Post #63: Yahrzeit

img_9912She was oh so very very difficult. Did she like me, care for me, consider me?  I was never quite sure. She held me at distance, kept me off balance.  Her temper  was a landmine waiting to be be tripped. I had learned to be careful.  I knew to be careful. Time after time I ground my teeth together not to bite the bait. It was complicated and I knew it. After all, we both loved the same man.  Her son. My husband.

We lost her a year ago. 

In spite of all antagonisms and all misunderstandings, or perhaps because of them, I asked to write her eulogy.  This is what I said on a frozen January day, 2016.

She was a woman who dressed to go grocery shopping, who dressed to go to the movies, who dressed to go for a walk in the park.

A bag to match each pair of shoes.  Everything just so.

Broadway matinees on Wednesday at 2.  A ruffled scoop of black raspberry at the Howard Johnson’s counter. The uptown subway home.

Always two slices of cake for Dad for his morning coffee break, veal cutlets or potted  chicken for dinner, hamburgers  fresh cooked for her hungry son at midnight.

Not a hair out of place nor an drawer. overstuffed. And yet,

To feed hungry and homeless cats, She could arc a meatball from her balcony to the parking lot with a curve that would have made Sandy Koufax proud.

Photographs of her grandsons were framed in gilt.

Joel listened when she insisted.  Had he not, we never would have met.

“So what are you waiting for, “ she demanded.  “ask her to marry you. “

To be honest. To be fair therefore, I owe her my life, our happiness. Our boys.

To my mother-in-law, a woman to be reckoned with, my eternal thanks, deep appreciation and love.

Eulogy for Lillian Schwartz Frank, z”l.

I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

Last weekend. A new  house, an old suitcase.  Flipping the latches I found a box of photos.

Was it really her? I squinted just to be sure. Oh my goodness.  It was.

The photograph had been taken in the 1950s.  She is sitting on a park bench.  It’s a lovely shot. But it’s her face that stunned me, her smile that cut me to the quick.  There is a sweetness, an openness, a generosity  and simple beauty in that face that I never saw, that I’d yearned to see when I knew her.

Had I truly missed the signals of who she was completely?   Had I arrogantly and woefully misjudged her?  Or had she changed so by the time I knew her that the woman in photo was stuck in time to be replaced by someone else?  If so, what had happened, what had changed her? 

I found that photo on her yahrzeit , the first anniversary of her passing.  Maybe just coincidence.  Maybe not.  Was she reaching out to us? If so, to say just what?

I don’t know. But I can reach back.  On that day I uttered the words of Kaddish for Lillian Frank, my mother-in-law.  The words of Kaddish, the prayer for the departed, is not what most people expect.  The translation of the prayer, from the Aramaic,  is herewith:

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world

which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,

and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;

and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,

adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,

beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that

are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us

and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights,

may He create peace for us and for all Israel;

and say, Amen.

translation from myjewishlearning.com

There are praises to God throughout the Kaddish, and a  fervent prayer for peace.  It is that peace that I wish for my mother-in-law, for myself a renewed call for openness and for understanding.

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A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN: LARGE PRINT EDITION

Even if I were not deeply inclined towards introspective navel-gazing (which I clearly am or why else I would I be laboring over this blog thing) I know a sign when I see one. There it was in a 42 type font, staring at me from the library shelves. A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN: LARGE PRINT EDITION.

Oh please, is it just me, or does that fairly scream oxymoron?   A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN was on my 9th grade reading list in my all girl English class. I remember the provocative little paperback volume inviting us, urging us to think independently, to nurture our creativity, to never allow ourselves to be quashed out there the wide, wide world. And while all these years later I couldn’t recall the actual details of the book, the words “a room of one’s own” has held this allure and resonance that has lingered over my thoughts and hovered over my senses. It has to be true for so many of us. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see what each of us could create with a private space, secure funding and untethered responsibility?

Virginia Woolf gave the revolutionary talks that became A Room of One’s Own in 1929 when acceptance of women in any area outside the home was at best grudging, at worst, openly hostile. My classmates and I were bequeathed the scruffy paperback versions of the book nearly fifty years later. Times had changed.

Let’s briefly dial back the clock to approximately 1980. The flickery TV is on and the Enjoli perfume commercial blitzes onto the screen. You remember. An “8 hour perfume for the 24 hour woman.”

