Tag Archives: family

Benny Goodman and a Bagel

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Benny Goodman and a Bagel

I was sitting in my family room watching the weather forecasters get practically giddy that they were actually going to get their forecast for Hurricane Sandy and its path right for a change. During the commercial break I could picture them jumping up and down, hugging and screaming, “It’s hooking left, it’s hooking left…just like we predicted! I was hoping that they would be wrong as usual, but as the night wore on I knew they had it right.

In the hours leading up to the storm I learned plenty about surge, wave amplitude, and the physics behind the Gulf Stream and a nor’easter. My main concern on the morning before we got hit was: can I watch The Good Wife On Demand before the power goes out.

I had done everything suggested by the experts. I had plenty of water and non-perishable food. My computer and phone were fully charged and I had a full tank of gas. I was hooked up with my town’s twitter account. I had enough peanut butter and water to be good for a week.

I’m a Jersey girl, I thought. Much smarter than Snookie…I can handle it.

But as the winds picked up and we ultimately lost power, I realized I had the wrong list.  The list should have been more like something out of Little House on the Prairie. Clearly all our cell phones, tablets, computers, technology, and free apps would prove to be obsolete. Could an app keep me warm? Could my computer open a can of tuna? If the quality of my life came down to how many things needed to be plugged in I was cooked. It was like camping without the fun.

Here’s what we should have had on our list:

  • Wood for the fireplace
  • Matches to light a fire
  • Hand held can opener
  • Hand held wine opener (very important)
  • Buckets to carry the water stored in the bathtubs
  • candles
  • an ax to chop more wood

The reality was:

  • Nothing electronic was working and with no internet, no town updates were coming to me. If I wanted information on what was happening I had to go out the front door and take a look
  • I would not be able to blow-dry my hair

What I learned during the storm:

  • I didn’t need to check Facebook 10 times a day.  I didn’t care that friends loved their dog and I wasn’t in the mood to “like” anything.
  • I Loved oatmeal.
  • Backgammon was more fun than TV
  • I could live without my $4.00 cup of coffee from Starbucks.
  •  It was possible to be warmer outside than inside.
  • I could enjoy picking up sticks. (My husband wanted to know if I would also enjoy picking up a vacuum cleaner since he had never seen me picking up sticks before).
    • No matter what, college kids are still very self-absorbed. Friends with no power received texts asking for Tide pods to be mailed, letters to be written because they loved getting real mail, or the best one of all, “I  hate my life….they took away make your own pizza.”  REALLY? Get a freaking grip! Your mothers can’t feel their toes and you’re complaining about the demise of “make your own pizza??!!”

I almost said, “stop complaining! When I was your age I had to hike 10 miles up a hill both ways”, but I stopped myself.

At Kings, suddenly we were all the same…no make-up, bed-head, clothes that were functional and not stylish.  Everyone looked overweight with all the layering.  (Granted, some of us were already overweight even before the layering, but not a thin thigh in any aisle).  I was in hurricane heaven.

What I learned after the storm:

  • We were kinder to each other; nothing was a problem
  • Those of us with power offered showers, laundry services, open bedrooms to those without and didn’t want to be thanked for it
  • Texting was a lifeline
  • There were plenty of people a heck of a lot worse off than me
  • The kindness and compassion shown in the shelters from complete strangers to other strangers was beyond words
  • We really were Jersey strong

After 8 long days the power finally came back for me.  My parents were staying with me and when they came into the kitchen that first morning with power I asked my dad what he wanted.  He said, “Benny Goodman and a toasted bagel.”  So I plugged in my iPod and toasted him a bagel.  Such a small thing but it made us so happy and grateful for other small things that we took for granted. Gone were the candles, the matches, the can opener, the tea, the powdered milk. And no, I wasn’t nostalgic about putting it all away. Give me something to plug-in any day.

What became clear once I was plugged in was all the devastation. New York City subways underwater, the Jersey shore decimated. Yes, the experts were right this time.  We should have been worried about this one and I felt grateful that my home was still in one piece.

My girlfriend mailed her son the Tide pods and I wrote my daughter a letter. (Of course I couldn’t help but tell her when I was her age I had to walk 10 miles up a hill both ways in a storm).  I  washed all the sheets from the many friends who had stayed with me and I put away the coffee thermos and the backgammon game.  But I still listen to Benny Goodman every morning on my iPod, just to be grateful for the small things.

