1

Foiled by a French Word

Hey y’all, I’ve emerged from the crazy place I’ve been over the last week or so, alternating between stressing, running up and down the library stairs, sleeping in/staying up too late, sneezing/sniffling/dehydrated, and seeking out random places to get work done (including 1 hour of grading last night at Hurts Donut in Middleton, and 2 hours of reading/writing in a booth at Perkins) while trying (and failing) not to have too many sugary snacks. Even though I want them.

Today was actually relatively productive. Even though I didn’t get my day really started until about 12:30, at least I was up around 9 or 10. I headed over to Colectivo to get a cappuccino (yum), a sandwich (meh), and a cup of onion soup (…nasty), and proceed to discipline myself to work. First, I decided to read a book I’ve been meaning to send out for awhile. I gave myself one hour, and by the time the hour was up, I was 5 pages from the end of the 230-ish page book, so I finished it, ordered a mocha, and steeled myself for an hour of working on some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done.

So, there I am, typing away, click click click la di da di da, when all of a sudden my brain just comes to a screeching halt. I need a word that refers to an incredibly talented and versatile individual, but I cannot think of one. There is a specific word I’m looking for, but it’s in the wrong section of my brain and I can’t find it. I know it either is or sounds French, so I run through every possible French word I know. Panache? No. Savoir-faire? No. Je ne s’ai quoi? No. AUGGGHHH.

It’s. Right. There. But I can’t find it.

I call for backup. My parents are in Ocean City, and my dad and I have a several-minute long conversation about this word, which neither of us can think of. He asks my mom, who asks one of her friends who is fluent in French which is convenient because today is that friend’s birthday and she lives all by herself and my mom almost forgot to call her.

I get off the phone and start frantically writing words. Virtuoso. Au courant. Tour-de-force. One of these may or may not be the answer, I feel like I’ll know it when I see it.

I open up Google Translate and try out some French words, go to dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, make yet another call to my dad, and now twenty minutes have been spent on this one word and I’m so desperate that I open up the Wikipedia page on English words of French origin and go down the list, starting at A and getting up to C before realizing how ridiculous I’m being. After trying out a bazillion different possible words, I settle on “tour-de-force” and continue onward.

Up to now, I still have no idea what that word might have been, although tour-de-force is probably the closest I got. However, I came across some other French words that, in my opinion, should have different meanings.

Blancmange. It refers to a type of sauce, but I think it should refer to someone who is sophisticated enough to order the correct wine for the meal.

Legerdemain. It’s a lovely way to refer to trickery, but what it should means is, someone who is incredibly skilled at bookkeeping or journaling/blogging.

Demimondaine. It refers to something sordid. What it should mean: an aging leading lady (think Ms. Moore)

Peignoir. It has to do with a hairdo. It should refer to someone whose hair is so perfect that others doubt it’s natural.

Joie de vivre. Means “joy of living.” Should mean “let’s all jump around like we’re young lovers frolicking around Paris in the spring.”

And on a final, quite random note:

While I was grocery shopping today, I walked past the school supplies and for a moment, my eyes saw the word illegal pad” on a small notebook; upon closer examination, it was just an ordinary legal pad with an oddly placed logo. Who decided the legality of pads, anyway? What if I wanted an illegal pad? What would it look like? Would I have to declare it at customs? Would it be considered contraband? Would I have to throw it across the border into Mexico? So many questions.

17

Memories Down Field Trip Lane

Hmm…what to write about for today?

How about a story?

It’s the reason I started this blog anyway.

Oh, how about terrible school field trips? That’s a good one.

Let’s see.

