An ‘Aha’ Moment

I’m not sure what happened exactly, but something has crystalized for me. I have been writing this blog, participating in writing groups, taking classes online and in person and spending countless hours thinking over the past 7 ½ years, but it is only in the last month that it has become clear to me that I do have a book I want to write. Actually, there are three of them (I think)! But I have chosen one theme to pursue because it feels ready. That is why my blog writing has been sporadic. I have been channeling my writing energy into the book.

Maybe it isn’t exactly accurate to call it an ‘aha moment’ because it wasn’t a single moment really – more of an accumulation of moments. It is a funny thing because I have toyed with this idea – exploring how the Holocaust has influenced Gary and myself and the family we have created – for years. I felt like there was something there, but I couldn’t get at it. I couldn’t figure out the arc of it. I was writing all around it. Finally, I see it. At least I hope I do! I hope I can sustain the vision to see me through to the end of this project.

It has been a lot of work. I would have thought, with all the blog posts I have (over 300 of them!), that it wouldn’t be that difficult to piece it together. But there is a lot missing – big chunks are needed to knit the story together. The process of filling it in has brought a lot more memories and a lot more questions.

I’ve also wondered if I should share these new pieces on the blog. There is a part of me that wants to keep it for the book. There is also the practical matter of sharing some of these stories with the people involved before I make it public. With the blog, my policy has been if another person is being written about in any significant way – other than a tribute to them – I email them the piece to get their feedback. Fortunately, everyone has been supportive – there have been essays that have benefited from another perspective and only one that I killed all together. I am not interested in writing anything that is hurtful – certainly not deliberately – and if there is some pain in the story, it has to serve a purpose and permission of any of the involved parties. Gary and Mom are the two that this has really applied to, and they have been unbelievably supportive, encouraging me to write my truth.

I have no idea whether I will be able to find a publisher for this book, or whether I will publish it myself, or whether, once I finish it, I will feel satisfied to share it with friends and family and leave it at that. We’ll see. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. There is a lot involved in that process that can be overwhelming, so right now I want to focus on the story.

One of the things that may have contributed to clarifying my purpose was visiting YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research. I took some of the documents and photographs that had been stored in my in-laws’ house, some from their war years – to YIVO to see if they were appropriate to be archived there. I met with an archivist and he was quite receptive. He also offered insight into some of the items that brought more of it to life. Some of that may or may not find its way into the narrative I am writing, but the importance of documenting their story, but not just their story, became more evident to me. Yes, their story must be preserved and to a large extent it has been by Laura Bakst, Gary and my niece, who wrote and successfully published The Shoemaker’s Son (available on Amazon, among other places), which details Paula and David’s journey. My focus isn’t to document their story, though I will recount it in less specificity, but on what it has meant to Gary and myself in terms of our Jewish identity and what we tried to pass on to our children and their children. My family of origin was also deeply impacted by the Holocaust in a wholly different way, and I want to share that as well.

Over these years that I have been writing I struggled with the merit of our story – not Paula and David’s, there is no question that it must be preserved (and has been in several ways). After all, there is nothing extraordinary about me or my family (of course I think my children and grandchildren are extraordinary!). But, going to YIVO made me reevaluate the idea that it isn’t worthwhile.

We live in a world where antisemitism continues to thrive. We live in a world where people are traumatized – by violence, by hate, by war. Ordinary people must cope with those realities, and they pass it on to their children, sometimes in the form of fear, but also resilience, as well as a myriad of other impacts. As an ordinary Jew, the Holocaust, even though it happened before I was born and long before my children were born, has shaped us in important ways, including my relationship with faith. I am exploring that in my book. I just hope I can fulfill my vision for it.

In the meanwhile, I will try to keep up with the blog. I want to keep the conversation going and keep my connection with those of you who have been reading over these years. If you have suggestions, if you want to comment on whether I should share chapters of the book as I go, I welcome your thoughts.

Queen of All She Surveyed

It was a painful week. We made the agonizing, distressing, heartbreaking decision to euthanize Raffa, our cat. It was the right decision; she was suffering, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t question whether it was the right thing to do, whether it was time to do it, whether there was any hope she could recover. It wasn’t entirely clear what was wrong, despite visits with the vet and testing.

Aside from the difficulty of making that decision, I knew I would just miss her.

Raffa, a black cat, came to me as a Chanukah present from my children 14 years ago. She was a rescue, six months old at the time. She came with her crate-mate, a male gray tabby. We named them Raffa and Roger, after the great tennis players Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The two kitties were as different as the two tennis players. For those of you who don’t follow tennis, Federer is all grace and precision on the court, while Nadal is brute force and sweat. The kitties’ characteristics didn’t correspond to their namesakes, but they had very different personalities from the time they arrived. Roger is shy and skittish, and not very graceful. He is protective, especially of me. When I go to bed at night, he stands guard. Raffa was friendly with all visitors, leapt up on every surface, climbed in every box and explored every scent. Roger has his charms and I love him dearly, but he is the quintessential cat. Raffa was more like a puppy.

