Two for the Price of One: Two Views

[Note: Another foray into prose/poetry]

Boundaries and Expectations


September 12, 1986

Partly cloudy skies.

Driving home alone, I could barely concentrate on the road.

My eyes welled up.


Will I be a good mother? Can I do this?

Minutes before,

what I suspected was confirmed.

This was planned, yet I was overwhelmed.

I took a deep breath,

focused on the road and the sky, made my way home.


Into our little brick house.

I rush to the phone to call Gary.

He is still on rounds at the VA.

I have him paged.

It takes many minutes, seemingly forever.


Hello, Lin?

I’m pregnant!

Wow! This is such great news!

When do you think you’ll be home?

The usual time.

You can’t get out early?

Linda, you know I can’t.


I sighed and exhaled, resigned to this reality.

Okay, we’ll talk later.

I was left to my thoughts.


Eight months crawl by.

I was not glowing with new life.

Queasy, tired, morning, noon and night.

Ear infection, bronchitis, heartburn

I didn’t enjoy sharing my body.


So many rules:

No caffeine, no alcohol, drink milk

I don’t like milk.

Vitamins the size of Pluto.

Alcohol was no loss, caffeine another story.

I’m responsible for this new life!

I don’t want to screw it up!


The due date kept changing.

First May 2, then May 11, finally May 16

That day comes and goes.

The longest gestation in history.

I am ready! Nature has its way, though.


May 20 Gary travels to Long Island to take part 4 of his medical boards.

My parents come up from Brooklyn to keep me company.

At 5 pm they leave me with friends and

head back home, Gary is on his way.

I feel some contractions: Braxton-Hicks or the real thing?


Gary gets home by 9pm.

My water sort of breaks after midnight.

We call the doctor.

He tells us to come to the hospital.

It is before dawn on Thursday morning.

We put the garbage cans by the curb before going to Albany Med.


27 hours, the last 7 hard labor,

an apt description.

First, no progress, then Pitocin – a brutal treatment.

Finally, I push!

Such a relief! My body is almost my own again.


4:39 am, Friday, May 22, I look at my baby.

Labor was hard on me, but she is perfectly formed.

She is part of me and yet, she might well be an alien.

We are one and we are separate.

I understand her; I feel her joy, her hunger, her frustration.

But I am clueless, she is a mystery.


I fall in love over those first few weeks.

Her wondrous eyes, sparking with light.

Her pink, smooth skin.

She emerges into herself.

Curious, demanding, loving.


30 years later and

it is all still true.


[Note: Gary’s remembrance of that same time]

September 12, 1986.  I was on rounds when I heard my name over the VA hospital intercom for the first (and only) time in my life.  The operator put me through. Linda tells me that we are going to be parents. You could have knocked me down with a feather.  I was elated and scared and excited.  She asked me if I could get home early that day.  But the patients cannot wait.  I work as fast and furiously as I can to get out early but 10PM is the best I can do.  I remember not being able to concentrate during rounds that day which is the one and only time that ever happened.

That VA rotation was in many ways horrible.  Perhaps it was also an experience in growing up.  The VA is an underfunded, second rate health care system and, in my mind, a poor excuse to offer people who fought for our country and now are down on their luck.  And, to be sure, if you are a veteran and have other health care available to you, you are not going to the VA.  So these are the guys who things have not gone well for after they came back home.

I was an intern along with two others on that rotation.  Claude Scialdone was another intern with me and he was amazing. I can’t remember who the third intern was but it was not someone who did all that much.  Worse than that, our resident who was supposed to guide and support us was an empty suit (perhaps an empty white coat is the better medical term?).  And the attending physician came by in the morning to round, as he was supposed to do, but did nothing else.  So Claude and I were basically two guys just out of med school trying to keep 40 very sick veterans alive with basically no help.

It was frightening and it was exhausting.  On a normal day, when I was not on call, I would get there before 7AM and get home anywhere from 8PM to midnight.  When I was on call I wouldn’t get home at all.

One particular patient still sticks in my mind.  He had been there since well before I started my 6 week rotation and he was often times confused, weak and kept running fevers.  I worked him up for sources of infection again and again.  I ordered chest x-rays to look for pneumonia, urine cultures and blood cultures but they repeatedly came back negative.  I asked my resident about the guy – I told him I was certain we were missing something.  There was something going on and we were failing to identify it.  The patient was treading water at best and sooner or later we were going to lose him.

My resident responded by asking me if any of the cultures had grown anything and the answer was no.  He then explained that this means he’s fine.  He wasn’t fine.  He wasn’t close to fine and I knew that in my marrow, but I was out of ideas and had no help.