::dig dig dig into the past::

One of the earliest ones I can remember was our sixth grade camping trip to Genessee Valley. Genessee Valley is a large park in rural Maryland, with a lot of things like ropes courses and zip lines. It was also my first time camping. It was a little scary, but my dad was one of the chaperones so that was comforting. Anyway, it was just one overnight, and for most of the time, we were split up into groups for things like trust exercises. (Crap, I realized I should probably change everyone’s names, so all names from now on are pseudonyms). I don’t remember anything too remarkable about my group, except that I stupidly dropped my cap in a rushing river, and in an astonishing display of friendship, two of the girls in my group, Natasha and Sally, fished it out with a stick. The group my dad chaperoned had a little more excitement; in the very first activity, which involved the whole group attempting to stand on a platform together by swinging on a rope and landing on it, they decided to do it from smallest to largest. The tiniest girl in our grade, Elizabeth, went first, and everything was going well until Michael, the biggest in our grade, swung, and like dominoes, knocked everyone over on the platform and poor Elizabeth ended up breaking a tendon in her foot – all this a few hours into the trip. She didn’t go home, but someone had to carry her around for the rest of the time there. Also, there was a tree-climbing activity, and one of the taller kids in the grade, Ivan, was unexpectedly nimble at tree-climbing. He was almost at the top, and couldn’t figure out how to get to the last rung, which no one else had been able to do. The instructor yelled up, “try to straddle it!” Of course, she didn’t know that Ivan had moved to America from Russia five years ago and had no idea what straddle meant.

Seventh grade was our class trip to Washington DC, and probably one of the worst field trips of all time. We were learning about the government, so we had plans to see the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Senate. As a bonus, we were to visit the FBI Building if we had time. I can’t remember the exact order of the sites, but I think that was it. At our first stop, the Capitol, our tour guide had a bad head cold and almost no voice. With sixty-something middle schoolers, and several teachers/chaperones, not to mention other tourists, guides, and tour groups, it was pretty futile to try to hear what the guide was saying. I wandered off to get a closer look at some of the artwork/statuary, and got yelled at by several teachers. When we got to the Supreme Court, we all had to go through a metal detector, which took at least 45 minutes, mostly because 3/4 of the class set it off in some way, including Tyler, who wore a collared shirt with metal buttons, which it took the security guards fifteen minutes to figure out. By the time we all got in, we were pretty antsy – plus it was almost time for lunch, so we were hungry – so naturally we were on the talkative side. We got about ten minutes in, down a stairway…and promptly got kicked out for being too loud. We were supposed to eat our lunches in a room there, but of course that was a no-go, so we ate lunch on a moving bus on the way to our next stop, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. And another metal detector, so we had to go through that drama all over again. What I remember of that stop, I liked, but we were “running late,” so the teachers practically pushed us through with fly-swatters. Finally, we made it to the Senate, and it just so happened that we were…running early. One of the teachers asked the lady behind the desk what we should do, and she suggested watching the movie about Congress in the little room next door. So, we sat through this rather uninteresting movie, and when it was over, we came back out, to find that the lady who was sitting at the desk was gone, and in her place were two security guards. When the teachers told them who we were, they told us that the last tour for the day had left, and we’d missed it (thanks to “running early” lady). Of course, the FBI Building needed reservations for a tour, and nobody had thought we’d get that far, so we piled back on the bus and got home two hours early. Oh, and at some point, one of the girls got whacked in the head by an automatic parking gate.

