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My father, Morton Eisenberg, became “slightly famous” because of his involvement in a time when the U.S. and Russia nurtured a partnership. (As the U.S. speaks out in 2022 about Russia invading the Ukraine, it’s hard to believe that there have been times when the such a “friendly” relationship existed.)

Learn more below.   This blog features a new biography of Morton Eisenberg that I wrote to share with genealogists researching people through Ancestry.com.

You’ll learn some other interesting facts about Morton, I believe, including how he met Helen, one interesting thing he has in common with his granddaughter Alison Merion Arena, and Mort’s work as the president of his ASPEP engineering union at RCA during the scary McCarthy era.

And by the way, aren’t we all “slightly famous?” It’s fun to examine how.

Ham Radio hobby leads to a job at RCA and becoming “slightly famous”

Morton Eisenberg was a happy man, and enjoyable to be with. He had two memorable hobbies that led him to be slightly famous and use his abilities to help the world. First, every child and adult who visited his home at 1224 McKinley St. in Philadelphia remembers his ham radio equipment in a small basement room, where he let visitors twirl the radio’s frequency (“radio station”) dial, and listen in as he spoke into the microphone or tapped out Morse Code to people all over the world.  The walls were lined with “QSL postcards” from people Dad had spoken to, and he sent out his own postcards with his radio call letters W3DYL (“darling young ladies” he’d used as the mnemonic) and later K3DG. That room was an enriching oasis – not of water, but of flowing conversation between strangers. His best friends were fellow ham radio operators.  They formed the Beacon Radio Amateurs Club and adventured away from the city and their wives each year for the annual field day ham radio contest.  There was “Uncle” Harold Fox and Herb Straus, the best man at Helen and Mort’s wedding.

Mort’s ham radio interest led to Drexel University night college classes when a friend who loved radios asked him to try out a class with him. Those night classes led to Mort’s Drexel University engineering degree that he proudly paid for himself while working at RCA during the day.

As an electrical engineer at RCA in Camden, N.J, Mort twice worked on historic radios under a NASA contract at RCA. In 1971, Mort worked on communications with the lunar rover vehicle that drove on the moon.   In July 1975, a photo of Mort at work on another NASA project appeared in seven newspapers around the country, including the Philadelphia Inquirer on page 4-B.  In the photo, he was working on a VHF ranging system that would use radio signals to calculate the distance between the Apollo and Soyuz spaceships during their historic space rendezvous the next week that historian Richard Samuels would later call, “The formal end of the space race.” The RCA system was unique as the only U.S-built system on the Russian craft.

Photography as a second hobby that led Mort to becoming “slightly famous”

The second hobby that led Mort to be slightly famous was an interest in photography.  Mort shared his hobby with family members, making photos in a make-shift darkroom in our small Northeast Philadelphia basement.  The darkroom shared space with a workbench, drill press, hot water heater, and washer and dryer. Pasted in my childhood photo album are 1.6“ square photos from a Kodak Hawkeye Flash Fun Camera that we printed directly from negatives, without an enlarger. One of my favorites is from my first plane ride. We sat in a two-seater plane (I sat on my father’s lap) which took off and landed on the water near New Hope, PA. Photos meant preserving memories, an inherited interest that has led to this story.

Mort shared his interest in photography with his younger brother William (Bill,) who became an industrial photographer and also worked at RCA in Camden, New Jersey.  The two brothers, who were often mistaken for one another, frequently ate lunch together in the RCA cafeteria.

Morton Eisenberg and Alison Merion Arena’s work in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

It is likely that Bill took the photo of Mort that appeared in the newspapers.  The Millville Daily even included a story about the event called “Soviets Use RCA Equipment” along with Mort’s photo and a diagram of the Apollo spacecraft due to take off on July 15, 1975.   A reproduction of the Apollo-Soyuz test project (the famous “handshake in space”) resides in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  Side note—Alison Merion Arena, Mort’s granddaughter, also became a professional photographer.  Her photographs of race cars and Liam Dwyer, a Mazda race car driver, are also now featured in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., in the exhibit called “Nation of Speed,” which opened in October, 2022.

Morton falls in love

When Mort was 28, Helen eclipsed technology as Mort’s major interest.  He was drawn to be with Helen from the first day they met a party, held by a friend Helen had met when working at a chemistry job.  (Helen had taken off a year from University of Pennsylvania to join the work force for the war effort, like “Rosie the Riveter.”)  Mort and Helen were married on August 11, 1946, just six months after they met.  Mort was slender, with thick, dark, wavy hair, and Helen had a cherubic face, a delighted smile, and a stylish haircut with curls at the bottom.

Their wedding, a grand affair with 200 people at the Broadwood Hotel in Philadelphia, was memorized by black and white photos, silent movies, and records, self-recorded at the wedding on Duodisc blank records.  The recordings were narrated by a professional announcer named Joe Hess who interviewed attendees and described delightful details: “The strains of ‘Oh Promise Me,’ which the band has been playing, has changed suddenly to the very familiar music of ‘Here Comes the Bride.’ And here she comes, a vision of loveliness.”

