A NOSE JOB FOR MOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story, or how many times I have told it to you. It bears retelling.

At age 22

My mother, like many young women of her generation, had wanted to attend high school. And college. But the family was poor, and there were many mouths to feed. In the end, she had to quit school after seventh grade to take a job. She worked as a bookkeeper. At 14, my mother was respectable. Also naïve and innocent.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The first place she worked was in a music publishing house on the Lower East Side where she had grown up. She was there for seven or eight years and finally decided to get a better job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. Of course, my mother had the additional burden of being female at a time when women were not considered equal. There was no “political correctness” to protect them. My mother was blond and green-eyed. At 5 foot 7 inches, she was tall for her generation. Her English was better than most of the family since she had been born “on this side” of the Atlantic and had all her schooling in New York.

She was ushered into a room to be interviewed for the job she wanted. A few questions were asked. A form was handed to her and she filled it out. When she came to the box that asked her religion, she wrote Jewish. The interviewer looked at the application, said: “Jewish, eh?”

He tore the application to pieces and threw it in the trash in front of my mother. She said that from that day forward, she wrote Protestant so no one would ever do that to her again.Finally, I made a leap of understanding. I connected this anecdote to an aspect of my mother I never “got.” My mother wanted me to get a nose job. When I turned 16, she wanted me to have plastic surgery to “fix” my nose.

“It’s not broken,” I pointed out.

“But don’t you want it to look ‘normal’?” she asked.

“It looks fine to me,” I said. I was puzzled. My sister took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is the original model with which I was born.

Since the last time I told this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty enough. She was asking me if I wanted to not look Jewish. Remarkably, this thought had never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.

I know many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I know non-white mothers frequently sent their light-skinned children north hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until recently, did it occur to me my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

I never considered the possibility I was turned down for a job because I was, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “too Jewish.” I always assumed it was me. I failed to measure up. I was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age. I needed to share. It left me wondering how much I’d missed.

September 15, 1990 – My family at our wedding. I think most of us look a bit alike!

I told him I’d finally realized my mother’s persistent suggestion to “get my nose fixed” was an attempt to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered anyone might not like me for other than personal reasons. I said I thought perhaps I’d been a little slow on the uptake on this one.

Garry said, “And when did you finally realize this?”

“Yesterday,” I said.

“Yesterday?” he repeated. Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.

He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 72? That is a bit slow. You really didn’t know?” I shook my head. I really didn’t know. Apparently, everyone else got it. Except me.


It was a cold night. Not just wintry cold, but a deep, damp, clammy cold that climbed into your joints and made everything hurt. A light fog covered the ground yet it shed no light.

If you squinted, you could see two hulking bodies approaching the junction, each coming down a different path.  No need for the complexities of physics. It was obvious they would meet in the middle of the intersection. There were barely any shadows. Surely the stars were glittering in the heavens, but none were visible.

“You called me and I came,” said the taller of the two.

“Have you brought the papers?” asked the bloated one.

“Indeed I have,” responded Old Scratch. “Please look them over and make sure everything is in order.”

“No need,” said the other. “I got your email. My lawyer says it’s exactly what I asked for.”

Path in the woods

The tall one with the twisted features of a demon smiled. “Then I guess we can move forward. Remember, please that only those items written in the contract are yours. Other events not in the contract can occur. For such unrelated events, I bear no responsibility, either causally or to protect you.

“I thought I should also mention that we have a bonus for you. For each individual you bring to the crossroad to sign a contract, your power will increase.”

The bloated one snickered. “I already have a list,” he said. “It’s quite long and I’m sure you’ll appreciate it. Most are ready to sign. By the way, do you happen to have a pen?”

The demon opened his hand. In his hand was a softly glowing pen that was intensely black yet appeared to have an inner light. Instead of a standard tip, it had a thick marking nib. “I assume this meets with your approval?”

“Nice pen,” said the other. “Can I keep it? It has a certain … something.”

“Absolutely,” said Scratch “I made it just for you.”

The other took the pen and placed his signature on the dotted line.

Demon-face smiled, then laughed. “We are done,” he said and. With a brief flash of red, he vanished. Only the dark night remained. The glowing pen lay on the asphalt.

The deed was done. The other picked up the pen and put it carefully in his jacket pocket. He began a long, slow walk back to his limousine as a light rain began to fall. The world would belong to him.

WHISPERS IN YOUR EAR – Marilyn Armstrong

The day before the earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989, I decided I needed to go home a day early. I wasn’t feeling well (I actually had the flu, but didn’t yet know it) and most of my work was done for the moment.

It was like a little whisper in my ear telling me it was time to leave.

Had I not left, I’d have been one of the many crushed cars on the road between San Francisco and Oakland.

My boss in 2001 was supposed to fly to Los Angeles on September 11th. For some reason, a little whisper in his ear said “Cancel the trip. Go another day.”

The plane on which he had been booked crashed into one of the towers in New York.

There are all those little whispers out of nowhere. They tell us what to do. They tell us what to avoid. Listen to the whispers.

MORE OF OUR LITTLE TREE – Marilyn Armstrong

The Tree – FOTD – Dec. 11, 2019

So this time, I used my f1.8 25mm Olympus lens and the pictures are nominally better. I probably should take the pictures earlier in the day when there’s some light coming in from the windows. Anyway, I’ll try again.

Much better than the pictures with the slower lens.
I never noticed the painting on the mantel is crooked.
Lights on the big window