At that time, the VA closely controlled the use of the newer, broad spectrum antibiotics.  If you ordered any of them, you automatically got an infectious disease consult.  Normally that might not seem like a problem, but in the Albany VA at that time, it meant you got Dr. Aldonna Baltsch on your floor. Dr. Baltsch was as feared as any doctor I have ever known.  She was a phenomenal, dedicated, passionate physician but she was also a perfectionist with a temper.  She would come in and yell at you for all the errors she determined you were making.  I think she just wanted to make us better doctors but perhaps didn’t exactly know how to go about doing it.  In any case, nobody ever wanted to see Dr. Baltsch around.

For that reason, nobody ever called for an infectious disease consult.  And the interns and residents became experts at using combinations of older antibiotics to avoid the newer ones that came with a dreaded visit from Dr. Baltsch.  But in this moment, I realized I feared the prospect of failing and losing this patient more than I feared Dr. Baltsch.

So I ordered a new wave, broad spectrum, expensive antibiotic when my resident wasn’t looking.  I did so because I knew that, while it would bring the holy wrath of Dr. Baltsch, it would also bring her expertise.  She came up and was really, really angry.  It was as if Mount Vesuvius was going to erupt and the lava would scorch us all.  However, as it turned out, her anger was entirely directed at my resident.  She never even spoke to me – which was fine with me.

And she ordered exactly the same tests I had ordered.  But this time, after they yet again came back negative, she ordered an LP (spinal tap).  That came back negative too but she told the lab to hold onto the spinal fluid sample longer for viral cultures and they eventually came back positive for Varicella (the virus that causes Chicken Pox).  Turned out he had Varicella encephalitis, an infection of his brain caused by that virus.  This is still the only case of Varicella encephalitis I have ever seen.

He was placed on antiviral antibiotics.  His fevers ceased after a few days and he finally started to get better.  Dr. Baltsch called for a special meeting of everyone in the entire department of medicine basically to humiliate my resident.  It looked like vultures picking at a carcass as the entire faculty went after the guy.  I almost felt sorry for him.

That rotation eventually gave way to others, some nearly as hard and some not quite as tough.

But fall turned to winter and winter to spring and then I took my boards exam on Long Island.  Knowing Linda was past her due date and could go into labor at any minute, I rushed through the exam.  It was the only time in my life that I was the first person out of the room on such an exam.  That night, Linda had spontaneous rupture of membranes (her water broke).  We took out the garbage and drove reasonably calmly to Albany Medical Center where she gave birth after 27 long hours of labor.

She was an amazing trooper.  No anesthesia.  One single dose of one pain killer.  Hour after hour.  I spent much of the time with her but also left to do rounds and see patients during parts of the process.  At the end, on May 22nd, Leah emerged, perfect, beautiful, alert and brilliant.  A miracle in our lives who has been such a great joy ever since.

Just a few hours after birth – Leah looking directly at the camera, alert and bright. Gary, on the other hand, exhausted.

Leah was a force of nature.  It is hard to explain how even in those earliest days she had a spirit and a liveliness and a curiosity.  I felt like she saw and understood the world around her in ways that most babies could not and her smile melted my heart.  Life had taken on new meaning and I fell in love with her.

Still I was torn.  I could not devote less time to my patients than what I felt I needed to.  And yet I wanted to be home; to be with Leah; to help Linda who was in some ways almost a single parent. She was exhausted and I was exhausted.  And I could not do all I wished I could do.  I could not do all Linda needed me to do.

Having already completed all of the hardest rotations in May of 1987, my last rotation of internship was scheduled to be an easy one in a community hospital very near our house.  It was going to be perfect.  I would be working a short walk from our house, the hours would be reasonable.  A long, hard winter was about to give way to a beautiful spring and hours with Leah and Linda.  It didn’t work out that way.  On the day Leah was born, an intern quit the program and the department of medicine met to determine who should cover that intern’s rotation. They decided I should cover it.  I was back in the VA hospital.

An Unexpected Weekend in Erie, PA


Gary had a break for the Christmas holiday during his second year of medical school and I had off from work at the City of Pittsburgh Finance Department, so we planned a trip to Buffalo. Where else would one go during Christmas week?

Why Buffalo? In a remarkable turn of events, my two brothers married two sisters who were from Hamburg, a suburb of Buffalo. Consequently, though my brothers and their wives lived in New Jersey and Albany respectively, they frequently spent the holidays with their mutual in-laws. In addition, my closest friend, Merle, was getting her PhD in psychology at the University of Buffalo. So we decided to make the trip for the long weekend. It promised to be fun, especially since I would also get to see my totally adorable almost two year old nephew.

