Tag Archives: memoir

Moving Beyond Where I’m From

The place I grew up. My parents still live there.

i’m from a little gray ranch hidden behind overgrown bushes on a steep hill.

i’m from beneath the willow tree and a field-stone wall, peopled by imaginary friends.

i’m from high expectations. from complex equations left unfinished on the backs of paper restaurant menus; from pink plastic flowers; a bedroom with curtains that matched the wallpaper and the bedspread.

i’m from praise whispered in one ear and criticism hissed in the other. from “stand up straight” and “every penny counts” and “be a big girl.”

i’m from confuzzled truths and secrets and lies.

i’m from strong Judaism watered down. from Torah and tallit and kippot, lox and bagels, noodle kugel and matzah ball soup. from a broken Borscht Belt, stories of what once was, memories of a dark pew in a fire-bombed synagogue.

i’m from want. from a hot-headed Polish Papa who once threw his plate on the apartment floor. from his ketchup and eggs, like bloody clumps soaking into the carpet. and my Nan who silently cleaned up his mess.

(don’t tell me this isn’t true. i was there.)

i’m from a fractured family of brothers who tried to make a business work. from Muriel who nurtured her garden but didn’t do as well with her children. from Ruby who spent too many hours at the store and on the golf course, and smoked too many cigars.

i’m from cracked paint and faded couches; the girl hiding under a blanket in a drafty room.

i’m from a crooked house on a steep hill that rarely houses guests. from parents who were present but also not. from powerful magic love that made me feel invisible.

for too long a sense of obligation tethered me to all that grey.

i am done trying to please them.

time to take care of me.

Where are you from? Throw me one line.

• • •

This meme was very hot a while back, but I was not confident about sharing such a personal piece. Since then, I feel less afraid.

Thanks to Jenny Hansen for encouraging me to move beyond the first sentences and to Sharla Lovelace for inspiring Jenny. If you go to HERE, you will see this exercise is based on a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From,” and if you’d like to try it yourself, the original link is there.

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Short on Decor, Long on Miracles: #Hanukkah

 Leave a comment for a chance to win some of my handcrafted stationery! 

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I stopped into The Christmas Tree Shoppe to pick up last minute items for our Annual Hanukkah Party.

(I know, shopping for Hanukkah at the Christmas Tree Shoppe, the irony isn’t lost on me. What can I say? They have great papers goods.)

Traditionally, there isn’t much décor associated with The Festival of Lights, which – truth be told – is fine by me. I see friends struggling with wreaths and trees and ornaments and inflatables and lights. How do I get ready for Hanukkah? I go down in the basement and open up one blue bin, take out my three favorite menorahs and a couple of dreidels, and I place these items on a table.

That’s it. No fuss. No muss.

The extent of my Hanukkah decorations.

The extent of my Hanukkah decorations.

Now, you have to understand. I wasn’t looking for anything, so of course that’s when I found it: a colorful door decoration with the word CHANUKA printed boldly on the front.

CHANUKA? I tilted my head, confuzzled.

Because I’d never seen it spelled that way.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen Hanukkah spelled a lot of different ways. Because the initial sound used to pronounce the word Hanukkah isn’t a sound used in English. The gutteral h is pronounced at the back of the throat, and — when pronounced correctly — sounds like someone trying to hork up a loogey.

So I liked the decoration, but I didn’t want it if Hanukkah wasn’t spelled correctly.

“Okay Google,” I spoke into my phone. “How do you spell Hanukkah?”

Yummy, yes.

Yummy, yes.

As it turns out, the most common spelling for Hanukkah is “Hanukkah” with 8.5 million hits in the Google search engine. “Chanukah” came in with over 3.3 million searches, and “Hannukah” came in with 862,000 hits.

You might be interested to know Xanuka is considered a valid spelling.

And Channukka.

And Chanuqa.

So I’m still standing there, clutching this felt decoration in one hand and my phone in the other, trying to decide if I should buy it or put it back.

You know, because it was spelled weird.

(Or at least it felt like it was spelled weird to me.)

And then I laughed at the silly dilemma I’d created in my head.

Because Hanukkah isn’t about decorations or spelling. It’s about miracles.

As some of you know, I was sick for 15 months. During that time, I didn’t know anyone else who had ever been through what I was going through, and those months were terrifying, isolating and awful. Many times, I felt G-d was punishing me.

And yet.

Some unnameable thing kept me hanging on. Some little voice inside of me – perhaps the G-d part of myself – knew that one day the suffering would end and that I just needed to wait. And pray for a miracle.

