From gapped teeth to three-legged dogs, there is beauty in imperfection.
A traditional part of Christmas dinner in my family, passed down from my nonna, Marisa Terracina, tortellacci is a perfectly imperfect holiday dish. This year, I made it for friends. What’s great about tortellacci (translation: “roughly-made cake” or pasta pocket), is that you can play rough, if that’s your jam. You don’t have to roll a straight line or fold nicely, because this ain’t no tortellini, baby. It’s a hot mess of a big, juicy pocket of spinach and ricotta, topped by a besciamella sauce with hints of nutmeg and parmigiano.
I suggest that you pour yourself a glass of wine, put on your favorite tunes, and channel your inner Italian Jewish nonna while tackling this rich Roman dish. Roll, stuff, fold, and pinch!
You can make them in advance and freeze them, which gives you more time to relax amidst the stress and flurry of the season.
Let the good times roll!
He’d be 100 this year had he survived. And there’s a good chance, given his genes, that he would have made it. This year marked 60 years since the collapse. There was a large showing of family for Jack Wright at the memorial.
I wrote a piece that was first published in the North Shore News: 60 years ago my grandfather died building the Second Narrows Bridge
and in The Tyee: My Grandfather the Bridge Man
I’ve received numerous emails from people in response to this piece. Some who were children at the time and not related to any of the men who were killed, yet nevertheless deeply affected by the bridge collapse. Also, unexpectedly, I have heard from cousins whom I’ve never met. Even one who is, ironically (pun intended), an ironworker! (“It must run in our blood,” he wrote.)
Here’s a link with three clips: coverage of the memorial, in which my mother and my two uncles are interviewed by Global News; old newsreel footage from the 1950s on the bridge collapse; and George Orr discussing his documentary, “The Bridge”.
Here’s a really great song that my sister wrote: Second Narrows
We’re all so proud of you, grandpa.
And we will always remember you.
For the past six years, I have spent more time with my mother than in all of my adulthood. I lived in New York City for fourteen years, and sure, there were visits back and forth, but I was busy chasing my dreams, my mother was busy being a wife, and she’s got four other children, and grandchildren, so one-on-one time with her has always been rare. When my father died five years ago, each one of us kids has been trying to make up for lost “mom time” in our own way.
Many of our solid mother-daughter moments have happened in Sointula, on Malcolm Island, B.C., where my parents bought waterfront property over fifteen years ago.
Here, troubles melt like lemon drops. My mother and I have not always had the easiest relationship, but when it’s just the two of us, and we’re there in Sointula by the sea, we’re good.
Sointula is where we have sat on her balcony and gazed at the horizon until our sorrows were pulled from us and diffused across the ocean;
it’s where we’ve cruised down logging roads, singing along to Neil Diamond songs;
it’s where I’ve had years of quality time with her that nobody can ever take away from me – and I will always treasure it.
I recently lamented that I’ve never seen a photo of myself as a baby being held by my mother. She’s assured me that one exists somewhere, but it feels strange not to have one in my possession. I told her that I feel like the famous experiment with the laboratory monkeys, in which one was hugged and held, but the one that wasn’t went crazy. I see myself in photos as an adult desperately trying to get that mother love in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
When I’m feeling sorry for myself like this, I think back on those times when she was there for me, even when I didn’t want her to be. Like the time I was at a high school party, drunk and making out with a guy, and out of nowhere, my mother magically appeared like a disapproving super hero, yanked me by my arm and told me to get into the car.
Or the year when she drove me to acting classes at a professional studio in Sacramento because she could see that it was my passion.
Or, after years of fighting with her about my punk rock outfits and bad attitude, the moment she dropped me off at my dormitory room at San Francisco State University, I instantly missed her.
I remember holding the paisley tam and the baby gorilla stuffie that she had gifted me, and sobbing for my mummy. I racked up a considerable phone bill during my freshman year of college making “mom/shrink calls” whenever I needed her advice, which was often.
She eventually pulled me out of S.F. State while I was acting in “The Place Where the Mammals Die”. I was very ill with mono, but I was playing a homeless person named Rusty, so this lent my character considerable authenticity. After each scene, I’d walk offstage in blackout and throw up in a garbage bin. My mother literally had to drag me to her car while I whimpered, “The show must go on! The show must go on!” On the drive home to Sacramento, she shut me up with, “Bullshit! Your director can play your part!” She nursed me for that entire summer, when bedridden for three months, all I could move was my pinky.
Like most mothers, my mom is sacrificial. I remember a breakfast for dinner when there weren’t enough pancakes to go around, so my mother gave up her one goddamn pancake. During tough times, I saw my mother go hungry more than once.
My mom’s been a mom without her mom around for nearly thirty years. She’s been a mom without her dad around for double that time. He was killed building the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge when she was only sixteen.
And she lost her older sister, my Aunt Ellen, to ovarian cancer when Ellen was a young mother of two little boys.
My mother is a survivor.
I do this thing where I like to time travel and climb inside my mother’s skin back in the 1970s. By some great miracle, we were clothed, we were fed, and even when it wasn’t the best choice, we were reunited with our father after they had separated (more than once). I look at old photos of that young mother, and I have such compassion for her. And a very deep admiration. How dare I demand perfection from that young woman, who, like all of us, was beautifully, imperfectly human.
For all those times when I’ve felt emotionally abandoned by her, I picture her trying to be strong and mother five children during a time when feminism was just puncturing the ceiling, and wives were still expected to be subservient to their husbands. I imagine her looking down the rabbit hole of her limited options, and how the demands of being a wife fractured her mothering energy into endless prisms, pulling her every which way.
She’s not going to want me to say this, but she put up with some shit, and a lot of it, from my father. We all did. There was love there, yes, but watching him take her for granted so many times from the vantage point of the second oldest child wasn’t easy.
