This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on December 6, 2000.
Memories of parents can haunt us at holiday time. As I watch the lights go up and prepare my own holiday, I recall memories that will remain in my heart. I remember the time my dad brushed my hair when I was six years old. I remember the look on his face when I climbed so eagerly out of the car as I departed for college.
I’ll always remember the cold green walls and the tiny stool I sat on as my dad and I waited in pre-op for the surgeon to remove his colon cancer. The plastic shower cap rested atop his high forehead, the one I inherited.
The cancer was successfully removed, but my dad was never the same. Two short years later he was dying. It was a new cancer that grew in his cervical spine. Given one month to live, without treatment, he opted for radiation.
After three weeks of that torture, pneumonia set in. He couldn’t swallow. He was weak and had to go to the oncology clinic in a wheelchair. The clinician who was to administer his radiation treatment instead sent him to the hospital.
Caring for a dying parent requires the ability to assimilate complex medical information that has, as its bottom line, the ultimate question: What is best for this man who helped give birth to me, raised me and made a lot of mistakes while he did his best.
I had no better compass to avoid mistakes than Dad did when he had my tiny life in his hands. In the beginning, and at the end, we all do the best we can.
During his last two years, Dad, a very proud and private man, suffered from impaired vision, a bad pain in his shoulder, itchy feet, weak legs and lot of other ailments that left him exhausted and frustrated. His outrage was understandable, but his acceptance of loss and adaptation to “assisted living” was admirable.
When the radiation people turned my dad over to the hospital people, we knew it was the end. My mother, sister and I were ready to suggest Dad enroll in the Medicare Hospice program. I stood at the end of his hospital bed with my mother on one side and his physician on the other. The doctor told him my father that he was terminally ill and it was time for hospice. Dad agreed and we all cried together, but inside.
My sister and I clocked countless hours on the road, driving to the little mountain town in Arizona to which our folks had retired twelve years earlier, when they were healthy. Our biggest concern then was if they remembered to turn on the burglar alarm before they left on a trip.
Now we were spending our days trying to raise Dad up high enough in his hospital bed so he could spit-up in a basin. Pneumonia isn’t pretty. Add a throat swollen from radiation treatments and you have one miserable human being, relying solely on the people he had always cared for, to care for him. Now it was our turn to care for him, in spite of our astonishment, in spite of our pain.
We filled prescriptions, emptied the suction machine and the throw-up basin, monitored the oxygen level, and made sure disposable gloves were on hand for toileting. We used a maneuver called the “bear hug” to lift him out of his wheelchair, we balanced him on his walker, fed him ice cream whenever he wanted it and poured a dry martini whenever he wanted it.
We stood on the cusp of a new millennium with a guy who was born in 1920 and had prepared to die at the dawn of a new century. So many of his fellows will follow. I hope they will have the courage to enter hospice when it is clear that the cure-at-all-cost modern medicine is no longer necessary. Dad had the courage to accept that his days were numbered. We took him home to die in peace.
Hospice care helps everyone through the process of dying. The knot it leaves in the throat is soon replaced with heaviness of heart. Ultimately, it leaves peace for those who remain behind and a safe way home for those who go before.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on January 29, 2008.
The closest I came to being an opera fan was the 15 years I spent as a regular
viewer of As the World Turns, a so-called “soap opera.” The daily daytime dramas are
called soap operas, or “soaps” for short, because they are often sponsored by laundry
detergent or other household cleansers. The “opera” part comes from the interpersonal
storylines, romantic liaisons and breakups, clear cut villains, brave heroes and fair
New York’s Metropolitan Opera started broadcasting real operas in movie theaters
throughout the United States starting in their 2006/2007 season. I attended “I Puritani,”
one of the first productions, last January in Alhambra and was shocked to see the line to
enter the theater stretching around the block – at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
Who were these people? It turns out they were just like me, curious to see an opera in a
movie theater, broadcast live from New York.
When my husband and I entered the theater, we heard the orchestra tuning, 3000 miles
away in the pit of the Met. We had to scramble to find a good seat because the opera
buffs had come early. After we got settled we watched the people in the audience at the
theater taking their seats on the screen. Listening to the tuning orchestra and watching
the audience members taking their seats made us feel as if we were at a live
performance. The conductor came out and the camera followed him to the pit where he
lifted his baton and the opera began.
