|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
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Thursday, July 26, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” declared George Gershwin in Porgy and Bess. Then
there was “Hot Fun in the Summertime” in 1969, by Sly and the Family Stone. Yes, classic song lyrics seem to say
it all. Or do they? If you ask me, the lyrics lie. Mostly, summertime makes us all crabby. Not to mention cranky, crotchety, and cross. Tempers rise with the air temperature and in
inverse proportion to the availability of a/c. Is it any wonder that doing a simple errand this past weekend threatened to
do us in?
When I last left you, just
days ago, my daughter and I had euphorically unearthed hidden treasure at Brimfield, the country’s largest antiques
and collectibles show. That treasure, a spacious, fancifully painted dresser, was still languishing in the back of my husband’s
car, however, and needed to be transported to Allegra’s apartment in NYC. By chance, one of her roommates was away for
a few days, so she invited us to stay overnight this past Sunday in exchange for our schlepping that behemeth down.
Free accommodations in NYC? Not to mention a chance to hang out with our girl? She didn’t need to ask twice.
Allegra was away earlier in the
weekend, singing at some Massachusetts shopping outlets with her jazz band, then stopped home to see us in
Connecticut on Saturday night. So our plan was to drive in the next morning, provided that the car could manage to accommodate
all four of us – Allegra, Nice Jewish Dad, and me, plus that humungous chest.
Somehow, though, Sunday morning
turned into Sunday afternoon. And by the time we’d loaded up the car, Allegra and I were hungry for lunch, so we began
pulling a wide array of cartons of leftover Chinese food out of the fridge, causing my husband no small amount of grief and
audible grouchiness. This was the first time that he would explode at me during this brief summer journey. But, believe me,
it was not the last.
The only way that that voluminous,
funky chest of drawers had fit into his SUV in the first place was that we had folded down the back row of seats. This
had transformed his normally roomy Nissan Murano into a mere two-seater. Yet I managed to fashion a third seat of sorts by
pushing the dresser as far back as possible, then inserting a pair of cushions from a chair to render this unpadded perch
Allegra maintained that the dresser was hers, so she was the one who should suffer
by squeezing onto this makeshift bench. But I insisted on taking it instead, as would any nice Jewish mother, out of concern
for both my daughter’s comfort and her safety. After all, with the seats folded down, the seatbelt was no longer accessible.
The dresser wasn’t secured in any way, either, so I could only imagine that if the car stopped short, the dresser would
hurtle forward, squishing the passenger in back like a bug.
When I clambered in, I also discovered that between the doubled-up seat and the extra padding, my head was
only about an inch from the roof of the car, making it feel even more hazardous. What mother in her right mind would allow
her child to risk that?
It didn’t help matters that my husband has a tendency to both speed relentlessly
and trail the car in front of him a little too closely for comfort. Even under normal circumstances I’m a wreck when
he drives, and these circumstances were far from normal. Was it really worth jeopardizing my life to help deliver a used dresser?
Had I been riding in the seat beside him, my foot probably would have made ample use of the imaginary brake on the passenger
side of the floor. But teetering in back, the best I could do was gasp and moan relentlessly, begging him to slow down each
time I spied the traffic stalling up ahead. Yet rather than heeding any of these pleas, he only grew increasingly testy and
intolerant whenever I gave voice to my squeamishness, making copious references to my being hysterical, mentally ill and just
like my mother (which was not only redundant in his opinion, but also the last thing most women ever want to hear).
Allegra, normally my infallible ally in our chronic girls-stick-together stance, kept chiming in to say that,
although Dad was among her least favorite drivers of all time, he was going at a perfectly reasonable speed (if you can really
call 75 to 80 reasonable when your wife is in the back seat utterly petrified and perched atop a potential missile).
There was many a moment when I
felt like the deranged aircraft major played by Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, manically riding an atomic bomb
rodeo-style as it hurtled down to earth. There was also many a moment when I was tempted to dive out of the car as we continued
barreling down the highway. Instead, grasping the ceiling strap from my precarious perch, I merely moaned and gasped even
louder, to no avail.
As you can probably imagine, it was a delightful two and a half hours for us all.
We eventually arrived at our destination
to discover that Allegra’s apartment was sweltering. Although its many rooms have air-conditioning, she and her three
young roommates rarely if ever avail themselves of it in order to avoid jacking up the electric bill. And as much as I readily
would have argued in favor of creature comforts at any cost, it wasn’t up to me because three other people would be
obliged to foot the bill.
My husband soon began sweating profusely, which did little to improve his mood.
So we all agreed to head
out for an early dinner as soon as we had recruited a maintenance man to bring up our hefty cargo for a small fee (although
he roped my husband into hoisting it with him, which only made him even testier… and sweatier).
Unfortunately, just as we were
about to leave, I began getting text messages from an old friend. Roxanne, a talented graphic artist, is designing the cover
for my forthcoming book, and she had just finished reading it and wanted to discuss some ideas. It was not the sort of thing
that you want to either delay or do while you’re walking, so I sat down in the stuffy living room to chat. My husband,
eager to depart asap, grew apoplectic yet again.
Finally, I was done and we were on our way. Allegra proposed trying a brand new restaurant that had just
opened alongside the river near her home on Roosevelt Island. It was a waterside branch of a place called Riverwalk that serves
incredible burgers. Her dad’s mouth began watering at the mere thought. We arrived at this outdoor eatery to discover
that it served no burgers, though, only a very limited menu consisting almost entirely of raw shellfish, plus barbecued brisket
sandwiches, although the meat roasting on their grill bore little if any resemblance to the tender beef I serve at Passover
Even worse, to Allegra's dismay there was a small poster out front announcing a musical performance
by a singer another night this week. She had already met the owner and urged him to consider featuring live music there,
offering her own services. Evidently, he had taken her basic suggestion, but then seen fit to hire someone else.
Allegra seemed so crestfallen about
this, and my husband about the burger he’d been promised, that I suggested we sit down there and have only a quick drink,
then eat elsewhere. Not being much of a drinker, though, especially on an empty stomach and/or in the oppressive summer heat,
I merely ordered a sparkling San Pellegrino with lemon, then poured a splash of my husband’s frozen Margarita into it.
Never mind that this was painfully reminiscent of the days when my late mother (the least likely person ever to possibly be
termed a lush) would pour a microscopic droplet of Manischewitz Concord Grape into her goblet of seltzer at Passover, then
pronounce the result a “wine spritzer.”
Also reminiscent of this, within minutes of downing my drink I was
It was at this moment that Allegra spied the owner of the restaurant and at our urging
went over to remind him of their discussions and offer her singing services again. My husband got annoyed when I shushed him
repeatedly because I was trying to listen in on their exchange. But soon Allegra returned with her cheeks flushed a deep shade
of Manischewitz. Not just Concord Grape, though. We’re talking Extra Heavy Malaga.
Apparently, the guy had already
gone to the trouble of checking out her new Web site, www.allegralevy.com, but had some reservations about what he’d seen there. Unlike the mix of classic jazz standards and catchy original
tunes that she was offering, what he had in mind was easy-listening, sing-along rock, he said, along the lines of
the cheesy pop tunes currently blaring over the P.A., such as the theme from Flashdance.
She had assured him she could
provide whatever he wanted and urged him to give her a chance. To which he’d replied, “Yeah, I guess, but will
you wear a low-cut dress?”
