All in the Genes

Margaret Meade did countless studies on Nature vs. Nurture.  In today’s world, the “nurture” part, I think, has suffered due to the breakdown of the institutions of marriage and family.  I am grateful, however, to have come from a long line of fine people.

If I could have picked out the best qualities, in my own eyes, of those who came before me or were around me as my personality, my character and the sense of who I would turn out to be was being formed, I would have likely chosen the following.  Please know that this is an extremely incomplete list, derived strictly from MY memories and feelings, although it’s likely to start a firestorm amongst other family and friends…  Please family and friends, feel free to chime in.  (I chose not to mention my own siblings as I can’t publish those nouns).

My Mommom’s worldliness, understanding and back-scratching ability;

My Poppop Jack’s faith, perseverance and altruism;

My Poppop Daniel’s spontaneity, lust for life and sense of humor;

My Nanny’s green thumb, etiquette, and ability to finish a crossword;

My father’s persistence, sales ability and silver hair;

My mother’s looks, positive attitude and baking ability;

My Aunt Ticky’s artistic talent;

My Brecker Cousins’ musical talent and passion;

My Uncle Danny’s business acumen, vision and confidence;

My Bernheim Cousins’ fairness, capacity and tenacity;

My Aunt “A”s optimism, goodness and laugh;

My Miller Cousins’ resiliency, inspiration and creativity;

After living with my husband for thirty three years, I have to believe that he came from a long line of good genes too.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t see in my own children: my daughter’s wit, inner beauty and conviction, and my son’s compassion, perceptiveness and charm.

That, my friend, is a bunch of nouns.

What a Co-Ink-i-dink!

There are many instances when my thoughts go back to my childhood days, whether it’s a particular song, a letter or email from an old friend or coming across a bit of memorabilia.  Since my dad’s passing fifteen years ago, every time I see a rainbow, I think of him.  Every time I hear Barbra Streisand sing “People,” I think of him.  Every time I eat broccoli, I think of him.  That may sound like a strange combination of things to make me think of my father, but then my father touched me in many different ways.

Growing up with a dad who had all kinds of silly names for people and things, I’ve almost added them to my vocabulary as if they were accepted by Webster.  He never called any of his kids by their given names, that is, except for my brother Richard.  I still can’t figure out the stream of consciousness that got him from Judy to “Gnu,” but that’s what he called me.  It was at one point Elsie Gnu, but then he just dropped the Elsie part.

He had nine grandchildren, and if he didn’t make up strange names for them, he just kind of mangled the names they were given.  He called my son Maniel Dason.  You figure it out.  He called my daughter, Smudlyn.  He called my nephew, Aaron Ocoggy.  I have a niece named Yexis, and a nephew named Schmichael.

Mom and DadDad wanted to know, “what are you didding?”  It was, in a sense, his own vernacular for “whazzzzzup?”  So much of this came rushing back to me in the past few weeks as my mother was sorting and packing her belongings to move to her new home.  Pictures and mementos, letters and telegrams, collectibles and awards, everything that was Dad went into boxes for moving, selling, recycling, donation or throwing out.

Mom took along a beautiful photograph of my father that was taken when he served as the Chairman of the Board of Parkway Hospital, which is now Jackson North.  I looked at the picture for a few moments and thought about the expression, “turnabout is fair play,” because when I eulogized Dad, I used all of the names with which people referred to him.  As a kid, he was known as Ticky, and my Miller cousins knew him as Uncle Ticky.  My Brecker cousins called him Muck.  The guys at Citizens Crime Watch called him Smooth Blend- his CB handle.  He was Mel.  To our friends, he was Mr. T.  He was Dad, or Daddy when I wanted something.

When Mom finally made the move last month, I was standing at the front desk in the lobby, next to a sign that said, “Welcome Jean Tecosky,” when a lady approached me and asked me if I was a Tecosky.  I said I was, and she introduced herself as the daughter of Abe Tecot, my grandfather’s first cousin.  She and my Dad were second cousins.  All I could think of was that Dad would say, “What a co-ink-i-dink!”

