An Italian colleague of mine with whom I used to teach Ethnic Relations in schools and police departments was asked what were the best and worst things about being Italian. Without a hitch he replied, “The best thing is the family–so is the worst…” Ba da boom.
The other day I attended a party of the kind I normally never would go, especially without my wife. It would be 25 people, not one of whom I had ever met but to all I was related in one way or another. Curiosity got the best of me. I put aside my natural shyness and showed up. I’m glad I did.
Most of the people were not real relatives, they married into the family but the host, his family, and another couple were “Ancestry.com” matches. Here is a list of stuff I learned or learned more about:
- The family name Feinstein is tough to follow because somewhere along the way Feinsteins became Feldmans. My grandfather was a Feinstein and a roustabout who was kicked out the door by my grandmother. His son, my uncle, was so infuriated by his father’s misbehavior’s that he “divorced” him by changing his name to Fain. To make it more complicated one of the above married a Fields. What one would call an “F-ingly” complicated group… Got it? If so, explain it to me.
- My mother’s cousin (2nd? 1st?) was the famous 40’s and ’50’s big band leader Shep Fields (and his Rippling Rhythms). ‘saw him once on television, I did.
- Another was the obstetrician to the stars, having delivered a host of Hollywood babies, the only one of which I can remember right now is Buddy Hackett’s.
- Yet another, this one a Fields, was the Carpet King to the stars. Many New Yorkers of the 50’s will remember Field’s Carpets. He laid the carpet in the Oval Office–yes, that Oval Office. Fifth Avenue apartments and corporate palaces had Field’s carpets for the feel of the upper crust to pad on.
- When a youngster, I was taken to Manhattan to a Feinstein Family Circle meeting. Late to the party came a guy in a western shirt, cowboy boots, and a 10 gallon hat. Not normal attire for New York Jews. Well he wasn’t one, he was from California. His name was Freddie Fields. He was an agent to the stars, including Judy Garland in her hey-day. I’m led to understand he didn’t do right by her, but you can research that on your own.
- And there was at the party the couple who had made a snap decision. They moved from Uptown Manhattan to mid-state Florida. He was the kind of guy who came from the Brooklyn of nickle pickles, savory corned beef sandwiches, pushcarts and Yiddish. He hates Central Florida, which looks better than it lives for someone who comes from his old neighborhood. As he explains, his development has a mere 100,000 people in it. If you go outside you can’t get anything done, or even relax because everyone waves and yells “hi!” He mused, “It’s exhausting.” Central Florida, as I explained to him, is where Florida becomes a southern state. It is said of Florida the further north you go the more southern it becomes. If you want to read more about his Brooklyn go to Amazon.com and pick up a copy of my latest book, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn.” It’s a light, easy-to-read, humorous coming of age story. Mine. Back to the Feldman’s et al.
His wife likes it and is a regular reader of my blog (www.atleastfrommyperspectiveblog.wordpress.com). Good enough for me.
- One of the matriarchs, long gone, was my great aunt Mary Feldman. She and her husband were early pioneers, leaving NYC after the war, moving to Hollywood, Florida where her tribesmen were still few and far between. She founded the Conservative synagogue, was its Torah Fund chairperson ’til age 90, when she gave up that and her driver’s license. She owned a Plymouth Valiant, a car that could be advertised as “driven by a little old lady in Florida.” The car was about 10 years old and had maybe 5,000 miles on it. My mother bought it.
- Aunt Mary was a pistol. I was at her apartment one day, many years after widowhood claimed her. She was sharp, funny, and sweet. Lovely to be around. I said to her, “Aunt Mary, why haven’t you ever remarried?” Her quick as a wink answer floored me. “I like walking around here naked and I’m too old to change my ways.” Again, ba da boom.
As I left, came one more story. I had filched a cookie against the warning of the host who said they were lousy. I took a bite as I stepped into the hallway to find how right he was. Facing me was a door that said trash so I opened it, and there attached to the wall was seemingly the very same small trap door that emptied into the furnace at our long ago residence at 500 Ocean Avenue Brooklyn. I became short of breath as a terrible memory overtook me. It was to that chute, me screaming in tow, and down that chute that my mother, threw my favorite stuffed animal, a Persian Cat. It’s neck seam had broken and the stuffing of the day, straw, was falling out. ‘all the imperfection my mother needed to see. Gone into the fires it went. When I got older and read Dante’s Inferno, I was sure there was a room down there for her, mommy dearest.
Like Whoopie Goldberg said of men, “You can’t eat’em and you can’t kill’em so you gotta love’em.” Same could be said about family–at least from my perspective.
Since I plugged the commercials into the text, I’ll spare you. But Remember, read! It’s good for both of us. See ya next week.