Monday, August 30, 2010

Last Minute

We all know people who wait until the last minute to make decisions about whether or not to accept invitations the they receive, because they are always waiting for the ‘best’ offer, before they decide how to spend their time. There was a time when I referred to them as “bestoptioners”. They waited until all the options were presented and then the one they felt was the best option was the one they accepted.

The technology has made it even easier to wait until the last minute to make a plan. For example, when it’s Thursday and I ask my kids what their plans are for the weekend, they look at me like I’m nuts. “It’s not the weekend yet, Ma. How do we know what we’re doing?” I am not opposed to last minute tasks, but there are times when it makes me crazy -- like getting to the movies, a meeting or the airport last minute.
Last Minute: Peachy keen
Having lived in the DC Metropolitan area for many years, last minute was not something socially acceptable. In Washington, people never stop doing business. They go to work, then they may go out to a cocktail party (where they work), and then they go to dinner (where guess what.) On the weekends, they want to relax and plan their schedules around what would advance their career, or their yard, so plans are made long in advance.

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. Our friends knew we were never able to get ourselves together, so if we called and invited them over, at the last minute – they were neither surprised nor insulted. But generally speaking, it’s not something I understand.

I guess, for me, there is a difference between waiting until you find the best option, and being spontaneous. That being said, planning something with friends that is last minute can be wonderful. As it was for the spontaneous Burnetts this weekend.

John and Anne and Jeanne and Jon
The Cutler's front yard, at midnight, lit by a very full moon (Ricoh GX200: 60sec. f/2.8)
There we were, driving what seemed like endlessly, from DC to NY. We got a late start, the traffic on 95 was terrible, and David was falling asleep at the wheel. Finally, we pulled off the road and had an iced coffee. At that point we realized we were on route 40, near Baltimore, and even though there are traffic lights, it was a stress free ride. Just before we reached Delaware we decided to call our pals, the Cutlers –who have been known to call us five minutes before they get to NY, to have dinner. We rang them and confessed that we were doing “a Cutler”, and we thought we would drop by for dinner and a good nights sleep. They couldn’t have been more gracious. We spent the evening, had a terrific dinner and a good nights sleep (Which, because they are night owls started at 2:30am). We got up, went out to breakfast – changing restaurants only once, and then made our way to our next location – The Plimptons of Princeton.

Having not actually made it back to NY, we arrived at the Pimptons, unshowered and with a dearth of clean underwear. Luckily, they are laid back and most understanding and we didn’t smell, much. We arrived mid afternoon, waited until 5pm to have a cocktail, had the best salad we’ve ever eaten, fell asleep at 10pm, awoke at 10am, had some good laughs, played with the too fabulous Lola (dog), and were on the road again.
the fabulous, shoe nipping, hilarious and wonderful LOLA, with her masters' feet nearby
It was, as they say in 1930’s musicals, a grand two days – pretty last minute but without any hesitation by any of us. On the ride home we even decided to turn onto roads that we had absolutely no idea where they led. We’re determined to try last minute again –so watch out, if we have your address, you may be on our list. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Greying of the Salt

