New Year

I opened the card from my mother. It showed apples and honey, set out below the greeting “Happy New Year!”
Inside was a message wishing me a sweet and happy new year, followed by the words “L’shana tovah.” The card was signed “Love, Moms.”
I immediately called my mother.
“Mom, I just got your Happy New Year card. Thank you so much.”
“Debs, I saw it at Hallmark and I had to get it for you.”
“Well, I really appreciate it, Mom.”
“And, Debs, did you see that it had Jewish writing on it?
“Yes, I did see that greeting.”
“I thought that you would like it…I can’t believe they make New Year’s cards just for Jews!”
“Well, Mom….”
“And, to top it off, it was on sale! 70% off the original price! I think it cost me about $.50! Can you believe that? And it’s only January 2!”
“Well, Mom, that’s because its a Jewish New Year’s card….”
“I know that….”
“No, Mom, its a Rosh Hashanah card, THE Jewish New Year, you know, the one I make honey cake for.”
“Oh….”
“The one that happens in September.”
“Hmmm… well, I guess that’s why it was on sale.”
“Mom, I love you.”
“I love you, too, Debs, although I still can’t figure out why you Jews don’t use the same calendar as the rest of us.”
“I know, Mom, its a mystery.”
This is still my favorite Rosh Hashanah memory.
Miss you and love you, Moms.

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The Starling

I stood at my bedroom window. The rising wind had drawn me to the glass pane. Was a rain storm arriving before I had a chance to put the garbage out? No, it was just a random gust of wind, swirling the already fallen small yellow leaves from the shad that guards the front door. I paused to watch the leaves dance across the damp grey of the driveway and into the side yard where the faded brown grass of summer was greening up from early September rain. Autumn will be here too soon. The thought of raking the leaves from the shad and the poplar and the white birch had me turning away from the window, reluctant to see more work piling up on the lawn.
Another gust, but with a different tone, had me turning back. It was not the wind that had made the noise, though branches were swaying in the brisk breeze. It was the swirling, glistening black of a flock of starlings that I heard before I saw. They swept in from the south, across the broad front lawn, not as a wave, but as a tornado of wings, twirling up, then down, to the right and then to the left. Grazing the lawn then rising again only to return in a variation of their first descent. There were dozens, maybe a hundred birds, a few on the front lawn but most to the left of the driveway, gathered under the black cherry tree. It seems the wind had shaken loose some of the small garnet fruit from the tree, a favorite of birds and chipmunks every autumn.
A sharp noise caused my eyes to swerve from the mass on the lawn. Just a few feet away from me, an industrious individual had landed in the gutter and was busily digging through the gathering debris. His orange beak poked into the damp leaves and browning pine needles, knocking them onto the roof and the ground below. Occasionally, his onyx eye found a treat. Up his purple-hued head would tilt as he swallowed his treasured tidbit. His feathers had the shimmer of amethyst and teal amidst the black, like the swirls of color oil makes in a rain puddle; iridescent and rich against the black. Orange legs supported his hopping gait as he moved along the length of the gutter in his solitary search for food.
Two of his fellows landed near him but without his industry, or optimism, they quickly flew away to join the others on the ground, digging in the leaves and grass for the few cherries that had been knocked to the ground by the wind.
The starling turned to look at my window. His head cocked at a quizzical angle, he hopped up the small slant of the garage roof towards me. Three hops, then a pause. Then two more and he stopped. One more foray brought him right below me, less than a foot away. He waited there for a moment, tilting his head once to the left, then to the right. He glanced back down at the flock beneath him. Then he looked me right in the eye as if to say “I am a solitary soul. They must travel together, safety in numbers, but I find the richer rewards by going my own way. Still, there are times when I wish I could be part of the whole. There are times when I fly among them. And, there are times when I must lead.”
He turned and flew straight away, above the trees. The flock paused, a few rising. Then they swirled into the sky and were gone.