What appeals to me most about Hanukkah is the idea that miracles can be found in every day moments, how big and small things that seem impossible can come to pass.

I appreciate the way we gather together to tell and retell the story of how people overcome difficult times, to celebrate the miracle of friends and family whom we love and are loved by; the miracle of having the chance to learn something new everyday; the miracle of our collective curiosity and kindness that inspires us to make meaningful connections with others.

These days, I can even appreciate the eleventy-seven jillion ways we spell Hanukkah.

So it’s decided. Starting now, I’m collecting decor where Hanukkah is spelled any which way.

Because why not?

(So do you think The Christmas Tree Shoppe still has that cute Chanuka door decoration? Or did I miss my chance?)

What are you celebrating this time of year? What kind of decorations, if any, do you set out? What do you love/hate about the holidays? 

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NOTE: I’m participating in #HanukkahHoopla with 7 other bloggers. In the spirit of the season, we’re giving away 8 gifts to 8 lucky commenters. Click on the menorah to find links to other writers’ blogs & increase your chances of winning!

tweet me for an extra chance to win handcrafted stationery! 

One August

Click HERE to see more work by Poly Cinco via behance.com

Click HERE to see more work by Poly Cinco via behance.com

One August, a man I loved tried to kill me.

Only he didn’t kill me.

Earlier that day, we had gone kite-flying.

I stood quietly by his side watching the blue of the kite blend with the blue of the sky, watching him control the kite, make it do what he wanted it to do.

Later that night, he took my body and showed me that his was stronger.

That he was in control.

His leg weighed tons, and I couldn’t wiggle out from underneath him. At first, I thought he was just fooling around but he wasn’t laughing and he didn’t get off of me even when I told him I couldn’t breathe.

Afterwards, he took my head and tried to make me believe that he wasn’t a monster.

But he was.

Even though he sent me long, love letters filled with apologies.

Even though he put a heart-shaped rock on the windshield of my car.

Even though he tried to make me remember sweet, summer peaches.

I could only picture them bruised and split down the middle.

I remembered how he pushed me under water and tried to drown me.

How it almost worked.

Except it didn’t.

Every August, for over twenty years, I find myself remembering this man.

And, strangely, I feel an odd sense of gratitude.

Because that night, in a stranger’s room, in a borrowed bed, I learned that I could be broken.

But I also learned that I could put myself back together again.

And somehow, it’s August again and I find myself in a park wrestling with a kite.

It is windier than usual and tough to fit the cross spars in their slots because the kite fights me impatiently.

I think it knows what I have planned.

Finally, I stand up. The tails snap, wanting.

I run backwards, feeling the pull.

I run, turning my back to the wind.

With the front of the kite facing me, I release it into a gust and pay out line and pull back to increase the lift.

In thirty seconds the kite is far out over the lake, pulling hard.

I run around the muddy field, making the kite dip and soar, dive and swirl.

From the ground, I control that rainbow diamond in the sky –  make it answer my commands.

I remember how he hated things that refused to be controlled and so it is with great swelling pleasure that I release a new kite each year.

I like to imagine him chasing after the dropped driftwood reel, his hands outstretched, the Screaming Eagle kite a quarter of a mile up, blazing.

Blazing.

Like me.

NOTE: This piece originally appeared on Deb Bryan’s blog. I needed to call this one home.

Cracking Writer’s Block with EMDR

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Thanks to Val Erde for letting me use this image. Click HERE if you’d like to use her images, too!

As a child, I was supposed to keep my room neat. My bed needed to be made the moment I awoke each morning; hospital corners were not optional. My clothes were to be folded and put away while they were still warm. Fortunately for me, I excelled at neat.

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 2.16.10 AMI remember watching the 1976 Summer Olympics with my father. Sitting next to him on the couch, I wore a yellow leotard. He pointed to Nadia Comenici as she waved to the crowd after earning her first perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars.

“You see!” my father said. “Being perfect is possible.”

In my house, failing was not an option. No one told me it was okay to mess up. No one ever said people learn by failing, by falling, and getting up again, that it takes a different kind of strength to persevere despite sucking.

I learned that sucking brought misery. When I sucked at trigonometry, it meant I had to complete endless math problems written on the back of placemats at restaurants until the meal arrived. Feeling my father’s frustration comingled with his disappointment, by the time our food came, I often felt like vomiting.

“It’s not that hard,” my father would say.

But it was that hard, and I didn’t get it. And I hated feeling dumb.

I learned if I sucked at something, I needed to avoid that thing at all costs.

So I stuck to my strengths and only tried the things at which I could excel.

