Archive for the 'Memories' Category

Home for sale

My home has been for sale for almost four months.

I had an offer two days after it was listed. But it fell through and left me disappointed. Then someone from Los Angeles made a sight-unseen offer that was contingent on getting a County permit to keep a rhinoceros on the property. I should have known right then that selling this house was going to be long,  tough and occasionally crazy.

I have mixed emotions about selling. Ila and I built the house almost twenty years ago. The grandkids grew up loving it.  Granddaughter Bella, now twenty and statuesque, was four when she swam in the decorative fountain. A mean feat considering it’s only eighteen inches deep and four feet in diameter. Grandson Isaac, now completing his senior year in college, became a champion bocce ball player on what was once an expanse of cool, green lawn. Grandson Morey, born prematurely around the time of the Northridge earthquake, became a capable photographer using the surrounding mountains as a majestic backdrop.

Holidays were celebrated at the house. Our friends and relatives made full use of the spare bedrooms. The kids, in turn, began inviting their friends to spend long weekends. We became de facto bed and breakfast providers, enjoying every minute of it. Smiles on the faces of our guests were payment in full. Navigating the winding, narrow road up the mountain to a place of natural beauty was never a problem for young hearts and bodies.

When we built the house, some eight miles from the center of Ojai, we thought that our trips to town would be limited to once a week. We thought that the seclusion and serenity of the house would more than compensate for the loss of daily exposure to people and city sounds. But we soon found that we missed the hustle bustle, and our visits to town turned from weekly to daily. We enjoyed the trips, filled with companionship and the beauty of what nature had set before us as we traveled through the Upper Ojai, down the winding Dennison Grade, through the East End and, finally, Ojai itself.

Aging was inevitable and limiting. The kids had busy lives to lead. The grandkids grew into young men and women. Our friends found it increasingly difficult to make the long trip from distant points. Painfully, Ila became ill and entertaining became a thing of the past.

Then Ila died and I was alone. What once had been a home with living sounds was now a place where my companions were the intermittent gardeners and housekeepers. The UPS man was a welcome visitor. Any human face was a welcome sight. Music streamed as my constant companion. I invented reasons to drive to town, sometimes two or three times a day. Even though I had exercise equipment in the house, I joined the athletic club where my 7am visits to the treadmill became a daily event; no exceptions for weekends. Familiar faces and bodies brightened my day. I was loath to drive home and confront the sounds of silence.

I met Jackie who lived in a pretty, oak shaded home in the Arbolada, not three minutes from Java and Joe, Rainbow Bridge and the other sights that make a town what it is. Her home, like her, was petite and well organized. Instead of three bathrooms, it had but one that we somehow managed to navigate without bumping into each other. My time there was in sharp, welcome contrast to what I had known during the last twenty years.

Jackie’s visits to my home increased. She loved the house with its spacious surroundings. Her face beamed from the pillow on the king size bed. Her smallness under the covers was beautiful and she was immersed in the pleasures of the big room and the views of the grand Topa Topas.

She often spoke of her comfort in the larger home. How she felt relaxed, unhurried, without a care in the world. How we might have yoga retreats in the great room and entertain in the oversized kitchen. We would open the home to those who might need a bit of help as they looked for more permanent space. Others would come just to see the place, stay overnight, and bond in the atmosphere created by the mountain views, hundreds of oak trees and the sounds unavailable in town.

During these musings I often considered cancelling the sale of the property. Make it a home again, with a lovely, vibrant woman as my partner. Creating a new purpose for the home and for us. And then, sadly, reality would end these fanciful dreams. The attraction of in-town living, her own home that she loved so much, and a distance too far were too strong. We repeated this stage play often, with the same results. And perhaps it was meant to be. An episode of my life coming to an end. A new beginning. And a treasure named Jackie.

My home is for sale. Come see it. It’s perfect for you…if you have a poodle instead of a rhino.

She’s been gone a year…

My sweetheart of nearly sixty years died a year ago today, August 23, 2017.

