Friday, September 21, 2012

Some Families Are More Extended than Others

A warning: You may need a scorecard to keep up with the following discussion.

We spent last weekend at a cousin’s wedding—the older child of Audrey’s cousin Randy. In the south, he would be called our second cousin once removed. The ceremony was fairly old fashioned, except that it was held on a beach and featured something I had never seen before, “the pouring of sand.” Near the end of the ceremony (and just before the officiator announced that the groom “may now kiss the bride”), the bride poured a small container of white sand into a larger bottle while the groom poured a container of gray sand into the same larger bottle. The symbolism was right before our eyes, a blending of two families to form one.

The sand has been poured. . .

and the bride and groom prepare to kiss

But these were no ordinary families. This was what we used to call “new math” or at least the new reality of family life. The bride was the child of a single mother, as was the groom (whose divorced father was present but only tangential to what went on this day). The bride was also a single mother whose three-year-old son was a center of attention throughout the weekend, both because he was so adorable and because he proved that this new couple was also automatically a complete new family. Now that may seem like enough addition for one afternoon, but there was more. Our cousin, the groom’s mother, is an adopted child, the daughter of my mother-in-law’s closest cousins, Frances and Lou, two warm and wonderful people. (Sadly, Lou died a few years ago, but he certainly would have enjoyed this day.) And several years ago, Randy connected with her birth parents, who were unmarried teenagers at the time she was born but subsequently married and had several additional children. And all of those second family members were at the wedding, too. All of which meant that the little boy, who before Saturday had one mother and one grandmother to call his own suddenly had a new father, grandmother, and two great-grandmothers, plus assorted new aunts and uncles. There was more, but you are probably getting a little dizzy trying to follow the mathematics.

But here goes anyway. When the DJ got the music rolling, the couple danced their first dance together, one on one. The second dance featured another one on one—the bride and her son. The third featured the bride, groom, and the child. The fourth featured the groom with his mother. Then we all joined in.

I hope that nothing I am relating here comes across as critical. I thought all of the connecting and reconnecting that occurred during the weekend was remarkable. Weddings are always a little wacky from my point of view. You bring together two disparate families, who often have little in common other than the fact that both may feature weird relatives, and you ask everyone to get along well at least for one day. This does not always happen. I can remember when my friend Dick Rothschild arrived at my college roommate’s wedding and was asked if he wanted to sit on the bride's or groom’s side. He replied that he wasn’t sure: the groom was his friend, he explained, but he was rooting more for the bride. It is important that families bury their rooting interest, especially when the cameras are flashing or the chocolate fountain is available as a potential weapon.

This was our third wedding of the summer, all very different affairs. One in New York, one in Boston, and one at the Jersey Shore (all prime locales for reality shows). And the family dynamics and interactions were also different each time. We have two more family weddings to attend over the next year, and I suspect each will feature a certain amount of bickering as well as joy and offer me some prime blogging material.

At this point, neither of our children is planning a wedding or in a relationship that may lead to a wedding in the near future. I am not unhappy with the situation, though I wish them both partners someday who will enhance their lives. I have a ladder on hand for a money-saving elopement by either child and a calculator in case I need to handle any new math situations.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Still Awake at the Midnight Hour

My children keep trying to help Audrey and me become more hip. In my case, this is often a failing proposition. The latest attempt was on Thursday night when the kids treated us to a special anniversary present—tickets to see Madonna perform at Yankee Stadium.

I know that I can be a prude sometimes. It shows up in strange ways. For example, I have trouble dealing with the “F”-word spoken too often in public. I’m sure that this goes back to the time when at age 6, I asked my parents what a word I had seen written in the school bathroom meant. The F-word, of course. Their response was not a definition but an admonition: “Don’t ever use that word!” I had to find out the meaning from the “street.” And recently, when a friend asked if I like the show “Veep” on HBO, I said that couldn’t enjoy watching it since I had a problem with having the Vice President, and especially a woman VP, using the F-word constantly. To be fair, I was just as upset when in the movie “Game Change,” the actor playing John McCain uses the F-word liberally.

But to get back to Madonna, who, by the way, did not use the F-word in her concert, as far as I can recall. I was concerned that my prudishness might come into play again. And it did early in the show when she sang songs about shooting you dead and enjoying it while blood splatters went flying across a screen on stage. I also had some internal response to sacrilegious images that opened the show, but Audrey reminded me that I should have expected those and to get over it anyway. I did, however, love when she made an instant change from her sleek black outfit that had been revealed beneath a monk’s robes to a drum majorette costume. It brought me back to my high school band days and my friend Ronna Waldman.
Long before my worries about being prudish, however, was my annoyance that Madonna arrived on stage at 10:25 for a concert slated to begin at 8 p.m. To be fair, Brett had alerted us that we needn’t show about before at least 8:30 or 9, since Madonna probably wouldn’t either. But 10:25!!! And this was after a 1-hour light and sound extravaganza by Amicii, who I learn is considered one of the world’s best at his performance medium, which would appear to be playing loud music and flashing his stage name across the screen thousands of time a minute. Not knowing anything about Amicii, I figured the name was either a subliminal message designed to make people in the stands buy lots of beer or a Madonna product line that we were being mentally prompted to buy. And you wonder, why some people feel I am not hip!

But to get back to Madonna. The show was staged impressively, choreographed originally and excitingly, and timed to the second. So much so that she was singing “At the midnight hour, I can feel your power” from “Like a Prayer” when the clock struck midnight. Audrey figured that’s why she couldn’t begin until 10:25. I thought that she could have started earlier and just added a few songs to fill in the time to midnight, but what do I know about rock concerts? I’m more the hootenanny type.

