To paraphrase the younger generation’s pejorative, “oy to the vey.”
In all my years on this crazy planet, I still haven’t figured out how to deal with family. When God gave us the Fifth Commandment, “honor thy father and thy mother,” I think he was putting us to the test. And I think I’m getting a failing grade.
My wife tells me that it’s not my fault, other than perhaps my habitual failure to tell my mother to stop already when she gets into serious nagging mode. “What did you ever do to her?” my wife asks me.
Well, if I were to trip merrily down the path of Jewish guilt, I suppose the answer to that question might take several hours. For starters, I was born. By all accounts, my mother had a hell of a time with that one. It pretty much went downhill from there.
My parents are both eighty years old, and I can’t fathom what on God’s green earth we are going to do when they can’t manage by themselves anymore in that huge house of theirs out in the country.
My wife and I tried to dilute some of the bitterness that is always part and parcel of a visit with my parents by running into town to shop, eat some great restaurant food and visit with other family members and friends.
After synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashannah, my wife and I snuck off to our favorite Italian restaurant, staking out our old table in the corner from back in the days when we lived in the area. In updating its menu, DiCicco’s has pulled off a feat that is rare indeed: Their food is now even better than we remember it.
As a vegan, it is next to impossible for me to find decent food when we are on the road. It is a refreshing treat to be able to patronize a restaurant that is willing to adjust the way a dish is prepared in order to accommodate the dietary needs of customers. This is a two-way street: Some accommodation had to be made on my end, as well. I am not among the dogmatic camp of vegans, although I do admire their commitment. I consider myself “as vegan as I wanna be,” and I am willing to concede that even if my eggplant is fried in olive oil, that bread crumb coating is likely to contain some grated cheese. Even the bread used to make my sandwich is likely to contain butter in the batter. However, after eating a million salads without dressing and plain baked potatoes at restaurants up and down California, I am happy to be flexible enough to be able to start out my new year eating this:
It was so amazingly delicious that we returned on the second day of Rosh Hashannah to eat it again. This time, we invited my parents to come and experience the incredible right along with us. My mother felt she had to decline the invitation, pleading orneriness on the part of my father. “If I go, your father will want to eat out every Rosh Hashannah. He won’t want to eat at home, and when I tell him it’s a holiday, he’ll remind me of the time I went out to eat with you guys when you were visiting.”
So we went by ourselves again and enjoyed it just as much the second time.
Then we went to visit some babies.
On a residential side street, we saw an SUV prominently proclaiming “world’s sexiest husband” in the rear window, while the side windows were emblazoned with the vehicle’s apparent sobriquet: Shaggin’ Wagon.
I guess that explains all the babies.
We drove out to the boondocks to visit my wife’s nephew and his girlfriend in order to make the acquaintance of Payton, their newborn daughter. I had never before visited this Central Valley farm town, about ten miles from Lemoore, itself a backwater known for a military installation and an Indian gambling casino. We drove by vineyards, citrus groves and multiple dairy farms. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many cows in one place. The aging apartment complex, complete with rudimentary playground and barbecue grills, all sitting next to a tiny supermarket with curved façade, reminded me of something right out of 1962 New Jersey. All I needed was some Skeeter Davis on my headphones to transport me right back to the Baby Boom era.
My wife held the baby, fed her a bottle and gave her a good burp while Mama ran back and forth to her own mother’s apartment right next door. We headed back to my parents’ for dinner, but we knew we had had about enough. We had planned to stay another day, but when I found myself escaping the oppressive heat of my parents’ house by sitting out on the patio in the evening breeze, and my father tried to make dinner plans for the following evening, I knew I just couldn’t do it. I surreptitiously texted my wife and told her we needed to get out of there.
And so we escaped, intending the make the nighttime drive up the Central Valley, all the way home. We made it about halfway when my wife admitted that she couldn’t see straight anymore. As I try to avoid night driving due to vision challenges, we ended up in a motel by the side of the freeway. You know the kind I mean. For $55, you get one tiny bar of soap that you can transport back and forth between the sink and the shower should you have the audacity to engage in such frivolity as wanting to wash your hands after using the toilet in the evening and to bathe the following morning as well. I guess I shouldn’t be so picky. When you’re traveling, you get what you get, right?
Our unscheduled overnight stop had the advantage of allowing us to visit another baby, Zoë, granddaughter of a couple who is among my wife’s oldest friends. They are fun people and we took the opportunity to cut up with them at lunch and then spend part of the afternoon watching the local favorite San Francisco Giants have their way with the Padres on a big screen TV in our friends’ living room. Our friends have adult kids and their spouses, grandkids and dogs all living with them, so my wife got to hold the baby while various human and canine residents wandered in and out, seeking our attention.
Our friends’ little grandson ran outside to pick two tiny purple blossoms, presenting one each to my wife and me as we got in the car to head home. Somehow it seemed like a fitting ending to the holiday weekend and an auspicious start to the new year.
And that’s when I remembered the feeling that overcame me when, at services on Thursday, the rabbi unexpectedly called on me to come up to open the ark and recite the lengthy Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King) prayer in English. With my wife, my father and my mother all in attendance, I could not help but reflect upon the importance of family.
Yes, dealing with family can be a bitch and a half, but I need to count my blessings and remember the many out there who don’t have family with whom they can celebrate the holidays.
We have been blessed over and over again, no two ways about it.