Thursday, August 11, 2016
A Word The Weiss
You’ll have to forgive me for not posting a single word for the past week or so. Friday afternoon was graduation, and I had to be there
to cheer for my kids.
All 30 of them.
Yes, if you are regular readers of this space, you know by now that I have only two biological
children, Aidan and Allegra, as well as Kaitlin, my wonderful brand-new daughter-in-law.
But I also had
an actual job again this summer, serving once
again as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Connecticut Medical
School, during which I grew so attached
to my 30 students that, as far as I’m concerned, they are all now “my kids” too.
What was I, Nice Jewish Mom, doing
teaching at a med school? Don’t imagine for a second that I was hired to tutor aspiring physicians in physics
or inorganic chemistry. You might argue that on some level I am qualified to call myself a doctor of Mom-ology. But
in this case, what the program really required was an experienced writer and editor.
Then again, as it turned out, what many of my students also needed was what almost every kid – no, let’s face it, almost everyone – could probably
use: another mother.
Nice, Jewish, or otherwise.
For the past 20 years, UConn Health Center has offered a series of courses each summer and on Saturdays through the school year. Designed for students ranging in age from
middle school through post-college, HCOP aims to increase diversity in the health-care field by helping youngsters from minority backgrounds that are underrepresented in the profession get into medical and dental schools.
The primary focus of the
class with which I was affiliated was to help these students raise their science grades and scores on standardized
tests. However, the directors of the program realized last year that these students could also use some help
with the personal essays for their applications. That’s where I came in.
students I taught were all college juniors, seniors, and recent graduates who will be applying to medical and dental schools.
They were so busy taking science courses and studying for the MCATs and DAT (Dental Admission Test) that there was only time for me to teach one initial
90-minute class to each of the two groups.
After that, the plan once again was that they would write their essays on their own and email them to me to be edited. Then I would meet with each of them
one-on-one to discuss the changes I had made and elicit any necessary additions or clarifications.
Writing can be a
daunting task, particularly for science kids. It hardly
helped that many of them spoke English as a second language. To help put my students at ease and create a welcoming atmosphere,
I showed up
for my classes
with a bowl full of candy
and granola bars. I also advised them to lose whatever notions they might have about what “good
writing” entails. When it comes to composing a personal essay, I said, the best approach is to forget about big words and stiff, formal terms like “nonetheless.” And “therefore.”
Rather, adopt a natural voice, meaning a conversational tone, as though you were telling a story about
something to a good friend.
Or perhaps your mother.
I also assured them that they had nothing to worry about
because the subject matter they were required to write about in this case happened
to be the one topic on which they were each not only extremely well-versed, but actually the
world’s leading expert.
this point home, I asked for a volunteer to come up, asked him his name, then placed a white satin graduation cap on his head
and ceremonially presented him to rest
of the class.
“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the world’s leading
expert on Lemuel: Lemuel!”
Since the majority of my students were of African-American or Hispanic descent, and many came from a wide range of other places, including Puerto Rico, India,
Jamaica, Pakistan, and Vietnam, my class this year also featured the world’s leading experts on Zuleika, Uchenna, Meadeshia, Kavisha, Jadia, and Hamza.
Yet once again, since many of
them spoke English as a second language, far more challenging than pronouncing their names was managing to revise their essays
so that they retained their writers' natural voices, yet read smoothly and totally grammatically.
Many of the stories they chose to tell were heart-rending. They wrote of sacrifices their
parents had made to move to this country seeking a better life for their children. Many of these youngsters were not just the first in their families to attend college,
but also the first to speak English. So they had been obliged to attend doctors’appointments with their parents, siblings and other relatives to serve as translators, starting from a very young age.
Others, growing up in extreme poverty, had needed to work to help their families.
One girl, whose father was an invalid, had been responsible for administering
his daily regimen of medications since she was 11, on
top of doing a wide gamut of household
chores. This meant that, like many of her classmates, she had been forced to grow up fast.
And yet, as you find when you work with children, they still needed a parent.
An extra parent, I mean. Or at the very least some caring adult to offer support, reassurance, and advice.
And so, even though I had only been allotted 20 measly minutes to meet privately with each student, I often ended up spending much of that precious time counseling them not just on their personal essays, but also a wide variety of personal issues.
In the interests of maintaining
confidentiality, I am not going to name any names.
there was one girl who wrote about a touchy, traumatic situation that I felt warranted comment on far more than her voice, word choice, and sentence structure.
As I had advised my students, the personal essay was the best place to address any deficiencies or precipitous dips in their academic record. That is, if they had a difficult
semester or two, or a low grade in one particular course, and this could be attributed to a specific situation
– a death in the family, an illness or injury they or a close relative had suffered, or some other sort of hardship – then they should address it there head-on. It was generally not a good idea to lead off with this kind of information, however.
The better approach was to start off with something unique about them, then go on
to detail their best qualities and accomplishments. Then, just before the end, they could digress briefly to explain the unfortunate
things that had happened, and how they
had managed to persist and overcome this obstacle and soon improve their grades.
Still, I was a bit surprised by the way in which one student took this advice to heart. Her grades had declined during her freshman year,
she explained, because she had contracted an STD.
Although this condition was not life-threatening, she went on to note, it still had
managed to deeply affect her on an emotional level. “A typical 17-year-old doesn’t know how to deal with this
type of situation,” she wrote, “and I was no exception.” She had felt betrayed by the person who had given
it to her. She had needed
to find a way to afford the expensive medication
required to treat it. But perhaps worst of all was having to confess what had happened to her to her proper, devout parents back home.
Seeing the tears well up in her
eyes as we discussed this, I couldn’t
help but tear up myself. It no longer seemed so pressing to iron out the details
of the medical internships she had undertaken, or to help her elaborate further on her extracurricular
activities. I began to assure her instead that no matter what you do, or what may happen to you, your parents truly love you, and they always will. Because almost nothing can undermine the love we feel. That
is who your parents are, and that is what parents do.
girl wrote about having had to grapple with her parents’ contentious breakup when she
was in the eighth grade. I ended up talking with her about how my own parents had gone through an extremely acrimonious
divorce during my teen years, so I knew where she was coming from, but that I
had lived to tell about it.
Then there was the one boy in the class who didn’t submit his essay the day that it was due. Or the following
day. Or even week. He kept pleading for extensions, saying he couldn’t write anything that was half-decent. And yet, when
he finally sent it to me, at midnight the night before we met, it turned out to be one
of the best in the class by far.
I told him that his problem was not writing.
It was that he was too hard on himself. He simply needed to begin to believe in himself. And that I believed in
But most gripping of all was the student who wrote about
his troubled relationship with his father. He had grown up in another country and never even spoken to his dad, who lived in the U.S., until he was a teenager.
A few years later, his father had offered to pay for the boy to travel here to attend college,
and they were now living together. Yet, as he detailed in his essay, his father had still remained distant and seemingly disinterested in his life –
so much so that he felt unwelcome
in his house and often longed to go home to his mother, siblings, and the country in which he’d been raised.
“Tell me something,” I asked, after we had reviewed much of his essay together. “Do you intend to show this to your dad?”
