First Hurt

Source: First Hurt

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First Hurt

Today, on what would be his 102nd birthday, I’m remembering my father, and an incident when he wasn’t his overly pragmatic, problem solving, Dad, and bestowed the love I longed for as a young teen: It was the day my best friend, Shari, called to tell me she had just asked Jonny Levy to the Sadie Hawkin’s Dance at our Junior High.

What? How could she? She of all people, she, who knew how much I loved him. For months, I’d let Shari read passages from my treasured diary- of how I planned to get Jon to fall madly in love with me. How we would live happily ever after and have at least five children. My father looked up from his paper, and waited as I gently put down the phone receiver. I covered my face with my hands. Dad never had to confront a problem like this before. For the first time, he saw me pained because someone other than him or my mother, or brothers had inflicted some misery upon me, whether I deserved it or not.

As he stood from his chair and walked toward me, I felt the familiar warmth of his presence. Dad placed both hands on my shoulders, and lifted my quivering chin to look in his eyes. Why? I asked, pleading for some answer, feeling like my heart had been trampled into pieces. I love her, Daddy, she’s my best friend.

She loves you too, my father said, kissing my forehead and wiping my tears. Maybe she’s always been a little bit jealous of you. Maybe she needs to compete with you. I told you not to wear your heart on your sleeve the way you do. Keep your feelings to yourself. You’ll be much better off honey, you’ll see, you’ll see.

And so I didn’t die like I felt I would, and the challenges of growing up continued. Though I quickly fell out of love with Jonny, it would take years to break away from Shari. It had always felt so natural to tell a friend about my secrets wishes and wants, but now I had difficulty trusting and measured each new relationship carefully. Over the years, through marriage, divorce, and remarriage, a part of that Junior High girl remained. I sometimes sense a nagging reminder that I must hold back a tiny piece of my love. Maybe it’s Dad’s words, the invisible shield he passed to me, what he thought I’d need to take better care of myself.   #memoir #1960’s

Note: names have been changed…the one who asked and the one who said yes.

 

Dropped Out of a Dream

Dropped Out of a Dream

That’s pretty much how I felt when I discovered myself one sun-shiny day in June, 1971, standing on my perfectly manicured lawn of a SplitLevel home in suburbia, words from Seeger’s song … “and houses made out of ticky tacky” mocking as they drummed in my overheated brain. Secretly, I wanted my girls to awaken from their afternoon nap. I needed something important to do- not that weeding the flowers beds is not important, or attacking the damage done by aphids. Yes, it’s true, I’ve learned so much in just a couple of months in this new land.

So this is what you wanted, right? As I recall no one exactly twisted your arm. Aren’t you the one who planted the Queen Anne roses against the fence bordering you and, oh crap, what’s that woman’s name again─ a woman nice enough who handed me a list of everyone to call if things were broken. Things, not people, because I would learn, sooner than later, broken people were on a very different list. There’s my father’s voice again…his cold, slap of reality that won’t let me indulge…or hide. If I could I’d answer: It’s as if I’ve been dropped out of a dream. I’ll admit, I have always been a dreamer and yet serious doer too. Tasks and the completion of anything is like a transfusion of pure, healthy blood.

Most signs of this Rah, Rah, sorority girl barely exist. Traces found only in poems scribbled at traffic lights, on grocery receipts, or on the backs of overdue bills. Until they no longer fit, I will wear these denim cut-offs, snug on my postpartum, post pregnancy frame─ an emblem of younger days, when surprises, like my roses, were always abundant.

The End of Innocence

As a child growing up in the late 50’s, I read the newspaper every day as soon as I came home from school, especially the comic strip, Brenda Starr, however, I avoided anything global and political. Whatever I needed to know about the rest of the world, I tried to digest within the classroom, which depended a great deal on the creativity of my teacher presenting this information. More often I relied on my Weekly Reader, which I looked forward to because the format was concise, colorful, and written specifically for a young student’s comprehension. Yet, I found most world events, especially war or threats of war, much too frightening. More than once I had eavesdropped on my parents and heard them whispering about the ravages of war but was not brave enough to probe until I was older.