When I was a kid, newly of the licensed driver variety – and this would be 1962/63 – I was enthralled with that amazing place west of Salt Lake City a hundred miles known as the Bonneville Salt Flats. They were usually referred to on the radio reports, which were substantial in those years, as “western Utah’s famed Bonneville Salt Flats.” It was THE place to race fast cars in a straight line. In the 30s, as automobiles started to actually put some horsepower and speed into their wheels, the racing folks ran out of space. The sands at Daytona Beach were used for years. Sir Malcolm Campbell, the first of the truly modern drivers, ran his Bluebird streamliner nearly 300 mph there. But eventually the beach just wasn’t long enough to afford the necessary acceleration and more importantly, deceleration, with speeds over 300. Local driver Ab Jenkins, whose car, the Mormon Meteor still stands at the Utah state capitol, set a number of records in the 30s for long distances on a giant oval course. It was only when Malcolm Campbell ran the first 300 mph run in 1935 that the world started to pay attention. Within a couple of years, two other Brits, George E.T. Eyston (don’t you love people with two middle names?) and John Cobb brought big, hunking beautiful cars to the flats, and essentially dueled with each other for the record. By the beginning of the war, Cobb was the record holder with 368 mph. After the war, with a revamped “Railton Mobil Special” powered by two aircraft engines, he became the first man to drive over 400mph, and set a two way record of 394.2 mph. As anyone racing today can tell you that is FAST, especially when you are doing it on four wheels. The record stood till 1963 when Craig Breedlove averaged 407mph in the Spirit of America jet car. One driver, Mickey Thompson, ran 406mph in 1960 but was unable to make a return run, that being the recognized requirement to lessen the chance of someone getting a wind assist. Various racers upped the records (there was one for wheel driven cars, and one for jet/rockets) over the years, till a dozen years ago the British came back with a twin turbo jet car which ran over the speed of sound. The Brits have prided themselves for decades on holding the records, always able to point to British engineering and design.

Americans have been fond of speed too, not surprisingly. Our own home spun versions have taken a slightly different approach. Our guys tend to be real gear-heads, in love not only with the speed, but the mechanics, and mechanical beauty of it all. In the late forties, a group from southern California began coming to the Salt Flats in August every year, holding what would become “Speed Week.” The Southern California Timing Association was a group of racers and folks with clipboards who kept coming up with the most amazing classes of cars… from Streamliners (obvious) to Lakesters (originally designed as open-wheeled cars who started out life as P-51 fighter belly tanks, engines and wheels added) and roadsters (think “Hot Rods”) of all varieties. Literally hundreds of folks seal off those days in August each year, knowing there is no where else on the earth they would rather be. The Flats are a harsh environment: long (15 to 20 miles), desolate (nothing grows there), and hot. During the day the heat can easily reach 110 degrees, and there isn’t a helluva lot of shade to enjoy. Bring your own.

I usually think of racing as a young man’s game. If you look at Nascar, most of the drivers are in their 20s and 30s, with a few older, but largely in that age group. On the Salt it’s a different story. Perhaps it’s because they just know of nothing else to do, or maybe it’s because being a gearhead is just something you never tire of, but an surprisingly large number of the folks this year were within 6 or 8 years of my own age. The salt may be white, but the folks on the salt are grey and silver. More than once I noticed a Social Security zip code. I didn’t poll the group, but I suspect the number of Vietnam vets is inordinately high, as well. Most of these guys had that look of having spent time in a foreign land as some point, courtesy of Uncle Sam. (I don’t know exactly what that look IS, but I think I know it when I see it.) The camaraderie and friendship is deep and wide. Unless you’re planning on stealing someone’s secret plans for their rear-end gear box, you’re welcome in all the pits. All the racers love to share stories about their work, their cars, and their lives. I keep wondering if there is anything in my life which attracts the same numbers of alte kachers as Speed Week. I hadn’t actually attended Speed Week for four decades, though I have been to the Flats to see some Land Speed Record attempts, the last of which was the Budweiser Rocket Car some 30 years ago. It did seem like just yesterday that I was bouncing around Wendover, the oddly schizoid border town nearest the Flats. In the mid 1960s, before ax murders were as popular as they are now, I’d drive to Wendover, spend a day on the salt getting a horrible sunburn, and sleep in my car, the venerable 1960 Plymouth, swatting mosquitos away from my ears in what was probably the least comfy sleep of my youth.
The Enola Gay hangar at Wendover Air Field
I took refuge away from the tiny crowds at what was the old Wendover Air Force Base. During WWII, this was the place where the heavy bomber crews trained, and in particular, the crews of Bockscar and Enola Gay, which dropped the first nuclear bombs. Then, even more than now, Wendover was a place where you might actually be able to keep secrets in tact. Nothing around for a hundred miles.