We had a car – barely. I had purchased my uncle’s 1972 Toyota Celica for $100. It had a manual transmission. It rarely started when I turned the key in the ignition. Fortunately Pittsburgh is quite hilly so we would most often push the car to the nearest hill, get it rolling and pop it into gear. Renting a car seemed much more sensible than risking the trip with the Celica, so we did.

December 24 was a cold, partly sunny day in Pittsburgh in 1983. We picked up the rental and started north on route 79. We were enjoying the ride, listening to music and munching on some snacks. About 90 miles out of Pittsburgh some snow started to fall – we were approaching Meadville. We weren’t too concerned and continued on our way.

The snow grew heavier and heavier as we proceeded north. This was the definition of lake effect snow. By the time we got to the turnoff for route 90 East, just outside of Erie, we were in whiteout conditions. I opened my window and leaned my head out and tried to help Gary to stay on the road. We literally could barely see a foot in front of us.

We saw a sign for an upcoming exit and decided we had to get off the road. At the end of the ramp was a Holiday Inn, we pulled into its parking lot and debated what to do. It was still barely past noon. We listened to the weather forecast on the radio. They were reporting blizzard conditions in Erie. No kidding!!! It didn’t sound promising.

Other cars were following us off the road and into the parking lot and we realized that if we didn’t register soon, we might not get a room. Gary parked, we took our suitcases and, as it turned out, got the last room available.

We settled in, turned on the tv, read the newspaper that we brought from Pittsburgh and relaxed. We called Merle and then we called my brothers’ in-laws. While conditions weren’t quite as bad in Buffalo, the New York State Thruway was closed. We agreed that we would wait and see if we could continue the trip the next morning. Meanwhile conditions worsened outside. The wind picked up and the temperature plummeted.

We thought we would venture out for dinner, since there was a restaurant just down the road. We bundled up and left our room to find cots in the hallway and in the conference room near by. We were quite lucky that we got that room. I felt bad for the families that were celebrating their Christmas on cots in the hallway.

We made our way to the car with difficulty, the wind had caused impressive snow drifts. Looking at the accumulated snow, it was still snowing hard, the wind was howling, we realized we weren’t going anywhere. In the short time that we had been outside, my feet were nearly frozen. We hurried back into the Holiday Inn.

The staff set up tomato soup and cheese sandwiches for everyone. That was dinner and we were grateful for it.

We went back to our room and went to sleep.

The next day, Christmas day, was brilliantly sunny. We had gotten over two feet of snow, the wind was still blowing and the temperature, without windchill, was barely above zero. We went out to clear the car off and see if we could go get some breakfast. The car wouldn’t start! I called AAA. It was going to be a while until they could get to the car. We went back to the room.

The day before we had exhausted most of the resources we had with us to entertain ourselves. We got pretty creative (perhaps not the way some people would get creative). Using the chart in the newspaper, we quizzed each other on the high and low temperatures in cities across the United States and world. It was amazing how long we amused ourselves with that! Our room had sliding glass doors that had thick frost on them and we played hangman in the ice. The window would refrost fast so we were able to play multiple rounds!

Now it was Christmas day and since the car wouldn’t start, we flipped through the channels on the television. The options were quite limited. In that day and age, I don’t think the motel had cable, there were only three stations available in a place like Erie. The Yule log was on one channel. Another was off the air for the holiday. The last one featured the local middle school choir singing Christmas carols. While that was on, we saw a commercial advertising an NCAA basketball game coming up at noon. We couldn’t believe our luck, we love college basketball! At least we’d have something to watch for a couple hours.

The appointed time came and the local station announced that they were going to replay the middle school Christmas concert! Gary and I were beside ourselves. I pulled out the telephone book and found the number for the tv station. Gary called and surprisingly someone answered. Gary asked why they were replaying the concert when the network was broadcasting a basketball game. The person on the phone was none too pleased to be bothered and explained, as if Gary was an idiot, that it was Christmas and this is what people would want to watch. Gary responded, “It’s Christmas in Pittsburgh, too, but they’re getting to watch basketball! Why can’t we?!!” Not surprisingly, the guy from the station wasn’t moved by Gary’s argument. Gary slammed the phone down in frustration.

