Issues

White Gloves

It’s amazing where your mind goes in the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The other day, I was looking for a pair of white cotton gloves to wear at night to keep some super-rich, moisturizing hand cream on my dry, wintery paws. The second I found them, I had an instant, Pre-Teen-Terror Flashback.

Ballroom. Dancing. Classes.

Outside the Concordia Club, in 1969, in the back seat of a Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, with arms folded, a scowl on my face, wearing a party dress, white socks, patent leather shoes and of course, white gloves, my eleven-year-old self proclaimed to my parents that I would NEVER make MY kids take ballroom dancing classes.

Sitting next to me was my beaming, twelve year old sister, who would have worn a dress and crown everyday, if she could.

Truthfully, I was a bit of a tomboy, so being forced to put on a fancy dress once a week, comb my hair, let alone having to DANCE and HOLD HANDS with a boy, caused me more anxiety than I care to admit and to which I probably carry with me to this day. Seriously, Kenny Diamond used to repetitively take his thumb in and out of its joint as I was holding his hand. Ew.

The fancy husband and wife team who taught us were straight out of central casting. Although I don’t recall their names, I can envision her big hair, her red lipstick, her black stilettos, and her husband, who I think had a mustache and big hair, too, but I may be incorrectly recalling some 40’s gangster film. With her very smokey voice and his very crisp finger snaps, they would sashay across the floor and show us the moves.

“Balance and a, Left, (SNAP) Right, (SNAP) Left, (SNAP) Balance and a…”

WTF were my parents thinking?

My mother would tell you that this was how young children learned to behave in society. You know, the Etiquette drill. Bull shit. The only thing I learned there was the Box Step and the Fox Trot. Two skills that I’VE NEVER USED.

On the very plus side of this recounting, I’m happy to report that fifty years later, I have stayed true to my word. I NEVER made my children take Ballroom. Dancing. Classes.

As for the many other things I made them do, well…that’s their story to tell.

Catching Some Rays

Of all the photographs I’ve taken, this is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a picture of my Dad, catching a nap, on his cherished, Thrift Drug, foldable chaise lounge chair. During the summer, he would zip home from the office at lunchtime, whip off his dental gown, and catch a few rays on our back patio. He really loved the sun.

“Bald heads look better with a tan”, he used to tell me. In those days, he didn’t wear sunscreen and from the look of his chest, can you blame him?

Photographs can tell you a lot. This one not only reminds me of my Dad’s ability to chill, but it also reminds me of why I spent years in electrolysis. Genes are a powerful thing, you know.

It’s been ten years since my Dad left this earth. He died in an I.C.U., tethered to a bunch of life saving equipment that ultimately failed to do its job. I am not the only one in the world who has witnessed a parent or loved one leave life this way. It is nothing short of horrible and if you’re not careful, it can burn a haunting image in your memory.

Thank goodness for the power of strong visuals. I have found that old photographs can provide the necessary assistance for coping.

Frida Kahlo mustache not withstanding, this photo always makes me smile and is the one that I have buried in my heart.

 

 

The Dress I Yessed

30 years ago, I had my wedding dress professionally preserved. I was told that a lot of women make this investment for two reasons: 1) you paid a shitload for the dress, so why not? And 2) if you have a daughter, she may wear it one day. At the time, I think it cost me a hefty $250.00 for this service.

It took about 6 weeks to preserve the dress and it arrived at my doorstep in a sealed, archival bridal box that immediately went into my spare closet of no return.

I have a good friend who wore her mothers wedding dress to her own wedding. When she speaks of it, you can tell that she cherished it. The possibility of that never even crossed my mind when I got married and I could have had a choice of three dresses from my mom—need I say more.

When my only daughter got engaged this year, I realized that my archival-ly preserved dress didn’t have a shot at being re-worn. Not only is my daughter much taller than me, she has a specific style gene that definitely does not scream 80’s.

