Tag Archives: Family

January 21 – What’s In A Name?

by Ariela Zucker

My sixth grandchild who was born last week brought back this question of naming I often contemplate. For nine months I tried to guess the name, somewhat hoping, for a name that will carry a meaningful family connection, yet troubled by that old conflict of naming newborns after dead relatives. I was relieved but with a tinge of disappointment when the name was revealed, and it had nothing to do with either dead family relatives or any obvious cultural references.

Am I putting too much emphasis on names, reading too much into their place and meaning? Is a name just a name and nothing more? The answer to this question is elusive.

When I was born, in the middle of a legendary winter snowstorm, in Jerusalem. My parents decided to name me after my grandmother, on my mother’s side – Levia (a lioness in Hebrew). I can almost see the discussion that went on, at the time, between my mother, insisting on preserving her dead mother’s name, and my father, arguing for a modern name to go along with their new life, in the young state of Israel.

The compromise, as is so often is, was two names instead of one, Ariela, Levia. Consequently, I was blessed with two names that are almost one. Ariela, the one I use, means; let God be her lion resembles my middle name.

This is a good story, I believed, as I kept repeating it, over and over again. I have no idea where I got it from as none of the facts except my actual name is true. I discovered it years after both my parents passed away and I had to put the puzzle together all by myself.

According to the Jewish tradition newborns were often named after a dead family member; to honor and keep the memory. Being born to a holocaust surviving family, there were many naming options, and so I was named after my great aunt who ‘did not make it.’ My grandmother, her sister, was alive at the time I was born. I find it ironic that two names, not one, were not sufficient to keep the memory from altering itself in such a capricious nature.

Perhaps this is the reason that I keep mulling over the naming issue, about weighting a newborn with a name that is heavy with emotions and old memories, on one side, and wondering about the importance of keeping memories alive on the other.

Repeating a well-known quote “…you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” (Banksy). I can see how when one grows old names start to feel like a symbol, a continuation. A person searches for this thin thread of immortality to obtain comfort. I can also see that without the memories attached, a name is just a name and nothing more.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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January 1 – A Gift I Couldn’t Have Imagined

by Sara Etgen-BakerWhen I was a small child, I rose on my tiptoes and stared out our living room window, watching and waiting until Father arrived home from work. “Mama,” I hollered as soon as I saw his pickup truck ’round the corner, “Daddy’s home!” Then I raced to the front door to greet him. Although he was weary, he often picked me up and twirled me around until I said, “Daddy, daddy, stop! Pleeeease!” He eased me down; and we giggled together, walking hand-in-hand towards the kitchen where I sat on his lap while he drank a cup of steaming coffee and talked with Mother about his day.

Now and then Father stood at the front door with his hands behind his back. “Pick a hand,” he’d say. His words touched me like an electric current, for I knew hidden behind Father and buried in the folds of one of his hands was a surprise meant just for me.

“This one,” I shouted, pointing wildly. He whisked out his hand and slowly, too slowly, uncurled his fingers. Finally, there it was: a gift I couldn’t have imagined; a prize from his box of Cracker Jacks, a package of M&Ms, a silver nickel, or a feather for my hair.

And I hadn’t thought of it until now, but it seems Father’s surprises had a curious way of coming on the days when I needed them most. The days when I fell off my bicycle, broke something irreplaceable in the house or went to the doctor with a sore throat. I suppose Mother told him. Somehow he knew I needed to be surprised with a gift of love that would help bind up my broken day.

His gifts of love taught me that no matter how devastating my struggles, disappointments, and troubles were, they were only temporary. A lifetime has passed since my childhood when I stood at the living room window eagerly awaiting Father’s arrival. Yet at the end of many days, I often stare out my office window and find myself thinking about Father and his special gifts for me. Even now, I can hear the voice of Father’s love whispering in my life.

I am reminded that the deepest need of the human heart is to be loved. To be loved utterly and completely just as we are, no matter what. We respond to our need for love in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we try to be perfect in order to earn love. Or we repress our need until all that remains is a vague restlessness and yearning. But one is loved because one is loved. Love is always bestowed as a gift, freely, willingly, and without expectation. No reason is needed for loving. And there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

December 3 – Claus Creativity

by Kali’ Rourke

I begin with the fact that I am a Christian, attend church, and yes, I know the reason for the season.