By the time the car got jumped, it was dinner time, too late to leave. We realized that it didn’t make sense to continue on to Buffalo. We decided we would stay another night in the Holiday Inn and go back to Pittsburgh the next morning. Fortunately, we were able to drive to the Ground Round for dinner! We enjoyed a cocktail and took our time eating. At least we were out of the hotel!

To our great relief, the next morning the car started. It was still brutally cold. We got back on route 79 and headed south. We were disappointed in how the weekend turned out, to say the least. Not to mention the money we spent for our trouble. Just to put a cherry on top, a bird dive bombed into the middle of the front windshield as we were driving. I don’t know why the suicidal bird picked our car, but now it was splattered across the windshield. Gary tried using the wipers, but the fluid was frozen and the wipers just smeared the bird’s remains. I had a brilliant idea. I had a cup of diet soda that I thought I could rinse the feathers and blood off. I leaned out the window and poured it on the mess. It froze instantly! Now the bird remains were coated with diet coke – at least if I had been drinking 7up it wouldn’t have looked so awful. We pulled over to clean it enough to see, and then continued on our way, shaking our heads in disbelief.

We made it back to Pittsburgh without further incident. We returned the car and said nothing to the agent about the mess on the window. As we walked away we started laughing. The whole weekend had been so preposterous. We laughed so hard there were tears rolling down our cheeks. At least we survived and had a story to tell.

Starting Over

I stood at the podium looking out over a banquet hall filled with my colleagues. Since I had no prepared remarks, I was trying to come up with something. What did I want to say?

The executive director of the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), for whom I had worked for the last 9 years, had just introduced me by offering some left-handed compliments, noting my penchant for speaking my mind. Happily for him, the reason we were in the banquet hall was that I was retiring.

The party wasn’t only for me. A colleague, who had worked for NYSSBA for over twenty years, was also being honored. He had already been introduced and made heartfelt remarks about how much he enjoyed his career. He was genuinely moved and spoke haltingly, emotionally about his appreciation for the organization.

When my turn came to take the podium, I wasn’t at all sure what I felt. In the weeks leading up to the luncheon I couldn’t get myself to focus on writing remarks. After all, most of the reason that I was retiring at age 55 was that I was unhappy in my work. I was tired of fighting the good fight and getting nowhere. I couldn’t very well stand up and say that, despite my penchant for speaking my mind. I made innocuous remarks, thanking the people who I did enjoy working with and I wished everyone well. It was time for me to turn the page and start a new phase of my life.

It is unlikely that anyone reaches 55 years of age without starting over a few times. Whether the impetus is retirement, a relationship ending, or moving to a new city or changing jobs, it is almost impossible to avoid starting over in the course of a life. Some might actually seek out new starts, finding the prospect exciting and challenging. I am not one of those people. I like the idea of change in theory, but the reality is hard.

When district lines were redrawn when I was a child in Brooklyn and I had to attend a different junior high school than my elementary school classmates, I struggled. When my then fiancé, now husband, was accepted to medical school in Pittsburgh and I uprooted from New York City to join him, I had a tough time adjusting. When budget cuts closed the Legislative Commission on Expenditure Review, where I worked and enjoyed my job, I was angry and resented having to find a new job.

While those new starts were thrust upon me, the decision to retire as soon as I was eligible was a choice I made. After much ruminating, and discussion with Gary (husband, see above), I decided to retire, collect my minimal pension, and pursue writing. Perhaps that sounds simple. It wasn’t.

The decision was fraught on many levels. For one thing, I worried about how my retiring from paid employment would affect my marriage. Gary and I have spent a lot of time negotiating the balance of our relationship – balance in terms of finances, child care and household responsibilities, and attention to each other. Other than the first 8 years of our 33 year marriage (and counting), Gary has been the major breadwinner.

I supported Gary through medical school and continued to work when we started our family, but once he was in medical practice, he earned far more than I did. Gary never held that over my head, he wasn’t one of those husbands who begrudged me a new pair of shoes. He didn’t review the credit card statements. But, that isn’t the point. The point is that Gary works very hard, long, stressful hours. I think he felt a sense of relief, of shared burden, when I was working (for pay, that is).

Having grown up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I bought the idea that women could have it all – family, marriage and career – hook, line and sinker. I wanted a career, I believed I should have a career. I felt like a failure when I finally admitted to myself that I could not balance it all. I thought it would get easier when the kids got to be school-age, but it didn’t. The running refrain in my head at the time was that I was doing a shitty job wherever I was – at home or at work.