Eighth grade was the big trip – the Big Apple, New York City. Like the camping trip, this was also an overnight, only this time we were in a decent hotel just across the water in New Jersey. It was mostly touristy things, but I remember really enjoying going to the Planetarium the first day. We also got to see Les Miserables on Broadway, which was really special, despite the fact that I saw it again on Broadway a few months later. Of course, it wasn’t fun being with a bunch of…people my own age who talked through most of the show. To make it even better, as we left the Imperial Theatre, I tripped and fell on a crack in the sidewalk, and it wasn’t until we got back to the hotel that I realized my sock was filling with blood. Luckily, it was just a bruise, and even more luckily, one of my hotel roommates, Sam, was an Eagle Scout, so he called room service for a First Aid kit and patched me up, which was super nice of him. With a bunch of rowdy eighth-graders spending a night in an out-of-state hotel, the teachers were probably as thrilled as the staff, but I don’t remember anything of that night – the room assignments were across three floors, with most of the boys on one floor, most of the girls on another, and the teachers and a few leftover rooms on another. Fortunately, my room ended up being one of the ones on the “leftover” floor, along with 1 room of girls, a room of teachers, and a bunch of regular hotel guests, so we tucked into bed right after the show and had a relaxing night’s sleep, unlike the other two floors full of kids. I must have been really tired, because apparently a lot of running and door-slamming occurred, all night long. Other highlights of the trip were shopping in Chinatown, where I bought the first of my wind chime collection, and for some reason, stopping at a pickle stand, where a bunch of kids with a video camera tried to sell us condoms.

And that’s what kind of field trips my school went on.

Ah, I miss the days when you could just get on a bus and have a bunch of grown-ups do all the planning for you.

10

Going to Pizza Hut in Israel

It’s been a while since I wrote an Israel post, and with the recent back-and-forth between me and Vanessa, here’s another story from Israel which I am surprised I had not yet posted.

Fast food restaurants in Israel are quite the experience. There’s basically two categories: the locals and the imports. Locals are places like Burger Ranch and Cafe Hillel; places that basically don’t exist outside the country. They’re sort of a mix of fast food and restaurant, and usually the fare is cheaper, more exciting, and better-tasting than the food from the second category, which would be the American imports, like McDonaldsBurger King, and Pizza Hut. It’s not a hard and fast rule – for example, I think Cafe Hillel’s coffee kinda sucks – but generally, employees at the latter restaurants are at the mercy of the internationally-focused franchisers rather than the local, so they have different standards for their employees. And, as we know here in America, the latter restaurants tend to pop up in the not-so-greatest parts of town, further weakening their reputations.

But anyway, the story.

One night I went to visit Ele in Rehovot. I got off the train and he and Janet were there to fetch me, with the task of going to the store to bring back dinner for all their housemates. After buying soda at a makolet, we stopped by the local Pizza Hut in crummy downtown Rehovot to get cheap and quick eats for the gang. We place our order, and I hand over my credit card to pay. She runs it and it doesn’t work. After trying it a few times, she says it’s not good. I say that it is, and she asks if she can see my teudat zehut (Israeli ID card) to punch in my ID number, and maybe that will push the transaction through. I tell her that I’m not an Israeli citizen, and neither are Ele and Janet, so we don’t have teudat zehut.

Then, the most redoinkulous and awkward situation commences (as if it could get weirder):

PIZZA HUT LADY: Do you have your American teudat zehut?

ME: Um, we don’t have those in America.

PIZZA HUT LADY: You don’t?

ME: Nope. It’s just an Israeli thing.

PIZZA HUT LADY: So what do you have?

ME: Well, I have my driver’s license on me ::innocently takes it out of my wallet::

PIZZA HUT LADY: Can I see it?

ME: Um, okay. ::hands it over:

PIZZA HUT LADY punches numbers into the machine. Nothing. She keeps trying.

ME: Um, ma’am…what are you doing?

PIZZA HUT LADY: I’m trying this number.

Yep, that’s right. The lady at the Pizza Hut kiosk on the main street in downtown Rehovot thought that my Soundex number would magically pay for a pizza. I guess worse assumptions have been made, but despite my insisting that it was just a license, and not connected to any sort of bank account (and it barely has a magnetic strip) she kept on trying, in vain, and even called over a manager to help her out, while we all looked on in wonderment.

Eventually, while looking around and noticing something across the street, I said “you know what, just wait a sec.” I gave Ele my license and wallet, took out my credit card, ran to the ATM across the way hoping it was functional (it was), withdrew money, and paid in cash.

And that’s what it’s like to get Pizza Hut in Israel.