You want someone to sing or memorize lines? Awesome. Need a crafty-critter? No problemo. I can make pinch pots and macramé, turn beads and fishing lures into jewelry. Watch me sketch and draw and paint fearlessly in watercolors and acrylics and oils. Need a dancer?Check out my smooth moves. Seriously, I can hustle and shimmy and shake my groove thing. I can twirl and do pirouettes. I can do back-flips off the diving board and handsprings on the lawn.

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There were 3 of these! Three!

In 2nd grade, Mrs. Church told I could write. She loved a story I’d written about a red-breasted robin, and she made me to read it to the “big kids,” in a different wing of the school. Later, Mrs. Oliver told me a poem I’d written moved her. It moved her. In middle school, Mr. Baron drew three big stars in my notebook next to the words “squishy red beanbag chair on the lime carpet.” Three stars.

I dreamed of being a writer.

In college, I received attention and praise, earned awards and validation from my professors.

I felt like a magician, able to amaze people with my words.

In December 2012, I found a writing partner. We worked together for six months, sending each other pages of our fiction manuscripts to read. We provided feedback for each other. I poured myself into her project, believing that – eventually, she would give mine the same kind of love.

Last May, I took a hiatus to prepare for my son’s bar mitzvah. My writing partner knew this when we started working together. I reassured her I would be back in the saddle after the festivities ended.

“I’ll be here, pardner,” she promised.

She promised.

When I called to let her know I was ready to start collaborating again, I caught the hesitation in her voice.

“I had so much momentum, I couldn’t stop! You know how that is, right?” she said. And then she told me she’d found a new person to work with.

My legs shook when I hung up the phone.

Besides feeling abandoned and betrayed, I felt like her actions said something bigger about my abilities as a writer.

The cosmos provided me with the words. I read between the lines.

My writing must have really sucked.

Because if it didn’t suck, she wouldn’t have been able to stop working with me. She wouldn’t have been able to put down my manuscript.

To make matters worse, my computer crashed shortly after my former partner dumped me.

I didn’t have anything backed-up, and I lost everything: twenty years of teaching curriculum, twenty years of photographs, decades of poetry and short stories.

A non-fiction manuscript. And a fiction manuscript.

Gone.

For most of my life, people have made me believe I could do magical things with words. But this past year, I’ve felt like someone took my black hat and my cape and my wand. Like someone stole my white rabbit.

Suddenly, what had always come naturally for me has became dreadfully difficult.

Recently I wrote about how I’ve been paralyzed with trying to be perfect with my writing. How some days, I worked 4 or 5 hours on a piece, writing 5,000 – 7,000 words.

And then I deleted everything.

Because every word sucked.

That’s how I ended up doing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) with Vickijo Campanaro.

I’m not going to try to explain the theory behind this kind of therapy. Let’s just say EMDR is often used with individuals who have suffered major traumas, sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents, the sudden death of a loved one: any kind of post-traumatic stress, really. But EMDR therapy has also been used to help athletes, performers and executives to achieve a state of “peak performance.”

If facilitated properly, EMDR helps people replace negative or stressful thoughts with positive ones.

Or something like that.

During my first session, VJ took a detailed history where we focused on what I perceived to be the major traumatic events in my life. I thought about the things I’ve been through in my 45 years on this planet and realized I had a lot from which to choose. She demonstrated a breathing exercise, which was familiar to me from my experience with yoga.

Then she had me hold these little buzzing paddles, which felt like cell phones set to vibrate.

Apparently, some therapists have clients track flashing lights but, over the course of her career, VJ said she’d found pairing the gentle, rhythmic buzzing from the paddles with conversation just as effective.

On my third session, Vickijo instructed me to put the buzzing paddles under my thighs, and she asked me to tell her about what I perceived to be my strengths as a writer.

I couldn’t think of one.

Not. One.

Unfazed, VJ asked me to close my eyes and describe a writer I admire. I thought about one particular blogger. “She can write about anything. She has amazing range: sometimes she’s funny; other times, she’s serious. She uses fresh images. She knows how to tell a story so it is unique and yet universally true. She responds to everyone. She’s generous, and her audience loves her.”

“You can open your eyes,” VJ said, so I did. “Do you think you possess any of the same qualities as this writer?”

I wasn’t sure.

Earlier in the session, I had talked about how much I sucked.

VJ asked me to think of an affirming sentence to replace my negative thoughts.

It was hard.

The voices were loud in my head.

“Let’s start with: ‘I suck,’” Vickijo suggested. “Can you turn that on its head?”