Now it was my turn to be mightily steamed. To be perfectly honest, when Allegra performs, being a professional
jazz singer, she often appears in somewhat revealing attire, despite her relatively tender age. For someone to blatantly request
that she do this, however -- as though she were not a respected musician, and that were the only source of her appeal -- is
so outrageously offensive that I wanted to go up and tell this fellow exactly what I thought of him, his uncouth taste, and
his tacky new establishment. (And so did the sip or two of my husband’s Margarita that I had poured into my glass.)
Instead, we decided to leave with our beverages in hand, which was no problem, since (despite the alcoholic
ones running 10 bucks apiece) they’d been served in cheap, disposable plastic cups. And we were soon feasting on
juicy burgers, and all in much better moods.
Allegra mugged cheerily for my camera. Even Nice Jewish Dad cracked a smile.
Then suddenly, we realized we were
running late for the evening’s main event. As ridiculous as it might seem when we had a single night to enjoy in NYC,
we planned to spend it in Allegra’s apartment watching the season finale of The Bachelorette.
Perhaps I should be slightly (or
even more than slightly) ashamed to admit what a devotee I am of this tawdry TV reality show. But let’s face it –
I’m far from the only one. I’m not even the person in our family who is most obsessed with this mindless drivel.
That would be Nice Jewish Dad.
Allegra used to ridicule us for
wasting our time on anything so inane and trivial, until she deigned to watch the season opener with us a couple of years
back. Then she too found herself instantly hooked on this addictive pastime, betting on which of the 25 initial contenders
would be the last men standing and rooting for her personal favorites.
Ever since then, we have compared notes weekly
after the show has aired, hashing over every last detail as avidly and ardently as if we were mulling the real-life
romantic escapades of someone we actually knew. It seemed only fitting that we would experience the grand finale as a family
(minus my son Aidan, that is, who has the sagacity to disdain the whole subject and instantly glazes over whenever it comes
As I said, though, we are far not alone in our devotion to this enterprise, and Allegra had invited a few
friends to join us. So my husband and I stopped at the supermarket to pick up some refreshments while Allegra went home to
greet them. Then we returned to her overheated apartment, where he insisted on trying to get some ice out of the freezer at
the exact same moment that I was putting away the groceries. Like most New York City kitchens, hers is no bigger than a phone
booth, so we ended up butting heads (or, more precisely, butts), provoking a noisy squabble, until Allegra ordered us to behave.
To her disappointment and ours, only one of the expected guests ever showed up. We were delighted, however,
to be able to share the dramatic denouement with Lynn, who is dating the son of our very close friends in London, and to watch
as bachelorette Emily Maynard, a quintessential perfect blonde shiksa, surprised many a viewer, no doubt, by choosing a boyish-looking Mormon entrepreneur, “Jef
with one ‘f,’ ”over hunky racecar driver Arie (whom I had initially favored then largely lost interest after
figuring out that, despite his name, he apparently wasn’t Jewish and merely of Dutch descent).
Sometime afterwards I turned in for the night, taking advantage of the astonishingly tidy room of Allegra’s absent roommate
Jamie, only to be awakened at 1:30 a.m. by my husband, who had presumably stayed up late talking. He came in and had a very
noisy exchange with Allegra, who was trying to explain to him the logistics of the a/c, which he insisted on using no matter
what. He then began to go through his customary prolonged and very noisy bedtime routine, involving a lot of rattling of newspapers,
rearranging of the covers, and loud pouring and guzzling of beverages, followed by dropping several items and cursing about
it, then clearing his throat, coughing, and belching repeatedly.
I asked him, not too affably, to keep it down.
He told me, not too affably, to stuff it.
I awakened the next morning to yet more bickering. My husband wanted to go play tennis with Allegra. I wanted
to use our limited time to help her relocate her clothes from the old dresser to the new one. Then, while he took a call from
a good friend who works at the New York Historical Society and wanted to give us a tour of the premises, I got a phone call
from Aidan who, to my surprise, and joy, wanted to meet us for lunch.
If there’s one thing I find
irresistible – more compelling than anything I can imagine, including The Bachelorette – it’s a
chance to spend time with either one of my kids. So I began trying to interrupt my husband, who was busy making final arrangements
on the phone to meet our friend at the museum. But he just kept on yammering, after informing me with visible rage that he
was on the phone and couldn’t talk to two people at once.
Needless to say, we made plans to meet Aidan
instead, then Allegra and I threw ourselves into the task of rearranging her wardrobe. That may sound simple enough, but she
has quite a large wardrobe, and that’s around when the problems began in earnest.
This task proved much more arduous than we had anticipated, and soon her room looked like that atomic bomb
from Dr. Strangelove had hit it. Meanwhile, I maintained that the old dresser might be worth trying to fix for some
future use, so I wanted to take it home. And so we dispatched my husband to retrieve the car from the nearby parking garage.
By the time we had lugged the old dresser downstairs, he was still nowhere to be found. He finally showed up looking
very irritable and sweaty. I asked where the heck he’d been for the past 40 minutes, considering that the garage was
right across the street. Had he been unable to recollect where he’d parked it? He retorted angrily that it hadn’t
been anywhere close to 40 minutes, “but thank you for exaggerating, as usual.”
Of course, in order to fit the old dresser into the car, we needed to fold the back seats down again (for
clearly he had wasted at least some portion of the time he’d been MIA putting them down again). But having listened
to me freak out throughout the drive down, Allegra wouldn’t hear of my taking the rumble seat again and claimed
Within moments of our departure, however, she was singing a new tune, and a rather whiny one at that. At
last she understood what I had been fussing about all along, she admitted. Sitting in that seat, even at a modest 20 miles
per hour, was terrifying.
By now we were running more than half an hour late, so I phoned to warn Aidan. Unfortunately,
he had since learned that the time he needed to report to work had changed. Although he is a jazz journalist and aspiring screenwriter, he pays the rent by doing free-lance crew jobs on various movies and TV shows that are shot in
New York. He was now working on a movie starring Keira Knightley (talk about perfect-looking, quintessential blonde shiksas),
and instead of being on the set at 5 p.m. for an all-night call, he now had been summoned for 3. So we really needed to put
a move on.
That was something, we quickly learned, that the traffic would not allow. We made our way over the Queensborough
Bridge and began inching our way across Manhattan. But 45 minutes later, Allegra was still moaning and groaning and we were
still far away.
It was nearly 2 by the time we’d reached the cafe where we were meeting Aidan. My husband offered to
drop us off while he went to park. I urged him to put the car into the nearest lot, observing that he’s rarely willing
to pay for parking, but since we had little time to spend with our son, I didn’t want him to waste any of it searching
for a free space on the street. He exploded at me yet again and ordered us to get out. So we did.
Half an hour later, our food had
just arrived and we had finished hearing all about how Keira Knightley (who evidently looks even more gorgeous in person)
had said hello to him one day, and how her co-star, Mark Ruffalo, is a decent guy but short. But somehow, to our distress, my husband was still nowhere to be found.
Of course, the real joy was just getting to look at my son’s face. So my heart really began to go out to his dad, and
I felt more than the usual pangs of guilt. Ultimately, he staggered in, though, looking testier… and sweatier…
I don’t know how much time, if any, he may have wasted looking for free parking, but he finally
had given in and attempted to park in a lot, only to find that the first four he tried were full. My son repeated much of
what he’d told us, but didn’t seem thrilled to do it.
felt anything but pleasant and relaxed, and it was over in a flash.