Now, when you drive onto the Salt it is a place to behold. As far as you can see a mottled white surface, writ hard and crusty from days of baking in the nearly tropical sun. Once dragged by a big heavy metallic net behind a State of Utah dumptruck, the pathway is marked by orange mile markers. When it’s a true LSR (Land Speed Record) run they usually run a single black line straight down the track for 10 miles. It’s so far that when you are at mile 4 or 5, you hear the car coming before you see it. The curvature of the earth combines with a mirage effect to make it very hard to see until it’s just a couple of miles away. The cars are built low to the ground, generally, and minimize their air resistance. It remains a site to behold, and the sharp crackle of engines starting at the Start line is a sound you won’t soon forget.

One of the cars on display this year was the newly redone, for the third time in 50 years, City of Salt Lake. Originally designed and built by a Salt Lake garage mechanic, Athol Graham, the car ran upwards of 344mph in Dec. of 1959. He figured a local boy had as good a chance at owning that record as someone from Pomland. A year later, at the beginning of a big year of record attempts, Graham drove the car again, this time a victim of instability at 300+ mph. He crashed and was killed on the spot. His wife Zeldine rebuilt the car, and it was run again in 1963. I was a part of the pit crew. (They were clearly hard up.) Again the car crashed at some 300+mph, but this time the driver, Harry Muhlbach, walked away unscathed.
The Spectre, nudging the 400mph barrier, but not quite there
Nothing beats the heat like two-flavor Hawaiian shaveIce: $6 for a large, worth every penny

The wreckage sat in a field in Nevada for years, only to be recovered by Athol’s son Butch, a house painter in Salt Lake. Though Butch had only been 2 when his dad was killed, he was imbued with a sense of what the car was about, and what it meant. Working in his garage the last couple of years, he’s put it back together, lacking for now, only the Allison Aircraft engine, to power it. Somehow, even fifty years later, the City of Salt Lake looks like an aerodynamic dream machine, its red rippling across the Salt.

The lasting impression I have of this year’s trip to the Salt is that so many of my contemporaries are still in it. Once a Gearhead, always a Gearhead it seems. I love these old guys, and I love listening to the roar of their cars as they drive into the edge of the horizon. And to the edge of the horizon they go. We’re just sayin’….David

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Am I OK?

Am I OK? My friend Soozie would say, “relative to what?” The question is not IF I’m OK. The question is how am I feeling, (happy ,sad ,hungry), or looking (fat, thin, curly). And am I measuring that by time, place, or emotional health.

So, in answer to the question and without further ado, I don’t know. I seem to be incapable of eating anything healthy, or for that matter in small amounts. When I look in the mirror I see some old hag looking back at me. (When did that happen?) I’m spending a great deal of time thinking about the past instead of looking toward the future. This is dangerous because, as my mother would say, “dead’s dead” (What is past is past – it can’t be changed.).

Three years ago we took Mom to Seattle. On the way home I cried for 5 hours and with the help of four, or more, Bloody Marys, coped with my distress. We thought we would deliver her west and probably never see her alive again. But that was not the last time I saw her. Putting her under Jeff and Els’ care added three years to her life. Now I am on my way home from Seattle, having packed and either tossing, or giving away whatever was left of her things. They were only things. But still, it was not an easy task.