When I ate breakfast at the kitchen island, Raffa jumped up with ease and sat watching me eat. I know some people might be horrified that I allowed a cat to sit on a kitchen counter, but there was no training her otherwise. I took to putting a large cup of water on the counter – she liked drinking from a cup – to dissuade her from sticking her nose in my drink or food. Mostly I kept nudging her away so I could eat in peace. After a bit she would settle and just watch me, keeping me company. Over the last couple of weeks, she still wanted to join me but found it increasingly difficult to leap up, she would use a stool as a steppingstone, until she couldn’t do it without help. She was getting weaker and weaker, sleeping more and more.

Raffa had a magnificent black coat, long haired and soft. One of the clues that she was deteriorating was that I would find clumps of fur where she had been sitting. Her coat and her body were thinning. Gary liked to say that Raffa was a beautiful cat, and she knew it. She did kind of preen as she strutted around the house. She was queen of all she surveyed. But she was playful and sweet at the same time. She wasn’t aloof. I never heard her hiss at anyone. She just knew this house was her domain and she was comfortable in it.

Since I retired, over 7 years ago, I spend a lot of time at home – reading, writing, doing chores. Raffa often followed me from room to room. If I sat in the recliner to read, she climbed on and sat behind my head, positioning herself so she could look out the window. I could hear her purring. If I sat at the kitchen counter doing a crossword puzzle, she sat next to me, and I’d hear her little motor going. In the last week she stopped purring. I did get one final purr when I was scratching her neck and saying my goodbyes – a bittersweet moment to be sure. Gary had to remind me that her purring was a good thing, a good sendoff.

The few days that have passed since she has been gone have felt very strange. The house feels emptier. Sometimes I glimpse something out of the corner of my eye, and I think for a moment that it is Raffa, but I catch myself.

I know for some people their pets are as beloved as children. I didn’t put myself in that category, and I still don’t. But the loss is profound. I am grateful that I had such a loyal companion for 14 years. She was a happy kitty and I’m glad she isn’t suffering. She had such a light, good nature, it wasn’t right for her to be robbed of that.

As Gary said when we were saying goodbye to her, rest in peace, my little friend.

Using our Voice

As is often the case for me, I was sorting through papers (oh, the endless supply of paper!) and found something I wrote early in 1994.  To give some context, Leah was in first grade, Dan was in pre-k (daycare at the Albany Jewish Community Center) and I was working full-time for the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

January 24, 1994

Leah ready for t-ball in 1994

Leah came home from school saying she felt sad. After talking about it for a bit, Leah explains that she feels left out – her teacher isn’t paying that much attention. She gives a concrete example of an oversight by the teacher. She ends by asking, “Would it be okay if I told Mrs. Brennan that I feel left out?”

Sometimes Leah asks really hard questions. On the one hand, I am pleased that she is willing to consider the possibility of speaking to the teacher herself. I couldn’t imagine having the confidence to do that – fearing rejection or humiliation. On the other hand, I am concerned that Leah not come across as whiny and demanding. It is also a reality that children who are capable will not get the close attention that those who fall behind get.

The other issue is that Mrs. Brennan has been teaching the class for only one week – since the original teacher went on maternity leave. I urge Leah to give her a chance to get settled.

Leah doesn’t heed my advice. Good for her. She spoke to Mrs. Brennan the very next day in fact, telling her she felt sad and left out. She tells me she feels much better and has no complaints for the remainder of the time Mrs. Brennan handles the class.

I later learn from Mrs. Brennan that she had been overcompensating with Leah – consciously not attending to her out of concern that she would be showing favoritism. She said her heart sunk when Leah approached her.

So, Leah’s instincts were right. She spoke for herself and resolved the problem. What a great lesson! I hope she always has that ability to speak up for herself – to get her needs met. What a terrific skill – but there are certainly going to be challenges ahead. How will she fare in adolescence when attitudes towards girls change? She will need to be strong to retain the identity she seems to be carving out for herself now. I hope she has the strength. I will try to support her. So much pressure to conform, though, to not be difficult…She is a treasure – a hope for the future. Keep your fingers crossed.

—————————————————————

I read what I wrote and I have to smile, remembering how precocious Leah was. (When is it you stop being precocious, anyway? Safe to say she wouldn’t be described that way now, almost 30 years later). But, she was always attuned to her feelings and could put words to them, even as a two-year old!

I would take issue with at least one of my observations. I’m not sure that children who fall behind get more attention. As I watched my kids go through school, I think it is more accurate to say that children at either ends of the spectrum, those that are most capable and those that are truly behind get more attention, and the ones in the middle most often get overlooked. But, maybe you can’t make generalizations about any of that.

My fear that things would change as Leah got to adolescence were well founded. Things did change. Perhaps as much because Leah, like most girls, became much more focused on her peer group when she got to middle school. The approval and acceptance of friends became more important than the judgment of teachers. She still wanted to do well in school, but negotiating her social interactions absorbed most of her attention. Those relationships were much more fraught and complicated than her communication with Mrs. Brennan. Her self-confidence definitely took a hit in those middle school years. If only things could have remained so straight-forward!