Then Aidan bid us a hurried goodbye and we reluctantly piled into the car again, Allegra gulping
and holding on for dear life, and my husband refusing to slow down one bit as we sped uptown to drop her off at her regular
afternoon baby-sitting job.
Finally, we were alone again – just my husband, the old broken-down dresser and
me. At which point, he had the nerve to observe what a fun, pleasant visit we’d just had.
Was he insane?
I began to point out how stressful
it had been, and how irritable he had been, and how it seemed like he had been bad-tempered for months. I mean, what was going
on here – man-o-pause? After 28 years of marriage, it seemed to me that he had begun to disregard my feelings and lash
out defensively almost every time I spoke to him, so that I didn’t really want to speak to him anymore.
After that, we rode in silence.
About an hour later, he asked what I was thinking. I said I was thinking that I still
didn’t want to talk. But the truth was that I was thinking about something else entirely.
I was thinking that I suddenly had realized why I was so enthralled with an idiotic and vapid reality show
like The Bachelorette. It wasn’t that I cared all that much whether young, picture-perfect single mother Emily chose to marry Jef with one “f,” or Arie, or even that arrogant, self-absorbed football player Ryan
(though I’m so glad she didn’t). I think it’s just that secretly, somewhere deep inside, I really want to
be the Bachelorette.
I’m not saying that I don’t want to be married or to be Nice Jewish Mom, or that I regret for one solitary second
anything that led up to my having my two amazing kids. It’s just that there are times when I would like to be a lovely young woman dressed in gorgeous, fancy, and yes, low-cut dresses, having a slew of eligible bachelors fighting and fawning
over me and doing anything and everything possible to win my heart… rather than having a testy, sweaty husband who
after 30 years finds me annoying, has little regard for my comfort or well-being, and curses me out while belching (not to
mention making bodily noises that are even worse) day and night around the house.
When we got home, I instantly left
for my weekly Zumba class at the Jewish community center and didn’t come home for hours. Instead, I sat in my car talking
to my kids on my cell, then spent a long time in the supermarket, which was totally air-conditioned, dresser- and husband-free.
When I finally walked in, well past 9, I saw that there were empty shopping bags in the kitchen, and I began
to anticipate that my husband, in a lame attempt to smooth things over, had gone to another market and bought me some cheap
flowers. But no.
He came downstairs and silently and solemnly handed me a brown shopping bag. It was from Whole Foods and
filled to the brim with bags of Chocolate Pirate’s Booty.
I’m not a snacker any more than I’m a drinker. I’ll take broccoli over junk food any day.
But if there’s one thing I'm a sucker for, it’s Chocolate Pirate’s Booty, those delicious ethereally light cocoa-dusted
puffs which are sold only at Whole Foods, so I always complain when he goes there and doesn’t bother to buy me any.
“Look what I got you,” he said.
I peered into the bag and took stock. “Only five bags?”
“No,” he protested. “I bought you six!”
After 30 years, he may be cross
and crabby, and belch loudly, and even worse. But I can be pretty cross and crabby myself. And only he knows the true
way to my heart.
“Oh,” I said. “OK then.”
Then I made dinner and repeated everything my
kids had told me over the phone.
“What would you like me to make for dinner tomorrow night?” he asked
afterwards, although he hasn’t bothered to cook anything in months, or for as long as I can remember.
If there’s one thing that’s
great about summer, it’s juicy chicken straight off the grill, so I told him I’d love it if he made that, with
fresh corn on the cob, of course. And he did.
“In the summer time, when the weather is high, you can stretch
right up and touch the sky,” crooned Mungo Jerry back in 1970.
Then there was that sweet song, actually entitled
“A Summer Song,” by Chad and Jeremy in 1964. “Soft kisses on a summer’s day, laughing all our cares
away, just you and I.”
Who knows? Maybe I was a bit hasty, after all. Maybe the lyrics don’t all lie.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
I view myself as being as sympathetic as the next guy (or goy). No, let’s be honest. As a devoted, dyed-in-the-wool,
chicken-soup-dispensing nice Jewish mom, I like to fancy myself as being a whole lot more caring and compassionate than that.
But when you reach my age, you realize that if you went to pay your respects every single time someone you knew had a death
in the family, you’d barely need a job or place to live anymore because you could simply spend your
life running from one funeral to the next.
Still, I wasn’t surprised last week when my daughter announced that she was coming home because she
had learned that the grandmother of someone she’d gone to high school with had died. Nor did I go to great lengths to
dissuade her from making the two-and-a-half-hour trek from New York and spending all Saturday morning in a church wearing
a tasteful black dress, although I did point out that she never would’ve expected this boy to show up if she had lost
a grandparent (and believe me, I know what it feels like to have a parent or grandparent pass away, since I have no more left
That question of reciprocity is my main litmus test for gauging whether you’re obligated to attend the service
and interment, or whether making a shiva call and/or sending a condolence card will suffice… my other criteria
being whether you’re in touch with the person often enough to actually hear that they’ve suffered a loss, or you
only happen to find out about it by chance (as Allegra did, by reading about it on Facebook).
But as I said, I didn’t protest
too much because it was nice to know that I’ve raised someone who, at 22, is enough of a mensch to be even
more compassionate than I am.
As a nice Jewish mom, I also was thrilled that she was making a rare visit home. And as sorry as I felt for this very nice
boy and his entire family, I was also delighted because this meant that for once Allegra would be able to accompany me to
To call Brimfield a flea market would be like saying that the Taj Mahal is a tomb. The largest outdoor antiques
and collectibles show in the country, this event offers wares from more than 5,000 different dealers, ranging from furniture,
jewelry and oddball knickknacks to linens, lamps, lingerie and nearly anything else you can name.
Spanning a full square mile on
either side of Route 20 in Brimfield, MA, a town 8 miles west of Sturbridge, CT, this show is held three times annually, always
for six days apiece, in May, July, and September. (The next one will be open from September 4-9).
Although I would not label myself
as much of a collector, I love vintage things and have been visiting this merchandise Mecca with my cousin for at least a
decade or so. We go there together once or twice a year, and always have so much fun that we joke about booking a hotel nearby
in order to stay overnight. After all, with booths filling 21 separate fields, each encompassing two or three acres,
you can’t possibly see it all in one day, so we always leave reluctantly, convinced that we’ve overlooked some
Some years I insist to her that I don’t have the time to go, but the fact is that if you don’t
have time in life for the things that you thoroughly enjoy, then what’s the point?
My cousin instantly scoffs, though,
whenever I try to decline on the grounds that there’s simply nothing I need. After all, if there’s one thing that
Brimfield is not about, it’s need. I mean, you go to the supermarket because you need milk or bread. You go to the mall
because you need new clothes. But (unless you’re a serious collector or an antiques dealer yourself), you go to Brimfield
only because you need to go to Brimfield.
You go because you love to go. You go because you never know what
you’ll find. And once you find whatever it is, you realize that “need” is in the eye
of the beholder.
OK, the fact is that I truly don’t need anything of any kind anymore. I already have so much stuff
all over my house that I could fill an industrial-sized dumpster, or better yet could probably rent a booth at Brimfield and
start selling off junk myself. But once you’re there, this attitude changes. You take one look at all sorts of tchotchkes
and whatnot that are virtually useless but gorgeous, and suddenly you do need them. Bad.