Mort looked for humor everywhere and had silly sayings he’d pull out to lighten a moment, like “I’m had you’re glappy,” or “My cup runneth over and drippith on the floor.”  He didn’t smoke, drink, or gamble and the closest he ever came to a curse word was uttering in shock “Cheese and Crackers!“

“Dad”

When Gary arrived in 1953 and Debbie arrived in 1956, Mort now had kids to play with and nurture.  He took us sledding at Burholme park in Philadelphia in the 1960s, hard-hat diving and feeding fish by hand on a favorite vacation in 1973 in Bermuda, and bounced on a trampoline at Huron Valley Swim Club in Ann Arbor in the early 1990s.

As children of the depression, Mort and Helen could be frugal with themselves, but never hesitated to provide for their kid’s college education. Mort used to say, “Others can never take away what you’ve learned.”

A quiet leader

The community benefitted from Mort’s interest in helping others when he became the president of organizations at home and at work.  Once he was checking out the state of our newly-built Philadelphia synagogue Temple Beth Torah that he was integral in creating, carrying his trusty wooden toolbox in case he might be needed to make a building repair. Someone asked him if he was the maintenance man. Always modest and a bit of a jokester, he replied quickly, “Kind of.  I’m the president.”  He had also been the president his union at RCA. His presidency of the ASPEP engineering union at RCA in 1954 was during the McCarthy era, a challenging time to be president.  Not only were employees going to the union to ask for legal support when they were in danger of losing government security clearance when accused of being communist, but the management of RCA was concerned about losing government contracts when personnel lost security clearance.

After retiring from RCA in 1983, Mort brought his trusty wooden toolbox with him when he moved with Helen to Delray Villas in Delray Beach, Florida. There he took care of the loudspeaker system in the clubhouse, delivered newsletters, and helped manage the pool equipment. He loved history and could talk for hours on the subject.

To keep up with the news, he developed a clippings file in three dozen brown manila envelopes, with titles written in his neat square engineering printing that included some of his favorite topics: “Presidents,” “Atomic/Nuclear Radiation,” “Inventors,” “Birth Control,” and “Spies.”

The South Florida Days

Helen and Mort lived in South Florida for 30 years!  They loved each other and their family dearly. Once, while Mort was hospitalized for heart bypass surgery, Mort asked me to buy him an anniversary card for Helen. My heart melted as I watched him write endearing words in a weak scribble from his hospital bed.  Of course, Helen loved it, and she herself was the queen of Hallmark cards. She took care of Mort in his final years, until he passed away at 95 on Dec 10, 2013.

Morton Eisenberg was a wonderful man; kind, curious, generous in donating his time to others, humorous and fun-loving. An ancestral role model, indeed. If you are reading this because you are related to him, consider yourself fortunate to be swimming in his gene pool.

It sparks joy for me to remember my parents, Morton and Helen Eisenberg, who left us in 2013 and 2017. So I keep some of their stuff.  Would Marie Kondo approve? (I might have a teensy bit too much.)

But I needed room on a shelf for my art supplies in May of 2022, in Jupiter, Florida. Boxes filled with memorabilia from my parents were open, the contents all over the floor in piles. What could I let go of? Little did I know, I was about to unearth a treasure  — a vivid recording from that happy year of 1946 when WWII was finally over.

At the bottom of one of the boxes, I found some records. Or at least I thought they were records.  Until I realized they said “Wedding of Helen Rudnick and Morton Eisenberg August 11, 1946.” on them.  I bought a $50 record player on Amazon.  It came the next day.   I pulled out my fat enso-painting brush, (dry and clean), dusted off one of the records, and started to play the record…

I thought the heavy, oversized records were played at 78 revolutions per minute (RPM)  since the blank “self-recording” Duodisc records were 78s (you can still buy them), but after I placed the needle on the record and the voices were gibberish, I kept slowing the record player’s speed from 45 to 33 1/3. I could easily imagine my father, a practical, frugal electrical engineer, recording the record on the slowest speed to get the most recording per side.

Oddly, I was having problems hearing more than a few words, though. The record ended seconds after I put down the needle.  Then, clever Bob noticed someone had put a check in a box on the record that said “inside out”!  Once I placed the needle near the hole, close to the inside of the record, I heard Helen and Mort’s wedding start!  And now you can too.

(In a future blog I’ll give a link to an interview with my nervous, awkward, and happy parents right after their 200 person wedding. Helen was 23, Mort was 28. )

Below is a transcription of side 0 (there are 8 sides). On side 0, I was shocked to hear a professional announcer!  He describes my parents and family coming down the aisle in all of their wedding finery like a baseball announcer would announce the next batter up. (This is especially wonderful because all the photos were black and white, so now we know the color of the dresses, flowers, etc. )  The four minute recording includes Helen and Mort, their parents, matron of honor Bebe Rudnick (there’s a nice picture of Bebe and Helen at the end of this) and best man Herb Strauss.

Listen/watch the record play here or embedded above.  Scroll down to the end for some photos!

Transcription of Side 0 (of 8 record sides).  Helen and Mort Eisenberg’s Wedding Aug. 11, 1946. 

