Tuesday, March 6, 2018

What’s So Special about 73?

My Aunt Lillian and Uncle Walter are celebrating their 73rd anniversary next week. That’s a pretty amazing number! I cannot imagine a couple more connected than my aunt and uncle. They have held each other together well into their nineties, spreading joy and optimism both within and beyond our family.
Uncle Walter and Aunt Lillian together as always
Here is an example of what I mean. My aunt’s hearing has been failing for many years, a fact which she hasn’t always admitted to or let dim her outlook on life. My uncle, on the other hand, is one of the great snorers of our time. “Windows rattle in the house when my dad sleeps,” my cousin David once remarked. Somehow those two infirmities haven’t gotten in their way. A few years ago, my aunt noted that as they have gotten older, my uncle’s snoring problem seems to be getting much better. No problem!

As I thought about the upcoming 73rd anniversary, I began doing a little thinking about the significance of the number 73. It seems to be everywhere in my family’s life these days. My brother is 73. So are my cousins Joel and Harold. Audrey and I recently celebrated our 45th anniversary, having been married in the year 1973.

Cheering for the number 73!
Is there anything else special about the number 73, I wondered, numerology-wise? It turns out that it is pretty special. (Here is a little esoterica.) 73 is the 21st prime number. Its mirror (37) is the 12th and its mirror (21) is the product of multiplying 7 and 3. In binary, 73 is a palindrome, 1001001 which backwards is 1001001. How special is that!

There is even a Biblical significance. If you count up the number values of the letters in the first seven words from Genesis 1:1 (In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth), the sum is 2701, which is 73 x 37.  Biblical scholars seem to revel in this kind of number play. And my Uncle Walter would be happy to know that the number values of the letters in the word Chokma, which means “wisdom,” also add up to 73. He has always been one of the wisest—and funniest—men I have known.

I’m not sure what all of this has to do with my aunt and uncle and what it reflects on their amazing long run together, but I wanted to celebrate them, both in anecdote and in numbers. Together, they add up to quite a pair.!

Friday, January 26, 2018

My Mom, the Bathing Beauty

This coming Tuesday, my mother would be 98 years old. Sadly, we won’t be celebrating her birthday with her (she died nearly four years ago), but I will be thinking of her. And I’m writing about her now and about a big surprise she left behind.

My parents were not big on photo albums. Sure, there were a few pictures taken of my brother and me at birthday parties, high school graduations, and family gatherings. There is an adorable shot of my brother and me sitting uncomfortably atop a horse when I was about four and he was about nine, and even an embarrassing shot of me being sworn in as captain of the school safety patrol in sixth grade. But those pictures were mostly isolated shots, pinned onto bulletin boards around our house or set into inexpensive frames and hung onto walls.

So it was a big shock when my sister-in-law Sandy found a small, aging photo album tucked into a storage chest in the attic in my mother’s house, which she was clearing out after my mother moved from the house into an assisted-living facility late in her life.

And what an album it is! The album is labeled "Miami Beach, Florida, August 1939" and features a very happy gathering of young people enjoying the sun, beach, and each other’s company. Young women AND men, and one of them is my 19-year-old mom! She’s hugging young men I don’t know (and never met) and wearing some skimpy summer outfits. And she is smiling big time!

My Mom is at the top right surrounded by young men.

Hugging and smiling big time!
I’m not sure how most people would respond to finding a “bathing beauty” photo album of their mother as a teenager. On a scale from shocked to surprised, I’d like to think that I was closer to surprised. But my surprise quickly morphed into smiles as I looked through the album. There is a freedom and joy that I don’t think I saw often in my mother. After all, I first met her long after she was married and already the mother of a five-year-old. And I doubled her family responsibilities. Once I arrived, she had three lives to run besides her own—and that was just in our immediate family.

The Miami photos also surprise me because the mother I knew almost never went to the beach even though Tybee was just 18 miles from our Savannah home. She said she hated the beach “because it was dirty.” I’m sure she was joking when she said that, but only partially. She really didn’t like mess. Luckily, she still put up with me and my messy ways for the 18 years I lived full-time in the Savannah house that was her home for nearly 60 years.  