Then again, it makes the hunt a
little more thrilling if you actually have some prey in mind. So each time that I go, I phone both of my kids first, figuring
that people in their 20s always could use something new (or in this case, not so new) in their apartments.
My son Aidan always insists that
he doesn’t want a thing and would rather I not buy him anything. But Allegra’s always game and usually in the
market for something.
So now that I have an iPhone, I spend the whole time there texting photos to her, showing her things that
might suit her purposes or might simply suit her aesthetic taste.
“Must have!” she responded instantly
back in May when I forwarded a photo of a charming vintage loveseat upholstered in deep purple, her all-time
"Sorry!” I replied, already regretting having gotten her hopes up. “It costs
Part of the reason I send these enticements is in hopes of tempting her to join me. Little did I realize
that, although she may be as avid a shopper as the next guy (or goy), the need to pay a condolence call to a friend
was more compelling than any old couch.
Then again, it didn’t hurt that she happened to have that day off
from her job as a nanny, not to mention that she was actually in dire need of not one, but two major items.
She wanted a new living room rug for the three-bedroom that she shares with three roommates. She also needed
a new dresser, since the bottom drawer on the one that she had found on Craig’s List several months ago was already
broken beyond repair.
With these goals in mind, we set off together last Friday morning, having insisted
on borrowing my husband’s SUV in which to haul our purchases home, in case we had any luck. Unfortunately,
my cousin had a different day off from work and was unable to join us.
Soon after we arrived, shortly past noon, Allegra
spied a booth at which a wide range of Oriental and Persian-style rugs were on display. Many were very attractive, but even
the smallest among them bore price tags well into the hundreds, if not thousands.
If there’s one thing that
makes Brimfield not just fun but irresistible, it’s the universal understanding that these price tags are merely suggestions,
a basic starting point, and rarely if ever is one expected to pay full price for almost anything there.
Then again, there’s only so much wiggle room that’s truly within reason, and as I quickly explained
to the rug merchant, who began unloading less costly options from his van, my daughter is only 22, this was for a post-college
apartment she shares with many youthful friends, as well as their friends, and I wasn’t going to be shelling
out more than 100 bucks for something they were going to step on… and most probably spill beer on.
Allegra considered a large rug
that he offered to part with for $100, even though it was torn completely in two and could potentially be mended with tape.
But it wouldn’t have been all that beautiful even if it had been in one piece. And realizing that we’d just arrived,
so it was too early to settle, she vowed to return later if we didn’t find anything, then suggested moving on.
Even when you arrive with a mission
in mind, Brimfield offers such a wealth of possibilities that it’s hard if not impossible to stay on task. So within
minutes we found ourselves drawn to a booth with vintage housewares, where Allegra admired an apron.
Yes, aprons may seem like relics
of a distant, pre-feminist past – my past, or more accurately my mother’s and grandmother’s, since
I inherited dozens from them after they died – so you might not expect the average 22-year-old to gravitate toward one,
let alone have more than a passing notion of what to use them for. Allegra, though, happens to have a keen passion for cooking
in general, and for baking pies in particular. And aprons and pie-baking go together like, well, coffee and apple pie.
This particular apron was distinctly on the old-fashioned side, featuring ruffles around the bodice and a
quaint floral print. But that print was in her favorite colors, purple and green. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t have
a mirror on hand, so Allegra suggested I take a photo of her so she could see whether she liked the way it looked.
This merchant, a middle-aged fellow
in shorts and a soiled T-shirt with cut-off sleeves, asked if he could get into the photo, then the minute I acquiesced slipped
an arm affectionately around Allegra’s shoulder. “Hurry up, Mom, her skin is awfully soft,” he chided as
I fumbled awkwardly trying to activate the camera on my iPhone.
Believe me, I did.
Allegra liked it well enough, but
demurred at the price that he quoted, 10 bucks.
“Will you take eight?” I asked sweetly. He didn’t
hesitate, and neither did I to bag it.
There were no rugs or dressers nearby, so we headed to the vintage clothing
Yes, I knew there wouldn’t be anything in there that we specifically needed, but there’s always
room for a new dress. And with luck, Allegra quickly found one.
It was a slinky, one-shoulder number in black and white, with a triangular cut-out section at the waist,
along with a pair of two-tone heels and a pocketbook to match.
I could only imagine how much the
whole shebang would set me back. Then again, another widely understood rule at Brimfield is that if you buy more than one
item at a booth, the owner will gladly bargain even further by giving you a package deal. And the proprietor of this business,
called Modern Matters, readily obliged, reducing the price of those three items from $225 to $175. She proceeded to part with
a Nicole Miller vintage umbrella printed with shoes for half price ($20), along with a pair of beaded shoe clips ($15).
Hearing about my blog, she persuaded me to try on a pair of vintage glasses she felt embodied the ultimate
Jewish mother look, but I decided I could live without them.
However, Allegra decided that she could not live without a pale blue cotton, sailor-style suit that she spied
on the rack after I had paid. She loved it so much, in fact, that she decided to bag the clothes that she had arrived in and
wear it for the rest of the day.
While walking out of the clothing tent, out of the corner of my eye I spied a pretty
strand of pearls for only 2 bucks. They were presumably faux (I repeat: only 2 bucks!). Or were they? The tag attached ID’d
the item as a “heavy beaded necklace,” but it sure looked real. Those beads also had the heft of the real thing
and were carefully knotted between each and every orb the way real pearls generally are. So, figuring Allegra could always
use a strand, I pulled two dollars out of my purse. (Even at Brimfield it’s sometimes shameful to consider haggling
– i.e., when something costs only 2 bucks!)
The afternoon was flying by, and having wasted no small amount of time on clothing (not that having fun and
scoring fabulous finds can ever truly be considered a waste of time), we decided to get back to business. The rug and dresser
biz, that is.
We were wandering past a booth laden with all sorts of bric-a-brac when Allegra noticed what looked like
a rug rolled up in a box. It was pale yellow and a deep shade of plum, the exact colors of her living room walls and the leather
sofa in it. Unrolling it, she saw that it was large and slightly worn, but in decent shape. Alas, the tag said $300.
“How much is this rug?” I asked the proprietor of the booth, playing dumb.
He glanced over without even bothering
to examine it or check the tag attached. “How about $75?” he suggested.
Allegra’s eyes lit up, but
I wasn’t about to stop there. For here’s another rule I’ve gathered during my many years at Brimfield. If
you buy a rug from a rug merchant, he knows just how much it’s worth, so you won’t be able to hondel
it down for much less. But many of these people buy up the contents of an entire estate, have only one rug or whatever else
it may be in their possession, and are happy to unload that item quickly.
That appeared to be the case here, so I was hoping to get away with 60 bucks.
“Can you do any better than
that?” I asked hopefully.
“Do you have cash?” he replied. Indeed we did. “How ’bout giving
me 50?” he said.
In case I didn’t mention it, some merchants at Brimfield are equipped to take
credit cards, but most aren't. And although personal checks are accepted almost everywhere, cash is the way to go and will
almost always get you a better price. (And if you run out of cash, never fear, there are ATMs there, though they'll gouge
you for $4 per transaction.)