I’m not sure if it seems like a long time ago or just a blip in the universal clock. I do know that I have been counting the months since she died. And the weeks. This has been a particularly tough week for me, grouchy, snippy and all too ready to argue about meaningless slights. My temper, usually under control, has exhibited itself in ways that do not please me. I look at my face in the mirror and wonder where the smile has gone. I sleep less and eat the wrong things. I often skip meals and find food tasteless.

I look at the collage of Ila’s photos on the wall. They span the time between her grade school graduation and an older, wiser person sitting on the couch in the living room. She’s ill, but still smiling at the camera with that honest, loving face. The face that always left me smiling too.

In Costa Rica last month we were without her. A family incomplete because of her absence. A family that felt just a little bit guilty while laughing and playing together. We posted photos of the trip on a website we created to memorialize the adventure. We posted too many photos, I thought. Until my random clicking landed me on a photo of the kids…Isaac, Bella, Morey and Sammy. Smiling with honest faces. Casual in their posing. Full of young life and brimming with happiness. I smiled, then I cried. Not tears of sorrow but ones of joy.

I sent the photo to Jackie. I knew she would like it because Sammy was glowing and being a kid, free from any artificial constraints and loving every minute of it. Happy to pose, not because we asked her to, but because it was the most natural thing to do.

I sent an e-mail to son David thanking him for posting the Zip-lining and river rafting photos. I told him that I hoped Mom was looking over my shoulder and getting high from it all. That she could enjoy her family and get pleasure from the happiness of others.

And then I cried again, by myself. Like my heart was going to break. It’s been awhile since I did that. Without constraint. Without embarrassment. Remembering. And it felt good.

Ila died one day after her sweet daughter’s fifty-sixth birthday. Nancy always tells me that she will easily remember Mom’s passing since it was the day after her own birthday. But I know she will remember it regardless of when Ila died. She’s that way. Loving, focused, serious and a crier. She seems tough but she’s really a closet pussy cat.

I bought Ila’s diamond engagement ring when I was twenty. I really should say my father bought Ila’s engagement ring when I was twenty. It must have been important to him since he was not a man who could, nor would, throw money around.

Ila accumulated other jewelry during our sixty years together, including a treasure chest of pieces given to her when her mother Marge died. Marge was a collector of fine clothes and jewelry. Ila was the opposite. The engagement ring was very special to Ila. She didn’t wear it much because she thought it too valuable to lose. But I really think it was because she felt it was too showy. It lay in the dark for the last twenty-five years in a safe deposit box.

Over time , Ila gave most of the other jewelry to the kids, but she held onto the ring. I was never quite sure what she intended to do with it. It’s quite beautiful, like its owner was. It sparkles in the sunlight like Ila did whenever she appeared. It’s hard as a rock, which Ila could be when it was necessary. And it’s sharp as a tack, like Ila was when confronting me or the kids with some misdeed. But most of all, it is a testament to my love for her over the last sixty years.

And I will pass it on to the someone who most reminds me of Ila’s quality, her honesty, her never-give-up attitude and her unbounded love for family. Someone I’ve loved since she was a baby in my arms. Someone who misses her mother as much as I do. I’m sure Ila will be pleased.

Carbon Paper

Carbon Paper is not the name of a rock group.

It was Monday morning, and I was headed down the hill for my workout at the Ojai Athletic Club. I’ve been anal about working out since I met Jackie and decided that I needed to do something to narrow the sixteen years between us.

When I first met her, I could only make it half-way up the Shelf Road trail. Now I can do the round trip without having my chest seek refuge in another body. Loss of a good slice of my belly fat, and the discovery that I actually had ribs, were additional perks that came with burning an extra four hundred calories each morning.

I like NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She has interesting guests and knows enough to ask brief questions while letting her guests grab the spotlight. Jonathan Banks was Terry’s guest this Monday morning. I had no idea who he was until he began musing about his roles in the award-winning Netflix series Breaking Bad and its current series, Better Call Saul.

