Tuesday, 20 December 2011

My Special Piece of Chanukah

As we prepare to begin the festival of Chanukah, I have been following the excitement all day amongst my friends and family through Facebook, Twitter, email and other forms of social media. It always interests me in how people celebrate holidays and which customs remain important throughout their lives. Whether it is the visceral odour of latkes cooking, the lighting of the Chanukiah, the music, or the gifting that tends at times to go somewhat overboard, every single one of us has a tradition that absolutely must be carried forward or else "it just isn't Chanukah!" Today I was reminded of mine.

This is my mother's Chanukiah.


It is the Chanukiah that we always lit when I was a child and it is the Chanukiah that my parents continue to light and carry with them wherever they are in the world for Chanukah. Today I watched as my mother brought it out and set up the candles in preparation for this evening, just like I used to do when I was a kid. It brought back a hundred different memories all at once. I love this piece. It isn't the most beautiful Chanukiah I have ever seen, but it is the most special to me. I always knew that the piece was given to my mother by her father, but until today I never delved further into the story.

It seems that my grandfather, a jack of many trades throughout his lifetime, was working as a travelling salesman shortly after the war in the late 1940s. He happened upon one of his customers who drew him into conversation and soon discovered that he was Jewish. She brought out this Chanukiah and told him that it had been smuggled out of Holland just before or during World War II. She had no idea what it was but she knew that it was of some significance, and wondered if my grandfather might like to have it. He took it gratefully, and it remained in my grandparents' home until my grandmother moved in with my family after my Zaidy's death. My mother inherited it from her mother.

Years later during one of my parents' many trips, they happened upon other Chanukiot just like it in a museum in Amsterdam. My mother was so excited that she took photos of those to show all of us at home. Until today, she never told me the story and I never knew the significance of the piece.

It has always surprised me the myriad of Chanukiot that are available today, many of which I find to be quite tacky. I could never imagine lighting Chanukah candles with Bart Simpson or Mickey Mouse as the Shamash. When The Husband and I were searching for a Chanukiah of our own, I always came back to the traditional designs that were inspired by this particular and special piece of family folklore. Tonight as we light the first lights together with my parents, I will be marvelling at uniqueness of our Chanukiah and what it means to both my mother and me.

חג שמח to all who observe!!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

50 Years and Counting.....

I have really struggled with the writing of this post. It shouldn't have been all that difficult. I mean, really! How many couples do you know that have managed to make the 50 year anniversary line, and how many of those are actually related to you? My parents will be celebrating this auspicious milestone this coming Saturday and since we won't actually be in the same city until Sunday, I really wanted to recognize the day in print. But the writing gods have been tremendously unkind and have afflicted me with a block at the exact moment when eloquence is desperately required. You see...I felt that I needed a hook, a literary device to express exactly what I am feeling and to hopefully make the post more interesting to you the readers. Maybe a bit of satire or comedy? But then I realized that this nonsense was horseshit. What really matters isn't the flowery language in which I couch my emotions. It is the occasion itself.

There will be ample celebratory moments for our family over the next couple of weeks as we all arrive in the Southern Home to fete Mom and Dad, but the actual day is being planned as a low-key affair. When I asked how they planned to spend Saturday, my mother answered in typically understated fashion "I am thinking chicken wings, pizza, and maybe The Big Bang Theory on Tivo." When The Little Bro and The Ying to his Yang put together an invitation for a small party being thrown down here, they used my parents wedding picture as part of the design. My mother strenuously objected. Not just because she loathes their wedding picture (too long a story for this post, believe me!) but she really wanted to keep the occasion light, fun, and devoid of mush. My sister-in-law always the artist and ever the smartass, replaced the photo with this:

My mother loved it. It was exactly in keeping with how she and Dad want to celebrate.

My parents are not the centre of attention sorts. (Ok! Dad is-but he shares this particular centre with Mom.) They don't want speechifying or toasts. They aren't into slideshows or big parties, and most of all the dictum came down from on high that "there are to be absolutely no syrupy recollections." For them, it is all about celebrating with family and close friends and that is exactly what we plan to do. But as is my nature as oldest child and obstinate daughter, I just could not let this Saturday pass without a few thoughts. So here are some random thoughts about 50 years with my Mom and Dad.