1

The Best Little Breakfast in the Bahamas

Wow, a morning post! I know, I’m just as shocked as you are. I don’t know if it was because I was in bed for most of yesterday, but for some reason I was awake at 6:00 and out of bed by 7 or so. In between packing for the trip home tomorrow and doing some last-minute laundry, I figured now would be as good a time as any to share a fun breakfast story.

After my freshman year of college, I wanted to take a vacation somewhere outside the United States, because I hadn’t left the country for awhile. Normally, my dad would embark on these trips with me, as seen in previous posts, but since my grandmother had recently died, I recruited my mom to go with me instead.

Of course, the day we leave is the day of the London shoe bomber, so the lines at BWI are atrocious, people are throwing out liquids left and right, and we missed our plane. Despite having arrived at the airport at 6:30 AM, we missed our 8:30 AM flight, which took off only 25% full because the rest of us were waiting in line. I had a small panic attack at going to the airport only to have to go right back home, but through a small series of miracles, we were able to get to the Bahamas that night, at around midnight. Fortunately, we had not checked anything so other than the liquids we had to toss, we had everything we needed. The couple checking in before us at the hotel basically had only the clothes on their backs and whatever was in the woman’s purse.

Despite a completely harrowing day (and a terrible, completely overpriced dinner of sandwiches at the hotel), we must have slept very deeply because we both woke up refreshed at 9:00 the next morning, to a beautiful sunny day. Mom and I got a cab into town, and I guess the Bahamas decided to stay in its pajamas that morning because we were the only people in downtown Nassau. We were hungry, so we decided to look for something to eat, and we ended up walking through a beachside shopping area called Prince Roger’s Walk. I don’t know why we went in there, because it was mostly souvenir shops, but I spotted a sign that said “Swiss Confiseur” and smelled something baking, so we went inside to find a teeny cafe with one lady working there. All she seemed to have was a case of drinks and some breakfasts breads and pastries, but she had just finished making some warm apple turnovers and they smelled really good. We asked for two, and my mom got a can of orange juice, and I got a can of fruit punch. Getting her credit card out of her purse, Mom asked how much it all came to for the two pastries and two drinks.

Grand total?

Four dollars. 

One each for the pastry, and one each for the canned drink.

She handed over a five and we headed outside to enjoy our modestly-priced breakfast at a tiny table overlooking an empty beach, and for the first time all trip, we felt relaxed. Even Mom, who hates traveling and anything outside of her routine, managed to smile and acknowledge that this was one of the best breakfasts ever.

Who says the Caribbean is a rip-off?

8

That’s SoMG: The Curmudgeon of Liechtenstein

Take two!

That’s So Jacob presents:

That’s SoMG: Scandals, Secrets, and Shockers That Will Make You Slap Your Hand Over Your Mouth

Episode 2: The Curmudgeon of Liechtenstein

Germany, 1930s.

This is the story of my great uncle, whom I’ll call Uncle Herschel. Born and raised in Germany, Herschel trained as a telegraph operator before meeting his wife, a lovely lady otherwise known as Aunt Greta. Before the war, they had two children, Bert, who passed away of meningitis at the age of 13, and Rosalind, whom they called Lindy. (All these names are fake, by the way).

Anyway, when the war came to Europe, they sent Lindy away to live with some uncles in Dijon, France, while they weathered the Nazi storm in one of the most unusual places.

locator map of LiechtensteinZámek Vaduz na pohlednici

Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a principality with only eleven towns. The entire country could fit inside the District of Columbia. It is so small that the Germans were not even interested in getting involved, which was lucky for Uncle Herschel and Aunt Greta.