Although I had a lot invested in my identity as a career woman, the reality was that I was working for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in a job that made me feel like I was living in a Kafka novel. It was not the vision I had for myself when I started the master’s program in public administration and policy at Columbia University. I thought I would help people by pursuing a career in public service, hopefully in education policy. Somehow I found myself in a job that was as far from helping people as one could get. I had to do some serious mental gymnastics to connect what I was doing to the public good.

When it became financially feasible for me to stop working and stay home with the kids, I did. I thought long and hard before doing it. I still held on to the idea that I should be doing something productive to help people and get paid for it. I considered looking for a new (more satisfying) job, but the truth was, with the demands of Gary’s career and two young children, I felt like working full time might lead me to a nervous breakdown. I was already well on my way to one. So, I stopped. I spent the next 11 years mostly staying home.

I told myself when I stopped work that I would write. Now that I was home, I thought I would try writing a fictionalized version of my childhood. I always wanted to write – I was always composing sentences in my head, describing the scenery or people I observed. At various times in my life, I wrote in a journal but I never moved beyond that. I thought I was finally ready to do it. I wasn’t. If I shared my writing I would subject myself to judgment that was too close to the bone, too close to judging my worth as a person. I couldn’t expose myself in that way, even under the guise of writing fiction.

Instead I did a bunch of other things on a freelance basis. I became an impartial hearing officer who heard disputes between parents and school districts about services for students with disabilities. I did that sporadically for about five years, until they changed the law and required hearing officers to be lawyers. I could have continued, they grandfathered the current pool in, but it didn’t seem right to me. If the belief was that a law degree was necessary, and I could see the wisdom of that, then I decided I shouldn’t continue.

I became a facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League’s World of Difference Program, a multicultural, diversity education program, and I did that on a freelance basis.

I also got involved in my kids’ school. I volunteered in their classrooms and in the library. I went to PTA meetings. After about two years of doing that I ran for the school board and was elected. I served for nine years.

When our son was in his junior year of high school and our daughter was a freshman in college, I thought it was time to go back to work full time. The pressure of two college tuitions, and my desire to get back to a career, led me to start to look for work. That turned out to be complicated. It seems that the various freelance positions I held, and serving on the school board, looked like a hole in my resume.

Finally, based on my school board service and the support of someone in the organization, I found a job with the New York State School Boards Association. I stayed for nine years. During that time, in my opinion, education reform was moving in the wrong direction. Too much emphasis on tests, misuse of the tests to evaluate teachers, charter school expansion that drained resources from public schools, Race to the Top….I could go on and on. I tried to advocate within my organization to take a stand against these policies, but I rarely made progress. After 18 years immersed in public education, and reaching age 55, I decided I had enough.

At the same time, I started to think again about writing. I had never stopped thinking about it actually. Most of my days at work were spent writing, but it wasn’t the type of writing I wanted to do. I thought maybe I was finally ready.

Lucky for me, my children knew I needed a nudge. As a retirement gift, they signed me up for a writing workshop at the Capital Region Arts Center. It was three hours each night over the course of four consecutive evenings. I was both terrified and excited.

The class started on a lovely summer evening in mid July. I was nervous about finding the Art Center and parking in Troy, so I left myself a lot of time. I am chronically early and this was no exception. The classroom was still locked, so I wandered around the Center and looked at the art exhibits. I found the vending machines. I tried to distract myself.

I went back to the classroom. I felt hopeful, but unsure of what to expect. The door was unlocked and there were a few people in the room. It turned out the workshop was led by a poet. I hadn’t written a poem in…I couldn’t remember when – probably in junior high school when we were forced to. The workshop was described as ‘generative,’ which meant that participants were able to work on whatever type of writing they wished. So, poetry wasn’t required. Phew!

There were only five other people in the class, all women, several of them looked to be about my age, the others definitely younger. The poet-leader was a young man. After brief introductions, Victorio read a poem to us, which was in the form of a letter to oneself. After he read it, he asked us to take 20 minutes and write something to ourselves. The six of us spread out in the room. I took a spot on the windowsill, looking out on the Hudson River.

I did not have difficulty finding words. I wouldn’t call it a poem, it was prose, but it wasn’t a narrative either. I wrote freely. I surprised myself.

After 20 minutes, we came back together. Victorio didn’t ask for a volunteer to read first. He simply called on me. My jaw dropped; the moment of truth. I know he saw the fear in my eyes, but he didn’t flinch and he didn’t let me off the hook. I stopped thinking, looked down and read the words I had on the page. I didn’t look up until I finished.