The cameras moved around the stage and gave the theater audience a view of the
opera that those at the Met could not see. The subtitles provided the English translation
so I could follow the story, but opera dialogue moves very slowly because
everything is sung, so it forces the viewer to slow down. At first I was annoyed and
wanted the story to move faster because I am used to quickly changing scenes and
dialogue on TV and the movies. In opera, you have to stop, look and listen -- to the
singing, the scenery and the singers in their costumes. It takes a while to slow the pace,
but once you get there, it is relaxing.
At intermission the camera went backstage to the radio booth where Beverly Sills, a
former opera star, gave a backstage tour. Sills made opera accessible, like Leonard
Bernstein did for classical music. She was very funny when she described the “mad
scene” when the female lover thinks she has been deserted by the man she loves and
goes nuts. Sills recalled the mad scenes she played during her long career and gave
an inside-look-at-baseball for the movie theater audience.
Operas are long and they often have two intermissions. That is another part of
adjusting to opera that is worth the effort. There are few things we sit still for these days.
Staying put for the opera gives you a chance to be transported to another world where
emotions are strong and storylines are spare but the singing is glorious and at some
point you dissolve into it. But it takes time and patience.
Since my first experience, I have returned to the theater in Alhambra and am now
savoring my newly acquired taste in opera. We went to see “Hansel and Gretel” on New
Year’s Day. It was a very dark rendering of the Grimm fairy tale and the two singers,
Alice Coote and Christine Schafer, had me convinced they were two little kids. In this
opera there were much more elaborate costumes and sets, and the dream sequence
in the forest was magical.
Hansel and Gretel slept at the front of the stage while at least a dozen characters
walked in, with giant heads, like the bubble heads of sports figures. A table rolled in and
the characters brought in cakes, pastries and other confections – some were real and
some were props, as we found out during intermission from the Stage Manager when
we were taken back stage by Renee Fleming. The music played in the background and
we had a visual feast as the stage was transported into an elegant dining room.
Opera in movie theaters provides an opportunity for people who want to check out
opera to see and hear the best the art form has to offer. The Met is going to present its
high-definition simulcasts on 300 – 400 movie screens this season, a nearly three-fold
increase from last season. An art form that originated in 1597 has relevance today and
can be seen by anyone who buys a ticket. For more information go
to www.metropera.org/hdive or call 1-800-Met-Opera.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News, Whittier Daily News, and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on October 8, 2018.
"That's not politically correct," a co-worker said snidely.
I first heard that term about twenty-five years ago in a staff meeting. The offender had said something about an ethnic group and the nasty food they ate.
When I first heard the words “politically correct,” I took it to mean that people watched what they said about other people in what we used to call “polite society.”
Along came Donald Trump, proudly proclaiming that he was not politically correct. He then unleashed a barrage of accusations against several groups of people, specifically Mexicans and Muslims. It was just the start of the vile things he says that we now have come to expect. His supporters cheer him on when he breaches the norms of decency that prohibit epithets and racial slurs. This behavior drags us down further every time. His idea of not being politically correct is breaking the bonds of common decency.
Being politically correct means you watch your mouth around other people. When you are in a group setting, you give some thought about what you say so as not to insult other people. You expect them to do the same. It’s called manners. It doesn’t mean you can’t state an opinion, or have a heated debate. It simply means that you must respect people who are different from you.
Donald Trump kicked off his campaign calling Mexicans rapists and murderers, and women names I refuse to reprint. He denigrated heroic Americans like John McCain and Khizr Khan’s son, Humayun Khan, who died defending our country. He said those things before he got elected and most Americans thought that people wouldn’t vote for him because he jeered at our deeply held American values under the guise of speaking some perverted kind of truth.
Many times I thought his terrible rhetoric would disqualify him; it wasn’t like the Republicans didn’t have some other viable candidates running. Trump picked them off one by one, with insults and accusations. That is why millions of Americans were depressed on election night. A man who had just been elected to the highest office in the land had no respect for millions of Americans, for the environment, disabled people, science, and basic American values. It broke my heart when he called the White House a “dump.”
Donald Trump has brought out the worst in us and has managed to further polarize our country by pitting people against one another and dividing families, including my own. Social media has thrown gas on this blazing fire. Words we Americans would never say to a person’s face, we will post on social media.
