|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Thursday, August 30, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
It was on a Friday afternoon in mid-August, nearly two weeks ago now, that my son called and blurted
out some alarming news. Aidan had just heard an awful rumor from an acquaintance that their mutual friend Shimrit Shoshan
had suffered some sort of serious, mysterious emergency and was lying in a coma in the hospital somewhere. How, he wondered,
could this possibly be? She was only 29, and just the week before had been her usual vivacious self, bursting with energy,
the picture of perfect health. And yet why would anyone ever make something so terrible up?
He was calling me, in part, because
he was understandably shocked and upset, but also because he wondered if I had any advice about how to find out if it were
As a former investigative reporter and a longtime mom, searching for information and other things is my forte.
You might even say it’s my one and only area of expertise. I’ve found earrings that have fallen out of friends’
ears in public, and my husband’s lost hearing aids innumerable times. (Retrieving ear stuff, I guess, is my own sub-specialty.)
I’ve located song titles with only half a line of lyrics, and info on how to fix an iPhone.
But how do you even begin to investigate
a terrible rumor like that?
Googling the girl’s name yielded no recent news stories. They had no other mutual
friends and, being from Israel, she had no family close by. Stymied, I could only suggest that he phone her directly, something
he was reluctant to do under the circumstances.
Aidan had first met Shimrit (pronounced “shim REET”), a gifted young
Israeli jazz pianist and composer, when he’d been assigned to profile her for JazzTimes magazine in March of
2011. A rising star on the New York music scene, she’d recently released her first album and had been chosen to give
the final performance on opening night of Winter Jazzfest, an annual event held at assorted clubs throughout Greenwich Village.
They turned out to have so much in common, he soon divulged, that after he’d finished interviewing her at a bookstore
near her home in Harlem, they’d continued chatting together at great length, then she had invited him to come listen
to her play.
He also confessed that she was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen.
Forgive me for being a nice Jewish mother, but there is nothing that excites me more than hearing that my
son has just met a Jewish girl whom he finds attractive. And this wasn’t just any Jewish girl. It was a Jewish girl
who shared his greatest love.
As much as I keep trying to mind
my own business, that is decidedly not my area of expertise, and I couldn’t help wondering aloud why he hadn’t
asked her out. Along with being drop-dead gorgeous, he explained, she was three years older than he was. But most of all,
he considered it unethical to try to date someone about whom he was writing.
I began to debate this last point
with him vehemently. Although I could appreciate his point, and I admired his desire to be scrupulously honest, I had to admit
that during my years as a journalist I’d become romantically involved with more than one man I’d written about
(before I’d met his dad, of course). Besides, I asked, who exactly were the ethics police who were going to knock on
his door and arrest him for going on a date?
But he firmly stood his ground.
His article about Shimrit ran soon afterwards, and a colorful, elegantly flattering portrait it was of a
budding genius determined to succeed in the world of jazz, whatever it might take. “Before reaching a level where she could close opening night of the 2011
Winter Jazzfest in Greenwich Village,” it began, “Israeli-born pianist Shimrit Shoshan had worked a slew of odd
jobs to make ends meet: dealing precious stones in Manhattan’s diamond district, plying her dance skills in the background
of music videos for Seal and Thalía, selling real estate, and at one point even slinging sandwiches on the streets.
It’s been a hardscrabble road, but when Shoshan set her sights on a pilgrimage to the holy land of jazz, she never expected
a parting of the Red Sea.”
It went on to detail the rather charmed childhood that had led her to our shores.
She’d grown up in the Tel
Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, the daughter of a Moroccan-Jewish fisherman who owns a fishing tackle shop. Her mother also works
“Shimrit, roughly 'saved' in Hebrew, got her name when her mother developed pneumonia prior to
her birth, and doctors gave her the grim choice between saving herself or saving her daughter,” he explained. “She
took a leap of faith and, miraculously, both survived.”
Self-taught on the piano until she was 13, Shimrit gained acceptance into the prestigious Thelma Yellin High
School of the Arts, a highly selective Israeli academy with many notable alumni, including famed jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen
and her brothers. “When Shoshan showed up with her Casio keyboard,” Aidan wrote, “the audition committee
instantly recognized her potential—she has perfect pitch—and admitted her on one condition: She learn how to read
Following a stint in the Israeli army, she’d realized that to succeed in jazz she needed
to move to New York. In 2004, she enrolled at the City College of New York, later transferring to The New School, where her
playing and original compositions won her accolades and scholarships. She’d gone on to perform at many of the city's
top jazz venues, including Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Fat Cat, and the Kitano Hotel. Her first
album, entitled Keep It Movin’, for which she had penned seven out of the eight tracks, had met with unequivocal
“One of the most gifted new talents in a decade,” declared Digital Jazz
“An excellent debut from a wonderful talent,” concurred TheJazzPage.com.
As for the way Aidan summed up her unique sound, it clearly pleased her, because it was the longest excerpt
by far among the many press quotes featured on her website, Shimritshoshan.com.
“Steeped in this rich history,
Shoshan smoothly integrates the jazz piano totems with a lithe, Mediterranean sound…” he wrote. “Here,
Joanne Brackeen meets the Golan Heights. This is a jazz confection with a cosmopolitan edge, as Shoshan guides the listener
through a harmonically sophisticated maze of odd time signatures and inversions, never settling for the obvious resolution.”
Sometime after his story ran, they began seeing each other often. In fact, from what I gathered, they met
almost weekly, for lunch, coffee, or some other activity of a casual or musical nature. Shimrit evidently already had a boyfriend,
however (no big surprise). So she and Aidan remained strictly good friends.
They became such good friends,
in fact, that when my daughter moved to New York last fall to pursue her own music career, Shimrit proposed that she and Allegra
meet and begin sharing her nanny job. She’d been taking care of an Israeli little girl for several years,
but with her own musical aspirations taking off, she was becoming less available. She and Allegra clicked instantly, and while
splitting baby-sitting duties became good friends too.
There’d been much less news about her in recent months, ever since Allegra had left the job they shared
last spring to supervise the child of some family friends instead. But Allegra remained so fond of her that when she
called me shortly after Aidan phoned with that awful news, I wondered if I should dare mention it to her yet.
It became instantly apparent that
there was no need. She was calling to confirm the dreadful report, sobbing so hard that I could hardly understand her.
Aidan had summoned the nerve to call Shimrit’s cell phone after all, and her boyfriend had promptly answered and
confirmed our worst fears. Allegra remained vague on the specifics, but as she filled me in on what she knew, I began to wail,
Evidently, Shimrit had suffered some sort of seizure and gone into cardiac arrest. Then for some reason she
had lost oxygen for 15 or 20 minutes. There was no word on how or where this had occurred, but she’d already been in
the hospital for several days.
My daughter couldn’t imagine what had caused this to happen. Shimrit had been
not just healthy but a health fanatic, she said, almost always dressed in workout clothes on her way to or from the gym.
Allegra chose to come home immediately, too distraught to stay alone in the city. She’d since been told that
if you lose oxygen for that long, there’s no chance of recovery. I kept hoping that our information was erroneous. But
the prognosis did not sound promising.
During all the time that my kids had known her, I had never actually met Shimrit.