I am not crying this time, and I’m not sure why. Clearly, this time I know for a fact I will not see her again. Maybe I’m not sad because I think she really is in a better place with far more people she loves and who love her. Not only family, but great friends from childhood and when she and dad were just starting their lives together in New Jersey. With this in mind, we received this note from a dear friend who expressed what we all felt:

August 15, 2010
Dear Iris and Jeff,
Since recently hearing of your mother’s death, (via Seattle) I have struggled to find words of comfort for you, while also conveying a celebration of your Mother’s life. If I had known, it would have been an honor to bid her farewell with your friends and family. Yes, she was a colorful character ~ a special lady who brightened so many lives. Rosie brought so much life to Everything... She knit that neighborhood together, long after we “grew up” leaving our block behind. She cared for my parents with a warm and kind selflessness, while ignoring their self-centeredness.
When in Boonton, I often did stop by to say hello. She made me laugh, feel loved and hugged and, of course, she fed me ~ The gefilte fish ~ I tried only once ~ but for kugel and blintzes, my Tupperware was in the car! What I will most remain in awe of, was your parents’ love. Rosie would kid around with your dad and hug him and kiss him as if she were a new bride; never as a caregiver, tired of that devastating disease that attacked her Milton. They will remain a model for all of us.

She often told me (as an adult) I looked “delicious” and I loved it, but doubted it. BUT, when Rosie told my children THEY were “delicious,” I knew she got that right! My grandsons already know they are delicious too, just one more little detail of her amazing legacy!

Since tracking you down via “We’re just sayin’,.” I feel like a groupie. I keep reading and re-reading reminders of her stubborn “ let me tell you finger wagging” and of looking ravishing and dazzling in the gaudiest of jewelry. And I can hear her raucous laughter ~ If she laughed, we laughed, hers was so contagious. I always left feeling happier than when I arrived.

I also reread you answerless questions on how we grieve. I read way too many books, before I decided they all seem way too generic. Grief is the most personal of experiences, and like parenting, it appears there is not a one size fits all volume. From where I sit, it is day by day for the remainder of our lives. You spoke of feeling empty, of not connecting the dots and of tears waiting to fall. Maybe it comes in waves. You answered your own question quite accurately, it may not intensify, but it will always be there. It lurks in some odd spaces of our subconscious and maybe the sound of dangles will bring some of your tears to the surface. I think you will find and be surprised by the “triggers.” (A glimpse of a well worn, woolen Phillies cap, worn catcher style, gets me every time! ~ but them I am able to smile and reconnect to a joyful memory of my son, Adam, in his most cherished possession..)

I did view and delight in “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” ~ Rosie with her rosy glasses. And now, with your blog/blob, you have painted a wonderful memorial that brings joy and tears each time I read it. There will only ever be one Rosie Groman, and she will forever have a place in my heart.

Iris and Jeff, I cannot imagine the depths of your grief. May your paths be shaded with many more visions of her life than of her death.

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and probably won’t even try. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Monday, August 16, 2010

And so, 90 Years....

Dear Mom,
I’ve been trying to call you but your phone has been disconnected. I tried to write to you but my letter came back. And I would have e-mailed you but you never did understand how the electronic post office worked. Remember when we tried to explain it to you and you still thought Jeffrey had to go someplace to pick up the (e)mail. Remember the first time you saw the kids on an iChat and you thought you were watching a video until Joyce asked you how you were feeling. You said “she can see me? The kids can see me? Look at how I look. I should have had my hair done.”

Technology kind of passed you by. We did finally get you to play poker on line, but you beat the machine so often that it wasn’t challenging. And it certainly wasn’t like playing with Aunt Helene, Aunt Sophie and Aunt Peppy. It was no fun yelling at a machine that wouldn’t yell back.

Remember when you left for Seattle and I asked you if you wanted to stop by and see the house one last time. You refused. “That is what was,” you said. “I’m going to do what is.” After you were settled in the West, we cleaned up the house and put it on the market. There was so much stuff. It’s amazing what you collected in 57 years. And don’t worry, what we couldn’t sell we gave to charity – like your clothes. Honest to God, Mom, there were pants and dresses that still had the tags on. We’re just waiting for Hagar pants to go out of business, because without your monthly order, I’m not sure they can survive. Anyway, there are many, many people who will stay warm this winter. You must have had 25 coats, 75 sweaters, and we didn’t even count the pants. They just kept coming and coming out of that basement closet.

