Are we who we are because of genetics? environment? a combination of both? As I have grown older I have to come to realize I am my father’s daughter most certainly. So much of who I am, the things that make me tick, are so because of him. I was always closer with my father than my mother. He was always the more “emotive” parent- free with his hugs, easy to laugh, a good listener who really heard what you had to say. He was willing to engage in discussion at times when my mother just saw everything as black or white, gray never existed in her world. I was an emotional child- easy to cry, sensitive- my mother didn’t know what to do with it- thankfully my father was always there.
One of my earliest memories (I was 5) is of us going bird watching together. He was an avid bird watcher and part of a club. We would leave the house before daybreak, and meet his birding group. I remember spotting a Snowy Owl once- a major sighting! My love of nature and birds stems from those early morning trips.
He loved music and loved to sing. He had hoped to become a professional singer in his early 20’s, but real life came along and he needed to be able to make a living. His love for music was infused throughout our home-he always sang to us and for us, he played the banjo- old folk songs with verses we could all join in on.
My father recorded a few songs in a studio when he was thinking he could turn his singing into a career. The recordings were on 78 rpm records. Shortly before he died I was able to have the recordings converted to CD. I remembered hearing the recordings as a child, but had literally not heard them in 45 years. At the sound of the first note of him singing, what a rush of emotion- music or a song can always take you back to another place and time- but to hear his voice! What a gift to be able to hear that beautiful voice again.
My father was a complicated man-loving on one side, the other side a short fuse with a temper. He grew up poor with an alcoholic father and no education past high school, but succeeded in rising above it and away from it, following the lead of people willing to help him, observing people, paying attention to how they got to where they got to, and reaching those heights himself because of it. Did he have a darker side, yes, but I am happy to remember what was so wonderful about him, and understand where the darkness came from and why it was a part of him and accept it. Giving, but don’t cross him or his vindictive nature would come out. He could cut people off and out of his life. He and I became estranged for almost 14 years through my 30’s & 40’s. His doing, not mine. A new wife, a different life, his ego all contributing factors. I was glad I was old enough to understand the whys, and glad that while I was growing up he had always been there for me. I needed him less as an adult. We reconciled 4 years before he died when I found out he was sick. I thanked him before he died for playing such an instrumental part in my becoming who I was as an adult. The many good qualities I have that I knew came from his teaching.
What I learned from my father:
A love of music, how to sing using my voice properly.
A love for birds and nature.
A love for clothes. He was a sharp dresser and had an appreciation for good clothes and style, and was always fastidious about grooming.
Try foods before saying I didn’t like them. If I tried it and didn’t like the taste, fine, but don’t turn your nose up to something just because you don’t like the look of it.
A love for mayonnaise! He made the BEST fried egg sandwiches on white bread slathered with mayo. I can remember coming home as a teenager, late on a Saturday night to find him in the kitchen, and he’d say he was just going to make a sandwich, did I want one too. Oh yeah.
I learned table manners from him- sometimes the hard way. The napkin needed to be on my lap when I sat down to eat dinner. Chew with your mouth closed. Use your knife to push food onto your fork, if you dared use a finger you were banished from the table, whether you were finished or not.
We watched Star Trek, F Troop, McHale’s Navy and Jonathan Winters together. I loved when he would laugh uncontrollably at some skit Jonathan Winters was doing, laughing until he cried.
His favorite poem was Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
He read it to me many times, and always reminded me of the importance the following lines held for him.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I am thankful to have had a father that understood me, helped me to grow as a person, and who lives within in me. I feel my ability to be a good listener, to search for deeper meaning in things, comes from him. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to tell him those things before he died. I made the following photo montages with his recordings playing in the background, if you’d like to take a listen.
Daily Prompt: Happily Ever After “And they lived happily ever after.” Think about this line for a few minutes. Are you living happily ever after? If not, what will it take for you to get there?
This month is our Anniversary. 24 years. Hard to believe it as it feels like yesterday but also feels like there was never a time we weren’t married. I didn’t get married until was 33, and had no unrealistic expectations about marriage being some fairy tale that you entered into. My husband had been married before and was pretty clear on what he didn’t want the second time around, both in the marriage and the person he was marrying. I wrote about it in a previous daily prompt, here it is:
The first time I met him, let’s just say I was hoping I wouldn’t have to have much contact with him in the future. I had come for an interview for a job with a company that was part of two larger businesses. The interview with the man I would work for went well, as did my meeting with the two other bosses of those businesses. Then they brought in the Comptroller to meet me, and he questioned me relentlessly. So many picayune questions, on and on he went.They finally told him “Enough! hire her, she’s perfect,” and that was that. Who was this guy who was so “exacting”- so into details, such a pain? Well that man would end up being the love of my life.
He was “so not my type.” He seemed very inflexible, very on the straight and narrow, fit the description of an accountant to a tee if you know what I mean. We worked together for a few years but didn’t have much interaction unless there was an issue with my paycheck. I left the company a few years later.
Fast forward eight years. He divorced and moved into the apartment complex I was living in. I invited him for dinner as he didn’t know anyone and I thought it would be a friendly thing to do. I found that he really wasn’t that “straight & narrow” guy, he was interesting and full of life under that facade he seemed to be presenting to the world. He was spontaneous and constantly seeking out new experiences and learning opportunities. He had the best smile and the greatest laugh. His cup was always half full. We talked endlessly about everything. We became friends, which slowly evolved into knowing we wanted to be together forever.
Does love change as the years go on? Now 23 years later when I find myself in a crowd of people, looking at him through the objective eyes of an observer, I can’t help but smile as I watch him interact with someone and make them laugh. I look at him thinking he is the most handsome man in the room and how sharp he looks in his suit. Still loving that smile that hooked me so many years ago. Knowing I am blessed that we are together.
