Wedding Interruptus


The first born of the second generation has married. My oldest niece and her new husband met in Florence during a gap year. Despite  complications– different schools different countries; it is no surprise to anyone who knows either of them, let alone both of them, that everything got sorted out. Family and friends on two widely separated continents are very pleased with the match.

The accountant and I were thrilled by the cool gray weather; the low fog that never lifted was entirely welcome to New Yorkers. Although, I am not a foolishly optimistic person, I was utterly confident reassuring my sister, the mother of the bride, when I ran into her buying a case of peaches at the local farmer’s market that the sun would shine and the fog would lift on the day my niece was married in her family’s backyard to the first man she loved.

A picture of California casual perfection, which as everyone knows especially those who have any familiarity with the movie business, takes a great deal of effort and money to achieve. In this case some money, heroic efforts and love. “It’s sort of an Etsy wedding” one of the cousins helpfully explained to a still clueless older guest. I jumped in explaining that Etsy was an on-line store specializing in the sort of products that back in New York are called artisanal. Funny how internet commerce forced understandable useful words like handmade and homemade to retool with new-er usages of fancier words. Perhaps, without these new adjectives in front of hand raised pigs and home smoked bacon the peaches wrapped in and grilled over an open fire might not have seemed suitable celebratory fare. Not in this crowd, of course, where the mothers and the best friends spent the days before the wedding not at the hairdresser or the day spa but making porchetta purses and slicing peaches.

My older sister’s garden has never looked so good, and even the band’s late arrival had a happy outcome. Eric Lechner picked up his guitar beginning the wedding by singing The Beatles; “In My Life.” I, who so loathe the Mendelssohn that I ran down the aisle to a march by Prokofiev, was nearly reduced to tears as my niece and nephew-in –law exited the Chuppah. The recessional Wedding March sounded beautiful and hopeful once again played on the 1930’s Dobro resonator freshly shined with a hint of punk rock surf beat. Kinda the opposite of original instruments.  The bride, her sisters and attendants would grace any staging of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Indeed, one of the photographers captures tableaux where the young women look like Balanchine  fairy dancers – very pretty very slim, long tresses pinned into tight buns woven through with flowers—all they’re missing is the physical gracefulness of trained ballerinas. But, that isn’t obvious in the photos.

The bluegrass band finally arrived. White people dancing exuberantly is a wedding cliché. Yet, the pleasure of watching happiness made plain remains a palpable delight. It radiated from the dancers so powerfully nearly pure as the sunlight, just maybe wafting all the way down the hills to the bay. The music was unlike the typical catering hall wedding where Motown follows the inevitable father daughter dance to “Sunrise, Sunset” as surely an overdressed person will be puking in the toilet stall next to you. A blue grass band made up of  Hollywood session players is bound to sound better than a cover band.  Pretty much like wild Copper River salmon gravlaxed by someone who has known the bride since before ubiquitous aquaculture beats poached salmon with cucumber gills.

It is always my goal to reach the bar quickly. I’m generally successful even when handicapped by high heels. And, of course, the accountant knows what to do. I looked over for him as I climbed the hill where the bar was set up thinking if this were a Nora Ephron movie about this perfect  joyous day the hill would have been have been made gentler, my stepmother would have been shushed during the ceremony or perhaps a great joke would have been made if I had understood my little sister’s frantic gesticulation.

Wendy sat with our stepmother as did I with our mother and her new walking sticks. Wendy teaches pre-school, always modeling correct behavior so she didn’t clap her small hands over our stepmother’s mouth during the brief ceremony. In all fairness I should say that our stepmother did modulate from her outside voice to her inside voice during the brief outdoor service.

I concentrated on moving up the hill, conscious that I did not want to be the prat-falling aunt. My husband was talking on his cell phone a few feet behind me. I frowned, he was still talking when I reached small clearing in a grove of Eucalyptus trees where a bar had been created for the wedding. It was manned by two strapping and handsome young students. Likely, boyfriends of the lovely co-ed servers. Everyone at the wedding was related to someone, if not the bride, a sister, a cousin, a friend, if not as far back as preschool school at least high school.

“Red or White?” asked the handsome young man with a familiar smile.

Phil caught up talking fast looking worried still holding his phone in his hand.

“My brother’s been in a bicycle accident.”

“Both.” I said. The young bartender poured, and poured again.