I guess it didn’t help that downstairs in our basement, below the narrow den where we watched Lassie and I Remember Mama, my Dad had built us, his family, a fall-out shelter. It was an 8 x 10 square foot, wood-paneled room well- stocked with cans of sterno and other supplies in case of….in case of…..what? Those details, as important as they were, remained fuzzy. My friends thought our family’s fall-out shelter so cool, mostly because it was the perfect place to hide with the latest crush and make-out when playing Spin the Bottle. It’s almost a lifetime later, and I can’t remember my father’s explanation though I’m sure he must have told us something. It’s not like my brothers and I hadn’t felt the end of civilization, as we knew it, lurking in the shadows of our post WWII existence. For more than a few years we dreaded the distinct sound of the air- raid blasting through classroom speakers, its deafening signal for us to “duck and cover” specifically under our wooden desks where  tiny, trembling hands covered innocent heads, while our nervous stomachs emitted a sourness that instantly filled the room. That’s when I usually remembered the specific images of Hiroshima from a source once found in the neighborhood library where I spent a great deal of time. Shivering under that little desk was when I first learned to pray, while living through a time of great fear taught my generation to take nothing for granted.

Less than a decade later, on that sunny, leaf-laden afternoon of November 22, 1963, I remember experiencing a surge of confidence when, after struggling for weeks in my economics class, I finally understood the concept of the Gross National Product, though I wondered how and if I’d ever contribute with the minuscule teacher’s salary I’d be earning after graduation. Attuned always to the moans and rumblings of disaster, as soon as I left the classroom that day and entered the hallway, I knew something horrible had occurred. Both students and professors were openly crying, many consoling one another, rushing down the many flights of our over-heated, creaky Old Main building to reach the outdoors, to breathe in fresh fall air. “The President’s been shot” echoed, like a children’s game of telephone- words so shocking that no one seemed to believe it was true. A guy I knew,  but not well, began to walk beside me. His nickname was Boo Boo, and real name Robert, a few years older having served in the army before entering college. He wore his signature army fatigues, and he looked much older than he actually was, or maybe I needed him to appear that way, that day, fatherly, in charge. Boo Boo didn’t leave my side the whole walk down the hill from campus to my sorority house, where I was one of four sophomores living among the juniors and seniors. As we approached the house, all my sisters were leaving, most looking dazed on their way to the church only a block away. As if reading my mind, Boo Boo nodded, a silent suggestion that I go join them, my college family, and therefore not be alone. Head down I followed through a small yet majestic building, frightened and trembling. I was a college girl, Jewish, kneeling beside girls who crossed themselves as they prayed vigilantly to their God. That day, as we shared both our sorrow and our fears, there was only one God listening. Of that I am certain.

Sande Boritz Berger

http://www.sandeboritzberger.com

 

 

Waiting for Godot

It is Friday afternoon, nearly 4PM, and my intentions were to crack the writing freeze and finally put something new down on paper, anything, so here goes: Though I must say that chocolate-coated Oreo cookie keeps calling out my name in the Hello tones of Adele‘s new hit, and the sun just peeked out, and it might be the last sunshine I’ll see all weekend, and didn’t I just promise myself I should walk more and sit less? But the longer I let the words circle and swirl like a spinning top, the harder it is to get back to the focus. What I call the clearing.  Is it fear? I just heard someone ask, since we procrastinators have lots of someones entering the mash up we’ve created. They are the tender and the tough depending on how dense the woods, how many obstacles we place before us. For me sometimes all it takes is just a few chestnuts falling on my head, perhaps a deer skidding past me, other times, to get moving, I require the thunder of a large oak, landing feet from my feet…and that pure excitement, the adrenalin caused by such near disaster, a reminder of what has been my biggest enemy, yet also my greatest friend- Me.

 

The Girl on the Cover

“So,” some may ask, “is that you on the book cover?” I shake my head…no. There’s no need to explain that the child adorning the cover of my novel, TheSweetness, was born years before me; and no need to say “but we are related,”and certainly no need to mention that, although we are second cousins, we have never met. Yet what burns inside me is a yearning to tell all, every single detail about the story.

