family, life lessons, Uncategorized

THIS IS YOUR LIFE

“Grandpa, didn’t Grandma have a shortened version of a Seder that she wrote?’ I asked him a few days ago. Passover is by far my most favorite Jewish holiday. Jewish families all over the world share the story of Moses (and Miriam for those of us who like to add some female power to the night) leading the Jews out of Egypt into The Promised Land. We eat the symbolic foods and have conversations about freedoms, slavery, privilege, humanity and so much more over a delicious feast all under the full moon.

Passover is one of those transformative holidays that usually gives me some type of spiritual ahha moment and I always wake up with a more grounded sense of myself the next day. What I enjoy about Passover is that is it more than just Let’s Eat, it is a ritual, a tradition and a retelling of the story of a liberation.

The Seder is community and pausing with family and friends. It is celebratory and hopeful and it goes on worldwide with each family adding their own twists and turns. This is how I remembered that my grandmother had made her own service to condense it for the many friends my grandparents have had over the years to make it more personal, more meaningful. And shorter. Because traditional Seders can be many hours long before dinner and this is a recipe in this short attention span life we lead for invitation turn downs at some point. Being in the Reformed Judaism category, I take some bold liberties in making sure that the Seder is both interesting and concise so when my Grandfather suggested that I take a look in my grandmother’s computer, I bolted into her old office.

My grandmother passed away almost six years ago, but yet her computer is still going strong. As I made my way into her office I noticed some vestiges of her still lingering, like the abundance of scratch paper and address labels, you know those free ones you get as a bait to make a donation to whatever charity thinks sending free address labels will get you to do this. But it is her Mac that most reminds me of her presence. Isabelle had a Mac before people were really buying Macs. She was always on the hip side.

I opened up her computer and went to her file labeled “Isabelle” thinking that so much of ourselves, who we are, how we think show up in what is stored and how it is filed. I was also struck by the notion that all may have been lost if I hadn’t been lucky enough to remember to ask about the Seder, too.

As I went through the treasure trove of files, I saw all of the writings I had sent her in my earlier years of writing that she had saved. She too was an avid writer, albeit a closet one, and I quickly discovered every trip she had gone on with the date, her itinerary and even the tour guide’s name. My grandmother not only recorded the sights and sounds of their trips, but she did it all in rhyme and I was quickly transported to China shortly after the cultural revolution. I time traveled to Africa, Tibuktu among some of the points they traveled to in the seventies. There were her trips to Israel right along with the one they took me on in 1977, too.

While their friends were headed to the Carribean and The Grand Canyon for pleasure, my grandparents were off on wild adventures to learn about the world. Because I was the oldest grandchild and lived nearby, their influence on my ability to look at the world differently was significant. I was able to read about her joys in traveling with the love of her life and was reminded of how hip she was. Then like magic, like she had directed me to this very moment herself, I found her Seder outline and printed it, happy to have found her words to share.

Since my grandfather’s stroke almost five years ago, he hasn’t gone out much and certainly hasn’t had any Passover celebrations at his house. I had decided to come down to Florida this year to have a Passover Seder with my grandfather instead of the usual Seder with my lovely son and our circle of friends back home. so that he could participate in one at his 101st year. As I have mentioned in many writings, we never know if this one will be his last one, the odds shorten each year and my pragmatism abounds.

I set up the formal dining room instead of the usual breakfast area in the kitchen and took out the good china, all of the candlesticks, and the cloth napkins. This is the joy of a holiday. The excuse to make something a little more special than just another day. Flowers on the table, special wine glasses, the old china serving dishes that I will never know their origins of. I just know they are old and were saved for special occasions. I used as many as I had food to fill them. And I printed all of her itineraries right down to her memories of her marriage to my grandfather in August 1942. It was here I got to spend some time with her in her recollections of their beginnings, the draft, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and her young life. So right before dessert, I pulled out the story and announced, Herb, this is your life and began reading it as the story it was.