That said, my husband and I decided to make Santa Claus the spirit of generosity in our house and to make it FUN! As the girls grew old enough to appreciate it, there was always a special last present from “Santa Claus,” and it was often the most desired gift on their list.

But that was not the good part, believe it or not! 

Each year Santa was left a cookie or two, a glass of milk, and perhaps a little treat for his reindeer by our daughters. He always responded with bites and sips taken from all and with a lovely, handwritten thank you note to them.

The delight on their faces each Christmas morning as they discovered the evidence of Santa’s visit will live in our hearts forever. One year there were ashy footprints from the fireplace to the dining room. Another year, reindeer prints and reindeer poop (oatmeal mixed with chocolate powder and glitter) joined the mix. (Note: Do NOT do this on the carpet!)

As they added their precious gerbils to our family, Gabrielle and Xena had to join the party and those clever little rodents shredded some festive wrapping paper to decorate their cage and managed to put some of their little chew toys into the girls’ stockings.

Time went by and Santa got messier. Sometimes he apologized for making a mess, saying he tried to clean up but ran out of time and didn’t have time to put the Dustbuster away. 🙂

The girls started admonishing Santa in their yearly notes, to “be neater!”

Inevitably, they asked, “Is Santa real? Should we believe in him?”

My husband and I were prepared. We explained that Santa was merely the spirit of generosity and giving in our home, and when the time came that they no longer wanted to believe in him, he would go away. It was that simple. They looked at each other and decided to believe just a little longer, but one year they had both expressed their doubts and so that was a special Christmas morning.

Santa said goodbye. He thanked them for believing in him so long and said he knew that their lives would be filled with happy Christmases. Then he added, “I really tried to be neat this year and even grabbed a shower, but I seem to have forgotten something important, and I can’t remember what it is! I am sure you will figure it out. Love, Santa.”

Hanging on the light fixture in the dining room, in all its red and green glory was a huge pair of Santa’s boxer shorts. Giggles galore, and we said a fond goodbye to a glorious family tradition that may very well be revived with the next generation of beautiful children.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, proud Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy through BookSpring. She blogs at Kali’s Musings where this post also appears, and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

 

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October 26 – Memories and Ghosts

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In the two days since my arrival, Granddad and I exchanged only a few predictable, cursory words.

“Here’s your cereal; no milk, right?”

“Right, Granddad. Thanks.”

“You sleep okay?”

Although his silent house had kept me awake, I respectfully replied, “Yes sir. I did,” followed by, “How ‘bout you?”

Granddad Stainbrook

“I’m old: I never sleep well,” he grumbled.  “Just too many memories and ghosts.”The house became still as we struggled with what to say to one another. So we ate breakfast in silence; a silence so thick I could feel it drape around me like an old shawl. I pulled it against me as I plopped down into my grandmother’s chair suddenly aware of something else in the house, something different; a faint rustling, a soft presence of some sort. I didn’t know what it was.

Perhaps it was the lilt of Granny’s lavender perfume that lingered in the rich tapestry fabric, stirring memories of when I sat in her lap reading a book or sharing hot cocoa. Perhaps it was Granny herself. I closed my eyes and remembered that the house was full of noise and laughter when Granny was alive.

Now, though, the house seemed empty, lifeless, and unnervingly silent. I was young and impatient and needed to shatter the silence and to understand why Mother had sent me to visit my grandfather. I just couldn’t make any sense out of her cryptic parting words: “Remember, this visit isn’t about you.”

Granddad glanced up from reading his morning newspaper. “Your grandmother loved sitting in that chair and watching her grandchildren.”

“I loved sitting in Granny’s lap when she sat in this chair.” I watched his face. “It still smells like her.”

“Yes, it does.” He adjusted his glasses. “Her memory keeps me awake at night.”

“The silence at night frightens me and keeps me awake.” I choked back the tears.

He slowly raised one eyebrow and fumbled for words. “Why…uh…uh…why are you afraid of the silence?”