Allegra then noticed a small, earthenware vase engraved with a graceful flamingo. If there’s one thing
that I love to the point of obsession it’s flamingos, and this vase happened to be the precise green shade of my bedroom.
“You need that,” Allegra said.
I didn’t need it for $15, though, which was what the little
white sticker on it read.
In past years, my cousin has always been the one to take charge of the finagling, and
as much as I love her beyond words, her approach is not always successful. After all, her basic bargaining strategy is to
malign the quality of the item in question.
“Fifteen bucks? For this?” she’ll scoff,
often causing the owner to take such umbrage that I feel shamed into either walking away or shelling out the full price.
“Uh, what’s the best you can do on this vase?” I asked as amiably as I could.
“What, that?” he asked.
“Just take it! One less thing for me to pack later.”
So I did.
At a nearby booth, I found a novel folding metal rack on which to put potted plants. The price tag said 38
dollars. The owner let it go for 22.
By now, Allegra was starving, so we stopped by the car to unload all our
booty, then paused for a quick lunch.
At Brimfield, there’s food available in nearly every field, but the widest variety is concentrated
in an area known as New England Motel. Most typical is the kind of fare you'll find at any fair – hamburgers, hot dogs,
and lemonade, along with anything you can eat fried. This being New England, though, there are also a few regional specialties,
from clam chowder, lobster bisque and rather pricey lobster rolls to something called a Pilgrim sandwich, which appears to
be your basic Thanksgiving dinner piled onto some sort of bread.
Don’t even imagine there’s
anything close to being healthy (or kosher!) amid the pulled pork on a bun or another popular novelty, chocolate-covered bacon
on a stick. As always, though, l tried to do my best to curb calories by choosing to share a gyro salad with Allegra, hoping
to have room later for my favorite thing there, strawberry shortcake.
Then we turned our attention to our two remaining
tasks. Allegra still needed a dresser. And I still needed… a monkey.
As I had left the house, my husband had very reluctantly forked over the keys to his SUV (which he’d
been obliged to spend about an hour cleaning out because he drives around with it full of every form of athletic equipment
imaginable, just in case one of his buddies calls to propose an impromptu game of tennis, squash, racquetball, golf,
or any other game you can name). Then he’d waved us off with three parting words.
“Buy me something,”
Asked if he wanted anything in particular, he paused to ponder it, clearly stymied. Then he had a sudden
inspiration. “Buy me a little monkey,” he said.
Why did he want a little monkey? After all, he already had one.
Whenever I go to Brimfield, I buy my husband something just to show that I thought of him. It’s not
exactly the place to buy a man a gift, however, so in past years I've picked up some pretty odd items, like this pair of salt
and pepper shakers shaped like a fork and a spoon that seemed vaguely romantic because they somehow reminded me of us.
The last time I was there, I was about to leave when I realized I'd forgotten to get him something. Then I noticed
a teensy figurine of a monkey playing the saxophone.
My interest in it had nothing to do with the monkey. It was all about the sax. Our son has played one since
he was a kid, so we love anything with one on it. But Brimfield has this way of seeping into your subconscious. You buy one
of something and develop a fondness for it. And you begin to realize that having a tiny monkey figurine is useless…
but have two, and you’re suddenly a collector.
The only monkey statuette I could find this time was about an inch high and barely cute, but I picked it
up for a couple of bucks in case I never found another. Later I came across a couple of colorful handkerchiefs, each imprinted
with monkey designs. They were marked $6 apiece, but the owner let those and two more (minus monkeys) go for $18.
I also found a set of small, framed vintage collages depicting an Asian-looking man and woman. Our anniversary
was coming up and they made such a compatible pair.
Unfortunately, at the same venue Allegra fell in love with a chair
painted Day-Glo red with an amethyst-colored velvet cushion. This cost $50, though, and having emptied four full cans of spray
paint on it, the owner wouldn’t budge an inch on the price.
She sat in it. She photographed it. Then she sat in it again. She said she couldn’t live without it,
and considered buying it with her own hard-earned cash after I refused. But she finally realized that the color would clash
garishly with the purple and turquoise decor in her room. So we picked up an aquamarine magazine rack instead for only $20.
Then we realized it was time to focus on the one mission we’d yet to accomplish.
No more impulse buying.
No more dresses.
It was time to find that dresser.
Back in May, I’d sent her
a photo of a gorgeous turquoise chest with ornate white accents, for which she’d felt love at first sight. But this
must-have was yet another can’t-have, because it cost $650. And as with those Persian rugs, that amount wasn’t
just not quite in the neighborhood of what I wanted to spend. It wasn’t even in the same country.
Besides, she hadn’t even
bothered to measure the space that she had available before she’d left New York. She had called that morning to prevail
upon a roommate to do it for her, but this young woman, Jamie, had been unable to find a tape measure, and had called to report
that it was about five of her feet across, and she wore a size 8.
For the rest of the day, every time Allegra spied a chest of drawers that appealed to her, I would begin
to pace off its width, placing my feet heel to toes as though I were walking a tightrope. And each time the owner would look
at me with bemusement and ask if I needed a tape measure. Whereupon I’d explain, noting that I was doing this rather
than Allegra because my feet were closest in size to Jamie’s, since I wear an 8½.
Still, I felt terrible when Allegra found another exquisitely restored chest of drawers in a blue-green hue
that made her chest pound, only to learn that it was marked $600.
She felt even more smitten with another antique
chest finished in a soft yellow shade. This one was marked a bit lower, at $500, but the owner said he was about to close
up shop for the day, and that he would work with her on the price somewhat.
While she walked off to ponder whether she dared to offer him $350, an amount I was reluctant to pay and
he probably wouldn’t accept, she noticed a third alternative. This one was paler yellow, and not antique. It was merely
an imitation, with outdated pulls on all the drawers, and it had far less charm. What it had going for it was price.
This piece was marked at only $100,
and the merchant was prepared to take 75.
Now that was more like it! More like a steal, I mean. I was ready
to snag it at once.
Allegra stood there hemming and hawing, though. She'd envisioned something taller to fill the space.
It wouldn’t possibly fit all her clothes. But the main problem was that, having just seen some veritable works of art,
she couldn’t bear to make do with ordinary schlock.
I argued that the price was right, and it was nice enough and
perfectly functional. Certainly, it was at the very least better than the broken one she had back home. Plus, since almost
all of the booths were closed now, we weren’t going to find anything else.
She countered that she didn’t
love it and couldn’t imagine buying something knowing that she would already have begun wishing that she could buy something
I began to feel a bit guilty that after spending years endeavoring to lure her on this adventure, I wouldn’t
cough up the dough for one of the items she absolutely adored. After all, how often in life, if ever, do you encounter exactly
what you want?
The problem was that she’s still young, moves often and has a habit of abandoning possessions. Both
my attic and basement are now chockfull of stuff she has left behind.
And so we stood there at a total impasse, unable to buy it, but unable to move on. We stood there for so
long, in fact, that I suddenly realized it was way past the time we had needed to leave. I’d promised to pick up
the dog at Wags, her doggie playcare center, and even if we left immediately we might not get back before it closed at 8 p.m.
“You know what?” I asked. “Our time’s up. It’s too late to buy it anymore.”
Hearing this, Allegra was suddenly
not so eager to get off the hook with it after all. “But maybe I do want to buy it,” she moaned. But I wasn’t
willing to debate it any further.