I honestly don’t remember the substance of the comments. What I remember is that it was okay. I survived. There was criticism, all of the constructive variety. (In that I was fortunate – none of the women turned out to be jerks, and Victorio set a great example for us.) There was encouragement. And, most important, I didn’t die of exposure or embarrassment!

Driving home that night, I was almost giddy. It felt like a burden had been lifted. Ahhh, liberation…..I could finally try to do what I had always wanted to do. In that moment I certainly didn’t know if I would ever be published (and still don’t), but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know where the process would bring me, but I knew something had changed inside. I had begun a new path.

Maybe it wasn’t really starting over at all. Maybe it was a coming home of sorts, coming home to myself.

Another Road Trip and Another Letter from Zada

My parents and I spent much of the summer of 1973 in Colorado. My dad had applied for and received a grant to study for his administrative certificate in education at the University of Colorado in Boulder. So we took another road trip. My brothers weren’t with us. Steven was working at Ackerman’s Hotel (which contrary to what I thought at the time was NOT in the Poconos, but was in the hills of Morristown, New Jersey) and Mark was working at a summer camp in upstate New York. I wasn’t usually in the habit of missing my brothers, but I did that trip.

The three of us left Brooklyn in our Chevy Impala, the huge backseat all to myself. I had books and a transistor radio to entertain me. For some reason my parents were not getting along. There was a lot of arguing about directions, among other things. My mom navigated using the AAA triptik while my dad drove. This was obviously long before GPS and my father was basically dyslexic when it came to directions – more on that later.

I wasn’t enjoying this road trip. I fiddled endlessly with my radio, trying to tune in to music stations that reminded me of home. Whenever Bad, Bad Leroy Brown or Kodachrome came on, it lifted my spirits. My dad, a high school social studies teacher, didn’t appreciate the latter song, something about ‘when I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all’ offended him. Other than the music, I felt kind of lonely. The bleak Midwest landscape didn’t help.

The AAA book about Nebraska and Colorado said that when we left Nebraska and entered Colorado we would soon see the Rocky Mountains in the distance. I looked hard, but all I could see was the gray sky and drab prairie. We made it all the way to Denver and we still didn’t see the mountains!

We were staying on the University of Colorado campus and I had a single room in a high rise dormitory. My parents were next door in a suite. It was a relief that we each had our own space. We arrived in the evening and got settled in.

The next day miraculously the mountains appeared! They looked like a painted backdrop just like I had seen in so many John Wayne westerns. It was shocking since the day before the fog and cloud cover had been so thick that I would’ve sworn they weren’t there. I learned that they called the foothills the ‘flat irons,’ and it was an apt description. Things were starting to look up – literally. At that point I had only ever seen the Catskill Mountains, and I quickly understood that while they may have been pretty, they weren’t real mountains.

Boulder Flatirons
The ‘flatirons’ that moved in overnight!

I was 13 years old and my view of the world broadened immensely that summer. From appreciating nature much more, seeing the continental divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and watching a thunderstorm below us on Pike’s Peak were awesome to behold, to seeing that people lived very different kinds of lives – my eyes were opened.

While we were in Colorado, Uncle Terry and Aunt Barbara, who were also teachers like my parents and had the summer off, took their Toyota Celica and yorkie, TJ, on their own road trip. They drove from Brooklyn to Alaska! Though not exactly on their way back, they came by and visited us in Boulder. We went horseback riding, played volleyball and generally had more fun – a theme in my young life. Things were more fun with Uncle Terry and Aunt Barbara around. In addition, Uncle Terry and my parents mapped out a sightseeing trip for us before we went back to Brooklyn.

While we were in Boulder we went to a rodeo. I can thank that rodeo for opening my eyes to two other issues I was only vaguely aware of – sexism and animal cruelty. I was horrified by the rodeo on so many levels. I learned how they got the bulls to buck – strapping their testicles back or by using some kind of electric prod (that may not be how they do it today, though it still doesn’t seem like a humane activity for either the bull or rider). Not to mention finding the prospect of a cowboy being trampled by the bull sickening. Part of the entertainment involved a pretty young woman dressed up in a gingham dress who acted dumb. We were supposed to laugh – I wasn’t laughing. As far as I knew, Brooklyn had never hosted a rodeo, which to my mind made it infinitely more civilized, even if the streets were more violent. I haven’t gone to a rodeo since.

Dad successfully completed his program and we left Colorado and started the road trip that would eventually take us home. We headed to Salt Lake City, then to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and last, the Badlands.