The real show was in the stands, however. Some people dressed up, other dressed way down. Lots of bopping once Madonna was on stage. And a lot of love emanating from the audience to the star. (And not a single boo or sound of annoyance at her late appearance).

While I will admit that I did not break into dance at any time during the concert, I did sing along enthusiastically with some of the old songs that I know and love. I can belt out “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Open Your Heart” with anyone. And Audrey, while also not dancing, was much more into the spectacle of the evening. I think she felt a little reluctant when I suggested getting a headstart on the rush to the subway right after “Like a Prayer” ended. I understand that we missed only one or two songs and did avoid being crushed on the D Train.

So did the experiment to raise my hip-ness level succeed or fail? By many measures it probably failed. However, there were not that many couples of our advancing years in the stands at all that night, so that should score us some points. And we now know who Amicii is, even if we don’t yet appreciate why he is so famous.

What’s next?  We’ll be attending a third Barbra Streisand “final concert ever” next month at Brooklyn’s new Barclay Center. And we’ll be arriving by limousine thanks to another gift from our children. How hip is that! And we’ll be reaffirming our own belief that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, even if those people sometimes use the F-word or keep us waiting to begin a concert until it’s almost our bedtime.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vermont: Where All Tracks Are Beaten

When we spend weekends at our second home in Vermont, we feel like modern pioneers. We’re “pioneers” because we often find ourselves exploring on roads that are not always on a map or are illustrated with dotted lines. We’re “modern” because we are often hooked up to a GPS to make sure we don’t get lost, or at least not too lost. 

Is this cheating? I don’t think so. I have a notoriously bad sense of direction and so-so memory when it comes to retracing a path on which I have driven just a few minutes before. We will come to a crossroad on our return trip, and I’ll slow down hoping my mind will remember whether I had turned right or left when we were coming from the other direction And Audrey will say, “Jeez, can’t you remember anything. Since we made a right here before, it’s left now.” Ah yes, I remember it well. . . So it’s comforting when our GPS lady says, “In two-tenths of a mile, turn left.”

Getting lost is not always my fault. Sometimes we can blame the GPS lady. When we leave ourselves in her hands (or voice), she can take us anywhere she wants. And she sometimes does.

Sunday, we went with our friends Helaine and Ken on a first rite of fall outing—apple picking in Putney, a place we had visited only once before. The GPS lady suggested that we go right out of our townhouse complex (I would have gone left and followed a different route of main roads). We traveled farther from the main roads, started circling back (at least in my mind) and ended up at the same place I would have gone, except from the opposite direction. How was that possible? Then she had us turn onto something called “Putney Mountain Road.”  And we started climbing. The road went from well paved to less well paved to dirt to rough dirt. Still climbing. It narrowed and narrowed some more. It was now at a width that would have trouble permitting cars to pass each other without one risking falling off the road (something I had done during “mud season” just a few months before). Of course, that was the moment that two cars approached us from the other direction. Oh my!

A hairpin turn on Putney Mountain Road

I pulled over as far as I dared and stopped. If those cars wanted to get by me, they were going to have to take the initiative! Were the wives of those other drivers offering their spouses “advice” on how to pass, I wondered. Probably. Mine certainly would have been if I hadn’t stopped. I know this is a little too dramatic for a simple passage of cars on a narrow road, but you’re in my head now, and my mind tends to make a big deal out of even little things.  The two cars passed without incident, of course, and we continued our climb on this scary rural road. The GPS lady informed us that we still had 1.3 miles to go before moving on to another road. Then, almost sarcastically, a speed limit sign appeared, warning us not to exceed 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour! We were going maybe 10. In my mind I began calculating how long it would take to go 1.3 miles at 10 miles per hour. Too long!

Then, as if by magic, the road began heading downhill. We had crossed over Putney Mountain, it would seem. Soon we would be on another road that would lead us to the Putney Orchard, which indeed did happen. The new road was paved and pretty flat. Perfect. Even the GPS lady seemed satisfied, telling us we were now reaching our destination 300 yards ahead on the left.

The apple picking would seem pretty anticlimactic after all of the “fun” of getting here, but it turned out to be both an enjoyable and tasty way to spend the late morning. Along with picking several varieties of apples, we also found blueberries (a little tart but worth the effort), plums (not ripe enough to keep), and something that we called “apple-pears” (looks like an apple; tastes like a pear). Since those weren’t listed on the orchard’s price list, we decided to pass them up.

Helaine and Audrey explore for apples

Ken is literally up a tree

When we got back to the orchard store to pay for our pickings, we asked the clerk for new directions to get home. Hearing that we had come on Putney Mountain Road, she offered to help us find something “less adventurous.” She suggested continuing on to Dummerston Center, where five roads connected. There we should take the east-west road. So how would I figure out which road went east-west, I wondered? As it turned out, the decision was easy. The first road we passed on the right at the crossroads was called East-West Road. An old pioneer had obviously decided to help us modern pioneers. Sure, East-West Road was paved only part way and featured a one-lane covered bridge that required careful diligence to cross, but we were soon on a numbered state road and winding our way back home, loaded with apples and blueberries and a story to tell.

It was a perfect Vermont day. We had found a new place to go for an outing, we had gotten a little lost and still found our way back (thanks only in part to the GPS lady, who had played a big role in getting us lost in the first place), and we had communed with nature the way modern pioneers from urban areas do. I would say that we had gotten off the beaten track, but in Vermont all tracks are beaten—even some that you might best avoid unless you’re a mountain goat or own a GPS that doesn’t have a sadistic sense of humor.