Ghosts linger around my Passover table 


The Passover of 2016 was tinged with sadness because I couldn’t help thinking of my childhood.  My parents and grandparents faded from sight; one right after the other, mostly without warning.

Grandma was a small, stout lady, with a face that I can’t really ever forget because I look so much like her, especially in my 66th year. My grandfather, was short in stature, but high on everyone’s respect list. He had a head full of beautiful white hair.

I remember going along with my tall, handsome, adored daddy to pick them up at their apartment. My grandmother would have her coat on, and announce to my grandfather that “the machine is outside, and it was time to go.” Why she didn’t just refer to it as the car was a mystery to me. I do remember she wore red old-fashioned shoes, a longish skirt, and a long sleeve blouse. She always carried a  black purse that held Dentyne gum. She would offer this special treat randomly to all her grandchildren.

We’d arrive at my house where we ate the standard dinner we always ate at holidays, it didn’t really matter which one. Mom was in charge and she didn’t appreciate any help.

There was always chopped liver and matzah ball soup, my mother’s tie to her ethnic background. We’d all gathered around  the kitchen table, my grandparents sitting next to each other on one side, my mother, wearing her blue apron, always up during the meal serving us.  My father and

My dapper grandpa, Harry Zelivyansky

My dapper grandpa, Harry Zelivyansky

My Grandmother, Miriam Zelivyansky when she was young.

My Grandmother, Miriam Zelivyansky when she was young.

Marilyn, Mom, Dad and me .

Marilyn, Mom, Dad and me .

My sister Marilyn and I with my dad outside of Grandma and Grandpa's house,

My sister Marilyn and I with my dad outside of Grandma and Grandpa’s house,

L to R: Eileen, Dad holding me, and Marilyn.

L to R: Eileen, Dad holding me, and Marilyn.

two sisters and I would take our familiar seats. It was usually turkey, sometimes a roast, salad, sweet potatoes, and a vegetable.

The Seder I remember was not too formal. I do remember my grandfather singing some prayers. He had a beautiful voice that I can almost hear when I close my eyes and concentrate.

Little did I know that one day my grandparents and parents would be long gone, but their presence would always linger; they’re always around me, like a loving purple aura.

This year I particularly missed them all, but I’m grateful for the love that is still there.

 

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10 things I learned after joining a Senior Citizens Choir


You're never too old to sing.

You’re never too old to sing.

1. Just because you’re older, you can still have fun. This choir puts on hats, cowboy scarves, Berets, necklaces, and whatever costume fits the songs. The choir director is a bubbling, optimistic person. The piano player finds joy in the music, and rarely makes a mistake.

2. Age is just a number. You can learn a new musical interest when you’re quite old. Look at Mick Jagger: he fills stadiums!

3. You will meet people with all kinds of life stories: retired army heroes, teachers, nurses, musicians, rich and poor people. Some really enjoy retirement, and other’s have a harder time living on a pension.

5. There are all kinds of old age diseases, but the secret is to just ignore them and keep going. It’s all in the attitude. Find joy in something, like singing and it won’t bother you as much.

6. Even if you’re old, you can sing for others and they will appreciate it. Giving to others never goes out of style.

7. Even if people are older, they are still concerned about the performance. How they sound, look, and stand. One choir woman in particular, always dresses beautifully, wears makeup, and cares about her appearance. If you’ve lived a good life, it shows on your face. This lady is 87!

8. You’re never too old to want a solo, duet, or quartet. There are no shortage of volunteers for this.

9. The repertoire is older songs, but I recognized every one of them. Enough said!

10. There is a chance I may someday sing at a current member’s memorial service. Just keep going!

Remembering my father (and mother) on Father’s day


My parents before they were married.

My parents before they were married.

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I close my eyes in my bedroom, and pretend, only for a minute, that I’m back home in my old bedroom. I visualize where the bed was, my dresser, and the closet.  I think about where the other rooms of the house were situated and what they looked like.

Sometimes, when I’m remembering, I hug the pillow and remember how it felt to hug my parents. How comforting it was, and how safe and loved I used to feel with them.

I had a special relationship with both of them. I was the baby of the family and lived alone with them from the age of 13. I did miss having my two newly married sisters living with us, but I enjoyed hanging out with my old parents. We went out to eat a lot, saw movies, and attended the theater. (My old parents were somewhere in their late 40’s and early 50’s.)

Sometimes, I try to remember them talking in the kitchen on a Sunday morning. I can see my mother sitting at the table, newspaper not too far from her. (She loved to read that newspaper cover to cover.) My father is standing up, probably doing some chore. They’re talking about his job, or what they’re going to do in the future.