Things may have gotten more complicated, but like her mother, Leah retains her voice. Like me, in settings where opinions are solicited or being shared, she is not shy. Her father and husband, among others, can attest to her strong-mindedness.

I do think some progress has been made for girls, especially compared to my mom’s and my generation. I believe girls have taken incremental steps toward expecting to be heard and respected in different settings – school and the workplace particularly. We haven’t arrived at equality, obviously, and there is work to be done in improving the lot of both men and women, but I believe things are better for my daughter and granddaughters. I hope they will continue to take steps forward.

Baseball and Life Lessons

Baseball is a thread through my family history. Zada, my maternal grandfather, was a fan and as a result my mom grew up going to games, most often at the Polo Grounds. Zada took the opportunity to impart life lessons to his young daughter. One time a player on the New York Giants pitched poorly and as he was coming off the field my mother yelled, “You’re a bum!” Zada was appalled. He told her, “You never kick a man when he’s down.” When they got home, he insisted she write a letter of apology. She did. Another time they went to a game and some ominous clouds threatened. Mom asked, “Daddy, do you think we should leave? Look at the clouds.” Zada pointed to the other part of the sky, the part that was blue and told her to focus on that. Mom took that advice to heart, always preferring to look at the bright side of things.

Baseball also played a part in my parents’ relationship, nearly sinking it. When they met in 1950 at Brooklyn College, Dad helped Mom through their required freshman physics class while they rooted for rival teams. Dad was a die-hard Dodger fan, Mom rooted for the New York Giants. They enjoyed discussing their respective teams, and Dad was tickled by Mom’s knowledge and interest. Their burgeoning romance was tested in 1951, when Bobby Thompson of the Giants hit the shot heard round the world that sunk the Dodgers playoff hopes. Mom was overjoyed, tossing her books in the air as she heard Russ Hodges jubilant call, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Dad was crushed. Mom and Dad didn’t speak for a while. Thankfully for me and my brothers, they got past that.

Six years later both the Giants and Dodgers left for the west coast. With that move, my father lost his love of baseball. He hated Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Dodgers; he felt O’Malley betrayed the loyal Brooklyn fans. Dad now saw the sport as a business. He still followed the game but not with a genuine rooting interest. Mom didn’t hold the same animus toward the Giants. The general consensus was that the New York Giants were legitimately losing money and needed to relocate. The Dodgers were not in the same predicament.

Despite those shifts, baseball remained part of our family life, largely thanks to Zada, and his sons, my uncles, Michael and Terry.

Those who have been following this blog know that I grew up in a two-family house in Brooklyn. Me, my parents and my brothers occupied the first floor unit, while my maternal grandparents and my two teenage uncles lived upstairs. In 1962 when the Mets came into being, Uncle Mike adopted them as his team. Uncle Mike was always a fan of the underdog. Like many Met fans, he hated the Yankees.

As a child, and I do mean child, I loved the Yankees, particularly Mickey Mantle. By the time I was four years old I was enamored of the Mick – I think maybe the rhythm of his name first caught my ear. Whatever it was, I was hooked. The Yankees of my childhood were losers, though I was aware of their winning tradition. Mantle was at the end of his career by the time I was old enough to meaningfully follow the games. The Mets were the team in ascendence, much to my distress. I hated Tom Seaver, in particular. Not surprisingly, my brother, Mark, my nemesis, the thorn in my side, loved Seaver and the Mets.

So, as I recall, the rooting interests in the house lined up as follows:

Me – staunch Yankee fan; I didn’t hate the Mets, other than Seaver.

Mark – rooted for both the Mets and Yankees, but more of a Met fan.

Steven – I couldn’t tell which team he preferred; he went to Met games with my uncles, I don’t recall him joining me in my Yankee obsession.

Uncle Terry – Met fan, didn’t hate the Yankees

Uncle Mike – staunch Met fan, don’t even mention the Yankees!

Zada – rooted for both

Mom and Dad – indifferent, but wanted New York teams to win

Looking back, I think in deference to Uncle Mike, it is possible that my brothers and Uncle Terry were more vocal in their support for the Mets in the 1960s and 1970s. As the years went by, and we no longer lived in the same house, other allegiances emerged. Today Steven and Terry are avowed Yankee fans. Mark continues to root for both teams.

Today I am a Met fan. I made the switch in the interest of marital harmony. When I first met Gary, I continued to follow the Yankees. Over the years, though, for reasons I’m not sure I fully understand, though Gary has said something about obnoxious Yankee fans (not me), my husband developed an antipathy for the Bronx Bombers. The truth is my passion for sports in general has waned over the years. I enjoy watching most games – I draw the line at Australian rules football – but I am not emotionally invested in the outcome. I used to be a die-hard Knick fan, but I just can’t summon the energy anymore. It just isn’t that important in the scheme of things. So slowly but surely, my interest in the Yankees fell away. It made it easier for Gary to immerse our children in the history and culture of the Mets if I simply joined forces. Gary says being a Met fan is also a good life lesson – you learn to deal with disappointment. Like the Dodgers before them, we live with the hope that there is always next year.