The truth is, though it would take years, writing became a way of breathing life into the girl seen on the cover of The Sweetness, her face unforgettable, her eyes, in particular, haunting and as inquisitive as the persona I created for her in this novel inspired by my family’s complicated history. Her real name, Rosha, is the name I chose to give her. I saw no reason to alter that particular truth. She came into my life quite unexpectedly about fifteen years ago on a chilly, dark, December afternoon while I was visiting my great aunt’s tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn─ in a neighborhood where she’d lived for over fifty years, the last twenty as a widow.

When she could no longer travel to spend time with my family, I would try a couple of times a month to visit her and bring lunch…usually fresh bagels and smoked salmon from the city. I could almost mouth her words as soon as she took her first bite: “These are ridiculous… too big for human consumption.” Actually, though difficult to please, she was right, and so we ate our lunch in silence, me not wishing to rattle her mood. But I somehow always knew she was glad for my company. In her younger, healthier, days, she often joked saying she was my real mother. My aunt had married late in life and never had kids of her own.

It was after lunch on one of those visits that, instead of dozing off in her favorite tufted high-back chair in the steamy living room, my aunt reached into her linen closet and took down a round metal cookie box, which she placed smack in the center of her kitchen table. Thinking (hoping) maybe the box contained cookies, perhaps even sugar-coated butter cookies, I pried open the lid to find the box stuffed to the brim with tattered documents and letters. With pale arms crossed against her chest, my aunt sat back and gazed out the tiny window streaked with winter’s dirt. I babbled on, quickly riffling through the floral embossed box, as if searching for the crackerjack prize, and after some minutes I selected a thick envelope yellowed from time. Inside, there was an official looking document from Riga, Latvia─ a telegram addressed to my grandfather, my aunt’s older brother, from relatives announcing the birth of their baby named Rosha, who they announced was doing well. The year stamped on the document was 1931.
A sepia photograph slipped from the envelope onto the table, and suddenly there she was…the child, no longer a baby, perhaps five or six years old. I held that photo in my hands for a very long time, glancing up at my aunt whose eyes had quickly reddened. In another photo I recognized my grandmother riding in a horse and buggy and sitting alongside a woman with the little girl, who was the child’s mother. My grandmother, spiffy in a large brimmed hat looked like a sophisticated traveler totally out of her element─ far from her busy life in Brooklyn with her own two children, one of whom was to become my mother.

These photos were taken during my grandparents’ final trip to Europe, right before Hitler came into power causing so many Jews to flee to what they thought were safer places. It was on that same trip I learned, only in the last decade, that my grandfather had urged Rosha’s parents to come to America, to join the rest of their family: my aunt, her sister, and two brothers who had immigrated to the states around 1915. Their lives were settled and they all worked hard building a successful knitwear business in New York. Until each of the clan found love and left to get married, they lived together under my grandfather’s roof in a large brick and stucco home in Brooklyn, where the only thing unsafe became occasional hurled insults by family members who spent nearly all their days together.

When my aunt said she wanted me to keep the box filled with all her documents, I felt as though she had handed me the keys to my family’s mysterious past. Of course I had lots of questions, but she said very little, and to push further I knew would have upset her.

What I do remember about that day was her saying these words: “I should have stayed. I never should have come here.”

“But if you had,” I answered, “you might have been killed.”

And then turning from the window, my aunt said the strangest thing.

“So what,” she said, “so what!” She looked more like a belligerent teen instead of a frail, 95-year-old woman. It was as though her 80 years in America had been nothing more than a handful of seed – that never took root. I would never forget how she looked that day; there was so much sorrow etched across her face. And it wasn’t until she passed away that I began writing my story. It was Rosha’s story, which I eventually alternated with one nearly completed. And it was through the merging of those two parallel tales that a theme finally became clear to me.

At the end of her life, once more, my aunt had to face all the choices she had made, each haunting regret that evolved from merely surviving. It would take me a long, long time, but through the writing of The Sweetness, I understood the reasons why.