Walking back, I found myself feeling so disheartened. Yes, we had come here on a mission
of sorts. But the fact is that I had been inviting Allegra to join me at Brimfield all these years because I believed she’d
find things she loved and we’d have fun together. And indeed she’d come across many a treasure, but all she felt
was frustrated and sad.
And then it happened. As we were rushing toward the car, she noticed behind a chain-link fence across the
street what looked like a dresser nestled amid all sorts of other items. It turned out to be a large and colorful chest of
drawers, painted with stripes and lively floral patterns. Seeing the owner, she dared to inquire how much it might be.
“I’d take $150,” he said. She looked at me hopefully. We were in such a rush by now that I chose to retrieve
the car while she checked it out. I drove back to learn that it was a new piece, rather than an antique, so the drawers slid
with ease. It was just the right size. It was the coolest one she’d ever seen, or certainly the funkiest we’d encountered
We were so late that I didn’t even dare haggle. “Can you fit it into my car?” I asked.
The proprietor recruited a muscular young man from a nearby booth as Allegra folded down the back seats, and within
seconds they’d hoisted it in. We forked over just enough cash, which with luck we had left, and hit the highway almost
howling with joy.
This hippie-dippy-looking item might not exactly be adult furniture, Allegra allowed. But maybe the problem
wasn’t just that I wasn’t prepared to buy adult furniture for her. Maybe adult furniture is what you get when
you finally can afford to buy it yourself. And someday soon that would happen. In the meanwhile, she’d have something
serviceable. Something fabulous. And something that, yes, she actually loved (although she says the butterfly at the bottom
has got to go).
Meanwhile, I realized that I had almost made a terrible mistake. I’d encouraged her to settle too soon.
Maybe those stodgy, nice Jewish mother eyeglasses suited me more than I would like to believe. For despite the many finds
I always discover at Brimfield, somehow I’ve slowly learned over the years to lower my expectations in life too readily.
Perhaps I need to recapture some
of my youthful enthusiasm and aim a bit higher. Yes, I may be well into the adult furniture phase, but I’m not quite
ready to throw in the proverbial towel and spend my days running from one funeral to the next just yet.
Meanwhile, we managed to retrieve
the dog just in time. My husband adored all of those monkeys. And no, under a magnifying glass, those $2 pearls did not look
so real. But whether I return to Brimfield in September or not, I think I already have my treasures.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
The rap, rap, rap on the door sounded awfully assertive for a deliveryman, and so, I suppose, it was, because as I opened
the door late one recent Thursday morning, I was startled to find two policemen on my stoop. My first thought was that a neighbor
must have had a break-in, and they were wondering if I had observed anything out of the ordinary. But no. After asking if
they could come in, they explained that they were there to arrest me because the previous evening I had threatened to kill
my husband while he was on the phone with a stockbroker, something I readily admitted I had done.
They seemed gruff, completely humorless,
and totally unconcerned for my welfare. They were there strictly for his.
Unfortunately, as I stood there chatting with them and hearing them say that they were prepared to take me
to jail in handcuffs, I realized that I was still in my nightshirt, an oversized tee embellished with pale pink flamingoes
I’d bought in Florida years ago. Somehow, in all those years that my mother dutifully warned me to never wear torn underwear
just in case I got into a car accident, as mothers are wont to do, I don’t think she ever once mentioned that I should
make sure to be fully dressed early in the morning just in case the police came to arrest me and cart me off to jail in handcuffs.
But I digress.
This did not seem like the most opportune moment to be chastised by the police and threatened with incarceration.
Or maybe, on second thought, it was. Because at the time that they knocked, I was about to begin packing for a pleasant family
trip to the Berkshire Mountains, an annual excursion that we’ve been taking for so long that I can’t even begin to fathom how many
years it’s been. All I can say is that, to us, it connotes tradition and the ultimate in stability because it’s
among the few staples in our family life.
Every year, no matter what, we have my whole family over for a Passover
Every year, no matter what, we fast on Yom Kippur.
And every year, no matter what, we go to the
same quaint country inn in Lenox, Massachusetts, for the weekend before the Fourth of July.
The main reason we always go on that particular weekend is that this is when Garrison Keillor broadcasts
his National Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion live from Tanglewood. That, at least, is how the tradition
first started. We enjoy this event so much that as soon as it ends we begin eagerly anticipating the following year, much
the way Jews often begin discussing what to eat for dinner as soon as they finish lunch.
Another reason we go is that lovely
and picturesque inn, Hampton Terrace, at which we feel so much at home that we almost regard it as our home away from home
(much the way my parents used to love going to the Catskills, only not quite as Jewish).
But the most compelling reason we go may be that the person who loved that inn most of all was my mother,
who accompanied us there every year. And now that she’s gone, we feel moved to keep up the tradition, and we feel closer
to her when we do.
We got into the habit of having her join us there because it was something that she enjoyed and could easily
handle. Although we loved her dearly, and she was an integral part of my immediate family (even if we do continue to do spot-on
imitations of her speaking with EMPHASIS in her rather nasal voice), it always seemed too ambitious to consider carting her
along on full-length family vacations to various exotic locales.
Lenox and Hampton Terrace were a painless drive away, though, and she could easily negotiate all of the activities
we did there – playing tennis, lolling in the pool out back, and attending both A Prairie Home Companion
and theatrical performances at nearby Shakespeare & Co. So that became our place to go with Grandma, and for us to be
together as one happy family.
Somehow, each year, only one of my children was able to join us, while
the other was away at camp or some other summer program. And whichever one could make it got the distinct honor of bunking
with Grandma Bunnie and suffering through the dire embarrassment that she invariably caused, such as the time that another
family was there with a daughter who was applying to colleges, and my mother kept saying with no trace of subtlety whatsoever,
“Emily, are YOU applying to Brown? Aidan goes to Brown! AIDAN, why don’t YOU tell EMILY all about BROWN?!?!”
The year after she died, three years ago, both kids felt compelled to show up for the first time in order
to make it a true family trip (although it just wasn't the same without Grandma’s shrill, embarrassing remarks). But
this year we were back to business as usual, meaning either/or. That is, my son, Aidan, had a former college roommate visiting
from California, so only Allegra could come.
Allegra was coming in part because she loves both Lenox and that
inn as much as we do, but also because she had no choice but to join us during the weekend anyway. Her ex-boyfriend was getting
married in our town on Sunday, and our whole family was invited.
She had dated Spencer through most of middle school and high school, so, as you can probably imagine, the event was a bit bittersweet for
her. I wanted her to enjoy the weekend, though, and didn’t want to add to any duress she might already be feeling.
So in a way it seemed like nearly getting carted off to jail couldn’t have come at a better time – a time
when I could easily juxtapose the trauma of nearly getting arrested with the reassuring constancy and age-old tradition of
a family retreat to the mountains.
But it also couldn’t have come at much worse a time. And under no
circumstances did I want my daughter to get wind of this unsavory experience, at least for the duration of the trip.
Neither was I eager to give her any inkling of what had precipitated this incident.
OK, so you might be wondering what
could possibly have provoked me, a usually level-headed and law-abiding Jewish mom, to threaten her husband in a homicidal
way, with a complete stranger on the phone at the same time, no less. As I readily admitted I had done. As you can probably
imagine, the answer is rather personal, and more than a little embarrassing, and my husband would far prefer that I not broadcast
it to the world.
