A Bit More from the Sunshine State

We went to Florida to check on the folks. We left on a cold Spring day from Albany and arrived two hours later to a warm breeze in Fort Lauderdale. We picked up the rental car and got on the highway heading to my mom.

“Enjoy this ride,” Gary, my husband, said with a laugh, “it’s going to be the best part of the trip.” I sighed and smiled.

My mother lived in an “active retirement community,” which featured 12 tennis courts, a huge community pool and abundant palm trees. Unfortunately, age, spinal stenosis, lung cancer, and bouts of congestive heart failure took their toll and my 82-year-old mom wasn’t so active anymore. After the latest health crisis, my brothers and I prodded her into accepting the need to move into an independent living facility in New Jersey, closer to family. This was our last visit in Florida before her move – we were, in part, going to help prepare her.

We arrived at the gate to the community, pushed the buttons to ring her and she buzzed us in on the first try. We drove to her unit and found her waiting outside with a broad smile, happy to see us and proudly showing us the art gallery she set up in her garage. The walls were lined with her creations from the past 20 years. I have some of her paintings hanging in my own house. She doesn’t paint anymore; she got frustrated when she felt she wasn’t improving.

Mom’s painting of their home in Livingston Manor which hangs on our bedroom wall. Mom and Dad’s ‘happy place.’

That day was a good one for Mom. Days were measured by pain level. Arthritis and deteriorating vertebrae are unpredictable; the pain can range from debilitating to manageable to nonexistent. My mother’s face lets us know exactly what the pain level is – it registers immediately in her coloring and in the sound effects that accompany any movement.

We visited with her for two days, ran errands and planned for her move north. We may have gotten in the swimming pool. I promised to come back down to help her pack just before the move.

Then we got back on the road and drove down to visit my in-laws in their retirement community.

Paula, Gary’s mom, has Alzheimer’s disease. The changes in her began about eight years ago. We have been fortunate in that it has been a very slow decline – long periods of time pass without further diminishment. But then there are dramatic changes. This visit we notice her eating habits changed. She craves sweets and she forgets that she has already indulged. This could be kind of funny, but it isn’t.

We ate breakfast and Paula took a Klondike bar for dessert. She enjoyed it thoroughly as she slowly savored the vanilla ice cream wrapped in a chocolate shell. She loves chocolate. We moved to the living room to sit and chat. After a couple of minutes, Paula asked, “Does anyone want an ice cream?”

“Paula, not now,” David said gently, reminding her that we were going out to lunch later.

She looked crestfallen, a small pout of her lower lip, but she acquiesced.

Gary suggested we take a walk. It took a while for Paula to prepare herself to leave the apartment. The four of us walked slowly, it is only about 100 yards to the pavilion with the pool. We found chairs in the shade and sat and chatted for a bit. Paula quickly turned restless, ready to return to the apartment.

“I think I’ll stay and read for a bit,” I said. Reading by a pool is one of my favorite things to do.

“Linda, you’ll come with us?” Paula half asked, half stated.

“Actually I think it will be all right if I stay and read for a little. I’ll be back in less than an hour, ok?” I looked to Gary to see if he was okay with this. He nodded.

“Ma, it’ll be okay,” Gary reassured Paula as he steered her back towards the apartment.

I watched them make their way through the gate. I took a deep breath and opened my book.

About 15 minutes later I heard the squeak of the gate and saw Gary and Paula heading toward me. Gary looked sheepish and said quietly, “I couldn’t distract her. She insisted on coming back to get you.”

I looked at Paula and smiled, “I’m sorry I worried you.”

“She thought the Cossacks would get you,” Gary said in my ear.

“Who would’ve thought that the Cossacks knew about the satellite pool in Pembroke Pines?”

It was a feeble attempt at humor. If you don’t laugh, you cry. Sometimes you do both.

And now for something completely different

When I was in elementary school I wrote poetry. I did it for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it was assigned by the teacher. I think there was a unit on poetry in each grade. But, there were other reasons, too. When I wrote a poem, I got positive feedback from the teacher and from my family, particularly from my mother and Zada. I responded to that encouragement by getting more interested in poetry.

As a child I liked reading poetry, too. Thanks to my mom, I grew up exposed to Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, among others. I remember checking poetry anthologies, along with fairy tales and Betty Cavanna books, out of the school library.

Zada, who hadn’t graduated from high school, appreciated the written word. I was in 4th or 5th grade when he asked me to type up my poems so he could keep a copy. I think there were about five poems on two pages. He took them from me, folded them up and put them in his wallet. I believe he shared them with friends and family. He would pull the pages out every so often to remind me that he still carried them. I think he still had them when he moved to Florida.