 

This essay originally was published on She Writes Press blog site

Meet Charlie Kane…a character among characters

In my upcoming novel, The Sweetness, the family patriarch, Charles Kane, is a successful manufacturer of women’s knitwear in New York City during the early 1940’s. Yet much begins to change when the war in Europe reaches catastrophic levels, and Hitler’s plan is put into action. Before long the fall-out of uprisings and the many pogroms are realized on the home front….in this case, Brooklyn. Those who are supposedly safe, having immigrated in time to America, will suffer a different kind of war─ the weapons of which are invisible but significantly destructive. For many of my characters, and mostly Charles Kane, this becomes an internal war immersed in a type of spiraling guilt caused by the mere act of survival.

Though I was not yet born to witness these vast changes and the sadness that would eventually mark my family forever, as a child I was aware of a perpetual bleakness that seemed to always push hard against all glimmers of light. Sometimes the bleakness won, other days not. But in order to survive and live well, I believe my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, had to shift their focus from what had occurred to scar their lives and instead concentrate on the new world they would create for themselves in Brooklyn. This included a business that would suffer many set-backs often sending my grandfather into what our family called: the Doldrums. During these periods, he, not unlike my fictitious character Charles, would roam his majestic home clad only in silky, boxer shorts while examining his possessions, taking inventory as if asking the ultimate question: Was it worth it, leaving his home of origin, his older relatives for this…the American dream?

What he was asking, perhaps, was how he should behave in the wake of such tragedy, and whether he would ever give himself the permission to be happy. These moods would ultimately affect the decisions he made and alter the lives of many of the characters that play a major role in the novel.

Available for pre-order on Amazon, B&N, and Indie-bound, or order at your favorite bookseller.

The Designer

If you were at all ambitious in the 1940’s and beyond, or a woman perhaps starting a family, chances are you had to store away those dreams, or somehow make yourself believe that they weren’t important enough for you to pursue. Most of the women I grew up around were reluctant to talk about any future that didn’t involve marriage, children, and a house with a nice backyard. Of course, like in all stereotypes of a particular era, there were exceptions.

As a teenager, my mother was privileged to be able to attend a prestigious fashion design school in NYC, during the late 30’s, where she would go on to win much recognition for her sophisticated designs and exceptional talent. As a child, I remember looking at these sketches and wondering if I’d ever be able to create something that beautiful, that perfect.

My grandfather was a successful manufacturer of ladies fine knitwear, and so my mother was influenced by the styles and fashionable industry in which she had grown up. Her perceptions and gifts though were emphatically unique. A huge fan of the glamorous movie star set of her era, my mother conjured up all the greats whenever she created gowns or outfits for her many school assignments─ an ensemble you might see on Davis, Harlow, Hepburn or Crawford. Though she was barely seventeen, her creations looked like small masterpieces from the fashion houses of famed designers.

But soon there was a war brewing through-out Europe, and by 1941 some of our closest relatives would suffer a terrible fate under Hitler’s reign in Eastern Europe. My grandfather, despondent and guilty for not being able to protect and save his youngest brother’s family, sunk into a deep depression, and without explanation, other than what he said were new financial constraints, he pulled my mother out of her beloved fashion school in New York never allowing her to return.

It was said she was crushed and humiliated. It had been the one thing she loved the most, and she remained embittered by her father’s decision for most of her adult life. Not a year went by when she would repeat the story, detail by detail. Soon after, instead of running off to Hollywood, she chose marriage, and just eight years later, she was the Mama in a family of five. Her project then was decorating a 1500 sq. ft. house in a small suburb of Long Island, where she would live until her husband, my Dad, retired, and moved to Florida in the 60’s. Coincidentally, he made the move just months after I, his only daughter, got hitched. Now that someone else would be taking care of me gave my father much peace of mind. Eight years and two kids later, to his chagrin, I divorced.

