Saturday, February 16, 2008

Valentine's Day... Revisited

When I was a little girl my dad worked in New York in the sales office of our family business. When I say ‘our’ family business, it was not actually ours. It belonged to the husbands of two of my mother’s sisters. It was a handbag, or what we then called pocketbook business. In those days you could drive in and out of the city without having to deal with the amount of traffic you do today, but the cars were slower, so it took almost the same time to make the trip. At that time, we were living in an enormous house with one of my mother's sisters, her husband and two children. It was not a two family house, it was just big. That uncle, Phil, worked in Paterson in the pocketbook factory and carried a gun, because it was located in a dangerous area. I don’t think he ever shot anyone, but having gone into the business after returning from China during WW2, I don’t think he would have hesitated. Uncle Phil was eternally colorful. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.

My dad left early in the morning and usually didn’t get back until I was asleep. It was a time when most 'wives' stayed at home and 'most' husbands went to work. But mom, and her sister Helene, didn’t stay home. Once we were up and dressed, they put us in the car (without seatbelts or car seats --just a lap), and drove us down (we lived uptown--having nothing to do with status) to the ‘flats’ (I have no idea why they called it that since it was New Jersey not Arizona) and we spent the day at my Aunt Sophie’s. The house was adjacent to, as well as identical to Aunt Fritzie’s. But we never spent the day there because her house was decorated with antiques and in silks and satins – and we were not neat. Besides, at Aunt Sophie’s you could play in what then seemed like an enormous finished basement with a pool table. The four sisters sat in the kitchen and played cards or cooked dinner. The amount of time they spent cooking still amazes me. But this isn’t what I wanted to blob about either—although my mother's sisters, (all seven of them) were beyond colorful.

When I think about the time I spent with my dad, who was in the early stages of multiple sclerosis, I have two memories that stand far apart from the others. One was playing on the beach at my grandparent’s summer cottage. My dad loved the ocean. We spent hours building sandcastles, digging in the sand for crabs, (little sand crabs—not the kind you eat), and we would play all kinds of games, which always included chasing, but not catching waves. In the summer mom moved us to Long Beach, on Long Island, and dad would visit on weekends. So again, although our time was limited it was always filled with activity and joy. The other vivid memory that I relive each year, was him bringing me candy on Valentine’s Day. And it wasn’t just ordinary chocolates. The box was a miniature heart with layers and layers of red ruffles. It was so beautiful that I never wanted to open it. I wanted to keep it with me forever, or at least until the next year when there was always another equally or more beautiful. For days, I carried it with me wherever I went – even to sleep. And I wouldn’t let my cousins (Stevie and Sheila, who shared our house), even breathe on it. In fact, I’m not sure I ever opened it to retrieve the four or five candies contained within. My dad would arrive at home, with the two boxes behind his back, (one for me and one for mom), and he would make me guess which hand mine was in. When finally I succeeded, he would pick me up and I would hug him for as long as my skinny little arms would allow.

Valentines Day was always my favorite holiday. I didn’t care about birthdays, or Hannukah, or New Years, or even Passover (a family favorite.) I loved Valentine’s day until ... I can’t remember when it changed, but now it’s become another unnecessary reason to buy cards. But that’s another blob. Anyway, unless you have someone to bring you flowers or if you get lucky, maybe some diamonds. Well that's not exactly true, David used to do a "love note" in the "Washington Post" and it was always a treat, but that kind of went away when Jordan did. Now, it’s a day like any other—or at least that’s what it’s been for the past too many years. And then, this year it changed and I was finally able to go to Michael Berman’s Valentine’s Day party for his ‘girlfriends’.

It’s a party to which I have been invited for many years. But I have never been able to go because for one reason or another I have never been in town (DC). But Michael’s very special wife Carol developed lung cancer and died unexpectedly a few months ago, and I felt that with his loss, (and all of ours), I needed to be a part of this ongoing celebration of love.

Mike, center, with his Valentines
David asked if he could take photos of Michael and all the girlfriends. I thought it was a terrific idea and Mike agreed. David also had a connection to Carol because she was his first Facebook friend. When I told Mike that David and Carol had this connection, he told me I was nuts. I believe he said “You’re nuts, not my Carol”. And then he went on her computer and sure enough, Burnett was one of her face book friends. When David asked me how many women I thought would be at the lunch I said it would probably be 20 or maybe 30. Although I think when he first invited me it was more like 15. Anyway, there were 90 women invited and almost all of them came to give Michael a hug and of course, to pay tribute to Carol.

It is hard for me to explain how moved I was by the occasion. But for the couple of hours I spent at the event I felt just like I did when my Dad walked into the room to deliver my little heart shaped box of chocolate, all dressed up in it’s ruffles and frill’s. It’s nice to have Valentine’s Day back again. We’re just sayin...Iris

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