Passed Over

 

The celebration of a holiday steeped in tradition and family was pre-empted this year due to several family crises. My wife suggested that we do it in a week or so. “We can do it then, right?”, she asked.

“I don’t think we can.”, I informed her.

“Why not?”, she asked.

“I think that a Passover Seder must be held on Passover.”, I answered.

“Who says?”, she queried.

“Well”, I replied, “6000 years of history and tradition, and several bus loads of Orthodox Rabbis en route to a Hassidic convention in Monsey, New York.”

“Are you sure?”, she inquired.

“Pretty sure.”, I told her.

“Well”, she said, “that sucks.”

“Indeed.”, I agreed.

So, with all of the preparation, the cooking and cleaning, the purchasing of seder specific foods, and the table being set, one of my sons, the chef, called to let his mother know that he could not attend as there was an emergency at work. I had no idea what a kitchen emergency could be, short of a fire, but he was clear that was not the case. I suspect that either the sous chef burnt the beef wellington, or some one screwed up the marinara sauce, so he had to go and rectify the problem. “Well”, my wife said, “everyone else will be here, so it will still be okay.”

We headed out to the store to pick up a few final items for my vegetarian/vegan son, and had to visit 3 different supermarkets to obtain the specific foods he would eat. With the morning gone, we began the final organization of food, seating, and Passover paraphernalia. There was another call, this time from my vegetarian son, stating that he was in the E.R. at a local hospital. It seems that he was experiences chest pains through the night, and had been transported by ambulance to the hospital. I went down to check out what was going on, being asked to bring him an orange juice and a chocolate chip muffin, and upon my arrival I found him in a room, not hooked up to any piece of equipment whatsoever. ‘What the hell is going on?”, I asked him.

“I don’t know.”, he said. “I was having chest pains, and my arm felt kind of weird, so I called 911.”

“What did the doctor say?”, I asked.

“Nothing really.”, he replied. “They took blood, and did a chest x-ray. We’re waiting for the results.” He asked if I could go to his place and pick up his boots and socks, as he arrived only with his slippers. I suggested that he get his wife to bring his stuff over, as I was not delivering his shoes.

When the doctor arrived, he was very sure that it was a cardiac event, but more than likely anxiety, or perhaps a pulled muscle. He was discharged, and I gave him money for a cab home, and I headed home myself. At home, I informed my wife that neither he, nor his wife would be attending the seder, as he was going to sleep as he had been up all night. I was told that while I was at the hospital with my son, one of my daughters called and, since neither of her brothers were attending, she didn’t think it was worthwhile coming down, and with my wife’s assistance, put a plan in place to conduct the seder within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, there was a fridge and freezer filled with food. The pantry was bursting with items to be served along side the main courses. There was chicken and brisket, roast potatoes, candied carrots, soup, fricassee and meatballs, gefilte fish, and a host of Moroccan dishes that my wife had grown up with. “What are we going to do with all of this food?”, I asked as I surveyed the abundance of food that had been systematically organized and arranged in the kitchen.

“We’re going to eat it.”, my wife said. “And what we can’t eat, we’re going to freeze.”

It was a very disappointing evening for me. At this time of year, my thoughts dive headlong into the memories of childhood Passovers spent at my parents home. Being with family, the traditions, the food, and the hockey playoff games that inevitably were on at the same time of year, and how my brothers and I, feigning a need to use the bathroom, headed downstairs to catch just a few minutes of the game and to at least check on the score. And upon returning to the table, my father would inevitably ask “What’s the score?”. That too had become our family tradition. And when the seder was done, satiated with food and the story of the emancipation from bondage, we headed to bed, taking comfort in the Leafs’ victory over the Bruins.

This year, however, there was no family. There was no tradition. And as I get older, they both seem to carry increased importance to me. “We’ll have our own seder.”, I told my wife. “There’s you and me, and the two girls. It’ll be fine.”