So, the lessons baseball has to teach continue on to the next generation. We will see if they get passed on to our grandchildren.

A Gift

Today, December 20th, 2022, my Dad, Barry Brody, would be 90 years old. Sadly, he only got to celebrate his 72nd birthday, and he was not well when that milestone arrived. We did not understand at the time that he had an aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). We thought CLL was an indolent blood cancer that would take years to become a problem and that he would likely die of something else. Now we know there are different forms of the disease. Dad died four years after his diagnosis.

I mention this only because his deterioration was a surprise and a mystery, and for years clouded my memories of him. I wondered if there was more I could have done. Today I am not thinking about that – I am thinking instead of the legacy he left and the gift he gave me.

Dad was strong – in every sense. He was broad shouldered and powerfully built. In my mother’s eyes he wasn’t tall, he was 5’11”, but I thought he was. As much as his physical presence, though, was his strength of character.

I pulled out a box I have of memorabilia – letters, notes and mementos from celebrations. Included among the papers were copies of remarks made at Dad’s funeral by various speakers. One of his friends noted that Dad wasn’t capable of being dishonest. He couldn’t mislead you or play games. Actually, he liked games – real ones – particularly cards and tennis (and he was very competitive even when playing Spit with his granddaughter). But he didn’t play mind games, he didn’t play with your emotions. He said what he thought and behaved in a manner consistent with his words.

My brothers and I were lucky to have him as a role model. He gave us a great work ethic and showed us what it meant to be a partner in life. My brothers and I have reaped the benefits in stable family lives and successful careers. I’ll be celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary next summer, while my brothers have already surpassed that milestone.

Dad had his challenges. As his oldest friend said in his eulogy, he and Dad bonded in fighting off bullies in junior high school. Dad was Jewish in an Italian neighborhood where antisemitism was ubiquitous.  Dad was also overweight. The combination made him a target. Interestingly, the friend who reflected on the bullying episode was Italian. Their bond was strong, lasting a lifetime.

Dad found his way through that, but he carried baggage, like we all do from the hurts and insecurities of childhood. As a consequence, he was sensitive to my struggles. Among the letters I found were several written to me while I was in college.

My first two years at SUNY-Binghamton were very difficult. Though I made some good friends, I often felt lonely and lost. It wasn’t that uncommon for me to call home crying. Dad’s letters were encouraging – reminding me of my worth, his belief in me and that he and my mom were there for me.

Dad frequently said or wrote me the thing I most needed to hear. At my sweet sixteen, I had a sign in book. He wrote, “ Dear Linda, I am sure that you will “cultivate” a most rewarding life. Your sensitivity and sense of justice are your blessing and cross to bear. I hope that you enjoy the years to come as much as I have enjoyed your first sixteen years. Love, Dad”

He recognized my essential qualities and the struggles they created. It is kind of a thing these days to say “I feel seen.” My Dad saw me and he let me know he approved in word and deed. There is no better gift a father can give his daughter.

One of my favorite pictures of me and my dad

Reverberations Through Time

Note: I have been absent for a month! There are many reasons for that – I will write about it at another time. I am glad to be back! I look forward to continuing our conversation about stories we tell ourselves.

December 15, 2022 would be my father-in-law’s 100th birthday. David Bakst made it to his 98th and for that I am grateful. He passed away a week after achieving that milestone.

As I reflect on his life so many thoughts come to mind. In David’s last years, I would often accompany Gary on his Thursday afternoon visits. Gary doesn’t see patients on Thursday afternoons, so it was a good opportunity to spend time with his Dad. They, including his mom despite her advanced dementia, would go out to lunch to a diner near their apartment in Saugerties. I know Gary treasures that time and the memories they provide.

Many of those lunchtime conversations revolved around David’s memories. We would ask him about his youth and World War II experiences. We heard the same stories multiple times, new details might be offered, but even if not, we never tired of hearing them. One particular comment stayed with me, though I am not sure why. As David described his family life before the war, he said that after Shabbos services, the adults (his parents’ family and friends) would gather at his home and talk (argue) politics. David listened in, beginning a long interest in politics that remained for the rest of his days. He told us that his father was a supporter of Jabotinsky, who he described as more of a right winger. The name vaguely rang a bell, but I didn’t know anything about him or the context. I was curious. I tried to imagine what their political conversations might have been about in the late 1920s and early 1930s in David’s shtetl (village) in Poland (now Belarus).

After that conversation, I googled Jabotinsky and learned a bit but didn’t get very far and I set the subject aside, though it still intrigued me. Oddly enough the other day I came across a podcast entitled Jabotinsky and the Birth of the Israeli Right. I thought this might shed light on the topic, plus I am interested in better understanding the politics of Israel and this sounded like it could offer that.

I am very glad I listened. It accomplished exactly what I had hoped. It reaffirmed my belief that learning about our past illuminates our present; the issues that plagued us more than a century ago still percolate in the lives we live today.