That to me is what love is all about.
It is a gray and overcast day today, and it has been raining on and off so it was not a day for an adventure, other than picking up a few groceries. It put me in the mood for an omelette, comfort food in my book. I mixed the eggs together and poured them into the cast iron skillet. As the edges began to cook I lifted one side and tilted the pan so the runny center could find its way to the edge. It was then my father came to mind. He had taught me to do this so many, many years ago. Maybe I was ten. He had shown me that making it this way the omelette would cook evenly. Keep lifting those edges and let the runny center go there so it too would cook. Thinking of this brought a smile to my face, the memory of it feeling like a warm hug.
My father liked to putter in the kitchen- he did not cook real meals, but made a fabulous fried egg sandwich, excellent deviled eggs (it was the paprika on top that made the difference) and an amazing pecan pie. He enjoyed good food, and took me to many of New York’s finest restaurants while I was growing up.
I finished cooking my omelette, sat down with a cup of coffee and remembered him some more. A perfect cheer up for a dreary day.
I attended a wedding on Sunday. The bride is the daughter of a friend of my husband’s. I have gotten to know this friend over the years too. His has been a sad story these past 6 years. His oldest daughter died suddenly 6 years ago at the age of 23. Three years later his wife died, leaving behind 3 daughters, one in high school and 2 in their early twenties. This man had barely started to recover from the loss of his daughter when he lost his wife. His friends questioned how he could recover, would he recover from such crushing losses. Slowly he has, managing to get through with the help of friends, and the mutual support he and his daughters give one another.
A little over a year ago he remarried. 10 months later one of his daughters became engaged to a young man she had been dating for a while. 3 months after that the other daughter in her 20’s also became engaged, and it was her wedding we attended today. Friends and family are overjoyed that finally some happiness, some rays of sunshine, are shining on this family. They are smiling, they are moving forward. Not that the pain is gone, it has merely receded. Not so close to the surface.
Seeing our friend come down the aisle with his daughter on his arm brought tears to the eyes of many of us. A beautiful moment, a moment most girls dream about from the time they are small girls, finally being realized for her. In this case it was all the more touching knowing the pain this father and daughter had endured together over these past years. The intense bond that had been forged through unthinkable grief. How poignant it was to see him walking her down alone, as the custom at a Jewish wedding is for the mother and father to accompany the bride down the aisle to the chuppah/wedding canopy. We were all thinking the same thing seeing them go down that aisle, wishing it were different, but happy she was beginning a new life, a new chapter.
The bride’s family Rabbi was asked to speak during the ceremony. Within the thoughts he shared, he made mention of the bride’s mother and her sister, saying their names, acknowledging their not being present to join in this celebration beneath the chuppah. By saying their names, it made them present. It was a touching moment, an important moment I thought, to acknowledge their lack of physical presence, but remind us that they are still within the heart, are there in spirit.
My husband received a call from his second cousin who lives in Belgium, inviting us to the wedding of his son that was to be held in New York. We had connected with this cousin about ten years ago when I was researching the family tree. We felt we must attend as he had made such and effort to call, and then call again a week later to make sure we were coming. His siblings live in London where he is from originally, and Israel, and were not coming. What would make this wedding interesting was the fact that these relatives are Chassidim. They follow the tenets of Orthodox Judaism, and dress in the garb of Eastern Europeans in the 1800’s. The men wear long coats, some wear knickers with white socks, and large black hats, or for a wedding, a shtreimal- a large fur hat. Women observe the laws of modesty and wear long sleeves, or sleeves covering the elbows, long skirts, and necklines that cover collar bones.Women cover their hair after marriage, either with a wig or in some sects of Chassidim a scarf over a wig. They live in insular communities, shying away from the modern world, the secular world. No internet, no secular newspapers, no television. Life is prescribed, a woman’s role is as homemaker, with an abundance of children, men study Torah and go to work. Girls usually marry at age 18 or 19. There is separation between men and women in the synagogue, and at weddings too- women dance on one side of a large divider, and sit separately for the meal, men on the other.
This was not my first Chassidic wedding, I actually have a close friend who is Chassidic. We met when she was a patient in the hospital and I visited her over many months. You would think coming from such different worlds we would have nothing in common. But that was not the case. We always had things to talk about, she was well aware of what was going on in the world through the Jewish newspapers she read, we shared a love for cooking and entertaining, and though she had 10 children and I had none, somehow that didn’t matter either. It taught me a lot about not making judgments about people, or thinking that because of the way they live their lives you couldn’t possibly relate.
So off we went to the wedding in Brooklyn. The bride was young as expected, with her sisters flurrying all around and friends coming in to wish Mazel Tov (congratulations) The marriage ceremony is always held under a canopy- a Chuppah- though usually indoors with a skylight above so as to be married under the stars, in Chassidic circles it is often held outside, as it was in this case. Right there on the sidewalk, with the cars driving by, and the cars honking.
The bride makes her appearance and the custom is to circle around the groom seven times. There are many reasons given for doing this, the one I like the best is seven is the number of times Joshua circled the walls of Jericho in order to bring them down, and in circling her groom a bride brings down any wall that may remain between them.
Then it is inside for the meal and dancing! Women form large circles and dance around the bride, while in the men’s section on the the other side of the divider they are doing the same around the groom.
I watched the bride with her friends all around her, knowing each one was hoping they would be next to get married, to reach that goal that had been set for them from the time they were little girls. Our goals in the secular world so different, college, education, career choices, marriage a possible option, but not necessarily a given. Their lives planned out, what is expected of them, all on the basic same course of life. Not knowing any other way. They are safely ensconced in their own communities, not letting the outside world in if they can help it. The community ever there in time of need, or in times of joy, as at a wedding.