While I had heard of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I didn’t know anything about the religion. Another eye-opening experience. Coming from an academic family that was only culturally Jewish, the story of the Mormons struck me as other worldly. With my natural skepticism, I found it hard to believe that others put faith in the story of John Smith, all the more preposterous to me because it started in, of all places, Western New York.

As I noted before, my Dad had a terrible sense of direction. That ‘disability’ was on full display as we tried to navigate around Salt Lake City. We headed to the Great Salt Lake, only to be thwarted by confusing signs (at least to my Dad) and we kept missing the turn, heading toward Provo (the opposite direction) three times before we finally got it right. When we finally did make it to the lake, there was some kind of fly infestation there. We took one quick look and got back in the car and drove back to our motel in Salt Lake City, or at least tried to. Whenever we went out to see the sights we would have great difficulty finding our way back to the motel. I think we finally had it figured out when it was time to leave. Next stop the Grand Tetons.

We drove through long stretches of desolation in Wyoming getting to Grand Teton National Park and then again when we were leaving Yellowstone. We passed towns named Ten Sleep and Emblem where the population would be 10 or 30! I wondered if they changed the sign for each birth or death. I noticed a truck stop with a trailer next to it, and nothing else, I mean nothing else, for as far as the eye could see. It appeared that whoever ran the truck stop lived in the trailer and that was his world. I couldn’t imagine the isolation, though I tried. My father remarked, only half joking “Maybe we could bring half the population of Brooklyn here. It would be better for everybody.”

Yellowstone was another revelation. The weather was not cooperating, a persistent cold rain threatened to ruin the sightseeing. My dad, in his frustration, complained, “I didn’t come all this way to get pissed on!” I tried not to laugh from my spot in the back seat but couldn’t help it. All of us started laughing, defusing the tension. Fortunately the rain did stop and we got to see the incredible geological anomalies that dot Yellowstone while staying dry. The Mammoth Hot Springs, the geysers, paint pots, mud volcanos, there was so much to see.

Despite all the wonders or maybe because there was so much, we managed to get on each other’s nerves. This time my mother was making me crazy. As we walked through the Mammoth Hot Springs, which looked like giant, steaming wax candles, I complained to my dad, “I can’t stand Mom’s attitude. She marches through each site and commands us when it’s time to move on. It takes all the fun out of it.” Dad tried to explain that she just wanted to fit as much as we could into each day. He reminded me that I was old enough to wander the sites on my own.

Another lesson from Yellowstone: I learned how stupid people could be. Despite all kinds of warning signs about staying away from bears, naturally someone had to test the premise. We were driving along the main park road when traffic came to a stop. Looking ahead, my dad started jumping up and down in his seat, his hand thumping the steering wheel with each jump. “Feige, Feige, look!” he was so excited, like a little boy, I had to smile. There was a bear a couple of cars ahead of us. We stayed in our car, windows rolled up, watching. A person in a small camper ahead of us got out of their vehicle with a camera to get a closer picture. The bear noticed and moved toward her. She hurried back into the camper and safely got in, to my great relief, (though a small part of me was rooting for the bear). The bear, spotting a red round object at the end the camper’s radio antennae, must have thought it was food, grabbed for it. Frustrated when it wouldn’t come off, the bear pounded on the hood. We watched the vehicle rocking under the weight of the bear. Finally he ripped the antennae off, angry that it wasn’t food, threw it down and slunk off back into the forest. “How could anyone be so stupid?” I asked. My parents had no answer.

Seeing the Grand Tetons, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore left indelible images in my mind. I had a much better understanding of the grandeur and power of nature. I also had a much greater appreciation for John Denver’s song Rocky Mountain High, which was ubiquitous on the radio.

There came a point, after seeing Mount Rushmore, where I had had enough. I don’t remember how long we had been on that road trip, but I had spent more than a month where it was just me and my parents. Riding in the car and staying in a single motel room made for tight quarters. Enough was enough. I made my stand at the Badlands. I wouldn’t get out of the car to look. I wanted to just go home.

Now who was stupid? I didn’t really see the Badlands and I’m pretty sure I ruined it for my parents. We headed home.

Aside from my new appreciation for the beauty in nature, my broader view of life in America, I came back to Brooklyn looking forward to seeing my brothers!


Another letter from Zada:

Road trips were something of a theme in my family. The following is a letter I received from Zada detailing a trip he took with two of his siblings. When he wrote this letter, it was just over a year after my trip out west and he had moved to West Palm Beach. Oddly enough the letter is written on stationary from the Holiday Inn of Kankakee (Illinois).