“The girls won’t be here.”, she informed me. “When they heard no one was coming, they made plans to go out with friends.”

“I see.”, I replied. I didn’t really. I was quite dejected, wallowing in the disappointment of childhood memories that seemed gone forever.

“We can do it together.”, she said. “Just the two of us.”

“Its okay.”, I told her. “I just don’t know why its so hard for everyone to get together twice a year. They’re always too busy. How come we’re never too busy? They’re going to forget everything we taught them. But we should eat. At least I won’t have to put pants on.”  We sat at the table, and before we could begin to eat, my wife looked over at me.

“You are a good father.”, she told me. “We’ll be fine, and they’ll be fine. No matter what they forget, they will never forget what’s important. We did a good job with those kids.”

I felt better. She always made me feel better. “I don’t think I want to do this next year.”, I told her. “I think one of the kids should hold the seder at their place. And maybe, we should have a crisis and have to cancel.”

“If that’s what you want to do”, she said, “we’ll do it. It sounds like fun. Its about time we screwed them around.” At that precise moment in time I realized that this was exactly where I was always supposed to be.

 

 

 

 

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A Willowdale Christmas Story

Growing up in a suburb of Willowdale, in the north end of the city in the 1960s was remarkably ever changing. As developments sprung up, and roads were being built, Passer’s Farm stood as a reminder of what used to be. My brothers and I spent a lot of time outside, scouting out the building sites, carrying home bits of lumber, so that we could build a fort in the back yard.

I particularly enjoyed the winters. Crawling around in the snow, tunneling through the moats we made that led to our snow fortress. And while we did not celebrate, my favorite time of all was Christmas, with all of the family traditions that accompanied it. Christmas Eve was filled with the joy of watching  ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, and ‘Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol’. It seemed like I had to wait forever for the annual airing of these shows. We stayed up late and watched ‘Its A Wonderful Life’ with my mother, and then retired to our beds. It was strangely quiet on Christmas Eve, so quiet that you could actually hear the snow fall, as it piled up on our lawn, glistening in the pale yellow street lights that dotted the landscape of my life.

In the morning my brothers and I raced outside and shoveled the driveway, so that we could play ball hockey, while my father took the garden hose and flooded the backyard in an attempt to make us an ice hockey rink. It was always uneven, and there were patches that didn’t freeze due to inadequate water placement, but it was wonderful fun, skating up and down the rink, body checking each other into the waist high snow drifts that lined either side. Our laughter seemed to echo across galaxies, as we pulled our heads out of the drifts,  our faces covered in the untainted snow, making us all look like Santa himself.

In the afternoon, we all piled into the Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, to begin the first leg of what had become our family Christmas tradition. ” You guys better get yourselves outside.”, the old man chanted as he stood at the front door  of our house. “I”m leaving in 2 minutes.” The old man hated to be late for the movies. If he wasn’t in his seat at the theatre before the cartoon or the coming soon features started, it was a Christmas catastrophe. We headed off to the Willow Theatre, located on Yonge Street, just south of Finch Avenue, at break neck speed.

“Slow down.”, my mother would say. “Let’s get there in one piece.”

“I been through worse than this.”, my father would answer.

“Go faster, faster.”, we shouted from the back.

When we arrived at the theatre, we ran up the stairs to the balcony, with my mother following behind us, and my father at the concession stand buying us popcorn. There was always a western showing in those days. My father adored westerns. Over the years we watched ‘The Sons Of Katie Elder’, ‘Nevada Smith, ‘The Way West’, and countless others. One Christmas Day, my mother, who was a huge fan of musicals, managed to coerce the old man into attending a revival of “Calamity Jane’.  It was the last time she was ever permitted to select the movie. We sat in the balcony, 1st row, with our parents in the row behind us, popcorn in our hand, and our eyes glued to the screen as six guns were drawn, and rifles were cocked. It seemed necessary to advise the ‘good guy’ that trouble was behind them, or waiting for them around the next corner. We shouted it out with delight, certain that he could hear us, and followed up with the disappointing “if only he had listened”. If there was a coming attraction feature, and it was a western, my father would lean forward, pat us on the shoulders and guarantee that we would be seeing that one. Particularly if the cast included Jimmie Stewart, Randolph Scott, or Audie Murphy.

