This Is the Last Day of Our Acquaintance

My thirties are coming to a close, and it feels remarkably unremarkable.

I imagine I’ll wake up tomorrow, and nothing will have changed aside from the fact that I will have managed to have survived into another decade. Which is pretty swell, really. Certainly beats the alternative, as they say.

In anticipation of this birthday, I compiled a brief set of goals to meet ahead of time. Some more introspective than others, certainly, and while I accomplished several, including my renewed dedication to writing, others fell by the wayside, such as finding a decent lipstick shade.

And while I know that turning forty is a big freaking deal, I think what is stuck in my brain is how on earth I’m going to beat the awesomeness that was my thirties.

40-years

In my thirties, I became a mother. First, to my sweet baby girl who is creeping up on 10 herself, and then to three more tiny people, one boy and two more girls, who are happy and healthy and loved.

In my thirties,my husband and I bought our first home. Sure, it’s tiny, sure, it needs a metric tonne of work, but it is ours. And that is amazing. It’s terribly adult of us, don’t you think?

In my thirties, I realized a ridiculous amount about myself. I finally got comfortable in this mortal coil of mine. Through four pregnancies, I realized how much my body could withstand and was amazed by that. I stopped being paralyzed by self-consciousness. I learned how to recognize when the anxiety was talking and what tools were needed to get her to kindly eff off. I learned that whatever unkind word popped into my head didn’t necessarily need to pass my lips, no matter how justifiable my emotions may or may not be.

In my thirties, I learned my own opinions, separately from my family and friends  – while some remained the same, not all did.

I don’t suspect I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling any differently. And I would venture to guess that as far as decades go, my thirties were a lot busier than the forties are slated to be. But I have a sneaking suspicion that in ten years’ time, a new list, albeit shorter, will be composed.

Perhaps by fifty I’ll find that elusive red lipstick.

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Happy Birthday, Baby Brothers!

I have exactly two memories of my biological mother: one is of listening to her bicker with my dad about needing to stop at the drugstore for pantyhose, presumably having run the ones she was wearing. The other, attempting to sit on her lap and not being able to, since she was a tiny woman and pregnant with my twin brothers.

There should be no surprise that in spite of our 3-year age gap, these two are part of my earliest memory. They have always left quite an impression!

My brothers are two of the most unique people one could ever meet – and while they look so much alike that no one ever believes they are fraternal, they are two very distinct people. That’s not to say they aren’t a lot alike, however.

When we were younger, they wowed the grownups with their abilities. Reading before three. Math problems, too. They knew all the states and their capitals. They read maps better than my mom. To this day, they both can tell you not just who won a Super Bowl of any given year, but they can tell you the scores of any game, the breakdown of points by quarter, which player scored which points, and as an added bonus, what happened in our own lives on that day. I am not even kidding. I’ve witnessed arguments between them concerning which shirt they were wearing during a game that took place in 1985.

I shall spare them the extended memory list, as it is their birthday and I don’t wish to embarrass them, but while they may exist as children in my memory, they are now grown men: each with  beautiful wives whom I not only approve of but love like sisters. Both now fathers. Both not only smarter than anyone I’ve ever known, but also wise.

Happy birthday, Adam and Joe. I love you.

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#BEFOREFORTY

In thirty-five days, I’ll be moving into a new decade. I have obviously known about this event for quite some time, but I hadn’t really given it much thought lately. It’s been a bit busy, what with four kids and keeping them alive and relatively cared for. Additionally, the fall is a busy time full of family birthdays, our anniversary, and of course Halloween. And what with Indian Summer being in full swing, I mean, I am sweating for crying out loud, it hardly seems that close to my Christmas-seasoned birthday.

But there you have it. Staring down the barrel of forty, I am. FORTY. it’s kind of an ugly word, don’t you think? If only the word gods had left the “u” in there, at least. I could be all Britishy about it, but noooo, it’s just a crass little word now. Not dignified like “colour” or even “honour.”

Blah.

Half of the time, I completely forget I turned 39 already. For some reason, (baby?) I still keep telling people I’m 38. I liked 38. 38 was a good age. I liked it so much I inadvertently stayed there for two years.

All the same, turning forty is overwhelmingly better than the alternative. As I’m already a year older than my mother was at her passing, of this I am keenly aware. And there are a great number of fabulous forty year-olds these days. I’m still younger than a number of actresses still portraying sex objects as opposed to wise grandmotherly types.

In anticipation of this birthday, I’ve got a few items on my list to accomplish. Finishing up my book, for starters. But on a smaller scale, I still don’t have a lipstick shade. I’m nearly forty, for heaven’s sake, I should be able to pick a lip colour. (see how much more dignified that “ou” is?) This weekend, I intend to find one. And maybe some makeup to wear every day. After all, I am no longer 38. No reason I should be scaring small children with this bare face.lips

My Grandpop, Solomon Decker

Today would have been my maternal grandfather’s 112nd birthday.

the little boy in the middle is my Grandpop.
the little boy in the middle is my Grandpop – so cute.

