30 December 2012

The F**kit List

Seems like everybody feels the need to make lists this time of year. The 10 Best ___ in 2012. The 25 Worst ___ in 2012. The 100 Most ___ in 2012. And of course those nasty lists of New Year's resolutions.

A couple of weeks ago, Huffington Post ran a piece called "The F**kit List". This promising title sucked me into one of those self-help, feel-better-about-yourself kind of articles that I never read, just on general principle, but it got me thinking.

What if I kept a list of things I do, or might once have done, or felt I should have done, but have come to suspect are no longer worth the effort? Some are probably things I never should've started doing in the first place. I won't miss doing them, and nobody will notice if I don't. Those are easy. But what about things I used to like to do, and I thought were worthwhile, that now take more effort than they used to? In some cases, much more effort. In other cases, I can no longer do them at all, but still wish I could, or still feel like I should. Which of those should I continue to struggle with, and which should be relegated to my F**kit List?

The first item on my F**kit List: Christmas cards.

Even though I don't celebrate Christmas, the end-of-the-year celebration used to be a really big deal around here. Even before Tuffy was born, there was sewing, shopping, baking, digging out the boxes of decorations and lights and putting them up inside and out; it was a really big deal. I used to like to send cards, lots of cards, made them by hand, included a personal, hand-written note with each one, the whole 9 yards. Crazy.

As it got harder and harder to do, I couldn't bring myself to just scribble a signature on a store-bought card and print out an address label from my meticulously maintained database. I wouldn't include a generic "holiday letter". I wouldn't send out fewer cards. No, apparently if I couldn't do it right, I wouldn't do it at all. 

I don't remember when I last mailed out real physical Christmas cards in envelopes with stamps. It's been long enough that the only ones I get are from my insurance guy and the dentist, whose secretary adds a personal, hand-written note wondering why it's been so long since I've been in for an appointment.

I regret losing touch with the people I only heard from once a year. In some cases they're people I like a lot, but our paths no longer cross on a regular basis. Even if it's only the sketchiest outline, even if it's just knowing they're still living in the same place, I miss hearing what they've been up to the previous year. I liked letting them know that I'd been thinking about them. But you know what? I could no longer do it, and I'm tired of feeling bad about it. So it goes on the F**kit List.

So, to all my blogger buddies: Whatever you celebrate this time of year, celebrate the heck out of it. Although I rarely leave comments on your blogs, it's usually because I can't think of anything useful to say, not because I don't care how things are going with you.

Even if I didn't send a Christmas card.

21 December 2012

Winter Solstice

Well it's rise up, Jock, and sing your song,
For the summer is short and the winter long.
Let's all join hands and form a chain
'Til the leaves of springtime bloom again.*

Tomorrow will be four seconds longer than today! 88 days, 13 hours, 21 minutes, and 17 seconds till spring! Bring in the holly and the ivy! Hang the mistletoe! Decorate the evergreen! Light the candles! Fire up the Yule log! Happy Winter solstice!

*Rise Up Jock (Bob Pegg), recorded by Nowell Sing When Clear

15 December 2012

Because Japan

Just about this time 23 years ago, I met my daughter for the first time. In some ways she was immediately familiar. The shape of her head, her pointy little elbows, her feet, were as recognizable from the outside as they had become on the inside. That was reassuring, because I was still trying to accept the fact that my life  had just changed in a way that I could never undo. You'd think that would've happened sometime in the previous nine months, but no. It wasn't until I was confronted with the physical reality of her that I realized I was no longer me. I was us.

I don't know how much influence I might've had on the person she eventually became. It didn't surprise me that she was relentlessly verbal, or that she was a reader from the time she could hold a book. What choice did she have? We had no TV. For fun, we went to the library.

She grew up in a house full of dogs; her earliest reflex was pushing a big black nose out of her face. But she doesn't love dogs. I don't think she even likes them all that much. She never once asked for a pony. She didn't collect bugs, or small animals. She never wanted to be a vet. Or a biologist. That was a surprise. Not a disappointment – but a surprise.

Scarecrow wrestled in his youth, but gender aside, it never occurred to me that this child would be a wrestler. This was totally unlike anything I ever did; I could barely stand to watch. In eight years, it never got any easier.

Why Japan? I don't know where she came by her fascination with things Asian. She started taking Mandarin Chinese in high school, but really, there weren't that many choices. When she needed another year of foreign language in college, she switched to Japanese because it fit into her schedule better. Once she heard about the JET Programme, the prospect of going to Japan was never far from her mind. The application process took almost a year. Still, somehow, it was a surprise to watch her drag her bag through the door of the airport on her way to Japan. It was totally unlike anything I ever did.

In the past five months, she has been learning about life in a place I will never go. For all her facility with words, sometimes there's just no way to describe her adventures in a way I can understand. "Because Japan," she says. There's no explanation. That's just the way it is.

I get that.

Happy birthday, Tuffy. Happy birthday!

13 December 2012

Not Today

Sometimes I open up a text editor to start on a blog post without having any idea what I might write about; just hoping inspiration will happen. Sometimes it does. Usually not.