With the movie over, we piled back into the wagon, and headed out for what was the highlight of  the day. We did this only once a year. We did this every year, but only on Christmas day. As we pulled into the parking lot, the huge neon sign, seemed to scream out at us, beckoning us inside. “Let’s try to behave in there, shall we?”, my mother remarked.

“Oh, they’ll behave.”, my father stated. “Won’t you?”

“Yes. We’ll behave.”, proclaimed the unanimous children’s chorus.

“Okay then.”, he said. “Let’s go.” We jumped out of the car, and ran up to the door. And there scrawled in Chinese Style writing of English letters, were those words we waited all year to see: ‘Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food”.

If you had never been to Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food as a kid in the 1960s or 1970s, your childhood was incomplete. Nestled in the Bathurst St, and Wilson Avenue area, it was a cultural phenomenon. Every Christmas Day, for as long as I can remember, everyone who did not celebrate Christmas, for whatever reason, living in the North end of this city, wound up at Sea-Hi for dinner. It became a tradition for hundreds of families, perhaps thousands. It was, without a doubt, the crowning achievement of a Christmas well spent.

As we poured over menus, we would laugh at the names given to the dishes. Things like moo goo guy pan, and egg foo yung brought us great joy just to read them aloud. And, in those childish, politically incorrect times, we found great amusement in ordering in what we considered, Chinese. “I want flied lice.”, someone would inevitably request.

“Stop that.”, my mother scolded.

“Can I have clispy chicken?”, someone would shout from the table.

“We’re just going to go home.”, my mother offered her final warning. Regardless of what we wanted, my father always ordered the same thing, year after year after year. Vegetable fried rice, egg rolls, chop suey, mushroom egg foo yung, and hot and sour soup. We ate, and laughed, and attempted to use our chopsticks, and when that failed, we inserted them in our mouths and became walruses. There was one occasion when one of my brothers inserted them up his nose. This caused quite a commotion, as one became stuck, and had to be forcibly removed by my father’s tugging, which caused his nose to bleed right there at the table, all over the starched, white tablecloth, and my mother to begin the almost daily ritual of dying of embarrassment. The highlight of the meal, for me anyway, was the fortune cookie, which always seemed to carry some profoundly meaningful Eastern words of wisdom, written on the small, white paper hidden inside of the crunchy, tasteless morsel.  I was certain that those ancient words would somehow transform my future.

The car ride home was eerily quiet. We were tired, and we were full, satiated with enough rice and noodles to carry us over until next year. This tradition carried on throughout my childhood, and one by one, each of my siblings and myself dropped out of the ritual when we entered adolescence. It seems we were more interested in hanging with our friends, than we were in tradition. When I began to have kids of my own, I jump started the whole family Christmas, Willowdale style. It was never quite the same. We would watch Rudolph, but my daughters were frightened of the abominable snowman, and they found Its A Wonderful Life boring, as it was in black & white. Sadly, Mr. Magoo was no longer aired on Christmas Eve, but it did become available years later you tube. We moved north of the city, and Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food was too far of a drive, so we settled on East Moon. The tradition continues to this day, however we now watch a movie on Netflix, and order in from South China Chinese Food. Sadly, it is difficult to maintain a family tradition in the face of ever changing technology, and free delivery. But those days, all those years of a Willowdale Christmas in my parents’ house, well, I miss them, and I carry those memories around with me like a badge of honor.

 

 

 

Pot, Poetry, Philosophy, and Nipples….