His rhetoric is rapidly dissolving the glue that holds our civil society together. It’s easy to follow his lead, to blame the politically correct crowd, to want to see them fail. But if good manners fail, and we believe insults and slanderous words are permissible, the future of the county is in doubt. Donald Trump started this awful trend and he will not be the one to stop it.
With every vicious tweet from the president, we sink a little lower. Many have said that Donald Trump is a symptom of the deterioration of our public discourse. Gossiping and
name-calling will never go away. They are part of human nature. But they need to go back where they belong, behind closed doors where, at some point, somebody says, “That’s mean. Stop it.”
Mr. President: That’s mean. Stop it.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on March 31, 2007.
After six weeks of trouble with our computers, my husband and I have decided to quit our jobs, sell the house and all our belongings and move to a deserted island in the South Pacific, where we will live on coconuts and fish and never see or touch another piece of technology.
It’s not so much trying to use new technology, although the image of a child being able to use a computer, much to the amazement of her grizzled old grandma, is a pretty well entrenched stereotype. The problem is tech support – AKA customer service.
Customer service died shortly before the advent of our age of technology. I believe that the people who work for companies that sell products that “support” our computers, aren’t even aware of the concept of customer service.
I paid about $50 for a CD that I can install on my computer to protect it from spyware. As the technology gets more sophisticated, so do the crooks, trouble-makers and people who buy information about us in order to sell us stuff, thus requiring us to constantly buy ‘upgrades.” There was no phone number for tech support on the package of my spyware protector.
The only link to the people who created and sold the product was a web site and we all know what happens on a web site. You get shuttled to the FAQ section where you are required to sift through hundreds of irrelevant questions, many of which are written so you can’t understand enough to even know if that is your question.
The reason why people like me get frustrated with computer technology is because we grew up in a world where people who sold things to us were available to answer questions, explain the features, and provide customer service.
That is why we get frustrated when we install software and it doesn’t go right. We call tech support, if we can find the number, and then we get a recorded message that directs us to a menu of selections that almost never match our question. It used to be, if you got desperate, you could hit zero and talk to a live human, but that is getting rare. These days, after you follow the menu to a dead end, the computerized voice says, “goodbye.”
I believe that those of us who are considered “old” and not able to comprehend technology, have been given a bad rap. Apparently, we have the outdated notion that a person who sells us a product will provide a minimum of direction in its use.
When we can’t get our basic problems resolved, which are usually quite simple to fix, we get frustrated and give up. Then we get called “old” and it makes us defensive. This could be solved with tech support that answered promptly, was free of charge (at least for 30 days), and was manned by a human being.
If we brought back customer service, this problem could be solved, but I doubt that will happen. Customer service went the way of men’s hats, ladies stockings, and tire swings. Customer service died when the magic words: “please” and “thank you” went out of style. It died when people stopped dressing for church and adolescent girls began to dress like prostitutes, and boys wore baggy pants that dropped below their butts.
Technology has widened the generation gap, and it is as sharply focused as the snap shot taken on a cell phone. People are getting caught at inopportune moments, further eroding any sense of dignity and privacy. Reality TV shows specialize in showing people at their worst, or most vulnerable, apparently for viewers enjoyment.
Most of us old fogies will soldier on, figure out the computers, and keep up with generations X, Y, and Z. My dad got his first computer at age seventy and figured it out, but he did pay the neighbor kid to help him. In his lifetime, he drove a Model T to high school and ended up, sixty years later, with a Lincoln Town Car. I can recall test patterns (for the X, Y and Z’ers that means no programs were on) on TV. The first calculators cost $100 and did only basic math. The first computers used punch cards and filled a room.
Customer service is yet another memory that will fade over time. When I call 4-1-1, the robotic voice, usually female, is pleasant and polite. Future generations won’t know any better and will think the computer-generated voice really cares. Then customer service will make a comeback, just like the good old days.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on April 16, 2000.
I wake up with my teeth clenched, my body tight, tired before my day begins. I know it will be a twelve-hour day: from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. My eyes opened at 7:00 am. Two hours and counting. I have to shower, eat, feed the dogs, and feed the birds.
My car knows the way to work. Sometimes on Saturday morning, when I start to run my errands, I find I’m halfway to the office and not the hardware store. Day after day, week after week, year after year, I am programed to go to work.