He mulled the question over briefly. “Yes," he finally answered. "I guess I would
like him to read it.”
“In that case,” I said gently, “I suggest
that you change what you said about
He looked at
me with some surprise. “But what I said is true,” he responded flatly.
Of that, sadly, I had little doubt. My concern was that the words
he had used, which were harsh and potentially hurtful, would only alienate
his father further. Not only might this make their relationship even more tense, but I feared his father might ask him to move out.
Yet sensing his resistance, I decided to drop the issue and just move on. So we did.
After we had finished discussing every other point that I needed
to clarify, though, he brought it up again himself. While sitting there, he’d had an abrupt change of heart. He said that he had decided I was right, after all, and he wanted to soften his language.
But at that moment, I reconsidered.
For I suddenly had a change of heart myself.
“No,” I said, “I have another idea. I’m going to email you two copies of your essay. The first is to send in with your applications. That one will remain exactly as you originally put it.
The second one is to show your father. That one will say it much more nicely.”
broad smile broke across his face, perhaps for the first time since he had
entered the room. He nodded in agreement.
Although it was none of my business,
at least officially, we spent the rest of our remaining time discussing what else he might do to remedy their troubled relationship.
He said that his father seemed to believe that now that he was in his 20s, he was all grown
up and no longer needed a dad.
I assured him that my son, who will turn 30 this month and is now a married man, still needs a father too. As well as a mother.
For the truth is that no one truly ever reaches the point at which they no longer need, want, or at least appreciate having a supportive parent in their life. How I wish I still had one myself.
I advised him to try to have
a chat with his father, but
to put it as positively as possible, rather than being confrontational in any way. I said to emphasize not how disappointed he was that they were so disconnected, but
rather how much he would enjoy spending more time together. Perhaps, as a start, he could simply invite his father to join
him for an activity that they both enjoyed. It was at least worth a try.
There was that smile again.
I don’t know how much my
advice helped anyone. But I can tell that they all ended up with well-written and compelling
essays that should help get them into grad school. No matter what their grades
or test scores may be. For that was indeed my business.
It’s funny. Although it was crucial for their personal essays to demonstrate that they were both eager and qualified to become doctors or dentists, aspiring health professionals also need to show that they have a
heart. I told them that the most important thing they needed to convey was why they wanted to spend their lives caring for
human beings. So nearly all of them stated somewhere that they wanted to help people, and that they believed
the best possible way to help people was to heal them or improve their health.
And perhaps what they said was true. At least it was for them. But not necessarily for everyone.
What I did last month for my 30
“kids” may not have been a case of life or death. But it was a case of whether or not they got to fulfill their
greatest aspirations. I spent hours working on every single essay, reading it over and over again to make sure it was the best that it could be. No, I did not hold their lives or their health in my hands. What I held
in my hands was their dreams.
I also know that they appreciated not just my snacks, or my advice,
but my efforts, and the extent to which I clearly cared. Because
when I went to see them all graduate, many of them
came over to greet me. Or hug me. Or have their picture taken with me.
Now it was my turn to smile, and not just for the camera.
Someone who gave a speech at the ceremony concluded with an African
proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone,” he said. “If you
want to go far, go together.”
And if you want to get into grad school, or have some moral support along the way, get yourself an extra mom. Or dad. Nice, Jewish, or otherwise. I was happy to have some extra kids. Who doesn’t need more of those?
Friday, July 22, 2016
Word From The Weiss
We interrupt your regularly
scheduled coverage of the Jewish (or at least Jew-ish) wedding of the century (or month) to bring you a tale of the not quite so newly wed – Nice Jewish Dad and me.
Last week was our 32nd wedding
That may sound like a pretty big number as anniversaries go, but it is not exactly a biggie, or a particularly major or momentous number, as milestones go.
That is not to say my husband and I are not all for acknowledging
For our 25th, we spent two and a half weeks in Rome, Florence, and Tuscany.
For our 30th, we celebrated with three weeks in Hong Kong, Beijing and
know where we’ll go next, but if we keep the pattern up – mathematically, anyway – Nice Jewish Dad had better retire at some point because
for our 40th we’ll be away for almost a month.
Last week, though, was only our 32nd. Not exactly something to alert the media about. I would have been content to throw a couple of steaks
on the grill, exchange greeting cards and
a few little tchotchkes, and then call it a night.
And had the occasion
fallen midweek, that is most likely what we would have done.
This particular anniversary, however, fell on a Friday night. And to
be perfectly honest, we are not people who make it a habit to regularly observe Shabbat. Why, we barely ever buy a challah anymore, now that
the kids are grown and living on their own.
So, seeing that it was
a weekend night, we felt compelled to do something special. Or maybe it’s just that our kids felt compelled to make
sure we did something special. Our daughter, Allegra, did, anyway. Our son Aidan, a.k.a. the groom, had just returned from
his two-week honeymoon in Italy with his beautiful bride, Kaitlin, and almost instantly flown off again to Portland, OR, to
serve as an usher in yet another wedding.
Such is life when you’re in your 20s and on the
But his sister, for some reason, really had our occasion
on the brain.
“What are you and
Dad doing for your anniversary?”she kept asking me. Maybe it was just that kids like to see signs that, despite all the inevitable kvetching and squabbles that go on in any marriage (particularly mine), their folks are still feeling amorous,
or at least affectionate enough to stick it out together for at least another year.
Or maybe she was still feeling
regrets that she and her boyfriend JP had just marked their own anniversary with little if any fanfare. I could understand her wanting
to have just a bit of a vicarious thrill. Plus, I am 100 percent in favor of celebrating anything and everything in life worthy
of celebration, since there is way too much of the other stuff.
Then again, theirs was only a second anniversary. The second anniversary
of their first DATE. We have now had 34 of those, during which a certain percentage of the initial thrill has gradually worn
off, the way the gleam of a
new car fades over time. Our particular car still had most of its original
parts, and felt comfortable to drive, but it had also lost some of its initial pep. After all, we were talking about a 34-year-old car. An American car. Didn't
Allegra realize it was pretty amazing that this broken-down old jalopy was still even on the road?
Her own relationship, by comparison, had barely even left the lot yet.
“Give it another three decades
or so,” I was tempted to tell her. “Then we’ll talk.”
But I didn’t want to disappoint
her, so I promised that we would
do something, even if it was just to go out for dinner and a movie. There was, in fact, a film playing in town that we had
been dying to see: Maggie’s
Plan, starring Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke.
“Isn’t that about people having an affair?” Allegra retorted with palpable disapproval. “That
isn’t appropriate for an anniversary! Why
don’t you see something else?”
The problem was there
were slim pickings beyond the usual summer blockbusters. “What do you want us to see,” I shot back, “Ghostbusters?”
As for dinner, our daughter also seemed to have an inordinate interest in our possible destination. I told
her that, in view of Bastille Day
falling just the day before, I was
inclined to go to my favorite local French eatery, A’Vert Brasserie in West Hartford, CT.
“Great! Would you like me to make you a reservation?” she offered brightly. At the time she said this, however,
she was in the midst of driving 600 miles to Michigan to visit an old friend who was seriously ill. So I said thanks, anyway. I could make my own.