Theredownload are many, many stories that came out of a camp in Northern Ontario, nestled on the shores of Skeleton Lake. There were tales of pregnancy, missing campers, a camp director who bordered on sociopathology, and his wife, whose fear of onions was legendary within the Ontario camp circuit. No story however, evoked as much interest as the tale of the kitchen boy and the young camper.

It was 1973, or possibly 1974, and while the events have been bastardized, altered by time and fading memories, I will do my best to reveal the events of that fateful summer as best as I can remember it.

Thedownload-1 kitchen boys, often thought of as the lowest  form of camp staff, lived in a staff only dorm on the main road of the camp. Surrounded by all of the camp’s amenities, it became a hub of fun and games. Music was always playing, usually Yes, or Pink Floyd, or the Beatles. Drugs were rampant, and the aroma of marijuana permeated the surrounding area regularly. One day, a camper, a young female camper, arrived at the cabin window. Now, to be fair, fraternization between campers and staff was strictly forbidden, but neither the young camper, nor the head kitchen boy cared. They began talking, and over time, would sneak off and walk through the fish hatchery that bordered the camp grounds. There they discussed Gibrhan and Kerouac, Satre and Camus, and Ginsberg and Dylan. They spent hour after hour talking about life. When the kitchen boy looked at her, he was amazed at her beauty. She was a free spirit, a rebel, with a zest for learning.  She walked barefoot, wore cutoff shorts, and a halter top that fit like a second skin, without a bra. She was rather well endowed, with breasts that gently bounced and floated as she moved, and had nipples the kitchen boy could not look away from. On one occasion, when they were down at the waterfront, she went into the water, and coming out, her pale white t shirt, was completely see through. And while it seemed that she never noticed the effect this was having on the poor kitchen boy, the sexual tension between them was evident to both of them, and everyone else who saw them together.

All5c8a21d67f505f6ecf6ba842428a0128 summer, they were inseparable. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company more than the camp experience itself. Often times, it appeared as though they were the only 2 people there. The camp officials were convinced that the kitchen boy was engaging in sexual activities with this young camper. He was questioned, or rather interrogated on several occasions, with bright lights shone in his eyes, deprived of food and water for hours at a time, and many threats and ultimatums were given.  Kitchen boy vehemently denied any wrong doing, and with his new found spiritual freedom, told them all to fuck off. Unrelenting, the young camper and the kitchen boy continued their relationship amid the turbulence and fear it was causing the camp administraton. On any given day, they could be found sitting under a tree, discussing poetry, or the rise of neosocialism. But never was a word spoken about her amazing tits and nipples. He wanted her, and he hoped she wanted him, but it had transcended the physical plain, or so they convinced themselves. Everytime he beautiful_girl_in_spa_892115looked at her, he envisioned her naked. Others who were there that summer, had said that kitchen boy informed them that every conversation they had, she was completely undressed. In his mind. But the meeting of mind and spirit, the melding of souls had become more than enough for them.

At the end of the summer, the young camper returned to her home somewhere in Michigan, and the kitchen boy was informed by the camp director that he would never be allowed to return to the camp again, in any capacity.

Time passed, and there were a few reunions; a trip down to Michigan to visit her at College, a family trip with her family that allowed them to meet in Toronto,  and a final visit to Toronto many years later. And every time they met, it was as if time had stood still. Each encounter, no matter how brief, felt like that wonderful summer. The sense of oneness, the meeting of spirits and souls, had not waned. It was just another day at camp in 1973, or ’74.

images-1There are reminders of that summer, of that dalliance between 2 souls still left up there. Their names carved into a wall, initials carved into a tree, and the story of the relationship between the young camper and the kitchen boy is still being told, although most of the facts have been mutated over time. Some of us had wondered what became of these 2. Did they ever engage in sex? We decided it was best not to know. The depth of their friendship could only be compromised by a physical aspect. The sanctity of their relationship was best remembered as it was. I can only suspect that after all of these years, they have somehow stayed connected, still bonded by their spirits and their souls, and should they meet again, still sitting somewhere quiet, discussing poetry, and philosophy, amid an abundance of sexual tension, as the kitchen boy, listning intently, has his eyes fixed on the young camper’s nipples. Or maybe that’s just the  hopeless romantic in me.