“Now give him the same. Plus a large glass of  fizzy water. Thank you.”

“Who are all these for?” the accountant asked as we gingerly made our way down the hill to the nearest table.

“Someone will want them.” I said  “What do you mean your brother was in a bike accident?”

“It’s bad,” he said.

“Who says so?” I ask, sipping from the glass of white burgundy. Clearly Kermit Lynch had been consulted—the wine was both delicious and unfamiliar.

“My brother. My nephew, the trauma surgeon.”

“Your brother is talking?”

“Yes, after he called 911. He called Jason to discuss if he should be airlifted straight to Jefferson hospital rather than to his own hospital which is closer. He asked him to call me.”

I handed my husband the glass  filled with San Pellegrino water and started on the red wine. It had a slight chill and more than a bit of Cabernet Franc. A little steel revealed in the upper palate kept it from a mere fragrant fruit bomb. I went back to the white, turning my full attention back to the worried brother.

“Drink this water. Your brother going to be OK. Different, to be sure. But OK.”

“Should I risk the wine?” The diabetic accountant asked, ” I sure could use a drink.”

I smiled and took his hand leading him around towards the dog door. I snagged two bottles of Champagne: one pink and one white along the way.

“Give these to Kim.” I instructed Phil as we entered the busy kitchen through the back door. I went into the pantry where my sister keeps the scotch and poured a large measure for my husband.

“Oh, you dear, dear man,” Kim Shiffer said in her Louisiana accent, a voice that naturally brings a smile to men face’s even on those rare occasions when she isn’t also proffering an outstretched hand with a tasty morsel “You remembered us! Which one shall I drink?”

I handed her a glass of  the pink champagne and a glass of the blanc de blanc. It was a day for prettier and better.

It was a day to marvel at conjunction.

My Right Arm

“Your right arm is angry with you.” The occupational therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering was about half way through her evaluation.

“It’s reciprocal,” I said.

Michelle completed the task and looked closely at my face before revealing her smile.

I enjoyed having my face searched. It isn’t the norm over at MSKCC. Well, not for me. Could be the patients with Ewing’s Sarcoma would almost enjoy a close look at their chests. A break from the routine.

The possibility of working with someone with a sense of humor cheered me up. She measured the arc of rotation that my right arm — my dominant side, my surgical side — makes. She repeated the arc of rotation only this time she moved my right arm, not me. Better measurements, worse pain.

How I refer to my right arm depends entirely on the context. I can’t speculate how common this careful, repetitive word choice is among people who have had radical mastectomy. We vary, still individuals, not necessarily united by sharing a disease. Breast Cancer, perhaps, should be thought of as a large and powerful Duchy within the Kingdom of Cancer. What is unique to each patient is her own experience, her type of cancer, her treatment and the consequences – intended and unintended –  of that treatment. His, too.

However, many of us are united in our disgust and dislike of Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan B. Komen foundation. My sisters didn’t start a foundation in my honor — they sent wine and chocolate. Perhaps, it would have been different if either of them were natural born marketing geniuses nearly six feet tall, had extremely rich husbands or if I had died. Height has been called the single biggest predictor of professional success.

But not the only one.

“How successful are you with the A.D.L.s?” Michelle, the tall, thoughtful, humorous occupational therapist said. I have been asked many questions at MSKCC. Politely phrased, intimate questions. But, not once in six years of regular visits anything about politics or religion.

I exaggerate. I was asked if I wanted a rabbi. Once they heard I’m not davening, it never came up again. Once, I overheard my oncologist say to a group of visiting foreign doctors, “Hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for him,” referring to then President Bush.

So why was she asking me about The Anti-Defamation League? I support the mission of the ADL. Yet I don’t donate enough to buy Abe Foxman a bowl of matzo ball soup. Same with the ACLU. Whatever money I have left after co-pays goes to Spaetzle Boy’s schools.

Again, I exaggerate. I do contribute to The New York Philharmonic, and I always pay my dues to WBGO and WNYC. But just enough so that when The Rich or a well-run foundation asks what percentage of your users contribute, my two-figure sums help the statistics. Yes, I know– I am an Upper West Side cliché.

So what was up with me, my right arm and the ADL? Maybe there was a new program? Maybe The ADL was taking up the cause of my right arm? Why not, I smiled at that notion. A Jew was experiencing pain, a Jew was suffering. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of some of those smart passionate lawyers who try to implement the noble ideals, the echt mission, of the ADL getting tough with my right arm.  The majority of breast cancer patients don’t experience my complications.

