Shabbat mornings, after a few of us stalwarts learn some Mishna with Rabbi Gedalia at 7:30, and the congregation slogs through the longer-than-necessary davening at 8, I am eager to return home to make kiddush. One or two of my buddies join me for some whiskey and herring, and maybe a little more whiskey, and maybe a little more herring… I, of course, make myself some coffee, because why wouldn’t you want some coffee to go along with the whiskey? It’s a time to relax and chew the fat, before we all need to get ready for lunch with whomever we’re having lunch.
One of my kiddush stalwarts, we’ll call him “M”, is a convert and grew up in a very different environment in the mid-west from what life was like back in The Bronx. I’ve heard his story about his father bringing home a snow shovel or an old lawnmower and handing it to him. The implication was very clear: “Go out and earn some money.” OK. Except that M’s father expected him to pay him back for the shovel, the lawnmower, or whatever! I’m glad my parents didn’t charge me rent for the use of the wagon I used to deliver The Bronx Home News.
Anyway, that was then, and now is now. My friend’s father is suffering from some form of dementia, so his driver’s license has been pulled and his car taken away. I couldn’t help thinking of Barbara’s zaide, who had the exact same thing happen to him some thirty years ago. It must be tough to go out somewhere, and by the time you’re ready to go home, somebody has moved the roads and changed the street names. I sure wouldn’t want that to happen to me.
Zaide had gotten his drivers license long before anybody thought to give an actual test to see if you knew what you are doing behind the wheel. (We’re talking about Baltimore at a time when men would come around in the summer selling watermelons from the back of a horse-drawn cart.) Zaide got to know the poor Black neighborhoods in that city, making his living selling life insurance policies for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and going back week after week to collect the nickel or dime premiums.
Zaide was the sweetest guy, always cheerful, singing love songs to his wife of sixty years, a woman who never quite understood him. But his driving skills? Slim to none. He was the kind of guy who was never in an accident, but everyone around him was. While he lived in Baltimore, he could have been the little guy with the hat, the one who could barely see over the dashboard, tootling around some senior residence in Florida, causing havoc on the road. So it was a mercy to the community when they took away his license and sold his car.
I’m sure you understand that I have never met M’s father, but I have the sense that he ismade of sterner stuff. If I understand correctly, he worked in construction in the St. Louis area. He would enlist his son’s help, and the two of them would build a bathroom for an office between the time the staff left in the evening and when they returned the next morning. (When I think about how long it takes to get anything done here…..)
Both M senior and zaide had no choice but to accept the ravages of time with whatever grace they could muster. It must be difficult to be beholden on other people to get you around, when every day you become less and less self-sufficient. But M’s dad had a plan B.
When his car was sold, M senior took the money and went to his local John Deere dealer. There he purchased the biggest, baddest riding mower they had – as big as a mid-size car. It had so many knobs and levers that M’s brother had to label them, especially the ones he wasn’t to touch – the point being that the dad would no longer remember on his own which knobs did what.
What’s the point, you ask. How often do you need to mow your lawn? Well, the senior M had purchased two adjacent five acre parcels well beyond the limits of suburbia. Even so, how often do you need to mow your ten acres of property? Enough to keep you busy? Ah, but this gentleman had taken one of the five acre parcels and built on it………his own golf course. At least, his own one hole golf course – with one fairway and one putting green! So that you have to maintain. But maybe there’s something more to it than that. If you’re getting ready to ride off into the sunset, you still need a way to get there. When you can no longer remember which side of a golf club is up; when you don’t remember what the little white ball is for, they can still put you on top of your John Deere and let you mow your five acres to your heart’s content. And you don’t need a license to do that. Worst that will happen, you’ll annihilate a rose bush or two.
Perhaps you’re wondering, why am I taking this so much to heart? Maybe this will explain it all. Yesterday morning, I was preparing myself some breakfast. Take out the package of granola. Take out a peach from the refrigerator, cut it into small slices, put them in a cereal bowl. Put away the granola. Wait a minute….you forgot to pour the granola over the peach before you put it away. Take out the granola. Wait a minute……where did you put it. Look high and low for the bag of granola. Hours later, I still have no idea where the granola went. I know I put it somewhere.
There may come a time when I want to write something, but I can’t remember how to turn on my computer. May that time not be soon.
PART TWO: SMALL MINDS RULE THE WORLD
Most Monday mornings – at least for the last eight years – you would find me at the Hebrew U. campus on Mt. Scopus (Har Tzofim). I had answered an e-mail requesting qualified individuals to volunteer as tutors for the English as a Foreign Language Dept., and I have been doing it ever since. Until last week. This is how Peter, who has been coordinating the tutorial program, explained it to me. The department had been running the program informally on its own for these many years. Then the university got wind of what was going on. YOU CAN’T DO THAT! (provide extra help at no charge to students who need it.) WE DON’T HAVE MONEY TO PAY FOR INSURANCE! (You have, must have, a policy that covers every student, every staff member, every visitor who wanders onto the campus – just not for a handful of volunteers? I’ll gladly sign a waiver. I don’t expect to be knocked over by an errant participle.) How would you say “bean counter” in Ivrit?
(Spoiler alert: Barbara finally located the granola, hiding out with the sugar and flour, where it wasn’t supposed to be.)