HOW A FORTUNE TELLER RUINED MY GRANDFATHER’S LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

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?

My father’s father

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 as a young man

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.

Neither do I.

PARENTING TRAINING SHOULD BE REQUIRED – BY ELLIN CURLEY

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!

jen-and-kids

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.

jase

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.

all-4

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.

We can all use all the help we can get!

8/12/2018 – TODAY IS NATIONAL MIDDLE CHILD DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

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.

1963

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.

2012

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.

Stay real. Stay well. Stay safe.

STAY AT HOME KIDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have a friend who has three daughters, including a set of twins. They are now in their late twenties and early thirties. And they are all back living at home now. I was shocked to hear this.

All three girls have four-year college degrees. All three have full-time jobs. But none can earn enough to live on their own. One of the girls has a one and a half-year-old baby. The mom is no longer with the father, though he is still in the baby’s life. He also works but doesn’t earn enough to contribute to his daughter’s support.

What is going on here? What a tragedy, that middle class, educated working, young people can’t afford to live on their own without their parents’ support. It can’t be good for twenty and thirty-somethings to be living with their parents. It’s infantilizing and demoralizing. There also doesn’t seem to be any prospect for them to move out in the near future. This set up is not necessarily great for the parents either, especially if they want to retire at some point.

Starting wages today don’t seem to be high enough to pay for a home and even minimal living expenses. At least in New England, where I live. And this is even true with a college degree. Part of the problem may be that kids leave college with heavy debts that contribute to their financial dependence on their parents. So, it’s a vicious cycle.

And if you have a baby, the financial situation becomes exponentially worse!

My friend’s daughters are lucky that their parents can afford to support them. And that they didn’t already downsize their home. The kids contribute to the household, but not significantly. What will happen when my friend and her husband want to retire? They probably won’t be able to.

My friend is also lucky that she can work part-time from home. So, with the help of the other girls, they don’t have to pay for daycare or other childcare. This makes a big difference, financially. I know young people who pay a large percentage of their annual income on childcare – just so they can continue to work. This is also a travesty.

I don’t have any earth-shattering insights or solutions to any of these problems. I just got to see first hand what this economy and this society can do to young adults and their retirement age parents.

I’ve read about this phenomenon, but things affect you differently when people you know are involved. I can now put a face on this problem. It’s no longer an abstract issue, but a personal story. I’m shocked, appalled and depressed.

What will happen to whole generations? What will happen to our society? This is our future. And it looks pretty bleak.

MIRROR, MIRROR – Marilyn Armstrong

The Most Beautiful of Them All?

I never — at any point in life — looked in the mirror imagining for a moment that I was the most beautiful of all. All what?

I knew I wasn’t the most beautiful anything. At my best, I was interesting, sometimes eye-catching. Frequently just different. I never looked like everyone else, except maybe all the other members of my family.

I remember going to my uncle’s funeral, looking around and seeing me, me, me, me. Everywhere. Some version of me. My cousins, aunts, parents. Everyone looked a lot or a little like me.

Now, I look in the mirror to see if I pass. Do I look truly hideous or just kind of old and tired?

I don’t look anything like I used to look. My face is a different shape. My hair is different. My eyes have sunk deeper into my skull.

Humans don’t always look the same, you know. We evolve. That’s how it’s possible to look exactly like your father when you are three, but exactly like your mother at 30 … and remarkably like your uncle at 50. It should be obvious if you stop and think about it. If we didn’t keep changing, we would be born with an old, adult face. Which you must admit, would look pretty strange.

I’ve now passed the point of looking like my mother. By the time my mother was my age, she was dying. Which I, apparently, am not. Garry no longer looks like his mother or his father, but some peculiar combination of both, depending on what look he has on his face.

I suppose I don’t know what to make of me anymore. At least other people still recognize me when they see me. That’s something, right?

NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE – Rich Paschall

JJ’s Night Out, by Rich Paschall


Jason was pacing the floor of the living room.  He was excited about his date night.  They were going to a new nightclub.  It had received nice reviews and he thought they could do a lot of dancing and singing.  Jason’s mom watched the pacing with a feeling of indifference, while his dad watched in what could best be described as “disgust.”