Then, to be as good as my word, and
also to preclude her continuing to noodge me all the way from NYC to Marshall, MI, I actually phoned and booked a table for 8:15 p.m.
Flash forward to Friday. It turned
out to be extremely hot and steamy, even for mid-July, so I readily succumbed to an invitation from my friend Catherine to
come over for a late-day swim. We were floating around in her pool, after sitting around sipping wine, when I suddenly realized it was 5:30 p.m. Maggie’s Plan, which we had decided to see, appropriate or not, started
at 6, and I was 5 miles from
home wearing a wet bathing suit.
I phoned my husband to apologize and ask him if he might just want to come
over and join us in the pool instead. But he reminded me that it was, in fact,
our anniversary. “Shouldn’t we keep our plans and go out?” he
Something in his voice made it
clear he wanted me to come home pronto. So I drove off in my dripping suit,
only to find that he had bought me two dozen lovely roses.
What was not so nice was to arrive at the movie theater
on the dot of 6 to discover that Maggie’s Plan was not actually playing there until 10:20 p.m. The night before, the 6 p.m. showing had been listed on the theater’s web site. But
it wasn’t there. Now what?
As I often say, the best-laid plans
of mice and moms are apt to go awry. And
tonight those plans didn’t seem to care one whit that it was our anniversary. (Neither did the manager of the Palace 17, who refused to give us free tickets in view of
to make our 8:15 reservation, we would have
to see something that started ASAP. The only prospect seemed to be an international espionage thriller
based on a 2010 John le Carré novel about the Russian mafia called Our Kind of Traitor.
It opened with a man and his wife
being executed by some Russians, after which their beautiful 20-something daughter tries to flee barefoot in the snow and
is savagely gunned down as well. I'm a well-known wimp when it comes to violence. By the time the opening credits had finished
rolling, I was crying.
Talk about being inappropriate subject matter for an anniversary. We walked out.
That is, I walked out, and my husband was loyal and empathetic enough to follow.
It seemed unlikely that the surly
manager would give us our money back. Besides, we were already there and still had a good two hours to kill before dinner.
Should we see Ghostbusters?
We were standing forlornly in the nearly deserted lobby when my husband noticed
another option that was just about to start. Having seen TV ads for it, I knew that Mike and Dave
Need Wedding Dates was probably pretty juvenile and exceedingly raunchy. But we also knew it was about our favorite current subject as
recent Parents of the Groom – a wedding. Wasn’t that at least appropriate
subject matter for an anniversary?
Well, I am here to tell you that this
movie is totally
And unbearably juvenile.
But we still found ourselves laughing our tucheses off at many scenes, despite our better judgment and our being old enough to have been married
now for 32 years.
The plot is totally ridiculous. Two brothers are so wild and out of control that their parents insist that they find two nice girls to bring as dates to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii to keep them in check. Little do Mike and Dave (played
by Adam DeVine and Zac Efron) realize,
but the seemingly respectable dates that
they manage to recruit (Anna
Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) are out-of-work and out of control waitresses
who are even heartier partiers than they are.
I am not saying you should rush out
and see this totally tasteless, ridiculous rom-com
yourself. But Anna Kendrick, of Pitch Perfect fame, is talented
and likable in anything she does, and Zac Efron is
easy on the eyes, even for someone of my vintage. And by the time we left, still giggling over a gag involving a bush, it
felt like our anniversary was looking up.
Well, OK, maybe not so fast. We arrived at the restaurant only to discover that this popular eatery
was packed to the gills and we could barely hear each other over the din. Not to mention that we were seated at a teeny table
right in the midst of the commotion.
Oh, well. What was there to talk about after 32 years of marriage anyway, right?
Then suddenly the maitre d came over brandishing an ice-cold bottle of Riesling.
Huh? We hadn’t ordered
a bottle of wine.
But apparently our good friends Pat and Michael Kazakoff had. Never mind that they were
now away on vacation. They knew it was our anniversary and had somehow found out
where we were eating. And that somehow – or someone – was
Now things were suddenly
beginning to make some sense. Not to mention really look up.
“Bon anniversaire!” the maitre d’ cried jubilantly, pouring us each a generous glass.
What an incredible surprise! What incredible friends. Things were definitely looking up.
Moments later, the maitre d’, whose name was Mike, returned. “May I seat you at a different table?”
he asked, gesturing to a spacious, relatively
quiet booth in the corner.
Things were most definitely looking up… even if we would now have
to actually converse.
But even the conversation was beginning to flow, along with the vino.
After we had ordered our meals, including
(pardon our trayf) a
shared appetizer of escargots, my husband took the opportunity to hand me
an anniversary card. “It’s Always Been You,” said the greeting on the front.
“Always will be,” it added inside (along with an inscription that was, well, personal).
As if all this hoopla weren’t enough, after we had polished off the wine, our delicieux entrees, and the last bites of the profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with hot fudge, we learned that, due to the occasion, our dessert was on the house.
In case you are wondering, I also had a card for my husband waiting at home, along with a box of chocolates from Jacques Torres and, yes, a few little tchotchkes.
“Why do I put up with you?” the card I had purchased asked on the outside. “Oh,
wait, now I remember,” it continues inside. “YOU put up with ME!”
In the end, maybe it was no big deal whether we went out, stayed in, or did anything at all. But in case you have
an anniversary or other such occasion coming up yourself, well, let me say this. It would have been fine to just
let it go. But it was so much nicer not to.
And it was very, very nice of our friends, and our daughter, to play a role in that.
By the way, I am happy to report that Allegra and JP decided to go away for
a belated anniversary celebration, after
all, and are now happily ensconced at a lovely seaside inn.
Maybe the best-laid plans of mice and moms are almost guaranteed to go
awry. But it is still worth making them anyway, because we really must take time to celebrate anything in life that is worth celebrating, and also do whatever it takes to
keep the home fires burning.
We are still hoping to see Maggie’s Plan one of these
days. But not because it's about
an extramarital affair, or that we would ever want to have one of those ourselves.
On the contrary, after our anniversary date, it feels like our good old '84 sedan just got an oil change
and a much-needed tune-up. I would even dare say that we are almost feeling amorous, or at the very least affectionate enough
to stick it out together until our
33rd. Or maybe even the 40th. Why the heck not? I could really use a month
Friday, July 15, 2016
Word From The Weiss
Whether or not you have been waiting with bated breath to hear more details of my son’s recent wedding, I know what you must be thinking (whether or not you have the chutzpah to actually say it out loud): Was there a chuppah? Was there a hora? Was it a Jewish wedding?
The answers to those questions, however pressing they may
be, are not all that simple. Let me tell
you a little more about what happened and let you be the judge.
As I have noted before, Kaitlin, the bride, while beautiful and brilliant, is not Jewish herself. So we realized that in the
interests of making everyone comfortable and happy, a non-denominational ceremony was probably
the best approach.