The Sweetness A Novel September 2014 Available in bookstores and Amazon

 

Rosha Vilna 1941 Excerpt of The Sweetness

 

                   

 

Rosha                                                                                                                      Vilna 1941                            

Like most Friday nights, I wait for Poppa by the parlor window. Leaning against the pane where someone recently threw a fistful of stones, I run my fingers along the spidery break. Bubbe looks up from her crocheting (she is making a wool cap for me in this heat) and scolds. She warns me to move away from the window this instant. There is such fright in her voice that all the hairs on my arms stand straight up. Yet still I don’t budge.

“They might see you,” Bubbe says, “no matter what Rosha, you must not let them see you.”

But because I am not certain who it is that may be watching me, and Bubbe’s words create even more curiosity, I must take one more peek.

“I am watching for Poppa… what is the harm?”

Without speaking, my grandmother raises herself from the creaky, wooden rocking chair and marches straight across the room. The floor appears to sink a bit under each of her steps. My hand is twisted around a panel of lacy white curtain, one finger poking through a circular hole. It is a tiny hole, the center of a floral pattern, maybe roses, and quite convenient to peek from. Beside me now, Bubbe peels my bent fingers, one by one, from the curtains

“Ouch,” I complain, though the truth is Bubbe is not really hurting me.

“Never mind mein kind,” she says. Bubbe takes my hands in hers and kisses the top of my forehead. Her breath smells from pickled herring and onions, and I allow her to kiss me, mostly because she has not yet smacked me. She smacked me just the other day, for the very first time, after she caught me scooping all the melted wax from a Yahrtseit candle. Bubbe had lit the fat white candle for her husband, my Grandpa Yussel, who died last year of something called the pneumonia. She slapped my hands until they stung, and told me I might have put the entire house on fire, and that an eight-year-old should stay away from matches, flames, and anything hot. But it was so much fun to pour the melted wax into the palm of my hand. As the warmth oozed between my fingers, I rolled the soft glob into many shapes, working quickly before the wax became too brittle like candy. I made a little bear like the ones Poppa says live inside Ponary, a deep dark forest only a few miles out of town. Another time, when I didn’t get caught, I made a giraffe from the warm wax of our shabbos candles.

“Come, sit with your Bubbe and let me hear you read.” She licks her fingers to smooth my braids, and all I can think is now I, too, will smell of pickled herring and onions. Yet I smile at my grandmother as though I am really happy, and for a minute that’s exactly the way I feel. Bubbe leans in and quietly examines my new front teeth that take up much too much space in my mouth.

So my question about what harm can come from standing by the window goes unanswered. Like most of the questions I ask, this one is also ignored. Instead, like always, someone stands up or moves around and says something that has nothing to do with my question, until I become very confused, sometimes a little bit frightened.

Still, most of the time, I try to do what I am told. Especially because of all the tears and sadness since Grandpa Yussel was buried, and Bubbe and Poppa threw shovels of red dirt on the long pine box that carried his body to the cemetery. Since then, Bubbe spends a lot of time with us up here on the third floor, though she still has her own place downstairs at 118 Sadowa Street. She and Grandpa Yussel have owned this building for years, since the family moved here, from so many different places─ places like Riga, which is in Latvia, and Prague, in a country really hard to say, and some from as far as Budapest, which Poppa says is in Hungary but has nothing to do with hunger.

Bubbe is Poppa’s mother, and so he often teases her that she spends much too much of her time worrying about things that aren’t real like me burning down the house and putting us out on the street. Once I almost said, Poppa, now I see why you are so careful to always do or say the right thing, so not to make a mistake; but isn’t that a little bit like worrying? But I kept my thought inside. Besides, I love to watch when Poppa thinks long and hard about a problem. I laugh when the pointy V appears between his bushy dark eyebrows, and his tongue pokes in and out like bait teasing for an answer. And no matter how hard the question, Poppa always finds an answer.

In the past few weeks there are so many people asking questions, and lots of talking, talking that sounds mostly like worry. Whenever we go to the grocer, the butcher, or to the open market before each weekend, all we hear are deep sighs and the dry clacking sounds of people’s tongues. When they whisper, their heads shake and their smiling eyes turn dark. All of this makes me think I am not paying good enough attention. That I am indeed “a dreamer” as Bubbe likes to remind me time and time again.

