When I was a little kid, I used to love to fly. See, I always wanted to be an astronaut, and I looked at flying in an airplane as the next best thing. I'd insist on getting the window seat, then spend the entire flight with my little face plastered up against the window, staring down at the buildings, cars, lakes, bridges, mountains, clouds...until I couldn't tell what I was looking at anymore. And then I'd still stare.
Then came the 90's. Flying became all about keeping little kids quiet. And in their seats. QUIET! And STAY IN YOUR SEATS! By the time the plane would land, both me and my wife would have aged another year or two. We began to despise flying.
But then came the late 90's, and I stopped flying with children. They got older. Or we drove instead. And flights for me became infrequent, or associated with business, and again I found myself staring out windows, or relaxing with a good book.
Until 2001, when those horrible terrorists destroyed not only the World Trade Center, but the airline industry and my enjoyment of it as well. Long lines at security checkpoints, tests of coordination juggling multiple belt and pocket items and shoes while simultaneously attempting to get through metal detectors, humiliating searches, all conducted with a forced smile on my face, lest I anger the all-powerful security guards and risk missing my flight, and attempts at keeping my pants up while putting my belt through the XRAY machine became the theme of airflight. I again found myself avoiding flight.
However, over the past year, I began to fly more frequently, as my Father's illness became more intense and I was summoned to the East coast more often. So this time I was better prepared. I brought a backpack along, and shoved all the items usually attached to my Bat-Utility Belt into it. My pager, phone, PDA, wallet, keys, camera, etc, and just put the whole thing on the conveyer belt. I wore not my dress shoes, but my sneakers, which I could slip in and out of easily while standing. I put my luggage under the plane instead of trying to sneak in on as a carry-on. And it was remarkably stress-free.
The only question was the bass guitar. Since I was hired to play bass, I had to bring one with me. And I just couldn't see letting a bunch of luggage carriers throw it around or step on it or pile suitcases onto it. So I didn't bring my new bass. I broke the old one out of storage in the boiler room. Just in case.
I walked up to the curb-side check-in station.
"How many bags are you checking?"
"Oh, just this one, and...I guess I'll check the guitar at the gate."
"Nah, don't worry 'bout that. Just carry it on."
And I did.
And they sat me next to a nice young lady who spent the whole flight trying to keep her two young children quiet. And in their seats.
A trip home is really a chance to reacquaint myself (and my daughter, Fudge, who joined me for Shabbos) with my Polish relatives. I feel now that my accent is fully recharged. Fudge got a lot of exposure to this side of the family, and heard some interesting tales.
For example, we were flipping through my Bar Mitzvah album. We did this because Fudge had just attended a wedding at the same hall where my Bar Mitzvah reception occurred. It appears they have not changed the grey crushed velvet wallpaper in the past 27 years. Some few pages after the candle-lighting ceremony, and a little before the picture of me and my sister doing The Hustle, were the table pictures. My mother stopped us at one, and went into this unbelievable story about one woman in the picture, who came from her hometown in Poland. Apparently, this woman had a first cousin in another town, whose parents took him to Paris just before the Nazis arrived in Galicia. However, as we all know, the Nazi's soon came to Paris as well, and these Jews could not find safety there. So they gave their son to the French maid, asking her to pass the 5 year old boy as her own. The parents were then deported to Auschwitz.
The maid began to panic, fearing she would be discovered and sent to a concentration camp as well. So she gave the boy to a monastary, where he spent the remainder of the war. The boy's father survived Auschwitz and eventually came looking for his son. He traced him to the monastery and demanded his release. The Priests refused, saying he had already been baptized and could not leave the Church. The man went to the boy, but the boy refused to see him, stating he was a Christian and would never go and live with Jews. The man was heartbroken.
My mother then took out a copy of the latest issue of a Jewish magazine, which indicated that this boy had in fact grown up to be the Archbishop of Paris and was now a Cardinal, and had come to the US for a Jewish/Christian Conference! The woman in my Bar Mitzvah picture had refused to see him when he was in town.
The time spent with my relatives could be subcategorized into guilt and health, and frequently the two were connected:
On Shabbos morning I went to the Young Israel, because my Mother told me my Uncle Sam would be there. As is my (new) habit, I showed up bright and early. Sam was already there.
Uncle Sam (age 91): Where were you last night?
Me (age 40): I went to the smaller shul. It was raining and it's closer. They let me daven Mincha from the Amud.
Uncle Sam (obviously not impressed): I vuz here. I looked for you. You never came.