I closed my eyes and feeling the slow, rhythmic vibration of the paddles under my thighs, I saw myself sitting at a table, eating words. I literally ate the word ‘apricot’: chewed on it and swallowed, while my hand moved, scribbling letters inside a black and white composition notebook. I saw all the words I’d ever written in my life penned on a cozy fleece blanket and draped over my shoulders. I read the words I’d written on the lined paper.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

Except when I said it, there were eleventy-seven question marks at the end of the sentence.

“You’re a writer,” VJ said it as a statement. “And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “For me, writing is like eating or pooping. I can’t not do it. Whether or not I ever publish a book, I’m always going to write. It’s what I do.”

Vickijo laughed. “And that’s because?”

“I’m a writer.”

When I said it the second time, I believed it a little bit more. Weird, right? I have a hard time explaining how or why it’s working, but it is. EMDR combined with 5 minutes of daily meditation has been doing wonders for me.

And my writing.

For CREDIT click HERE. It was VERY hard to determine the origin of this image, but i have done my very best.

I’m feeling less compelled to be perfect.

In fact, perfect hasn’t even been on my radar.

I know it sounds whack-a-doodle, but the science supports this stuff. It’s incredible to me to think we have the ability to reprogram the way our brains have been hardwired to think. If you have suffered a trauma — or any kind of anxiety — EMDR can really help.

A few months ago, I would have felt like a bad person because my bed isn’t made, I’ve got a sink filled with dishes, and very little food in the refrigerator.

But today? I’m soooo not.

Progress.

•••

Here’s a video I found on YouTube that does a good job explaining EMDR, if you are interested.

Have you ever heard of EMDR? If you’ve tried it, did it work for you? What do you think about the idea of reprogramming your brain to think happier thoughts?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Check out my friend, author Kasey Mathews’ post on her experience with EMDR. We’ve known each other for decades, she guest posted on my blog HERE, and can you believe we’re both having positive experiences with EMDR?

When Flying Was Fun

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Photo by KONTROLLHAMSTER

After being cooped up inside the airplane for thirty minutes, a cabin filled with passengers learned we would not be taking off.

“We can’t seem to locate the pilot,” the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker.

Everyone groaned.

“We’re doing our best to remedy the situation. In the meantime, sit tight.”

Sit tight.

Is there really any other way to sit on an airplane these days?

Can you tell this guy is in my space?

Can you tell this guy is in my space?

The man next to me had claimed the armrest and, as he began to snore, his legs relaxed into a wide stance, his knees encroaching into my tight space.

I thought about the Good Ole Days.

Before we had to take off our shoes. Before we had to be patted down and swabbed. Before we had to be x-rayed and scanned and probed.

Once upon a time, people loved to travel by air. Folks even dressed up to look nice in the airport because air travel was for the elite. Cheerful clerks gave us our boarding passes, tagged our bags, and placed them gently on the conveyer belt. So long as our suitcases didn’t weigh over eleventy-seven tons, we were allowed to check two bags through without any additional charges.

(It’s true.)

In the good ole days, security was minimal. A man could carry a whole case of rubbing alcohol onto the plane if he wanted; no one would have thought a thing about it. No one had to remove his shoes or belts or jacket. We did not have to be x-rayed or scanned or swabbed or probed. Our gels and liquids did not have to be segregated into quart-sized baggies.

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Click to see other uniforms from the past!

Once upon a time, air travel was sexy. Flight attendants were women. We called them stewardesses. They liked their jobs and seemed interested in passengers’ comfort.

In the 1970s, stewardesses had names like Kimberly, Debbie, Julie and Susie. They wore starched uniforms and easy smiles. Tall and tan and leggy, stewardesses looked like life-sized Barbie Dolls.

Appearing quickly at the touch of a button, stewardesses wore starched uniforms and easy smiles, prepared to offer an extra blanket.

But back then, everyone had blankets. And pillows. And if you got on the plane early enough, there were even magazines to borrow. Good ones.

(It’s true.)

People rarely needed anything. After all, our bags had been checked and were out of the way, so we read books or napped. No one walked around admonishing passengers to turn off their electric devices because those things hadn’t been invented yet.

Once passengers buckled up, they started to think about the meal they were going to receive because for a time, every major airline served 4-course meals. And these meals were gourmet.

(It’s true.)

The Transportation Library archival collections at Northwestern University lists scores of old airline menus. United Airlines’ coach class meals included salads, desserts, sandwiches and beverages, with menu items such as “Broiled Tenderloin Tips a la Deutsch” (1973, Chicago – San Francisco) and Continental boasted ” Breast of Chicken Vodkaliano” (1979, Washington to Denver).