Broadmoor Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

(The voice you hear speaking is radio announcer Joe Hess.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we are broadcasting today, August the 11th, 1946, from the Broadwood Hotel, where in a few minutes, Helen Rudnick and Morton Eisenberg will be joined together in the holy bonds of matrimony. It’s now a few minutes after 1:30 and the green and parrot rooms of the Broadwood hotel in the heart of Philadelphia, are crowded to capacity with about 200 guests, who are now awaiting the start of the ceremony. The aisle is lined on both sides with large stands of beautiful gladioli while the alter is decorated with palms with a blue canopy or chupa directly above. The chupa is highlighted by streams of sunshine coming through the ceiling to floor windows, directly behind the wedding canopy. It’s a beautiful day, ideal for such an event.

And now the ceremony is about to start. The best man, Herb Straus, is coming down the aisle. He is snappily dress attired in a white dinner jacket and a maroon bow tie and black trousers. The best man has just reached the altar and the matron of honor, Bebe Rudnick, the bride’s sister-in-law, is now entering the room. She is attired in a gown designed on grecian lines.  It has a full skirt which flows below her waist. Gold grecian sandals and a blue ostrich headdress complete the ensemble. She’s carrying a light blue delphinium hand bouquet.

The groom, Morton Eisenberg, has just started down the aisle. I notice he’s he’s just a little bit nervous, but who wouldn’t be, nothing like this has ever happened to him before. There’s just a ghost of a brave smile on his handsome face. He’s accompanied by his mother and father. Father and son are both wearing white dinner jackets, and Mrs. Eisenberg is wearing a long sleeved aquamarine dinner gown, which is set off with a gold girdle belt. As they reach the altar, the bride’s parents are now starting down the aisle. Mrs. Rudnick is dressed in a draped aquamarine dinner gown trimmed with gold sequins. Mrs Rudnick is also wearing a white dinner jacket. I’m sorry, that’s Mr. Rudnick. And now they are three quarters of the way down the aisle and have stopped to await the entrance of the bride.

The strains of “Oh, Promise Me,” which the band has been playing has changed suddenly, to the very familiar music of “Here Comes the Bride.” And here she comes. She pauses momentarily at the room’s entrance, a vision of loveliness. A hush settles over the audience. As all eyes are focused upon this magnificent bride, attired in white embroidered organza.  The bodice of the gown has a bertha-type neckline, which is edged with white seed pearls. The headdress is a pearl and beaded tiera finished off with a fingertip fishtail veiling. In her arm she carries a mass of roses, the center in which reposes a natural orchid. As the bride reaches her parents, they continue down the aisle to the altar. With everybody under the chupa, we now take you to the altar where the next voice you will hear will be that of Rabbi Friefelder.

A future blog will include more about the dozens of family members and friends who spoke at the wedding, over a background of a band playing 1946 hits. My father’s brother, Bill Eisenberg, was the tech guy runing the self-recording record machine.

 

As I write this, my laptop rests on a round yellow pillow with a picture you’ve seen:  the happy face emoji wearing sunglasses. I love the sun, I love fun, and I love writing.

In 2021, I completed my memoir, From the Period. To the Colon: Memoir of a Child Writer.

Book Title: From the Period. To the Colon: Memoir of a Child Writer
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. ”  –Joan Didion

1 For every book sold in January of 2022, we will donate $5 to Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia, in honor of the assistance they gave my mother when she was a child.

From the back cover:

Even though I like to write, I don’t always get myself to sit down and do it. But I do have methods—timers, rewards, sayings I’ve made up:
I’m smart enough to know I need to trick myself to get some things done, and I’m dumb enough to fall for my own tricks.

For fifteen years, Debbie Merion has used writing prompts to help students write their best possible college essays. In her memoir, From the Period. To the Colon: Memoir of a Child Writer she uses the same prompts to get to the heart of her own story. Whether as a handwritten list of her third-grade ambitions for adulthood or her story about conquering her fear of dogs as an adult, writing felt good to Debbie from the age of eight.

In her Northeast Philly neighborhood in the ‘60s and ‘70s, persistence, grit, tenacity, and determinationwhatever you call itinformed Debbie’s life, and those of her parents and grandparents. Debbie captures both this moment in time and her love of the written word through story and photos, making the past suddenly become present.

[Read these chapters:  “Did You Ever Get Into Trouble as an Child?”  and “Did You Ever Get Into Trouble as an Adult?“]

2 The stories are supported by over 100 period photos of people, places, and carefully preserved childhood stories and poems.

