parents

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:

 

 

 

 

Participation Trophies

I have a shelf of my kids Participation Trophies in my family room that I keep for laughs. Why? Because I proudly admit that I raised my kids in an era where “everyone’s a winner” . Some of my children were amazing in sports and some were not. That’s how it shakes out in most families. In spite of that,  I made them all play something because I am a big believer in exercise. Were ego’s crushed due to lack of skill? Possibly. Maybe. Probably. But…they still got a trophy!

Now that my kids are grown and out of the house, I sometimes long for those days of sitting on the bleachers and screaming, “WAY TO GO!” (Yes…even when they got hit in the head with a ball). I miss the kids, I miss the crazy-ass parents, I miss those hot sweaty gyms…well, maybe not so much, but those were times that weren’t really about trophies and winning. They were about team play, growing up and a lot of fun, sideline-socializing.

Believe it or not, one of my kids still plays Rec Sports. During the week, he’s an emerging corporate executive, but on the weekends, he’s playing basketball in an adult league on a team that includes many of his former high school rec team ballers. Last week, for the very first time, I went and watched these “adult” rec ballers play in a sweaty, Hell’s Kitchen, public school gym.

Some of these guys were really hairy and bald all at the same time. Not quite how I remembered those idyllic high school games. In the absence of other parents, I cheered from the sideline and shot a bit of video from my new iPhone. Needless to say, my son’s team lost by more than 20 points. A “blow-out” so to speak.

When I got home, I edited the few filmed highlights together. I added some sound effects and created a new kind of Participation Trophy. I think the JUST KRISTAPS Rec team is all that and then some. They’re all winners as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

Oral Obituary

When I was growing up, there was a lot of magazine reading going on in my house. My father, who was a dentist, had a newsstand of subscriptions ordered for his waiting room, but our house always got first dibs. We had them all. LIFE, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Woman’s Day, Harpers, Vogue, Tiger Beat and Good Housekeeping, which encouraged my mother to try daring Sunday night recipes that almost killed us. On top of that, were two daily newspapers, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the former Pittsburgh Press, plus the weekly Jewish Chronicle. We were a classic, news-informed, current events family, with ink-stained fingertips and two steps away from a Hoarders episode if reality TV existed in those days.

An early favorite magazine of mine was Highlights For Children. Before I even read some of the silly stories in there, I made sure to do a few puzzles and circle all the hidden pictures, in pen, no less, which really upset my siblings. It was a first come, first serve, ethos in my house. When my brothers got older and discovered Mad Magazine and then Playboy (that one never made it to the waiting room), many who-had-it-first, mailbox fights ensued.

Growing up, I noticed that we each had a unique reading behavior. My father’s was peculiar, but memorable. He was a real newspaper man. Before he ever read the headlines or the sports, he went straight for the obituaries. He didn’t even know most of the dead people that he read about, but he was infatuated with how they met their end, their various backgrounds, their summaries of good deeds, and the family they left behind. We used to make fun of him for turning to that page first, however he couldn’t help himself.

“They are supposed to be read,” he would justify, and occasionally, he came across someone he knew.

Was he curious? Yes. Was he being respectful by reading the obituaries? Yes. Was he entertained? Yes to that, too. When I graduated from college and moved to New York City, I occasionally peeked at the New York Times Obituaries. Some of them were like junior novels. Most of them far exceeded the half column allotted in the Pittsburgh papers.

I remember calling my Dad and reading him a few. “They’ve got some pretty impressive dead people in New York,” he said.

My Dad was so funny. He had an arsenal of great one-liners. He used to fill his patients mouths with dental dams and gauze and then practice his jokes.

“That is what you would call a captive audience.” I accused.

“They’re still laughing” he reported, “Muffled, but laughing”.

“We’ll have to add a stand-up comic line, to your obit,” I replied and we laughed like hell about that one.

Sixty years later, long after my Dad had divorced my mother, retired, dated like a madman and finally married a woman 4 years older than me, he was rushed to the hospital with an intestinal blockage. While in the ER, he had a massive heart attack and never regained consciousness. He was kept on life support for 14 days, his wife trying everything possible to bring him back.

I was never a fan of his wife and she was never a fan of mine. These are common occurrences as families go through shake-ups. She was not comfortable with the closeness that my siblings and I had with our Dad. We felt her tremendous rejection from our very first meeting. I think that she truly believed that since we were adults, we should get our own life. She wanted a life with only my Dad.

Over the time that they were together, she would make brief appearances at family functions, but as the years wore on, those sightings became less frequent and when they suddenly and secretly married five years before my father’s death, she avoided all contact completely. Unfortunately, my father deferred to her isolationist policy and our relationship was relegated to letters and phone calls.

While sitting in the ICU, trying desperately to make comforting small talk, my father’s wife announced that she did not want an obituary to be released upon his death. My facial expression to that declaration prompted this next unforgettable line:

“I don’t want the world to know that I’m some rich widow,” she said.

My sister was sitting right next to me and for the first time ever in our lives, we were completely speechless.

A few days later, my father passed away. As per his wishes, there was no service. I wrote his obituary that night and faxed it to the funeral home. To prevent false reporting of deaths, I learned that Obituary submissions must come directly from a funeral director. I got a call the next morning telling me that my father’s wife was forbidding its release.

“That’s insane.” I said. “I’m his daughter!”

The funeral director agreed with me and apologized profusely. Because my Father’s wife had the Power Of Attorney, she was able to prevent the one thing my father enjoyed most about reading the newspaper. My heart sunk. How could we deny him his very own obituary? As a result of her decision, we had to call each and every one of my father’s friends and relatives and tell them what had happened. His death announcement became an oral Obituary; delivered by his children, recounting the great things about him in ways that a paper truly couldn’t. Although this situation was beyond incredulous, my Father’s wife gave us an inadvertent gift as the constant retelling of my father’s oral Obituary helped us cope with his death.

I never spoke to his wife again. I can only hope that when she encountered people who asked about my father’s whereabouts, she let them know that he passed away and wasn’t home reading the obituaries.

That was seven years ago. I recently found the original “benched” obituary. I wanted to embed it into the end of this essay for no other reason than I now had the power, but I realized that it didn’t hold a candle to the oral version of which I’m still telling.

(Photo of Edward Newman Aronson, 1934, age 9, practicing his stand-up routine on a dirt path in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We think that the cigarette might have been real.)