The question was, who would perform it? After a great deal of soul-searching, and Internet searching, not to mention heated debate, the Happy Couple finally managed
to locate an absolutely lovely woman from the Ethical Culture Society of New York. Many guests remarked afterwards that she
reminded them of actress Betty White, and they were truly not far off the mark. The officiant, 79-year-old Patricia Bruder Debrovner, is a longtime actress who appeared on the soap opera As the World Turns for 35 years.
Her approach to conducting the ceremony
turned out to be warm and reflective, extremely spiritual, and deeply moving. She spoke of the meaning of
marriage and the sanctity of the special bonds that link husband and wife, tying in everything from
the bliss she feels herself after
being married for over 50 years to a traditional Apache blessing.
This is not to say that the
ceremony entirely lacked for Jewish content or context.
Although I knew from the start that there would be no rabbi or other Jewish member
of the clergy present, I was heartened to hear that
the nuptials would take place under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy. Why, the very day that Aidan and Kaitlin became engaged, early last summer, she created a Pinterest page to gather wedding ideas, and among
the very first things that she
posted, to my surprise, were images of chuppahs.
She seemed to grasp the magnitude of this element of our wedding ritual, and as a nature lover favored designs that were rustic in style. But
the wedding venue that the kids ultimately chose, The Riverview, in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, already had a large gazebo
in place, and any outdoor ceremony there would need to incorporate that.
The venue’s in-house florist, Janet of Floral Designs by Janet King, in Eastchester, NY, however, was not only sensitive to our cultural needs, but also extremely savvy. She clearly had been down this road to holy matrimony before and knew just what to do. She could easily
make the white wooden structure resemble a chuppah, she assured us, by adding clusters of blossoms and curly willow boughs on the front beams. The only missing element was an actual piece of cloth, and for this, my son’s tallis – the prayer shawl
he received at his bar mitzvah 17 years
ago – would more than suffice.
I was also absolutely ecstatic to hear from the Happy Couple that the most
fundamental, iconic element of a Jewish wedding ceremony would be included
as well. Obviously, I’m referring to the final moments of the proceedings, when the couple’s lifelong connection is
sealed, not just by a kiss, but the groom stepping on a glass.
OK, let’s call a spade a spade. For those who may not know, what a Jewish groom
actually steps on tends to be a light bulb, because
they shatter easily, with an audible crack.
Knowing that well over half the relatives and friends present would be Jewish,
I could already imagine the cries of joy and congratulations ringing out across the Hudson.
As for a hora, I could already imagine other sorts of cries. But hopefully not crying. Kaitlin was totally on board with having everyone dance the hora at the beginning of the party. As for the Jewish custom of having the
bride and groom be hoisted up in chairs, though? Let’s
just say that she had an understandable
level of trepidation about her role in this segment of the celebration. I kept reassuring her that no bride or groom had ever
been dropped. I can't say I knew this to be true, but I certainly hoped it was true, and I didn’t want her to worry. So what else could I say?
I figured, was where the Jewish elements of the evening would end. And had that been the case, as we Jews say at Passover, “Dayenu!”
It would have been enough.
So imagine my surprise when a few days before the event, Kaitlin wrote to ask me
to purchase some kosher wine. They would need it for the moment when they each took
a sip from the same silver goblet during the ceremony. Basically, that is, for the Kiddush.
Wait, there was going to be a Kiddush? A traditional Jewish blessing over the wine?
I asked if
some standard Manischewitz concord
grape would suffice. I always have some of that on hand, and what could be more kosher than that?
She quickly responded that, no, she really would prefer that it be white kosher wine. She was worried
about having an errant drop of red fruit of the vine potentially stain her wedding gown.
Before sending my husband to the store to buy a bottle of that, I wrote to Aidan just to make sure that this
was what he wanted too.
red wine more traditional?” he
responded. I thought so, but told him to work it out with Kaitlin and let us know. He later replied with the verdict: Better red, he said. But my husband wanted a vintage a little less sweet that syrupy Manischewitz
and purchased something else.
had we gotten our wine act together than Aidan wrote to me again. Who, he wanted to know, was going to do the Motzi?
Wait, now they also wanted a Motzi, the traditional blessing over the bread?
OMG! What the heck going
As for who among the gathered guests would chant the Motzi, that was a bit of a quandary. For as long as I could remember – meaning my whole life – at every single simcha my family had held, be it
wedding, bar mitzvah, or other milestone, the motzi had
been belted out by my Uncle Gerard, whose rich tenor voice had made him the star of many a community theater production in
Northern New Jersey. Sadly, he had passed away two years ago at the age of 88.
Who could ever even presume to take his place?
The best option I could come up with
was that his daughter, my cousin Susan, would step up and do it with my daughter Allegra and me.
Meanwhile, I began thinking about
the direction in which this entire enterprise was going. If we were going to have a chuppah, a hora, a Kiddush, and a Motzi, well,
why not go for the entire Jewish kit and caboodle and throw in a ketubah too?
I’m talking about the traditional
Jewish wedding contract, a written document customarily signed right before the ceremony by the bride, the groom, and the
I don’t know why this added detail was suddenly of
such importance to me. The truth is no one even mentioned the word "ketubah" when I got married, 32 years ago today. But when
one of Aidan’s good friends tied the knot a few years ago, Aidan was chosen to be one of the two witnesses who signed
his ketubah, and I remember thinking
what an honor and a privilege that was. Wouldn't it be nice for him to have two of his friends sign it for him, and to then
have one of these historic documents himself to keep for posterity?
So I wrote him to ask if he might want one of these as well. He responded
that, well, he would think about it. The ceremony
was now only three days away, though. There
wasn’t much time left to think.
So I called my synagogue to ask if they might have a ketubah on hand that we could use. I was told that they had some very
simple ones that I could have free of charge, but that most people opted for more
decorative ones. Personalized versions of these could be ordered from many places for hundreds of dollars. But there were also some that could be downloaded off
the Internet for free.
that my son had sounded so noncommittal, I didn’t want to invest too much. In fact, given his lack of enthusiasm, I figured that
I should probably not invest anything at all.
So I searched online until
I found one that was not only attractive, but
also expressed strictly non-denominational sentiments that I thought would appeal to them both. It read:
"And each said to the other: We promise to love, honor,
cherish, appreciate and support each other as we grow together. May we treasure our uniqueness and always try to be sensitive
to each other's needs. We will treat each other with respect and understanding. We shall strive to be for each other a constant source of friendship… Let our lives be intertwined forever and our hearts
beat as one. We shall remain faithful through health and illness and through joys and sorrows. Let us not take each other
for granted. May we always remember why we first fell in love and never forget how much we mean to each other. As we joyfully
enter into this covenant, our hope is that our home will be filled with happiness and peace."
There were spaces at the bottom for
the signatures of two witnesses, the bride, the groom, and an officiant.
No rabbi necessary.
I emailed these words to Aidan, along
with a picture of the design. “No pressure,” I said, “but
I will bring it if you want to use it.”
Then I filled in the blank spaces on it with the names of the bride and groom, the date, and the location of the nuptials, and I brought
it along just in case.