My Advice

I’ve seen a lot of How-To articles, and a lot of stories that were long discourses on how someone would do it, if they had a chance to live their life over again.  But I also read somewhere that you are supposed to “express and opinion, but send advice by freight.”  I would attribute the quote appropriately, but being one of those people who are old enough to suffer from senior moments, though not yet silver-haired, I can’t remember where I saw it.  So I write this, mainly to remind myself, but also to intimate that there may be some wisdom in my suggestions as well.

Having been on this earth long enough to have my own memory lapses, I decided to write down a few things that I have learned while I’ve been here.  Before I forget.

The first thing I’ve learned is to respect older folks.  Learn from them.  They have, as they say, been there, done that.  They carry around with them a wealth of intellectual lore, right there in their heads, and even if they can’t always remember what they had for lunch, they possess such valuable wisdom, earned simply by living life.  If nothing else, I’ve learned that there are really no big deals.

My grandmother gave me two choice pieces to live by.  One was that it doesn’t pay to get upset about something that money can replace.  That was after I spilled tomato juice on her brand new lemon yellow carpet.  “It’s just a thing,” she’d say.  “If something bad happened to you, then I would be upset.”  The other thing I gained from her was that worrying is like wasting energy and emotion on something that hasn’t happened yet.  She told me to pick out one hour a week during which to worry.  Hers was Tuesdays, between three and four AM.

The second thing I’ve learned is to respect younger folks.  Learn from them.  You can gain so much by growing along with them, and looking at the world through their innocent and questioning eyes.  They help you to forget being jaded and pessimistic, and remind you that anything is possible.  While raising my kids, I tried very hard to respect their points of view when making decisions that affected them.  Often, they had valuable and practical input that was worth considering, and would change the outcome.

If they didn’t, I stuck to my original plan, but I showed them the same respect that I wanted them to show me.  In the end, both of my children grew up knowing that they have a voice.  And I grew up right along with them, understanding that I don’t know everything, and never will.  A one hundred year old friend of mine once told me that when we stop learning, we stop growing.  She continued to take classes at the community college until she couldn’t travel anymore, at age 102.

I’ve never been a religious person, however I am spiritually connected.  I believe there are forces greater than my own will at work in the universe.  Over my lifetime, it’s been made abundantly clear to me that I talk a lot, first by two of my three brothers, who each gave me nicknames that depicted that quality: one called my Yak, and the other, Herkimer J Mouth.  My grandfather would often ask me if I ever stopped talking.  So in the spirit (pun intended) of a higher power, I’ve developed a prayer that I say probably too often, and that is, “God, keep one arm around my shoulder, and one hand over my mouth.”  As I always told my children, you can think whatever you want, but as soon as you say it out loud, you can’t take it back.  Ever.

Through my own life experiences, I’ve learned that we only get one shot at life.  I’ve taken some twists and turns, some of which I regret, but most of which I do not.  What came out of all of it is that I found that you should never do anything to sacrifice the integrity of your own potential.  Treat yourself well, body, mind and soul.

That’s my advice.

My Family Tree

When we all get together and reminisce, I sometimes find it hard to believe that this family tree of mine ever took root, at least on my mother’s side.  That’s not being said to be derisive in any way.  My mother’s family was and is lovely in many ways.  But there was one member of her family, who, in his own way, could have shattered any hope, of any of the female members of the family, of maintaining a relationship, much less getting married.

Starting with my mother.

Mom tells many stories of the ways in which my grandfather scared many of her boyfriends away; things like coming to the dinner table dressed in my grandmother’s bathrobe and shower cap, or sticking his thumb in a piece of chocolate cake as it was passed by him, only to “see if it was fresh,” or the ultimate story, which commands its own paragraph.

Mom had been invited to Princeton weekend by a young suitor, but before she would be given permission to go, the young man was invited to Friday night dinner at her home.  Friday night dinner was always a formal occasion.  My grandfather would come to the table in a suit and tie.  This particular evening, someone spilled a bit of gravy in front of him.  He proceeded to add some salt, pepper and ketchup to the stain, all the while stirring it with a spoon.  The young man just stared in disbelief.

Subsequently, while quietly enjoying the repast, he reached inside his jacket, fumbling around the shoulder area, and then took his cufflink off, and promptly pulled his shirtsleeve out of his jacket sleeve.  He then proceeded to do the same on the other side.  By the time he had finished his antics, he was sitting at the table with nothing but his jacket and tie… no shirt.