Discrimination! Bad luck! I’m in the unfortunate 30%.  Good luck! I am also in the fortunate 49% who survive more than five years with my particular markers.

Although, fantasizing about enlisting a powerful NGO to be on my side was an excellent distraction from Michelle’s therapeutic work on my surgical side, I can’t honestly claim that Anti-Semitism, defamation, or injustice have played any role in the events that led to my preference for occupational therapy over physical therapy. In fact, were I to be entirely truthful, I am the Jew hurling calumny as pots and pans slip to the floor, a favorite dish breaks when I lose fine motor control, a storm brews, and the right side of my body swells. Unpleasant. Embarrassing. Painful.

But, no NGO was going to help, or be able to answer my questions.

“A.D.L.s?” I said.

“I’m so glad you asked!” Michelle nearly beamed. “Activities of Daily Life. A.D.L.s.”

I didn’t do so well on the A.D.L. test. I passed shoelace tying but flunked bra. An incomplete in dishwasher. F in laundry. Vacuuming was excluded, for relevance. I’d just as soon skip bed-making altogether. My grocery shopping explanations caused her to pull up and sit down on a rolling stool. My answer to her question about Le Creuset cookware was nearly Clinton-esque in my parsing.

“Yes, but I got a set of Blue Star pots and pans once the lymphedema set in.” This interested her. We discussed merits of various brands of cookware while she waited for my heart rate to improve. I explained why, in my opinion, Blue Star pans are superior to All Clad. It’s all about the balance and how the handle feels in your hand. She demonstrated the correct way for someone with my ADL issues to hold a spoon for stirring rice; a fist with thumb pointing up.

If I hadn’t had to nearly abandon making risotto a while back, her technique would have brought me to tears.  Go to all that trouble and smash the fuck outta the rice, lose any control over how the starch develops? I made a fist. She measured. I made another fist.

I didn’t ask if she preferred Carnaroli rice or Vialone Nano rice. I didn’t think about how lovely it would be to eat a dish of rice with the first of the peas. English peas are about to come into season. I had just made some chicken stock — plenty of guanciale and pancetta in the freezer. The frat boys would shuck all the peas, or at least the accountant would. Mint, thyme, a touch of  Parmigiano but not so much the delicate peas would be overshadowed and the dish would get gloppy. I just then realized I hadn’t made any dish involving fresh English peas for years.

Five years. A veritable lifetime since I lay naked from the waist upon a table on the Upper East Side and heard that what I had felt was “the size of a pea”.

“What kind of pea? An English pea? A garden pea? A petit pois, a Dutch yellow pea?”  I asked.

“I don’t know what kind of pea,” the radiologist confessed.

“So you might want to rethink your analogy, doctor. Or tell me using scientific measurements. This feels big enough to be described using English measurements. Although, I am very good at vegetables I am hopeless when it comes to the metric system.”

Turns out I had about a teaspoon of starchy old peas, the type found in packages sold in the frozen food section best for icing an injury. Certainly not worth eating, definitely not good in breast tissue. I quickly found another radiologist.

I want my physicians to do the doctoring and leave the patient to find her own metaphors or analogies. And another thing, don’t speculate. My tumors were refractory to mammography. Let me be clear, it did not matter how many times they shoved my breasts into various positions the tumors we could all feel were not visible. The decade of mammograms I diligently began at 35 to establish a baseline were useless. Unnecessary. A waste of time and money.

Maybe not entirely useless. It clarified the issue for me of evidence-based research and thinking.

You might wonder why I knew to delay the immediate biopsy the radiologist wanted to perform. My sister got The Call once. The call the radiologist wanted me to make to a close friend, someone to pick up my child from school. That mother, (my best and only friend from high school) agreed to the immediate biopsy, most people do. I can only imagine how her seven-year-old felt once the happiness of a surprise schoolnight sleepover faded.

I have some sense of my sister’s feelings. The sudden expansion of her household — now four girls to cook for, the sudden addition of one brunette to three blond heads of hair she fixed every morning holding girls on her lap while her fingers quickly braided. Worried.  I’ve learned how my oldest friend felt, or some of it.