Review readers say the book evoked positive and long-forgotten memories of where they were and what they were doing with grandparents and family in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

3. Strong Reviews

“As Debbie Merion so rightly says, sharing our real-life stories is a refreshing antidote to the flood of fake news and lies that are drowning us on the internet. Reading her memoir will provide you with the prompts and inspiration to get the treasured details of your own best anecdotes down on paper. You will see that even the struggle to get a child to eat a hot dog–or anything but a cheese sandwich–can take on epic significance. And if, like me, you are the same age as the author, her inventory of everything from cap guns to flowered bathing-caps will bring back the best memories of your childhood.” –Eileen Pollack, Paradise, New York

“I’m eternally grateful to Debbie for sparking my cobwebbed memory synapses back to life.My phrase,  ”I got two grandmas and they both smokes and sews,” has stayed in the top ten of family sayings. Debbie’s juxtaposition from photos to text takes us on a whimsical ride into her rich past in the form of a book created for future generations.  It’s a loving tribute to family, literature, music, faith and friends.” –Carrie Jo Howe, Island Life Sentence

“This book: friendly, warm-hearted, joyfully direct, and chock-full of family! Debbie Merion has taken the pleasures of her daily life from childhood and beyond, and transformed them into the lessons that add up to a whole bunch of practical wisdom and life-sharing.  Using prompts from Story-Worth (given to Debbie by her daughter!), she draws you into the details and delights of her thinking and living.  It’s a legacy book with lots of light spilling from the pages. “–Anne-Marie Oomen, Uncoded Woman

4. It’s written using a new format/process.

Thinking about writing your own memoir? Using Storyworth.com solved a common problem for me and many writers: getting it done and editing what you’ve written.

5.  Maybe you know someone who is in the index and the book!

Adams, Carol, 46, 47, 139, 141, 289

Adams, John,141

Adams, Sarah,150P

Adele,63

Adler, Donna,287P

Arena, Adam,22, 227P, 238P, 293P, 316, 320,

Arena, Alison,8, 11, 22, 44, 99P, 100, 148, 167P,  228P, 229P, 234, 238P,288 293P, 320

Arena, Jordyn Grey,5, 22, 27, 28P, 113, 121P, 227P, 238P, 293P, 311-317, 317P, 321

Armstrong, Peggy,289

Baum, Edgardo, 63

Baum, Enrique,63

Berman, Sandra,291P

Billings, Zachary 105

Blackman, Faye,83

Boshoven, John 231

Bradbury, Ray, 248

Broido, Andy,99P, 100

Burroughs, Augusten,301, 302P

Carson, Richard  ,252P, 253

Charles , Ray ,64

Connolly, Julia,100P, 101

Connolly, Patrick,100P, 101

Connolly, Sadie,100P, 101

Connolly, Suzanne,100P, 101

Corrado, Jeff,99P, 100, 238P, 293P

Cutshaw, Susan,287

Danza, Tony,260P, 261P, 262

Dean, Penelope,287P

Didion, Joan,11

Domenici, Judy,90P, 100P, 101, 236, 321

Domenici, Leah,100P, 101, 236

Dowshen, Joseph,80, 81

Dowshen, Morris,80, 81

Dowshen, Rose,80, 81

Duckworth, Angela Lee,265, 269,

Eisenberg, Bill,38, 153

Eisenberg, Carly ,27, 99P, 100

Eisenberg, Fred,253

Eisenberg, Gail Rothberg,252P, 253, 255P

Eisenberg, Gary,22, 79P, 90P, 95P, 96P, 99P, 100, 100P, 101, 103, 152P, 153P, 236

Eisenberg, Helen,29, 30, 96P, 97P, 98P, 100, 103, 107P, 116P, 117P, 118, 121P, 122P, 115-133, 152P, 153P, 169-186, 198-200, 213

Eisenberg, Jill,99P, 100, 167P

Eisenberg, Meyer,75, 76P, 77, 79P

Eisenberg, Mitchell,167

Eisenberg, Morton,29, 30, 35, 36P, 71 P, 78, 97P, 116P, 119P, 151-167, 152P, 153P, 156P, 158P, 159P, 169-186