Needless to say, not only did my mother never get to Princeton weekend, but she never heard from this young man again.  I remain grateful that my father was able to withstand my grandfather’s antics.

Far be it for me to expose the private and very personal lives of my female cousins, because there were, indeed, other “Poppop” interventions.  For me, however, my boyfriend met my grandfather under typical circumstances.

My grandparents, like a lot of people from the north, wintered here in South Florida, and were here for Thanksgiving.  My boyfriend was a little bit of a prankster and jokester himself, so as we walked up to my parent’s home, I begged him to behave himself.  I didn’t want to be embarrassed.  We were greeted by my Dad, as usual, by an offer for a cocktail, and took our seats on the couch, opposite my grandfather.  After very cordial introductions, my grandfather piped up with, “So, Judith, do you have socks in your bra?”  My boyfriend looked at me and calmly asked, “And you wanted ME to behave?”

Less than a year later, my grandfather had the opportunity to meet my soon-to-be father-in-law.  You see, not even Poppop was able to scare off my boyfriend.  Nor was my grandmother, who tried to fatten him up for the kill by piling food on his plate at every meal.

It was the night of the bachelor party and Poppop had been remanded to the back patio to smoke his cigar.  When my father-in-law arrived, my grandfather yelled into the house, “If you want to meet me, you’ll have to come out here.  They won’t let me back in the house.”  My father-in-law had been warned, but in his sweet, southern gentlemanly way, he started to say, “I’d tell them to go jump in the river.”  He never got to finish, as Poppop, once again, tried to impress (or stun) by saying, “I told them to all go pound sand up their asses.”

Yes, we got married.  My grandfather danced “The Bump” at my wedding, but sadly, all that’s left are the memories, stories and laughs.

We named our first born after him.  I imagine what really took root in our family tree is the love.  Today, my mother has four children, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren (so far), and they all know who Poppop Daniel was… the Patriarch of my mother’s family, who gave us all his wit, his sense of humor and his lust for life, which I believe are three very good elements for growing a family tree.


The Other Shoe

It’s a Chicken Little kind of feeling that the “sky may be falling,” or an Eeyore lament of “Oh well.”  It’s a feeling that things are going too well… an impending sense of doom, a fear of the inevitable, when the other shoe is going to drop?

Last fall, when my mother celebrated her 83rd birthday, I wrote her a letter telling her how I had learned so much from watching her go through the phases and challenges of life with such poise and grace.  Mom has always faced change well.  She has been a “fatalist” all her life.  She fears nothing, not even dying, as she has said for as long as I can remember, “When your number’s up, its up.”

This most recent change is no different.  She decided to move herself to an independent living facility.  Mom determined, on her own, that she needed to be around more people, that she didn’t want the responsibility of being a home-owner anymore, and she certainly didn’t want to be a burden to her children should something happen to her.  She found the place she wanted, and with a little help from me, made the arrangements and moved this past weekend.  I helped her sort through her belongings, determining what to take, what to sell, what to give to her children and what to throw away.

I helped her pack, forward her mail, list her condo, change her power and cable service and secure a mover.  And it was done.  We moved her most prized possessions ourselves, and let the movers do the rest, and before we blinked, she was making new friends, enjoying the cuisine and taking walking trips to the bank and drugstore.

I’m so very proud of her and very grateful that she is happy and healthy, as I look forward to many more years with my best friend.

So what is this other shoe thing going on?  Maybe I feel like it went too smoothly, because NOTHING ever goes smoothly in my life.  I’m used to looking at everything that way.  We’ve never made a purchase when we didn’t come home to find a broken section or a piece of the hardware missing.  That’s just the way it always happens.

And I never win anything (except Scrabble against my husband).  Haven’t had three numbers at Lotto in 12 years.  Or, I don’t deserve the praise…  I could have done better… that kind of thing.

I do know that I had wanted to move out of town; almost secured a job to take us there, but it fell through.  Then I tried to slow it down by trying to find a part time job.  Thought I had a fabulous opportunity, but that fell through as well.  So, now mom is settled in her new place, locally, I’m stuck working at the same job, locally.  Once again, I have to adjust.

Perhaps instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop, I need to just switch to sneakers.