My boy wasn’t going to get that shock of Mama not coming home from a doctor’s appointment. I already knew the difference between urgent and emergency. Oh, do I understand the difference in the meanings of those two words. Mammography made no difference to me. It saved my darling friend’s life. I have another friend with young children who had a lumpectomy last summer.  She required a mastectomy this winter. To quote my world-famous oncologist, “Who knows?”

My occupational therapist returned from the printer with a list of exercises “The Ts,Ys &Is.” Didn’t matter what order I did them in just as long as I did them twice a day. I demonstrated to her satisfaction that my two arms understood how to make the signs for time-out, surrender and angled out from my body somewhere between touchdown and victory.  That Y is by far the most painful.

“YITs,” I said “You should call them the YITs easier to remember.” Michelle nodded.

I didn’t tell her that YITS is also an acronym for Yours In The Struggle. She’s too young to remember when a fist in the air was a political statement.

Le tombeau de Tony Fell

The much beloved Tony has joined Ravel and Couperin in the next world if you believe in such things. I don’t. And yet on the bittersweet journey to London for Tony’s memorial there were intimations of his continuing existence, not merely in the hearts and minds of the many who loved him but a certain bizarre episode days past the official observance at Wigmore Hall. The service itself was flawless. The music impeccable. The musical tributes composed in honor of Tony ( Tombeaus (or would it be tombeaux?) as they called them back in the day when all music was both contemporary and classical) Louis Andrissen’s “Shared Memory” lamento for Oboe and Violin made you want to hear more. Kurt Schwertsik came up with “Tony Fell Gedenkend” which I suspect will go on to have a rather longer life as “Liedersammlung pp 91, no 3″. Everything was beautifully performed. But, it was the Strauss ” Morgen” performed by a young baritone Stephan Loges with equally exquisite piano playing by James Ballieu that took all my concentration not to cry.

I wasn’t going to cry publicly.  I disapprove of public displays. And god knows I had shed literal bathtubs of tears. I was in London with my devoted husband, the accountant and without my devoted son, Spaetzle Boy, to not only pay our respects but to buck up the rest of the team. I had to be my hypocritical worst not to cry during the lieder. I recalled hearing Thomas Quastoff sing it at Carnegie Hall. I wept then. I recalled the time I was banned by my then psychiatrist from listening to lieder. I thought this was the most exquisite I’d ever heard. The sheer perfection of Wigmore Hall where I’d never been before, and the singing of Strauss for a man who loved lieder. Art forms aren’t often displayed for your delectation quite so perfectly. Not in this day and age.

Naturally, we all drank a great deal immediately following.

The accountant had to catch a plane back to NYC for urgent business.  I peeled off from the family kissed my husband goodbye and piled into a cab with Mandy, the widow’s niece from her first marriage which also ended courtesy of lung cancer. Although that husband smoked, unlike Tony who nevertheless perished from the same disease. There is no shortage of irony in life. Mandy and I got my luggage went to the flat we were going to share and stay in for an additional couple of days. We wanted to give Janis a little time and a little space. My complete lack of direction, something I shared with Tony also came into play. Frankly, Mandy was in charge of being sure I got safely from point A to point B. We are all grateful that she assumed this task.

So I didn’t voice my suspicions when she suggested we get something to eat at the closest open pub, “The Dodgy Prawn”.  It’s a very nasty bacteria indeed that can survive a deep fat fryer.

The last time I got food poisoning in London was also in February over twenty years ago..  A dodgy oyster, which in a misguided sense of politesse, I failed to spit out. A real rookie error that put paid to my son’s father’s plan to propose marriage @ Raymond Blanc’s Manior de Quatre Saisons. I accepted his proposal at The Waterside Inn which must be one of the most delightful spots in the world in the spring and summer. It’s funny, in NYC my experience is getting food poisoning in the summer. Given the food supply, it’s not surprising food born illness has become a four season opportunity.

If you find yourself hungry in Clerkenwell,  I’d like to suggest an alternative pub such as “The Lady Ottoline”.    If it’s fish and chips you must have– Tony’s favorite was “Nautilus” in Hampstead.