 

 

 

 

Zaidie Joe & The Bubbie Monster

Its been a long, long time since my grandfather passed away. 40 years or so, but there are memories of him that remain as clear as if they had happened yesterday.

During the last year of his life, some of the family were believing that he was losing his mind. There was talk of zaidie3moving to a senior’s home, but when he got wind of it, he threatened to play chess with death, and lose on purpose.

My grandmother said that there were signs of his impending dementia. He would sit in the backyard all day and feed little carrots she had bought for soup to the squirrels. He would go into the basement, and stay there for hours at a time, refusing to eat meals. She was convinced that he no longer knew who she was, as he rarely spoke to her, unless it was to drone on and on about something that happened 50 years ago.  I had spent a great deal of time with this man, and I loved him. We would often go to United Bakers,. He would order tea, and rugelach, and proceed to dunk each into the tea before he ate it. He had been doing this for as long as I had known him. I kept telling my parents that he was fine, but no one believed me.

In the mid 1970’s, I went to Miami Beach for reading week during my 2nd year of University. My grandparents, coincidentally, were sent there by my parents for some rest at the same time. During the week I was there, my grandfather became ill, and was hospitalized. I went to visit him, in an attempt to keep his spirits up.

I went in the room and sat in a chair beside him. “How are you feeling?”, I asked.

“Come here”, he said, pointing to the bed. “Come closer. I have something to tell you”.

zaidie1I sat on the side of his bed, waiting for him to say something insightful  “What is it?”.

“Your Bubbie is driving me crazy!” he said, looking to see if anyone else was in the room. “And I think she’s trying to kill me.”.

“What are you talking about?”. I asked.

“Ok. Listen.” he said with all seriousness. “She has been putting those little carrots in my soup.You know, the ones I give to the squirrels. I hate those little carrots. She knows I hate them. And yet, she keeps putting them in my soup. Who would put little carrots in soup?”.

“I don’t think she’s trying to kill you with carrots.”, I told him.

“Really? What am I doing in here then?”

I had no idea what to say. Could it be that my Zaidie was losing his mind? “What do you want me to do?”, I asked him.

“Throw out those little carrots. Better yet, throw out your Bubbie”.

I laughed. He laughed. “I’m not sure we would get away with it”, I replied.

“They all think I’m crazy”, he added. “I know what they say. I hear them talking. They can think what they want to think. Only me and you know the truth”.

“Ok, Zaidie.”

zaidie2“She’s a monster!”. he said.  “I think I would like one of those Irish girls, you know, with the red hair. A young, ginger girl”.

“Well, you have to get better first. Then I will help you find you one”. I told him.

“You’re a good boy”, he said.

I flew back to school a few days later. My grandfather stayed in the hospital for another 2 weeks. He passed away the departure lounge of Mami International Airport. In his pocket was a picture postcard of Dublin. When I heard this, I smiled, and I chuckled.

 

 

 

 

Memory #1

My daughters, who have always made me proud, while being somewhat neurotic, were wonderful babies. I think the happiest times I spent with them was when they were infants and toddlers. They are all wonderfully gifted, and each possesses a love for music and the creative arts.

I suspect that I had a large part in instilling this in them. Every night, at bedtime, I would sing to each one of them, a song that they particularly favoured.

My eldest daughter loved ‘Sarah The Whale’, particularly the Sharon, Lois, & Bram version (I could not find a link to that version)…so this is what she got…

My middle daughter, well, she was more into pop, and preferred the Beatles. ‘Til There Was You’ was one of her favorites.

My youngest daughter was crazy about this song:

Such fond memories. I am still listening to these songs, and always enjoy singing ‘Sarah, The Whale” to them now, despite their refusal to listen.