Fortunately, as it happened, Uncle Herschel and Aunt Greta managed to secure visas for themselves to leave Liechtenstein and immigrate to America. They first tried to get Lindy to Liechtenstein, but apparently she was recognized on the train and had to return to Dijon. They then attempted to have a hearing for her to get an American visa, which did not happen. It is unclear why Lindy was sent to live in Dijon in the first place, but rumor has it she was messing around with a German soldier. Though Herschel and Greta immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland USA, they did not find out until the war was over that Lindy was among the Jews rounded up at the velodrome at Drancy and shipped to their deaths in Auschwitz. She was in her mid-20s.

Meanwhile, in America, Herschel got into business, and Greta was just…a stay-at-home wife. In no photo was Herschel ever smiling, and he treated Greta horribly. He refused to learn English, saying “let the Americans learn German and French.” Yes, he was that guy. They had no more children, mostly due to what happened one day in the 1960s, when my dad was still a kid.

Aunt Greta was found dead.

One day, she was found outside their home, and no one ever found out how she died. Though it is possible that she fell out of an open third-story window or was pushed, she most likely committed suicide by jumping. Nobody was close with her, not even my grandmother, who got along with pretty much everybody. My dad remembers very little of her, other than the fact that she was quiet and enjoyed knitting.

Uncle Herschel lived until the mid 1970s, and died at a ripe old age.

But mostly, he is remembered for always being grouchy.

The story was much better when my father told it, and we had photographs, postcards, letters from Lindy to her parents in Liechtenstein, including one where she describes wanting to go swimming in the river, but she knows that everyone will watch her and go “who’s that’s crazy person swimming in the river?” (Lindy’s words, not mine). The most unique object in this particular collection was Aunt Greta’s passport. Unlike everything else – the letters, the visas, the photos – for some reason, Aunt Greta’s passport was preserved remarkably well. We passed it around the seder table and marveled; it was as crisp and clean as the day she got it. It looked like it had just come out of the printer, aside from the outdated Nazi stamps and visas for Germany, Liechtenstein, and the USA.

And that’s my one connection to the nation of Liechtenstein.

In other news, the sign I have on my door saying “No Advertisements Please” worked for the first time today, as I came home to find pizza menus sticking out of every door but mine.

And although no Africans came to visit today, cheers to a five continent day: North America (Canada, USA, and Mexico), South America (Brazil), Europe (UK, Belgium, and Germany), Asia (Israel, India and Taiwan), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).

16

That’s SoMG: The New Jersey Horse Meat Mafia

It all started with a pot of coffee.

Last week, on my way back to Madison, my dad and I were sitting at the rest stop on I-90 northbound in Belvidere, Illinois, having some Starbucks and gearing up for the final leg of the trip. My dad does not drink coffee anymore, but he did in high school. So, I asked him if Grandma drank coffee. He said that she always had a pot of coffee ready, and usually she and her step-niece Ida from down the street (all names hereinafter have been changed due to protect the privacy of the individuals, and also because it’s fun to make up names) would spend the afternoon in one of their kitchens, drinking coffee and talking for hours. I had never heard of Ida, so I asked the question that launched the story of the century.

“Ida who?”

“Your grandmother’s step-niece.”

“Yeah, Grandma had a step-niece, Aunt Susanne’s stepdaughter from her first marriage.”

“Aunt Susanne had a stepdaughter?”

“Yeah, from her first husband, Alfred, you know, the one who committed suicide.”

“…”

“You don’t know that story?”

“Well, obviously, no, I don’t.”

“Oh, goodness, it’s a long one. Once we’re back in the car, you drive, and I’ll tell you the story.”

<pause button>

That was the beginning of what turned out to be an interesting and very juicy family scandal that was too good to keep to myself. So now, I share it with you all in the first ever episode of…

That’s So Jacob presents:

That’s SoMG: Scandals, Secrets, and Shockers That Will Make You Slap Your Hand Over Your Mouth

Imagine, if you will, Are You Afraid Of the Dark? meets E! True Hollywood Story.

Now, onto the show.

<play button>

Episode 1: The New Jersey Horse Meat Mafia

Bavaria, Germany, 1898.