Eisenberg, Nancy,99P, 100, 100P, 101, 236

Eisenberg, Reese,27, 99P, 100

Eisenberg, Rob,38

Eisenberg, Robin,99P, 100

Eisenberg, Seth,99P, 100, 167P

Eisenberg, Sophie,75, 76P, 77-80, 79P

Emerson, Ralph Waldo,264

Evans, Diane,135

Fiorina, Carly,136

Fox , Harold ,35, 158

Frank, Anne,15

Freedman, Judy,291P

Frydman, Joe,281P

Frydman, Phyllis,281P, 282-287

Gardner, Paula,321

Garshman, Ida Dowshen, ,80, 81

Gold, Andrew,319

Goldberg Anna Dowshen, ,80, 81

Goldberg, Natalie,20, 230, 232, 298P, 299, 300P,

Goldstein, Alex,287

Goldstein, Beth,203, 288

Gomez, Lynne Edelstein,258

Gorman, Daniel,100P

Gorman, Lizzi,100P, 101

Gorman, Margie,100P, 101

Gorman, Scott,100P, 101

Governale, Bobby,262

Haley, Alex,75

Harris, Neil,252P, 253

Haskin, Steve,307

Henderson, Kelly,281P

Hilton, John,321

Hoffnung, Gerald,61

Hope, Lee,321

Johnson, Diane ,236

Johnson, Terry,236

Jones, Arden,100P, 101

Jones, Jared,100P, 101

Katz, Lena Dowshen,80, 81

Kitzis, Jorge,63

Koffler, Abigail,100P, 101

Koffler, Karen,99P, 100, 100P, 101

Koffler, Lynne,80, 91 P, 99, 99P, 100, 100P, 101, 236

Koffler, Neil,99P, 100, 100P, 101

Koffler, Sharon (now Sharon Correll),86P, 87P, 91P

Koffler, Steve,99P, 100, 100P, 101, 236

Kuhn, Jeremy,281P

Lamott, Anne,20, 301P

Lane, Nina,236

Levin, Laurie,256, 257P

Lidman, Marcy Cohen,258

Lieberman, Joe,304P

Liftman, Carol Eisenberg,37

Litman, Lisa,236, 259P

Markel, Geri 231

McCredie, Karol,281P, 287P

McLinden, Sue,287

Menaker, Daniel,321

Merion, Bob,20, 97P, 99P, 100, 100P, 101, 149, 161, 196P, 226P, 228P, 235, 238P, 250P,251-264, 282, 287, 292, 293P, 308P, 317P, 319

Merion, Chester,45-54, 52P, 53P, 54P

Merion, Margy,97P

Merion, Milton,97P

Merion, Sarah,7, 9P, 11, 19,44, 88, 148, 149P, 150P, 167P, 228P, 229P, 238P, 288, 293P, 316, 320

Merion-Billings, Janice 105P

Meryurin, Lazaro,63

Metzendorf, Lauren,203

Morrow, Beth Siegel,236, 292

Ohren, Joe,291

Onassis, Jackie Kennedy,119

Oomen, Anne Marie,321

Phillippe, Ryan,263P

Purtan, JoAnne,234P, 305P, 306P

Rabinowitz, Adrienne,273-287, 280P, 281P

Roberts, Karen,287P

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 66

Rose, Annie,139, 143, 291P

Rosen, Rebecca,140-145, 292

Rudie, Sheryl,258

Rudnick, Bebe,72, 118, 119P, 280

Rudnick, Bessie,40, 75, 76P, 80, 81, 84P, 85, 86P, 87P, 95P, 96P, 97P, 98P, 99, 105, 108-113, 135-145, 292

Rudnick, David,19, 75, 76P, 80, 81, 82P, 84P, 99, 104, 108, 115-132P, 118P, 123P, 145

Rudnick, Herman,72, 92, 101, 104, 132P, 280

Rudnick, Jean,80, 105, 132P

Rudnick, Jeff,90, 100P, 101, 236

Rudnick, Lois,100P, 101

Rudnick, Michael,90, 100P, 101, 237

Ruiz, Don Miguel,315

Rushdie, Salman,321

Sandberg, David,286

Schwartz, Helen 105P

Schwartz, Morton  105P

Servetnick, Marc,252P, 254, 258P

Shanbag, Priyanka,279

Silberman, Eve,321

Silver, Lindsay,27, 99P, 100, 236

Silver, Madison ,27, 99P, 100, 236

Silver, Marisa,99P, 100, 167P, 236

Silver, Scott,99P, 100, 167P, 236

Snellenburg, Mickey,100P, 101

Snellenburg, Susan,100P, 101

Soskin, Eric,269

Soskin, Karen,203, 265, 288, 307

Spilker, Emily,280P, 281P

Stamberg, Susan,303P

Stein, Buddy,280

Stollak, Sondra,276, 278, 279, 280P, 282-287

Strand, Clark,165

Streisand, Barbra,63

Talens, Jim ,236

VanderTuig, Marcy,274, 287

Warren, Elizabeth,297

Wilder, Damian,63

Wilder, Marta,63

Wilder, Rob,321

Wilder de Baum, Felisa,63

Winkelman, SarahJane,11,13

Wiseman, Frederick,260

Wittenstein, Fred,252P, 253, 256P, 257P

Wolf, Paula,100P, 101

Wolock, Annie, 290

Zappa, Dweezil,307

Zappa, Frank,307

Zirinsky, Bill,321

 

 

 

6. Back cover content:

Even though I like to write, I don’t always get myself to sit down and do it. But I do have methods—timers, rewards, sayings I’ve made up:
I’m smart enough to know I need to trick myself to get some things done, and I’m dumb enough to fall for my own tricks.

For fifteen years, Debbie Merion has used writing prompts to help students write their best possible college essays. In her memoir, From the Period. To the Colon: Memoir of a Child Writer she uses the same prompts to get to the heart of her own story. Whether as a handwritten list of her third-grade ambitions for adulthood or her story about conquering her fear of dogs as an adult, writing felt good to Debbie from the age of eight.

In her Northeast Philly neighborhood in the ‘60s and ‘70s, persistence, grit, tenacity, and determinationwhatever you call itinformed Debbie’s life, and those of her parents and grandparents. Debbie captures both this moment in time and her love of the written word through story and photos, making the past suddenly become present.

“As Debbie Merion so rightly says, sharing our real-life stories is a refreshing antidote to the flood of fake news and lies that are drowning us on the internet. Reading her memoir will provide you with the prompts and inspiration to get the treasured details of your own best anecdotes down on paper.  And if, like me, you are the same age as the author, her inventory of everything from cap guns to flowered bathing-caps will bring back the best memories of your childhood.”