When I reached junior high school I had stopped writing poetry. I stopped writing creatively entirely. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe I stopped getting positive feedback. I don’t know if it is coincidence, but I stopped at the same time that my acute self-consciousness fully flowered. I was paralyzed by doubt. I periodically wrote in a journal during that time, but I was totally unwilling to share anything.

I didn’t write another poem, or share any of my writing, until a little over a year ago. As part of the first writer’s workshop that I took after I retired, we were asked to produce some poems. During that intensive four-day workshop, which was led by a poet, we were asked to not only write poems (and prose, too), but to share it with the group! Much to my amazement I was willing and able to do it. And nothing terrible happened – I didn’t die of embarrassment. It was liberating.

After that workshop, I focused on writing the stories I’ve been sharing on this blog. Lately, though, I have found myself writing prose that I think may be borderline poetry. I don’t know the definition of poetry, but what I’ve been writing is different than the narratives I’ve been posting.

Since this is my blog, and I am experimenting with my writing, I thought I would take a risk and put something different out there. So here goes…..two poems for your consideration.



[Note: I can’t figure out how to post the poems single-spaced! If anyone reads this far and knows how to do this on WordPress, let me know! Thanks]

Morning Ablutions

Pop out of bed

I’m late

I have nothing to wear

Fling open my closet

Pull out a drawer

Toss stuff on the bed

Settle on a trusty t-shirt and jeans

Into the bathroom

Run a pick through my hair

Brush teeth, rinse mouth

Grab my backpack

Head out to the bus


I stumble half-awake into her bedroom

Shhh, shush, it’s okay, little one

I lift her and hug her to my chest

She settles a bit

I carry her to the changing table

Tickle her belly with my nose

Remove the wet diaper

Wash and dry, sprinkle some talc

Put on a fresh one

Pick her up and bring her to the kitchen

Into the high chair

Some cheerios to munch

Yawn as I whisk her eggs.


Open my eyes

Reach for my glasses and I-phone on the night stand

Look at the time, peruse email, scroll Facebook

Nothing of interest

Sit up and put my feet on the floor

Get my legs under me

Shuffle to the bathroom, working out the kinks

Shake out the pills

Take some water, throw back my head and swallow

Apply moisturizer (with sunscreen) to my face and neck

Brush teeth

Throw on yoga pants and sweatshirt

Head downstairs for coffee


Rosh Hashanah 

Rosh Hashanah 1991

We enter the sanctuary

Before us a sea of curly dark hair

Dotted with white yarmulkes

Blue next to gray next to brown suit

White tallit draped across shoulders

Heads turn to note our entrance

I shift Daniel in my arms,

Grasp Leah’s little hand

Murmur “sorry” as we climb over congregants to

Settle into seats

We wait to hear the shofar usher in the new year.


Rosh Hashanah 2016

We enter the sanctuary

Before us small clusters of people

Sprinkled throughout the huge hall

Bald and graying heads

Covered by white yarmulkes

Gray, navy and black suits

Stooped shoulders beneath tallit

Heads turn to note our entrance

I follow Gary to the front section

We settle into our seats

We wait to hear the shofar usher in the new year.



Florida – The Sunshine State

I went on my first trip to Florida with Nana and Zada when I was in fifth grade. I’m not sure why I was chosen to go to Miami Beach with them – I was the fourth of the five grandchildren. It was my first time on a plane. I survived the flight without incident. I was proud of myself so I took the unused airsick bag as a souvenir and pasted it in my scrapbook.

It was dark when we emerged from the airport terminal in Miami and the three of us got into a checker cab to go to the hotel. The air outside was surprisingly soft. I had never seen a real palm tree before, but there they were: tall, narrow trunks lining the highway median, dark fronds etched against the violet sky. As I looked out the window of the cab, I could hear the music to the opening of the Jackie Gleason Show playing in my head and I wondered where the June Taylor dancers lived.


We stayed at the Sands Hotel. I shared a bed with Nana, while Zada had the other double bed. I was excited to go to the hotel pool and show them my swimming and diving skills. Unfortunately my shoulders got sun burned that first day and it was hard to swim after that. My skin was super sensitive and the tropical sun was a new and ferocious challenge.

We spent some time visiting family that I didn’t know and friends of Nana and Zada’s who were also on vacation in Miami Beach. Nana and Zada tried to make me comfortable, but I got terribly homesick. I was embarrassed that I was teary-eyed while we visited with Red Rose (Nana’s friends had colorful names – Goldie, Sugar and multiple Roses).

It got better when Uncle Terry and Barbara, his girlfriend (a year later she became his wife), joined us. Though it was off-season, we went to Hialeah Race Track. Zada, who loved the horses, regaled us with stories about Citation as we looked at the statue of that beautiful animal.

Uncle Terry, Nana, me and Zada in front of Citation (thank you Barbara for taking the picture; thank you Uncle Terry for sharing it with me!)