Wearing her Friday evening dress-up apron, Mama comes from the kitchen and heads straight for the scrunched up curtains. She pretends to be fluffing them out, but I know she is looking for Poppa. I know because of what she says next. What she has never said before.

“It is nearly sundown, and Mordecai is late. Could he have forgotten today is Friday?” She asks Bubbe. “No one in our shtetl is to be out after dark. Everywhere they have patrols.” Mama stops talking as soon as she realizes that I am listening to her every word.

Here I am, split into pieces: one piece thinking about Poppa’s whereabouts; the second, trying to understand the meaning behind Mama’s words; and the third, wanting to go sit in Bubbe’s mushy lap, to forget everything and help her roll a skein of the pretty pink yarn.

While Mama circles the table arranging the dinner plates, I squeeze my eyes shut and think of us all together before everything became so mysterious and confusing. Before I had to stay at home and learn my lessons, while some of my friends still go to our neighborhood school. Before the soldiers with those scrunched-up, horribly mean faces stood guard on every corner and forced people to show their papers and empty their pockets for no reason at all.

I do miss running and playing outdoors with my friends, especially now in the warmer weather. It was only a few weeks ago when Mama and me went about our day preparing for Shabbos.  I remember how the heat from the sun settled on the cobblestones baking them dry after they were scrubbed clean by the shopkeepers. Mama and I counted the rainbows that danced upon the rocks slippery surfaces, brightening the dusty blues and silvery grays until the colors seemed to blend and disappear into the hot air.

If Mama hadn’t seen the rainbows as well, Poppa might not have believed me. He might have asked if I was “stretching the truth” like, I’ll admit, I do to get his attention. But because he wears his widest grin when he asks, I know a bit of truth-stretching is far from a terrible thing.

 

An orangey sun trailed behind us as we made our way down the aisles of the open market in the square, a few steps from the old synagogue. Though now we can no longer pray there in the evening. I miss watching the hundreds of candles flickering behind the bimah near the carved doors that hold the Torah and all the ancient scrolls. Everyone stands whenever they take out the Torah, they unroll it tenderly as if they are handling a newborn baby, and people, once even my very own Poppa, was called to read a story in special Hebrew words. When the rabbi shook his hand afterwards, my face began to burn. I felt so proud.

That morning Mama bought two whole chickens from Mr. Gursky─ one for Bubbe, which she says will last the week since Bubbe eats like a little birdie now with Yussel gone, and one for us. Though I won’t swallow one bite since I looked up at the exact moment that Mr. Gursky chopped off the chicken’s droopy head. All I can think about is the blood squirting like soda pop on Mr. Gursky’s white jacket and the red speck that landed on his nose. Yes, I am done with chicken. I will agree to some spoonfuls of potato soup, a slice of Mama’s stringy flanken, but not one bite of chicken.

We made our very last stop to Mrs. Juraska, the candle maker. Mama likes to keep a supply of candles in the drawer next to the silverware, and so she stopped to chat with Mrs. Juraska, who sometimes invited me to watch her make her candles when she wasn’t too busy. That day, she took me in the back of her tented space and showed me hundreds of little tin molds and large blocks of paraffin. She had a box of glass vials filled with food coloring and dried wildflowers that she sometimes presses into the wax molds. Though only a few years older than Mama, the candle maker looks as old as Bubbe. I wonder if that’s because she has more children, and Mama has only me. I once heard her telling Mama that children can often rob the life out of you. Still, I wish Mama would have another. It would be real nice to have a baby sister, someone to cuddle and play with especially indoors. It gets very lonely here on Sadowa Street.

“Rosha, you are getting so tall,” Mrs. Juraska said, her eyes widening with surprise. She was wrapping four long white candles in dark brown paper, reminding us they might melt if we didn’t go straight home.

“She is much too skinny, my precious Rosha. Not so tall,” Mama said, paying the smiling candle maker, “she eats like her grandmother. Food grows mold in her plate.” Mama brushed my hair back with her fingers. I grabbed her pinky and held it tightly in my hand.