“Because the silence just makes me miss her more.”

Granny Helen Morain Stainbrook

“I miss her too.” He peered over his glasses. “In the silence, I hear her voice and feel her spirit rustling through the house. In that silence, I don’t miss her as much.” His chin trembled and his voice cracked. “I’m terribly afraid I’ll lose her forever if I don’t keep the house silent.” After another moment’s silence he mumbled, “Like memories and ghosts, she quietly lives in the silent shadows of both of our lives.”

“You’re right, Granddad,” were the only words I could muster.

We hugged one another; Granddad shuffled off to his bedroom. Nothing more need be said.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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August 13 – Summer Punch

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The home I grew up in was a two-bedroom, one-bath cracker box house. Minus the garage, it was only about 950 square feet. Like most post-war homes, ours didn’t have any air-conditioning. During the summer, Mother opened the windows for circulation and summertime heat relief.

Most summers, our neighborhood wilted under a hard Texas sky, sweltering in temperatures that stayed fixed in the mid-to-upper nineties. The cloudless sky was painfully bright whether I looked up at the burning sun or down at its reflection on the concrete pavement. The birds were silent; the grass stood still as if it was too hot to move. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar. At night there was very little relief from the heat; our pajamas and nighties stuck clammily to our damp skin.

Most summer days, Mother sat inside in her easy chair sipping on fruit punch and dabbing at her brow with a wet hand towel she kept in the fridge for that purpose. My brothers and I escaped the oppressive heat inside the house and played outside on our shaded front porch. My brothers played war games with their green, plastic Army men; and I played jacks. One particular summer day while playing jacks, my ball bounced out of control striking down my brothers’ Army men who were in the midst of a critical battle.

“Look what you did, you stupid girl!” my older brother shouted, throwing my ball and striking me in the face.

“I’m not stupid! Take it back!” I sprang from my sitting position, knocking over all the green Army men.

“Look what you’ve done!” he yelled as he stood up and glared at me.

“I hate you!” I said, punching his shoulder.

“I hate you MORE!” he said, returning my punch. My younger brother joined in the ruckus. The three of us slapped at each other, striking one another’s arms and legs. Words were exchanged. Within a few short minutes, Mother flung open the screen door and marched onto the front porch.

“Stop it right now!” she hollered. “I’ve had enough of your bickerin’ and fightin’.” Mother raised her arms and lightly clenched her hands into fists. “On the count of three, I’ll start punching. May the best man win! Ready? One…two…three!”

She threw her fists in our direction, packing quite a punch as she struck our shoulders and arms. We froze in place, unable to defend ourselves against our otherwise mild-mannered Mother; the same mother who rarely raised her voice and who never even spanked her children. We ran off the porch, convinced Mother had gone stark-raving mad! Mother wasn’t crazy, of course. The ever-present heat inside the walls of the tiny house had closed in around her, short-wiring her temperament.

Although my home is air-conditioned and bigger than Mother’s, like her, my temperament short-wires during August as summer’s relentless heat bears down on me. Walls close in; my patience runs thin, and I’m more easily agitated. So, I pour myself a glass of summer punch; sit down in an easy chair, and wipe my brow with a cooling rag, resisting the urge to snap or pick a fight with those around me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

July 27 – My Novel and the Polish Trolls

by Fran Hawthorne

How could anyone object to my Twitter post on March 29, after my sister and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan to see an exhibit of long-hidden photos from the Lodz ghetto in Poland? I wrote:

Henryk Ross’s chilling photos from inside the Lodz ghetto in Nazi #Poland at @MJHnews: It’s like seeing what my great-grandmother saw when she was walled in there. (Oops is it now illegal in Poland to say that?)

Well, maybe the last sentence was too snarky, referring to Poland’s new law banning any reference to Polish collaboration with the Nazis — but isn’t that Twitter style? Otherwise, I saw the post as a loving tribute to my great-grandmother, who was murdered in the gas chambers, and hardly a controversial reaction, 73 years after the end of World War II. 

Boy, I didn’t know the ultra-nationalist Polish Twitter world.