Having come this far, however, I feel that I need to offer some explanation, if only in my defense, at the
grave risk of his threatening to murder me. So allow me to explain.
My husband and I both follow the stock market with avid interest and have long engaged in what is commonly
referred to as “day-trading.” I might argue that this term is far from accurate for me, since I can go for weeks
without buying or selling a single share. But it barely begins to cover what my husband has done in his online account at
Although he works as a newspaper reporter, he keeps an eye on the markets all day and typically makes multiple
transactions on a daily basis that I consider reckless.
He will buy and trade a sizable number of shares of the same stock
several times a day, often selling it when it goes up a dime or so and then buying it back when it drops down again. It would
be bad enough if he did this with his own money. But no. He does this while trading “on margin,” meaning that
he borrows huge sums of money to do it. And having an account at Scottrade easily allows for this, since you don’t have
to apply for a loan of any kind. You can simply trade a sum up to three times the amount that you have in your account, for
which you are charged some nominal amount in interest.
To say this made my husband free to gamble would be a gross understatement. I’m not talking about his
going a little overboard. I’m not even talking about his going a LOT overboard. I’m talking about his going off
the deep end and getting truly lost at sea.
My husband used to trade with what I would call such wild abandon
that during one recent year he actually bought and sold over $100 million worth of stock -- and in case you’re wondering,
let me assure you that we don’t have money anything like that.
Finally, one day he made a trade
so irresponsible that he promised me he would stop and never trade anything other than small sums, using his own money, ever
again. And as far as I know he actually did stop – for a year or so.
But recently I began to see signs
of his having resumed trading on margin again. And one day, shortly before my sudden visit from the police, he seemed unusually
Evidently, he had acted on a stock tip I’d unwittingly given to him. I’d mentioned that the FDA
was about to rule on whether to approve a new drug to combat obesity, and he decided to buy a big chunk of the manufacturer’s
stock with borrowed money, hoping it would pass muster.
The day of the ruling, he seemed noticeably
jumpy and was glued to the TV and his computer. When it was announced that the drug had indeed won approval, he sold it when
the stock briefly soared, and of course was beyond euphoric. But he soon confessed that he had been unable to sleep the night
before, realizing that he had taken a big gamble. Now, despite having made a bundle, he was so relieved to have gotten out
of the woods that he said he had learned his lesson and would really, truly, never trade on margin again.
A few hours later, I came downstairs
to hear him having a hushed conversation on the phone. It became clear that he was talking to someone at Scottrade and asking
exactly how much he could borrow using the money he had just made in order to buy something else. Stunned, I reminded him
of his promise and entreated him to hang up.
He continued to ask how much he
could borrow. I continued to ask him to hang up. Finally, losing my composure, I picked up another extension and began to
rebuke the fellow who was advising him for allowing people like my husband to trade so recklessly. Then, at my wit’s
end, I uttered the unfortunate threat that this broker would proceed to report, resulting in that cautionary visit from the
police the next day. Can you blame me?
One of the policemen was young and silent, but the older one had a constellation of tattoos on one of his
massive forearms, which made everything he said resonate a little louder. And what he said was that I was lucky that my husband
had phoned Scottrade just after hours, so that the guy he had been consulting was out of state – in Cleveland, I believe.
Because if I had made this same threat to our local branch office, he said, he would have had no choice but to immediately
put me in handcuffs and cart me off to jail.
I’m not sure if this was true or not, but it was definitely something I didn’t want to mention
to my daughter during our tranquil getaway to the mountains.
To maximize our time away, we left on Friday afternoon, as soon as Allegra arrived from New York City by bus, and we were
breathing in that fresh mountain air by 4. To us and many others who frequent Hampton Terrace, one of its most enduring and
alluring charms is its longtime, lovable alter cocker of a hound-in-residence, Atticus, and we begin to
fret as we arrive each year that he will no longer be there.
But sure enough, as we stepped inside, he trotted into the lobby to greet us, right on the heels of the affable owner, Stan
As always, Nice Jewish Dad and I had booked a modern king suite behind the main building, foregoing the 19th-century
charms of the painstakingly restored guest rooms in the main house for modern amenities like central air and a Jacuzzi. Normally,
we reserve separate rooms for the kids, but since only Allegra was joining us we chose to get a rollaway put in our spacious
suite and have some real family togetherness. (All the more reason to be on our best behavior, minimize bickering and not
After a steamy game of tennis on the public courts next door, we took a quick dip in the pool. Then I had
hoped to take in a new play at Shakespeare & Co., but Allegra was totally exhausted and complained that I “go to
a play every ten minutes.” So instead we ate an amazing dinner in town at Alta, then strolled around town and turned
One of the other most appealing amenities
at this inn is the breakfast buffet in the dining room, where you’re free to either sit by yourselves or eat at a large
table while mingling with the other guests (whether or not Grandma is there to embarrass you). Breakfast, including fresh
sliced berries, toast, and coffee, features a different hot entrée every day, from three kinds of French toast (plain,
cinnamon and chocolate) to pancakes and bacon, to scrambled eggs served with Stan’s incomparably luscious, buttery
grits each Sunday.
We tried to restrain ourselves – well just a little, anyway -- because we still needed to fit into
our dresses for the wedding. Also, even though we were planning to work it off with more tennis and another swim, our good
friends Sally and Dial were driving up to join us for Keillor’s show, and before the show we always have a huge picnic
We spent the afternoon with them shopping, mostly at our favorite local store, Shooz. But soon it was time
to pack up our cooler and brave the crowds at Tanglewood.
And when I say crowds, I’m talking about thousands. Maybe
tens of thousands. At nearly 70 and with his rather ungainly physique, Keillor may be no rock star, but this annual live broadcast
is so popular with its stalwart fans that tickets for seats inside the Koussevitzky Music Shed sell out within days of going
on sale. In fact, the only way you can purchase decent ones, we’ve discovered, is to become a “Friend of Tanglewood” by making an annual donation of at least $75, as we now do, making you eligible to purchase
tickets before they go on sale to the general public, usually in mid-January.
This, unfortunately, requires me
to estimate exactly how many tickets we will need nearly six months in advance. Which is a total crapshoot. At best. For as
much as Nice Jewish Dad and I are always ready to commit to this activity, it’s impossible to predict the availability
of our kids, let alone anticipate their love lives, since if they happen to be in a relationship come summer, they’ll
want their significant others to get in on the act.
Yes, I could simply make plans to go without them, but being a nice
Jewish mom, I always would much rather be with my children than without them on any occasion, especially for a family ritual
like this one. So as pricey as these tickets may be, I always buy an extra three, just hoping for the best, even though the
best is rarely what I get.
So for years I found myself racing through our picnic dinner in order to join the small horde assembled outside
the box office selling extra seats, or trying to sell them, since there are always many more sellers than buyers. Last year,
I considered myself lucky to unload my three extra tickets at a discount. (Allegra had the nerve to go to Israel on Birthright
instead and then travel to Istanbul, where Aidan elected to join her.)
This year, though, to my delight, Allegra chose to join us in Lenox, and when I posted the remaining two
seats on Craig’s List I was deluged with offers, and quickly sold them to a fellow who not only insisted on paying full
price but on throwing in a quart of maple syrup from his farm in Massachusetts in order to sweeten the deal.
