  “the tour,” every time he shows something to his friend, the friend says that his father owns, or has built something bigger and better in Texas.

He shows him the Old City in Jerusalem and his friend says “why we’ve got ghost towns on our ranch bigger than that.” When looking at the Sea of Galilee, the Texan comments that “there are puddles bigger than that on our ranch.”

Finally, in near desperation, Avi takes his pal to the Dead Sea.

“You see that?” he says, pointing at the body of water.

“Yup,” says the Texan.

“My father killed it,” says Avi.

How did your doctor’s appointment go?

I haven’t really processed the news yet. That my leaky mitral valve has gone from no big deal to seriously deteriorated probably shouldn’t have surprised me. Nothing should surprise me. Maybe surprise is the wrong word.

Bummer. That’s the word. The heart seems to be pumping okay (the good news) but the leak is very bad (not good news). About that surgery? No, thank you. Did I ever mention that my first husband died of complications following valve replacement surgery? If not, yes he did and that long and horrible death included 9 months in a vegetative state. It was not pretty.

Heart2

I have had so much surgery I can’t remember all of the operations anymore. I cannot list all of the body parts that have been remodeled, removed, renovated, revised or replaced. Last week they offered to remove a few small bones from my hands so they would work better and hurt less. Today, they offered to take my heart apart and repair that.

That’s it for me. I’m done. I cannot go through another major surgery.

I don’t know what this means for my future but since I’m mostly asymptomatic, I have nothing to lose by doing nothing. Wait, monitor, wait some more.

So how did my doctor’s appointment go? I never made it to the second one because I was so bummed by the first one. I needed an immediate infusion of best friend and some time hiding in my office playing mindless games which let me not think.

What ever original equipment I have left body-wise, I want to keep. I am not ready to deal with this. Not yet. Maybe not ever.