“Maybe we can re-purpose some of it, Mom”, she diplomatically offered.

Well, maybe, but where was that box now?

After some digging in the closet of no return, I found it. I remembered that another friend, who was downsizing after her kids flew the coop, said that she photographed everything memorable before she gave it away or threw it out. I call it the digital preservation of clutter. Because I knew that I wanted to donate this dress, I decided to film the opening of the archival box with my daughter at my side.

A flood of memories hit me when we broke the seal.

On my wedding day, as I was getting dressed for the big event, I carefully stepped into my gown. As I was pulling it up, the elastic on the left sleeve ripped. Since it was an off-the-shoulder number, this elastic was critical to keeping the dress up.

If ever there was a need for a wardrobe supervisor, this was it. I wasn’t smart enough to travel with an emergency sewing kit…the only emergency thing I ever carried with me were tampons. Good luck with that.

I went a little ape-shit in the bathroom, because I had spent a fortune on the dress at the infamous, formally-Brooklyn-based, Kleinfelds. And now, here I was in Pittsburgh, on a Sunday morning with a teeny tiny safety pin that my sister found underneath the vanity in the bathroom at the synagogue. P.S. Major shout out to that pin.

When we opened the archival box, you could see the snapped elastic but the teeny tiny safety pin was gone…it was probably removed during the preservation process.

The dress was clean, but it had yellowed. A lot.

“OMG, Mom, it’s pretty ugly”, my no-filter daughter observed.

“It looks like you were an extra in “WESTWORLD”, my husband chimed in from afar.

I have to admit; it was kind of thrilling to see that dress again. It looked so tiny…but WTF, I was 20 pounds lighter when I got married. Nonetheless, it brought a huge smile to my face and some honest to goodness belly laughter.

We gently pulled the gown out of the box and a small silk flower that was attached to the elastic of the shoulder floated to the ground.

My daughter picked it up and with the straightest face ever said, “I can use this”.

I’ve left the dress hanging in the closet for now. Maybe some fresh air will bring it back to life before I pack it up for donation. If the air doesn’t do it, perhaps a fresh, tiny, body will.

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And here is the short film:

 

 

 

 

Aging Superpower: THE SHAPE SHIFTER

As we age, our bodies take on new shapes.

D’uh, I’m not telling you anything new. We collect some around the middle, boobs fall, asses drop, upper arms wing-out… it can cause a lot of grief, especially when you stand naked in front of a mirror and say WTF happened? The worst is when you droop-shame yourself. You got older, that’s what happened.  If you’ve ever had to get yourself out of some Spanx with a crowbar, you know what I’m talking about.

I signed up for some Art School.

Who would have thought that spending time in a figure painting class would give you a new appreciation of the human body? I want to sound like an academic painter here, but I’m not, so let me begin by saying:

Perky boobs are just not fun to paint.

If there is one thing I can take away from my art class it is that bigger is better because bigger captures light, creates shadows, adds dimension and is fucking beautiful. Period.

No offense to really thin models, but they make you feel like you’re in a medical drawing class. Pass.

The female body is amazing…shape shifting and all. We need to start a new movement. Our changing bodies are a superpower…at least on canvas.

 

 

The Great Grandma Google

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay about the time I accidentally threw away my Great Grandmother’s cherished engagement ring in the garbage and how I luckily found it in the dump before it got sent out to sea. It was a miracle of sorts and an episode that I revisit from time to time when I think about what I would have done if I hadn’t found it. That ring conjures up so many memories of my growing up in Pittsburgh with my loving, but oh-so-domineering, Grandmother. Who would have thought that some old jewelry could do that to you?

The other morning, I was thinking about how little I knew about my Great Grandmother, the original owner of that ring. She died the year I was born and nobody really talked about her. I kind of remember my Dad telling me things like, “She wasn’t very nice” and my Mother’s recollection which was a little more descriptive: “She was ten times meaner than your Grandmother, and that’s sugar coating it.” But for the most part, she remained a mystery. My Grandmother never spoke much about her except to tell me that she was extremely smart, followed by a knowing wink. It was almost if she was letting me in on a secret, without telling me what it was.