Soon Jason’s date would arrive. Jeff was a handsome young man who Jason had met at college.  Jeff fell immediately for the boy with the constant smile, and it did not take long for Jason to agree to a date.  After a short period of dating, they became constant companions.  Their friends began referring to them collectively as “JJ” since they always seemed to be together.

When Jeff arrived in his best preppy, all American look, he stopped in briefly to say hello to Jason’s parents and wish them a good evening.  Then Jason exclaimed, “Good night, mom,” and gave his mother a hug.  It was returned in a half-hearted fashion.

“See you later, dad,” Jason shouted at his father who was standing quite a distance away.

“Yeah,” his father returned with his most annoyed tone.  The father’s look was his best effort at contempt.  Jason just smiled and the boys set out for a night of fun.  They both hoped that someday Jason’s father would accept them as a couple.  Whether that happened or not, soon the boys would find an apartment, marry and be on their own.  They had their whole lives ahead and could not be too worried about whether they would find complete acceptance.  They had each other.  That was the main thing.

The two men enjoyed the new nightclub.  The music was loud, the drinks were cold and the atmosphere was electric.  Around midnight, Jeff leaned over and gave Jason a big kiss.  Since he was not prone to such public displays, Jason asked, “What was that for?”

Jeff replied, “Because I love you so much, my prince.”  At that Jason’s usual smile became even bigger.

At 4 am the phone rang at Jason’s home.  By the time his mother was awakened and realized it was the phone, the ringing stopped.  She started to drift off to sleep but 10 minutes later the phone was ringing again.  When she got up and got to the phone, it had stopped again.  The mother thought Jason forgot his key or was staying with Jeff.

“He really did not have to call about that,” she thought.  She waited by the phone another 10 minutes but it did not ring, so she went back to bed.

72-BW-Boston-Night_004Just as she was getting up around 7 am the front doorbell rang.  She thought, “This must be Jason.”  She put on her robe and walked to the door.  She opened it to find a uniformed police officer standing there.  Behind her was a man in plain clothes, but he was wearing a police badge on his belt.

“Are you Mrs. DeAngelo?”  the officer asked.

“Yes.”

“And is Jason DeAngelo your son?”

“Why?  What’s wrong? What happened?  Tell me, what is it?” she blurted out, trying not to sound hysterical.

“There has been a shooting at a nightclub.  I am afraid your son was one of the victim’s.  We are sorry for your  loss, Mrs. DeAngelo.”
Jason’s mother stood there absolutely frozen to the spot.  She had been kicked in the stomach and her breath had been taken away.

“Is it alright if we come in and ask a few questions?” the plainclothes police officer asked.

For a moment Mrs. DeAngelo could not speak.  Her eyes began to water and her brain was numb.  She was transported through time to a place of unspeakable sadness.  It was a place where senses momentarily failed her.

“Would you like us to come back?” the man asked.

“No,” she replied.  “Come in.”

Mr. DeAngelo joined them in the living room.  He immediately knew what had happened.  He stood there silently.  His wife answered all the questions.

For the next half hour, the two police officers queried Jason’s mom.  Did Jason go to the Club often?  Why did he go that night?  Was he with anyone?  Was he gay?  Did they know it was a gay nightclub and so on?  Mrs. DeAngelo answered as best she could.

Then they mentioned the name of the shooter which led to a new round of questions.  Did she ever hear the name before?  Did her son know him?  There were other questions too but they all became a blur to Mrs. DeAngelo.  After a while, she was not even sure what she was saying.

The uniformed officer concluded by saying the coroner’s office would be processing the dozens of bodies over the next few days and they would be in contact with them.  Both told the parents “We are sorry for your loss,” as they were leaving the house.

Mrs. DeAngelo softly closed the door behind them.  She grabbed a framed picture of Jason off a table and sat down on the sofa.  She stared at the picture as a tear formed in the corner of one eye.  She tried to envision Jason’s happy face as a child and his boundless energy.  She remembered the time she called him “my little terrier” because it seemed he could run for hours and then come and lay down right by her.  She did not move from that spot for a long time.

Mr. DeAngelo recalled the look he gave the boys the night before as they left for the club.

It was the only thing he could remember.