Flash forward three days. We
arrived breathlessly at the wedding venue an hour
before the ceremony was to begin. There, standing before rows of white chairs
on the river’s edge, was the most beautiful chuppah imaginable.
large box on a table nearby held all of the wedding party’s flowers, from the bridal bouquet and groomsmen’s boutonnieres
to the flower girls’ baskets of rose petals.
As I searched in this for the mother of the groom’s wristlet I would get to wear, I saw a small, white-haired woman in a cream-colored robe approaching.
I could have sworn it was Betty White.
After introducing herself
and shaking my hand, she asked where the wine for the ceremony was. I handed over the bottle of kosher red wine my husband
had bought, which we had just had uncorked.
She looked back at me
incredulously and glared. “It needs to be white wine!” she declared. “We can’t risk having a drop
fall on the bride’s gown! Don’t you have any white wine?”
I stood there speechless for a moment. Where did I even begin to explain?
Well, there would be no need to explain, because before I could begin to collect my thoughts, she stalked off
toward the bar asserting, “Never mind! I’ll just go get it myself.”
OK, so the wine that the bride and groom sipped together during the ceremony
might not be kosher, after all.
Also, I got so flustered about this
little confrontation that, although I prevailed upon the officiant and both of the two best men to sign the ketubah, I lost my nerve and never even dared to show it to the bride and groom.
Yet when the groom topped off the ceremony by stepping resoundingly on a glass
– OK, yes, the light bulb – cries of “Mazel tov!” did indeed echo clear across the Hudson.
And although when my cousin Susan later joined us in singing a rousing motzi – one that surely would have made her father proud – there may
not have been a dry eye in the house, but there wasn’t an actual challah in the house, either. I think we
said it over some rolls.
As for the hora, though, that I can assure
you was the real deal. As well as the
reeling deal (as you can see from these wonderful photos taken by our photographer, Jamie
Spinning around endlessly to "Hava Nagila," I quickly grew so dizzy and exhausted that I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. In traditional Jewish fashion,
the women danced separately from the men. I can’t tell you what the guys did, but we joined
hands and circled to the left. Then we circled
to the right. Then we lifted our hands and rushed toward the center. Then, suddenly, I began spinning around
in the center of the circle, linking elbows jubilantly as I swung around the bride, my daughter, my niece, my friends, and half the other women I know.
Then, at last, came the moment we had all been waiting for, and the bride herself
had been waiting to see if she would survive.
I’m talking about the chairs
Up into the air she went.
Up into the air he went.
someone passed up a cloth napkin, onto which they each grabbed hold.
The two of them were paraded around for such a long time that I could only imagine poor Kaitlin was terrified. So I kept
rushing toward the group of men who had hoisted them, screaming, “Enough already! Put her down!”
But either they couldn’t hear me
over the music or they hadn't had enough themselves. Because they didn’t put Kaitlin down for quite some time.
And when they finally did, it was only so they could lift my husband instead. And me.
I have to admit that, after all of
my efforts to reassure Kaitlin, it was pretty scary up there for me too. It felt many times as though I was tipping backwards
and might be dropped at any moment.
But in the end, I must admit, it was still literally one of the high points of my life.
And now that I’m beginning to come
down to earth, I have time to think about it all.
I also am curious to know what you think about it all. Would you say it was a Jewish wedding?
Or at the very least, a Jew-ish wedding?
Feel free to write me and tell me what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll be waiting
with bated breath.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
A Word From The Weiss
As you may have noticed, I didn't post a word last week. I didn't even post a note stating
that I wasn't going to post a word. I mean, who had the time? Certainly not me... the Mother of the Groom!
Yes, that's what I said. "Groom." As in my son. Aidan. Who got married. Last Saturday night!
I wish I had the time to tell you all about it. Or almost anything about it. Never mind having
the time. Now that it's over, for the first time in a long time, I finally do have some time on my hands.
What I really don't have is one iota of energy. After all, five days later, I'm still the Mother of the Groom.
Make that recovering Mother of the Groom.
People are said to be newlyweds for the first two years of their married life. Well, after all the effort
that went into the Big Day, I suspect that for the first two years of their marriage I may remain a recovering Mother of the
And until I finish recovering, and am able to converse again in complete sentences,
you will have to settle for the small bone or two that I'm prepared to throw you (although I hesitate to use the word "bone,"
since the dinner at this particular wedding, by decree of the vegetarian bride, included no meat whatsoever).
The items that I have to throw you, boneless though they may be, are the only ones already cast in complete
sentences. I'm referring to the two toasts that I gave on behalf of the Happy Couple this past weekend -- one at the rehearsal
dinner and a completely different one at the start of the reception.
As for the photos you see here, at this point I have only a small collection of unofficial ones snapped on my
phone or those of assorted guests who have been kind enough to fork them over. It will probably be some time before I get
to see the real ones. No matter. I think these are beautiful. After all, the bride was beautiful. And if you ask me, my son
and the rest of the bridal party all looked pretty beautiful, too. Cheers -- or should I say l'chaim? -- to them
My Toast at The Rehearsal Dinner
People sometimes ask how it was that Aidan, soon followed by Allegra, got so deeply into jazz.
Part of it was that he took up the saxophone at around age
9, and as with everything else that he sets his mind to, he put in the time. He also proved to be talented and supremely capable, not to mentioned focused, hard-working,and committed… so committed that there were nights when I asked him to please STOP practicing because Mommy was getting a headache. Sorry, Aid!
The other part of the jazz equation, though, was that we live in a town where the school jazz band is nationally known, so that when he was applying to colleges, all we had to do was
call up the heads of the music departments, and they would want to meet
him and audition him personally.
One school that
he applied to was Tufts University, in Massachusetts, near
Boston. We set off to meet the rather temperamental and demanding head
of their jazz program on a memorably dark and stormy fall day. After we’d driven the two hours to the school, I said to Aidan, “I’m going
to drop you off with your saxophone in front of the music building, so you don’t get all wet.”
“No,” he said, “you can’t.”
Aidan has always been modest and unassuming to the max, and he never wants anyone to go out of his way for him. But now I thought he was being ridiculous.
are you talking about?” I said. “Of course I can!”
“No,” he maintained, “you can’t. You can’t… because I forgot to bring my saxophone!”
Oops! It was the one single time in his life that
he wasn’t quite so capable and focused.
Maybe the chaos of leaving in the storm had made him a little fedrayt. (That means “forgetful” in Yiddish.)
NOW what were we going to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what we DID. I looked at him. He looked at me. And the two of us began laughing so hard that I began to cry until
I nearly peed my pants.
Then I called the temperamental, demanding director of the jazz department, and we went to face the music together.
This story has a happy ending: After berating us, the tyrant phoned another student and told him to bring a saxophone to his office right away. Aidan auditioned. The
guy was blown away. He said there was no question he wanted Aidan at Tufts. Aidan, though, elected to go to Brown!
The fact is, however, that
life is full of such episodes and errors. Some, like that one, are just minor “oops” moments, but others, as too many of us here know, turn
out to be true tragedies.
The key is to have the right person by your side – someone who knows to laugh when there’s nothing more you can do, and will cry with you when there’s nothing
more you can do. And I know Aidan has found that person in the Kaitlin because she’s Kaitlin. No one could be better. For him. Or as a person. Anywhere.
