Monthly Archives: April 2014

Our Passover Bris

Larry and I at Adam's bris. Adam was asleep in his bassinet, waiting to go home.

Larry and I at Adam’s bris. Adam was asleep in his bassinet, waiting to go home.

This year, as we prepare for Passover,  my thoughts are not only on the upcoming holiday but also the memories of a very special Passover thirty-six years ago.

At this time in 1978, Larry and I were anxiously awaiting for the birth of our first child. My mother and my older sister had delivered their babies early and easily, and I was expecting the same experience for me. It didn’t turn out that way.  After I had gone through several hours of unproductive labor, our baby was delivered on his due date, Saturday, April 15, by Caesarian section. Despite the unexpected surgery,  Larry and I were absolutely thrilled.  We had a perfect healthy little boy, our little tax deduction, our Adam Michael Shapiro.

Now that we had a son, we needed to plan a bris. Unlike today’s births, the average stay for a woman who delivered by c-section in the 1970’s was eight days. We arranged to have the ceremony and celebration in one of the conference rooms in St. Peters on the following Sunday.

Now we faced the difficulty of finding a rabbi and/or moyel. Sunday was the second full day of Passover. As a C-section was not a “natural birth,” the holiday technically superseded the commandment of the bris on the eighth day.  Fortunately, my brother and sister-in-law had a close friend who was the daughter of a local rabbi, and he graciously agreed to officiate on “yontiff.” One of the doctors in my ob/gyn practice, who was Jewish, agreed to perform the circumcision.

By the time we had set everything up, it was Friday, the first night of Passover.  Larry was invited to a friend’s for seder and I had a decidedly un-Passover dinner in my hospital room. One of the nurses came in to check on me, and I commented that I thought I had developed a bed sore from lying around the hospital bed for the past six days.  She took a look, and said, “That’s not a bed sore! You’ve developed a cyst on the bottom of your tailbone.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not a doctor,” she started. “ But you probably will have to have surgery to remove it, and you will have to stay in the hospital for another week while it heals. Of course, as it is an infection, you will have to be in isolation and not be able to take care of Adam until you are healed.”

That did it for me. I was recovering from major surgery, we were planning on a bris on Sunday, and now I was facing more possible hospital time. I did what any other sane, sensible postpartum mother would do: I had a complete, hysterical melt-down. Unfortunately and to add to the drama, Larry was at a seder at a friend who had an unlisted number, so it took some effort to get the phone operator to agree to contact Larry and then have him call me back. Once he was reached,, Larry left his friend’s house mid-seder and drove back to the hospital to comfort me. The next morning, my doctor assured me that a good dose of antibiotics would work in the short run, with surgery only an option down the road if necessary. The bris was still on, and it was time for us to focus on the celebration.

The day of the bris, my mother and mother-in-law  came with Passover wines, cakes and cookies, along with fresh fruit. They covered the tables with white table cloths, and used an extra one to  cover the crucifix that was hanging on the wall. Our family was all there, the rabbi was sweet and kind, and the doctor who performed the circumcision was steady handed.  The adults, including the father and mother, handled the procedure calmly.  The most attentive guest was our five-year-old niece Katie, who took a unusually close-up interest in the procedure. When asked if she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, she replied.  “Yes, or a fireman!” After the ceremony, we all sipped Passover wine and ate sponge cake and macaroons. Friends and relatives said good-bye, and Larry drove me and our soundly sleeping son home to Clifton Park. We now could begin our life as a family.

I healed nicely, never needed surgery on the cyst, and, outside of having to call the paramedics my second day home after I got my wedding ring stuck on my finger, things settled down to the new normal of having an infant. Over the years,  Adam has had to celebrate many birthdays with Passover sponge cakes and macaroons instead of the traditional birthday cake.. However, he and our family always enjoy the retelling of the Passover bris as much as the required retelling of our “sojourn from Egypt” at our seders.

 

 

 

 

Best Gift

The baby grand was the center piece of our living room in Keeseville.

The baby grand was the center piece of our living room in Keeseville.

For our family, three of the best gifts we ever received were an ugly orange spinet, a mahogany baby grand, and a walnut Yamaha upright.

After the war, my parents and my two older siblings moved from New London, Connecticut, to Potsdam, New York, so that my father could help my Uncle Eli, my mother’s brother, with his clothing business. Housing was very difficult to find in 1948, and my parents were left no option but to purchase a very small ranch on top of a very windy hill. Cramming the four of them into the two-bedroom house was difficult enough. When I arrived in 1950, things got even more crowded. The kitchen was so small that the person sitting in the kitchen chair nearest to the refrigerator would have to stand up if someone had to grab the milk. Laura and Jay shared a bedroom, and my crib was sandwiched into my parents’ bedroom. The tiny living room had a couch, two chairs, my playpen, toys, books, and, in time, a very ugly piano that was one of my sister’s best gifts.