I’d simply heard about her so often that I considered her part of my life too. I’d asked more than once if my
husband and I could go see her perform while we were in the city. But my son preferred to keep his personal life private,
and of course I respected that. So we’d never gotten to hear her play, other than through the recordings I’d listened
Still, I’d been very excited when Aidan had taken us to Aroma, an Israeli espresso bar, when we’d
visited him in New York over New Year’s, explaining that he often went there with Shimrit, and I got to taste her favorite
item on the menu, sachlav, a sweet, creamy, custard-like concoction flavored with coconut, pistachios and cinnamon. Putting
my lips to that frothy, fragrant cup, I felt as though I could almost begin to savor the warmth and sweetness of
the girl herself.
Over the course of that weekend I jumped every time the phone rang, expecting it might bring further news.
Allegra’s good friend Samara came home to be with us. It was hard to do anything but sit and worry, though. I couldn’t
think about anything else.
Was there any hope, any prayer at all, that Shimrit would recover and resume her
life? I also couldn’t stop my mind from wondering what it would be like for her if she did manage to survive, but was
never again able to play or write the music that was her life.
Finally, late on Sunday afternoon, I saw my husband speaking on his cell phone. It was Aidan calling, and my husband’s
face looked grim as he shook his head in disbelief.
Shimrit had died that afternoon at Columbia Presbyterian hospital,
Aidan told him. He had no further details, but the cause later stated by her publicist was cardiac arrest.
Allegra and I began sobbing
uncontrollably. I tried to calm myself down somewhat when my husband passed me the phone, but couldn’t. Aidan could
barely speak, anyway, he was so consumed with grief.
A few minutes later, he phoned my husband again, but it was not
with further news about Shimrit. Rather, he had decided to admit to us something else new and alarming. He was undergoing
some sort of mysterious health issue himself.
During the past 24 hours, he said, he had periodically been coughing
In fact, the rest of our family all had contracted a nasty upper respiratory malady in quick succession over
the previous few weeks, and it was likely that we'd passed it on to him during our trip to my nephew’s wedding the week
before. None of us had been coughing
up blood, however. This sounded so gruesome that I managed to pull myself together after all and Google what it might mean.
Then I texted Aidan back.
“It says that if it’s due to bronchitis, then it’s rarely life threatening,”
I wrote. “But it also says that you should consult a doctor any time you cough up blood.”
This being Sunday, his only option was to go to a walk-in clinic, which he reluctantly did. He phoned us
back an hour or so later to say that he’d seen a young Asian physician, who had insisted that he go have a chest X-ray
at once to make sure he didn’t have cancer.
Yes, that's precisely what she said to him. Can you imagine?
He told me this as he rounded the corner to the radiology facility she’d sent him to, then cursed in frustration
to discover that it was already closed. By now it was 6:30 p.m. on a Sunday, and he said he wasn't going to get an X-ray until
after work the next night because the only places that were open in the city were hospital emergency rooms, and he refused
to go sit for hours in one of those.
The problem was that under the current circumstances – having just
had it proven to us that a perfectly healthy young person can suddenly become critically ill – I was not mentally capable
of waiting another 24 hours to get a prognosis. I needed to know now. Although Aidan insisted there was nowhere else open,
he admitted that his Internet connection was inexplicably down. So once again I took matters into my own hands, and with some persistence managed to find a place
that was still open, near his own neighborhood, no less.
Even under the worst of circumstances, Aidan hates to see a
doctor. But he finally agreed to go. Then we sat there for three more hours, unable to eat, almost unable to breath, waiting
for further news.
The place I had sent him to closed at 9 p.m., so I really began to worry as that hour approached and we didn’t
hear a thing. Finally I dared to call, and he said that a doctor currently was reading his films. Then another half-hour went
Finally, he texted me at 9:31 to say that they’d put him on an antibiotic. So I could only presume
that they didn’t think that he had… that.
Perhaps another mother would have breathed a sigh of relief that
her own child was OK. But despite the encouraging news we'd just received, I knew he was not OK.
One of his closest friends had
just died, suddenly and inexplicably. A friend I knew he cared about deeply. Friends are not supposed to simply die when you’re
in your 20s. I could only imagine his grief.
It seemed especially cruel that this tragedy had unfolded just before his birthday. (He turned 26 this past Monday.) It harkened
eerily back to the terrible summer that my father died after a long illness, then my mother-in-law died suddenly a month later,
just three days before Aidan turned 12, and we’d had to hold the funeral on his birthday.
Just last year, Hurricane Irene
had clobbered New York City on that precise day, and he’d spent the night in his apartment alone, listening to the gale-force
winds. This year, we’d planned to take him out the night before to celebrate, but a memorial service for Shimrit was
now scheduled for that evening at Smalls, a club at which she’d often played. (The actual funeral was held in Israel.)
I proposed that we all go to the service together. Allegra, however, balked at this idea. She said that Smalls
was, in fact, very small, and that the service should be for people who actually had known Shimrit. It would be terrible,
she said, if my husband and I took up two seats there and then someone who'd known her was unable to get in.
I was eager to attend anyway, believing that this would help lend moral support to both of our kids. But then my
husband told me that Aidan had remarked how troubling he found it that I seemed to be as upset about Shimrit as he was,
if not even moreso.
Indeed, in the days that followed her passing, I had continued to sob repeatedly and to sound so morose on
the phone whenever Aidan called that it made him feel even worse.
I began to realize that my agony, however genuine, was making it harder for everyone. I also began to delve
more deeply into why it was that I was so completely overwrought, totally devastated about her untimely passing. Yes, she
had been wonderful, talented, and exquisitely beautiful, not to mention a true and valued friend to both of my children. But
in the end she was someone I had never even met and now, sadly, never would.
The preponderance of my grief --
aside from reacting to what a tragedy it was for the entire world to lose someone so young and good, and with such artistic
promise – was out of empathy for my kids. How happy it had made me to know that my son had a close female friend who
evidently cared about him and shared his chief passion.
Then, I have to confess, there was the continued secret hope I'd harbored that perhaps someday their friendship
would have blossomed into something more. I know that sounds insane, but show me the Jewish mother who doesn’t have
fantasies about getting a Jewish daughter-in-law who is kind and beautiful both inside and out.
There was also the element of having
heard so much about her, and only heard good things, that I felt as if I actually had met her, knew her, and loved
her. She was part of my life. And in my mind, she was a precious jewel, a flawless diamond, perfect in every way.
But I also have to acknowledge that perhaps what happened to her, whatever it was, tapped deeply and excruciatingly
into my worst fear – every mother’s worst fear. Perhaps my children don’t understand why I’m feeling
such torment over this because they have yet to experience what it’s like to have a child. Until you do, you don’t
know the limitless depth of love – and the boundless fear -- that I believe only a parent feels.
I’m not belittling romantic love, the kind about which the singers all sing, and the infinite joy that
can bring. But once you become a parent (or certainly a Jewish one, which is all that I know), you live in a constant state
of underlying anxiety that at any moment some unforeseen calamity could happen out of nowhere to your cherished child,
and you have to convince yourself otherwise almost every time he or she walks out the door.
You assure yourself that you’re being neurotic and that such things rarely, if ever, occur. Then one of them does happen, striking close to home, no less, as
this did. And you realize that you have reason to worry and to live in dread, after all.
