JUST ONE SMILE

On Rosh HaShana Margie, Hal and I joined other congregants for Tashlich. Casting bread into the creek we listened as Rabbi Skoff urged the assemblage to each focus on but one misdeed. Quietly asking G/d for the strength and willingness, I endeavored to treat my Aunt Helen better this year—no matter how difficult. Frankly, I asked Him to give me endurance to treat her with the understanding so many had given me when perhaps I didn’t deserve it. To worry about my side of the street, regardless of the venom she may choose to spew.

Yesterday was the first test.

“Do you have a cold?” she opened.
“No, just sniffles.”
“Well, that’s a cold. Why do you deny it?”

I smiled. My game plan was to NOT let her engage me in colloquies destined for difficulty. The lady leads the league in semantics; why fight the fight?

And so it was that I’d quietly employed a mantra. Whenever she pushed, I smiled. Whenever she criticized, I smiled. And through it all, I knew to remind myself that, in her heart of hearts, she has no idea how difficult she is. Indeed, she could pass a polygraph test affirming that the entire world was wrong and she was right.

Arriving at Marc’s without incident, we settled for an Ungar’s challah, rather than a cherished Pincus. Her criticism of the store management evoked only a warm smile from me. (The store is set in an Italian neighborhood. I’m thinking: it’s nice they carry challah at all. I’m also thinking: Will Rogers never met my Aunt Helen).

We moved on. Produce. Frozen food. Then a circuitous route across the store to cereal. The prolonged journey brought choppy waters.

“Are you excited about your show opening?”
“Sure!”
“Will anybody come and see you?”
”Actually, Fenton, Snyder and Dennis Burnside are coming with their wives tonight.”
“That’s nice. Do you think your brother will come?”

• Editor’s Note: The “old Bruce” would have played it safe, refusing to volunteer. (Hal and I have discovered, only after years of getting kicked in the face, that unnecessarily disclosing information to our aunt is counterproductive. As our dad would say, “No good can come from it.”)

This being post-Tashlich, however, I put my best foot forward. Wrong move!

“Hal and Margie are coming closing weekend,” I whimpered (under duress). It was a split-second judgment call. Her question was pretty much about last night, but the fact is…I’d like to think that, by and large, half-truths is the “Old Bruce.”

She swarmed immediately, like Eva Braun’s surviving sister:

“Why would you tell me that NOW?” she demanded.
“Because you asked.”
“No, you should have told me that before you mentioned your friends!”
“But my friends are coming TONIGHT, ” I countered softly, sooo close to losing it.
“Why would I care about your friends? I want to hear about HAROLD.”
I punted and said I was sorry with a smile.
She recovered my unforced error in the red zone and spiked the ball:
“Really! You would think that your brother coming would be the FIRST thing you’d tell me! You are so stupid sometimes!”

• Editor’s Note 2: I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Fat, sloppy, irresponsible. A liar. Too far to the left, too consistent, too predictable. Even “mean.” And, hey, in one stretch the ex called me a “loser” so often that even Norman Vincent Peale bought in.

But I’ve never been called stupid.

And with a strength from some source other than me, I let it go. I really did.

My thoughts turned to my father who’d always counseled us to have some compassion for those less fortunate. He would remind that her life could not have been easy. That she was no more difficult to be with than the life she had lived.

And I thought about my poor brother and sister-in-law. What if she asks to go with them?

And I chuckled inside, knowing that if that winds up being the case, at least I’ll be able to hide on stage. They’ll have to sit in the audience and do the right thing: Smile.

10 Responses to “JUST ONE SMILE”

  1. Margie says:

    We always smile. No matter what is hurtling down the pike and aiming directly at us, we smile. It can be sneaking up on us, we see it in the rear view mirror and we can’t escape, so we smile. BUT you saw it coming and you through us under the bus. Thanks a bunch. Oh, when we come to see your play would you like us to bring your Aunt Helen back stage to meet the other actors?