I am so proud to be his mom, and so happy to have Kaitlin join our family. This
is a moment to both laugh and cry. Because I am so overwhelmed with joy that there’s
nothing more I can do.
OK, that's what I said at the rehearsal dinner. But the rehearsal dinner was a tiny affair, with just the bridal
party, immediate family, and a very few out-of-towners, including some good friends who had come all the way from London.
felt compelled, or obliged even, to give another toast at the main event, if only to welcome all of our friends.
Unfortunately, this wedding
featured two maids of honor, including my daughter, and also two best men, and all four of them wanted to get into the toasting
unfortunately, the band leader, who introduced all of the various and sundry speakers, didn't get the memo noting that my
husband and I intended to put in our two cents worth too. So after the four members of the bridal party had each had their
very heartfelt, amusing, and rather extensive say, all eight musicians in his group abruptly assembled behind him and he prepared
to strike up the band.
Now what was I going to do? Well, I'll tell you what I did. I jumped to my feet and began to rush toward him.
My daughter, Allegra, meanwhile, shot me a horrified glance. The wait staff had already finished serving the pasta course,
which was rapidly getting cold. And our guests had already sat quietly through a good 15 to 20 minutes of oratory and banter.
Wasn't it time to give it a rest?
my daughter decisively shake her head and mouth the words "Do it later," I began to slink dejectedly back to my
seat. Then I thought, "Later? There won't be any 'later'!" Many people were bound to leave early. Others would be
ready to dance. Or schmooze. There was no other time when everyone would be willing to pay attention. It was now
or never. I preferred now. So I dashed up to the mic, took a big gulp, and as everyone dug into their pasta, said this...
like this. The other unfortunate thing was that, although I had slipped not one but two pairs of reading glasses into my teeny-weeny
evening bag that morning, I had somehow managed to misplace both of them during the course of this eventful day. Without them,
and in the heat of the moment, I could barely make out one word on the page I clutched in my hand. So I simply had to wing
My Wedding Toast for Aidan and Kaitlin
Despite the hilarious and heartfelt words we heard him utter tonite, including six very profound and life-changing ones – “With this ring, I thee wed!” -- Aidan has always
been on the soft-spoken side. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, well, he's kind
of a low talker. But he has always had a lot to say, and a way with the words, almost
from the moment he emerged from
the womb nearly three decades ago.
I still vividly recall him running around the back
yard when he was only about 18 months
old, hitting a tennis ball straight
up into the air with a racket and yelling
over and over again, "UnbeliEEEvable!" "UnbeliEEEvable!"
Of course, because he was only about 18 months old, what he actually yelled
was probably more like "un-be-WEAVEable!"
What is unbelievable to
me is that 28 years have passed since that time, during which I have watched my little boy grow into a brilliant, capable, kind, insightful, and otherwise wonderful man, and we are standing before you today celebrating his marriage.
Also unbelievable? That he somehow managed to find someone brilliant, kind, beautiful and otherwise wonderful enough for him. Let’s face it. I'm a nice Jewish mom, and I never believed ANYONE would be good enough for
him... until he brought home Kaitlin.
I only wish my own mom, Bunnie, and my Dad, Stuie, could have lived to see this day, as well as Harlan’s mother, whom
the kids called Nanny Harriet. I know that they would have loved Kaitlin as much as
we do, and they would also be so very proud of Aidan. Otherwise known as "The Aidman." Or "Computer Aid." Our boy!!!
I hope the Happy Couple
will not mind if I divulge that there were moments along their journey of love
when they considered having a small, low-key wedding. Face it, almost everyone would kind
of prefer a small, low-key wedding. Correction: every groom would. Brides? Not so much.
The problem with that scenario, we
quickly realized, was that not each and
every one of YOU would have been here
today. And we just could not imagine doing
this without each and every one of you -- the most important people in our lives. Besides, getting married is not about keeping it
small and to yourself. It's about standing up
in front of the whole world -- or, at the very least, the people most important in our lives -- and saying proudly, and loudly, I have found him! Or her! I have found the one! The one I prize above all else and in whom my soul delights!
The ones whom I prize above
all else and in whom my soul delights are
my children -- and OK, yes, I guess, that
guy over there -- so I cannot tell you how delighted I am that Aidan, my beloved son,
has found HIS One.
And that his one is someone we love too!
To love! To the sons we love
and the ones they love!
To Aidan and Kaitlin!
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
A Word From the Weiss
Early on our first night at my husband’s
50th college reunion, late last month, I was approached by a pretty young Princeton coed exuberantly proffering her cell phone.
“Would you mind taking a picture of my squad?”
she asked, indicating a group of giggling girls posed in front of our friend Jay’s sculpture of a tiger, the school’s official mascot.
problem at all,” I replied, wondering
how, in the huge crowd of passing revelers, this young woman had managed to choose me, the one unequivocal nice Jewish mom in sight. As I obliged her request, I also wondered aloud what sport it was they played, having assumed
that the word “squad” signaled they were part of some athletic team.
the contrary, she and her comely companions hastened to explain, laughing with abandon at my adult naiveté, “squad” was simply a popular term in current college lingo. All it meant, as far as I could tell, was a group of friends who often hung out together. Then, as though in a spelling bee, one of them used the word for me in a sentence.
“Squad rolling through!” she declared, as though
this made it significantly clearer.
Nodding gratefully, I asked if there were any more such terms I might need to know.
“Lit,” another girl replied. She was not referring to the customary abbreviation for literature. To explain, she proceeded to use the word in not just one sentence, but a whole series of
them, as though conjugating a verb. “Squad’s lit. The party’s lit. I’m feeling lit. You’re lit.”
This didn’t mean drunk or high (a common usage back in my ancient day), however. “It means you’re having fun.”
It was a useful language lesson that would set the tone for the entire raucous weekend and later help present me with an epiphany about my entire post-college life.
But first, let me tell you about that weekend before I forget just how raucous it was.
For many people, any reference to the Ivy League conjures up images of a refined atmosphere that is both elite and competitive. Princeton, after all, now accepts just over 6 percent of its undergraduate applicants. So let me assure you that there was nothing remotely dignified
about these proceedings. We would spend the weekend wandering from one wild event to another sweating profusely and quaffing beer, wine and other libations.
As for competition, the only source of
rivalry related to which class could come up with the most ridiculous costume – a contest that my husband’s group, the class of ’66, easily won, hands-down among the thousands of people present. No, make that tens of thousands. Princeton
is known to have the best attended college reunions in the world.
At least I came fully prepared
for this sartorial display of idiocy. Having attended reunions at my husband’s alma mater three times before, I had packed a hefty arsenal of clothing in orange and black, the school’s official colors – hefty enough to dress in Halloween hues, from undergarments to outerwear, ’round the
clock for a week.
That is considered de
rigueur there, although the underwear was merely to help me get into the Princeton spirit (the one thing that I long ago learned is absolutely de rigueur there).