But mainly, in the end, my heart
goes out to Shimrit's parents, and imagining their grief hurts most of all.
My heart breaks for these people who let their daughter go off to another land to pursue her dreams, only
to have those dreams lead to every parent’s worst nightmare.
I think one reason I wanted so badly to attend
that memorial service -- aside from my remaining convinced that I could offer some solace there to my own two children --
was that I felt robbed of never having met this lovely girl, this live wire, this radiant gem. Yes, I have listened to recordings
and seen videos of her magnificent piano playing, both before this tragedy happened and many times since. Yet I imagined that
by going to witness this sad ceremony, I might have gotten closer to her, glimpsed some of her true essence, and captured
a more three-dimensional sense of who she had been.
Allegra phoned me afterwards to inform me that this wasn’t the case, though. To her own disappointment,
she found the proceedings profoundly sad, yet unsatisfying as a testament to her departed dear friend. Most of the people
who contributed were fellow musicians who chose to express their anguish by playing their own music. And as cathartic and
heartfelt as this may have been for them, it didn’t exactly reflect Shimrit.
At least there were some participants,
including a rabbi, who chose to speak.
One young woman, she said, made a short speech reminiscing about how she
and Shimrit had enjoyed going to the beach together each summer, and how Shimrit had always tanned easily because she was
a Sephardic Jew (i.e. of Spanish and Middle Eastern descent), while her own skin had always burned because she was Ashkenazi
(meaning that her ancestors came from France, Germany and Eastern Europe). This had offered one of the few light moments of
the night, and everyone had laughed.
But Allegra had kept wishing that someone would get up and talk in more detail about the real Shimrit. The
one who’d had a secret shopping addiction, with a particular weakness for UGGs. The one who had given piano lessons
to underprivileged children. The one who was always upbeat and laughing. The one who all guys were crazy about. The one she
had known and loved.
Yet despite their warm friendship, neither she nor Aidan chose to speak, feeling that it wasn’t their
place to give a eulogy, I assume, and I don’t blame them a bit. I feel presumptuous writing about her here, as though
this were my loss.
On the other hand, this is my loss. We’ve all lost something in this sad, sad case.
Parents everywhere have another
reason to worry and wonder, “Could this be me?”
Her many friends
and family, who were fortunate to know her best, have lost a true treasure in her. Her unparalleled zest for living, her luminous
spirit, her spunk.
And the world has lost all of the music still inside her that she had left to make.
A posting on the NPR music blog
this week noted that her
first album, released little more than a year ago, had been “an auspicious debut,” then added, “But Shoshan
seemed to acknowledge that it was just a start, a foothold on future things to come. Perhaps that's part of why she titled
the record Keep It Movin'.”
It then went on to quote Aidan’s original story, crediting him by name. " 'It takes a long time to release
something very personal to you,' she told [the JazzTimes reporter]. 'A lot of mental work is, "Am I ready to
do this?" Now it's like, "I'm unstoppable! When's the next project?" Little things are happening and, hopefully,
bigger things will happen.' "
Bigger things should have happened for Shimrit. She had so much more in store.
As she wrote in one of her last Twitter postings, on July 2, "Up is the only way to go!"
Life must go on, I know, and it
will. It will. Allegra says that Shimrit was such a positive person that she would have wanted that for us all,
and we have to honor that. Of course I want to honor that. But I’m finding it awfully hard to “Keep It Movin’”
To view a video of Shimrit playing her own composition, "Chamsa," please click on this link:
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
Half the joy of almost any vacation is the breathless anticipation, one of the
many reasons most people plan trips well in advance -- another being that you stand a better chance of getting into the places
you want to go if you don’t wait until the last minute.
But what if you don’t know where the heck you want to go?
How do you plan that?
My husband actually did have a destination in mind. Every time I asked him where he wanted to go this summer,
he instantly replied “Istanbul,” having heard our kids rave about this exotic city after enjoying assorted escapades
there together last summer. But I just kept telling him where to go, if you get my drift. I wasn’t the least bit interested
in talking Turkey because Charlie, our only nephew, was getting married in Portland, Oregon, in mid-August. So what I had
in mind wasn't "Where in the world do you want to go?" but rather, "Where in the Pacific Northwest?"
So soon the wedding was only three weeks away and we hadn’t even booked flights. Then my good friend Liz mentioned
Cannon Beach, a resort town about 80 minutes from Portland on the exquisite Oregon coast. My daughter Allegra, who had consented
to join us for a whole week away before the wedding, was desperate for a break from the sweltering heat and relentless hubbub
of summer in New York City. What could be more restful, tranquil or rejuvenating than a few days right on the beach?
Most of the accommodations there listed online looked like standard motels you’d find on Cape Cod or
at any other seaside locale. Basic, austere and family-oriented. In other words, nothing special.
Then I came across one place that
looked truly spectacular. Situated right in front of Haystack Rock -- a massive, 235-foot-tall natural wonder that holds the
dubious distinction of being the world’s third-largest free-standing monolith – the Stephanie Inn was listed on
Trip Advisor as the best B&B at Cannon Beach. It also had been ranked No. 3 in the country and No. 31 in the world by
Condé Nast Traveler magazine in its 2008 readers' picks of the world's best hotels.
No wonder it appeared to have no vacancies. It looked so appealing, though, that I decided to take
a chance and call.
To my delight, they said that they were so exclusive that they tended to offer only a limited portion of
their 41 rooms online, and that they still had two available for the four days we intended to be there, including a king suite
that would accommodate all three of us.
Yes, the place was prohibitively pricey. Yet last-minute bookers can’t
be choosers. At least we’d at last have something to look forward to with breathless anticipation.
Allegra now confessed to another reason she wanted to go to Oregon before the wedding. While attending college
at New England Conservatory of Music, she’d studied the jazz stylings of Nancy King, a stellar scat
singer who’d been born and raised near Portland and still lived and performed there. She’d been raving to
us about this woman for years. Now she might actually get to hear her sing, or – dare she even hope? – to
Although she has long reigned as the Pacific Northwest’s preeminent jazz singer, and she has toured
everywhere from France, Holland, Canada and Australia to Israel (where she remains especially popular and always sells
out), Ms. King has never quite become an actual household name. According to a music blog called “All About Jazz,”
however, she really didn’t care.
“Her heart's desire, she says, has always been to be loved and admired by
the general jazz community,” it stated. “Of this there is no question, as the list of singers and musicians who
have sought her collaboration will attest.”
King has performed with innumerable jazz luminaries
over the years, including the great Miles Davis, pianist Bill Evans and bassist Ray Brown, and was nominated in 2006 for a Grammy Award for Best
Jazz Vocalist for Nancy King Live at the Jazz Standard, her duo album recorded with renowned pianist Fred
In recent times, we learned, she has fallen on hard times financially,
due substantially to mounting medical bills, to the point that there was a fundraiser held for her benefit in
L.A. shortly before our trip.
Yet Allegra remained convinced that her lofty musical stature still
rendered her unapproachable. I argued that, as illustrious as Ms. King might be, she was not quite a celebrity so hounded
by the press and public that she’d be inclined to shun all attention. (Woody Allen she was not.) Besides, rare
is the performer who ever becomes too famous or full of themselves to welcome genuine adulation from an admiring younger artist
in his or her own field.
