For the past few years, there has been an increasing clamor to make everything shut down for Thanksgiving, supposedly so everyone can spend time with their family. Nice, well-meaning sentiment, on the face of it. Except for all the people who don’t have families with whom to celebrate. Or who are estranged from (or just plain don’t like) their family.
What about them? Are you making their lives better? Do they want the day off? Did you ask any of them?
Then, there are Native Americans who don’t want to celebrate the arrival of armed Europeans who would steal their land, infect them with diseases, and try to murder them. They don’t feel this is something to celebrate. Or the struggling families who count on extra money from working holidays to help them survive.
Everyone doesn’t celebrate the same way. Or want to. Some folks prefer to work on holidays. They would rather earn some money than sit around their empty rooms feeling left out of America’s favorite dinner party — and maybe they need the extra pay.
Or they don’t like Thanksgiving, for whatever reason. It is their right to feel that way.
I understand the sentiment. To me, it’s one more example of how we try to force everyone to march in lockstep as if we are all the same or at the very least, we all should be the same. Above all, we should want to be identical.
I would appreciate it if the righteous folks would shut up already.
This is a diverse country. That’s not just something we say during an election year. It’s a real thing.
As a nation, we supposedly treasure diversity as much as any other freedom. So let’s leave a little room for people to express their differences as well as their similarities, shall we?
We do not all need (or want) to eat turkey, with or without gravy. I bet if you ask the turkey, they definitely would like to skip the holiday.
What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language? Suppose you did not have to work at it at all. There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases. You would not have to study rules of grammar. You would not have to learn to conjugate. You would not take home lessons to write out. The language would just be there at your command. Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear. What language would you choose?
My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors. If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice. In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense. If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language? Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.
My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent. The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children. I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however. I suppose some spoke it. Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them. Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.
For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood. My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors. The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American. It was started by German immigrants who built the church. For decades there was a mass in German. I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later. I was encouraged to take Latin in high school, however.
This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests. There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine. We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing. Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zweiBierbitte!
Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense. The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.
Now there is a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries. I have neighbors from Guatemala and Colombia nearby. There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city. There are so many cultures I could learn, if I just knew this one language. It seems like a logical choice.
What is the second language of your community? Is there even a second language? Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language. Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.
In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another. All of the above would be interesting and certainly useful. Whether I would travel to countries where these languages were spoken, or use them right here in our local communities, I still have a different interest in a language. I would never have thought to learn it just a decade ago. Friendship has become the determining factor, however.
A previous job of mine brought in interns from other countries, particularly France. As a result I made a number of friends from France, and I even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers. It was not just that I learned some of the culture. Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities. Of course, we talked French politics and sports. Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues. But in the process, something important happened.
Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman. We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe. I have visited his home and the home of his parents. We have visited all across Alsace. For eight years, France has been on my vacation list. It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French. It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in. It is not about my grandmother. It is not about a particular parish. It is not about countries I may someday visit.
The language I would like to know is all about my friends. In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English. Some of my closest friends are French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet. Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?
My father was a scientist and a very rational man. He didn’t believe in religion or have any superstitions, except one. He told me to never, ever go to a fortune-teller. He had a logical reason. HIS father had told him an eerie story about HIS experience with a fortune-teller, which had haunted him throughout his life.
My grandfather, on a lark, when he still lived in Russia, went to a gypsy fortune-teller in a nearby gypsy camp. He was given a long, detailed story about his future life. Most of the story seemed outrageous, if not impossible at the time. He forgot about the incident. Until, to his dismay, the predictions started to come true, one at a time. I don’t remember all the details but here are a few.
The gypsy told my grandfather that he would serve in the army. At the time in Russia, only first-born sons were conscripted into the army. My grandfather was the third son, so this would never happen. Except that his oldest brother shot off his toes to avoid military service. Then the second oldest brother died suddenly and young. So it fell to my grandfather to take up arms. Just like the gypsy told him. What are the odds?
