Two true tales from the coldest winters we’ve seen in decades. One an example of how to treat others. The other, an example of how not to treat others. I hope that someday, both givers of kindness and meanness will receive their Karmic justice in this life or the ones to come.
First tale, as retold by my mother-in-law on an incident that happened to the grown children and grandchildren of their longtime friends:
In December, two families from suburban Long Island, each with two or three children with the oldest of age 12, followed each other caravan-style north to a ski vacation rental in Vermont. There was a winter storm warning and, thinking they could push through, the families drove into the night. Main highways became impassible so the families decided to take alternative routes on local roads.
As the roads began to ice over, one family’s car swerved to avoid another car, slid and became stuck in an embankment.
Witnessing what happened to the first car, the second car in the traveling party pulled over to see if they could be of assistance. In trying to help, the second car also then became dangerously stuck in a snow embankment. On a strange rural street. In the dark. In the cold. In the storm.
All the while, the two stranded families were unaware that a family living on the property was watching them. They approached the families who were stranded on their property – a group of about 12 complete strangers – four adults and their children – invited them in for the night, and gave them dinner and a place to sleep, and shelter until their vehicles could be dug out the next day.
To that angelic New England family who opened their doors to strangers on a stormy winter night, they will most certainly receive good Karma in this life or the next.
Next story. My story.
Funny how appearances change of buildings and streets in the snow. Especially in suburban Detroit neighborhoods you think you’ve gotten to know pretty well in the six months I’ve lived here.
I was on my way over to a good friend’s house to pick up my son from an extended play date. I was not sure of the exact address, and I didn’t feel like punching it into my GPS system. After all, I had been there several times in the summer and fall, to press cider and just enjoy the company of our new friends. I thought I knew my way and knew the house.
But like I said, something very disorienting happens in the low light and snowy landscape of winter. So disorienting that I pulled up the curvy, snow-covered driveway of the wrong house. Just one identical looking wrong house away were my friends, their daughter and son, and my son, happily playing.
Just one house away, I was catching some bad Karma.
I realized my mistake, and started to attempt to back down the driveway. Only, because of the curve and the snow, I missed it, and backed up into a soft, snowy part of the front lawn.
Funny how one can still use the word “lawn” in a polar vortex winter. Because no one has seen their lawn here since November.
So, there I was, on a lawn. If I just eased the car back and forth – Reverse, Drive, Reverse, Drive – I’d be on my way.
Instead, my wheels spun and whirred deeper into the lawn.
A man living next door saw my plight. He bundled up (it was 9 degrees) came out with two shovels, and we both set to work trying to dig me out. He even offered to get some chains and hooks from his car to drag my car out. I thanked him, but turned down his offer, afraid of the damage either of our vehicles might incur.
Finally, after 20 minutes of this, she came out.
A thin, blond woman.
She was not helpful.
She was mad.
“What the hell do you think you are doing to my lawn???”
“I’m sorry, ma’am… I was going to pick up my son at your neighbor’s house and I mixed up the houses and – ”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON MY LAWN? WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS??” She went on and on about her poor lawn and the damage I was doing to it. She did not ask if I was okay, if I had called for help, if I was cold, needed a cup of hot coffee.
In suburban Detroit, some people care about their lawns – even in the winter – more than they care about people.
Angry and embarrassed, I left my car and ran to my friends’ house. I’m not surprised that the two neighbors don’t even know one another. Usually, nice people don’t tend to socialize with mean people.
My car was eventually towed out by AAA, and my friend, her husband, and my husband came to my aid.
But not the mean blond lady, who actually took a photograph of my license plate as I was on my hands and knees trying to dig away the snow to free my car.
Mean blond lady, your lawn will be just fine. I’ll even come over with a bag of dirt and seed in the spring to fix your precious lawn. Because I said I was sorry 10 times. Because I’m that fucking nice.
Mean blond lady, you will also get your Karmic justice. It’s coming.
Has old man winter been a bitch to you? If so, rant away and please SHARE!
Saturday night, the night my parents went to a double wake for two Staten Islanders who drowned in their basement when the ocean came in, my faith was totally shaken.
I’m normally a person pretty strong in my faith, pretty sure that God has a plan and we can’t understand it. I pride myself in holding strong to my Jewish heritage and encourage my students to do the same.
But the other night, if just for a few hours, I gave up.
I went to bed in a dark place, filled with the images of helpless cold people from the neighborhoods of my childhood. I went to bed angry, completely pissed off at God. God, I thought, didn’t you promise to Noah never to destroy the earth again by flood? What was that about? Why do we humans have to see floods over and over again? How am I supposed to get up and teach my students tomorrow about your blessings, for blessing us with everything we need like food and shelter when there are people like my parents who are still without power and warmth in their own homes? When there is a wife who has lost a twin son and her husband AND her home in one single wave?
Lesson learned: when you go do bed angry at God, you don’t receive the blessing of sleep.
The next morning was Sunday. The sun shone brightly. Even when you can’t see it, there is the sun.