The first time I had gone had been the 20th, way back in 1986, a couple of years after we were married and
a couple of months before I gave birth to our first-born, Aidan. As usual, the
event had been held in Princeton, NJ, over Memorial Day weekend. That is to
say, I was dragged on a four-hour car trip to a three-day beer party in oppressive heat while I was seven months
pregnant and couldn’t drink anything stronger than ginger ale.
The only saving grace was that we went with some good friends, my husband’s classmate
Dial and his wife Sally, who just happened to be seven months pregnant too.
Yet even their companionship failed to make the experience remotely tolerable.
Rather than booking a hotel, our frugal husbands had chosen to lodge us in a college dorm, featuring bunk beds, communal bathrooms, and
no a/c. To this day, Sally and I still recall the sounds of the retro band that continued wailing rock tunes
well into the night.
“A little bit louder now! A little bit louder now!”
My decisive verdict
as we drove away: Never again!
I held firmly and irrevocably to that stance for a full 25 years, until my husband miraculously convinced me to attend
his 45th, five years ago. By then, I was not only no longer pregnant, but both of our
children were already grown and living on their own.
I could drink whatever I wished to my heart’s content.
I could stay in an actual air-conditioned and civilized (albeit overpriced) hotel.
And with live music blaring all over campus till dawn, I could have danced all night.
To my surprise, I had so much fun this time around that I
agreed to return two years later.
The only problem with
this was that a 47th reunion is not exactly
a milestone year. There were barely 47 people there from his class. The 50th would
Last month, out of a
graduating class of about 750, there would be 334 attending. There was no question
that my husband wanted to be one of them.
Fortunately, Dial would be another, so Sally would once again be on hand to commiserate with me, come what may. The fact is, though, that they
live nearby, so we get to see the two of them as often as we like. This would
be a rare chance for my husband to reconnect with classmates he hadn’t
laid eyes on in half a century.
Along with seeing long-lost friends,
he had three other major goals on his agenda:
To appear in his official class picture, which would be snapped Saturday morning.
To attend the weekend’s main event, a campus-wide
parade in which every class marches past the others dressed in the afore-mentioned horridly
And to attend a class of ’66 luncheon held by his former eating club (basically, a fraternity at which one consumes all of one’s meals, but doesn’t actually
He was especially keen on
participating in the last of these because a new official club tie would be bestowed upon everyone present. Never mind that this required us to go down a day early, on Thursday night, and spend an extra night in a civilized,
albeit overpriced hotel. He wanted to make sure that he arrived in time to get that tie.
So imagine my surprise when we pulled up right on time on Friday morning only to discover that this invaluable offering was an
ordinary rep tie featuring red and green diagonal stripes.
Never mind that my husband had belonged to Terrace Club, which essentially had been the unofficial Jewish fraternity back when Princeton had admitted few Jews. Its official tie evoked Christmas.
"That is one
of the ugliest ties I’ve ever seen,” he reluctantly allowed. “But I’ll wear it anyway.”
Speaking of ugly, after my husband had posed in the Terrace
Club class photo – which bore very little resemblance to his club’s class photo from 1966, which we found framed on an upstairs
wall – it was time to go pick up our
new official class costumes.
turned out to be white pants and loud blazers featuring goofy tiger cartoons for the men.
We spouses were issued matching vests, meant to be paired with our own white pants and t-shirt.
I thought the tiger jackets were almost cute. My vest, though? Just shoot me now.
Still, you can’t imagine my frustration when later that evening, after the huge class dinner held in a giant
tent, my husband discovered that his tiger blazer was missing.
left it draped on a chair while chatting with someone, and it had simply disappeared.
“The problem is, it’s impossible to find someone
who’s in charge to ask,” said Dial, who had joined us for the dinner, along with Sally and several other
No, I said. “The
problem is that everyone here is wearing the exact same jacket!”
Same ugly jacket, I might have added, had I been eager to state the painfully obvious.
“You’re right,” he conceded. But that fact made the loss
more of a mystery. “Everyone here already has one, and nobody would want two of them," he said. "I mean, if there’s
somebody who wants two of these things, well, we should
do an intervention.”
He was right, although I think the correct term at a reunion might be “interfriendtion.”
After reporting the loss to our class headquarters, manned
by a squad of Princeton undergrads, we had no choice
but to hope for the best and continue to enjoy ourselves.
Fortunately, there was plenty of entertainment, including a performance by an cappella singing group and assorted live bands playing all over campus. There was even a rumor circulating that one or two of The Beach Boys were playing in one of these bands.
But given the 50 years that had now gone by, my husband was more inclined
to sit around reminiscing with old friends than to let me go track down one of the Beach
After all, as our scuptor friend Jay noted, even people who had never
exchanged one word before were now best buddies.
“We’re happy to just see each
other still alive,” he said. “For all I know, we hated each other 50 years ago.
But old resentments don’t matter anymore.”
“Yes,” agreed Bob Chester, another classmate, noting that someone very wise had recently divulged to him the secret of happiness: “Good health and a bad memory.”
To my dismay, it appeared that most of my husband’s former classmates possess only one out
of the two of these invaluable commodities. That is
to say, at 70-plus years of age, most of his peer group had elected to turn in early. His class had hired a terrific band, but by 9 p.m. we practically had the dance floor to ourselves.
No matter. We boogied a bit and spent the bulk of our time chatting with his old friend Tom, a
cardiologist from Durham, NC, whom he hadn’t seen since graduation. Then Tom danced with us too. By the time we left, I felt like I'd known him for 50 years myself.
Plus, my husband’s new jacket had now resurfaced. Whoever had acidentally walked off with it had been nice enough to turn it
So imagine my renewed frustration when
we returned to our hotel only to discover that the white pants my husband had been
issued were now missing instead.
The next morning, I had something on my own agenda. I wanted to attend a book lecture that I'd learned a certain author was giving at a bookstore
in downtown Princeton.
My interest, actually, was not really in this particular author.
It was in her mother.
Unless you live under a rock – that is, you have no access to TV or social media – you
have probably heard of Crazy Jewish Mom.
I should note that I've never met this woman, nor read either of her daughter’s
books. But my impression from seeing them both
on talk shows is that Crazy Jewish Mom is exactly what Nice Jewish Mom goes out of her way not to be. Although I do write often about my kids, who are in their 20s, I do my best not to be intrusive in
She, on the other hand, prides herself on publicly berating her own 20-something daughter for having
a long-term live-in boyfriend who has yet to put a ring on her finger.
And other such
maternal behavior that far exceeds the boundaries of normal. Or nice.
that’s why she has gained world-wide fame (OK, call it what it is, notoriety) and I… well, let’s just say
that I content myself with having a good, healthy relationship with both of my grown children, and also a whole lot less public
attention for my blog.