Like most Americans, my work is stressful. Deadlines constantly loom ahead of me like fire-breathing dragons, office politics can be a distraction and, of course, I don’t make as much money as I’d like.
One day, quite by accident, I discovered a perfect antidote to stress. I was on my way to work and drove by a beautiful church with a towering steeple. Although I drive by it every day, I hadn’t noticed it before. The day was overcast, clouds laden with rain hung low over the grey stone church.
It was a red light that made me stop and look up. At that moment, a flock of birds flew by, perfectly silhouetted against the early morning sky. The colors were cool, the birds graceful, the sky a soft grey with tiny streaks of pink and blue. The thought of soaring above it all, like the birds, made me think I could fly over the petty, tiresome details of work and life.
After that day I looked for birds everywhere. I installed a bird feeder in my yard and attracted some wonderful birds that appreciated my fancy birdseed. Soon after, I bought a birdbath and watched with delight the curious and very humorous way birds groom themselves.
My wonderful feathered friends have helped me keep cool, calm and collected. I discovered that and entire family of birds live in a tree in my backyard. From my window I watch them dart about, in and out of the tree, landing on the feeder, pecking vigorously, with all their might. They have a life to live and they live it, without a moment’s pause to wonder why.
I’ve begun to notice birds on telephone lines, birds at the park, birds on city streets, birds perched and on dumpsters. They are everywhere and they are delightful. If I listen carefully, I can hear them chirping, calling to one another. Occasionally, I hear a grouchy old crow screeching his discontent. In the same yard, the silent hummingbird glides toward the bright red feeder, his tiny wings beating fast and furious, keeping him aloft.
One day at work, I was trying to decide which of several tasks I should tackle first. All demanded my attention and presented dire consequences if I didn’t attend to them immediately. I looked out the window and saw a beautiful bird sitting in a tree. It seemed as if she was looking at me.
The bird seemed not to have a care in the world. If danger or discomfort came her way she could simply fly away. I watched her for a moment and and then turned back to the work on my desk. Obviously I’ll never know the inner life of birds, but the notion of being able to fly away brings me comfort.
I do know that I will seek out the creatures who knew how to fly before humans did to give me inspiration. Though I climb aboard planes with faith in the pilot and crew, I reserve my admiration for the birds who fly through a winter sky with grace and beauty.
They teach their lessons everywhere: free of charge, free of worry, free of cares and woe; free for anyone who cares to see.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on November 23, 2006.
I went to a birthday party last week at a swanky restaurant. After years of kid
birthday parties in the park or at a burger joint, this one was very refined and they
served “adult beverages” as my Dad used to call them. It was a Ninetieth birthday party for my friend, Ruby, a woman I greatly admire.
To reach the age of ninety is quite an accomplishment, but to reach it and have enough friends to close a restaurant during the lunch hour to accommodate them all, is remarkable. I was proud to be included in her circle of friends.
After a wonderful meal, we all got down to the business of toasting our friend. Many people were close to Ruby’s age and had known her for more than fifty years. I had met Ruby, and her husband Henry, in 1989 when I was manager of the Heath Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Project (HICAP), and they were volunteers.
After I left the agency, my husband and I got to know Ruby and Henry on a social basis. We spent evenings together talking about music, theater and books. My husband and I decided they were our fantasy parents. They never changed our diapers, or spanked us, or grounded us. They never kissed our little heads as we slept. Most important, they never disappointed us, as parents always do, and we didn’t disappoint them, as children always do.
Henry died several years ago and Ruby sold their family home and moved to a retirement community in Sherman Oaks. On the first Friday of every month, I picked her up and we went to dinner and then to services at the Synagogue for the Performing Arts at the American Jewish University in Bel Air.
I looked forward to our evenings together because I was always inspired by Ruby and how she lived her life. She was an avid bridge player, and started a drama club at the retirement community. She took a parking lot owner that towed her car to Small Claims
court, and won.
She went to San Jose a few months ago to attend an Elder Hostel that taught seniors how to do stand-up comedy. After losing her mate of sixty-two years, Ruby was determined to go on living her life, with all its challenges and joys.
During the testimonials at the party, Ruby’s friends described how devoted she and Henry were during their long life together. Some people (me included) were moved to write our testimonials in verse. A trio of ladies from the retirement community sang a song, and her son gave a loving tribute. At the end he proudly proclaimed that his mother was on her third computer.