My husband remembers United Airline’s Sunshine Flight that departed daily from Rochester, New York to Florida in the 1970s. “Everyone got crab legs and a slice of key-lime pie,” he says with a faraway look in his eye.

I remember airline meals coming on silver trays with cloth napkins and real cutlery. Everyone was given knives. And no one worried about getting stabbed.

On my recent trip to Florida, I felt fortunate to have received my tiny pouch of pretzels and half can of soda.

While we waited for the pilot to be located, the woman on my right read over my shoulder as as I typed my words. “I see you’re writing about the way air travel used to be.” She crossed and uncrossed her ankles. “There used to be a lot more legroom.”

She’s right.

Once upon a time, there was more legroom.

And more space between seats, too.

And they never misplaced the pilots.

What do you remember about flying in the Good Old Days?

tweet me @rasjacobson

I’m hooking up with the wonderful people from Yeah Write again this week. Click on the badge to be transported to the grid & consider joining us!

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Overnight Camp: A Kiss and Tell Account

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Summer camp was the best gift my parents ever gave me. At overnight camp, everyone shared clothes, shaving cream, stationery, and secrets. There were no locks: only doors that creaked and banged to announce comings and goings. On Friday nights, I sat at a fire-circle facing the quiet lake, chanting prayers and singing songs in Hebrew: songs, which, until then, had felt strange and foreign to me.

At camp, everything made sense, and when I linked arms with my friends, I felt a peaceful connection to nature as if G-d had fashioned a golden cord that started from the sun, zig-zagged over to the stars, dropped down to earth, and connected every one and every thing. All at once, I wanted to stay there forever.

In 1979, I was 11-years-old. Our camp director invited a bunk of boys and girls to his cabin for a “special” evening program. It was dark outside and the yellow glow from a single bug light cast strange shadows over everyone’s faces. I remember sitting outside his cabin, the one with the peeling paint, feeling excited. Expectant.

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Click photo to see other work by Sonia Poli

When the director emerged, he carried an empty wine bottle tucked under his arm. He explained the rules of a game called Spin-the-Bottle. Before that night, outside of relatives, I’d never kissed a boy my own age before.

After what seemed like hours, the bottle pointed at me. Shimmying to the center of the grassy circle on my knees, I leaned in toward my partner and when our lips met, I gave his bottom lip a little tug with my teeth. He pulled away from me, looking terrified.

“What happened?” somebody asked.

“She bit me!” The leery recipient of my wonky kiss moved back to his place in the circle where he checked to see if I’d drawn blood.

Later, when we girls laid in the darkness atop skinny mattresses, we dished about the game, rehashing who had smelled nice and who had the worst breath and who we wouldn’t mind kissing again. If we had to.

Don’t get me wrong.

It wasn’t appropriate.

But it was fun.

Looking back at the summers of my youth with an adult sensibility, I see how the tail end of the 70’s “free-love” ideology contributed to a climate and culture that became unsafe for campers and staff and, in some ways, that carefree mentality precipitated the desire, perhaps even the need, for the tedious forms we parents have to complete today.

But for a little while, it worked.

Once upon a time, overnight camp was a place where it was okay to be a wee bit naughty.

No one cared if we scribbled our names on cabin walls.

Or if we snuck into canteen to eat a few extra candy bars.

If we showered during a thunderstorm.

Or if we practiced kissing.

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Mmmm.

I suppose I’ll always feel nostalgic about the summers of my youth. For a few weeks, we got lost in a kind of magic.

Nature provided the perfect backdrop: the lake sparkled in the sun; blackberries hung from bushes heavy and ripe, waiting to be picked and shared; leafy trees rustled in the darkness as we hurried down dusty roads toward something that felt close to love.

Without television, email or Internet, we really were cut off from the outside world. Together, we pretended time was standing still even though we knew it was racing forward. Is it any wonder we fell into each other with our mouths wide open, without asking questions?

What do you remember about summer camp? And if you didn’t go, do you wish you did?

tweet me @rasjacobson

{NOTE: Sunday, my son left for 7 weeks at overnight camp. He’d better not do any of the things I did. Also, I’m joining the peeps at Yeah Write. Such a great community. Come check us out.}

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My Mother Was Hot Stuff

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My mom & I circa 1970.

My mom was hot stuff when I was little.

She was pretty and had straight teeth.

She wore pink hoop earrings and wore floppy hats.

She did cartwheels with the girls who lived in the white house across the street.

My mother is in nearly all of my earliest childhood memories. She encouraged me to paint, explore calligraphy, and use pipe cleaners to make frogs and ladybugs. She loved when I sang and danced and rode horses and did backflips off the diving board. 