50 years of Dad telling stories and 50 years of Mom correcting his tall tales.
50 years of Dad screaming about nothing and 50 years of Mom laughing about it later.
50 years of Dad losing stuff and 50 years of Mom finding it.
50 years of Dad getting lost and 50 years of Mom digging him out of his self-created holes and getting him back on course.
50 years of Dad telling jokes and 50 years of Mom fixing the botched punchlines.
50 years of Mom taking classes and 50 years of Dad reaping the benefits.
50 years of Mom baking and cooking and 50 years of her telling Dad that he can't eat any of it.
50 years of travelling the world together and 50 years of Dad meeting people he knows in all corners.
50 years of technology and 50 years of Mom trying to idiot proof it all for Dad.
50 years with Other Mother and Other Father and 50 years of developing a relationship that is unique to the outside world.
50 years of public displays of affection.
50 years of kvetching and 50 years of thanking a higher power that those kvetches aren't much worse.
50 years with 2 kids, 1 son-in-law, 1 daughter-in-law, 5 grandchildren, 2 other kids and spouses whom they treat as their own, 5 great-nephews and great-nieces who think of them as Bubby and Zaidy, and countless other family members and friends who love and respect them.

Not a bad legacy for 50 years of marriage.

Yesterday, when discussing this anniversary with my mother she told me a story that she heard while attending Susan Werner's concert last weekend. It seems that Susan recently lost her grandmother who hit the century mark and then some. She shared some of her grandmother's wisdom with the audience. When asked the secret to a successful marriage, Susan's grandma replied "choose someone that you can live with and not someone that you can't live without." My parents figured that nugget out a long time ago. They adore living, loving, and laughing together and my guess is that they wouldn't have changed much in the last 50 years. Ok! Maybe my father's temper tantrums and my mother's guilt trips could have found their way to the trash, but other than that....NOTHING! Happy 50th Mom and Dad. May you continue to embrace every single day as if it were a gift. Too mushy? Too bad.

Love, Dawn (Your first born, obstinate, opinionated, strong-willed daughter that you made in your images!)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Where are the Women??

This past summer The Husband and I made our first pilgrimage to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I will admit that we had ulterior motives in making the five hour drive around the lake that didn't involve visiting the shrine, but while we were there we knew that we needed to finally see the place. It was a fantastic experience and one that I would gladly repeat again and again. A music lover's paradise. One of my greatest thrills during our trip to the Rock Hall was viewing the remarkable exhibit set up to honour Women Who Rock. It was like Cleveland knew I was coming and designed a special showcase just for me. We spent hours perusing and listening to all of the greats. It was pure joy.

We finally made our way into the screening room to view the film that honours all of the hall's inductees. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but was tremendously dismayed at the dearth of women who have actually been inducted into the hall. Did you know that while the Rock Hall has been open since 1983, it took until 1987 for them to induct their first woman, Aretha Franklin? There have been 619 total people inducted and only a handful of them women, some of whom were members of bands that were ushered in collectively like The Mamas and the Papas or Fleetwood Mac.

So I need to ask the question, "Where are the Women"? Where are the likes of Heart, Pat Benatar, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King (as a performer), Cyndy Lauper, Donna Summer, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, The GoGos, Janet Jackson, or The Carpenters? And this is just a list of the obviously missing. How does a group like the Red Hot Chili Peppers make it this year and not the Wilson sisters who paved the way for them? One might start to wonder if a gender bias exists in Cleveland?

Look it is obvious that rock and roll has traditionally been a guy's game, but women have forced their way into the picture and can no longer and should no longer be ignored. These omissions are neon-lighted slights that need to be corrected. Will they also ignore Melissa Etheridge when she becomes eligible next year? Travesties!

While we wait and hope for these errors to be corrected, we can and should acknowledge the great Laura Nyro who made the cut this year as the ONLY woman inductee. In the meantime, if you have a chance to get to the Rock Hall to see the Women in Rock exhibit I highly recommend it. It is on display until February 2012.