We sold the house. Joyce and Ronnie worked tirelessly to make sure that happened. They wanted you to be able to support yourself wherever you were. Being independent and able to care for yourself was always a priority. Which reminds me, I’m sorry about the driver’s license but after you hit the parking meter on Main Street, with all the kids in the car, we thought it was just too dangerous. Oh, and before we left the last time, we hid pictures of you and dad, and Jeff and me in the basement closet so we will be a part of the house for all eternity.

So after 90 years, all that’s left of your life is a carton full of things to give away. Whew! It’s not easy having to go through all the leftovers and deciding who gets all the things that only have value to a few of many people. Like, who gets the long black shirt with the over sized diamonds. Or the myriad of leopard skin scarves and robes and jackets. Who gets the sparkly glasses and the plastic onions, which we promised we would never throw away. There are things with which we cannot part but we it’s too painful to see them.

But unlike so many families who lose an important person, we will always have you on “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”, waving a knife, fighting with your sisters, and laughing at some secret you all shared.

I’m going to stop calling you. Aunt Peppy says it’s time to move forward. Now we have to think about what we write on your headstone. I’m thinking it should say,
“Beloved wife, sister, mom, aunt, Nana, and Gigi. (Great grandma). She always glittered.”

By the way, send our love to Daddy. Hope you two will forever dance with the stars. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Getting Betty'ied

A few days ago, David and I were watching his 1990 video tape of the “Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” part I. Being from Salt Lake, he was always fascinated by the Battalion strength turnout shown by the Dubroffs when organizing a holiday get-together. It is a bit different than the 2005 version which you might know, because you never see any of the Seder, and the sound is a bit muffled (home video that was then state of that art.) That’s the bad news, but the good news is that you do see much more of the cooking and you hear stories about my Grandparents and family, no longer geographically located on earth.

Anyway, I don’t want this blob to be maudlin because Aunt Peppy says Shiva is over and it’s time to get up and move on. Anyway again, (pretend this is not repetitious), there is a great deal of talk about the past and who did what, when, and how. Like the fact that Grandpa apprenticed as a butcher when he was a young boy or maybe he learned to be butcher in the army. When he was a cook, or maybe he was the chef to the Czar. (There were the usual Dubroff sibling disagreements about time, place, and position).

What we do learn is about how the family weddings were paid for and some funny stories (funny now) about my Aunt Betty – the eldest child. The one who came across the ocean with my Grandmother, as a baby. All the other children were born in the US. When Betty got married, in Grandpa’s butcher store, it was so cold that the windows froze. However, when she and Uncle Lou walked around the candles (seven times), her veil caught fire and, after pulling it off and dousing her with water, her hair also froze. Or, if you are truly loyal fans, you may remember (from the Gefilte Fish Chronicles Cookbook) that Betty was credited with making her meatloaf with chicken. It is after all, a ‘meat’ of sorts. And it was delicious. But when someone wanted her meatloaf, and she didn’t have the time to make it, she would never refuse, she would simply delegate the task, sometimes to her treasured Bessie and sometimes to one of her sisters – never Uncle Jack.

After they left Brooklyn, four of the shtetl moved to Newburgh NY and four of them to Boonton NJ. This, however, did not prevent any of them from getting Bettyied. Aunt Peppy tells the story of how Aunt Betty was asked to be the Cub Scout leader of her son Harold’s troop, and she happily agreed. Then, the next morning she called Aunt Peppy and informed her that she was sure Peppy would enjoy the experience. Peppy laughingly recalls that she said “But Betty, I don’t even have sons,” and Betty simply assured her it wouldn’t matter. “But I didn’t know anything about boy things,” Peppy recalls. “So we all had a great time, but the Cubs never learned enough to become Boy Scouts.” Cousin Dick Zodikoff, life long pal of Harold's, and fellow Cub Scout, admits that at least once they "set the field on fire," and forced the Fire Department to save the day. Peppy's culpability has never been questioned, since, after all, boy things differed greatly (especially in the area of misdemeanors) from girl things.
Betty, surrounded by husband Lou, and her Poppa.
When I was getting married and Aunt Betty wanted to buy my trousseau, we planned a day and time and the stores we would visit, and then she ‘Bettyied’ the job to my beautiful cousin Elaine. This of course, was wonderful, because Elaine was young, had little daughters, and very good taste. As my mother would have said, it “was what was.”