I think we have the birthday celebrations backwards. Children, who make it through their first year doing almost nothing for themselves, have birthday parties that are quite extravagant and costly. The parents are exhausted, and broke. The honoree is clueless.
As we grow older, and become age-phobic (check out the assortment of “you are old” greeting cards at the drugstore), no one wants a big party. Some poor souls get an “over the hill” fortieth birthday party. But once you get past sixty or so, people just don’t think of throwing a special birthday party. There may be some reasons why.
When some people get to their golden years they become so grouchy, dour and crotchety, that nobody wants to throw them a party. Sometimes they are alienated from the kin that might have the idea to celebrate. They can take a cue from Ruby and try to be pleasant, or at least positive.
When Ruby got up to speak, she said she was happy to hear such nice things said about her while she was still here. At age ninety, she had a good point.
In this season of Thanksgiving, I count Ruby as one of my blessings. In our youth worshiping culture, I cherish my wise old friend. I am grateful that Ruby’s son and
daughter-in-law threw such an elegant party for their mom, and I am very glad I was invited.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on October 2, 2006.
As I sit with my fellow Jews on Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the year, The Day of Atonement, I will have Mel Gibson on my mind. I will also recall my dear father-in-law, Jack Stein, who left this earth almost six years ago. I will remember him cheering for the Dallas Cowboys, humming in the shower, dancing with the ladies and generally enjoying life.
I will cringe as I think of Gibson’s tirade against “the Jews” as I recall the life of Jack Stein.
I am a Jew-by-choice, a convert to a religion that I knew full well had been maligned for centuries. Before I married my Jewish husband, I though of Jews as rather sad people who had been the target for extermination by the Nazis. As I went through conversion class and read about Jewish history, I got a very different picture of Jewish life.
But it was from Jack and his friends, a group of Holocaust survivors who settled in Dallas after the war and raised their families together, that I learned about Judaism. And it has nothing to do with what Gibson thinks it is.
I learned from them that being Jewish leaves one open to irrational hatred that no one can understand, much less explain. What Jews do, I learned, is survive.
By the time I came into the family, Jack and his friends had raised their children and were in their retirement years. One night, I sat on the couch with Mrs. “Red” Goldberg and Mrs. “Black” Goldberg (so designated by the hair color of their respective husbands) and listened as they described the Nazi horrors inflicted on them and their families. They described their hardship without self pity or bitterness but with a will to survive that didn’t have to be expressed specifically, because it was infused in their words.
They talked with gratitude about the life they had been able to build in this country. That is the Judaism I learned about that inspires me.
When I think of Mel Gibson’s accusation about the Jews starting all the wars, I wonder how he would have reacted to these Jews, who were the victims of a war they certainly didn’t start, who lost everything because of it, and who made the decision to come to the United States so they could live in a society where they were free to practice their religion.
It is likely that Gibson has sung “God Bless America” to express his patriotism. He may not know that it was written by Irving Berlin, a Jew who immigrated to the United States from Russia when he was a child.
I’m pretty sure Gibson has sung “White Christmas” when he celebrates his holy season, free from epithets and slurs. That song was written by Berlin too.
One thing I have learned about Jews is that an unbreakable thread runs through the them that has never been severed, in spite of the most evil attempts to break it. So far, the Jewish people have not been annihilated, and we continue to make contributions to art, medicine, industry and economics that make the world a better place.
Gibson probably doesn’t know the Jewish phrase: “Tikkun olam,” which translates to “repairing the world.” Jews are taught from a young age that it is their responsibility to make contributions to humanity.
In my more than twenty years as a Jew, I have not come across a phrase that starts out: “start all the wars.”
On the most holy and solemn day of the Jewish year, I know that people who despise a group for their religion, color or ethnic background, diminish themselves, not the group they attack. Rather than reflecting on anti-Semitism, I will think about Jack Stein, and how he taught by example to survive terror and pain and to go on to live a good, long life surrounded by family and friends.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on July 10, 2000.
On my father’s eightieth birthday I will drive to Arizona with a sheet cake in the trunk big enough to feed 80 people. I can’t help but draw a comparison with the times my mom sent me off to school on my birthday with a treat for all the children in my class. It seems the circle is complete.