“I bring home the bacon! Fry it up in a pan. And never let you forget you’re a man.!”“ Ouch. Changing times indeed. But think about it, if thinking is even possible as you watch that feathered blond strut with a combination of aggression and suggestion towards the camera. What’s being sung here loosely translates to this: “Hey, Baby. You want it all, you can have it all. Do it. You asked for it, didn’t you?”

What’s particularly galling is that this twisted little passive/aggressive advertising fantasy was most likely penned by some guy. Under the guise of celebrating “womanhood” there’s this underlying challenge. So now women were to aspire to working a full-time job, having a house full of kids, looking fantastic at all times and still having enough energy to “read his tickity tock.” Do it, baby. She can.” Game on, right?

Hey, he bought her the perfume after all. But while I am not a social scientist nor do I have any claims on making an exhaustive study of women’s rights in the 20th century, I would argue that for all of the gains for women in that ensuing fifty years, making it as a woman had not really gotten that much easier than in V. Woolf’s day. We can’t do it all.

The gung-ho girls of Miss Rode’s 9th grade English class tried. I know I did. I went to college and then into book publishing which I will tell you honestly was intellectually stimulating, hugely fun and in some ways thoroughly annoying as most business are. Getting married at age 30 didn’t slow up the work life in the least, letting me indulge my “bringing home the bacon and frying it in a pan” fantasies to the fullest. Good for me.

I then dropped the frying pan when my husband and I had twins when I was 33. There was no part-time at that time, at least where I was working. While the job itself was sort of glamorous (the best perk being the free books) the balance was the very modest salary. Had I gone back full-time I still couldn’t quite afford to pay a sitter to take care of my sons. I chose to stay home with the boys. At least it was a choice—that in and of itself is a remarkable gain from Woolf’s time.

But the other parts of the Woolf equation continued to slide just out of my reach. For those of us who decided to have children no amount of money saved ever feels like quite enough.   Parenting, difficult and wonderful as it is, is in many ways the definition of responsibility. And the only “room of one’s own” in a house with children is the bathroom and often not even that. But if I wasn’t a fully developed intellectual wolf in my previous life I liked feeling that I was little by little working my way towards a world of deeper thinking. There was definitely a part of me that liked being defined by my business cards.

On the home front, driving on the squirrely back roads of the suburbs, straining to see over the massive hood my SUV (we needed the space in that thing, not the cachet of driving it) I was often dismissed as nothing more than a lamb of a soccer mom. Even though my children didn’t actually play soccer. But of course there is a massive difference in being a dutiful wife and mother because convention dictates that’s what one must be and actively choosing to be one. At least for a period of time.

But in spite of that, all these years later, squeezed into black spandex exercise wear and clutching Trader Joe’s bags, there’s a niggling sense of failure that taunts me. Of not being that bell-bottomed, hip-swinging,do it all, bacon bringer of the perfume ad. I felt thwarted. I felt ridiculous. I felt lost. Which is how I eventually found myself in the large print section of the library. I was pretending I was there because the large print section is an excellent place to snag hard-to-find titles. The truth, of course, is that the big type a whole lot easier on my middle-aged squint-vision. But then, right at my eye level, was A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN. In very big letters so maybe I wouldn’t miss it. Choice? Of course I had a choice. What I chose to do was stop pretending and think about Woolf’s provocative invitation once again.

Maybe when one comes face to face with a book like that, especially in very large letters , it’s not an oxymoron at all but instead a sure sign that perhaps one is not quite done yet. Woolf was encouraging women to stake a claim for themselves, to have courage in their thoughts and convictions, to not accept that things just are as they are, to find themselves and move forward. Excellent advice back in the day and for the future.

But rather than pine for a room of my own, perhaps I could just settle for some clear, quiet space in my head. Rather than feel defeated and demoralized because I couldn’t and can’t balance work/home/husband all at once all I can accept that maybe “having it all” doesn’t mean “having it all at precisely the same time. “ Maybe A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN is not simply about inventing one’s self but reinventing one’s self. A large print battle cry. Time will tell. Welcome to my attempts to live bravely and well. Welcome to the thinking that will fill that private “room” in my head. See you soon.