Jonathan usually plays an understated bad guy. At seventy-one and five foot nine, he looks a little like me with his bald head, big nose and all-knowing squinty eyes. During the Fresh Air interview, he said “When you look like me, you better know something about acting, cause you ain’t no leading man.”

At one point in the conversation, Jonathan was talking about the evolution of the art of making multiple copies of scripts; he recollected how carbon paper was once a mainstay in that process. As interviewers often will, Terry interrupted and told the listeners what carbon paper was. I laughed out loud at the notion that some people had never heard of carbon paper and, a moment later, felt a bit older than I did ten seconds earlier.

I then found myself dragging old memories from my storage device, each of which had aging at its core. For example, I was reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with a woman, a good deal younger than me, about whistling. I said, “Speaking of whistling, do you remember Lauren Bacall and the famous line in the movie To Have and Have Not?”  Bacall said “If you want something, just whistle…you know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” And my lady friend said, “No I don’t know Lauren Bacall…who was he?”

Or my old Rabbi who said “Whenever I look in the mirror, I see a young man.”

Or when I was the youngest guy at the business staff meeting, then average, then the oldest.

Or my mother and brother, both victims of the ravages of aging, that cause me to occasionally count backwards by nine as I try to assure myself that I still can.

When I was thirty, I figured I hadn’t yet lived half of my life. At forty, I thought I thought I was beyond the half-way mark. At sixty, I hoped I would have half again to look forward to. At nearly eighty, I don’t do that anymore.

I sometimes read about improvements planned to the state water system, the bullet train and the long-term impacts of climate change. And I wonder if I’ll live long enough.

I think about multi-year projects that I might not start, because I might not finish.

But I’m a quick learner.  So aided by example, I’ve decided to forget about running out of time and, instead, run a bit faster in the time that’s left.

Yesterday, my daughter Nancy sent me a video of her Rabbi, Paul Kipnes, as he was crossing a suspension bridge in Costa Rica. Walking backwards with some uncertainty on the swaying structure, he compared the whole world to a very narrow bridge. A scary one that puts fear into our lives. But the important thing, he said, is not to be afraid to cross that bridge. Staying on one side and failing to move ahead is not a viable alternative.

And I remembered Chuck Peterson. A pleasant, unassuming man, successful and seemingly satisfied with what he had accomplished. At age 92 and living in Montecito, he and his wife decided to leave there, build a home in Ojai, plant two thousand olive trees and split their time between Ojai and the management of their resort business in Costa Rica. They did just that. And Chuck died two years later at 94.

I remember thinking, why would a guy do that at 92? I didn’t realize it then, but Chuck was a risk taker. It didn’t matter how much time he had left. It only mattered that he did what he wanted to do. Doing things that made him happy, without worrying about his ability to complete them. He had learned a lesson that made sense to him and he was intent on repeating it.

Or as Karl Wallenda said…Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting.

Hello, is Ila there?

Hello, is Ila there?

Ever since the Ojai fire in early December and the mass slaughter of old wooden telephone poles, nearly all of my calls come through my cell phone. My landline returned after four months. But by then I had weaned myself from a wired connection. I still do get landline calls and nearly one hundred percent of them are from people who want my money.

So, through necessity, I’ve developed a keen ear for determining whether the incoming call has been placed by some insensitive machine. You’ve probably learned the same trick of identifying robo-calls. It’s that slight hesitation as though no one is there, coupled with a tell-tale bleep, warning you that you are about to be connected to a real person. Like a well-trained gunslinger, I can usually press the end-call button before the connection is completed.

But sometimes the call is placed directly and so I’m required to listen to someone speak a few words before consigning the call to a far-away place. And that’s what happened around two o’clock Monday, about thirty-six hours after my return from Costa Rica. Maybe it was the jet lag that made me slow on the draw…or maybe it was something else.

Hello, is Ila there?  For what seemed like an eternity, I sat there, phone in hand, and didn’t know how to respond.  A series of possible answers flowed through my brain at warp speed.