I encouraged her to contact Ms. King to find out if she were singing anywhere, or if Allegra
might actually visit her or even pay her for a once-in-a-lifetime lesson.
This, however, proved
much harder than we had expected. At 72, Ms. King doesn’t monitor her email all that actively. A lengthy letter Allegra
sent her went unacknowledged, and the performance calendar on her website was weeks out of date.
Finally, with our
departure rapidly approaching, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I spent hours delving into her whereabouts online,
and late one night finally found in tiny print a passing reference on the Portland Jazz Society’s Web site to a seminar
Ms. King co-taught with another Portland singer, whose email address and phone number were listed.
I passed this woman’s contact information on to my daughter, who heard back promptly
that Ms. King sang every Wednesday night at an Italian restaurant in Portland, and that the only way to contact her was to
simply show up. By sheer coincidence, we were scheduled to arrive in Portland on Wednesday after our sojourn at Cannon Beach.
Suddenly, we’d gone from having no place to go to having a plan that was falling perfectly into
place. Talk about breathless anticipation. Even I couldn’t wait.
As we walked through the door to our impossibly spacious suite at the Stephanie Inn, our eyes
bugged out in disbelief. “Have I died and gone to heaven?” Allegra asked.
It was a question
we continued to pose to ourselves throughout our lavish four-day stay. Our mountain-view "room" was, in fact, a
spacious one-bedroom suite larger than most New York City apartments, with a working fireplace, expansive living/dining room separated from the bedroom by a sliding door, and both a large powder room and a jacuzzi-equipped
mammoth master bath (larger than most bedrooms in NYC itself).
Each day, there was a complimentary
wine and cheese reception from 4-5:30 in an elegant room overlooking the ocean (although you were also welcome to take your
refreshments outside and enjoy them on the shore).
A large ceramic cookie jar stationed in the lobby was kept stocked with warm, fresh-baked cookies
24 hours a day.
Also included in our stay were a liqueur tasting from 9-9:30 each night and a buffet breakfast
each morning as sumptuous as any we have ever encountered in the world, including cheesy scrambled eggs, thick bacon or sausage, a dizzying assortment of fruits and freshly baked goods, fresh-squeezed
juices and cappuccino made to order.
Alas, there was no
pool on the premises (although you could use the indoor one at their sister inn nearby). And the icy ocean water was a bit
too brisk to allow for dipping in more than a toe or two (although my stalwart husband dared to take the plunge for about
three seconds one day).
But the location right on the beach by historic Haystack Rock couldn’t
be beat. Neither could the incomparably upbeat graciousness of the staff, nor the incomparably luscious food served at
dinner in their in-house restaurant. (The filet mignon entree and lobster and crab cake appetizer in particular.
Trayf or not – not to be missed!)
Our only possible gripe was that our entire suite was so comfortable that we were almost tempted
to stay inside all day and just relax. Had we died and gone to heaven?
At the very least, it was hotel heaven. Someone later divulged that Bill Gates had stayed there
not long ago, although the staff had been instructed to call him by some other name. (Mr. Bates? Mr. Yeats? Mr. Bill?) When
I told a friend that we’d stayed at the nicest place in town, she asked me how I knew.
And if you wonder how we liked it there, then just
take a look at this picture.
was enough to make me rethink my customary bargain-hunting approach of making do with the cheapest place possible.
To our joy and great surprise, my nephew Charlie and his bride Holly chose to drive the three hours
round-trip from Portland in order to spend a day there with us. We had assumed that they’d be too busy, and that we’d
have to make do with just saying a quick hello at the wedding. Instead, we got to loll around with them on the beach, playing
Frisbee and plying them with endless questions about the impending nuptials.
We’d initially heard that it would be an intimate and relatively casual affair held
on a farm, with a traditional back-yard barbecue. But apparently they had since relented and hired an actual caterer to serve
the 60 or so expected guests instead.
We also were aware that this wedding celebration was,
in fact, just a reenactment of sorts, because the couple had already elected to get married privately three months earlier,
largely because they were both entering graduate school at Berkeley within a few days of the wedding, and they wanted to go
on a honeymoon to Havana first.
What we hadn’t known was that instead of merely getting hitched
at Portland’s City Hall, they had chosen to tie the knot with a Justice of the Peace at their favorite beach…
Cannon Beach… right in front of our hotel, alongside Haystack Rock! (Made it feel like our choosing to stay
there wasn't just random luck. Clearly, it was beshert.)
As for the big question Allegra and I wanted to know – what would the bride wear? –
that remained top secret. But lovely Holly has always favored a natural, understated look, and Charlie confided to us
that whatever we wore, we were bound to be more dressed up than she was.
Being keenly athletic and a nature-lover
himself, Charlie urged us to go hiking while we were there at nearby Ecola State Park, and Allegra insisted that we follow
through. Good thing that we’d gotten our first taste of hiking experience under our belts the previous weekend while visiting our friends Pat and Michael in Vermont. Unfortunately, Nice Jewish Dad
and I still found ourselves panting and out of breath soon after setting off. (Allegra? Not so much. She forged ahead and
made us feel like the geezers we must be by continually offering a well-meant but embarrassing helping hand.)
Even the least challenging trail in this woodsy mountain setting was quite a hike. The picture-postcard-perfect
panoramic views overlooking the beach and sea below made it well worth risking life, limb and pride, though.
My greatest challenge of the trip, however, came on our final night there.
We’d spent the afternoon at a farmer’s market, where we sampled the local produce, including bee pollen, impossibly
juicy peaches, and some very stinky cheese. While there, a pair of young men manning one of the booths invited Allegra to
join them and their friends for a bonfire on the beach that night.
By this time, she’d been alone with us for the past five days, and being 22 was up for
almost anything, as long as it didn’t involve us. So she accepted without hesitation.
When she mentioned
this plan to a young staffer she’d befriended back at our hotel, though, he prevailed upon her to go have a bonfire
with him instead. The problem was that he wouldn't be free until 11 p.m. So her date started rather late.
OK, I’m well
aware that when Allegra is in NYC, her evening plans often don’t begin until that late, and therefore they don’t
end until early the following morning. She’s finished college and hasn’t lived at home since she was 17, so I’m
fine with that.
But it’s one thing to know that your daughter is out late in some other far-off city,
and quite another to wake up at 2:30 a.m., peer into the next room and see her empty bed.
Never mind that I’d
already dared to text her at 1 a.m. “Going to sleep,” I’d written. “You OK?”
drowning in the Pacific,” she had shot back almost instantly. But then she’d had the decency to add, “No,
I’m fine,” followed by a calm sign-off. “I’ll let myself in.”
Now it was a full
90 minutes later, and she was still MIA and who-knows-where? Her youthful escort had looked nice enough, but looks can be
deceiving. Not to mention the fact that they were out on a deserted beach literally playing with fire. Lying in bed in the
middle of the night, imagining my daughter by the ocean with a total stranger, all I could think about was Natalee
Holloway, that ill-fated American teenager who abruptly disappeared while on a high school trip to Aruba in 2005, never to
be seen again.
I tried to stifle these crazy thoughts. I tried to remain calm and not keep watching the Day-Glo
numerals of the digital clock on the night table as the minutes continued ticking away. But soon it was 3 a.m., then 3:01,
3:02, 3:03, and 3:04, and I was hopelessly wide awake.