Next, the gypsy told my grandfather that he would take a long journey involving a boat. He had no intention of ever leaving Russia. Until he couldn’t make a good living as a tailor when he finished his military service. Then he decided to come to America – a very long journey, part of it by sea.
The personal details the gypsy told him were the creepiest part of the story. The gypsy told him that he would marry a young woman who would bear him seven children, including a set of twins, but only two of the children would survive. Believe it or not, my grandmother had exactly seven pregnancies, including a set of twins. The oldest and the youngest, my Dad, were the only ones to survive infancy.
By now my grandfather was freaking out! The next prediction by the gypsy was that his wife would die young and leave him to take care of two children on his own. She died of tuberculosis when my Dad was three. The gypsy said that my grandfather would struggle for a few years but would eventually marry a strong woman who would be a good mother to his children. This happened exactly as predicted. His children, aged three and eleven, were latch-key kids until he met his second wife who, my father always said, ‘rescued’ them.
The rest of my grandfather’s life also played out pretty much as the gypsy had told him. He started making a good living. (He was the first to bring the pleated skirt to America). He lived comfortably until his death as an old man for the day – he was in his 70’s.
The story doesn’t end there. My father understood his father’s aversion to clairvoyants. But as a young man, he fell madly in love with a woman who was ‘beyond his reach’. He was a poor, Jewish medical student and she was a proper WASP who wanted a comfortable and respectable life. He was not in a position to give this to her.
My Dad was so smitten, that he took a year off from medical school to pursue the woman full-time! During this period, he came across a fortune-teller. He couldn’t resist finding out if he would ‘get the girl’ in the end. The gypsy told him that the woman would never marry him. She said that the woman would string him along but eventually would marry a man from Chicago who was ‘like a locomotive’. Dad remembers this phrase because it was an unusual way to describe someone.
As predicted, again, despite a long courtship, his paramour eventually sent him a letter breaking off the relationship. She said that she had found a well established, well-off man and was moving to Chicago to marry him. She described him as strong and commanding, ‘like a locomotive!’
Unbelievable! My father had no rational explanation for any of this.
You just can’t trust a time portal. As soon as you think you can relax, eat a little dinner, another old family member drops by. Or, rather pops up.
“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who has appeared out of nowhere and now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent. “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”
“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”
“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”
“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”
“Are you Kosher?”
“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, thinking of the bacon and ham that yet lives in our kitchen. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”
Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”
Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. You have to hand it to Garry. He’s very sharp. The yarmulke has “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” printed across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.
“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You still have problems with Cossacks?”
“No. No more Cossacks, but too many politicians,” I reply.
“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?” he asks.
“Not so much,” I admit. He’s right. There is no difference, except maybe for the absence of a horse.
“And for a living, you do what?”
“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”
“What’s a television?” I look at Shmuel. That’s when I realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation. All I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.
To get a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass two tests, one written and one practical. To be a teacher, you need a master’s degree and years of specialized training, academic and on-the-job. To do the hardest, most important job on the planet — parenting — there are no requirements. None. Zip. No required preparation of any kind. No training. No test. You’re on your own. The first time I ever held a baby, I was six months pregnant with my first child.
Last year I spent time with family in a house with a young mom, Jennifer, her eight-year-old daughter Jayda, and her two-year-old son Jase. I saw firsthand the tremendous advantage of training for parenthood. Jennifer had been a grade school teacher, trained in early childhood behavior and education. She is now a principal in an elementary school.
She was the best parent I’ve ever seen. She had mad skills!
Jennifer had clearly studied child development and the best ways to handle young kids. She stayed mellow whatever was going on, so she was able to use her knowledge. In nearly three days, I never saw her lose her temper — or even her cool.
She was amazingly consistent with both children. Consistency is critical and was something I could never achieve. Every time Jase did something he wasn’t supposed to, like throwing something, he got a matter of fact, short time out. No drama, no anger. When told he needed a time out, he said “Yes, Mama” and went quietly.