It all started in a tiny farm town where a young Jewish woman named Huldah was spending another summer helping out some local families. Huldah was from a farm town of about 1,000 people, but this town’s population was even smaller, barely in the triple-digits. Every summer since she was old enough, Huldah would go to the smaller town, stay with a family, and do various chores around the house and farm. Over the years, she came to know most of the people in the town, to the point where she felt comfortable just walking into someone’s house to say hello and ask if they needed some chores done. There were only a few girls her own age in the town, and one of them was unusually fat. This girl’s name has been lost to history, so we’ll just call her Fat Girl.

One day, Huldah was just walking around town, and she decided to call on Fat Girl. She goes to Fat Girl’s house, opens the door, and hears a bloodcurdling scream coming from the kitchen. She runs into the kitchen to find her friend giving birth on the kitchen floor. Apparently, Fat Girl’s weight had been sort of an advantage in the predicament she’d found herself in; she had slept with one of the non-Jewish farmhands, and was able to hide from everyone the fact that she was not just fat, but also pregnant. That afternoon, she gave birth to a fair-skinned little boy.

Well, once the baby came, she couldn’t keep the secret for much longer. As was the custom in those days, she and the baby disappeared for a little while, “to an aunt’s house,” until the storm blew over. By the time she returned home, a young Jewish bachelor had moved into town, and with much prodding from Fat Girl’s family and friends, the two were married, and soon had children of their own. After awhile, another child showed up at the house one day: a little blonde boy whom they called Ernest.

Now, back to Huldah. She got married and had a family of her own, giving birth to three children. The oldest was a girl called Susanne, then a boy, and the youngest was my grandmother.

In the early 1930s, Susanne came of marriageable age. Through the grapevine, Huldah found a young man called Alfred, and the two were married, and not long after, they welcomed a child of their own, a little girl they named Penny. Soon after Penny’s birth, Alfred went to visit an uncle he was quite close with who ran a furniture store in America, in Baltimore, Maryland. He stayed for a short while with him before returning home to Susanne and Oenny in Germany. Alfred and his uncle corresponded frequently via mail, and one day in 1933, Alfred gets a very short letter from his American uncle, saying:

“Alfred: Come back to America. Take your wife and your daughter and leave Germany at once.”

The family had been aware of the rise of the Nazi Party in their country, because, well, how could you not. Their lives were not as affected as others, and until this letter came, they had no idea of how dangerous the Nazis actually were. So, the whole extended family made plans to immigrate to Baltimore, leaving Europe for good. Through good planning, the first to make it out of Germany were Alfred, Susanne, and baby Penny, setting sail for Baltimore in 1934. Penny celebrated her first birthday at sea, becoming a minor news story once the family landed in Baltimore.

The whole family, being farmers, was familiar with the cattle business, so as the rest of them trickled over – my grandmother, her mother Huldah, and all the rest – Alfred decided to set up a meat processing center in Baltimore. Through friends and acquaintances, he found a business partner who had come from a nearby part of Germany and also knew the meat industry. His name?

Ernest.

By the time Huldah finally made it over in 1938 – the last one – Alfred and Ernest’s meat business was hugely successful, churning out sausages and bratwursts for the people of Baltimore every day. When her son mentioned his business partner’s name to his mother, her eyes lit up.

“Ernest, from the next town? The blonde one? His mother was my friend!”

Yes, after close to fifty years, the boy born on the kitchen floor, and the boy of the woman who helped bring him into the world, became business partners.

As stated before, the business was hugely successful. Ernest kept a relatively modest lifestyle, but Alfred showered his family with money and expensive things: a house, cars, clothing. Susanne didn’t have to work, but she owned and ran a small grocery store while she raised Penny.

The reason Alfred and Ernest’s business was so successful was because of the source of their meat. Unlike other local meat markets, they cast their net somewhat wider, finding a supplier in New Jersey who offered them meat for extremely low prices. Once in Baltimore, Alfred, who was more of the businessman of the two, marked up the price of the meat to align with the higher prices in Baltimore and earn them an incredibly large profit.