My mother is a survivor.
On this Mother’s Day, I am nostalgic for those years that have escaped us, and fallen through life’s sieve like tiny rice granules, scattered and irretrievable. But I am also incredibly grateful that we have been blessed with more time, and I think that we’ve squeezed in a lot of memories that we can take with us in the years ahead.
I love my mother more than anyone. We’ve critically wounded each other during some awful battles, but our love for each other has crawled from the wreckage time and again. It has endured.
By now, I know well that the axis on which my mother and I spin and butt heads because of our differences is precisely the same point where we are so very much alike.
Aunt Myrna B-chick
Myr will sit next to the one-eyed man with a fifth of whiskey wrapped in a small paper bag who will unpack his lifetime of regrets.
Because she has a built-in empathy sponge, she often draws tragic characters into her vortex.
On the flip side, she enjoys traveling by bus or by train so that she can daydream without having to worry about traffic signs or those double yellow lines on the road.
Myr has had upheaval in her life. Deaths, heartbreaks, betrayals. Big events that have unsettled her. Secure rugs pulled from underneath her feet.
She knows that real happiness can only be found if one is able to face the fact that life is always uncertain and constantly changing.
And that if one can’t face that fact, then one is doomed to live a horribly unhappy life.
Just last night, Myr rotated all of the food products in her cupboard, label sides facing forward. It is reassuring to Myr that “salt” declares itself as “salt”, and that pepper shouts out its reliability as “pepperness”.
Myr tries to pretend that she is FINE with the uncertainty of life, but wonders if she might be revealing her true, worrisome nature with her labels-must-face-forward obsessive compulsion.
It takes no effort for Myr to believe that dogs are better people than people when she looks into her dog’s eyes.
She finds great solace when she wraps her arms around her dog and squeezes her until her tongue pops out.
But Myr does not embrace dogmas.
Instead, she often listens to Buddhist talks. Recently, she attended a talk about suffering. How suffering is wanting anything other than “the now”.
Everything that Myr wants is either moorlessly free-floating in the past, or bobbing just out of reach, in the future.
Lao Tzu once wrote: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Myr would have liked to have asked him: “How does a writer reconcile with this?”
Myr is stuck in a place where she plays back all of her sorrows, again and again.
She usually falls asleep at the community acupuncture clinic. The acupuncturist very often finds her snoring, lying prostrate in a lounge chair, her body pin-cushioned with tiny needles, surrounded by other “stuck” people.
Friends and family periodically tell Myr that she is a “strong woman”, but some days she would like nothing more than to curl up on the sidewalk in a fetal position, wearing a sign that reads: “Adopt me. Well-behaved woman”.
Myr loves that “fetal” sounds like “petal”.
When the Buddhist teacher tells Myr that “pain is inevitable, and suffering is optional,” Myr’s skin stands up in little goose bumps.
This emboldens her. That she has a choice. She can either stand up. Or curl up.
So Myr will continue to believe in the person who is hanging out somewhere, just out of reach. She secretly opens her heart again, one valve at a time.
But she’s scared. She’s scared that if nothing is forever…
What’s the point?
When she gets on the bus this morning for her long journey, we can let her have her daydreams. No signs to follow if she’s not driving. No double yellow lines.
There it is:
A vision standing before her down the road, surrounded by a swirling fog. Better than she imagined. Warm eyes. A dimple on the cheek. Extending a hand.
I have been thinking a lot about Karolina since I got back. The experience of honoring her and other relatives was emotionally charged. Meeting new family and friends was life-changing.
To be continued…
In the meantime, here are a few things in one place:
The story in a nutshell: video by my cousin Natasha Kirtchuk
Some background info in Ynetnews
More back story in Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)
You can find me in some photographs here:
I’m quoted in The Jerusalem Post
My sister, Jackie Bruckman Rednour, is quoted in Time Magazine
For some amazing family survival stories, as told by my “Uncle” Ernie, please see my cousin Sonya Heineman Kunkel’s blog
I am flying to Frankfurt, Germany in three days to partake in a major public ceremony honouring my relative, Karoline Cohn, a young girl murdered by the Nazis seventy-four years ago in Sobibor, an extermination camp in Poland.
On February 9th, 2017, my cousin Sonya messaged me:
“Hi Cuz! Please see the article on my FB page. I was contacted by a researcher from Israel. Short story is we are related to the girl who owned the pendant!”
Dan Bilefsky writes in this article that “as Karoline, 14, walked the final steps to the gas chambers, most likely unaware that she was about to be killed, she dropped a pendant engraved with the words ‘good luck’ in Hebrew through the wooden floorboards.”
If you ask me why I write, one reason, if I’m going to be honest here, is that I want to be remembered. I think we all do. So I believe that Karoline knew that she was about to be killed and wanted to be remembered. When she dropped the pendant through the floorboards of the so-called “road to heaven”, it was like her final act of defiance against the evil that tried to erase her.
Peter Feldmann, the mayor of Frankfurt, will be at the ceremony. He is the first Jewish mayor elected to a major German city since World War II. When I saw his name on the program, I took a look at my dilapidated wardrobe. I own tee-shirts and blue jeans, mostly.
Yesterday, I went clothes shopping. I tried on a jacket, and I felt really beautiful in it. I looked at the label: “Carolina Belle”, and smiled.
“Beautiful Karoline,” I said out loud, in the small, dimly-lit dressing room. “I know you’re here.” It was as if Karoline was prompting me to buy this jacket, get myself to Frankfurt, and together, with extended family members flying in from all over the world, declare, “She was a girl. She has a name. Her life mattered.”
I have a funny feeling that Karoline will try to speak to me again.
Finding the pendant:
About the ceremony.