Devastation in the Land of My Childhood

I was planning to write something light and frothy today. I was going to tell you about all the shopping I did while in Europe, and show you some of my photos of shopping hotspots, things I bought, things I wanted to buy, if only my budget had allowed, and things that were way out of my price range. I actually started writing that post and who knows? Maybe some other time I’ll finish it.

But, today I am sad. My achy, breaky heart is tormented by what’s going on along the other side of the U.S., otherwise known as the east coast. Particularly, New York, my home, my birthplace. I could cry just for my city, alone. I could sob for Queens and all it has endured. I’m sure Long Island, where I spent my teen years, didn’t fare much better, though I don’t know for sure.  All that is going on right now is hard to fathom for those of us not there and for those of us who have never experienced anything like it. Let’s hope we never will.

For that Hurricane/Cyclone Sandy sure was a menace. She wreaked her havoc on everything she touched, and slammed all that was in her path. Like Queens, where 100 homes burned to the ground, just like that, and not a soul could do anything to stop it.

But then there’s the New Jersey shore. I think of the summers I spent there, in Atlantic City, and even once wrote about it in a post called, My Boardwalk Empire. For many years, Atlantic City was the vacation spot of my dreams. I still hold that place in high esteem and shudder at the pile of heap that it is now, after just a few hours of stormy mayhem.

How many times I skipped along the boardwalk, waving with a flick of the hand, to Mr. Peanut, as I whizzed by. Memories of buying a fist-load of saltwater taffy and breathing in the salty air mixed with the scent of Belgian waffles. All the sights and sounds of vacationers by the sea, echo through time, reminding us of that which was once there.

Yes, Atlantic City. This was the place to be. After the storm, when Governor Chris Christie surveyed the damage, he reflected how anyone his age, who’d spent time there, is devastated, knowing so much of the Jersey shore has been lost, and the coast, itself, will never be the same again. I can certainly relate, stricken with grief as I am. Heartbroken for the loss and the destruction suffered by so many.

Fires, floods, pummeling winds, power outages, and even snow. Sandy brought it all. What a terrifying combination, somehow reminding me of the Ten Plagues that the Lord brought on to Egypt–pestilence, frogs, boils, darkness, etc. There were casualties, too, but early preparation was key in helping to keep those numbers down.

Yet, all the damage in the world can’t stop the faith and belief in the goodness of people. Of people helping each other through simple acts of kindness.

Nor can it stop the will to go on. In the face of hardship, resilience is a powerful thing. People will walk miles, jump through hoops and bend over backwards for a ray of hope, and the promise that this, too, shall pass.

And, while the storm is over, the rebuilding begins, as insurmountable as it may seem. How long will it take? The folks in charge seem to think it’ll be mere days for the subway system to be up and running. I wish I were as optimistic. Patience is needed, something those of us raised there have in short supply. It’s going to be a long haul.  Luckily, folks there have grit and tenacity. They will survive, they will rebuild and they will be stronger for it.

For now, being so far, there’s not much I can do. I’ve been in touch with my friends and family and know they are safe. I’ve made my donation to the Red Cross. And, next spring, I plan to go back and visit. For I wish to see it again in all its brilliance. I need to see it again.

Life goes on, after all.

The Road Taken: A “True Love” Wedding

Fate. Timing. Fate. Timing. Fate.

Bad timing.

G and I married during one of the coldest January’s on record, in minus degree weather, in a reform synagogue somewhere in Northern New Jersey. A thick sheet of ice lay over the entire region. Add to this, it had snowed heavily the night before.

My family and I had to drive out from Long Island. My father, an insurance salesman, was at the wheel. After 35 years of driving through the streets of New York, in all kinds of conditions, he knew a thing or two about maneuvering through the streets of the city in order to get to the George Washington Bridge and over into New Jersey. The roads were slick with black ice and there were mounds of snow everywhere. As I watched from the back seat, I knew this was probably my father’s toughest challenge yet, and it seemed touch and go as to whether we’d make it on time.