“Well, you never know Mrs. Kaninsky, one day she may be as big as a house or like the monument on the square, a real hausfrau like me. I, too, was once a scrawny child. Thank goodness my husband likes some flesh on his women.”

Mama was trying to be polite when she laughed. Impossible, I thought. Me? A big girl? I gazed down the street to the bronze statue of a heavy peasant woman carrying a basket of fruit on her head. Pigeons have made it a favorite nesting spot, and there is always thick white pigeon poop dripping down the poor woman’s face.

Just as we were about to leave, Mrs. Juraska held up two long tapered candles. They were peach-colored and wavy like hair ribbons. I had never seen such beautiful candles, but Mama shook her head no. “Nothing fancy for shabbos,” she said. “Only pure white.” Then she added, “perhaps another time,” and I felt happy picturing the wavy candles glowing brightly on our dinner table. As soon as we walked away, Mama leaned in and whispered what I never knew.

“Mrs. Juraska is Catholic and her husband is just like us− Jewish.”

“Really?” I said, and then Mama said she’d forgotten something.

“Wait here, darling.” Mama dug deep into her satchel then handed Mrs. Juraska a white envelope. I thought maybe she had forgotten to pay her for the candles, but then I remembered seeing a few sheckels pass between their fingers.

“What was that, Mama?” I asked when she grabbed my hand again and started walking toward home.

“What was what, Rosha?”

“Never mind, I answered.” I was too hot, too tired and still nauseous thinking about that poor dead chicken.  But then a few minutes later, I asked Mama if the candle maker ever got the chance to light and enjoy the beautiful candles she made. Did she celebrate the Sabbath? Did she watch the candles glow against the walls and ceilings of her home through long summer evenings until their flames flickered and the wax disintegrated into nothing? But Mama just sighed loudly and said, “Enough Rosha, it’s late, time to go home.”

 

“Thank you God!” Bubbe and Mama sing out at the exact same moment. Poppa’s footsteps sound like thunder. I imagine him climbing the stairs two at a time, each step stamped like an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence. When he enters the room he is out of breath and sweating, carrying his suit jacket over his arm.

Bubbe stays glued to her chair, but she is rocking back and forth so hard I am afraid she may go flying straight across the room. Mama runs to Poppa, her eyes searching every single inch of him, her hands touching his face.

“I waited to light the candles, Mordecai. Is everything all right?” Mama glances in my direction; she remembers I’m in the room. “Never mind, we’ll talk later. Go now, wash up.”

I am standing next to the buffet table getting ready to do my special job, the one I do every Friday night. Carefully, I fit the tall candles into their shiny silver holders so they will not tip over onto the lace doily when Mama says the blessing into her hands before lighting them.

“Ester, I’m going to change out of my wet shirt,” Poppa says, moving quickly past the women in this room. His women, he calls us. He places a kiss on the back of Mama’s neck, nods to Bubbe who stalls in her chair. And just when I am certain he has forgotten me, he sticks his fingers into my ribs for a surprise tickle making me giggle and buckle at the knees.

“Please hurry Morde,” Mama says, stealing away my fun with Poppa. He tosses his jacket across the arm of a dining room chair. Mama picks it up, shakes it out, then stares.

“What’s that, Mama?” But like so many questions─ the too many I’m told I ask, this one does not need an answer. What I see is as clear as the glass that used to shine brightly in our parlor window. Wrapped around the sleeve of Poppa’s jacket is a cuff made of a gauzy gray cloth. Sewn into the middle and as large as a melting sun is a six-pointed yellow star. In the middle are the letters: J-U-D-E.

 

Welcome To My Blog Tour

Thank you to Andrea Miles, author of Trespassers for inviting me to blog today. You can learn more about her writing at: http://andreamiles.com/2014/05/28/my-writing-process-blog-tour-may-2014/   

www.andreamiles.com

 

What am I working on now?