It was bitterly cold that week in London, they weren’t joking about the winds coming down from Siberia. One last day, one last concert (thank you, Anne-Sophie Von Otter) one last meal out. I chose Barbecoa,  steak and St.Paul’s seemed just right. We had a marvelous and comfortable lunch. Great steak, perfect chips (duck fat always helps) plenty of red wine and room at the table for a friend to nip out of work and come join us. We ate late and the room filled with late afternoon light the glimpses of St. Paul’s through the window appeared to be literally glowing. The charming waiter correctly guessing we needed a bit more wine. Where, we wondered, was he from. Oh you’ve never even heard of my country he replied cheerfully.

“Albania! Albania, Albania or Kosova?” I asked.

“Real Albania. The place with the beautiful beaches. Just a little rocky.” He answered with pride.

“You know,” Janis giggled “it’s almost as though Tony’s sending us a message.”

In that moment I knew everything would be OK for my dear friend. Life would go on, never the same, of course. But, hearing Janis giggle reminded by the waiter of all the times Tony and I had said — Really, we ought to go to Albania next holiday, I was reassured that there will be still be a time,when we will  gather at some little beach restaurant laughing and lingering long enough for  the light change on the water. We’ll will lift a glass to absent friends and to dead dictatorships.

Slight progress

I have been updating my blog so that it looks good and has greater “readability.” Pictures, too. Of the characters who appear and reappear most often. Of course, I can’t seem to figure out how to get Henry Wolf’s great photo of Shirley and me to appear on the Characters page. Tech support is back in high school. So I guess it will have to wait. Leaving me little alternative to be actually write.

Summer 2013

Spaetzle Boy outta be unpacking the large green painted steel trunk that was used exactly once; the one time he went to sleep away camp. Camp wasn’t an unqualified disaster; the lobster roll at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, ME en route home to NYC nearly ameliorated his misery. 

I, too, went away that summer to my first writer’s sleep away camp where I met Dorothy Allison. She roared with laughter over my boy’s miserable letters and told me not to worry. I worried, nevertheless. Years later, I never disagree with Dorothy.

We treasure those letters he wrote complaining about the food, the bugs, the moldy showers and the other campers. Unlike most children, whom I’m told, also complain about the food, the bugs, the moldy showers and some of the other campers, my boy never found anything to like. The trunk resides in storage filled with a wide variety of things my son can’t part with that I won’t house in The Shoebox Palace.

I figure he can unpack the green trunk, give away his old stuffed animals, and spend the time I’m planning to be away writing in Fuckcliffe, Colorado, packing, and unpacking, practicing his look for college—wherever the school might be—or whatever. It seems like a very good idea to spend a week or so away from him shortly before he leaves for college.

Well, it seems like a good idea right now in the winter of 2012. A year and a half from now—Who knows?Something’s coming.

Leonard Bernstein agreed to collaborate on what became the musical, West Side Story while composing the opera, Candide, and continuing to score films and conduct. Way, way busier guy than I have ever been. Let’s dodge any talent comparison, simply ludicrous. Instead, consider Lenny’s oft quoted observation on creative endeavors.

“To achieve great things,two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” Bad idea to be a poor pitiful unpublished novelist and think about Bernstein or Sondheim. Leads to despair and worse yet, mentally reviewing different versions of “Glitter and Be Gay” or “Somewhere”.

My West 14 St. workspace forbids any sound other than that made by the tapping of keys. Not even June Anderson or Barbara Cook demonstrating coloratura would be welcome. Or Barbara Streisand and Aretha Franklin belting – arguably- the most wistful of doomed love ballads over more strings than the Brooklyn Bridge has cables. Very strict, Paragraph: a workspace for writers is &  increases productivity.

My Goal:
Complete a first draft while shepherding my son through the dreaded college application process.  Got the good idea. Eighteen months the not quite enough time. Ah plans…
The prospect of another week with Dorothy Allison and Abigail Thomas and some other friends is tantalizing; the prospect of a piece of Marion’s still oven-warm blackberry pie is a good enough reason to get on a jet. Especially dressed as one of The Sharks.


I’ve had several good ideas for posts since the last one, last year. But, I didn’t write any of them. Stam.

Stam is a Hebrew word. It’s not a noun. Definitely not a verb. It’s kind-of a “super-adjective” It means, whatever, or obviously, or D’oh, or this or that, I’ve been told. I don’t speak Hebrew. I’ve got maybe a dozen Hebrew words, stam is the best of the lot for a non religious person like me. There isn’t any English equivalent. That’s one of the things I like about it, also it’s short and I can spell it.