  2. Aunt Helen says:

    So let me get this straight:

    You went to Tashlich and you STILL neglected to tell me that
    Harold, Margie, the Snyders, the Feinsteins and Bernsteins were going to see your play.

    Is there anyone else that you neglected to mention?

    Perhaps one of Ma and Pa’s great grandchildren?

    Maybe you should have thrown a bigger piece of bread
    into the creek at Tashlich.

  3. Caroline says:

    I can’t believe Aunt Helen called you stupid! For everything she’s ever said or done, that one comment actually surprises me.

    Also, I’ve noticed a typo (hopefully not a spelling mistake) in my mom’s response. It’s “threw” not “through.” Sorry mom. I couldn’t let that slide.

  4. JS says:

    I wish I was there. I love Aunt Helen. We love writing each other :)

  5. Margie says:

    Yes, Caroline, that was an error. You missed the other error. Ha!

  6. Aunt Helen says:

    Enough Margie, Caroline, Nadine, JS. ENOUGH I SAY.

    Since Friday I have been thinking quite a bit about Bruce’s attitude and behavior towards me. He has some nerve.

    What he neglected to communicate in his “blog” is that, in reference to me attending a performance of his play, he told me he was concerned about the rough language in the script; that I would be offended.

    How dare he determine what theatrical performances are appropriate for me? How dare he tell me what plays I should attend? At Tashlich did Rabbi Skoff annoint him the arbitrar of good taste for the entire family? I may be a bit older than Bruce but simply because I have a couple (OK, more than a couple) years on him does not mean that he can dictate what I should see .

    You know, first he and his brother Harold

    (and what is with this nonsense that he wants to be called “Hal”?
    If Ma and Pa wanted a grandson named “Hal”, then Albert would
    have named the boy “Hal”. Case closed on that one.)

    tell me how to spend my money. (The nerve of them) Now Bruce tells me what plays I should/should not see.

    That is it. Enough I say. ENOUGH.

    I will NOT attend the play. I simply refuse.

    And that is precisely what I told Harold when he invited me to attend a Sunday matinee with his precious Amy.

    “I will not attend the play. I simply refuse.”

    So, Margie, Caroline, Nadine, JS and any others who read Bruce’s “blog”, let it be known that I don’t want anyone to tell me how to spend my money. AND DON’T TELL ME WHAT PLAYS ARE APPROPRIATE FOR ME.

  7. Susan says:

    Aunt Helen, you are absolutely right. However, I believe you are being a bit too hasty in your refusal to attend. The play is very well done and I had a great time. I laughed so hard that I almost plotzed! I am even considering bringing my own mother to another matinee performance if she is well enough to go. I wish my father were still living so he could join us.

  8. Aunt Helen says:

    And now another country heard from.

    Bruce, since you control this blog of yours, it is your journalistic responsibility to NOT publish comments from people who are writing slanderous and potentially libelous statements.

    How dare “Susan” (or whatever the writer’s real name is) state that I am “a bit too hasty” in my refusal to attend your play?

    She is missing my point completely. It very well might be a “well done” play. But that does not diminish your pomposity in telling me what entertainment is appropriate for me.

    Perhaps she should have attended Tashlich.

  9. Susan says:

    Aunt Helen, you are right again. In fact, I said the very same thing to Bruce when he told me not to see the other play that he did. I agree with you. It should be up to you to choose what you want to do.
    As for Tashlich, I did go but thank you for enquiring. It is very thoughtful of you to be concerned about my Jewish soul. What a remarkable woman you are to care so much about me. It is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  10. Stuart says:

    Bruce, why didn’t you tell Aunt Helen about her namesake in the play. Even though they are contrasting Helen’s (just ask Bob Snyder), it just might have interested her. In fact, Helen (in Laughter) reminds me of what Aunt Helen must have been like in the early 50′s.

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