Finally, I could stand it no longer and gave in and reached for my phone. “Leg???”
“Sorry! Coming!” she replied at once. And within five minutes I heard her key card being inserted into the door.
Then I promptly passed out.
The next morning, a little abashed, I apologized for having been such
a noodge, and dared to ask only if she’d had fun.
She allowed that she had, but
that she wasn’t accustomed to having someone along on her dates with her. By which she presumably meant me.
So maybe next time I’ll restrain myself. Yet I still think that it’s fine
for her to do whatever she wants on her own time, but that a family trip isn’t exactly her own time.
Why, I still vividly
remember the night when I was 22 and visiting my grandparents in Florida, and I stayed out half the night with a young man
because we were having fun and I assumed that my grandparents were fast asleep anyway… only to return at 4 a.m. to
two frantic people and be gruffly scolded by Grandma Mary, who said that Grandpa Charlie had already said Kaddish
over me, in part because he figured I must be dead and in part because any granddaughter who stayed out all night with some
guy was essentially dead to him.
At the time, I’d staunchly defended myself, charging that they were much too hysterical
and much too strict, and that I was all grown up and entitled to have some fun on a vacation (and that besides, all we’d
been up to at that hour was drinking decaf in an all-night diner nearby). But decades later, I now see it from the
I'm sorry, Grandma, wherever you are. I'm also sorry there were
no cellphones back then.
Sadly, the time had come for us to pack up and bid goodbye to the stunning
Stephanie Inn. At least after staying up half the night, Allegra got to snooze much of the way to Portland. Good thing, too.
She had a date that night with destiny… or at the very least, a diva.
We spent so much of the afternoon exploring the boutiques in the city’s funky Nob Hill
district that we got a late start to the restaurant. En route to Touché, the Italian eatery where Ms. King performs
weekly, my mind overflowed with misgivings. What if we couldn’t get in without a reservation? What if the place was
so mobbed that we ended up sitting in Siberia? What if Ms. King had largely lost her voice over the years, or she was too
busy or too full of herself, after all, to give my daughter the time of day?
I dropped Allegra and my husband off in front so they could grab seats while I found a place
to park. Moments later, I entered the restaurant to see a woman in rose-colored glasses and a bobbing white ponytail perched
beside the piano, with my family at the table right in front of her. Allegra’s face was lit up like she'd just met
Ms. King’s face also glowed radiantly upon seeing me because she briefly mistook me for
someone else, but she seemed just as happy to discover that I was Allegra’s mom, because somehow in the three or four
minutes it had taken me to snag a spot in the restaurant’s on-site parking lot, they’d already bonded and
become friends for life.
Although it was 7 p.m. and the music was about to begin, this sizable place
was nearly empty, except for us and a dozen or so other patrons who all seemed to know Ms. King.
Moments later, she
raised the mic to her lips.
“Ladies and gentleman,” she announced, “I’m excited to tell you that
we have a special guest here with us tonight.”
Seeing her in the flesh
at such close range was as much excitement as I could stomach for one night. Who else could possibly be there?
“We have a
rising young jazz singer from New York who studied with my good friend Dominique,” she said. Then she introduced Allegra.
She beamed. I plotzed.
And with that, Ms. King launched into song after song, tossing her thick
ponytail as she scatted with astonishingly fluidity and natural ease through "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To,"
“Day In, Day Out,” “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis,” and at least a dozen other tunes that Allegra
seemed to recognize instantly, although I’d never heard most of them before.
All the while, we gazed in total rapture, applauding mightily and cheering vociferously after
each number. But to my disbelief and extreme frustration, many of the people seated around us continued to socialize freely,
blabbering raucously over the music, as if they were out at any old restaurant, chowing down with their chums.
As a local publication,
the Willamette Week, would later note, “On a recent Wednesday night at the Pearl District restaurant Touché, a large party of thirtysomethings chattered, laughed, drank and ate their way through the evening—oblivious to one
of the world’s greatest singers turning familiar standards into little miracles just a few feet away.”
Who were these uncivilized
louts, these vulgarians? Perhaps they were regulars and had heard her many times before. Still, were they out of
Ms. King seemed to take neither notice nor offense, however. She just continued crooning away,
giving us what felt almost like a private concert, while her longtime collaborator, Steve Christofferson, accompanied her
with astonishing riffs on both the piano and his melodica, a harmonica-like instrument, often simultaneously. Between numbers, Nancy
told stories and bantered, often directly with Allegra. And the moment the first set came to a close she strode right to our
table and spent the next half-hour chatting almost exclusively with us.
She also insisted
on giving Allegra a copy of one of her many CDs, entitled Perennial, which she inscribed on the cover in great big
letters, “Allegra ♥ -- So great to meet you! Hope you’ll enjoy this!☺ Love, Nancy King.”
Half the anecdotes
she shared were about performing or fraternizing with assorted famed musicians, including John Coltrane, Jon Hendricks, Mark
Murphy and even Elvis. (Nancy King with... the King?!?) The other half were about past romantic encounters she’d had
(or regrettably not had) over the years with assorted jazz greats. There were so many such stories that I must confess to
wondering briefly if she might have… well, let's say a vivid imagination. Then Allegra shared a photo from inside the
CD of our new friend Nancy in earlier days. And all I can say is, if she says she had it goin’ on… well, clearly,
she must've had it goin’ on!
Now walking with the aid of a cane on either arm – degenerative rheumatoid arthritis
has led to a need for two knee replacements – Nancy chose to remain seated throughout both lengthy sets. But along with
not having lost a single note or nuance of her lilting, legendary voice, she hadn’t sacrificed one iota
of energy. A lifelong extreme case of ADD, she openly confessed, once had driven her parents to distraction. But her charmingly
manic, hyper-charged level of chattiness only heightened her ability to entertain now. Rarely do you encounter such verbal
acrobatics, even in a woman less than half her age. (In terms of verve and vivacity, she sure had me beat.)
And amazingly, most
of this explosive joie de vivre now seemed to be directed toward Allegra… and us. When it was time to leave, Nancy
hugged and kissed each of us goodbye, her face erupting with unfettered joy when I dared to assert that, although she no doubt
had countless admirers, Allegra was unquestionably her biggest fan on the planet, and in our house she wasn't just jazz
royalty; she was a goddess. And when Allegra dared to ask if they might reconvene for a singing lesson, Nancy eagerly
embraced the idea, promising to try her best to locate a pianist to accompany them.
The next day, she
left an effusive message on Allegra’s phone inviting us to join her for lunch the next day and announcing that
she’d found an accompanist, so the lesson was all set.
“I really loved last night,” she concluded. “You made it
special. Your vibrations and your energy – and your parents – really sparked us on.
it’s always wonderful having people in the audience to listen to you who really like what you do,” she continued.
“It was special, and you made it special, Allegra… I love you already. I love you all!!!”
With luck, our son flew in from New York that night, although storms in the Midwest unfortunately
kept his plane sitting on the runway at JFK for two and a half hours first. (After endless exasperated updates from Aidan
via text message, I finally wrote “What are they saying about the flight now?” I accidentally wrote “thy”
instead of “they,” though. To which he replied, with his usual bone-dry humor, “They’re saying if
it doesn’t take off in three hours, the plane will go back to the gate so you can shoot thyself.”)
