How I Came to Be

My mother was raised as an Orthodox Jew in a poor immigrant neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 30s known as “East New York” and she fell for my father who was a dangerous character and a card shark, the son of a prominent Mafioso and lawyer for the thoroughly mobbed-up teamsters union, who, eye-catching suffered from alopecia areata and entirely lacked hair, eyebrows, eyelashes the works. I honestly made the common male mistake of thinking that my mother was the uptight one and my father was the wild one, but a little math will show you how this is always wrong. Who is wilder, the minotaur or the girl who loves the minotaur? The girl. Because she chose to make a baby with a minotaur! Her troping is towards the weird. The plain old minotaur just chose a girl, and why wouldn’t he. That’s the way of minotaurs.

A lot of things had been going tangled for me for years and i thought maybe if I knew how I came to be the way I was I could unspool them, get back to where they got tangled up, straighten it out, and get out of the trap I semeed to find myself deeper and deeper in every day. So I thought — why not ask my Grandma Gussie? Why did a good Jewish girl who never got less than an A on a test on her life choose to leave it all behind and marry a louche character like dear old Dad?

Her answer:

The bold ones always break the rules.

So the old ones have to make the rules

Knowing they will be broken, by their boldest daughters

Of whom they are proudest. Had I forbidden only murder

She would have found herself a murderer and you would stand before me

Now you with your questions, as a half-murderer

If even you chose to frame your own rebellion

As a murder, and not a question. No, as a wise Grandma

I made the rules strict, I made the standard an unreachable conscientiousness

So when my favorite daughter rebelled, she took the steps towards light

And birthed a falling star, now go and wander but rechristen your wandering

As a plumbline descent towards the heart

Of what I desire, of what I have always desired of what

My grandmas before me have desired.”

Wow Grandma I said, most Grandmas wouldn’t give me such an honest answer.

-Them? she said, handing me a second piece of noodle kugel. They are bad Grandmas.


2 thoughts on “How I Came to Be

  1. Your grandma is a good soul. It is so challenging to love and accept that our loved one wants something entirely different than who and what we are. But that, I guess, is what love is for. I wonder if your Mom just found her own way to express her understanding of what it is to be Jewish in a much different way than your Grandmother–but it was so completely different that it seemed that she stopped being Jewish altogether. My husband would work on the High holidays–including Yom Kipper–but he would fast. The Rabbi crossed my husband’s path one day and let him know his displeasure with my husband’s choices. But my husband had the right to be the Jewish person he was and not the Rabbi’s version of who he thought my husband should be. Somehow, my husband’s parents weren’t put off by me—and I learned from them. I remember my mother-in-law, deceased now for so many years along with my husband, offering me a glass of milk at a meal that would have prohibited doing so! Bless her! I have been confused by my father-in-law’s actions and my husband’s because of Judaism but they were just human after all. Even my own dear father–faithful Christian, long deceased, slipped and fell morally, and yet I recall his uprightness overall. I wonder about your Mom and your Dad. Is it possible that the more questionable decisions and life’s choices overshadowed a malingering Jewishness? A malingering morality? PS I loved how your Grandma explained that she had forbidden so much so your Mother had greater latitude in choosing! A wry sense of humor in your family tree.

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