When I was sick, my mother brought the black-and-white television into my bedroom along with a little bell, which she told me to ring if I needed anything. On those miserable days, I watched My Three Sons and The Don Ho Show until my mother emerged with green medicine and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup served on a swirly green and blue plastic tray.

One day, I didn’t want to be my mother’s twin anymore.

Pink and yellow were not my colors.

I remember shouting and slamming doors: the tears.

I saw my mother throw her hands up, exhausted, not knowing what else to do.

I felt powerful then. Driving her to pain and chaos was fun.

Now that I have a teenager in the house, I want to tell my mother, I’m sorry. Because I see how precious it is, that time when our children are young. And what a gift it is, to let a mother hold on to the little things for another day, another year.

Because it hurts when our children reject our cuddles.

Because it was cruel to play with her heart.

Even when I didn’t give her any credit, my mother has remained steadfast, guiding me with an invisible hand.

She still is.

I suspect she always will be.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Hey mom, you have two good hands. And from the looks of this photo, you knew how to style your own hair. Do you think you could have done something with mine? Seriously. Also, if you still have that hat, can I have borrow it? xoxoRASJ

Tell me something you remember about your mother.

tweet me @rasjacobson

The Beauty of a Grandmother

“Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ~Franz Kafka

Grandma Muriel holds me during the winter of 1980.

Keeping warm during the winter of 1980.

My Grandma Muriel was fabulous.

She was.

Fiery, artistic and independent, my Grandma Muriel worked outside the home – an unusual arrangement for a woman during the 1950s. But she was a decorator who needed to make things beautiful. She was a crafty critter, forever knitting and beading. She transformed umbrella stands and drab pieces of office furniture into a pieces of art with gallons of Mod-Podge and photographs of daffodils and tulips.

She loved a good party, loved to be the center of attention. Being sexy was important to her. Looking good was important to her. After she lost both breasts to cancer, she spent hours primping in the mirror, making sure her clothes laid just so, that her wigs and eye-lashes curled perfectly.

She liked to be prepared for events that might happen. “You never know when there might be a party,” she’d say.

My grandma couldn’t walk into a store and simply buy one item; she bought in quantity. Part of this may have been due to the fact that she and my grandfather were in hotel and restaurant supply, so they were used to buying in bulk, but her habit extended beyond that. In her basement storehouse, hundreds of napkins were stacked alongside, plastic plates, cups and forks. The bathroom closets shelved tens of toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste and dozens of bottles of Milk of Magnesia. Her kitchen pantry was always bursting with canned goods.

As a teenager, when I visited my grandparents during summer vacations, she took me shopping. “When you find something you love, buy one in every color,” she advised on more than one occasion.

My mother says it was difficult growing up with my grandmother. That my Grandma Muriel couldn’t get through a day without a glass of something or other. That she was depressed, narcissistic and unsympathetic.

But the grandmother I knew played games with me and helped me complete complicated crossword puzzles. The grandmother I knew indulged me, maybe even spoiled me. If my parents said, You can’t have those jeans, Grandma Muriel bought them for me.

She took me to ride horses. Leaning up against the other side of a broken-down fence, her thinning hair in skinny ponytails, she grinned wildly as I cantered and trotted and jumped.

Together, we visited flea markets. Under dark pavilions, we inspected the offerings. She taught me how to bargain, to name my price and be ready to walk away from whatever item I thought I wanted.

I stood in tall grass beside my grandmother, each of us wearing boots, quietly painting what we saw: she at a real easel, me on an oversized clipboard. Later, I squatted beside her in her magnificent garden, pinching Japanese beetles between our gloved fingers.

On days where the weather didn’t lend itself to outside endeavors, Grandma Muriel set me up with an old typewriter and told me to write. Sitting on her living room carpet, I tapped out stories. At night, she carried a smooth black bowl of fruit upstairs to my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed. As I bit into a juicy black plum, my grandmother read the words I had written that day, and nodded her head. She told me I had promise, and I believed her.

The Grandma Muriel I knew was filled with joy, positive and affirming.

I suppose I pleased her.

Maybe by the time grandchildren arrived, she had relaxed, figured out what is important in life.

Or maybe she was self-medicating with alcohol and pills, as my mother suggests. I don’t know. It is not impossible for me to imagine my grandmother as difficult, opinionated and judgmental. I’m sure she was all that, too.

Just not with me.

My Grandma Muriel passed away in August 1982. Over thirty years later, I still think of her every day. She was the embodiment of beauty.

boaw-2013

This piece in running in conjunction with other writers who are commemorating August McLaughlin’s 2nd annual Beauty of a Woman (BOAW) celebration. Check out the line-up over at her place.