Passover is the story of Exodus, the Jewish plight, the enslavement of people, but also of our own prisons we put ourselves in by our thinking. My grandmother’s writings reminded me that she did not take her own personal freedoms lightly. She lived her life to the fullest, and after re-reading her own writings, I was clearly reminded of why I live the life I do. Even though many of the people I adore were not physically at this year’s Seder either because of proximity or because they have left us, having this Passover with my Grandfather felt like everyone was there at our table. Liberation in our own way, connecting generations on this one special holiday I got to celebrate my fifty fourth year with a most cherished father figure, Herb Horowitz, my shining example that life is what you make of it.

family, travel

DOLPHINS AND JELLYFISH

It was a bright clear morning barely a wisp of a cloud in the blue sky. The temperature slowly creeping from a cool 60 to a much warmer 75 in less than two hours. A perfect breeze like there was a fan on my neck at a slow even speed. People of all shapes and sizes beginning their long jaunt to claim their perfect spot where they would be laying their heads hoping for a day of rest from their busy lives.

I speak of the glorious Florida beach in February- Siesta Key, white granite cool sands and the lucky draw of a fine week of sunny perfect weather. A stunning break surrounded by temperatures from the otherwise blustery frigid February of unpredictable New England weather.

Though the temperature “up north” has ebbed into a brief and unusual fifties, purely a chance happening in a New England February, fifty is never the same in the north because of the stark lack of green. Everything is grey despite the teasing warmth. Until I land in my beloved home away from home, I am always surprised that in addition to beach air and warm sunlight, what the absence of green has had in its effect on my personal brightness.

I watch the families and couples, the aging partners holding on to each other for dear life as they try to stay healthy to keep enjoying what I take for granted with both the luck of my youth and my health. I see single women like myself enjoying time alone with only their ruminating thoughts to keep them company. It is hard to close your eyes at this beach because there is so much to watch. The glee in the eyes as the beach goers are filled with the hope and expectations of the day that before them.

There is the sound of the tap tap tapping of the soccer ball being kicked between two men, the tossing of a football between a mom, her husband and two sons, glimpses of conversation between women catching up on family gossip as they breeze by with matching hats and those calf length pants so many of women of their age seem to wear down here on their way to the shoreline for an early morning walk together.

I sit here in the heat this time under a bright red umbrella I have chosen to splurge on renting for seventeen dollars along with a five dollar deposit and a five dollar tip for just one day. If my grandfather knew what I was spending he would say his familiar one liner, You’re out of your cotton pickin mind. The rental, mind you, includes a sandy haired surfer type probably around my son’s age dragging the umbrella, setting up the umbrella and dragging it back when I am ready to leave. Worth every penny if you ask me. Though I don’t have to rationalize the purchase, it is easier to part with the twenty-seven dollars since I stay here for free every time I visit. This money spent today seems like a drop in the bucket.

Siesta Key is an expansive beach and is quite a walk from the parking lot to the shoreline. I have learned where to claim my own piece of territory since the unfortunate award of # 1 beach in America turned my beloved beach into Disneyworld. But at least there are plenty of parking spots now though out of habit I still get here at 8:00am so I can enjoy some quiet before the throngs of people descend with their loudness and boom boxes of country or rap music interrupting my peace like I am the only one deserving to claim the right.

Though I read entire books, write endlessly and deliberately leave my phone at home, the beach does not allow a bent head for long. There is just too much to see, to hear, to witness and watch. I find myself torn between the intensity of focus my current book requires and the lifting of my head to pay attention to the excitement and curiosity of my surroundings.