I have far more words in French,  Italian and Spanish. Primarily relating to food and transport. I can point and order with relative ease in those languages. My Russian has dwindled since I married the accountant and the different alphabet was always another layer of difficulty.  I’ve got a fair Yiddish vocabulary, but suffer the same lack of grammar that thwarts me in all other foriegn languages and occasionally my own.

Lack of grammar is one way to explain why I haven’t written the humorous little pieces I’ve composed in my head about my new cubicle on West 14th Street or my drunken book buying episode on Prince Street or the Stiltsville wedding that wasn’t. I have not figured out how to write much more than a paragraph because a dear friend died a month ago.

Tony Fell – Telegraph

I haven’t yet figured out how to live in a world without Tony.

I’ve out lived a lover or two. I suffered four miscarriages. My father died. Grandparents died.  All awful.  Yet, utterly different than the loss of a friend for 25 years. Like children, your friends aren’t supposed to die.

 Tony said to his wife– towards the very end– ” I don’t know why this is happening. All I’ve ever wanted is Nirvana.”

Shirley & Salmon, not in alphabetical order

Even Shirley threatened to hang up on me if I discussed the problems my CSA created for me. So I didn’t bother to call her for help recalling her delicious squash bean and kale faux cassoulet. She and Patti made a valid point, spending so much money to deal with vegetables that annoyed me. And I’m not just talking about zucchini, they all annoy me– except for bacon.
However, I signed up not only for  a repeat of the Socialist Vegetables but also a swine CSA thereby affording Spaetzle Boy the opportunity to say “From Socialist Vegetables to Capitalist Pigs.” It was clever the first couple of dozen times. There were no complaints about the share from Flying Pigs. It worked out wonderfully. Every Tuesday someone would meet me at the bar at Telepan where I went to pick up our sack of pig delicacies. We’d enjoy one of their wonderful cocktails,  ice tea for my accountant, the diabetic spouse, when he was the designated shlepper- and carry home the insulated silver sack of swine. Heaven.
Emboldened, I signed up for an Alaskan Wild Salmon catch, a CSA-like share in a fishing boat. Seemed very sensible in February when I signed up and paid the hundred bucks. It wouldn’t have been bad except the one time frozen fish pick up deep in the heart of Brooklyn coincided with both the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and the weekend before the corporate tax deadline. The accountant, not yet a salmon lover, was not happy with me. Or anyone else especially not the IT department of  his firm.

I spent the 10th anniversary of 9/11 annoyed, sad and rearranging my freezer to make room for the 10 pounds of wild salmon we were going take possession of just as soon as the corporate returns were in and the various POTUS’s past present and future left town making it possible to once again get from point A to point B. Out came the Aquavit, Kirsch and Vodka. Into Spaetzle Boy went the three pints of  ice cream. The salmon stacked up very neatly. It thaws out perfectly overnight in the refrigerator, one slab per meal with just enough left-over for someone’s breakfast or lunch.

Here is the salmon recipe:
1) Close the door to isolate the one remaining smoke alarm
2) Turn oven on to 350 degrees
3) Heat up grill pan the one that covers two burners
4) Remove salmon from plastic. Rinse off, pat dry esp. the skin side salt and pepper
5) When grill pan is smoking hot gently place salmon skin side down (about five minutes in my kitchen but then I have a Blue Star, a stove with more BTUs than in many a cheap restaurant)
6) Stand over the stove –ideally, with a cool glass of something in your hand. In not very many minutes you’ll observe the salmon has changed color around the edges and lost its translucence. Get yer hot mitts.
7) Turn off burners and skate a nice hunk of butter over the fish. Add salt, pepper again, if you like.
8) Put the grill pan in the warm oven. Notice no turning the fish. Do not turn fish unless frying.
9) Invite people to the table. Chop up some fresh herbs, whatever is fresh and pretty, cut up the lemon.
10) By the time you have to say “What are you deaf? Goddammit, I said dinner is ready.” The grill pan can be walked right over to the sideboard by the loving and ever charming mother/cook/wife.
Surely, I don’t have to tell my readers that they better have the vegetables all ready before the salmon hits the pan?
I might  have to explain what this has to do with Shirley who remains utterly uninterested by salmon unless it is smoked and delivered by Russ and Daughters. She has been giving me recipes for various salmon preparations. There is a chili and gravlax one from Canal House that reads wonderfully. I’d be tempted except who is going to slice the cold salmon thinly and beautifully? The accountant is a lefty who never had a summer job behind the deli counter– he worked as a cabana boy, Spaetzle Boy has dyspraxia, and the subject of the decline of my right arm is even more tiresome than what to do after the first week of zuchini season.