–Eileen Pollack, Paradise, New York

 

“Debbie’s juxtaposition from photos to text takes us on a whimsical ride into her rich past in the form of a book created for future generations.  It’s a loving tribute to family, literature, music, faith and friends.”

–Carrie Jo Howe, Island Life Sentence

 

“Debbie Merion has taken the pleasures of her daily life from childhood and beyond, and transformed them into a whole bunch of practical wisdom and life-sharing.”

–Anne-Marie Oomen, Uncoded Woman

Debbie Merion, MFA, MSW is a mother, the award-winning author of over 100 publications including Solving the College Admissions Puzzle, and the founder of EssayCoaching.com. She has helped thousands of students and authors learn the secrets for telling their story in a unique and appealing way.  Debbie supposedly lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but can rarely be found there.

Do you ever wonder what the world will be like in 2042?  That is the year that a child born today will first be able to vote for the president.

It’s fun to tell kids about their ancestors.  Maybe we know something as “senior citizens” that can help children heal the world in 2022 and beyond.

Here is a story about Margy Merion, my dear mother-in-law who passed on October 27, 2021.

1975: Deb and Bob’s engagement –Margy and Milt Merion, Bob Merion, Debbie Eisenberg Merion, Helen and Mort Eisenberg, Bessie Rudnick

4 Things to Remember About Margy Merion

  1. She loved to laugh and have fun

Margy Merion was a fun-loving person.  She loved to laugh.  I always loved the story about how she bought a large car-washing sponge, covered it with chocolate icing, then pretended to serve it to unsuspecting friends at their swim club as “sponge cake.”

But how did she arrange a final trick that nearly made us all laugh through our tears at her funeral, on Oct 27, 2021?  There we were, about two dozen family members, gathered around her grave in our black coats and boots, as we stood under the tall pine trees with pine needles that covered the orange, red and green oak leaves on the grass. Bob and Jan had themselves officiated at a beautiful ceremony, using Margy’s own family bible.  Family members had eulogized her.

Then two strong gravediggers in their hooded sweatshirts straddled her coffin on two by fours, grabbed the oragne straps holding her box in preparation to lower her down into the hole, and the third gravedigger pulled away the two two-by-fours that were under the coffin, keeping it up out of the hole. Slowly they loosened the straps to lower her, inch by inch, until the coffin stopped. Uh-oh.

Margy might have well have been a kindergartener grasping the door jam to the doctor’s office…”no, not today.”  For 10 awkward minutes the family waited while the cemetary workers tried three more times, clearing some branches inside the hole with an electric skill saw and shoveling dirt off the sides.  Finally, Margy relented to leaving her family.  But not without giving us a good story to remember her plucky charm.

Perhaps she pulled off the cemetery trick because Margy never thought she would die.  Psychologists might call this delusional thinking or more politely, wishful thinking.  It must have been a very comforting thought, and she nearly pulled it off.  For nearly 90 years she had been a very healthy person;  no major illnesses. Even her voice had a girlish quality into her 80s. She will be missed by all her knew her. We dressed her for success on the other side in a black pantsuit with a faux leopard collar, and a soft, warm mink coat.

 

  1. She loved to feed her family and bake for them

Here is the eulogy that I read about Margy on that fall day in Framingham…

50 years with Margy Merion shaped my life. Not only did she give me a precious gift, the love of my life, Bob, but she brought a certain artistic slant in my life from an early age with her green cut velvet French sofa, her Japanese pottery collection, and her huge needlepoint in the walls. Who hasn’t heard about her formative ballet lessons as a 4 year old but in her mind I believe she became a retired ballerina as an adult with her morning stretches and interest in low pointy pumps that were not much more than patent leather versions of ballet shoes, like the ones she is wearing right now.

My mother was the practical realist teacher, so different from Margy, who once told me she estimated the amount of paint needed for a remodeling by by pretending to paint the walls while going that’s one gallon, that’s two gallons.

I met her when I was 15 and Bob brought me home, four miles north to a newer part of Philly with landmarks like Jack’s Deli and Pennypack park.  Marge and Milt would take me to their swim club, where I would wear a bikini and lay in the sun with Bob, a visit both romantic and sophomoric, but always with a safe feeling of acceptance from his parents, nothing ever but acceptance. I never understood mother-in-law jokes because what did I know of mother-in-law’s who didn’t dote on you and later, your children with an almost over the top generosity of spirit.

In her home we were never hungry, never bored, never lacking something to read. There were fresh baked chocolate chip cookies waiting for us in the downstairs freezer and chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream in the upstairs one.

I love thinking about how my mom and Margy went to the hairdresser together every Friday. Margy would finish first and my mom would entreat her to make sure she had reservations at the next destination. Lunch. Margy would assure her she did and then go dutifully there to snag a table and wait for her friend Helen to finish with her final spray of acqua net. But Margy told me later that the restaurant was always empty when she arrived so she never did get a reservation. She just said so to appease her friend Helen, who was never the wiser. I like to imagine those Friday lunches with these two Philly women, hair and nails done, laughing about the latest neighborhood story that you could never read in the Jewish Exponent. I hope my mom will welcome Margy to her Friday lunch tomorrow and they’ll look down on their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and feel good that they made a difference in this world. Margy, I’ll miss laughing with you. Thank you for being you.