For me this is an especially pertinent question… because, what I am working on now is promoting and publicizing my debut novel: The Sweetness by She Writes Press, which will be published late September.  Prior to contracting with SWP, most of my daily writing revolved around my memoir-in-progress, a project that I began a few years ago, soon after my mother passed away. The actual writing was often challenging, and for a long time I struggled with how and where to begin. It was only after she died that I realized I needed to start at that event in time, and then take a giant leap backwards returning to my early childhood. But now, after a healthy and well-earned break from memoir writing, I’ve begun to focus on new ways to promote The Sweetness, a story inspired by true events that takes place in two continents during World War II in the place of my birth – Brooklyn, and home of my ancestors, Lithuania. So for the next few months most of what I will put down on paper will most likely be related to my novel- its inspiration, some of the themes and characters I hope to introduce in blogs and in short essays to help publicize the book launch come September.

How does your writing about this differ from others in this genre?

Since the memoir is in progress, I’ll answer this with thoughts of The Sweetness. When I set out to write the novel, I was focused on all my characters, wondering how life would play out for them through-out in the story. Though I knew the answer for some of them because they were actually based on people I knew quite well.  Sometimes it felt as though the story was writing itself. Once I was able to find my characters vulnerabilities and create challenges, I didn’t have to hover over them so much. Yet, since this novel takes place during World War II and the family is split… living on two separate continents, I relied on themes that are not always prominent in books of this genre.  I had observed many of my relatives as they suffered with depression, and as I got older I learned that much of this was from the fallout after the Holocaust─ what is often referred to as survivor guilt.  This is evident in the poignant memoirs of those who suffered tremendous losses and yet survived. When writing the novel, I did not shy away from the reality and ravages of that tragic time in history and tried to present a realistic picture of that horrific era.

 

Why do I write what I do?

Since my earliest writing was mostly poetry, I think the answer to the question 30 years ago would’ve been quite different from my answer today, but here goes:  Within the frenetic structure of “wifedom” and motherhood, like most, I had little time for myself because of those daily pressures, whether financial or marital issues which lead ultimately to a divorce. To survive, I craved some type of emotional release. I often found myself writing poetry on the back of grocery lists, on receipts, or stopped at a traffic light while my children argued in the backseat. I’ve often said writing poetry saved my life. I didn’t care much if it was good or bad, and probably wouldn’t have known the difference.  Somehow the feelings I tried to push down found their way into words, which made them feel authentic, and finally what I had put down on paper and what I’d struggled with finally had some meaning. Now, years later, in writing my novel, I set out to also understand the obscure events and things that happened in my family, some before I was ever born. I truly believe I’m the only one who can tell this story. Not because all that I’ll say will be true, or actually happened, but because I seem to have inherited all the links to this complicated family, and have always been interested in unraveling the past and as much of the truth as possible.

 

How does my writing process work?

Even though I’m considered by those who know me best a hard worker, I’m also a terrible procrastinator. I put myself through utter hell before I can actually settle down and write what I want to write.  As is this blog, mostly everything is first written in longhand. I could build a bridge from my accumulated notebooks. While the next difficult step is getting the first drafts into the computer. For years, I hired a typist who saved me a whole lot of time, but now I’m getting more comfortable with the software that I’m using, like Dragon, though I must work harder on my enunciation because once from Brooklyn you can never take yourself out of Brooklyn!   www.sandeboritzberger.com   and

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-sweetness-sande-boritz-berger/1118967714?ean=9781631529078

 

Today I’m happy to introduce you to writer Elizabeth McCourt, author of the mystery Red Beans and Murdernow on to an exciting endeavor in non-fiction: Elizabeth is currently developing her coaching practice TriStyle Coaching – ‘a body, mind spirit approach to finding your best self’ and at work on her non-fiction book on TriStyle, the basis of her coaching and philosophy.  She is studying with the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) to get her life coach certification. She holds a BS in Finance from the University of Maryland, a JD from Loyola University in New Orleans, and a MFA in Creative Writing from SUNY Stony Brook. She writes the blog www.triathlonobsession.wordpress.com and tweets at @ecmccourt or you can reach her by email rizabiz@aol.com