The water is cloudier than usual, remnants of last year’s highly publicized and horrific red tide causing temporary breathing problems and a rapid drop in tourism and beach closures unheard of on this beach. I must head for the February dip though since I have to pee like every other person who uses the span of water instead of the long walk to the row of bathrooms at the concession stand. To go to that bathroom, I must get dressed, take my wallet, put my shoes on and traipse. It’s easier in the water and the dip in the gulf in February is like the Atlantic at the end of June refreshing, reckoning, like a mikvah, a Jewish renewal and rebirth I have only once been part of in a much younger life or a baptism for those of you who don’t know what I am talking about.

I do my ceremonial dip that demonstrates to the beach audience that I am indeed a northerner and make my way back to my chair. Because I look up often, I see the familiar pointing from the many walkers at the shoreline as they notice the fins of the dolphins swimming by. Seeing just the fin of a dolphin dip in and out causes pause allowing us if only for a moment to leave our very blue screened lives reminding us that yes, there is a real world out here. Dolphins actually swimming at a real beach at a real shoreline can never be duplicated by watching it on YouTube, though plenty of people can’t resist filming this instead of just watching. Smiles! Excitement! Bliss. Just watching people looking up gives my heart an extra skip as it reminds me that we have not all succumbed to the seclusion and isolation we have allowed our phones to dictate in our non-beach lives.

After I dry off and take a delicious nap dipping in and out of the most meditative REM sleep no app could replicate, I sit back down in my squeaky old beach chair to notice another crowd gathering again at the shoreline. This time they are all looking down at the sand discussing a new finding. A jellyfish. Not just any jellyfish, a nuclear size jellyfish I can easily see from my very far away perch. Men referring to the size of its stinger like the fish that got away on their last fishing trip with the guys.

I was just in that water. I do not want to get stung by a jellyfish especially at the beginning of my solo vacation and I am now concerned that this may be a possibility. Woe is me.

I watch a beautiful couple walk by me speaking what sounds like Polish or Russian annoyed I can’t pinpoint the language. He is fit and his shorts are shorter than the usual length an American man would wear. If I hadn’t heard his voice, the shorts would have still identified him as someone from another place. He is a muscular sort and she is voluptuous and stunning with a rounded curve now in fashion among younger women at last. He sits and promptly checks his phone; she prepares the towels and herself then sits down to take her dress off, a familiar move I recognize. I am transported back to my twenties when I was self-conscious about my own curves and shape. I felt a moment of sadness for that time when I didn’t appreciate what I am sure was a kick ass body.  What a waste of time and a perfectly good body in retrospect.

Now that no one is likely looking at this aging body with the obvious fake boobs, cellulite that seemed to arrive overnight and a bloat that is caused by even one morsel of food these days, I so easily remove my sundress and walk around in a bikini like I am Giselle. I love the irony of this. As I reflect back on my beach day I am sitting on my grandfather’s patio cleaning up my beach writing. Life is ironic in so many ways and as I sit here transcribing my penciled writings onto the computer this morning, I listen to the baby monitor bellowing out the conversation between my grandfather and one of his caregivers sharing yet another intimate moment as he makes his way back into the womb with the slow inevitable journey back. This is irony.

family, life lessons

MOMENTS OF INTIMACY

There is a baby monitor in the living room that lets anyone sitting there hear the sounds of my 101 year old grandfather when he is in his bedroom. His long life has come to this and he is lucky. We are lucky to have a man in our lives who actually did what the commercials keep telling anyone who will listen.

Save for retirement.

Herb Horowitz did so when he and my grandmother retired, they had a nice not so little nest egg to move permanently to sunny Florida andlive the retired life. Cocktail parties, tennis, walks on the beach and lots offamily to visit. A successful well-planned life.

Herbie and Isabelle were good planners, responsible and thoughtful in the way they planned out their golden years. My grandfather readily admits though, that he never planned he would still be living at the ripe age of 101. Or that my grandmother would exit before him instead of the other way around, but as he would say himself, “Be that as it may, there is nothing that can be done about this.”

