My Lithuanian grandparents were interesting folks....my grandmother Minnie came from a line of midwives and although she did not become a midwife in America....she continued to be a healer and medicine woman.
Minnie had hundreds of clean baby jars in her pantry with all types of seeds and dried leaves...she collected these herbs/leaves from the Forest Preserves in Chicago. High blood pressure ...no problem....a few leaves brewed into a tea calmed your vessels down. Too many children? A concoction of herbs seeped in hot water....stopped the babies from coming.
A small spit of a woman....she made me laugh and gave me a shot of whiskey each time I visited her because of my chronically pale cheeks....which she worried about. "You so pale," she would half shout at me when I entered her apartment....then she'd slap my cheeks, sit me down and give me a shot of "medicine."
My cheeks flamed and my grandmother was pleased.
I never thought of my grandfather being magical....he was a quiet man....a talented musician who played the accordion and wrote his own music....plus he worked as carpenter and furniture maker. But little by little....as I go through my grandfather's things that I inherited from my father....I realize George had a bit of magic in him too.
Yesterday I opened a box from my dad's house and discovered a small home made wooden box nestled inside...and inside that box.....a worn leather case, much like a small envelope, with something in it.
When I opened ...I first thought ...oh it's a deck of cards. But the double images on each card made me pause....a King of Hearts with two people shaking hands underneath? An 8 of Clubs with a snake?
Then I started reading the cards and realized they were Tarot cards. I've never seen a deck like this....one that is half playing card and half fortune-telling. After reading many of the cards, I discovered it was a complicated system...the cards you picked from the deck were important....but where you placed the card (closer or farther away from you on the table) and the sequence of cards you picked....could change your fortune.
In the cards above....the 8 of Clubs was not good news...it meant trouble was on it's way....and if you placed the card closer to you when you selected it .....lots of trouble was coming.....placing it farther away from you on the table...meant less trouble.
My dad told me my grandfather dabbled in fortune telling.....that he read cards and tea leaves...but I thought he made up these interesting stories to amuse me... especially since I'd never seen any proof of this activity.
George, my grandfather, was a quiet thoughtful man....always memorizing historical facts or dabbling in mathematics ....or working with or on his carpentry tools. He made jewelry out of amber and small mirrored beads in his spare time. He was a busy guy and seemed so logical and detail oriented... it's hard for me to imagine him dabbling with a deck of Tarot cards.
On the other hand....maybe he was just the type....the quiet scholar.....the occasional barber and handyman....who might offer you a cup of tea and listen to you talk....then quietly suggest perhaps a look into the future would be helpful??....carefully observing how you held your cards...how you placed them on the table....seeing which cards you placed close to your body or closer to him...noticing if cards touched each other or where far apart.
So there's my grandma....dealing out herbs and ointments to help your aches and pains and desires from her pantry and there's my grandfather....sitting at the kitchen table.....helping you see the future....suggesting more good deeds or more caution....or a more courageous stance in life.
George died when I was in third grade....so I don't have many clear memories about him....but how interesting that decades after his death....I rediscover him....in his carpentry work ( I have saved most of his tools, hand made boxes, furniture and some jewelry)...and in his Tarot cards.
Perhaps this was all meant to be.....perhaps one day he dealt out a row of cards for himself....and smiled.....realizing I would find all of this one day....encouraging my dad....to bundle and wrap and save all things..... for me....and through me into someone else in the future.
Which card told you that Grandpa?
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
It's 10pm and I just put on my jammies.....I'm pleased to be in my old flannel pants with its strange little baseball motif plus a warm soft thermal top.
This week is Chanukah, Solstice, Xmas....everything...... and we are fine and at peace and celebrating every day.
We went to a Chanukah dinner early in the week, I lite a candle on Solstice mid-week and started a new project ( studying for my bat mitzvah)....and today we had our traditional Christmas Eve meal....of Eastern European food....Kielbasa...red cabbage....latkes....green beans.....and for desert....a totally non-Eastern European treat (which we consider very Southern)...banana pudding.