My Darling Linda,

I sometimes wonder, what kind of gift can a grandparent (if it is not money), delight a granddaughter with. In my case I presume telling her a tale of his interesting past would please her and give her something viable to remember him by. Therefore I have chosen this occurrence, that I shall call the “West Point Story” with the hope that she will not find it a boring one.

The time is the summer of 1930. I had just purchased a Model A Ford limousine, which I subsequently christened “Ramona.” The eight years in the life of Ramona (the car) were very exciting. Many a glad tale revolved about and around her existence. This tale is only one of the experiences in which she was involved.

I was a carefree soul in those days, and I decided on a picnic in the country. I invited my sister, Lily, and my brother, Sidney, to be my guests. My plan was to ride to Bear Mountain and view the picturesque scenery of Upper New York State. Remember we were city people, surrounded by tenements, and the hubbub of city life with all its noises, etc.

How refreshing was the clear air, the balmy breezes, as we rode with open windows, scanning the beautiful scenery. We arrived and had lunch at the Bear Mountain Inn, and then knowing that the West Point Academy was nearby, why not visit and watch the cadets parade?

From May to September it was the custom that after classes at precisely 4 p.m. the cadets, under supervision, would march as part of their training. We arrived in time to find a parking place, and we, in the company of about 3000 more spectators, wended our way to the parade grounds.

The parade begins, it is one of the most spectacular sights to see. The colors are born by 4 cadets followed by the Army band blaring for the “Stars and Stripes Forever.” You get goose pimply and possessed with pride that you are an “American,” and that these young men will be our protectors in times of strife. (Ask Uncle Jack and Uncle Morris and they will verbally describe to you the glow that permeates your whole being.) Have you ever heard how Albie Booth used to run through the Harvard Line, or how Bob Cousy would dribble down a basketball court, or how the Roxy Rockettes would dance in unison? Then you have a very good idea of how thrilled we were watching such symmetry in motion. The parade is over after the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. The bugles play taps and we are ready to make the trip home.

But I am not satisfied. I decide to do the whole bit. I will tour the area, show Lily and Sidney the new gym being built, the library, the auditorium, the classrooms, etc. I purposely underlined new gym because this is exactly where this unique happening took place. Now picture me driving and pointing out the various sites, not realizing that I was driving past a dead end sign. When all of sudden Ramona seems to fall, and we find ourselves, in what I thought was a ditch. But lo, no such luck. It was a square pit about 20 feet on each side, naturally it stands to reason, if it was square each side would be 20 feet. To my chagrin it was also 2 feet high. Now as good as Ramona was, her wheels were not built to climb walls. What to do? I am in a quandary. The sun is beginning to set and soon it will be dark. I tell my brother and sister to stay in the car, while I go to seek help.

I walk toward the main road and fortunately I see a squadron composed of 16 cadets, and I assume that the one in charge must be the leader. They are in formation, and probably as was their wont, marching back to their quarters. I step in front, put up my hand, like a traffic cop. On command they halt. I approach the leader, and in the most sorrowful tone, I exclaim, “Captain,” (I really did not know his rank, but I thought it would be complimentary to address him in that manner.) “I did the most stupid thing imaginable.” I explain that my sister and brother are marooned in the car, that I had foolishly driven into a hole and that I could not extricate the vehicle. He asked where the car was, and this is when it all happened.

Now he really became a squad commander, it was “squad left, squad right,” and when we arrived at the place it was “squad halt!” I forgot “squad, forward march.” Now he surveys the scene, then like a drill he orders by name 4 cadets on each side of Ramona. Then the order comes out in a stentorian voice, “Squad, heave to, and lift the car off the ground!” Then turning to me, in the same tone, “which way do you want to face the car?” I said, meekly, “Toward the main road so that I can be on my way.” Meanwhile the squadron was holding Ramona aloft. And then in the same manner, he ordered the four cadets in front of the car to take positions in the rear and then what seemed like a super human effort, his voice rang out, “Men, propel the car onto level ground!” and with all their might, they did just that.

We thanked him profusely and he answered. “It is all in a day’s work. We were glad to be of service.”

Then the orders began again “Squad, fall in formation! Squad, forward march!” They marched away like true American soldiers that had followed orders and helped people in distress.

I’ve heard so many contradictory stories about our men in the armed services, but I can never forget the sterling qualities of our West Point Cadets.

Darling Linda, like most of the things that happened to me, I end this letter with the old cliché, “You had to be there to appreciate the incident.”

As ever devotedly,


P.S. I am making a copy of this letter and sending it to Laurie. I wish for both of my lovelies to be amused.           – CS