He was living proof that the greatest of people need not be physically impressive. At just over five feet tall and just under a hundred pounds, my grandfather made people nervous with how fragile he appeared. His stick thin arms looked like you might be able to break them just by brushing against him. But he would carry me whenever I asked him to do so, usually on escalators which terrified me for some reason.

My grandfather emigrated to America from Russia in 1922 at the age of 19. He came here with his youngest sister after his own grandmother had passed away. His mother and other siblings came to America before him, but they didn’t have enough money for everyone, and so Grandpop stayed behind with Miriam and the grandmother.

My grandfather's naturalization..
His naturalization petition.

Not that long after he arrived in America, Grandpop met and married Ida, my grandmother. They lived together with her three sisters and their spouses as well as her parents for many years until they were able to strike out on their own, at which point they lived in the misleadingly-named Strawberry Mansions neighborhood of Philadelphia, still known to be one of the most dangerous and economically-disadvantaged locations in the city. He made a living as a presser for a garment manufacturer. I can’t even comprehend how he had the muscles to operate the machinery, but he did that for nearly forty years, providing for his family and even managing to stash away some savings.

The story is a bit fuzzy, but at some point before my grandfather made his escape, the Bolsheviks were systematically destroying all of the Jewish villages, known as Schetls, and as they were going around shooting people, my grandfather hid underneath his grandmother’s bed to evade capture or worse. When they saw how old and sickly his grandmother was, one of the soldiers said to his cohort, “Don’t waste your bullets.”

Someone also told me the story of how my grandfather carried the body of his father in a wheelbarrow to the potter’s field for burial as they could not afford a proper burial. Prior to the revolution, they had some wealth, but that was all taken from them.

Grandpop never told me these stories himself. I was fascinated with the portrait that hung in his home, transfixed by the beauty of the clothing and the richness that emanated from it, but could only ever get him to share the names of those pictured, and sometimes a quick detail about their occupation. He would wave a tiny hand at me dismissively and say, “These were not happy times, no, let us not talk about them. Now are the happy times. We will stay in the happy times.”

I’d like to say that was possible, but having already suffered from the trauma of his youth and then later losing his only daughter suddenly, my grandfather could not help but succumb to his depression.

But on this day, the occasion of his birthday, I will remember the spry fellow who wrestled his dog, Shadow. Who got tipsy from half of a beer. The man who loved to play checkers with any worthy adversary, and who loved his family. The man who helped raise me.

I will stay in the happy times.

When An 80th Birthday Goes Horribly Awry

My mother is a bit of a saint.

There are many reasons, but for the purposes of this story, she is a saint for her desire to give an insane 80 year-old a proper birthday celebration. A saint, but also a bit of an overreaching optimist, as fate would have it.

When her father came to live with us, pleasant yet extremely forgetful, his wife also moved to town, but into a nursing home facility. Granish, as she was named by my older brother, was sort of our grandparent, but not really, as she was technically a step-grandparent. But that is quite a sterile-sounding term, so the cutesy Granish moniker was created.

Granish had never been married before and had no children of her own. She was somewhat emotionally fragile, and not that long after marrying Granddad, she started showing signs of mental illness. Living in our house wasn’t a safe possibility, so she went to live at the nursing home where we all visited from time to time. She was a frightening character, hunched in her wheelchair, her shocking white hair always jutting out in various geometrical shapes, never letting the nurses get close enough to tame it.

There was only one occasion that my mom felt it our obligation to spring Granish from the nursing home: her 80th birthday. As far out there as she tended to be, Granish was fond of reminding us all that she was “crazy, not stupid,” and so well aware it was her birthday. My mom set the dining room table beautifully with the best dishes and even some fresh flowers, and tried to make a nice celebration for Granish.

At the top of the long dining table were my parents’ chairs as well as my Grandmom’s, while Granddad was at the complete other end of the table. Every night, after the standard grace before meals, Grandmom had taken to adding on bits of extra prayers. I’m not sure when this all started, but by this particular dinner, we were in the range of two extra minutes or so. Most of us worked hard to tolerate the extra frills, but Granddad was not accustomed to hiding his disdain and had taken to interrupting her. I don’t know if Grandmom heard or not, but she always managed to press on, determined to add in all the priests, the police, and the names of every dead friend she had, which, at her age, was an impressive list.

As Granddad had no short-term memory to speak of, I assume each evening provided a new frustration for him, but on that night he went with his standard move: yelling AMEN! every three seconds or so. But on this occasion, that of her 80th birthday, our guest of honor chimed in with her favorite mantra.

“GODDAMNIT GODDAMNIT GODDAMNIT!”

And so went the rhythmic theme song of Granish’s 80th birthday: “God bless our priests -AMEN! – GODDAMNIT! – and all the firefighters – AMEN! GODDAMNIT! – and all the souls in purgatory – AMEN! -GODDAMNIT!” until Grandmom ran out of her prayers and the rest of us dug our nails into our legs to avoid laughing hysterically at the horror of it all.

We had the good sense to not light 80 candles, at least.
We had the good sense to not light 80 candles, at least.