My pregnant stepdaughter ignored my preference to have theyet unborn child address me by my name. Her mother and mother in law had falleninto line, apparently looking forward to being called grandma. I was lookingforward to a new child in the family and was fully confident that we’d make ourown relationship. One day she’d decide how to address me. But, obviously thatwas some time in the future. My stepdaughter needed this nomenclature issueresolved that afternoon. In addition to rejecting my own given name, thepregnant woman hated my first two alternate names: Bubby or Field Marshall.
I have adored the Field Marshall as a name for years—eversince my first husband suggested it as a possible name of our son who we named– in the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition — after his late grandfather. Mystepdaughter didn’t like Field Marshall unlike the father to be who immediatelytook to it and even now occasionally calls me Field Marshall. I guess it’s aguy thing.
I was in a pickle; I had to come up with a name that wouldbe suitably significant to meet the standards of the family I adore. A family,I should say, that chooses names suitable for mockery in my book—alternativespellings, names with undesirable meanings in other languages. None of thisbothers them. In fact, before I came around and pointed it out they wereprobably unaware of nomenclature issues they unwittingly give birth to.
“Nana.” I said.
“You can’t be Nana,” one of the other grandmothersimmediately said “that’s my Nana’s name. There is only one Nana.”
“Hmm,” I said,  “Mymother is called Grandma as was her mother. My paternal grandmother was calledat her request by her given name. My stepmother started out with her givenname, eventually the grandchildren dubbed her Gran’Les.”
“Why do you have to make everything so complicated?” Mystepdaughter complained.
“Names matter. Plainly, they matter a great deal to you.”
I didn’t even mention the difference between holocaust andHolocaust. Although, I still swell with pride over my son’s fighting with ahistory teacher who had incorrectly used Holocaust.  But, I care about linguistics and mostpeople, although they should—do not.
Anyway, I wasn’t looking for a fight. I understood a sinceredesire of an about to be mother to want to control everything.
“These are your choices, “ I said almost certainly using thesame tone of voice I have used when frustrated by my own child, “Nana, FieldMarshall or Amy.”
I wonder if I she’d ever read any of Abigail Thomas’s “Nana”stories. I doubted it. I think if she’d read about the character, Nana she’dhave gone with Field Marshall.
Yesterday, I was at the inspiration for the character knownas Nana 70th birthday party. She wore a gilt tiara, psychedelic rubber bootsand drank non-alcoholic imported German beer out of the bottle. It was amarvelous time.

Yentas gossiping and promising

Sixteen people celebrated Pesach in the shoebox palace this year. The following evening, the three of us went to a near by suburb for our traditional Seder with Olga. This year over ten percent of the people there were native English speakers. I  missed the casual chit chat about Stalin.

Fortunately, my accountant has fallen in love with opera. Jewish emigres from the former USSR, at least the ones I know, are big on culture. Opera was a suitable– an approved topic– of conversation while everyone drank.  Olga and I paused from our annual fight about the proper temperature of the stove long enough to marvel at how large everything has become.

Especially our boys. We started these Seders over ten years ago when my son was five and her boys ranged from 6 to 14. You couldn’t take them anywhere. The boys used to literally climb the walls in her hallway, while Olga and I finished up the wine discussing the probability of a trip to the ER and her live in nanny/housekeeper did the dishes.Nothing more serious than a dish ever got broken. And over the years the group has grown along with our boys.

Everybody brings something.   This is necessary because Jews can’t arrive empty handed. It’s much better if you give them an instruction otherwise you end up with a lot of bad wine instead of something you might actually enjoy. Like Valya’s gefilte fish. I forget exactly where in the former Soviet Union Valya’s mother was a caterer. Somewhere near a lake, I assume, given how great the ground and poached fish appetizer both looks and tastes.

Subsequently, I was at Williams-Sonoma. Another Yenta and I fell into a conversation about brisket and gefilte fish. She has promised to put me on her fish list, just as I put people on my brisket list for the Jewish Holidays which are fast approaching.

Imagine if everyone keeps the promises.