But it ultimately
took off and arrived safely by 1 a.m., so he too was able to join us for a lively lunch with Nancy the next day at a popular
Portland hangout called the Bijou Café. Then Allegra, Nancy, and pianist Dan Gaynor repaired to Dan’s nearby
studio for what turned out to be the rest of the afternoon, during which time, as I could have predicted, they had less of
a singing lesson than an exuberant song- and love-fest punctuated by lots more storytelling.
To my daughter’s
infinite delight, though, Nancy listened to several of Allegra’s own original songs and also actually sang along with
her on some others. Even better, Allegra confessed to us with all due modesty, Nancy admitted in the end that she’d
hoped to offer her some useful pointers, but had found my daughter to be so proficient a singer already that she could only
come up with a few tidbits of general advice that had helped dictate her own career, along the lines of “Remember to
always be yourself,” and “Only sing songs that you really like.”
Of course, these heartfelt
aphorisms would have meant nothing coming from me, but they were true words of wisdom to live by coming from her idol.
After this session -- which lasted at least twice as long as the 90 minutes she’d
promised -- Nancy entreated Allegra to phone her the next day, in hopes of our meeting yet again before we left.
Allegra did, of course. But alas, they failed to connect.
It was just as well, I guess. We had an impossibly hectic
weekend ahead of us, what with a lavish rehearsal dinner hosted by my brother and sister-in-law and our determination
to take in all the highlights of Portland in only a day or two.
With so little time, we elected to forego patronizing one of the city’s most popular
destinations, Voodoo Doughnuts (known for their maple bacon bars, Portland creams, and devilishly delicious custard-filled
doughnuts shaped like voodoo dolls), since the line outside this diet-busting tourist magnet stretched all the way down the
But we got to visit the ever-popular Portland Saturday Market (a weekly outdoor bazaar), sample
what is arguably among the world’s best brews at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and share a mouth-watering sandwich
from PBJ's, one of the city’s many celebrated food carts, which specializes in fresh-grilled creations such as
the Oregonian (toasted challah bread spread with Marionberry jam, Rogue Creamery blue cheese, and Oregon hazelnut butter).
We also spent an unusually steamy afternoon at a food fair called A Bite of Oregon, where we
dared to feast on fried alligator on a stick, which was much better than you’d expect and tasted a lot like chicken,
only juicier, leading my husband to venture that it was much more like pork (although being Nice Jewish Mom, of course I wouldn’t
Our trip finally culminated on Saturday night in the wedding itself, held on a gorgeous,
secluded farm on scenic Sauvie Island, where we feasted on succulent grilled salmon, perfectly steamed asparagus and fluffy
triangles of ethereally light fried polenta, followed by individual blueberry cobblers in place of a traditional wedding cake.
But I feel that any further particulars are very personal to my brother’s family and
belong strictly to my nephew Charlie and Holly, his sweet, brilliant and beautiful bride.
Suffice it to say
that Charlie turned out to have been putting us on about Holly’s dress, because she wore a breathtakingly lovely white
silk gown, after all. And that after witnessing the moving and very touching, nondenominational ceremony, performed with wit,
heart and aplomb by my brother’s best friend Artie Diamond, a federal judge, we danced the night away, mostly to hip-hop
tunes blasted via speakers from a computer.
Then we flew back home to Connecticut, where
my husband proceeded to rave to everyone about the many pleasures of Portland and Oregon and to make no mention
Not even once.
pronounced our trip “the best vacation ever” and has begun plotting to arrange a concert in New York featuring
our new best friend, Nancy, who phoned her back the day after we returned.
She said she was
heartbroken not to have seen us again before we left, but that she had thoroughly enjoyed their lesson and all the precious
time we’d spent together.
“I loved every minute of it,” she declared, hastening to
reiterate her few choice kernels of wisdom. “Remember to always be you!” she exclaimed. “You’ve
got the stuff. Just stick to your regime and you’re going to be great. You already are!”
And as much as that
might be more than enough advice for one nice Jewish girl, I couldn’t help chiming in with my own few motherly admonitions.
In the end, this saga, after all, is less a “what I did on my summer vacation” story than it
is a cautionary (and/or inspirational) tale for all of us who hesitate to pursue relationships, goals and other things we
really want in life because we surrender to negative thinking, believing “I can’t,” “This will never
work,” or “That person will never possibly have any interest in me.”
What if Allegra had
succumbed to inertia or doubt and failed to track her idol down, figuring that it was too hard to find her or that she wouldn’t
be accessible to us, anyway? Think of all that she would have missed.
We loved Cannon Beach. We loved the wedding. But meeting Nancy King was among the crowning
moments, not only of this trip, but my daughter’s whole young life.
it special. Her vibrations and her energy and her boundless enthusiasm. And her clearly remembering what it was like to be
young, eager, and in awe of someone else.
I feel like Allegra has two mothers now – a
nice Jewish mom and a nice jazz mom.
So all I can say is thanks, along with, “You’re
the one who made it special, Nancy. We love you. We love you already!”
Thursday, August 2, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
When I was growing up, my parents, like almost any other reasonably well-to-do
Jews in the Northeast, enjoyed nothing more than to spend an invigorating weekend up in The Catskills, at the Concord, Nevele,
Fallsview, Grossinger’s, or similar so-called Borscht Belt resort. So when my husband and I were packing to visit our
good friends Pat and Michael in Stowe, VT, last weekend, I had a moment of major-league déjà vu.
As with the Catskills, we were
told to be prepared for a dizzying array of athletic activities – hiking, biking, swimming, and tennis. (Is it any wonder
that I came equipped with eight different pairs of shoes?) As with the Catskills, there would also be a plethora of more elegant
evening activities, mostly revolving around food. But most of all, as with the Catskills of days gone by, we were assured
that we would be spending every single minute among our people, hobnobbing, sporting and consorting strictly with other Jews.
Huh? Somehow, I’ve always viewed Vermont and virtually all of New England as being dominated by Mayflower
descendants. WASP Central. Pilgrims and Puritans “R” Us. But evidently, along with Manhattan, Miami Beach, and
Eretz Yisrael itself, the Green Mountain State has become a second homeland to us of the Hebrew persuasion –
that is to say, the place where many a well-to-do Jew chooses to own a second home, particularly Jews like Pat and Michael,
who both originally hailed from Montreal.
This wasn’t the first time we had visited them at their own home away from home. In fact, we’d
been there twice before – once when our daughter Allegra had sung at a nearby après-ski lodge with a band, and
again precisely a year ago, when she had performed at a stylish fundraiser for JCOGS, the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe.
Still, I must confess that I approached the weekend with no small amount of trepidation. We were excited about the invitation
and always have a great time with Pat and Michael, and their weekend home is not only exquisite but as palatial and inviting
as any resort. However, I’m not the most athletic person in the world, and having heard numerous passing references
to 25-mile bike rides, I worried about keeping up with the “K’s.”
What’s more, I’m not
anything close to gregarious by nature. We had been invited to accompany them to a big party they were attending on Saturday
night, and as generous as it was of their good friends “Deborah and Myron” to include us, I felt a bit shy
about spending time with innumerable friends of our friends, even if I’d met most of them before and knew that they
were all a lot like me – in other words, other Jews.