There was one unusual thing that she did mention to me back then, but I never really followed up on that because I thought it fell into the pool of my Grandmother’s other expert exaggerations like, If you cross your eyeballs they’ll freeze, Your Dad could have been a professional tap dancer, Sit up straight or you’ll be a hunchback by the time your 20, My podiatrist is madly in love with me, and so on. But today, in this easy age of Google, I felt like this story was worth looking into.

When I was ten years old, and practicing my memorization of the Gettysburg address, my Grandmother told me that during the Civil War, her mother’s family was kicked out of Kentucky by Ulysses S. Grant because they were Jewish. Why this came to my mind now, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all this immigration talk in the news or maybe it’s because I don’t sleep and have many early mornings to sit and think about life.

It took more than a few hours on the Internet and a couple of phone calls to Paducah, Kentucky to find out that THIS WAS TRUE!

My Great Grandmother, Bertha Livingston Newman, was born in Paducah, Kentucky on June 18th, 1877. Her father, Mangold Livingston came from Germany around 1850 and settled briefly in Smithland, Kentucky. When the railroad came to Paducah in 1850, he relocated there and set up a wholesale dry goods and fruit operation, the M. Livingston Co. (think early Costco). He married his wife, Amelia Friedberg, also from Germany, around 1861. During the Civil War, Paducah was a Union stronghold but it became the place of smuggling and illegal trading with the Confederate South. Apparently, Ulysses S. Grant was super pissed about that. Some reported that Union soldiers were the ones doing the illegal trading, but somehow the Jews got blamed for it and Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous, anti-Semitic General Order No. 11 in 1862, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Given 24 hours to leave, Jewish families had to pack-up and head north. Bertha wasn’t born yet, but her parents and older siblings began to make their way toward Ohio. A Paducah man by the name of Cesar Kaskel, immediately traveled to Washington to meet with Abraham Lincoln and report this unconstitutional decree. Upon hearing this, Lincoln ordered Grant to revoke the order. Within a week, the Jewish families returned to Paducah and resumed their lives. My Great Grandmother was born there 12 years later. She grew up in Paducah, met her husband, Sam Newman, a businessman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Enter the ring…hello, 1895) They relocated there (that’s where my Grandmother was born) and eventually moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1900’s, where my Great Grandfather started the Keystone Grinder & Manufacturing Company, an outfit that made gadgets, which fixed busted Railroad Tracks. Old documents, county certificates and voting registries enable you to track movements, but without primary sources or saved correspondence, it is impossible to investigate “intelligence”. All this great history and my Great Grandmother didn’t leave a trail. What made her “smart”? Why didn’t I follow up on that with my Grandmother while she was still alive? The only thing that I can surmise is that Bertha had something to do with my Great Grandfather’s successful business, but I have no way of fact checking that one. We all know that behind-the-scenes women were seldom recognized in those days. Is that what the knowing wink meant?

I have to believe it was. Bertha deserves a story.

The photo I’ve attached to this essay is Bertha’s wedding picture. To think that she was wearing the ring that I tossed in the garbage in this beautiful shot, gives me eternal chills…especially when I envision her supervising the repair of broken railroad tracks.

Dear Oprah, Bread Is What Got Me Here In The First Place

In case you missed it yesterday, Weight Watchers new spokesperson and 10 percent shareholder, Oprah Winfrey, tweeted Eat bread.Lose Weight.Whaattt? #ComeJoinMe and SURPRISE…the stock shot up as people flocked to join. Don’t get me wrong, I love Oprah and I’m delighted that she reportedly made 12 million dollars from that stock surging tweet, but seriously, BREAD IS WHAT GOT ME TO WEIGHT WATCHERS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

For diet enthusiasts, bread is usually the first thing that you most reluctantly drop. Burger no bun, lettuce wraps and the I’m-so-sick-of-fucken-salads-salads is the basic drill. Gravy and sauces laugh at you from the bottom of your dish, because your plate gets cleared before you can sop-it-up with that b-that-shall-not-be-mentioned.