Last year I tried to come up with a different name for our Christmas Eve meal....calling it Ancestor Day (cause we celebrate our Eastern European heritage) and Remembrance Day (because we remember where our families originated )....but this year, I decided to call it what it is: Christmas Eve Dinner...a fabulous Eastern European meal we eat on Christmas Eve.
Tomorrow, we will have a pleasant family brunch.....followed later in the day....by a Christmas Dinner of roast Turkey with all the trimmings and plenty of left overs....maybe we'll take in a movie or pull out one of our Cheesy Chick favorites like :Wall-E or Sleepless in Seattle.
I thought of renaming Christmas too....but I decided to call it what it is: Christmas Dinner.
I've totally accepted our family origins are complex...Christian stock/Jewish stock....and our families at one time or another ...practiced different religions.....and sometimes switched religions and communities as they moved or blended into other families....or nations. I just realized the other week that with my father's Mongolian DNA we may even have a Muslim component.....so rather than worrying about anything during this holiday period....we've simply blended and added ....and now we have more calender days of joy and good eating.
On Monday....we'll add Chinese food this year....and I'm happy to incorporate Chinese food even if I'm 24 hours late on that tradition.
My boys who grew up with Christmas seem pleased to get small Chanukah gifts each night....a favorite candy, a gift card for Arby's.....a pair of funny underwear......and they'll be pleased after brunch to open a few small Christmas presents.
Really....I see no need for getting jiggy. I totally understand and honor the way people see this time of year.....whether they choose to spend it at Temple, or Church or somewhere else.....I guess I've accepted we are of mixed backgrounds and rather than pretend we've never celebrated Christmas or pretend we've lighted menorahs forever when our experience is measured only in a few years.....we've decided to be relaxed and let the days and celebrations drift through our house.
Everyone is old enough to understand religious beliefs and what we do and do not believe.....what I have decided is the most important part of our holiday season ....is to be sane.....kind.....enjoy good food....and throw in some gifts for the ones I love ...to add some fun and expectation to the season.
I think I'll head down stairs after I type this....a see if there's any egg nog left or crack open the new bottle of Irish Cream....
I'm pleased to announce I have nothing to rush around for tonight..... and just hanging out without my to-do list dangle over my head is a very nice self present for a day or two.
A big kiss to y'all........
Friday, December 16, 2011
I've worked/volunteered for my city's literary festival since it started several years ago.
I hooked up with the fest because I was in love with Steve Almond. I had just read his somewhat pornographic collection of short stories -My Life in Heavy Metal- and it made me pant not only sexually but pant in the way someone pants when he/she aspires to be a writer and you get all hot and bothered over someone else's sentences or cadence or articulation.
I checked out Steve's website and discovered he was coming to our first ever lit fest so ....quick as a bunny...I signed up to help at the fest....making sure the person I talked to on the phone at the festival office clearly understood that if Steve was going to be at the festival, I wanted to do something (anything) with his session. She said, "We can arrange that" and I swooned.
She also mentioned that he was attending the Author Party the night before the fest and I could buy a ticket and perhaps have a chat with him.
Sealed and done deal. I found the object of my lust at the party... gathered my courage....sauntered up to him... and said "I really like your writing." Perhaps not those exact words... but something equally as lame and nerdy. I also pointed out, I would help him with his session tomorrow....he did not seem impressed.
The next day, my job was to help Steve cut up and distribute pieces of chocolate for his session's audience.....it appears his next book, unfortunately, was not about sex ....but candy.
I noted during the course of the morning working at an arm's length from him.... that he had one long hair coming out of his nose ....which cooled my adulation of him considerably.
He also started talking to another author as I was helping him with his books and never recognized me, his adoring fan, from the night before and of recent chocolate cutting duty.... which made me realize....these guys were...alas....just regular folks doing their jobs.