Meanwhile, a journalist sniffs out a news assignment based on whispers and rumors; that A & E weren’t getting their beef from local farmers, but from some place in New Jersey. Undercover, the journalist acquires the name and address of the New Jersey meat suppliers, and goes there to find two incredible, game-changing secrets.

One: the meat they are selling was not beef – rather, illegal horse meat.

Two: the whole operation was run by a New Jersey mafia family.

Needless to say, the news breaks in a grand fashion back in Baltimore. People, some of whom have become ill from the company’s meat, are outraged at this deception and demanded answers. The newspaper prints the offending meat packers’ names, and Alfred and Ernest were now on the front page. Of course, Alfred and Ernest hired a lawyer to handle their case, one of the best lawyers in the state of Maryland. He agreed to defend them in court, telling them the best possible result (a minor fine) and the worst (three to five years in prison). But the damage to their business and social reputations would be irreplaceable. Confident as ever, Alfred invested in the lawyer, and everything was going to turn out most likely in their favor, due to lack of concrete evidence other than newspaper reports.

The trial came closer, but it became too much for Alfred. As much as he maintained that he was going to win the case, he was growing increasingly paranoid and upset, and Susanne was starting to worry. However, as comforted as she was in her lifestyle, worrying was not something she did often. Alfred began staying home for longer and longer periods of time. On one of the days leading up to the trial, Alfred went to work. That afternoon, he was found dead, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a gun he’d purchased without Susanne’s knowledge and kept in his office.

Susanne and Penny were in shock.

The trial, however, went on without Alfred. As it turned out, Alfred was the one who communicated with the New Jersey supplier, and the details of that arrangement went with him to his grave. Ernest testified that he knew nothing about Alfred’s dealings, and got off with a minor fine, no jail time. His reputation and business suffered a bit, but ultimately, Ernest lived to see the daylight, daylight that Alfred would have most likely seen had he managed to stay alive for the trial.

By this point in time, Penny had grown up and moved out of the house, and down to northern Virginia. She blamed her mother Susanne for her father’s death and all that went along with it, and they maintained very little contact over the years. Though Penny retained friends from childhood through high school and frequently came to visit them in Baltimore, she rarely visited my grandmother, who helped raise her, nor her own widowed mother, who married Irving, a neighbor and widower himself (his wife, whom Susanne had known, had died of cancer at a relatively young age) living with three children of his own. Penny never accepted her stepfather and step-siblings, who came to appreciate Susanne and eventually, regard her as their own mother. Though Irving was a decent husband and father, he also led a flashy lifestyle, financing it through his new wife’s money; money that was not going towards Penny herself.

Through the years, my father and his sister kept in touch with their first cousin Penny, but from a distance. She married a man called Woody, who was not particularly religious and also not a particularly…well, let me put it this way. Ernest, her late father’s business partner, remained in business but never offered Woody a job, as he had to other family members. Eventually, upon Ernest’s death, the business and the money stayed in his family. Her father’s uncle, the man with the furniture store, hired Woody as a salesman, but Woody did so poorly that he had to fire him. So, they kind of did their own thing, now living in the Washington DC area. My father and the others in the family remained in contact with Cousin Penny and her husband Woody, but they never quite found out how they got their money; Penny didn’t work, and Woody only gave vague answers about “business,” saying “it was fine.”

The final chapter of the story commences one hundred and one years after it began, in 1999. My aunt, now a mother herself, became a grandmother for the fifth time, to my little cousin Emily, that January. By this time, communication with Cousin Penny had slowed to a trickle; interaction happened only at a select few “state occasions,” weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. No letters, phone calls, or emails, otherwise. The new baby’s parents – my cousin Hillary and her husband – live in Washington, DC, not too far from the suburb where Cousin Penny resided. As a gesture of good faith, Hillary picked up the phone and invited Penny to a baby naming party they were holding for Emily, in May of that same year. Penny said she couldn’t come, her husband was sick.