We decided to cut my trip short and I went home with Terry and Barbara while Nana and Zada continued their vacation. I came home sun burnt and disappointed with myself. Miami Beach felt to me like another borough of New York City, just sun bleached and hot.

I went to Florida with my parents every couple of years after that to visit the elders. Zada moved to Century Village in West Palm Beach in 1973. My father’s parents moved to Century Village in Deerfield Beach in 1974. One year we took a miserable ride on Amtrak (we arrived 24 hours late!), another year we drove. Those trips, usually during our April break from school, didn’t feel like vacations. They felt obligatory. They could also be fraught.

Zada met and married Laura not long after he moved into Century Village. Laura was no match for our memories of Nana. Even if you took that comparison out of the equation, I failed to see (m)any redeeming qualities. It was later speculated that Zada didn’t want to be a burden on his family, he didn’t have much money, and Laura did, so he did what he thought he had to and married her.

Laura hailed from Massachusetts and prided herself on her fine manners. I think she was of the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ philosophy. During our first visit with her, Mark and I were sitting by the pool playing some kind of board game while our parents were chatting nearby with Zada and Laura. We could easily overhear Laura grumbling about how crowded the pool got when all the grandchildren descended from the north like locusts during these vacation breaks. My mother responded icily, “Don’t worry, these grandchildren won’t be here again!” This was not the only time that my Dad had to calm Mom’s rage at Laura.

Despite that threat, we did go back down to Florida in the years that followed. Although I think it came as a surprise to my parents, they ended up becoming snowbirds themselves about 15 years later when they retired from teaching. They bought a place in Boynton Beach in 1988, not far from West Palm where Zada still lived (he outlived Laura by a number of years).

As an adult, with my own children, we would make the pilgrimage to visit the elders, too. Gary’s parents also wintered in Florida. After renting in various places in the Fort Lauderdale area, they settled in Century Village in Pembroke Pines.

We wanted our children to see their grandparents so we visited at least once each winter. Both sets of grandparents did their best to make it enjoyable – and it was. Except for one thing. I couldn’t escape the feeling that retirement communities were depressing. My parents were as active as people could be: Mom participated in no less than two book clubs, the cinema club, she learned to paint, she made jewelry and ceramics and more. She said she felt like it was the summer camp she never got to go to growing up. My Dad played tennis twice a day, worked out, played cards and continued to read voraciously. They went out to dinner several times a week. They couldn’t have been happier.

Gary’s parents were also quite active. David sang in the choir, performed with the Yiddish theater group, and served on the Board of the synagogue. Paula and David went to shul, socialized with a group of fellow Holocaust survivors and played cards several nights a week. They went to the shows at the clubhouse, and they would use the treadmills in the fitness center. Occasionally they went out to dinner, more often Paula cooked or they ate at the cafe on the premises. They too enjoyed their life in Florida tremendously.

Yet, it depressed me – even before their health started to fail. We would drive into sun-drenched Century Village, the buildings clustered like barracks, the tennis courts empty, the golf course sparsely peopled, the man-made lake with no discernible use just a decorative fountain in the middle, and I would feel the sadness descend. The same thing would happen when we drove into Banyan Springs where my parents lived, though it was less cookie-cutter and usually there were people on the tennis courts. It still felt artificial.

It felt disconnected from the regular rhythm of life. I had experienced that feeling before. When I moved into Cayuga Hall in College in the Woods at SUNY-Binghamton as a freshman I struggled. College and dorm life were supposed to be the best time of my life. Instead I felt disconnected, as though real life was going on somewhere else. I enjoyed college much more once I moved off campus.

While some of the melancholy I felt when we visited our parents’ communities stemmed from the constant reminder of our mortality that is a fact of life there, I think it was really that I never did much like summer camp (or dorm life). Too much forced camaraderie, too much pressure to join activities, too much judging of and by others. Maybe we aren’t meant to live only among our own age group at any stage of life – or at least I’m not. Taken all together, memories, associations and my temperament, I’m thinking, when the time comes, retiring to New York City sounds about right.

Zada, my cello and me



I was lugging my cello to the bus stop, finally bringing it home from Bildersee Junior High School so I could practice over the weekend. A familiar mustard-yellow Toyota Corolla pulled up to the curb next to me and I saw Zada, my grandfather, roll down his window. “Lindele, let me give you a ride home,” he called out.

“Thank you! How’d you know I’d be taking my cello home?”

“Your mother mentioned it to me, so I thought I would see if I could catch you on my way home from work.”

Zada was coming from Danilow’s, the commercial bakery where he worked, wearing his uniform: a white short sleeved shirt, white pants and black belt. Hunched over the steering wheel, he was nearing 70 years old.