My Mom on a sandy beach-- now, that's a surprise!
I have lots of memories of my mom, but none of her as a bathing beauty until this album emerged from its hiding place. It’s nice that your mom can still surprise you and make you smile after all these years.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Coming Close

The sad (from my Georgian’s point of view) ending to last night’s college football championship game has left me thinking about winning, losing, and coming close to winning, and whether “coming close” is a synonym for “failure” … or not.
When our kids were younger, my good friend Bob and I spent many seasons coaching our respective kids’ sports teams. We had different approaches, especially when it came to the integral importance of winning. Bob explained that he wanted the kids to recognize the difference between winning and losing, to strive primarily to win, and to be disappointed if they lost. I think he wanted them to be more than just disappointed at losing, but I may be exaggerating a little. I followed more of the “every kid gets a trophy” approach.

My idea was to play everyone an almost equal amount during a game while teaching the fundamentals, without overemphasizing the victory aspect. This worked pretty well when my players were 8 or 9 years old; when they grew older, I probably should have pushed to build in a more competitive attitude. Looking back, I think I may have underdone things a little bit.

Amanda's and my softball team. She's at the bottom left; 
I'm on the top right. Perhaps it was 
symbolic that we were the Glen Rock Chiropractic Center.

I can remember one of Amanda’s softball games that ended when our team scored in the bottom of the last inning to pull out a victory. I called to one of our players who remained standing on second base after the winning run had scored to come in from the field.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The game is over,” I shouted back.
“Did we win?”

Perhaps I could have done more to light a competitive fire in her.

We want our kids to be good winners. But what about being good losers? My friend Bob would have challenged whether being a good loser was anything to aspire to. He may have been right.

Brett (far left) in his brief football days. His coach that year (not I) 
was determined to turn all of the nine-year-olds into "men."
Since most of us spend many moments of our lives being judged, it is important that we know how to perform well in judging situations and to recognize when we have done our best work. The being judged part can be difficult on our hearts and minds, however. Especially because for every one winner there are usually multiple competitors who “come close” without winning.
On Saturday night, Audrey and I went to a concert that featured two young folk singers, one male and one female. Both were excellent musicians and talented songwriters, though we did prefer one over the other. The performers had very different styles and very different levels of confidence that showed through as they played and sang. One of them just seemed happier than the other, and we responded more happily to her. 

They also presented very different autobiographical snippets as they introduced their songs to the audience. The male singer told about achieving a life-long ambition when he was chosen to participate in a folk music competition in Texas. Thirty-two singer/songwriters performed before a large audience and a panel of judges over a two-day period. From that group, six were named finalists. They were the big winners.

Our singer, who had not made the final cut, told how he called home to let his wife know the “sad” results. His wife then relayed the news to their young daughter. “My daughter asked my wife if I had won. When my wife said ‘No,’ my little girl asked if Daddy had cried. ‘Yes,’ my wife said.”

This story was a little depressing, but here’s the best part. The incident led the singer to write a special song for his special little girl. And that turned out to be the best song of his set. It was touching, and more sweet than bittersweet. I like to think that “coming close” was just as important as winning for this particular performer, though I’m sure he would have preferred being able to market his status as a festival finalist.

Looking back, I can still remember one judging experience from my youth. When I was around 14 and a Hebrew school student in Savannah, my hometown, I was pushed to compete in a National Bible Contest sponsored by a national synagogue council. The contest involved reading different parts of the Old Testament (which fittingly included the Book of Judges that year) and answering multiple-choice and short-answer questions about the text. Reading and answering questions—that was right in my wheelhouse. I made the top score of all participants from the Southeast and earned the right to go to New York for the national competition. My mother went along, and I am pretty sure that we went by train and not airplane at that time.

This was my first trip ever to New York, and I was pretty stoked. My mother and I spent a lot of time during our first two days staring up at the big buildings. We also saw the Rockettes at Radio City and a huge-screen presentation of “Bye, Bye Birdie.”

Then it was time for the competition. There were 22 of us pedantic teens, mumbling biblical stories to ourselves to psych-up. Then we were handed a written test. I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. I blanked out on a few questions and guessed at some others. Twenty minutes after the written test was over, the 10 finalists were announced. I wasn’t one of them.

Then the top 10 were asked to respond orally to questions, somewhat like the National Spelling Bee until a winner emerged. I was really annoyed when I noted that I could answer almost all of the oral questions. “So close,” I told myself. “So close.”

When I got home, people in Savannah asked how I had done. “I came in number 11,” I said without blinking, and happily accepted everyone’s congratulations.