We baby boomers are watching our children grow up and move away to start families of their own. Amid our relief at the end of that responsibility, we look back and see our parents- aged, frail and in need. Having parents who are octogenarians is becoming the norm, not the exception.
My 80-plus parents now reside in a lovely retirement community where the staff is available 24 hours a day to help when needed. They went there kicking and screaming, but they went. Although I cannot imagine what it is like to give up a home and all it stands for, I can understand how an adult child feels when the world stands on its head and the parent becomes, not a child, but a dependent.
When my siblings and I were growing up, Dad said that the house was his castle and he was the king. He was a 1950’s dad and his word was law. No one dared question his authority. He paid the bills and we towed the line. How, I ask, can a man like that accept help from his daughter?
After they retired, my parents moved to Arizona to be closer to my sister and me. We thought at the time that that they were ensuring that they would be cared for in their old age. Now that we have gained some wisdom and a better perspective, we know that they moved closer to make it easier for us.
My parents were born and lived in the Midwest. They raised five children and lived in the same house for 30 years. After pulling up stakes, they built their dream house in Arizona with a spectacular view of the mountains. They shed their winter clothes and enjoyed warm, dry weather all year. Dad took to wearing bolo ties and Mom wore turquoise jewelry. They traveled extensively and loved every minute of it.
After my dad’s cancer diagnosis and my mother’s decision to stop driving, my sister and I began to worry. After one harrowing night when my dad’s temperature spiked, and my mother didn’t have a thermometer and had to go to a neighbor’s house for help, we really worried.
To our great relief, a state-of-the-art retirement community was built in their little mountain town. Instead of being as delighted as we were, they stalled and stalled and couldn’t bring themselves to plunk down the $1,000 deposit. “It’s so much money,” they complained. A small price for our piece of mind, my sister and I replied, if only to each other.
There is no worry like the worry of a parent for a small child. Terror is the province of the newly minted parent, standing helplessly by a crib and praying. There also is no worry like the worry of a child for an aged parent, standing helplessly by a hospital bed and praying. The desperation and fear of loss for the new parent are, for the most part, unfounded. For the adult child, it is very real.
I will drive with at trunkful of birthday cake for everyone at the retirement community with a grateful heart. I give thanks for my elderly, dependent parents who lived well into old age and accepted their final season. They let our roles reverse with grace. I will wish my dad well and silently thank God for the many blessings, often hidden in the midst of pain and frustration, that his 80 years have bestowed. I will carry the lessons his aging taught me and hope my children will learn them from me.
This piece was was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on June13, 2002.
“I did it, Mom, I’m married,” my normally reticent son was uncharacteristically buoyant.
He called me on his new bride’s cell phone from the courthouse in Manhattan, minutes
after the ceremony, on August 28, 2001. It was sudden, it was unexpected, it was a
As I spoke to him I recalled many moments from my son’s childhood – times we were linked by understanding, not by words. I remembered the time he got lost, at age six,
just three days after we moved to Los Angeles. I had not yet taught him his new address and phone number. The Missing Children Unit of the LAPD went looking for him. I was scared out of my mind, but on an intuitive level knew he was okay.
He didn’t learn to walk, he ran. The trips to the emergency room grew less frequent
as I learned to cope. I didn’t flinch as I watched him jump gracefully from trees and walls. He always landed on his feet. He fought forest fires with the National Forest Service,
departed for Australia with the California Conservation Corps and then moved to New
I watched with fascination and anticipation, not worry and regret. The lesson I learned
early on has served me well; it doesn’t pay to be a worry-wart mom.
Maybe it’s because I married on short notice at the courthouse thirty six years ago, or
maybe it’s because we are a very independent family, but I felt nothing but happiness
for my son and his bride. His sister, who stood up for him at the ceremony, got on the
phone and described the joyous day in her inimitable style.
“Mom, the bride threw the bouquet at me and it bounced off my chest like a boomerang,
so she tied it to my wrist with a ribbon.” Everyone was having fun, everyone was happy.
No one caused a scene, made a pass at the maid-of-honor, or otherwise spoiled a
Our daughter served as best man and sister all in one. The best man idea was
tongue-in-cheek, perfectly in keeping with a wedding free from convention, planning and
Having children of marriageable age, I see how families handle marrying off their kids.
I’m glad my son opted for the impromptu approach. I’ve attended weddings that cost as
much as a down-payment on a house. Invariably, tension permeated the proceedings.