I carefully manipulated the cello into the back seat and climbed in the front, relieved not to have to manage the cello on the bus – actually two buses and a long walk across Seaview Park to get home.

“It’s going to rain,” Zada told me. I saw no sign in the sky, so I asked, “How do you know?”

“I feel it in my bones. Uncle Michael told me he felt it in his leg this morning, too.” I harrumphed dismissively.

“What? You don’t believe me.”

“You can’t tell the weather with your bones,” I said, choosing to put my confidence in science instead.

Uncle Mike had badly broken his leg the previous summer and according to Zada (his father), it would function as a barometer for the rest of his life.

“Wait, you’ll see, you’re young,” Zada said.

Conversations with my grandfather often went this way. I could argue about anything with him, including the weather, but I usually didn’t make any headway and neither did he.


The Lived Experience of a White Girl (circa 1966 – 1976)

I have lived a mostly segregated life. It’s not that I wanted that for myself. At least I didn’t consciously make choices that would separate me from people of color, but it has worked out that way.

I have always been interested in the lives of other people. From a single trailer seen in passing from my car window as we drove through a desolate part of Wyoming to looking at the tenements from the elevated LL passing the New Lots Avenue station in Brooklyn, I have wondered what life was like for the people living in those places. That curiosity led me to books, but it didn’t lead me to friendships.

I think I would have had to make conscious decisions to seek out relationships with African-Americans or other people of color in order to reach across the barriers. When I thought about making that effort I wondered if it would come across as disingenuous, like George Costanza in the “Seinfeld” episode where he decides to find a black friend.

I think back to my experiences in elementary school in Canarsie. Classes were grouped ostensibly by academic ability. There was only one or, at most, two black students in my class in any given year, and they were boys. Curtis (not his real name) who was in my fourth, fifth and sixth grade class was very smart but was frequently getting into trouble for talking too much and he was regularly accused of instigating other kids to misbehave. In frustration, one day our fourth grade teacher asked for a volunteer to sit next to Curtis. I raised my hand eagerly, and I was selected. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time. Did I think I could befriend him? Did I think I could rescue him (as if he needed rescuing)? I honestly don’t recall how it turned out – whatever happened, it wasn’t dramatic enough to make a lasting impression. I can only imagine his humiliation. This was not a strategy used with any other misbehaving student and it certainly didn’t help to bridge the divide.

In 1972 the New York City Board of Education adopted a plan to bus black students into the two predominantly white junior high schools in Canarsie. My mother supported busing and I did, too. How else would we achieve integration? The plan, though, was received with tremendous hostility by white parents in Canarsie. It resulted in a boycott. Parents kept their children home from Bildersee (my junior high school) and John Wilson (the other junior high school in Canarsie) in protest.


This went on for a couple of weeks. I was literally alone in my 9th grade classes, just my teacher and me. I remember enjoying the one-on-one time with Mrs. Cohen, my English teacher. I also remember walking in the main entrance through a path laid out by the police and their sawhorses. Adults stood behind the barriers, yelling epithets at the few of us who went to school. (The picture above is actually of John Wilson JHS, but this scene was repeated at Bildersee. I don’t recall the policeman blowing his nose quite so ostentatiously.)

My dad was the administrative dean of Canarsie High School in those years so he was in charge of discipline. He was aware of the troublemakers in the neighborhood and had connections with the police. On one particular day Dad got wind of a planned confrontation between a group of Italian and African-American kids, so he found my brothers in their classes and sent them home. When there were threats of violence during the boycott, I stayed home from Bildersee, too.

The upshot of the boycott was that the busing plan was implemented and my relationship with one of my closest friends, Pia, was irreparably damaged.

Like many who lived in Canarsie, Pia’s family had recently moved from East New York to benefit from the better schools and escape the violence that plagued that neighborhood. The plan to bus black students signaled the beginning of the end to them, they believed white flight would certainly follow. I was more hopeful. While nothing was ever said directly, Pia never invited me to hangout at her house again and she was distinctly cool to me at school.

By the time I got to high school in 1973 racial tensions were at a fever pitch. The way the education system was structured there were very limited opportunities to interact across racial lines. Phys Ed, Health and some elective classes brought us together, though that was all pretty superficial in the scheme of high school life. The thing we could really bond over was rooting for our basketball and football teams. Fortunately Canarsie High School was very competitive. My senior year thousands of us went to the PSAL (Public School Athletic League, New York’s city-wide) basketball championship game between Canarsie and Lincoln High School at St. John’s Alumni Hall. That victory provided a moment of transcendence. While there were other moments, mostly connected to sports, it seemed to me that most of us lived our lives amongst our own.

It is ironic that my children, who grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Albany, New York, had genuine friendships with people of color and more opportunity for interaction than I did growing up in Brooklyn.