Show me who your family is, I’ll read your tea leaves in an instant.
That’s Grandma & Grandpa, on my mother’s side, Murray and Muriel Garfinkel, may they rest in peace. Lived in the countryside, up in Monticello, New York – “the Catskills.”
Remember Dirty Dancing? Those Catskills, except mine was a little later than the movie.
My Monticello was: Passover with the whole extended family and “my aunt the feminist,” driving past Grossinger’s and the Homowack on the way to Camp Tagola, heading out to Woodbourne on a Saturday night in an overloaded station wagon with an underage driver, trying not to get killed; Joe Rota’s candy store and atomic fireballs on Main Street, walking to the courthouse on Shabbos. Three-hour walks down unmarked country roads, and looking at the daffodils.
Grandma and Grandpa watching TV upstairs on Yom Tov, but not Shabbos, because they knew what was and wasn’t allowed. All fifteen of us getting under the covers and watching Days of Our Lives together, NBC-4, exactly at 1:00.
Scrambling around the shul at the end of the street, peering out the stained glass windows. My Grandpa standing at the bimah.
Sitting next to Grandma & Grandpa, “Mur & Mur,” my aunt Sari, who raised me from the time I was born. Sari teaching me how to put on makeup, and wash my face (yes, in that order…we don’t remove our makeup except for brief periods of about 5 seconds or less.) Sari with her holistic health books and art easels and a gigantic mug full of ice cream on a Saturday evening, just as Shabbos was about to end, talking to me about the meaning of life.
Sari prepping me for my second date with my husband Andy, and peering out the window shades and gasping, “Wow! He’s cute!”
“He’s also taken,” I remember saying with a laugh.
My uncle Abie, standing behind my aunt, on the rock. Looking straight at the camera, never afraid, never one to back down from doing what is right. Abie the caretaker of my Grandma & Grandpa, Abie the med student, Abie who couldn’t stand girls who were fat, short, complacent, and dumb.
Abie, a man of few words but strong principles.
On Grandpa’s lap, my uncle Chaim, pretty much a fixture in my house with me and my mom and dad when I was a kid. More like a brother than an uncle, who told stories about getting mugged in New York City (“always have a $20”). A cheerleader for basically whatever crackpot idea I would come up with; a permanent fixture at my endless parade of speeches, musical plays, piano recitals, and whatever other cockeyed dreams of fame and fortune I’d be working on whatever day.
Next to Sari and Abie, my parents, Debbie and Alex Stroli. My dad always with a dream, a plan, a Big Idea certain to make us millions or at least make our network about a thousand times bigger. Famous for selling the Hollywood Cookie Diet, “just one delicious cookie three times a day.” My mom a devotee of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, about which I always thought, “so what they’re not Jewish, they give a great speech,” as I watched Tammy Faye cry weekly for the TV. My mom the fan of Dr. David Visconti, the self-help guru, Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey and all things related to writing and creative growth.
My dad the ex-hasid who was really a trucker, who drove overnight to take us to Canada to visit Bubbie and Zayde, may they rest in peace. Who took me into truck stops at 3:00 a.m., and bought me little light-up trucks which endlessly delighted me. Who had a collection of irrelevant promotional mugs, that were relevant to me because promotion.
Maybe you make your own way in this world, who knows?
I say you never really leave your family behind.
What does your family say about you?
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.