The topic the Bakst family was likely discussing during their Shabbos afternoon visits was Zionism. It is appropriate that I write about this now given the intersection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and the appalling rise in antisemitic rhetoric and violence.

So, what is Zionism? It is the movement to create and support a Jewish homeland. Its roots go back centuries as part of Judaism, with the idea that since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the diaspora, Jews prayed to return to the Holy Land. This was largely a religious tenet until the late 19th Century. It evolved into a political movement, in part in response to virulent antisemitism in Central and Eastern Europe when Jews were largely confined to living in an area called the Pale of Settlement (part of Russia and Poland). In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as pogroms (violent riots perpetrated against Jews in the Pale of Settlement) became more common and feared, some Jewish thought leaders concluded that the only solution to antisemitism was a Jewish homeland. They believed that there was no future for Jews in Central and Eastern Europe and that ultimately, they needed their own country in their ancestral homeland. The father of this strand of political Zionism is generally considered to be Theodor Herzl, who wrote a pamphlet that was published in 1897 entitled Der Judenstaat (The State of Jews). In it he argued that Jews were a nationality, that it was not a social or religious question, but a national one. In order to escape antisemitism, express their culture freely and practice their religion, they needed a state. This idea became quite popular and was widely discussed in Jewish circles, including David’s hometown of Iwie.

As with most political movements, there were factions. I imagine that David’s family debated the different perspectives. One of the areas of disagreement was what kind of country should it be. Some advocated for a socialist state (David Ben-Gurion emerged as the leader of this wing and in fact became the country’s first prime minister in 1948); others wanted a free market approach. I would imagine David’s father, as a successful businessman before the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1939, would have wanted a capitalist economy for the new state. Jabotinsky, the person David referenced, supported the free market, though he also believed that the citizens of the new state should determine their destiny.

Another thread of discord in Zionism is the role of Judaism, the role of the religion itself, in the creation and running of the state. One of the things that is unique about being Jewish is that it encompasses a number of elements: it is a religion, it is an ethnicity, and it is a culture. Some identify with some aspects of that identity, but not others. The Zionist movement included (and still includes) a range of belief about religion. Some are Orthodox, very observant Jews, for whom the religion and the state are inextricably tied. Others are secular Jews who may even call themselves atheists. Neither Herzl, Ben-Gurion nor Jabotinsky were particularly religious. Though I never had a conversation with David about this subject, I believe he would support maintaining the Jewish character of the state but would not support a theocracy. Defining that balance continues to be a challenge.

Jabotinsky also advocated for a strong military capability. He believed that the new state would be fought over, that the Arabs in the area would not relinquish land or power without a fight. Ben-Gurion believed that in return for economic and political considerations, the Arabs could be appeased. In furtherance of Jabotinsky’s belief in the need for military capability, he created a youth group in Poland, Betar, that would instill nationalist fervor in young people for Israel and train them to respond to attacks on Jews wherever they occurred. David Bakst was a member of Betar.

I wonder if any of the training he received, or the faith and support built as part of that group, helped him in his war experience.

There is great poignancy to these issues. Imagine if there had been a Jewish State in the mid 1930’s. Millions of lives might have been saved. Instead of ships being turned away from ports, instead of country after country rejecting Jewish refugees, people would have had a place to go. We will never know what might have been.

The controversies that plagued the founding of Israel are still playing out today. The tensions between its socialist origins and the demands of a free-market economy are still difficult to sort out. The balancing of the different attitudes regarding the role of Judaism in the state creates conflict. The fundamental disagreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors, not to mention its Arab citizens, are as troubling as ever.

And, in an even larger sense, we are still grappling with what to do about antisemitism. It is a pernicious and stubborn prejudice. It is disheartening that over a century after Herzl wrote his pamphlet, and even with the establishment of the state of Israel, lies, misconceptions and hate are still rife. After all he went through, I wonder if David would be surprised by this latest resurgence. In that one sense, I am glad he isn’t here to see it.

Views From My Car Window

Though I don’t consider myself a photographer, I do like to take pictures. I find that, as long as I don’t get too caught up in the mechanics of it, it helps to notice the beauty around me and to solidify the memory in my brain. I snapped a lot of pictures on our trip through the southwest, many from the window of the car as we were speeding down the highway. Gary prefers to drive so I ride shotgun, doing the navigating, but mostly taking in the scenery. Here is some of what I saw as we passed through parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. It seems to me that almost all of southern Utah could be a national park. I hope you enjoy the views.

It is a spectacular country that we live in. I am grateful I got to see a portion of it – and that I got to see it with Gary, the best travel companion I could ask for.

Road Trip (and More)!

I originally planned this trip to the southwest of the United States in 2019 long before I had ever heard of Covid-19. We were supposed to go in May of 2020 but had to cancel, much to my disappointment. Well, we are taking the trip now!