I can almost hear the comfortable din of their voices. She saying, “Hank, why don’t you get some blintzes from Solomon’s?” (We used to get blintzes from the local delicatessen every Sunday.) Before he ever left the house he would always give her a quick kiss. Before too long he’d come back with the scrumptious Solomon blintzes. All my mother had to do was heat them on the stove.

After we eat our blintzes, my father is going to go out and do outside chores like mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow. He might run some errands.

Sometimes, I’d tag along with him. I was crazy about my father. He’d talk to me like an equal, and was a good listener. He always made me feel loved and important.

He had a friend who owned a car wash, so about every weekend I’d go with him to watch the car get cleaned. I’d carefully watch the car go through the stages, while he kidded around with his friend. I could see that Dad could get along with everyone.

I had an acquaintance whose parents were divorced, and the father would take the kids somewhere special every Sunday. I didn’t know it was because they were divorced. (In those days people kept divorces quiet.) So, I kept pleading with my dad take me out on Sunday without my mother. He did it once. We went to the planetarium at the Cleveland Science museum. We looked up at the pretend stars in the planetarium and listened to the lecture. I loved having my daddy all to myself. (I only hope my mother wasn’t too hurt.)

My parents sometimes took me to a local amusement park, Euclid Beach. My mother would park herself on a bench and my dad would go on rides with me in the park. This was a big feat for him because he was really not too crazy about amusement park rides.

One time we got on a ferris wheel and before it started, he asked the ride attendant to let us off. Another time we were on an Over the Falls” ride and the power went out. We were stuck on the ride for about 20 minutes. I wasn’t worried cause I was with my dad. (Years later, he told me he was nervous about my mother being alone, and us getting stuck on the ride.)

My dad  always took time to get dressed for work as a Cleveland Policeman. After he shined his shoes, and put on his uniform with the golden badge, and completed it with his hat, he didn’t look like Daddy anymore; he looked liked a king. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to have such a good-looking, important father.

My parents were so close, that I can’t remember my father on this Father’s Day without including both my parents.

Happy Father’s Day to them both, wherever their souls ended up. If there is such a place, I have no doubt that they are together.

This woman at 109 knows the secrets of life


Even though this is 8 minutes long, it is worth watching. It will make you smile. Hint: she sees the glass as more than half full. It seems so simple, but I think we’ve lost that optimism.  In her day, she was an accomplished pianist.

She doesn’t live in the past. She embraces the here and now. That is also very cool. This was made last year. She is now 109 years old.

Tell me your reaction to this interview. What do you think is the secret to a long, happy life?

Oprah Interviews Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Sally Field of “Lincoln”


[Abraham Lincoln, Congressman-elect from Illin...

[Abraham Lincoln, Congressman-elect from Illinois. Three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Background

Steven Spielberg has done it again. He’s assembled a cast that brings historical characters to life. If you haven’t seen the movie, Lincoln, put it on your priority list.

The movie is about Congress passing the 13th  amendment, abolishing slavery in 1865  Imagine people arguing about whether or not slavery should be abolished. The very idea should make you uncomfortable.

The other familiar actors in the cast include: Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, and Hal Holbrook.

Both Daniel Day-Lewis, and Sally Field are very convincing as Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis makes you feel like you’re finally getting a glimpse of the real Lincoln. We see the country lawyer, great story-teller, and determined leader. Field is the neurotic first-lady  who supports Lincoln and mourns the loss of their son, Willy.

Tommy Lee Jones is very effective as an abolitionist Senator.

Oprah’s Interview with Spielberg, Lewis and Field on the OWN network

Oprah first interviewed Spielberg who talked about how it’s important for him to try new approaches when he directs.” I have to  find an aspect I haven’t done before. …I need to wake up and get to the set, I need to feel shpilkes (a little bit of nervousness) I felt this every single day.”  Whatever he did to make this outstanding movie worked.

Daniel Day-Lewis, a fantastic actor, talked about how he studied everything he could about Lincoln. He took a year to do it. He really transforms  into a credible Lincoln.  This Irish actor said he hears the voice of his characters and then he applies it. “The voice I hear is like the “fingerprint of the soul.” How could anyone come close to what you imagine Lincoln’s voice to be like?

It was fun watching Oprah’s interview with Sally Field.  Many Baby-Boomers have grown up watching her on TV and movies.  It was interesting that Sally was at first rejected for the part, but then Spielberg changed his mind. Lewis helped convince him to hire her. You can never tell that Field is 10 years older than Lewis. We also learn that Sally, like Lewis, stays in character on the movie set.