PS  My intent is not to make light of the seriousness of the situation.  I know the Jersey shore is decimated, NYC is struggling and there are many still suffering and homeless. I just wanted to bring a little humor to the situation and hope I didn’t offend anyone. I sincerely apologize if I did.

Shana Tova/Buon Anno…it’s all the same, let’s eat!

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My father is Jewish and my mother a Catholic Italian, so religion didn’t play a very big role in their courtship (much to both their family’s chagrin), or in their marriage (can I say much to my delight? Probably not a good idea, so scratch that). With my diverse and particular family history I had some experience being “stuck in services”.  Whether I was saying shana tova or buon anno it was all the same. Happy New Year….let’s eat!

Having been on both sides of the religion and holiday fence I can see that there are many similarities. Jews and Italians alike gather around a table, go to church/temple, are exhausted for a week afterwards and everyone regardless of their ethnic or religious background complain relentlessly. Too much cooking, too much company, too many dishes to clean, not enough time in the day, kids who get sick, in-laws who can’t cook, husbands who don’t do enough, blah blah blah. It’s part of the tradition in both cultures and I both love it and look forward to it.

There were many similarities between the time spent in church and at temple. First there was the fidgeting. All of us cousins fidgeted. There were 9 of us at church and 8 of us at temple. We giggled at the wrong moments and our giggling always got stronger and more uncontrollable at which point an aunt or uncle would shoot us a look and the giggling ceased without a word being uttered. It didn’t matter if it was my Jewish Aunt Esther or my Italian Aunt Adele…THE LOOK was THE LOOK. It meant “knock it off” and it was recognized in all religions.

Priest or Rabbi, the guilt was always front and center. You just can’t be a good Catholic or Jew without being told to feel guilty about something. My Jewish relatives listened to the Shofar blown during lengthy prayer services, ate holiday meals and refrained from work. It’s wasn’t much different for my Italian relatives. They listened to Frank Sinatra, ate holiday meals and refrained from work too.

For the Jewish holidays we went to my Aunt Rose’s house where we had to “open the door” for someone…I think it was Elija and for the Catholic holidays we went to my nanna’s house where she would gladly open the door to anybody with an appetite. My Italian mother’s motto: If I don’t recognize it, I’m not eating it. My dad’s motto: If I can’t spell it I’m not eating it which made the holiday a bit daunting with things like scungilli, calamari, and baccala being served. It’s not surprising he stuck with the shrimp.

The dining room tables in each home were huge and beautifully turned out. The food was wonderful, the wine sweet for the Jewish holiday and homemade for the Italian holiday. The marching orders were also similar: women in the kitchen, men in the family room. Or as I later came to realize, women cooking, serving, cleaning up. Men were eating, watching television, snoring on the couch. All my cousins were happy to be under the radar and not asked to do anything but to sit quietly at the table. Thankfully, it was never quiet at the table. There was conversation and no hand held devices. AlI we were asked to do was eat, which we gladly did. No cell phones, no tablets, no gameboys. We made eye contact. We ate, we drank, we spilled, we ate some more.

It doesn’t matter what is being served: brisket or linguini with clam sauce and can you even believe that my father now eats calamari? The similarities are what bind all of us: family, the eating, the drinking, the coming together, and even the walk to church or the ride to temple. Even the fidgeting is a happy memory for me. And to this day, my father still attempts to put his American Express card in the basket when it comes around at church. And guess who is giving him THE LOOK? ME! Talk about role reversal.

I wonder if the reason none of the cousins in either family – Italian or Jewish, were asked to help much was because the adults knew that soon enough our time would come to serve 20 plus for the holidays. That time is here and now it’s these same parents, aunts and uncles who sit at our beautifully turned out tables, with wine and amazing food while we cousins prepare, serve, clean, and of course, complain. (I’ve raised the complaining part to an art form). The people around the dining room table may change as some have passed on but the tradition is the same and I don’t ever want it to change. Well, I take that back. There is one thing that had to change… at least in my house. There is no such thing as women in the kitchen, men in the family room. If you can eat, you can clean up. Some change in the tradition is a good thing. Let’s eat!