We arrived on Friday just in time for Shabbat dinner, only
to realize that I shouldn’t have worried after all. In deference to us, Pat and Mike had decided to forego their usual
ambitious biking treks and stick with activities that were more our speed. Also, in deference to my introverted nature, they
had kept the company down to a minimum for dinner by inviting only two other couples, both of whom welcomed us warmly with
kisses on both cheeks, in keeping with the Continental style favored by many a Canadian.
After joining in on singing both the blessings over the Sabbath candles and a rousing Kiddush and
Motzi – as good a set of icebreakers as you will find anywhere – we found ourselves laughing uproariously
at each other’s anecdotes and jokes. (OK, here's one courtesy of "Myron:" A man keeps complaining to his therapist
that he thinks his wife is trying to poison him. Finally, the shrink asks the man to send his wife in for an appointment,
after which he tells the man, "I just spent three hours with your wife, and you know what? I'd take the poison.")
But just when, realizing I was among landsmen, I had begun to feel totally at ease, Pat came out
with an unexpected and rather alarming observation. She said that every time so far that they’d had weekend guests other
than us, there had been some sort of accident.
One had injured himself badly skiing. Two others had suffered biking collisions requiring surgery, and a
fourth had broken a toe while taking a simple hike. Never mind that we had visited there twice before without incident of
any kind. Along with being shy, I’m a chronic worrier by nature, and to me this was pretty much the equivalent of telling
a confirmed hypochondriac that there’s something going around and it tends to be fatal.
A few minutes later, we all got up to clear the table, whereupon their dear friend “Deborah”
slipped and took a loud fall, breaking both the teacup and pretty Murano glass goblet she’d been carrying, and badly
bruising the elbow on which she’d landed.
While everyone rushed to her aid and to gather the broken pieces scattered across the floor, I began wondering to myself.
Could this possibly have fulfilled the customary accident quota for that weekend? Or might there still be more trauma in store…
This sense of anxiety bubbled up anew when, after a lovely breakfast overlooking the pond out back and exquisite
grounds the next morning, our hosts announced that it was time to prepare for the day’s activities. They instructed
us to pack up all the clothing and gear required to play tennis and swim, but that we would start off by taking a strenuous
We then piled into their car and began navigating the treacherously narrow and winding roads leading toward
the top of Mount Mansfield, a popular skiing destination.
I tried to quell my trepidation as we arrived at the base of a trail leading to Sterling Pond, which Michael
had assured us was the area’s shortest and least challenging hike. When he pulled into the only parking spot available
nearby, though, edging into a small, rocky clearing along the road, we heard a loud crack and disembarked to find, to our
distress, that a portion of the front right fender had popped out and been slightly dented. Fortunately, Michael managed to
pop it back in place so it was almost as good as new.
I tried to tell myself that this calamity must have met the accident
for the weekend. But I couldn’t help worrying as we entered the trail. Was more tsuris still in store?
Meanwhile, Michael distributed
one ski-type pole with a pointy end to each of us, insisting that we’d need the extra support for balance and stability.
How right he was.
For those who have never hiked before – and until last weekend, that included us – this activity
feels a lot like walking up a very steep set of stairs, but it requires you to tread very carefully because there is no actual
staircase. Rather, you need to make your way through a narrow track cleared through dense woods, finding footholds as you
proceed upwards through the trees and underbrush onto, over, and around large rocks.
For suburbanites like us, this
was the ultimate in conquering the great outdoors. But it also felt like quite the challenge for total novices like my husband
It was a hot and humid July day, even in those lush green mountains, and within minutes both of us were panting and sweating profusely, and I began to wonder if this was such a great idea, after all. Although
Nice Jewish Dad is a frequent tennis player and fancies himself to be in better shape than I am, he’s also 10 years
older and in recent years has undergone two hip replacements and hernia surgery. Not to mention that he’d been suffering
from bronchitis for a few weeks and was still using an inhaler.
And not before long he was gasping for breath
and needed to whip this device out.
I was particularly eager to have us both escape injury because we were leaving within a week to attend our
nephew Charlie’s wedding in Portland, Oregon. Our flights were all booked, and it was now past the deadline to cancel
the hotel. Besides, he’s our only nephew and we didn’t want to risk jeopardizing our getting to enjoy this in
Watching Pat speed ahead with ease, I tried to assure myself that I would get the hang of it in no time.
Could it be the high elevation that was making me light-headed? Or was this just too much mental stress or physical duress
for one Nice Jewish Mom?
Either way, Pat chose this moment to point out that it happened to be Tisha B’av.
We’re talking about the saddest day in Jewish history, a date on which we are meant to commemorate the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, which by some odd chance happened on the exact
same day, only 655 years apart. So reading from the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Job are highly recommended.
On this solemn “holiday”
(if you can call it that), we’re also supposed to fast as we recall the Expulsion from Spain in 1492 and other catastrophic
events in Jewish history.
And as drastically as a possible sprained ankle or other injury paled in contrast to
these tragic events, the ominous import of the day did the opposite of allaying my fears.
Once again, I tried to quell my apprehension by noticing how many families with young children were attempting
the same climb. But no sooner did I consider this than a small troop of boys on an outing gamboled past us, and one of these
youngsters, who looked to be about 8 or 9, cried out in what sounded like real terror, “This is a death trail! This
is the kind of trail on which you DIE!”
At this point, I gave in to Michael’s entreaties to take a
brief rest and catch my breath. I also urged my husband to watch where he was walking and proceed with care, not that he generally
has much interest, if any, in doing almost anything that I suggest.
As we progressed up the mountain, we began to encounter small streams trickling downward, rendering the rocks
and path muddy and slick. And I began to focus on the old adage about whatever goes up needing to come down. Even if we ever
managed to reach the top, I realized, it probably would be even more perilous climbing back down.
I went to a lecture this week by a Jewish author named Daniel Smith who was discussing his new book, Monkey
Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety. He said that he has long suffered from crippling anxiety, like many of his family members.
(“My older brother Scott is the type of person who will think he’s having a heart attack and wind up in the emergency
room having all sorts of expensive tests, and then it’ll turn out to be…gas.”)
He also noted that his mother,
who happens to be a therapist (gee, that must help), often observes that anxiety is tied to the future, whereas depression
is tied to the past. That is, a depressive dwells on troubling events that have already happened, while his anxiety-ridden
counterpart can’t stop conjuring up awful things that simply might occur.
Well, if that’s anxiety, then I’ve got it. Bad. I’m not saying that I tend to worry about
adverse events that very well might befall me. I mean that I hesitate to leave the house even on a sunny day without an umbrella,
as well as Kleenex, Band-Aids, breath mints, Benadryl, and an emergency granola bar, just in case someone in the family feels
faint and needs a nosh.
No wonder I couldn’t help envisioning all sorts of horrific potential pitfalls
– or more precisely in this case, actual falls. Falls on our knees, falls on our heads, or (best-case scenario) falls
on our well-padded butts.
And so we trudged on through the wild, stopping occasionally for a necessary rest and stumbling now and then
despite our best efforts, but still managing to stay upright.
After what felt like two hours but was evidently
only 40 minutes, I began to sense that I’d already reached my limit. My husband was presumably thinking the same thing,
because he asked a group passing in the opposite direction if we were near the top. They shrugged, then estimated that we
were only about halfway there. I sighed.