This past Friday we flew from Albany to Albuquerque, New Mexico, leaving very early in the morning. Other than a misunderstanding about our hiking sticks – I thought they could come on as part of my carry-on baggage, TSA disagreed. They characterized them as ‘weapons.’ You’ll never guess who won that battle. We had to leave the security area and check our bags. We were early enough to get to the Delta check-in counter and back through security a second time so there was no issue. Otherwise, our travel to Albuquerque was uneventful, long (because we had a four-hour layover in Atlanta) but uneventful. Given the horror stories one hears about air travel these days, I am grateful.

We picked up our rental car and promptly got on the road to Santa Fe which is only a little over an hour drive. As we exited the small airport and got on the highway I did look around Albuquerque trying to find evidence of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, to no avail.

On the road in Albuquerque

The landscape looked about what I expected. It got prettier and prettier as we approached Santa Fe.

Snapped from our moving car

We checked into our hotel, the Inn on Alameda, a mere 14 hours from when we started our day. But it was still early enough to go explore a bit and get dinner. The gentlemen who checked us in was friendly, efficient, and provided us with good information about restaurants and nearby attractions, and a map (I love maps!).

Though we had not planned it to coincide, this was the weekend of Fiesta in Santa Fe. It is an annual celebration of the city’s Spanish heritage. The festival has evolved over recent years in recognition of the complicated relationship between the Spanish settlers, the indigenous people and the Mexicans who also ruled the area for a time. From our perspective, as tourists, what it mostly meant was that the city square had food and craft booths set up, as well as a stage where various performances were featured. It made for a fun, lively time.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel in a light rain. We basically collapsed in our bed so we would be ready for our scheduled walking tour the following morning.

We met up with our tour guide at a lovely coffee shop. He gave us an overview of the area’s history as we sipped our coffee. Then we started our tour. Here are some scenes from our tour:

The tour ended at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. We enjoyed looking at her work and learning  her history. Women who are brave enough to forge their own path are inspiring – and she certainly did that. Plus, I like many of her paintings.

Not a ‘typical’ O’Keeffe, but I appreciated it. She did live in New York City for 20 years after all

We came back to our hotel, legs aching more from standing than walking, we had been on our feet for about 4 hours. Rather than make life complicated, we had lunch at our hotel. They had delicious offerings, as it turned out.

After a brief rest, we headed out again to explore – this time to Canyon Road where many of the art galleries are located. It is amazing how many talented people there are in this world. The paintings and sculptures were breathtaking.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel. I couldn’t leave Santa Fe without getting a magnet – I make a point of collecting magnets from wherever I travel. The wall in our mud room has metal sheeting attached so I can put them up and remind myself of all the fabulous places I have been. I neglected to get one as we were wandering around on Saturday, so we drove over to the Five and Dime (that was the name of the store!) and I found a great addition to my collection. Now we could move on.

We had only 7 hours of driving ahead of us! – to get to Antelope Canyon, Arizona. Gary and I don’t mind long car rides, though this was pushing it. Some observations: The northwestern part of New Mexico is kind of depressing. Some of the landscape is beautiful, but some of it is dreary and desolate. You also see the poverty of the native peoples – pawnshops, scrap yards, and not much else in the way of industry.

Here are some photos shot from the car as we drove through New Mexico and into Arizona

Our destination was Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, where the Colorado River emerges from the Grand Canyon. We finally made it. We started our day in 55 degree Santa Fe. We emerged from our car into 90 degree blazing sun. It was a 1.5 walk from the parking lot to the site. Fortunately, we had water with us, though within minutes the bottled water was hot! But hot water is better than no water in that climate! The walk was well worth the effort.

Then it was on to our bed and breakfast – only 30 minutes away. Our host provided a beer for Gary and a glass of  well-chilled Chardonnay for me (a generous pour, too!). Ahhh! Lovely. We caught a beautiful sunset and moonrise before going to sleep.

Moonrise

We have finished 3 days of our vacation, 6 more to go with so many more magnificent places to see (Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are coming up) before ending our journey in Las Vegas. By the way, did you know that there is a Las Vegas, New Mexico? We were confused by road signs for it as we drove to Santa Fe. We know our geography well enough to realize that Las Vegas is not 125 miles from Albuquerque. Who knew there was another one? One of the many things I learned on this trip. Apparently, New Mexicans refer to it as Las Vegas, and call the one in Nevada ‘Vegas’ to distinguish them.

Can’t wait to see what else I learn.

Old Timers’ Day – Take Two

One of many ballpark rituals: standing for our national anthem

Let’s go Mets! Or, in this age of social media, #LFGM! But, let’s keep it old school for the time being. We did just go to Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field, which took us back to an earlier era.

Months ago, when it was announced that the Mets would host an Old Timers’ Day for the first time in almost 20 years, Gary jumped on it. Contrary to Gary’s take, I believe our son, Daniel, called it to our attention, not me. Anyway, Gary bought a bunch of tickets, not necessarily knowing who exactly would go, but wanting us to be there. Saturday, August 27, 2022 was the big day.

It was our first return to the stadium since the pandemic. It felt both odd and natural. I was excited mostly because I knew it would be special for Gary since he is a lifelong Met fan.