March 4, 2020. Margy’s 89th birthday party. Milt Merio, Margy Merion, Janice Merion-Billings and Bob Merion. Margy didn’t bake this cake, but she loved eating it!

  1. She loved her machatenesta (Yiddish for the parents of a child’s spouse)

As I helped Jan and Bob and Milt sort out Margy’s belongings, I came across a few photos that she had kept in her top drawer. There was her mother, Ethel and step-father, Al, at our wedding in 1976.  There was Milt and Margy in 1994, hugging on a single pool chair.  The setting was documented on the back in my mother’s handwriting—“poolside at Delray Villas,” where my parents lived in Florida.  There was a fabulous picture of my parents and Margy and Milt, likely taken in the 1970s.  And a great photo of my mom and Margy wrapping a gift in Margy’s living room.  Who would be getting the oven mitt in Margy’s hand?  Maybe it was for our wedding sho

1976 at Temple Beth Torah in Phila. at Deb and Bob’s wedding. Albert Moore, Margy’s step-dad and Ethel Moore, Margy’s mother

 

 

1975 Margy Merion and Helen Eisenberg in the Merion home on Agusta St. in Phila. See the sofa alluded to in my eulogy?

  1. Her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren inherited her artistic, energetic spirit.

How can we remember and celebrate a matriarch?

My parents would save obituaries of people they knew and loved in a loose-leaf binder. That seemed like an odd habit to me. But that was in the 80s and 90s, when our lives – and obituaries– hadn’t become findable online with a few keyboard clicks.

But I get it now. Obituaries are life stories. Stories aren’t complete until we know the end, I suppose. So copied below is Margy’s obituary in the Jewish Exponent, written by Janice Merion, with some friendly edits by Bob Merion.

Marjorie (Margy) Merion, 90, died peacefully on October 27, 2021, in the Framingham, MA home she shared with Milton Merion, her beloved husband of almost 70 years,. Margy was buried at the Framingham-Natick Hebrew Cemetery in Natick, MA in a private family ceremony on October 28, 2021, surrounded by beautiful century-old oak trees, their multicolored leaves floating quietly to the ground on a crisp autumn day. She was interred in a traditional plain pine box and wore the long mink coat given to her by Milton more than 50 years ago.

Born March 5, 1931, in Philadelphia, PA, Margy was raised, educated, and worked in the city of her birth.  Margy identified strongly with her Jewish faith and was confirmed at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in 1947. Margy became a certified X-ray technician and worked in the office of Dr. Samuel Levine, a prominent general surgeon in Philadelphia.   Following an introduction by Margy’s cousin, Norman Knee, her courtship with Milton Merion led to their wedding on November 11, 1951, at the Penn Sheraton Hotel. Following a romantic honeymoon in Miami, featuring an airplane ride and a rented convertible, the couple moved to Norfolk, VA while Milton served in the US Navy.  They returned to Philadelphia to start a family in 1956.  Later, Margy worked alongside her husband at Milton C. Merion Ocean Freight Forwarders, Inc. in downtown Philadelphia until they both retired.  Throughout her married life, Margy proudly maintained a Jewish home, teaching her children and grandchildren about the rich culture and traditions of the Jewish holidays and their many culinary accompaniments.

Outside of family and work, Margy had many lifelong interests and hobbies. Margy was an avid art enthusiast; she painted watercolors, created complex crewel projects, attended college art history classes, and toured art museums in every city she visited. She was a voracious reader (especially biographies), green-thumb gardener, mahjongg enthusiast, and intrepid traveler with Milton to European countries, Mexico, and several Caribbean islands.

Margy was always energetic; swimming and tennis were her sports. Her Zodiac sign was Pisces; true to the water sign, time spent in swimming pools and the ocean centered and delighted her. She displayed a flowing physical grace and unpretentious style throughout her life, both in and out of the water. She played tennis for years at Northeast Racquet Club in Northeast Philly. Off the court, she and Milton could often be found closely following that week’s major professional tennis tournament on TV or in person at the Spectrum. Margy was always knowledgeable about the top seeded players. She also loved dance and spoke often about having been a serious ballet student as a young child and performed on stage at the Academy of Music. As an adult, she did aerobics and took up yoga in her 50’s. She delighted in showing people she could still touch her toes well into her late 80’s.

One of Margy’s greatest joys was actively participating in the lives of her four grandchildren as a fun-loving, easy-going, young-at-heart grandmother, watching them progress from childhood to adulthood to parenthood. She was an excellent cook and baker known for many signature dishes and enjoyed teaching her children and grandchildren to bake.

In 2017, after living in the same home in Northeast Philadelphia for more than 61 years, Margy and Milton moved to a senior community in Framingham, MA to be closer to their daughter, Janice Merion-Billings, and their younger granddaughter, Sarah Merion.  Margy was delighted with the birth of her great-granddaughters Jordyn in 2019 and Aviva in 2021. She proudly told everyone that family was the center and most important part of her life.