THE ACCUMULATION OF STUFF – RICH PASCHALL

Reducing Clutter, by Rich Paschall


When my grandfather retired and my grandparents moved back to Tennessee from Chicago where they had lived for close to twenty years, they gave away many items they felt they no longer needed.  Chief among them was a snow blower.  “What if it snows, grandpa?” I asked.  He explained that in the unlikely event of snow, it would melt off in a day or two.  There was no need for something they may never use again.

When he asked if I would like anything, I said I would take his nightstand if the plan was to leave it behind.  It was an inexpensive little piece with a small door on the front to hold just a few items inside.  It had a homemade quality and symbolized my grandfather to me.  I was probably in early teens.  I still have it today.  The item could be 100 years old by now.

Their home in small town Tennessee was remarkably uncluttered.  They had just what they needed for the next twenty years of their lives.  The house was always, neat, clean and orderly and I truly believe that it added to the relaxed and comfortable existence they enjoyed for many years.  They never seemed to lack for anything when I would visit.  I envy that simple existence now.

When my father retired and moved to Florida with his second wife (not my mom), he too left behind things he could not imagine using again.  He had decided to give away his winter outerwear and offered me a nice coat and other items.  “What if it gets cold, or you come back to visit in winter, dad?” He pointed out that it never gets that cold in Florida and while he may be back to visit, it would never be in winter.

Aside from taking this winter offering, I desired nothing else.  I had his World War II medals and discharge paper.  There was nothing else I wanted.  I have since passed the World War II memorabilia to my older brother.  He has children and may be able to pass them on.  By the way, I kept a Good Conduct medal for my “good conduct.”  Dad had more than one and I decided not to award my brother with several of these.

Mom was a collector of stuff.  I sometimes wondered if this was the result of growing up poor in the Depression.  Was the accumulation of items, no matter how little the value, important to someone who had nothing growing up?  Were many of us from the Baby Boomer generation collectors because we saw that our parents were?

Mom collected everything from coffee cups to shot glasses, refrigerator magnets to picture frames, swizzle sticks from hotels and restaurants, to match books from the same.  There were figurines and candle holders, tea services not to be used, special occasion kitchen ware that may never have seen the special occasion.  There were “knickknacks” of all sorts, or what her mother would have simply called “dust catchers.”  To me, most of these items did not have enough value to have to dust them every weekend.

After mom had reached her 80’s and could not care for all the stuff, or even recall all the stuff she had, I moved her to an apartment in the same building so we could watch over her a little more closely.  That lasted less than a year and she was in a hospital, then a nursing home.  I moved to the larger apartment to hold on to the “stuff” in case she recovered well enough to come home.  She lived almost 6 years at the home and I not only had a lifetime of my own stuff, I then inherited a mountain of stuff I would never have considered owning.  Worse yet, many of the dust collectors I owned were some of the same items I grew up looking at.  I can not explain how I did not want these things.  For whatever reason, I could not get rid of much of it in the years that followed.

In the past year, however, I decided it was time to start to eliminate many of these things.  I had shelves and cabinets overflowing with items that I would never use and in some cases never wanted.  What if I have to move?  I do not want to have to take a lot of these things.  What if I die?  Someone will just toss out most of it anyway.  Is this “stuff” adding anything to my life?  This really is the key question.  If I was not going to use it and it did not hold some great personal value, it was time to go.

It is hard to do an assessment of items that have been in your house for decades.  You may falsely conclude that they have a sentimental value when all they really enjoy is longevity.  Consider cleaning up and not leaving it to others.  I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your kids, or grandkids, do not want your stuff.  Yes, they may desire an item or two, but for the most part your stuff will end up being donated or tossed out, so you might as well do it yourself.  Consider how much of your parents or grandparents stuff you wanted?  I am not talking about family photos, I am talking about “stuff.”

Last year I tossed out a lot of stuff.  I did not want them and could not imagine anyone paying 25 cents for them, so they finally hit the trash. I gave a lot of stuff away to various charities, depending on the type of item.  I also listed things on eBay if I thought they had a value.  I sell about a half-dozen items a month.  At this pace I could sell stuff for the next 25 years and still have a lot of things.  When I retire, I will likely increase my eBay offerings or my donations to resale shops, probably both. If anyone wants stuff, I will be happy to oblige.