Well, sometime later that year or in early 2000, Woody died. My aunt, father, and grandmother did not hear about this until many months later, around the time my father was preparing the family invite list for the Event of the Century – okay, it was for my bar mitzvah, that November. The three of them sent Penny a sympathy card, and received not a thank-you note, but a very long and nasty letter, accusing my grandmother and aunt of abandoning her in her time of need (this is the woman who abandoned her own mother), not visiting Woody when he was sick, not bothering to attend his funeral (which no one on our side of the family knew about, since no one had even told us how sick he was, or when he died), and other things that were apparently so rude that the three of them came to a decision to unceremoniously declare Cousin Penny and her children persona non grata.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my father quietly deleted Penny from the invite list, and my bar mitzvah was the first major family event that Penny was not formally invited to.

They have not attempted to contact her again.

Growing up, I knew of Penny’s existence and the fact that she was Aunt Susanne’s daughter, but nothing else. After Aunt Susanne died in the 1980s, we gradually lost contact with anyone associated with her, including my grandmother’s close friend and step-niece Ida, who was somewhat younger than her. My grandmother would have been 103 last year, so it is quite possible that Ida is still alive somewhere, in her nineties. Over the years, some of my father’s cousins have had brief contact with Ida’s children, but not for many years now. Their many afternoons of coffee and conversation are now lost to memory.

By the time Dad finished telling the story, we had driven over an hour from Belvidere to Madison, and were only a few blocks away from my apartment.

So there’s that.


Now that it’s inordinately late, off to bed for me. Once again, only a five continent day for me (no South America) but let me acknowledge those that did check in today from North America (Canada, USA, Mexico, Guadeloupe [first time, welcome!], and Puerto Rico); Europe (France, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein [first time, welcome!], Italy, Norway, Sweden and Spain); Africa (Mayotte); Asia (India, Vietnam, and the Philippines) and Oceania (Australia).

8

The Worst First Snow Ever

It’s funny how the smallest things can get you thinking about a story to tell.

So, today, I was getting a new car after spending Thursday and Friday of last week shopping. I know, I got one last year, but it was under extreme circumstances, and my dad said that if I wanted to, in 6-12 months’ time, I could trade it in if I wanted, so I took him up on it. I looked at about four cars at two different places, one in White Marsh and one in Timonium. I ended up finding a practically new used car (2014, only 6700 miles on it) at the place in Timonium. The salesmen was from the African nation of Burkina Faso, and while I waited the requisite several-hour wait for a new car, all the usual questions came up, including “tell me about the first time you saw snow.”

He didn’t have much to say, but it reminded me of when my family hosted these two girls for my high school’s basketball tournament. They came from Miami, and I’ll call them Meghan and Melissa, because both of their real names actually started with M. It was February, and it had snowed the week before, but most of it was gone. The first afternoon the girls arrived, the topic of snow came up. Meghan had visited New York in the winter before, so she had seen snow, but Melissa, who was born and raised in South America and had only recently moved to Miami, had never seen snow. When my dad mentioned that he saw some snow still on the ground at a local mall, Melissa went crazy, so my dad took her to see the snow.

They arrived at the mall at sunset, and indeed there was snow.

But it was the littlest, grossest mound of black parking-lot snow there ever was. Looking something like this.

Still, that didn’t stop Melissa.

She bolted out of the car, in her jacket, capris, and little hemp sandals, and climbed up the little mound of snow, and stood proudly on top. Her first ever snow. She thought that it was the most exciting snow ever, even when we told her it was probably the worst bit of winter. She asked if she could eat it, to which my dad was like…normally, yes, but not this black snow. Or yellow snow.

And that’s the story of Melissa’s first snow.

Oh, and I bought the car. It is new and cute.