We would be getting married in the synagogue that G’s family had belonged to for more than 25 years.  On a prior trip home, I had spent a few days searching for the perfect gown. My mother and I had visited several bridal shops in Queens, and, in the end, I chose the very first gown I had tried on. That was the extent of my contribution to the planning of my wedding.  Which is probably why it didn’t feel like my wedding at all.  It belonged to my mother-in-law. She did all the work, selecting the caterer, the flowers, the invitations. She assigned two jobs to my parents: hiring of the photographer, and finding a band.  Which is why, at our Jewish wedding, we had a Puerto Rican photographer and a Cuban band that squeezed in some salsa music in between rounds of Hava Nagila. Both the photographer and the bandleader were clients of my father’s, having each purchased whole life insurance policies when my father was first starting out in the business.

They're playing "our" song, True Love, from the film, "High Society," with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.

So, why didn’t I plan my own wedding? I used as my excuse, the fact that I was 3,000 miles away in Seattle, and couldn’t possibly plan a wedding from that distance.  But the truth was, I wasn’t interested. I found the idea of it daunting and was relieved when G’s mother offered to do it all.  Besides, my family didn’t have that many people to invite. G’s parents, however, had many, over 100 in all, family, friends and acquaintances, who had invited them to their children’s weddings, and now they needed to reciprocate.  Quid pro quo, some would say.

Also, my other excuse was the Judaism factor. This was to be a Jewish wedding through and through. Kosher, too.  Though, I had recently converted, I figured my mother-in-law-to-be would know best how to plan a proper Jewish wedding, chuppah and all.

G and I did provide the main course for the kosher meal.  We carted 75 pounds of frozen, fresh salmon from Washington state to New Jersey, just so that all our guests could sample the Northwest delicacy. For many in attendance, this was their first taste of fresh salmon. The only kind they’d ever eaten before, was the kind you put on a bagel. Lox.

Despite the weather outside, growing colder by the minute, the wedding inside the temple went smoothly. As would be expected, my mother got teary during the ceremony, and later, during the reception held on the synagogue’s upper level, my father walked around like a proud peacock.

There was dancing. A few weeks before the wedding, the bandleader had called G and me in Seattle to find out what “our song” was.  We just looked at each other, baffled by the question, mostly because we realized we didn’t have a song to call our own, so we had no idea what to tell him.  But that night, we watched on TV, High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, starring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.  In it, there’s a scene where Bing, whose character is divorced from Grace Kelly’s, sings to her, the song, “True Love.” It’s a bittersweet scene, since clearly they still have feelings for each other, but the song itself, is rather hokey.

Well, with no better song on the horizon, that’s the one we picked. Which is what the band played when we got up to dance. And now, looking back, I see that it’s kind of ironic, too.  That the song we chose was a song written for a couple who had already divorced. Fait accompli.

The worst part of the day had to be the icy conditions.  Because of the inclement weather, I had arrived with barely enough time to get dressed.  Many guests were late, so we had to delay the start of the ceremony a bit.  And when it came time to leave, only one guest was unable to, on account that their car froze in the parking lot. They were cousins of mine from Queens, so G and I offered to drive them home, as we were spending our wedding night in a hotel near the JFK airport.

The next day, I would be leaving for Houston to attend a three-day, work-related conference. The plan was that G would meet me in four days for a New Orleans honeymoon.  And it proved to be the kind of honeymoon, where, everywhere we went, people could tell. They didn’t have to ask. They smiled at us, as we walked hand in hand, along Bourbon Street. They brought us extra glasses of Mimosas, as we dined at the Court of Two Sisters for brunch.  They made room for us when we entered the crowded hall to hear the famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform. Everyone seemed to know and looked kindly upon us. We were newlyweds and we were so in love.

Then, two months later, I met Rick. Talk about bad timing.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.