The celebration of love and the age-old words of promise belong in the mouths of the
young lovers who speak them and shouldn’t be controlled by the old folks, hovering
around and complicating matters.
Invariably at the big extravaganzas, orchestrated and financed by the parents, there
are tales of mothers threatening to boycott the wedding the night before, drunken
revelers who wreak havoc, brides and grooms lost in the shuffle and stretched to the breaking point.
As I spread the happy news to my relatives and friends, most of them asked why I was
not distraught because I wasn’t there for the ceremony. They may think I am a mother
who doesn’t care about weddings and tradition and all that jazz. Perhaps they are right.
I accept my eccentric son, with his sudden decisions and his stress seeking nature.
This decision, I strongly suspect, was the best of the best. His sister sent photos galore
of the happy occasion via e-mail later that day.
She had shots of the bride and groom heading for the courthouse on the subway. At the
courthouse, the wedding party posed outside the chapel, all of them under the age of
thirty. The bride and groom posed on a bright summer morning outside the courthouse,
beginning their married life with an abundance of youthful optimism.
My son has run headlong into what life has to offer for all of his twenty-five years.
This new adventure holds the promise of commitment and growth, fun and adventure.
I wish my son and his new wife well on their mutual journey. His father and I stand well in the wings, cheering them on.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on September 9, 1995.
(my very first published op/ed!)
In an extremely self-conscious age, when we measure our words with careful precision, there is a group of people who are slandered, put down and treated with disrespect by a disturbing number of Americans.
People who have never uttered the “n-word,” who are respectful of all women and have never made a disparaging remark about Latinos, Asians and Native Americans will very casually treat this group of people with callousness and disregard.
Ageism is the last prejudice we allow to be expressed unchallenged in public, and no one seems to care. I have heard outrageous and downright mean things said about senior citizens that my contemporaries chuckle at. I feel dread when I hear some of the awful things that are said about older Americans.
As Manager of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), a program administered by the California Department of Aging, I worked very closely with elderly people for six years. My job was to train volunteers, all of whom were past the age of 65, in complex Medicare and related health insurance issues. The twenty-four hour training was followed by a ten-page written exam and an oral exam.
Even thought the volunteers were not being paid, they were very serious students who often surprised me with their ability to absorb information that left twenty-something staff trainees at a loss.
The longer I worked with seniors, the more perplexing I found the attitude held by my fellow baby boomers, and younger people, toward their elders.
Is the generation who trusted no one over the age of 30 in the ’60’s now ridiculing anyone over the age of 60 in the ’90’s? Is this the legacy of disrespect of an ungrateful generation?
I feel embarrassed when I think of my fellow boomers, in the throes of aging themselves, tossing aside the men and women who survived the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and raised the best fed, best educated, and most spoiled generation in the history of the United States.
I find the issues of aging to be of vital interest to all Americans. Yet when I told people what I did for a living, I was invariably greeted by a yawn. No one wants to think about the issues of aging and, in a youth-worshiping society, people ignore them.
As I recall the thousands of hours I spent in the company of elderly Americans, I am left with a feeling of pride, respect and even reverence. Their wisdom, their compassion and, yes, their grouchiness taught me a great deal about survival.
They should be our role models. Yet we put ourselves on a weight-loss program, color our hair, buy bifocals without lines and chase after an unattainable youthful ideal based solely on physical characteristics.
On a recent rip to a bookstore to pick up some summer reading I surveyed the autobiography section. I was disheartened to see books written by people in their thirties. I shudder to think of the loss this generation will eventually feel when they realize the great treasure they tossed aside in favor of reading about how a television actress dealt with the terrible dilemma of her series being cancelled.
I know there was a time when our nation’s elders were treated with respect and were allowed to live in dignity. That time has passed. We now live in a culture that disposes of things as well as people. The values held by a hard-working generation of people who worked together to raise their families, paid their taxes, and then retired, are now held in low regard.
The next time you hear someone joke about an old geezer, stop and consider the source of the humor. If you find yourself listening to an old person who is repeating himself, try to hear what new thing he is saying. When you feel impatient at the slowness of an elderly person who is ahead of you in line, think of the miles he has traveled.
Although conversing with an elderly person is not as entertaining as television, it may be ultimately more rewarding, for both of you.
Kathleen Vallee Stein