Sorry. Ila passed away 

She doesn’t live here any more

No one here by that name

Please don’t call me again, my wife died nearly a year ago

After what seemed like eons of silence, I finally settled on No, she’s not here.  And I hung up before the caller could respond with obligatory condolences.

But that’s a lie. Ila is in fact here. Little bits of her have touched many people and she continues to influence their lives. Her DNA is deposited in her children and her grandchildren. Her honesty, generosity and morality have cascaded to her offspring. And will someday reside in her great-grandchildren.

I was sharply reminded of this by my daughter, Nancy, at dinner in Costa Rica last Friday. On a Friday that marked eleven months since Ila’s death. On a Friday that would normally have found me in the synagogue where I would stand and say the Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer for those who have passed out of our lives.

Instead, we were in a celebratory mood, having spent the last week enjoying all that Costa Rica has to offer including its abundant scenery, local food and wonderful people. It was our last night and ten of us were feeling no pain.

And then Nancy stood and said with great difficulty “Before this all ends, we need to remember those who are not here with us.” As tears filled her eyes, I looked around the table and saw all the people, now silent, who had been touched by Ila.

Her DNA, morals and peculiarities can be easily found in her two children. Her three grandchildren are fortunate offspring sharing in the gifts presented by Ila. In turn, her influence has helped lead her children in their selection of their partners.

And I am the principal beneficiary of her love and largess, freely given to me during nearly sixty years of knowing and loving her. She, who was a partner in all we did. She, who probably engineered the Chicago snowstorm that convinced us to move to California. She, who insisted that I start a business and stick with it despite the all too frequent times that found me questioning my judgment. She, who always stood by me as we weathered the periodic storms that nearly engulfed us.

And it goes on today to affect others. People ask me “Do you think that Ila is happy that you are not alone?” I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do think she would be happy with the new woman in my life. I know that my choice of a loving soul mate has been influenced by the woman who came before her.

So, the next time some caller asks Is Ila there? I’ll say Yes, but she’s busy now.

Trifecta

Saturday Night

A narrow, off-white dining room, with an arched opening to a carpeted hallway. Another smaller swinging door that empties from the larger room into a sparse kitchen just big enough to seat four.

Smelling the acrid cigarettes and the cigar smoke steeped in its own brown juice, I lay my ten-year-old head on the thinning pillow of my day bed. A bed so close to the long dining room table that I can both hear and feel the card players. They laugh and make the most of a nickel and dime poker game played on a spotless white table-cloth covering the marred wood surface infused with fading memories.

Check? You can check in the bank, jokes my father as he raises the ante. Uncle Max, needing to get up at 4:30 for his job in the scrap metal yard, struggles to keep up with the banter. My mother, smoking but not inhaling one of her rare cigarettes, pops up and down from the table. Pouring glasses of cold seltzer water and filling up the nut bowls, she is in her element. Caring for others before herself.

It’s Saturday night.

 

Relatives Found

We take a Baltic cruise during which we stop in St. Petersburg. Within shouting distance of my immigrant parents’ long-ago shtetl, the old city’s historical features are dingy and marred by years of neglect and a lack of funds that might help it recover. Cracked walls, unkempt streets, and art objects that tilt offensively mar the scene.

That evening, our tour attends the ballet in the Mariinsky Theater. Built in 1860, it offers a glimpse of Russian art history before it crashes in the wake of Communism. We queue up to the ticket booth and I look at the ticket taker, feeling like I am staring into my own face. The lobby usher reminds me of my uncle Al.  And I want to hug the old lady who, reminding me of my maternal grandmother, shows us to our aging velour seats. I am no longer 6,000 miles from home.

I cry happily during Swan Lake.

 

 

Skin

I feel her skin. The small, sea-salty strip that runs from the heel of her left hand up along her petite forearm. Small, bird-like, smoother than velvet, that small piece of skin offers me a sensuous insight into her womanhood.