I’m not sure if this was
related to word leaking out about one of the special guests. Normally, there are several on the show each week, and their
identities are kept a secret until you walk through the gate. One year (the one that a dreadful movie version of Prairie Home came out), we were
thrilled to discover Meryl Streep was among them. Another year, Steve Martin was there playing the banjo (because the homespun,
distinctly middle-American Minnesota mindset and milieu of the show lean more toward strumming than Streep).
This year, apparently, was going to include Arlo Guthrie, offering a special
tribute in honor of his father Woody’s hundredth birthday. Perhaps that’s what was piquing public interest.
Also on the roster this time, we
discovered, was Heather Masse, an amazing singer who’s a member of a Canadian folk trio called The Wailin’ Jennys,
as well as a fabulous trio from Brooklyn, NY, called The DiGiallonardo Sisters. But if you’re familiar with the show,
then you know that the true star and its biggest draw is Keillor himself.
Chiming in to harmonize with whatever singers are on the bill, he instills every moment with his inimitable
folksy style, from his weekly tales of Guy Noir, private eye, to his quaint ads for ketchup and Powdermilk Biscuits.
Most enchanting, though, is the continuing saga he tells of the apocryphal town of Lake Wobegon, where “all the women
are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."
Half the fun of seeing the show performed live is getting to witness first-hand how the plethora of funky
sound effects are created – rather spontaneously, it seems – by his three immensely talented regular cast members,
Fred Newman, Tim Russell, and Sue Scott, whom he wryly bills as the Royal Academy of Radio Actors.
There’s also virtually nowhere
on earth that can rival the exquisite quality of sound inside the rustic and cavernous open-air environs of the Koussevitzky
But another distinct advantage is getting to see Keillor performing his signature monologues
about that fabled town without resorting to the use of any written notes. From this I can only surmise that, lest there be
any doubts, he spins these tales on the spur of the moment, much the way I used to make up my children’s bedtime stories
– only much, much better.
The installment he related on this particular week focused on the death of “the
meanest woman in town,” who just happened to share my first name, Patty Jo Pokette.
“She was sitting on her front porch, and she was sitting in her Adirondack chair – she was a heavy-set woman –
and she was drinking iced tea with a little fresh sprig of mint from her garden in it, and she was just leaning a little bit
to the left.
“And a boy who had batted a Wiffle ball into her front yard came walking carefully into her front yard,
and he was rehearsing his apology because she was a woman who screeched. ‘You children are driving me to a nervous breakdown…
You have no respect for old people, and you’re driving me to drink. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep…’
“Then he noticed that she was leaning to one side and her eyes were open, and his dog noticed, too.
And his dog, who’d held back, walked up onto the porch and sniffed her, which nobody had ever done before.”
As the tale continued to unfold, the boy summoned his father, who called the constables, Gary and Leroy, who in turn
alerted the fire department. And when a fireman put a hand on her shoulder, “she leaned way over and released some gas,
which smelled like somebody had died – and somebody had.”
So they carted her away on the
fire truck, leaving the chair and iced tea behind.
“….And then, of course, they started planning her funeral, and people started thinking about
nice things to say about her. They said, ‘Well, she made good brownies,’ which is not the legacy you’d want
to leave behind. Not the only one.”
Hmmm. I suppose not. And sitting there among the rapt listeners
in the shed, I began to think about what he’d just said. Getting carted off to jail for threatening to off my husband
sure wasn’t the legacy I wanted to leave behind. I’m not saying it wasn’t the only legacy I wanted
to leave behind. I didn’t want it to be any part of my legacy.
Meanwhile, Keillor’s cautionary
tale of the demise of ornery Patty Jo continued.
“…Well, this was the week that her brothers and sisters were coming up to spend a week at the
family cabin. And of course they were shocked because she was a strong woman and they never expected this, and she was only
75. But still. They thought maybe now they would come and stay in the cabin for two weeks. They love her, of course,
but she was a pain in the ass. She was always complaining about the showerhead. She was always complaining about something.”
In other words, by pain in the ass, he apparently meant that, although she presumably didn’t have her own weekly
blog, she was in some ways a lot like me.
Or maybe not so much.
“And she used to spend 45
minutes in the one bathroom in the family cabin. Forty-five minutes she would be in there! And people would be waiting quietly,
patiently. And then they would disappear out into the woods. And you just didn’t want to know.
“It’s not the legacy
you want to leave behind. ‘Now that she is gone, she has made it possible for us to use the toilet, and not have to
go into the woods!’”
And as much as I was enjoying this story, and those incredible acoustics, I found myself
beginning to think a little more about this legacy business.
Sure, I would like people to remember that I made the very best matzah ball soup. I might even like them
to remember that I could spin a decent yarn myself (although I’m not sure I want to be remembered for writing…
a blog?!?!). But most of all I think I’d like to be remembered as a wonderful nice Jewish mom. One who was always there
for her children, and always wanted to be with them and do whatever she could for them.
And one who, however incensed and
exasperated she sometimes got at their nice Jewish dad – with good reason, I might add – never ever spent a single
night in jail.
One of the other delights of seeing this performance live is that after the radio broadcast ends, the show
in the Shed goes on and on. Keillor and his various guests always continue crooning onstage for another 90 minutes or so,
as the event turns into a massive sing-along, generally involving an odd mix of patriotic songs (this being the eve of the
Fourth) and popular tunes to which everyone knows the words, ranging from American folk standards like “Home on the
Range” and “Red River Valley” to pop music favorites like “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline."
But eventually all good things must come to an end, or at least
a temporary end, since when it comes to A Prairie Home Companion, for us there is always next year.
We got up the next morning and, after downing Stan’s incomparable grits, got all dressed for that wedding.
And in what may be my favorite moment of the weekend, Allegra took the time to do my eye makeup, which may not have been as
gorgeous as I imagined it was, but made me feel younger, and special, and not like a jailbird at all.
Also, to my delight, Aidan met
us at the wedding, which was held at our temple. And although there were many attractive girls in attendance, he spent nearly
the entire reception dancing with his little sister to keep her busy and distracted. And if you ask me, if that were the sum
total of the legacy he leaves, that would be more than enough.
When we got home, there was a letter in the mailbox from our friends at Scottrade asking us to liquidate
our holdings with them asap and take our business elsewhere. Which we promptly did.
But my husband has promised to
stay off margin. And I promise to stay out of jail. And that’s all the news from Lake Mom’s Not Gone. Where all
the women are strong. All the men are good-looking. And all the moms, and matzah balls, are way above average.
Friday, July 6, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
Sorry, everyone, but with the holiday smack in the middle of this week, I just didn't get to write much. I would love to tell
you how much I missed it, and how bottled up I feel now and all that, but if I'm going to be honest (and if I'm not going
to be completely honest here, then why bother?), I would have to admit that I really enjoyed having a little time off. But
I did miss you, and I hope that you are getting to enjoy a little much-needed time off, too.
Happy Fourth of July, and see you next week, for sure!
Love and firecrackers,
|That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.
No, sir, that's not
my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring
ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible
need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime
delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the
dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in
their 20s, both are currently living on their
own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a
day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to
the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally
wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials
for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh
mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah
balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions,
from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I
can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can
barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active
mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging
times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue
posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often,
and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together):
That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New