Within a day, my previously invisible Twitter feed was flooded with people with Polish-sounding names furiously disputing my words, often writing in Polish. They claimed that “the genocide against the Poles [Catholics] began in 1939 but against the Jews not until 1941” and accused me of stomping on “the blood of innocent Poles.” They said that Polish Jews were Socialists in league with the Soviet Union and asserted that “the ones who betrayed Anne Frank were most likely Jewish.”

Naively, I thought: Here’s my chance to open some cross-cultural dialogue. After all, I had done months of research on Polish history and culture for my debut novel, The Heirs, which is about two Polish-American families in New Jersey in 1999, one Jewish and one Catholic.

But for each of my new posts — even when I acknowledged the factual basis of some of my critics’ arguments — came a dozen angrier replies.

Was my novel unfair? I had tried to portray the nuances of historical Jewish-Catholic relations in Poland through many characters’ lives and discussions. Two American Jewish cousins bluntly face the classic question: “If you were a nice Polish Catholic [in 1939], would you have been brave enough to hide a Jewish child in your attic?”

Was my novel inaccurate? Despite all my research, I couldn’t possibly know as many tidbits of Polish history as would someone who went through 12 years of school there.

“Don’t engage!” my friends warned me. “You’re just feeding them.”

Even worse: The next time I Tweeted about Poland — in mid-June, regarding a new law on restitution for stolen Jewish property – my Twitter feed was hacked and temporarily shut down.

That did it.

From now on, I will Tweet all I want about Poland, and as long as what I say is accurate and not nasty, I don’t care how much the trolls hate me. I just won’t read their Tweets.

But it’s upsetting and a bit scary. Who knows in what dark caves my Twitter handle is now bandied about?

Maybe my next novel will be about unicorns.

 
Until now, Fran Hawthorne spent three decades writing award-winning nonfiction, including eight books, mainly about business and consumer activism. Her book Ethical Chic was named one of the best books of 2012 by Library Journal, and she’s written for BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Newsday, and more. THE HEIRS (Stephen F. Austin University Press) is her debut novel. Read more from Fran at http://www.hawthornewriter.com/

July 16 – Do Gerbils Go to Heaven?

by Kali´Rourke 

Girl Feeding Gerbil

(c) Can Stock Photo / zsv3207

Our Pastor told a story in his recent sermon, and in it, a little boy’s hamster had died and he asked his father (a fellow Pastor) if “Timmy” had gone to heaven. The boy was told in no uncertain terms by his father that nothing that has not professed faith in Jesus Christ shall enter the gates of heaven. I am paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

We were all a bit appalled to hear that blunt and dismissive statement from a father to a grieving son, and our Pastor said that he took the little boy aside on his way out and told him that Timmy sounded like a great hamster and he was sure that he was now playing in heaven.

Sounds like a platitude, doesn’t it?

I think of it as a large part of my faith. If I choose to believe in a benevolent God that loves all of us and wants the best for us, then I also choose to believe that all creatures, (even the series of gerbils we had for our daughters since there were allergic to nearly everything else) are destined for heaven. No, I am not a theologian and would never claim to be one!

Our daughters have both grown up into animal lovers (Thank you antihistamines!) and they could not imagine a heaven where Minx, Indy, and Cloud and whatever companions they may have over the years will not come running to greet them in doggy and kitty joy someday when they are all together again.

This brings me back to gerbils and heaven.

Yes, they are shorter lived creatures than our canine and feline companions, and yes, the bond is much shallower, but each of our gerbils over the years had names, were petted and cared for and we had small funerals for our little friends when they passed from this life, wishing them well and many chew toys in their heavenly home.

Their passings were somewhat gentle introductions for our little girls to the concept of death and how we must accept and respect it because it comes to everyone in time. They were the opening to important conversations and knowledge that parents pass on to their children.

The gerbil’s names and specifics have escaped me, brushed cloudy by the passing of so many years, but today I take a moment and say a prayer for all of them, sending it along with thanks for being such wonderful little friends to two girls who grew up to be compassionate women who have room in their hearts to love and care for many.

God bless the gerbils.

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. This post originally appeared in Kali’s Musings.