I find myself softly stroking it as we lie there. I tell her how it feels. How it makes me want to never leave the bed. We need not go further to experience delight, ecstasy and deep satisfaction. It’s as though that precious, well-hidden area has remained unchanged since her beginning and will stay that way until I am no longer capable of feeling. Until then I will touch and love.

 

Memories for Sale

I’m selling my house.

After eighteen years and precious memories, things have changed and I feel compelled to try something else. My sweet wife, Ila, passed away nine months ago. The house is quiet. Too quiet. Too much time to think. Too much time.

It’s a big house, more than I need. How many bathrooms can I use simultaneously? How many acres can I traverse in a day. And how big a bed do I need when all I want to do is lie closer to the woman I love?

And I want to be nearer town. Closer to people. Closer to the noise of everyday living.

Yesterday I went to Java and Joes, the little coffee shop in the middle of town that has great coffee and the occasional stale muffin. It’s a slow-moving place with the usual assortment of regulars. I sat outside and watched the cars go by. Dogs on leash. People carrying stuff from Rains and Rainbow Bridge. I don’t know who they are, but I welcome their company. It’s like a battery recharge. Something that makes me part of the scene, rather than being alone.

Anticipating a positive outcome to my own sales effort and the need to find another home, it seemed appropriate to find out what was available on the market. Led by an intrepid real estate broker, Jackie and I looked at some candidates. Comparing my home to the ones we visited was disappointing at best. A feeling of why am I doing this dogged me both during and after the visitations. Our broker’s admonition of it’s a tight market, not much inventory, failed to make me appreciate my situation.

As a further step in preparing for a new home, I have taken to watching HGTV while I treadmill at the gym. I am mesmerized watching homes being renovated quicker than possible, even under the best conditions. I snicker as the disasters involving wood rot, crumbling structural beams and faulty plumbing are discovered and corrected in record time, and at a cost that is well under Southern California prices. Homeowners bounce between major depression and glee as each episode invariably ends with a happy outcome.

Couples seeking a new home are doggedly focused on the number and size of the bathrooms. Young couples with small children seem particularly possessed with the need for a bathroom for each of their kids. Four bedrooms, four baths, for four people is the ubiquitous mantra. God forbid that little Susie might become socially maladjusted if forced to wait in the hallway while little Jimmy diddles on the toilet.

I grew up in a three-bedroom apartment that was shared by my parents, my older brother, my aunt and uncle, and my grandmother. Other relatives, usually homeless, often appeared without notice and stayed for weeks. On the floor if necessary. I slept peacefully on a couch in the dining room, while my elders played poker and smoked cigarettes not two feet from my head. And we had one bathroom with one sink, a toilet and a shower.

It all seemed normal to me. If someone was in the bathroom, I retreated to wait my turn. If it was urgent, I would ask through the door “will you be long?” I learned to pace myself and always take advantage of vacancies. Maybe that’s why, even today, I hardly ever pass up the opportunity when a public toilet is within easy reach.

Friends have mixed feelings when I tell them that I’ve listed the house and its three bathrooms. Some don’t know what to say, but others are very supportive. Some, who think they can see into the future, promise me a positive outcome.

As I look out at the Topa Topa mountains that have become familiar faces over the last eighteen years, I find myself see-sawing between euphoria and depression. I alternate between welcoming potential buyers and hoping that they lose their way as they climb Sulphur Mountain Road.

I had my seventy-ninth birthday on Saturday. Sweet Jackie did herself proud by organizing a first-class party. She showered me with gifts and whispered words of love. Attuned to my mixed emotions about the house, she repeatedly checked my mood by asking, “Do you feel like it’s your birthday?” I’d think about her question and hesitate. It was as though the party was marking the end of an era. One that was filled with good times and sorrow. Something I couldn’t and wouldn’t forget.

The next day I got a note from my Chicago cousin Judie who had seen the over-the-top photos taken by my real estate broker…Just as I remember it. Nostalgic for me. But I understand why in your heart you hope no one wants to buy it. Even though that’s what should happen. It will be easier on you.

Maybe it will, after a while.


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