I was hoping to leave our civilized (albeit overpriced) hotel in time to hear the daughter and maybe also meet the mother. But by
the time we had put on our costumes (minus my husband’s missing white pants) and found parking at school, it was too
It was already time for my husband’s class picture. The one that was on his agenda. And being
a nice Jewish mom (and not a crazy one), I realized that this weekend was really all about him and his agenda. Not mine. So
his being in his class picture (and my being there to take a picture of him in it) easily trumped my meeting Crazy Jewish
Mom. I guess the meeting of the moms, nice, crazy, and
otherwise, would simply have to wait.
photo was followed by lunch, and to our delight we got to sit with the same folks who had
joined us for dinner the night before – not just Dial and Sally, but our new-old friend Tom
and two of my husband’s other old chums, Mark
Also, to our relief, my husband was issued a new pair of
white pants. He happily changed into these –
well, as happily as you could do anything in
the grueling 90-degree heat. But soon after, he discovered that his money clip, which
had held a healthy wad of bills, was now mysteriously missing instead.
Tell me, is it just me, or are you beginning to notice
a pattern here?
No matter. There was little time to look for it. It was time to line
up for the parade.
Better known as the P-rade!
There are colleges
all over America – no, the world, I guess – that hold annual reunions.
But I would wager that there is nowhere on earth that does it like Princeton. As I said,
best-attended college reunion in the world.
Mostly because of the P-rade.
Spectators and participants alike, thousands of them – no, tens of
thousands – line the parade route, nearly all dressed in their own outlandish class costumes. Some of these might be vaguely natty, but most are overtly
tacky. Some are downright tawdry. The only common element is that they’re all in those school colors,
orange and black.
The parade is always led by the class celebrating its 25th reunion because this group tends to be the largest one still willing and able to attend. (Indeed, by the 50th reunion, a reported 200 or so of my husband’s classmates were no longer alive.)
As hundreds of these grads and their families strode past, everyone paid their respects to them by chanting the age-old Princeton cheer, which goes something like this:
“Hip! Hip! Rah! Rah!
Rah! Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Sis! Sis! Sis! Boom! Boom! Boom! Bah!” Followed by the number of the class in question, in this case, “’91! ’91! ’91!”
After the alumni from 1991,
the so-called Palindrome Class, had passed, the rest of the marchers fell in line in consecutive order, beginning with the oldest graduates in attendance, the class of 1938, whose members were presumably now 99 or closing in on 100.
Many of these fellows (until 1969, I believe, all Princeton
students were men) were no longer capable
of negotiating the entire route on foot and were riding in golf carts.
So were the majority of the white-haired gentlemen who directly succeeded them.
But nothing – including an inability to walk,
let alone march for a mile or so -- could keep them away. Many held up signs celebrating the fact that they were veterans of many a P-rade past.
“This is my 69th consecutive year,” said a placard carried
by one such wizened cart passenger.
And when I called out to compliment the faded orange-striped seersucker jacket worn
by another old-timer, he grinned proudly and
said, “I’ve had this jacket
for 65 years.”
“It’s held up well,” I replied before he’d disappeared from earshot. “And so have you!”
Finally, after an hour in the sun, which felt like 50 years, it
was our turn to line up. Our squad
– including Sally, Dial, Tom, Dick, and Seymour – fell into place and strode along the lengthy route, pausing periodically to take pictures of ourselves and each other (and accept an occasional offer of a beer) to the sounds of that now-all-too-familiar cheer.
“Hip! Hip! Rah! Rah! Rah! Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Sis!
Sis! Sis! Boom! Boom! Boom! Bah! ’66! ‘66! ‘66!”
was ready to collapse by the time we were done. But the night was still young. Very
young. (According to the schedule, the last band at Terrace Club that night would play “from 1 a.m. until late.”)
At that evening’s dinner, I assured our old friends that we wouldn’t be offended if
they preferred to sit with someone else. Surely, there were others they wanted to fraternize with after all these years. But the entire group demurred. Our squad wanted to sit with us and only us.
All for one and one for all. '66! '66! '66!
Then it was time to dance again. Poor Dial, beyond beat, decided to beat an early retreat. But
the rest of us made quite an impressive showing on the dance floor, if you ask me. Sally took turns dancing with both Tom
and Seymour, who had chosen to come for the weekend solo. My husband and I, meanwhile, also cut quite a rug. But most of the
time, we all just boogied together.
What could have been better? I was lit. No, make that WE were lit.
I’m talking about
We were having so much fun that we never managed to find a Beach Boy that night, either.
We all felt like we were pretty cool -- too cool for school, as our friend Kristin (the daughter of a
dear departed alum) says -- until on our way home, sometime past midnight, we passed the youngest group of revelers, the classes of 2010 to '15, and saw
that they were out by the thousands, clearly prepared to party from 1 a.m. until late.
But my spirits soared once more when we returned to our civilized, albeit overpriced hotel and I managed to find my husband’s missing
money clip at the bottom of a bag.
Hip! Hip! Rah! Rah! Rah! Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! Sis! Sis! Sis! Boom! Boom! Boom! Bah!
Nice Jewish Mom!
Nice Jewish Mom!
Nice Jewish Mom!
“I guess I can wear my orange Princeton shirt today,” my husband called the next morning,
indicating the loud tiger print Hawaiian shirt that had been issued at the 45th reunion. “It’s not a bad shirt. What do you
I looked at the hideous orange and black thing and winced.
“It’s a bad shirt,” I said.
No matter. He was now totally in the spirit of things. So he put it on anyway.
“I’m really glad
I came,” Dial declared at brunch later that morning just before we left
for home. “It was great walking into Mathey College and seeing people I hadn’t seen in 30 years, or in some cases 50 years.”
Ugly costumes or not, I must admit that I’m really glad
we went, too. But it wasn’t until a day or two later that I realized exactly why.
just that we had incredible fun there (although I will allow that we did).
It wasn’t just that we got a taste of days gone by and what it felt like to be young again (or
at least act like it).
And it certainly wasn’t that we got to parade (or P-rade) around in some of the most grotesque garments I’ve ever been caught alive in (and wouldn’t
be caught dead in).
It was that for the first time in 50 years (for my husband) and 40 years (for me), we once again had experienced the incomparable pleasure of having our own squad.
For one wild weekend, we got to remember what it was like to be part of a group of friends who hung out together
and looked out for each other; who saved seats for us and wanted to be with us. At every meal, every event, and any time of day (from 1 a.m. until late).
Although it had once probably been hard to leave the safety
of home for college (who can really remember after 40 or 50 years?), perhaps the hardest
transition we had ever undergone was having to leave college four years later for the real world
– a world in which we were truly on my own.
No family. No eating club.
After we'd gotten married, it had been a welcome relief to be a squad of two. Then the kids came
along, and Nice Jewish Dad and I were suddenly a squad of four.
Then the kids grew up and left for college. That was an awfully hard adjustment, too.
But since then, we've resigned ourselves to being back to two again. OK, make that three. Our squad now includes the dog.
But there's nothing quite like being part of a bigger yet
exclusive little community. And I’m not just
talking about the Jewish community, although that certainly helps. There’s simply nothing like having your own gang.
Does that mean
it’s time for a retirement home? Or “assisted living?”
Sadly, we are a little old to return to college. Or return to it more than once
So I’m now looking forward to the next reunion, whether it be a year from now or
Hopefully, we and our old
and newfound friends will all still be alive and well for that.
if by then we’re all ready to ride in those golf carts. Or even if we're in wheelchairs. I, for one, plan to go back, for then we’ll literally be able to say it.
Squad rolling through!