Rules of the Road

imagesI was rolling down the road, belting out the chorus to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” when a white Volkswagen zig-zagged in front of me, cutting me off. I watched the car tailgate and nearly hit someone who was driving the posted speed limit, then nearly wreck another car it tried to pass on the right shoulder of the road.

Following behind the white car, I watched the driver roll through a second stop sign.

No pause. No hesitation. Nothing.

Really? Optional?

I couldn’t believe it.

Eventually, we came to an intersection where the light was red. I slowed to stop, but the white VW sailed right through.

Something has got to be wrong with that guy, I thought.

I never thought I’d catch up to that zoom-doom car as it weaved its way down a busy stretch of road, lined with shops and gas stations and restaurants. With so many destinations, it’s easy to lose someone. But as luck would have it, a train was coming. The crossing gates had gone down, forcing a long line of cars to idle, waiting.

The white VW was right in front of me. The driver honked twice.

I couldn’t help myself.

I got out of my car. Tapping on the dark glass with my fingertips, I waited to see the face that went with the driver.

I expected to see a boy, a teenager hurrying to get back to school — or a man. Clearly, there was some serious testosterone in that car.

But when the window whirred down, a woman about my age stared back at me. She was wearing enormous designer sunglasses with pink lenses.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Of course.” The woman tilted her head to the side. “Why?”

I shouted over the train’s rumble.

“You rolled through a few stop signs and a light. Did you know you did that?”

I expected the woman to offer some explanation for her recklessness. Or, at least, to qualify her behavior. I could understand if she had to get to the school to pick up a sick child. I could understand if she was hurrying to get to her mother’s house. Maybe her mother had called to say she had fallen and she couldn’t get up. I needed to hear her say she was driving herself to Urgent Care because she was bleeding and in pain. I needed to know she was rushing home because she realized she had left her oven on. Hell, I would have been okay if she had admitted to rushing to the grocery store because she was out of sugar.

Honestly, I just needed to know she was okay.

That’s a lie.

I wanted her to apologize and acknowledge she’d been driving recklessly.

But the woman in the pink sunglasses looked at me like I was a cockroach she wanted to flatten with her fist.

“Stops signs and stop lights are stupid,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say.

Because what do you say to that?

As she rolled up her window, I hurried back to my car and slammed my door. The rumbling noise of the train was muted, but the noise in my head was not.

I copied down the woman’s license plate on a piece of scrap paper.

I considered what would happen if everyone drove the way that woman drove. What if everyone thought stop lights and stop signs were stupid? Her disregard for the most basic rules of the road scared me. There have been times where I have sat at a stop light when no one else was around and thought: Duh, this is stupid. No one is even on the road. I should just go. But I don’t. Because the first rule I ever learned was something like: We stop at red, and we go and green.

I thought about the stop signs near the school by my house. I wondered if she ran through those signs, too. I imagined her white car hitting a child — mine or someone else’s.

I dialed 911.

Yes, I decided. It was an emergency.

I reported what I had witnessed, the conversation that had taken place. I reported my location and the license plate of the white car.

“You shouldn’t have approached the car,” the woman from dispatch scolded. “The driver could have been dangerous.”

I shivered a little. I hadn’t considered that.

The dispatch agent told me that unless an officer actually observed the car driving erratically, the driver couldn’t be issued a citation; however, she added, since I was able to provide a description of the car was and the direction in which she was traveling, she could get an officer in the vicinity to try to catch up to her.

By the time we finished our conversation, the train had passed and the crossing gate’s red and white arms that had held back traffic were going up. Traffic had started to move forward.

I have no idea if anyone ever caught up to the woman in the white VW, but I hope someone did.

Obviously, something was off that day.

Maybe she’d forgotten to take a necessary medication. Or maybe she’d been drinking. Or maybe she was just a really crappy driver. Whatever was going on, that woman needed to get off the road.

That afternoon as I drove home, everything felt fragile. I know nothing is solid, but I suppose in matters like safety, I prefer the illusion to reality. I need to know people believe in stop lights and stop signs. I need to believe there are more stable, kind people on the earth than dangerous, psychopaths out to do harm. I need to believe we are civilized.

Have you ever come across someone who has broken a basic safety rule and endangered others’ lives? What did you do? When do you decide to get involved?

tweet me @rasjacobson

challenge97

How I Caused The Buffalo Bills to Lose Super Bowl XXV

Buffalo Bills logo

Buffalo Bills logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1991, I lived in Buffalo, New York.

That year, the Bills made it to the Super Bowl for the first time. The team was  favored to win, and everyone who lived within a 60 mile radius was stoked.