Jennifer knew how to distract and redirect a hyper-active and sometimes antsy toddler. Jase never reached the point of meltdown and neither did anyone else. He went down for naps and to bed without fuss because Mom was gentle but firm. She made it clear that there was no negotiation possible.
She also managed to spend time with Jayda. She got the two kids to interact peacefully. There was no sibling rivalry or fights for Mom’s attention. Peace reigned for more than 48 straight hours with only a few short bouts of toddler tears. In defense of all other mothers reading this, this child was an angel with a wonderful, happy disposition. He also had other relatives around to help entertain him.
But I could see in Jennifer’s actions textbook child-rearing techniques I’d read about. I believe those techniques and knowledge let Jennifer feel confident and in control. This, in turn, allowed her to stay calm and handle situations rationally and intelligently. She spread the calm to her kids. It was awesome. Humbling to watch.
I was a good parent but I had an ideal in my head to which I was never able to attain. Jennifer embodied that ideal. I’m sure she has the innate temperament to be a wonderful mother. But I’m also sure she was helped by the practical tools her training gave her. They made it possible for her to reach the goal of most parents: to be the best parent we can be.
Yuck, ick, feh. I don’t like olives, green, black or any other color. I also loathe anchovies. Slimy salty nasty stuff. Yuck, ick, feh.
What’s your favorite room in your home?
The living room with the bedroom coming in a solid second. But I really like most of the rooms. It’s just that we don’t use all of them anymore.
This house is bigger than we need.
What fictional family would you be a member of?
Fiction family? How about the Plantagenets? Can I be Eleanor of Aquitaine puleeze? Raise an army, live a really long time when everyone else is dying before me? So that all the people who hated me are long since deceased before me?
Other than that, I could be one of the March sisters. Guess which one?
What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?
We bought a newer car. More to come on this, but it was fun. Also, there was something unpleasant happening in the rear end of the older car. Possibly the differential or maybe more bearings. Whatever it was, expensive.
But now, NO problems. We have a three-year newer car for the same price and it only has 28,000 miles on it and … it’s so very ORANGE.
I was a middle child. I’m not anymore because my older brother died and my younger sister got addicted to everything and disappeared. I’m assuming she is alive since no one has told me otherwise, but I have no actual evidence to that effect.
Middle children have an interesting place in family life. If the family is big, there are lots of middle children so you can have quite a heap of middle children, but in the three-child family, middle children are often communicators. We take messages to the other warring family members.
Mom tells you to tell dad whatever, which you do, then he tells you to tell her something else. You brother confides in you because you are “The One Who Talks.”
It’s a weird role for a kid. It makes you feel important. Everyone counts on you to take and deliver messages. But it’s a fake importance. What you are really doing is helping your dysfunctional family not communicate with each other.
That was the final reason I went to Israel. My marriage was tired and not doing well … and my family had gone from dysfunctional to dangerously dysfunctional. Frighteningly dysfunctional with potentially lethal results. I felt — and I’m sure I was right — that if I didn’t go far away, I would never break the chain of recriminations, threats, lies, prevarications, fear … the whole ugly wrapper.
Not all families are equally dysfunctional, but mine was way beyond standard. Matthew and I survived. I survived better than he did, though he lived a good — if sadly short — life.
He had a great wife and an amazing relationship with her. I’m pretty sure she saved his life. Although I had one really awful marriage, Jeff and I got along well. As a marriage, it faltered, but it was a strong friendship. We were supportive of one another until finally, he died. Even after we divorced, we stayed friends.
I was right. My time in Israel broke that chain of me as the family communicator. Unfortunately, my mother died … and then, there was only my brother, and then Jeff and Matthew died — both much too young.
But then there were new friends. There was the internet.
I communicate again. I don’t see your faces, but I feel you. I worry about you, want to know you are okay. You matter to me. I am not good at virtual relationships. To me, you are real. Distant, I admit, but real.
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