Labor Day

It isn’t about a big sale, or what to barbeque for friends and family or even that after today some of us will not wear, or will feel distinctly uncomfortable wearing, white shoes, slacks or skirts and carrying a white purse. All day I have wanted to shout: It’s about workers.
I haven’t seen an historical reference to the origin of the day on any of the news programs or baseball games I watched today. At shul this morning, there was a passing reference to veterans, and I’m not sure where that came from. On Facebook, unlike Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day, there has been no commentary about the day, why it is a National holiday, who is being honored. There are no parades that I have seen scheduled for today.
This year is not unlike other years. But this year, I seem much more sensitive to the meaning of the day than ever before.
I have spent my entire professional career as a labor law neutral. For 34 years, I have heard and decided cases or defended decisions involving public sector employees. Teachers, fire fighters, police officers, prison guards, lawyers, heavy motor equipment operators, corrections officers, secretaries, metal health therapy aides, custodians, bus drivers and laborers, their unions and their employers have found their way before me. Today is about them.
It is also about coal miners, textile workers, automobile assemblers, farm workers, retail sales associates, nurses and teamsters, longshoremen and railway employees. There are millions of employees in this country and this holiday is about them. And the ones who came before them.
And this year it seems important to remember that. In the midst of all the campaign rhetoric about business and how America needs to support its businesses to create more jobs, I keep thinking about the days when our government was all about business. When the business of America was business. The time when the workweek was six or seven days long (depending on how Christian your boss was and whether he would dare the wrath of his fellow believers to keep his factory open on the Sabbath) and the workday was 10 or 12 hours. When the average worker made pennies a day. When the average worker was a woman, or young girl or little boy, as well as men of any age, but not any color, at least not in the North. When the workplace was a tenement, or a basement, or a shack or a factory with boarded up windows so you wouldn’t be distracted by sunlight or fresh air. Or a mine with no ventilation and no light except the candles held by little boys. When there were no coffee breaks, lunch breaks, dinner breaks or bathroom breaks. And when you were sick or injured because of the job, you were fired. When you lived in your employer’s housing, shopped at his store and your wages were never quite enough to pay what you owed him at the end of the week or month or year.
I look at the places that now have American jobs: Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mexico and Haiti. And I see the same thing: children being sold into slavery to pay debts, women and men working in filthy, crowded conditions for a small fraction of what their work is worth, grateful for few cents or dollars they make because it will mean some food or some shelter for their families. And they work for American companies, producing goods sold in America, goods that used to be made here. American companies who don’t invest the profits in America any more. They dismantle American plants and businesses, in the name of profit, and invest the money in Switzerland or the Grand Caymans. And they don’t pay taxes on those investments either.
This is not about the farm stand on the corner, although the plight of the migrant farm worker is little better now than it was a century ago. It is not about the independent bookstore or the local builder or the mom and pop ice cream stand. Those businesses use local materials, hire local workers and invest their profits back into the community. It isn’t even about the huge American corporations that have kept their business in America and who employ thousands of Americans, unionized Americans.
Labor Day is about paying employees a living wage. It’s about safe working conditions. It’s about a reasonable workday and work week. It’s about making a profit but not at the expense of employees’ health or lives. It’s about children being in school and not in mines or lettuce fields. It’s about the people who died in the Haymarket Riots, the Pullman Strike and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It’s about men and women who came together to say “we shouldn’t have to starve or die to get a job.”
And if you think that would not still be the case without organized labor, then look at the working conditions in South America, Africa and the Far East. I wonder if companies would ship jobs overseas if they could have the work performed here in America for the same price. And what is keeping them from doing so? Fair labor laws enacted at a time when the government realized that continuing laissez faire business practices at the cost of human lives was inhuman. And who made that argument? Organized labor.
So, today, while you are eating barbeque with friends and family or shopping a Labor Day sale (being waited on by someone who makes minimum wage with no benefits and doesn’t have this national holiday off), think of what the holiday means. And think about what your job or the jobs of your family or friends might be like if there were no labor laws in America and companies were not regulated and employers could act with impunity towards employees. And say thank you to the American worker.