In New York City, it was Marathon Sunday. Fortunately, Mayor Bloomberg came to his senses and cancelled the marathon, but not before thousands of marathoners traveled just to be stuck and cold in the big apple. For me, it was off to teach Hebrew school, which opens each week with me helping to lead a tefilah,or prayer service, for students 7th grade and up.
Before going to bed, I expressed my very dark thoughts about prayer and God very honestly to my boss.I wasn’t feeling very thankful to God after days of looking at the destruction, and learning how close death hit to home.
Thankfully, she sent me some reinforcement. The rabbi of the temple Sunday morning addressed the kids so thoughtfully and patiently. She told us, yes, we can still feel blessed by God for God’s daily miracles: for giving us the ability to stand, to see, for giving us food and clothing. We do not despair or feel guilty for the blessings we have but instead use tefilah, to inspire us to help others in crisis. Just being together in a room of people joining together makes you realize you are not alone in sadness, and praying together can lead to hopefulness and action.
That afternoon I got a call from mom. She was overwhelmed with gratitude. She said Angels came to Staten Island that day. Would-be marathon runners took the ferry and ran around the island.
Thousands of them took to the streets, knocked on doors and started helping out and cleaning out. Several of them descended at my parents house and emptied the contents of my parent’s waterlogged basement.
Back here, in Rochester, many fundraising and relief efforts are underway including the Sea Breeze Fire Association collecting and then driving down a truck load of supplies to Staten Island and Long Island.
Brighton and Pittsford kids next week are organizing a bagel breakfast for pick up or delivery to benefit the New York Mayor‘s Fund for sandy relief, aptly named Sand-Aid.
These are indeed dark days and it will take a lot of fundraisers like this in the weeks and months to come, even after the media finds another story to cover. But with relief efforts like this, there will be light again.
My husband’s parents are about to become transplantedsouth.
This weekend, in the on-and-off rain, my in-laws had a yard sale in attempts to sell off the last possessions they did not want to take with them to Florida.
I got a call from my mother-in-law, asking me one last time if we wanted to take a few last things:
The antique 1920’s style school desk, complete with an inkwell, that resided in my husband’s childhood room.
The orange and brown stoneware dishes that she used each year for Passover.
Though both these things had great sentimental value, they were remnants of a house that was being left behind, and they just had no place in our present lives. My heart said yes, but my brain said no. We had taken all we were going to take that could fit into our current home. The rest, would just have to live on in memories and in lots of photos.
I’ve been visiting the house at 24 Manor Road North, on a huge one-acre lot, long before I was married. I started going there as a teenager, not long after I met the man who would be my husband at a camping retreat at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.
In fact, many of you reading this may have also shared great memories at 24 Manor Road N. long before we became the grownups we are today.
24 Manor Road North was host to our youth group’s student board retreat weekend.
I never attended one of these weekends (I lived on the other island, Staten Island) but I have heard they were legendary.
40 teens in one house for an entire weekend.
Can you imagine?
Later, 24 Manor Road N. was home to many “next to New Year’s” parties in honor of my husband’s January 3 birthday.
Now, after over 40 years of living in Long Island, my in-laws are packing up and heading to their dream retirement home along a golf course in … you guessed it – Boca Raton, Fla.
During these past four decades, they worked hard, raised four children and have done their share of babysitting over 14 grandchildren. They have rightfully and healthfully reached this well-deserved phase in their lives. I am genuinely happy for them. For the grown children however, we are left with that bittersweet realization that you can never go home again.
On our last trip to the house I took lots of photos of parts of the house that I have known forever, and now would never see again.
Like the enormous hedges that seemed to swallow the house with each passing year:
I also took some photos of parts of the house you were NOT allowed to see until you were no longer considered a guest but a part of the family. Like the upstairs “kids” bathroom that my husband shared with his three sisters, the one with the whale mirror:
And then, when you were REALLY family, you could go in the basement. On our last day at the house, we went downstairs to the basement, already filling with boxes, where my father-in-law asked if we wanted to take some paintings he created long ago
We also found remnants from the family business, Fairyland Amusement Park in Brooklyn, that was in my husband’s family for three generations:
This move has been over a year in the making, and selling the house was tough in the Long Island housing market. To sell the house, little bits of its personality were smoothed over, creating a clean slate for the minds of potential homebuyers.
With each visit over the last year, the house felt less like the home I’ve visited since I was 16. Gone from the kitchen were the dozens of hanging plants, some living, some just hanging on, that was known as the “jungle” and where, in rounds, children and grandchildren had breakfasts or July 4 hot dogs after cousin sleepovers:
Gone from the stairwell were the photos of my sisters-in-law as kids and collages of grandchildren.
Gone were the artful silver and mauve squiggles that my father-in-law painted on the kitchen walls.
Everything felt neutral. Beige. Only one room, the dining room where we had so many holiday dinners, maintained its burgundy hue.
On my husband’s last day in his boyhood home earlier this month, I didn’t rush him out despite the seven- hour drive ahead of us back up to Rochester. He watched one last Wimbledon tennis match with his parents on the big sectional couch where the family and many friends logged in thousands of hours of hanging out.
In the end, we had many great memories at 24 Manor Road North. (Feel free to add your own memories, family, in the comments box.)
We’ll just have to make new ones in Florida.
Especially over February break.