Except me.

A graduate student at the time, each week, I sat in Wash World for one-hundred-minutes, reading and taking notes as the machines hummed around me.

I’ve never been a football fan, so I swear on a six-pack of Bud Lite when I tell you that I had no idea it was the night of the Big Game when I ventured out to do my laundry that Sunday.

All I knew was that the tiny parking lot was jammed with cars.

Cursing my bad luck, I parked a half-block away and kicked my basket down the slippery sidewalk. The snow looked blue in the darkness. I remember the cold and the way my breath curled in the air.

Inside, I paced around looking for an available washer only to discover every machine was in use. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why it was so dang busy at Wash World. Usually, the joint was quiet on Sunday nights. But that night, more than two-dozen men huddled around a tiny television, which someone had set atop a crooked table.

I glanced at the screen. Oh. I rolled my eyes. A football game.

That night, I tried to read, but the men cheered and cursed at a deafening decibel. A tall dude in acid-washed jeans crushed an empty beer can against a wall.

Sunday the laundromat sucks

Sunday the laundromat sucks (Photo credit: haaaley)

As you can imagine, this bunch wasn’t diligent about checking to see if their laundry had finished spinning.

When a machine stopped, I waited to see if anyone noticed. No one did.

Standing at the edge of the rug, I made my announcement. “Someone’s wash is done.” I gestured toward a row of white washers. The men sipped their beer with indifference.

I should have left.

But I needed fresh towels and clean underwear to make it through the week.

So.

I tossed someone’s load of graying tee shirts and ratty boxer shorts into a wire cart with wheels, and I continued to listen to them burp and fart and laugh and whistle and swear.

Forty minutes later, I dumped my wet pile into a wheelie basket and contemplated the whirling wall of dryers.

I checked my watch and noted how late it was.

I didn’t want to be in Wash World anymore.

Trapped in a world of testosterone, cigarettes, and beer, I silently prayed that I might own a washing machine and dryer one day, so I wouldn’t have to go out in the cold with a roll of quarters and touch the damp underclothes that belonged to strange men.

When a few dryers rolled to a stop, I planted my boots at the edge of the rug again.

But no one moved.

I had a right to dry my laundry and, game-be-damned, I was going to do it.

I crossed in front of the television.

The men snapped to attention. I might as well have stabbed someone.

These were totally hot in 1991.

These were totally hot in 1991.

“Holy shit!” A scraggly guy in those gawd-awful baggy red, white and blue Zubaz pants clutched his head with both his hands.

“A bunch of dryers stopped,” I said to no one in particular.

Glancing at the television, I noticed a slim figure in white running onto the field. A man on the rug chewed his fingernails. Some of the others pressed their palms together, as if in prayer.

I heard an announcer say something about a player named Norwood; about the 47-yard kick he would have to make. He said he thought Norwood could do it. Another argued there was no way.

I heard all this as background noise.

You know, because I didn’t care about the game.

I just wanted to finish my laundry and go back to my crappy little broken down house.

“I hope he misses,” I grumbled. I didn’t think anyone heard me.

As the kicker’s field goal attempt went wide right of the uprights, I watched the **players in blue** jump up and down, and I heard the announcer say something about the Bills losing Super Bowl XXV.

Looking up, I realized I was the only woman in a room full of men who had just watched their dreams die.

Men who had been drinking.

The man in the baggy pants pointed a finger at me. “She wanted Scotty to miss!”

A beer can whizzed past my face.

Someone called me a bitch.

I thought they were going to kill me.

Apparently, by walking in front of the television and speaking a few words, I had altered the outcome of the game.

It made perfect sense.

A girl’s gotta know when a girl’s gotta go, and that was my time to git.

Abandoning my laundry, I hustled into the darkness. The freezing air slapped my cheeks as I hurried down the street, trying not to slip. Glancing back, I hoped no one was following me. Inside my car, my breath hovered in the air when I finally exhaled.

I went back to Wash World the next day to retrieve my things, but my laundry was gone.

I don’t like to think about what might have happened to it.

These days, I remain uninterested in the NFL.

If we are invited to someone’s house for a Super Bowl party, I stay in the kitchen. At halftime, I emerge to watch the show long enough to be able to comment on it the next day.

And I am careful to never cross in front of the television.

Which team do you follow? Or are you just there for the bean dip? If you don’t watch, what do you do during the Super Bowl? And can I come with you?

**NOTE: I had to Google “Who won the Super Bowl in 1991?” to find out the winning team. It was the Giants. The Giants won. Seriously, I had no idea.