August 26, 1978

Nuns. I kept seeing nuns. It was my wedding day and I was feeling like Maria in “The Sound of Music.” But, I wasn’t wearing a wedding gown yet. I was in a simple dress and it was 7:15 in the morning, in the convent chapel in Malone with my mom, my sister, Cindy DesParois and Pattie McEnroe and maybe Connie Gibbons, but I don’t think so. We were going to Mass. Marrying a Jewish guy precluded me from having a wedding in Notre Dame Church, even though I was having a priest, a rabbi and a minister officiate at my ceremony later that day. Father Giroux (so handsome that we privately called him Father What-a-Waste) suggested I come to Mass that morning with the nuns.
“My mom wants me to take Communion,” I muttered to him the week before as Mitch and I finished our last Pre-Cana Conference.
“You can take Communion.”
“I haven’t been to confession in at least five years,” I stated, somewhat defiantly.
“Have you murdered anyone lately? No?” He smiled as I shook my head.
“Then I’ll give you Communion. God won’t care. You are doing it for your mother.”
No way for me to get out of it. Mitchell’s smug little smirk that let me know he would be sleeping in until our rehearsal later in the morning had me contemplating no end of venial sins I could commit at his expense.
As an honor, the nuns let me sit in the first pew. They could be magnanimous, I was only marrying a man, they were Brides of Christ. And I had to be first in line for Communion. Father Giroux laid the host on my tongue then we both glanced Heavenward at the same instant to make sure that the roof was not going to be sent down upon our heads for this sacrilege.
The Country Club provided another potential disaster a few hours later. We were supposed to be married on the patio, overlooking Owl’s Head. The staff had removed all the chairs and umbrella tables to clear the way for us. However, there were pipes sticking up out of the concrete all over the patio, revealed as soon as the table umbrellas had been removed. Flowers, chairs, and the traditional Jewish wedding canopy, the chuppah, all sat waiting our decision. We couldn’t use the patio; people would be tripping and falling all over with those damn pipes.
“Move over onto that lawn.” My father, a problem solver but no golfer, pointed to the putting green. The Club manager paled at the thought of multiple high heels poking holes in the pristine grass surface, but he reluctantly agreed. Problem solved, we sat down to lunch and laugh with friends and family.
A quick trip to the hairdresser for a wash and dry of my poodle cut (I still cringe at pictures of that popular do…what was I thinking), a fast manicure in pale mauve by my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Margot, a bubble bath and I was on my way back to the Country Club in Cindy’s car. We had commandeered the Ladies Locker Room.
Insanity. Seven women plus me. Two matrons of honor (my mother made me pick my sister and my college roommate, Susie, had beaten me to the altar), five bridesmaids and the bride, trying to get dressed in a locker room and lounge. Someone took a photo of me in my white lace bra and panties, leaning way over a sink, my nose almost pressed against the mirror, applying coat after coat of mascara. In the corner of the lounge, Connie and Leslie Kriff were arguing with my sister-in-law Margot about the floral hairpiece she was supposed to wear. Cindy was trying to find us some glasses of champagne; she did manage to score some innocuous white wine to calm our nerves. And from the window, I heard the voices of the Rabbi and the Priest arguing about whether the name of Jesus Christ could be mentioned during the ceremony. Mediating that battle was Irv, Mitch’s roommate from his VISTA volunteer days, a final year Yale Divinity student.
We had photos taken all over the Country Club and immediate grounds before the guests arrived, despite my Aunt Gaye’s predictions that since it was bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding, our marriage would probably not last. But, I wanted those photos while there was still daylight and I needed Mitch.
Tall, dark and handsome in his navy blue tuxedo, a small smile revealed under his bushy moustache, his hand firmly holding mine, he was everything I wanted. Knowing I was not altogether pleased with my dotted swiss wedding gown (my mother cried when I tried it on, what else was I to do but buy it), he told me I was breath-taking. And I believed him.
The ceremony was scheduled for 7:00 p.m., enough after sundown to satisfy our Rabbi-for-Rent. Our guests gathered around the chuppah. The sky was a tangle of pink, purple and blue clouds with a few weak rays of sunshine piercing the impending dark (my mother had hung a dozen rosaries on her clothesline all day to keep the predicted rain away). My two oldest nephews, Craig and Marc, handed out programs to the mixed faith crowd of Jews, Catholics, Protestants and one Buddhist. This was to be an event unlike any they had seen before. We had designed the ceremony and written our own vows. “Obey” was not a word that either of us was comfortable with. Aunt Gaye commented after the ceremony that we probably were not legally married because our vows did not have the required language.
Mitch’s parents walked him out, and then I was escorted by my mom and dad, to the strains of “Color my World” by Chicago, played by my brother Jon’s girlfriend, Jenny, on flute and our law school friend, Nelson, on guitar.
Irv was to open the service with a prayer. He stepped forward, all Episcopalian, in his grey robe and white collar and intoned, “In the name of Moses our Father and Jesus, our Brother….”
I gasped, Mitchell snickered, Rabbi Roth frowned and Father Giroux rolled his eyes. It was all uphill from there.
The reception, it was agreed by all, was the best party Malone had ever seen. The misplaced challah was retrieved from my mom’s house thanks to a quick trip by Brother Bob, but we forgot to put out the favors: matchbooks with our names on them (I still use them to light birthday and Hanukkah candles). Uncle Bill and Uncle Paul both passed out at some point. After my father and I danced to “Daddy’s Little Girl”, Margot taught the band to play “Hava Negila” so we could dance the Hora. Every song they played thereafter sounded like a combination of the two!
We broke with Malone tradition and did not open our gifts at the reception, but to appease my sister, around midnight, the wedding party and assorted friends and relatives congregated at my parents’ house to open presents. Seven pairs of candle stick holders in every material imaginable first brought appreciative comments, but by the time I opened up the box with the seventh set, in pewter, I think, we were all giggling out loud.
It was after two when Mitchell and I drove up to the View Motel to go to bed. Unfortunately, Mitchell had failed to confirm the reservation and our room had long since been given to someone else. It was Fair Week, so there were no vacancies anywhere. We hurried over to the Gateway Motel and to our great relief (and astonishment) there were some unused rooms amongst members of our wedding party and law school guests. It seems some had decided to “share” rooms that night in a spirit of good will, many drinks and wedding party congeniality.
While our friends and relatives were romantically involved, my frugal husband counted money and checks to make sure we had enough for our honeymoon and the florist’s bill, inflated at the last moment with all the pots of white mums that were necessary to direct the guests to the putting green and not the patio.
We collapsed into sleep just before dawn, husband and wife. But not Mr. and Mrs. Hallow. I had decided not to change my name and Mitch was fine with my decision. Not so our resident legal expert, Aunt Gaye, who had stated to me that morning that it was illegal to be married and not take your husband’s name. Two recent law school graduates who had decided that we couldn’t be married until after we took the Bar Exam in case one of us killed the other in a fit of panic and frustration. We got through that test and the blending of two faiths and two vastly different backgrounds at our wedding.
Yeah, we were SO married.

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