But I was hooked on the literary festival after that....because it was so damn exciting to work with and be around writers and listen to their stories and passions close up.....it made my soul light up....to be near all those lofty and funny and clever and insightful sentences.
The second year of the festival.....they asked me to work with the authors.....help arrange transportation....answer questions about coming to our town....and make sure they were treated well and their needs for their sessions and their stays were met.
Writers are creative people....and many times I felt like I was herding cats during the festival....but outside of a lot of anxiety.....I accumulated some great stories.
One of my favorite stories is about Christopher Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens was, of course, an "A" list author and big "scoop" for our young literary festival. His book, "God is Not Great" had just come out....and he was at the very beginning of a huge surge of interest and popularity as the result of his book chugged up the charts.
He was going to land at 8am.....breakfast with his sponsors.....then do a festival session ( a one hour talk followed by questions) at 1pm.....then hit the airport to catch a flight to a major lit fest out west.
Since he was a big name author....I sent my most trusted person to pick him up at the airport and bring him to a hotel where his sponsors were waiting . I was at the hotel already...not only to keep an eye on him but also because our lit fest was just blocks away from this place and many of our authors were staying in the hotel.
My cell phone rang...."Well, I got Hitchens but he doesn't look good."
"Well, apparently he partied till 5am....hopped on the plane at 530....kept partying....and it shows."
In the next second, Hitchens passed by me...and although he was ..disheveled....and a bit woozy.....he had 4 hours to pull himself together.....Authors are tough....he could do it.
So I stopped worrying....a good breakfast....a little freshening up....and he probably would be just fine.
Thirty minutes before his appearance, I started asking around....where's Hitchens? Anyone see him? He was supposed to meet with his moderator, a very respected local reporter and writer, and he was a no show.
I got a little nervous. But hey, he was only a few minutes late. People aren't always punctual.
Ten minutes later.....his moderator looked annoyed (he wanted to chat, ask some questions before their appearance together).
Now I was sweating.....there were 200 people sitting in a room plus a standing audience and he was nowhere to be seen....plus a local big shot reporter was get miffed.
So I starting dialing up folks on my cell phone....."Have you seen Hitchens??"
15 minutes to show time....no Hitchens.
My cellphone rang....."He's at the bar down the block."
WHAT???? He's supposed to be ON in 15 minutes!
One of my volunteers passes by in a golf cart we used for transporting books. I grab the girl and tell her to go to the bar and get Hitchens ...NOW.
I stood outside the venue....panicking....our biggest name author...drunk? unable to stand? unable to go ON? My neck's red...my checks are red....I'm sure I'm going to faint.
A couple of minutes later Hitchens arrives sprawled out in the golf cart....I grab him and pull him out of the cart...."Are you okay?"
He smiles....His eyes are bloodshot...his shirt and tie askew...he looks a wreck.
"Your session starts in 10 minutes.....we've got a packed house."
"Yes Ma'am" he says.....he straightens up.....I brush his shirt, he rearranges his tie and I lead him to his moderator.
In the course of one minute.....he transforms....into a PRO.
He extends his hand....gives a firm handshake to the moderator....and begins chatting.
I point the way to the room as the moderator and Hitchens quickly talk strategy.
His eyes are bloodshot, his shirt not perfect.... I stand in the back of the room...holding my breath.....then he begins......he's totally coherent and begins weaving his magic with the audience.
He's smart...on target....captivating....questioning....ready for the audience questions....and I'm stunned....this was the man I pulled out of a golf cart ten minutes ago looking like he didn't know who, what or where.
He was on his plane by 3:30pm and probably started his next round of partying....and somewhere out west ....another festival coordinator was gong to panic.
Today....when I read the tributes to him....I noticed how often people mentioned his taste for parties, drink and smokes....but despite his lack of sleep or his consumption of alcohol....he completed his assignments and met his writing obligations.
In my small corner of the world.....I nodded and said...."Yes, he could do that....I've seen it with my own eyes."
What an interesting man.