Me: You were here? You told me you weren't coming because it was raining.
Uncle Sam: Fela drove me.
Me: And you walked back?
Uncle Sam: Yes. I almost didn't make it.
Later that day, we went to visit Sam and Fela at their home, and we had a nice visit, in which I was instructed to FORBID my Uncle Sam from fasting on Yom Kippur, lest he fall again like he did on Tisha B'av. After all, I'm a doctor. He'll listen to me. Feh.
As we walked back to my Mother's house, we passed some older ladies sitting on a porch.
Mom: Oh, this is Mrs. Bernshtein. You remember her, Markie? When you were two, she asked you for a kiss. And you were so smart! You told her if she gave you a horsie, you'd give her a kiss!
Me: (I wanted a horsie?) Good Shabbos Mrs. Bernshtein. You can have your kiss now.
Mrs. Bernshtein (to my Mother): Did you see Boba (my Mother's Aunt)? She is dying.
Frieda (another lady): Yes, she is on her last breath! (giggles)
Mom: What?! Boba dying? She didn't call me!
Fudge: Maybe that's because you're not talking to her.
Me: Yes, remember, you have broiges. You don't talk now.
Mom: What?! She would call me if she were dying.
Mrs. Bernshtein: Why don't you go over there?
Mom: You don't go over to someone without calling first!
Me: Yes, but she's dying! Maybe she can't answer the phone. We're going to pass the house anyway!
Mom: OK, we'll call from the sidewalk.
(a block later)
Mom: BOBBBBAA!! COME TO THE WINDOW! IT'S RUSZIA! I BROUGHT MARK! HE'S A DOCTOR!
Mom: BOBBBBBBAAAAA!! I have a DOCTOR!!
(suddenly a head pops up into the window)
Boba: Ruszia? Is that you?
Mom: Yes, it's me! I brought my son! Mark! He's a doctor! Are you dying? Open the door!
Boba: I don't know if I can make it. I'm too sick. I had a doctor's appointment yesterday, but I canceled it because I'm too sick.
Me: Can you let us in?
Boba: Wait. I...don't know. Wait. I'll try to make it to the kitchen.
(a minute or two later)
Boba: Come in. Sit in the living room.
(the room is immaculate)
Me: Boba, how do you feel? You're breathing is very shallow. Are you having a hard time breathing?
Boba: No, it's just this cough! And the cough syrup makes me dizzy! The doctor thinks it's an allergic reaction.
Me: Do you want me to call an ambulance?
Boba: No, I'll be fine.
Mom: Boba, do you want me to take you to the hospital?
Boba: No, you're too busy. You have a lot to do. You're occupied. Like Poland.
Me: If you change your mind, call me or call 911.
So we walked to my mother's place, somewhat concerned but mostly thinking this was just some anxiety. And I chuckled a few times about Boba's Occupied Poland line. She's a real character.
On the way to my Mother's house, we passed another woman sitting on a porch.
Mom: Markie, this is Zosha. Do you remember Zosha? You used to play with her daughter when you were two. Very sad. She had some problem with her brain. She had to have an operation. Terrible. She was just sitting there all the time. She couldn't talk or walk. But now she is walking again. Zosha! Look who is here! Do you remember Mark?
Zosha: Ah, Mark! Do you remember me?
Me: (lying) Of course!
Zosha: Give me your hand!
Zosha: Give it to me!
Zosha: Do you feel this? (puts my hand on her skull)
Me: Wow. Bumpy.
Zosha: I had too much water on the brain! But they made an operation and now I am better! I have a...a...a...
Me: A shunt?
Zosha: Yes! How did you know?
Mom: He is a doctor.
After Shabbos I went out with Fudge and my sisters and we had a nice evening. And then I went to Slichos and came home around 1 am.
Of course, Boba had the last laugh on all of us, because at 2 am my mother came into my room and told me that Hatzoloh was over by Boba and I should go over there. So I did and Boba had an oxygen mask on and was already cracking wise with the EMTs, who, when they found out that I was from Milwaukee, started playing Chofetz Chaim Geography with me.
"Do you know Rabbi H?"
"Yes, my son is in his shiur." Etc.
We spent the rest of the morning at an ER on Long Island, where the ER doc had vivid memories of my Aunt and soon diagnosed her with a touch of heart failure which responded very rapidly to a little diuretic. Then they decided to admit her, so I called a cab home. By the time I left, Boba was already complaining bitterly about the nurses, so I figured she was doing better.
I crawled back into bed at 5 am, ready to face the day to come...
To Be Continued....