I feel like whatever I write here ought to tie into MS, somehow. That was, after all, my original excuse for starting this blog. But lately, I haven't much wanted to read about MS, and I sure has heck don't want to write about it. If that's denial, so be it. (Really? Gimme a break!)

I feel kind of bad about turning this into a blog about my family history, although I don't know why that should be. I don't expect my family to be of interest to anybody besides me (and a second cousin of Scarecrow's who shares my obsession with stalking dead people), but nobody is compelled to read about it. If I'm worried about boring my adoring readers, I really need to get over myself.

Tuffy's blog is not turning out to be the source of inspiration I had hoped it might be. Her most recent post went up before I resurrected this blog from oblivion, so it hasn't been the source of much competition, friendly or otherwise. Not that motivating me to run off at the keyboard should be her top priority.

What does that leave? The whippets usually become blog fodder when they've done something odious. They haven't lately, as far as I'm aware, besides inflicting a bit more damage on Scarecrow's left slipper, which was already pretty well chewed. On balance, that's probably good.

When I used to write in a paper journal, with a really nice fountain pen, the excuse to pick up a really nice pen was reason enough to come up with something to write. Sometimes it was a note about the weather, and any birds I might have seen during the day. Sometimes that got me started on other things. Sometimes not. Tuffy has my pens now. They don't seem to be working for her.

Maybe something will happen tomorrow.

10 December 2012

Lucky Me

Sparky left this morning. It was a good visit. He's a good guy, and I always enjoy his company. The dogs accepted him as a member of the pack (as long as he didn't wear his hat – Bareit didn't like the hat). They pretty much abandoned Scarecrow and me, preferring to hang with Sparky. They even slept on his bed most of the night (well, he could've shut the door, couldn't he?). They're moping around by the front door now, waiting for him to come back. I guess if you're looking for a devoted, one-man dog, you wouldn't choose a whippet anyway.

Although I'm sorry to see him go, I can't wait to dig into the pile of stuff he excavated from the sediment that had accumulated on the floor of my dad's office over the years.

Shuffling through it once, quickly, with Sparky, I saw some pretty cool stuff:

  • a receipt for ladies lingerie, which my dad sold door-to-door after he graduated from high school; 
  • the invoice for my dad's first car, a used Studebaker, for which he paid $75 and put $5 down; 
  • v-mail between my dad and his brother when they were in the service during WWII; 
  • a picture of my aunt and uncle at their wedding, with a guy who I'm pretty sure is my grandfather; 
  • a copy of an application my dad submitted for a fellowship, with a whole bunch of information on it that I didn't know.

And Sparky says there's more where that came from.

This will keep me busy for now.

05 December 2012

Family Matters

My very favorite brother is coming up tomorrow from Southern California for a visit. Sparky is my only brother – my only sibling, for that matter – but even if that were not the case I'm pretty sure he would still be my favorite. He's a good guy. I'm looking forward to spending some time with him.

It should be easier to get him up here, now that his oldest son (Arkman) recently took a job in our neck of the woods. Fortunately, Arkman still has zero furniture, so Sparky will be staying with us, this time at least.  It'll be fun!

Sparky has agreed to fill any empty space in his luggage with family papers or photos or whatever other detritus he might have run across in his excavations of the house where mom and dad lived (apparently without ever throwing anything away) for almost 60 years. Who knows what kind of stuff might turn up?

You never know what you'll find. After trying, off and on for a couple of years, to find out when my paternal grandmother arrived in this country, I had pretty much given up. I knew she came from a shtetl near Bobruisk in what was then the Russian Empire, and that she was traveling with at least one sister. I knew she was born sometime around 1890, although my dad always said she lied about her age. I knew her surname was common in the area she came from – the local equivalent of "Smith" – and that it could be spelled about 8,967 different ways. I knew (I thought) the girls' given names, although it turned out I really didn't. I thought she came here before 1906, because my father said she would call my grandfather a greenhorn because she had been here longer than he had. I looked every place I could think of, or at least every place I could find on the Internet, but couldn't find documentation of any of this. So I pretty much gave up and went on to other things. Then, a month or so ago, out of the blue, I ran across this:

It is the passenger manifest of the S.S. Lituania, sailing from Libau in Russia on 26 October, 1911. On line 12 is Riwe Gorelik. It says she's 21 years old, so she would have been born around 1890. On line 13 is Sore Gorelik, age 23. Both young women gave their occupation as tailoress. They said they were unable to read or write. They were Jews, from a Russian town called Pariczi in Minsk. Their nearest relative was their mother, Liebe Gorelik, in Pariczi. Their final destination was Chicago, Illinois.

Riwe Gorelik is my grandmother, Eva. Sore Gorelik is my great-aunt Sophie.

So you never know what might turn up, or where you might find it. I just wish I could show this to my dad. He spent a lot of time looking for it, and would've been happy to finally see it. I'll show it to Sparky and he'll think it's cool, but it won't be the same.

This is the three of us, captured in my mother's inimitable photographic style, sometime around 1954.

One more thing: On line 15 of the manifest is Basse Gorelik, a 19-year-old from Kcsedrin, which is a village near Pariczi. No relation, I don't think. Gorelik was a really common name in those parts.