I did not grow up as a Met fan. I loved the Yankees. Bear in mind, that the Yankees of my youth stunk. This was the mid to late 1960s, before George Steinbrenner bought the team(in 1973) and bought success. I loved Mickey Mantle – I am not old enough to have seen him in his prime. I think I loved his name more than anything. My Yankees were the Yankees of Roy White and Horace Clarke. When Ron Blomberg came along in 1971, a Jewish player – a rarity and much beloved in New York City – I had even more to root for.

Another reason for my affinity for the Yankees was likely that two of my main nemeses growing up, my brother Mark and my Uncle Mike who both teased me relentlessly, were Met fans. I hated Tom Seaver. I don’t know if it was because I perceived him as arrogant or because my brother loved him – either way, I preferred my Yankees. I didn’t, however, hate the Mets as a whole and I couldn’t help but get caught up in their underdog 1969 season. As a serious sports fan, I watched the games, knew the team (I could name all the position players and knew the pitching staff even though it wasn’t that common for a 9-year-old girl to follow that stuff) and was delighted when they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series – even if my brother and uncle reveled in the victory, too.

Fast forward a decade and my enthusiasm for sports in general subsided. I still enjoyed watching games, but no longer felt a strong allegiance to the Yankees or any other baseball team. Steinbrenner made it hard to remain a fan. In 1979 when I got together with Gary, it was easy enough to put the Yankees aside. During our long marriage, I have supported his passion. Together we have raised our children to continue the tradition as Met fans.

Eight of us converged on Citi Field this past Saturday. Our son, Dan and our granddaughter; my brother Mark (yes, the one who teased me relentlessly and still does, though not relentlessly but is a loyal and loving brother too) and his wife, Pam, their son, Sam (also a passionate Met fan), and my high school friend, Steven, joined us. We took the subway, along with many other Met fans. The first leg of the trip on the 1 line, the subway car wasn’t air conditioned, but fortunately it was a brief ride and not too crowded. We had more luck with the 7 train, it was air conditioned, so we arrived at our destination in relative comfort. The 7 line travels above ground through Queens. I couldn’t help but notice the changes in the borough – so many high rises! The areas we passed have transformed from small residential and industrial neighborhoods to gleaming skyscrapers. New York City is ever-changing.

We arrived at the stadium with hordes of others but made it through the security checkpoint and entry gate without too much delay.

The turnout of players and fans was impressive. The seats were full. Representatives of the original 1962 Mets were present, as well as members of the Miracle Mets of 1969 including Cleon Jones, Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, and Ed Kranepool. There were players from the championship team of 1986, too. Obviously, the guys from the 1960’s teams are ancient, and some were infirm. It was nice to see them though and have them get a warm reception from the crowd. There was quite a range in how fit the players were, even among the more recent retirees. Endy Chavez, who made a spectacular catch for the Mets in the 2006 NCLS, looked like he could still patrol centerfield capably even though he hasn’t played a major league game in 6 years.

The players and fans were having fun. I was having fun, too, especially as I consumed a very large hard seltzer. I am no fan of beer, the usual stadium staple. I am so glad ballparks have expanded their drink options!

Among our group, five are serious Met fans (my sister-in-law, my four-year-old granddaughter and I don’t qualify). We played musical chairs so the five of them had chances to chat with each other. Gary compared Met notes with each of them. I was gratified to see everyone enjoying the conversation, taking in the event, and happily walking down Met memory lane. I engaged our granddaughter – can you spot Mr. and Ms. Met! Can you find six orange things?  – as best I could, hoping to give our son some time with his cousin who lives in the metro D.C. area. Dan and our granddaughter stayed for about 4 hours, deciding to leave before things could go south – a wise choice. Leave while it remained a positive experience.

It was a long afternoon, evening, and night at the stadium – between the Old Timers’ introductions, the ceremonial game, and the actual game, it was about six hours. It was warm, but there was a breeze, and we were never in the sun. Our seats were great – behind third base. The Mets won their game against the Colorado Rockies, too, continuing a successful season.

We were all in high spirits as we exited Citi Field and headed to the subway. Not surprisingly, the trip back into Manhattan was a mixed bag. Once again, the 7 went well, it was an air conditioned express! The trip uptown on the 3 was very unpleasant – slow, crowded and no air conditioning! It stopped for a bit between stations – the worst! We sat sweating, hoping we would start moving again quickly. Thankfully we did after a long few minutes. It was a relief to emerge into the relatively fresh air at 96th Street and Broadway. You know you have been uncomfortable when 80 degrees and 70% humidity at 11:00 at night in Manhattan is a welcome improvement! I knew it would only get better after I showered.

Upon arriving in our apartment, I did just that and then got into bed. It had been a long satisfying day. One from which memories are made.

Seems Like Old Time(r)s

Note: This essay was written by my husband, Gary Bakst. Thank you, Gary!!! I will be sharing my take on this same event tomorrow.