Herbie has chosen to stay in the comfort of his surroundings, his home, because he has the wherewithal to do this as well as the means. Because of this, he has 24 hour very expensive care to the tune of 3600 a week, yes a week and this is why there is a baby monitor in the living room. So the caregivers can hear his call, his bark at times, his breath to make sure it is still exhaling and inhaling at the rate that an alive versus dead person breathes.

When I am visiting, I am usually in the kitchen cooking and this is when I often hear the intimate dialogue between caregiver and Herb. I often wonder if these strong heady women who get paid to care for other people’s family members while said family members parade in and out of Herb’s home like it is their own personal vacation spot think why the hell are they not taking care of their own? This is my grandparents doing as their mantra has always been to never be a burden to their children and made it their personal mission to make this happen.

We are the luckier ones for it for sure and because of his planning and pragmatism, I get to comfortably sit on the patio by the in ground indoor pool sunning myself on an 80 degree day in Sarasota while my friends and family are lighting fires and bundling up in 22 degree New England.

As I made my way to the beach for the fifth day in a row yesterday, the notion that this life I have been privileged to take part in for the last thirty years will, just by statistics, come to an end. This made my eyes water. Herb is not getting any younger and despite the fact that every time I see him, he seems to be gaining more enthusiasm and zest in his reply when asked “Herb, how are you doing?”  “FANTASTIC.” He says this with a vigor that sometimes people in their sixties are lacking. And he means it. Herb, through all of his losses in his life, lives a happy life, an appreciative one, one of kindness and care and love. I appreciate it more every time I visit realizing how one day I will get the call that it is over. Herb taught me to me a realist and for this in my emotional curvy swings, I have a thread of this, more so now then ever.

I sit here in the luxury, surrounded by a golf course and million dollar homes set up like a monopoly board, palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, tropical sounding birds singing to me and barely a soul outside to enjoy this delight. Where is everyone? I often think this as I make my way in and out of the complex passing the workers making their way in to take care of the chemically greened grass and the too organized and perfect gardens. Are these hard working people scratching their heads like I am? I hardly ever see a soul out and about in this sprawling gated community and as much as I love being here, I am happy to get home to my cold house to actually interact with the many troves of people braving the cold and walking by my house to engage in neighborhood conversation.

“Hello, How are you today? It’s a brisk one,” as they march forth on their Yankee jaunts on a blustery New England day.

My grandfather is appreciative of the visits and we are appreciative of him. I love being in his house because frankly it is the last of the vestiges of my childhood home. This house is the place where when I walk in, I am also home not just because I go in and out with a carefree abandon, but because it is the place I have always felt safe, loved, cared for. My grandparent’s home is that space I am still a grandchild at almost 54. Not just the physical space, but the emotional one that is present as soon as I am greeted. Just like I am five again coming for a sleepover. It is magic.

My grandfather has been the connector of all of us cousins, the patriarch who manages to keep a family who lives as far away as London, to Austin, Texas, and New England to DC to stay in touch despite our young busy lives. I am the oldest of 8 very close cousins, oldest by twelve – fifty two years.  I consider myself more like an aunt to my cousin’s young children. I love knowing them and being a part of their lives. My grandfather taught me this by his example of always showing up. If  he still physically could, he would.

As I listen to him through the baby monitor gently bark and his bark has gotten softer with age, I am struck by how full circle life is. Out of the womb, back to it. The baby monitor is that metaphor that serves as the constant reminder that this life I know shall pass. I know when the inevitable call does come, there will be a finality like no other I have known because even though I am so lucky I still have a grandparent, he is my last one standing. The safety and comfort I have felt knowing his role in my life is an etching in my heart that lies in wait.

I am home today with him instead of the beach because a new caregiver was due in today and he wanted me close by. “No problem,” I said, my skin needs a break from the bright sun. And I am planning a birthday party for him today because even though his birthday is November 17, I have decided that every day he wakes up is a birthday now. So today he is 101 and three months and I can’t think of a better reason to have a party.