A few months ago, on a 10 day trip to Southern Italy, I promised myself that I wouldn’t hold back on anything and as a result, I had an intensely romantic affair with bread. To say that I went in head first would be an understatement. What’s not to love about untreated, non-processed, all natural grains baked to perfection? And that crust? OMG, I just couldn’t get enough of it. Ask my friend, Amy, who witnessed my full on bender. She’s still talking about it.

The problem with bread, and even good bread is that it’s not a stand alone. There’s olive oil, cheese, preserves, sauces, meats, and even PIZZA…yes, pizza is bread.

5.5. pounds later, I’m back home with pants that won’t zip.

My Mom, who’s been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers’ for years, suggested I give it a try. “New point system, with a great phone app that’s super easy” she promised. “And you get 30 points a day!” she added. Weight Watchers’ PointsPlus system is based on the protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber content of foods. The app makes it super easy to type in anything and get the point value.

One, small, hard roll is 5 points. In Italy, I ate 6 of those a day….a least.

“If you like to eat, and want the diet to work, go for the zero point foods” suggested another friend. That would be fruits and vegetables. (Note: pants were still hard to zip because of bloat/gas factor).

I’m happy to say that Weight Watchers does work, if you follow their point system which is a clever way of instilling portion control, but I don’t think it’s BREAD FRIENDLY, Oprah…at least not for breadaholics like myself.

Living Down The “up dog”

Don’t you love it when your kids have a “favorite story” of you from back in the day that they just can’t let go? You know, the kind that can sometimes be embarrassing or revealing in ways that you wish they weren’t?

It goes without saying that being in the company of smart-ass boys can be very entertaining…especially when they are your own. My boys have taught me all kinds of stuff. Speedy ways to use the internet, good music finds, funny You Tube videos and the cultural benefits of shows like FAMILY GUY and SOUTH PARK.

I really don’t care that they make fun of me behind my back because usually their teasing is REALLY funny, but they’re starting to erode my sharp-as-a-tack personal myth.

About eight years ago, while driving both of my yo-yo’s to somewhere I can’t remember, they were sitting in the back seat and started talking amongst themselves about something called “Up Dog”. I was paying attention to the road and only caught pieces of their conversation. This happened a lot back then and usually ended up with me chiming in classic mother lines like, “Watch your language”, “Keep it down” etc. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that they were setting me up for a You-Tube worthy performance. It started with backseat lines like this:

“OMG, That’s disgusting. He did what? Not the Up Dog! Nobody does the Up Dog. You’ve seen an Up Dog?” This was peppered with lots of laughter.

I peered into the rear view mirror and chimed in, “Keep it appropriate”, one of my favorite parenting lines.

“Mom, he’s talking about Up Dog again” offered one of my sons.

“What is Up Dog?” I said.

Hysterical laughter ensued.

“Seriously” I yelled over the laughter, “What is Up Dog?”

Even more laughter erupted from the backseat.

“Is this another wacky sexual thing? What the hell is Up Dog?” I screamed.

This went on for a few minutes and pushed my, we-know-something-that-you-don’t-know buttons. “Tell me, right now, dammit!” I demanded.

My boys practically wet themselves.

“We can’t”, they cried.

“OMG, What the F**K IS UP DOG” I yelled.

They were howling. Moaning. Couldn’t breathe.

“I’m stopping the car if you don’t tell me this second WHAT’S UP DOG!” and then I realized that they had pulled off the prank of the year.

OMG. I had to stop the car because I was laughing so hard.

To hear them tell it now, years later, is even funnier. And to think, I thought that I was so sharp back then.