Three quarters of a century

I took Darcy home where she is more comfortable and I can have peace and quiet. She barks incessantly while she is here: at the dogs walking by and at my neighbors dog who she knows is there but has never seen. She hates other dogs so I don't think introducing her would help.

It's been a lovely birthday since. Carol sent me roses, then called this morning to sing happy birthday, our family tradition. My cousin Marilyn who is six days younger than me called, and Raja called. Then Mary, another neighbor brought me a beautiful cupcake. My family is coming back from the camping trip this afternoon and we will all go out to dinner (without Darcy).

I keep thinking about my grandmother. She lived with us from the time I was six until I was fourteen and she died of leukemia at the age of 78. As I age I think of her often and feel like I know her better than I did when she lived with us. Then I saw her through the lens of my mother's emotions and I was a little afraid of her. She was a formidable woman and remained so until she took sick. Five days a week she walked several blocks then took three streetcars to go to the nursery she started in Chicago.

Here she is addressing a meeting. Did I say she was formidable? Somehow I can't imagine myself looking that old. But now I can understand her drive, her need to leave the house, and her silences. I'm sure that living with my family was not easy for her.


We had a great seder last night, and I’m looking forward to another great, but longer, one tonight. Steve did the honors, making sure everyone participated; we got through most of the Haggadah, learned some things, had a few laughs. Pictures when I get home.

This was nothing like the seders of my childhood. They were always somber and more than a little agonizing. Truth to tell, everything about Judaism was like that when I was a child. Between the war (WWII), antisemitism and my father’s paranoia about antisemitism, it was not a fun scene. My grandmother, who lived with us, sat at the head of the table, usurping my father’s place, although I never heard him complain. She and my father would race through the readings in the Haggadah, entirely in Hebrew or Aramaic, their Austrian accents making them sound like they had stones in their mouths. I would follow, reading the English translation, which was stilted and not altogether intelligible to me.

My mother, whose only interest was cooking would sit there asking when she could start serving the food. There is a lot of reading and discussion before you get to eat.

The Haggadah, in addition to praising God, is primarily a discussion about how to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In fact, the Exodus plays only a small part in the story, the recounting of the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. It is almost as though everyone knew the story so well they didn’t have to repeat it in the Haggadah. Moses and Aaron get short shrift, as does Joseph and how the Israelites got to Egypt.

Unlike my childhood seders, in which I had almost no part except to sit quietly and behave, Steve had all of us reading, mostly in English, and discussing what was written, what was omitted, and what it means for us today. Good job. We had a great dinner; Renee’s matzoh balls are easily as good as my mother’s; we finished reading and singing the songs about 10 pm and had time to visit for a while.

All of this was punctuated by the sirens from the Pope’s motorcade as he went up the FDR to a youth rally in Yonkers and returned to Manhattan. I have some pictures of that, also.

Before I go to sleep

They canceled my class and I’ve been sitting at the computer all day working on one of the documents I collected about Grandma. This was a devastating report made about conditions in her nursery. The report was made in 1941 or 42; she wrote her book in 1944; so she survived the report and went on fighting to finish her building. I keep trying to understand what she must have felt when the report came out. I guess I can only use my imagination; I’ll never know.