It had been 2 and ½ years since I attended a live sporting event, a concert, a movie in a theater, any sort of in person event.  I surely don’t have to tell any of you why – everybody knows.  We have all made our own decisions about how to deal with the threat of Covid.  Some have been yet more cautious than I have but many more less cautious.  And I accept that there is a range of choices people can make that may fit for them. 

For me, it was time to go to a Mets game.  Linda looked ahead and noticed months ago that Saturday, August 27th, was Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field where my beloved Mets play their home games.  I have been a Mets fan since my father taught me about baseball.  We watched ballgames together, making the occasional pilgrimage to Shea Stadium to see our favorite players win or lose.  I remember one game in which Willie Mays -yes, that Willie Mays – was playing for the Mets.  He was old for a ball player and no longer capable of the elite level of performance that defined his many years with the Giants, but he was still that legend. 

I have fashioned my children into Mets fans, cajoled Linda into supporting them and now my grandchildren are being educated early about the importance of supporting our Mets.  I figure, if I can suffer, so can they.  Most years, being a Met fan does involve quite a bit of suffering.  It makes one tougher,  better able to deal with other disappointments in life. 

This year has been different.  The Mets have had other good years in their history, most notably 1969 and 1986.  But, unlike their crosstown rival Yankees, they are not perennial contenders for a championship.  It is a rare and exciting moment, a meteor streaking through the sky ever so briefly, not an annual expectation.  Perhaps with our new and improved ownership, that could be changing. 

After being away for such a long time, it seemed like the right time to head back to the stadium.  Covid surely remains a risk, but the risk of severe disease has diminished, it is an outdoor event and the special occasion of Old Timers Day combined to convince me to purchase tickets.  I went online and bought 8 tickets for the game.  I was not sure which family members would be able to make it, but the limiting factor was not going to be too few available seats.  

As an aside, the Mets have a policy for getting these online tickets that I found cumbersome and less than straightforward, so I tasked Linda with converting their emails into actual access to the stadium.  She found it easy and quick which did not surprise our children. 

My new-fangled ticket to the Old Timers game

Ultimately, we had a nice group coming to the game.  We had Linda and I, our son Daniel and his wonderful daughter, Linda’s brother Mark, his lovely wife Pam and their very nice son Sam who is also a Mets fan.  And Linda’s good friend Steven who I enjoy talking Mets baseball with over the many years we know each other.  The only person missing was our daughter, Leah, (who I have also successfully indoctrinated into Mets fandom, too) but having just had a baby three months ago, and living in the Boston area, made her attendance impossible.

Linda and I drove down to the city; we took the number 7 subway line to the stadium.  It was filled with orange and blue clad Mets fans.  The vibrations were all positive, the sun was shining and the world was a happy place.  

We all arrived in time for the Old Timers’ game.  They had assembled quite a large number of former Mets from players who were there for the Mets first season in 1962, to the 1969 Mets and the 1986 Mets and more or less every era of their existence.  The introductions themselves were fun and the former players exulted in the attention and adoration which the packed stadium poured out upon them. 

At the end of the introductions, there was a surprise.   The Mets were retiring uniform number 24 which Willie Mays used to wear.  It was a heartwarming moment and surely a signal that current owner Steven A. Cohen was ushering in a different era compared with the Wilpons who are widely despised by Mets fans.  He is doing so many things the right way, and this was just one lovely example of that. 

The Old Timers game itself was so much fun.  Some of those guys can still move pretty well and some really cannot.  Most still retain the amazing hitting and throwing skills that separate them from we ordinary humans.  It was pure joy watching them out on the field again.  We were enjoying the action on the field, the food, the drinks, the opportunity to spend time together chatting.  Baseball is unlike football and basketball.  It is slower.  Many people keep trying to make it faster.  Perhaps that is a good thing but sometimes slower has its merits.  I loved the slowness of the game. 

When the real game with the current crop of Mets began, it was more fun.  They led by 1-0, then 2-0, then 3-0.  It was a low scoring and well-played game.  They made enough good plays to overcome the visiting Colorado Rockies and the crowd exulted as the final out was recorded.

Our granddaughter spent about 4 hours there which is remarkable for a child not yet old enough to have any idea what a ball or strike is.  She was delightful and in great spirits and eventually Daniel left with her and they made it home without issue.  

The rest of us found our way onto the 7 train when the game ended, and we caught an air conditioned express train back to Manhattan.  While on the train, we learned from one of the many Mets fans crowding that subway car that our main opponents, the Atlanta Braves, had lost in the bottom of the ninth inning and the subway car erupted in joy. 

We got back home late and tired and sweaty but very happy.  Getting back out and doing something to divert my attention from my daily concerns was such a pleasure and going to a baseball game and watching my favorite team win was exactly the right salve.  I can enjoy watching any team play but if it is my Mets, then I really want them to win.  If the trip is easy and the weather is great and the food is delicious and they lose, then the bottom line is they lost.  It is unlike a movie or a show where I might say it was very good or pretty good.  This is binary: win/lose.  And they won. 

I wonder how you have made decisions about such entertainment options.  Have you been going all along, have you picked some events as appropriate and others as not a great idea?  And which types of events take you away from your worries?  

#LGM