Michael told us it was proper trail etiquette to allow people on
the descent to pass, so we stepped aside for another family just as the father proposed brightly to his kids, “Now let’s
see who can manage to stay quiet the longest!”
There was no such sage suggestion from the teenage girl leading that troop of little monsters, whom we overtook
moments later. “This is the kind of trail you DIE on!” wailed that same youngster again, at which point I found
myself unable to hold back.
“Stop saying that!” I admonished him loudly -- to no avail whatsoever.
Fortunately, it turned out that the downward-bound group had slightly misjudged the distance, for precisely
an hour after we’d begun we caught up with Pat at the summit. A sign pointed us toward Sterling Pond, and after a short
stroll we came upon a stunning lake whose glassy surface mirrored the surrounding hills and clear blue sky.
Ah, if only we’d brought
those bathing suits, which were languishing in the car down below.
We recruited a young man seated
nearby to capture the scene and this moment for eternity. Pat and Michael insisted that I keep my hat on, and, on top of all
my fears about imminent danger came the sudden recognition that everyone thought I looked totally ridiculous. I’d feared
that the Zumba dance sneakers I was sporting weren’t exactly regulation trail wear. Who knew that backwoods adventurers
don’t typically wear big hats -- or hot pink?
Sadly, our trusty photographer turned out to be a bit too young to date Allegra (although Pat promptly proposed
making a shiddoch). But it ended up that his parents had friends who’d attended a Jewish fundraising dinner
at Pat and Michael’s house in Connecticut, and we ended up conferring endlessly about that and countless other topics
involving temples, our kinder (children), and other issues of keen interest to Jews.
Then soon enough we could delay
no longer. It was time to brave the wilds again for the descent.
I finally dared voice my apprehension to Michael, noting that I happened to be deathly afraid of
heights. At this, he offered some avuncular, truly savvy advice.
“Focus on the path before you, and look
only two or three feet ahead of you at any one time,” he counseled, noting that this would both make me vigilant about
where I was stepping and help me avoid worrying too much about what might lie ahead.
Seemed like perfect wisdom for
navigating not just trails, but also the travails of life.
With that in mind, I discovered
that, to my relief, the way back down was actually way easier than the way up. But no sooner did I begin to relax again than
we came upon a pale, rather frail-looking woman of 64 seated at the perimeter of the path, clutching her shoulder in unmistakable pain. I’m
pretty sure I actually heard her moan, “Oy.”
Her grown son, who sat fretfully beside her, explained that she
had fallen on the trail and was in such agony that he had promptly summoned the paramedics.
Shortly after, we passed two men
in headlamp-equipped helmets ascending the path, followed by two more. Then eventually four more appeared carrying a stretcher.
For a worrywart like me, this only helped aid and abet my worst fears, as if adding lighter fluid to an already raging
But heeding Michael’s astute advice, I continued to put one foot before the other, not daring to look
more than a yard or so ahead. And when I finally, at long-last, dared to peer into the distance, I saw that we were approaching
the nadir… never mind that the road was lined with an emergency vehicle and a fire truck, both with flashing lights.
When we finally reached ground level, I felt a rush of exhilaration and began to wonder if I would have enjoyed the
experience more if I had trusted all along that we would return safely. Or had a sense of imminent doom heightened the thrill
of it all?
If the latter was true, then I was in for even more fun, for once we began driving away I noticed that the
circuitous road snaking back down the mountain was even more perilously steep and narrow than I remembered, much like
the craggy Amalfi Coast of Italy, with a series of blind turns that made me wonder why there weren’t even more
emergency vehicles standing by.
When at long last Michael steered us through the worst of it, I let out an audible sigh of relief…
only to see him whack his forehead with the heel of his palm “I coulda had a V-8” style and exclaim that he had
just realized that he’d forgotten to sign us out.
Evidently, there was a sign-in sheet at the bottom of the trail
leading up to the pond, and he had inscribed our names upon arrival. And if he didn’t sign us out too, then the local
authorities would have no choice but to send up a search party to find us.
It seemed that enough paramedics
already had been enlisted for one day to rescue an errant granny, and we didn’t want to burden the local taxpayers any
So we drove right back up again, retracing our path through those hairpin turns as I clutched my seat in
the back and cursed silently, my inner litany of what-ifs overwhelming me again.
After my husband had performed
the sign-out honors, we then turned around and had to wend our way back down that mountain again, which somehow now seemed
even steeper still.
I feared that we had disgraced ourselves with our endless fretting and sluggish pace. But no. Our hosts were so amazed at
our agility – or at least our ability to emerge unscathed – that they took a detour into a posh housing development,
hoping to entice us to buy a condo up there and join them more regularly by becoming honorary Montreal Jews.
“You’re the only ones
to ever visit for a weekend and not get hurt,” reiterated Pat.
“The only ones ever!” Michael
Which only reignited my worrying anew, because the weekend was far from over.
By now, between sheer exhaustion
and dwindling time, we chose to forego the rest of the triathlon we'd planned for the afternoon, despite all that gear we’d
packed. Instead, we repaired to their place for a quick snack, and soon it was time to dress for dinner.
“Deborah and Myron’s” house turned out to be enormous and elegant both inside and out.
It was also completely overrun with people both inside and out, all of them beautifully dressed. Almost all from Montreal.
And all, without exception, Jews.
So the only real danger we faced there was getting trampled while competing to get to the massive platters
of jumbo shrimp, the sumptuous buffet, and the Viennese-style dessert table.
All kidding aside, it was a beautiful affair, and once again we felt both welcome and included, so much so
that I insisted on being snapped with Pat and three of her closest friends on the way out, recreating the same photo we had
posed for exactly a year earlier.
I also managed to shoot a companion shot including Nice Jewish Dad and the other husbands, my
thought being that we were starting a tradition that might continue for many more years to come. After all, as wonderful (and
injury-free) a time as we'd had, we also have many more pairs of shoes left to wear and plenty of unfinished business there:
tennis to play, a pond to swim in, and many more trails to hike.
Yet even as we packed up the next morning, I wasn’t convinced that we were out of danger. The drive
back through endless pockets of fog and heavy rain was a nail-biter. Yet I can only hope that Pat and Michael realize
how much we appreciated their warm and gracious hospitality, and how much in all honesty we genuinely enjoyed ourselves.
Meanwhile, the journey (and the potential danger) continue. For somehow, I finally managed to abruptly come down with
some sort of vile virus while sitting in the safety of my own home, and I’m now nursing a nasty upper respiratory infection.
But we’re flying to that wedding one way or another, and spending a whole week in Portland and
at a beach on the Oregon coast, where my nephew has written to assure me there’s a state park with excellent hiking
– I kid you not.
So I’ll see you back here next in two weeks or so. Till then, keep your eyes
on the path and only look two or three feet in front of you (no farther off than the nearest Jew). And let’s all try
to stay safe!
|That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.
No, sir, that's not
my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring
ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible
need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime
delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the
dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in
their 20s, both are currently living on their
own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a
day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to
the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally
wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials
for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh
mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah
balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions,
from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I
can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can
barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active
mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging
times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue
posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often,
and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together):
That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New