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A little romance, a few laughs. It's all good.


A short piece that illustrates my father perfectly

Walking into the Family Room, I hear my Dad on the phone.

“Chuck, hello. We need a fourth for tennis tomorrow, 8:30. Great, see you then.”

I smile to myself as he glances at his phone book and begins dialing. I know what’s coming.

“Don, we need a fourth for doubles tomorrow at 8:30. You in? See you then.”

Most people would say, “Pretending he’s already got the other players? Man, the balls on that guy!” But the players in his tennis circle are either too lazy or apathetic to ever set up any matches, so if my father wants to play (which he does every weekend), he’s the one enticing others to join him.

My father puts away his phonebook and concentrates on the soccer game playing on the television. I snuggle on the couch to read a magazine and listen to the TV commentary. It’s in Italian so I understand nothing. But it doesn’t matter. The language is so beautiful that even when the commentators say something horrible like, “Lucchino is down, Alberti kicked him in the balls,” it sounds lilting and romantic.

After a while, my dad says to me, “Thea, what should we do about dinner tonight?”

The fall weather has me feeling sleepy. I don’t want to cook or get dressed up and eat in a restaurant, so I reply, “Let’s order something.”

“Like what?”

I think a moment. “We could have pizza. Or Chinese.”

“Okay. Which do you want?”

“Oh, I don’t care. You pick,” I reply.

He turns toward me, the game forgotten. “No, tell me what you want.”

“I really don’t care.”

My father says, “Come on. You don’t have a preference?”

“Nope.” And I don’t. I love both.

He shakes his head. “You must have one.”

“No, I don’t, dad. Like I said, you can choose.”

His voice becomes firmer from annoyance. “No. I want you to pick.”

“But I really don’t care,” I reply, feeling annoyed as well. “Ask Mom.”

“No, I’m asking you. That’s your problem, Thea. You never give your opinion, say what you want.”

I wonder if he realizes that with him, it’s just simpler that way.

He continues. “You are always too ambivalent or are too easy, deferring to others, letting them have their own way. Everyone has their preferences. Go on, choose.”

“Fine then! Chinese!”

Dad is quiet for a moment before speaking.

“You sure you don’t want pizza?”

He eyes me with a puzzled expression, wondering why I’m laughing so hard.


The text shocked me. “James* died.”

The day before, I was with the leader of our writer’s group, and we talked about James, wondering where he was. He hadn’t attended a meeting for the last couple of months which was unusual. He had been a fixture. But I suppose it never occurred to us that something was wrong as we only met twice a month, and during the summer, members often didn’t come.

The next day, the leader decided to contact him through Facebook and that was when she learned of his passing and texted us. Again, I was shocked. But I wasn’t close to him. He often spoke out of turn and could make people annoyed and uncomfortable. He had trouble picking up societal cues, he was way too honest in his opinions. His unfiltered opinions could rub others the wrong way.

When I read his Facebook page the other day and the kind words posted about him from friends and co-workers, I had a strange reaction. I immediately doubted many of the posters because their words reminded me of another Facebook page, the page of a man I grew up with. Reed was different too and it made him an outcast growing up. His father was dead, his mother elderly. He had a bad case of eczema all over his hands and arms. More importantly, he didn’t understand societal cues either. He would be insulted and ridiculed when he spoke, telling tall tales, hoping people would think he was cool. He even tried to buy the class’s friendship one time, bringing a huge bag of candy that he threw to his grasping classmates. He was popular for the five minutes he held up the package and threw the contents. Then he was disparaged once again. I was saddened and yet annoyed by him. Why are you even speaking, I’d think, shut up and hide in plain sight. Make yourself invisible. He never did.

When I read Reed’s Facebook page after learning he died, all the syrupy, “aww shucks” memories from people who treated him like crap, I was outraged. How dare they pretend to be his friend? How dare they lie and claim that they’d miss him, and write “Hey, do you remember when he did that?” I checked older posts where Reed would write about his newest job or latest accomplishment and there were congratulations from these same people. But there wasn’t any warmth to them. It seemed like the replies seemed rote.

And now they were saddened.

Reed was a brave man. I don’t mean because of his exemplary military record and medals he received, proudly displaying them in his Facebook posts. He was brave because he kept trying, unlike me who chose to hide. Either out of bravery or stupidity or whatever, he chose to keep trying to be a part of the world at large, to be visible. He had something in himself that was able to overcome the hurts and not be afraid to try again. My friend calls it “an undaunting courage.”

Meanwhile, I continued to hide in plain sight letting my fears keep me from taking chances and trying something new. So, I realize, thinking of James and Reed, the person I am really angry at is myself.

*Names have been changed.


Today is National Grandparents Day. A day to show appreciation to those special people who would spoil you with cookies, extra television time, or dollar bills. Then they’d send you off to your parents who were left to clean up the mess they gleefully created.

As a child, we visited my maternal grandparents a lot. We’d have a traditional Sunday meal made by my grandmother who never put enough salt on the food. But she made up for that with her baking. My grandfather loved his sweets and my grandmother would hide the desserts she made, so he wouldn’t eat too much. But, to her consternation, he often located and broke into the stash of treats. My sister and I were very close to my grandfather. We’d wake him up early, and, arthritic, he would slowly dress, then brush and smooth his hair with two brushes. Afterward, he’d make us a breakfast of scrambled eggs. We’d walk in his garden, breathing in the wonderful scent of his roses. Later in the day, we’d enjoy the scent of his cigar. Our favorite thing to do with him was to muss up his snow-white hair. From what my mother tells me, it was one of his favorite things too.

My paternal grandparents were a different story. My father immigrated alone to the United States, and we only went overseas a few times to visit that side of the family. My father’s parents were strangers to me. I had no real feeling for them.

My grandparents are long gone, and I envy those who still have theirs around when they are in their 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s. I wonder what it’s like to relate to one another as adults. Do they still push cookies on you? Do they try to give you a check for fifty dollars? Or perhaps stuff a twenty into your hands?

I would have a lot of questions for all my grandparents. I’d ask my maternal grandparents what it was like when they each arrived at Ellis Island (they hadn’t met then). How did my grandfather feel when the officers took one look at his last name and decided it needed to be changed? How did they even choose that new name? I’d ask him how he felt working for an uncle who was reminiscent of a Dickens villain—keeping most of my grandfather’s wages and not even helping him buy an overcoat to wear in the harsh Chicago winter. How he felt when that old Jewish shopkeeper gave him one, (but too late to keep the damage from being done, causing the arthritis in his later years).

I’d ask my maternal grandmother if she was disappointed when, after impressing some New York high society matrons with her intelligence, one of these ladies offered to adopt her to provide a quality education, and my grandmother’s brother (considered the head of the family as he was the first to come over) refused. How did it feel to be a woman with such intelligence in a time when it wasn’t celebrated? I’d ask my father’s mother how it felt to marry at sixteen and to a man she barely knew. How she felt moving hundreds of miles away from her family. I’d ask her and my grandfather how they dealt with having three sons fighting in World War II.

There are so many questions, none of our family will ever have an answer to. So, on this day, I urge those who still have living grandparents to ask them the important questions that come at the odd moment. Don’t put it off. The answers they give you will provide a rich addition to your family history and make you proud of who and what your family is.

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