Being Bettyied was not only accepted, it was expected. It never mattered who got the job done, as long as it got done. Being Bettyied is usually fun and at the very least keeps us all connected. No one ever gets angry or upset about assignments. Although sometimes the assignment is not convenient or to our liking, it always gets done – often by Bettying someone else.

And yes, getting Bettyied has been passed down from generation to generation. For example, last week when my cousin Sheila needed some follow up done for a party, she called and Bettyied me to do it. Then she called me back and said “I just Bettyied you, and I am still laughing about it”.

Getting Bettyied, for any of us, is a loving tribute to the fact that we will not hesitate to help one another in any way possible. It is also a loving tribute to the Aunt who accepted any job, task, or assignment, and then immediately Bettyied it to someone on whom she knew she could always depend. And that’s the really nice thing about family. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Little Orphan Irie

Little Orphan Irie

Does the title of this blob pull at your heartstrings? Do you want to burst into rousing rendition of “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” Nevermind. No need to feel bad. I wasn’t an orphan for most of my life. This “status” as they say on “Facebook, is recent and forever, so I’m still confused by it.

When I was a kid my mother made me call my grandmother once a week. After a while, rather than becoming rote, it became more painful. The conversation only lasted for a minute and it was about nothing, because I had nothing to talk about that I thought would be of interest to her. Let me affirm that I loved my grandmother. She was a wonderfully entertaining person – generous and a good cook. It wasn’t that I dreaded having to converse, it was that I hated being told what to do. That should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for any or much of my life.

In the past, the telephone was the primary way to communicate. It may still be, for people of a certain age. But with the availability of e-mail and texting, (yes you do use a phone but you never have to talk or listen to a real live person. Actually, about two months ago my daughter informed me that I was not to leave voice mails for her. She wasn’t going to pick them up. To which I responded, “OK, then any important information I have for you will never get to you.” She changed her mind and does pick up as well as talk. But it still drives me crazy to call her and get voice mail – but if I text her she’ll answer within 20 seconds.

Moving on. The telephone has always been a complicated part of my life. When I was working “on the road” for political campaigns, the only people who called me were the people who wanted something. It was always unpleasant. And yet, it was also the only way I could communicate with my son, who I loved and missed desperately. Which was always a joy. So it was not uncomplicated. I hated the phone and I loved it. I dreaded it and I depended on it. My reluctance and passion for the phone has never been resolved.

There came a time, when mom was failing, that I called her all the time – just to make sure she was OK, that she hadn’t fallen, and that her aides were doing their job – driving her where she wanted to go -- and she was eating all her meals. When she moved to independent living, my calls were not as frequent, but she was having a great time so she didn’t mind. Then mom moved to the west coast and I promised her that I would call her everyday at around 6pm – 3pm her time. And I did call her everyday. The conversation was limited. It went something like: “Hello mom, how’s the weather, in what activities did you participate, and how do you feel?” Talking wasn’t the point. I heard her voice and she heard mine. It was a solid daily connection, everyday for three years and three or four times weekly for about 10 years. No one told me I had never wanted to disappoint her, so when I couldn’t speak to her, I would leave a message.

It is around 6, that I feel particularly vulnerable. I go to pick up the phone and then I realize she’s not going to answer. She’s not there. Really, she’s not anywhere. This does not mean I don’t talk to her, but when I do, she doesn’t answer. It’s mostly at those times that I feel particularly sad, lonely and like little orphan Irie. We’re just sayin’…. Iris