Go see the movie
Even though you know Congress is going to abolish slavery, and Lincoln is going to come to a tragic end, you can still get lost in this movie.

Maybe it should be required viewing by members of Congress now. At least they might get something done.

Did you like the movie? Anything to add?

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarms :The story of Michelle Obama’s Ancestry


Photograph of Michelle Obama's paternal line g...

Photograph of Michelle Obama’s paternal line great-grandfather, Fraser Robinson, Sr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarns, is the story of First Lady, Michelle Obama’s ancestry. If you’re looking for a story about the First Lady’s life, you won’t find it in this book. What you will find is her family tree, and fascinating stories about her relatives.

The author, a New York Times reporter, did extensive research before writing this book. She used census records, photographs, oral histories, and interviews with many of Mrs. Obama’s relatives.

A genealogist, Megan Smolenyak had discovered a connection between a white slave owner, Henry Shields and Mrs. Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother, Melvina. Together they had a son, Dolphus. The author uncovered a funeral program of the son, Dolphus, and a photograph.

Swarns collaborated on an article about this discovery in the New York Times, and did further historical research to write this book.

The author follows four families in the South who eventually migrate to the North. From these families, comes Mrs. Obama’s great grandparents
.
A History Lesson

This is not an easy book to read. There are at least 30 characters to keep track of. Sometimes, you have to go back and reread their connections to each other, but if you persevere you uncover a fascinating story.

The book is in Three parts: Part I —Migration [to the North], Part II—The Demise of Reconstructions and the Rise of Jim Crow, Part III—Slavery and Emancipation.

Not only is it Mrs. Obama’s story, but the story of black people after the Civil war to the present day. Highlights include: black migration to the North, Reconstruction, sexual exploitation, lynchings, people being discouraged from voting, segregation, and passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1963. White and black people intermingle throughout the book.

The oral history was handed down in bits and pieces. Former slaves wanted to put the past behind them. The slavery experience was so painful and shameful that the first generation of freed slaves didn’t want to talk too much about it with their children.

Interesting characters

The author starts out with, Phoebe Moten Johnson, Mrs. Obama’s paternal great grandmother. She decides to escape her dull farm life, in Villa Ridge, Illinois, and gets on a train to seek her fortune. She ends up traveling to four different cities before she ends up in Chicago.

To tie the stories together, there is some speculation on the author’s part. This is about Phoebe:” “Swarns admits that “[n]one alive today knows the precise pace or number of stops that [Phoebe] made on her journey. There are gaps in her story, countless unknowns. …”

There are many other fascinating characters in this saga: Fraser Robinson, Sr., a man who accomplishes a lot even though he loses his arm after a tree falls on him when he’s a child. For a time, he moves in with a white family, friends of his father, and watches as black people lose rights they were granted after the Civil War.

Mrs. Obama’s relatives, like many African-Americans, migrated from the South to the North because there were more opportunities. They did a variety of jobs including: carpentry, coal mining, church ministry, household helpers, and railroad workers.

The author quotes Mrs. Obama’s aunt, Francesca Gray who states that in the black version of the American dream “ you dream a little bit at a time.” It is about black Americans striving toward the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and property.

I would recommend this book because it gives an insightful look at what the black experience may have felt like after the Civil War to the present day. We learn how the American dream was accomplished by people at a clear disadvantage. Mrs. Obama’s family are the main characters in this book, but they represent the black experience in America for the past 150 years.

You can find this book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and on various websites.

Why Gabrielle Giffords is my hero!


September 7, 2012

Maybe if you’re a Republican, or not interested in politics, you missed this. It was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords leading the Democratic Convention in the “Pledge of Allegiance.”  What courage it must have taken for her to cross that stage at the Democratic convention.

Talk about someone who came back from adversity, and isn’t done yet. If you want to read an inspiring story, read the book her husband, Mark Kelly wrote, entitled Gabby. It talks about her fight back after a gunman shot her outside the supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona. It gives you insight into why she had the courage to lead the crowd in the “Pledge of Allegiance.”

Gabrielle and Mark just set up a super- pac that will take money to support congress people dedicated to bi-partisanship, and standing for the issues that they think are important. It would be wonderful if Congress would start working together again!

You have to admire a woman who can struggle back from a devastating injury, and still put a smile on her face. You can’t squelch a person with spirit and determination.  Now, she’s supporting people that she think will make a difference. That’s why she is my hero!