Potsdam was not only the home of the state college but also the location of the Crane School of Music, which provided many musical opportunities to the community. My sister walked past Crane on her way home from school every day and heard the students practicing their instruments. Intrigued and inspired, she asked my parents for a piano. After proving herself by taking lessons using the neighbor’s rickety spinet, she got her wish. My parents purchased an old upright painted a hideous butterscotch orange that barely fit into the already full living room. The tiny house often reverberated with music, especially when friends gathered around the piano. My Uncle Eli, who could not read music, played any requested song by ear, so he often was on the piano bench.

In 1952, my father took a job in Keeseville, New York, managing a Pearl’s department store one of several in a chain owned by my great-uncle Paul. In order to save money, my parents hired a couple of men from Pearl’s to pack up the household belongings into the company truck and deliver them safely to Keeseville. Unfortunately, the men dropped the piano while unloading it. The piano, never in tune to start, was now hopelessly flat and sported several non-functional keys. That didn’t stop us from playing. My older siblings and I took lessons with varying degrees of mediocrity. We mixed our John Thompson piano lesson books with more popular sheet music, including such Fifties hits as “Stranger on the Shore” and “Mack the Knife.” My sister’s and my favorites were from the American Songbook. We had a healthy collection of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin.

By the age of twelve, I had gone through a couple of piano teachers, one who retired and one who moved away. Despite the lack of lessons, talent, and a decent instrument, I still loved to play. I alternated between the classical music I learned from my former teachers and all the music my sister had left behind when she went to college. I began lobbying for a new piano. I knew, however, that getting even another second-hand one that was in a little better shape than our orange relic was probably out of financial reach for our family.

One evening before Chanukah in 1962, my parents called me into the kitchen. That afternoon, my father found out one of his customers was moving to a smaller home and was selling a used baby grand for only five hundred dollars. Was my father was interested? Yes, I was, in fact, getting my wish. I cried for joy, even more so when the beautiful instrument with its shiny mahogany finish was delivered later that week. Unlike our tiny box of a house in Potsdam, our Victorian house in Keeseville had enough room for the baby grand. With a minimal rearrangement of furniture, the piano became the centerpiece of our living room.

That January, I started lessons with the new young Keeseville Central School music teacher. Initially, I was humiliated to find out that I needed to start from the beginning level books to improve my skills. Over the next three years, I managed to work my way through the third level of the John Thompson series. My teacher, knowing my love for the movie and Broadway show tunes, also supplemented the classics with more contemporary selections such as “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, and, my favorite, “Moon River.”

The piano again became a gathering place for family and friends. I often played while my siblings sang along. My brother even joined in with his trombone. I missed lots of the notes, my sisters were not known for their vocal talents, and my brother was no Urbie Green, but we loved the chance to be together. My Grandpa Joe played Yiddish songs after he moved in with us after my grandmother’s passing in 1966. Uncle Eli got to hammer out his share of songs when he visited us from Potsdam.

Once I left for college, I played infrequently, mostly on school breaks. When my parents moved out of their big house in Keeseville in 1982, the piano was sold as none of the children had room for it in their homes. Before my parents downsized, however, I collected all the sheet music from the house and stored it in our home “just in case” we ever got a piano. I had little chance to play—until I received my second best gift ever.

After my daughter Julie was born, I was home with the two small children. The days were getting long. Knowing how much I loved my baby grand in Keeseville, Larry encouraged me to look for one that would fit into our home. The Yamaha upright I selected from Clark Music in Latham was delivered two weeks before my thirty-second birthday. Armed with all the sheet music my family and I had accumulated since my sister started lessons in Potsdam many years before. I spent many hours playing the piano, both for enjoyment and for the peace and serenity playing gave me.

When she was a junior in high school, Julie decided to take piano lessons for the first time. I felt my musical life had come full circle when my daughter’s teacher recommended we purchase new, unmarked John Thompson lesson books. At her first and only piano recital, Julie choose Pachabel’s Canon and my old favorite, Moon River.

When Larry and I decided to move to Florida, I initially thought of selling the piano. It was expensive to ship to Kissimmee; I didn’t play that often; I could always use the piano in the Palms, the community center a mile from our house. It was Larry who insisted that we pay the moving company to bring the piano with the rest of our household. There was no repeat of the Potsdam debacle. The piano arrived safely in our new home. We placed it on an empty wall in the living room. From the moment I first touched the keys, I knew Larry was right. The tile floors and open floor plan improved the sound quality over that produced in our bi-level in Clifton Park.

Soon after we moved in, I had three couples over for a Shabbat dinner. After dessert, my friend Becky, who taught music in high schools for many years, started looking at my sheet music collection. “This is fabulous!” she commented. “Please play for us!” Not used to an audience, I played hesitantly for a few songs,then Becky graciously took over the keyboard. For the next hour, we belted out songs from Les Mis and Wicked as well as my old favorites, “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Moon River.” I had tears running down my cheeks from happiness. Thanks to my piano, our new home was filled with the sound of music.