Recounting and reliving episodes of her life was an important facet of Margy’s relationships with family members and friends. Later in life, she wrote dozens of short stories. (Two are below). These were often self-reflective or descriptive of her feelings and reactions to diverse topics and events. One such short story, “Who Am I?” was read by her granddaughter, Sarah, at her funeral.

We miss her deeply but take solace in so many wonderful memories.  May her memory be for a blessing.

Margy Merion is survived by her husband Milton; her son Robert Merion (Debbie), and her daughter Janice Merion-Billings (Ron Parker); four grandchildren, Alison Arena (Adam), Sarah Merion (Jeffrey Corrado), Zachary Billings, and Joshua Billings; and two great-grandchildren, Jordyn Grey Arena and Aviva Zazie Merion Corrado.

 

Margy’s Stories.

Margy wrote 29 stories. I encouraged her. She wrote them and didn’t edit them, and they had the fresh, honest voice of a woman who had something to say about her blessed life. Below are two.

My Favorite Music (#1)

Marjorie Merion May 2005

At the ripe young age of two, I was enrolled at a professional ballet school.  It was run by the choreographer of the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company, William Sena.  He was a strict master with a long pole that he used to pound on the floor when emphasizing a ballet step.

I got this school because my cousin, Lil Greenblatt, was a member of the ballet corps.  Every Saturday, I was taken for an hour lesson along with about six other two-year-olds.  Naturally, the music was beautiful, classical ballet music. 

To this day, I get a thrill just hearing some of those tunes. Today, children do not start dance ballet and toe until six or seven, and, since this was one of the most prestigious dance classes in the city, there was a lot of classical music played on a grand piano by a gray haired old man.

As I got older, I still loved the music wherever I was and especially going to see the ballet at the Academy of Music or at a theater in New York and Washington.

Ballet music has an interesting feeling – it takes you away from all your worries, fears and phobias.

My Favorite Place to Visit (#2)

 Marjorie Merion May 2005

 I’ve been so lucky.  If I mentioned all the great places I’ve visited, it could be a travel agent’s brochure.

How do I pick my most favorite?  Think about me and what my favorite places in life turn out to be.  Pisces is the biggest hint.  Where there is water to go in or be on top of or spending time looking at should be the first clue.

For four years, we went to Cancun and it had everything I desired.  Sea as calm as a lake, pools that cascaded down the length of the hotel, only Spanish spoken and no Gringos but us.  A lovely sea coast, lots of great restaurants, shops and nothing more to do if you were so inclined.  The city was safe to walk, and grab a bus or a cab.  Wonderful Mayan ruins to let your imagination run through.  I’m ready to brush up on Espanol, get a new bathing suit and head back to the lovely country of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula.

2/94 Margy and Milt Poolside at Delray Villas (caption on the back of the photo written by Helen Eisenberg, who likely took the picture at their pool at Delray Villas in Delray, Florida.)

Mom, Dad and Toothpicks

A slice of life about life with my parents of blessed memory, Helen and Morton Eisenberg, and some toothpicks. Written in 2003.

I’m awake and I’m laying in bed in my parents’ house on Saturday morning.  I can feel the humidity seeping through the windows of the spare bedroom in their little Florida house even though the air conditioning is on.  Of course, the air is not on very high because my parents are old and they get cold easily but in reality, that’s okay with me because I love being hot.

I get up and put my bathing suit on and my parents are sitting at the kitchen table eating their raisin bran, drinking their decaf coffee and starting to take their pills from those little plastic columns of boxes with lids, each lid labeled M, T, W, R, and so on—one for each day.

The Sun Sentinel is strewn on the table and my dad is wearing a seersucker robe with “Mort” embroidered over his heart.  His robe is blue and mom’s is pink and says “Helen.”  We kid them that that’s a good robe to wear if they have to be in the hospital and they’ve forgotten their name and we hope that joke never comes true.

My dad says, “Debbie!”  My mother starts to stand and says “Is there anything I can get you?”

I know how much she wants to wait on me and how much I hate that but I’m changing the dance today.  I say, “Oh, Mom, how about a million dollars?  What cupboard is that in?”  And I start looking in her cupboards, pretending to look for the money but also pretending and not pretending to be interested in all the goofy things she has placed there tighter than those squeeze snakes that get packed in the screw-off tins and that jump out at you when you open the lid.

Nothing actually jumps out at me when I flip open the beige laminated doors of her cupboards, but there is so much stuff and in particular, I’m amazed at her collections—toothpicks—thousands of them—plastic, wooden, and those fancy little two-tongued forks with carved handles in different colors that seem so sad to throw out—and I guess Mom hasn’t—she’s washed them—and here are all those toothpicks and I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen Mom use one toothpick or put toothpicks on the table in 20 years of visiting Florida.

But hey, they make her feel ready.  I’m going to use one.

“A toothpick!” I exclaim.  “I was wondering where you keep these,” and I take one out and lay it on my beige napkin next to my empty beige cereal bowl—Dad has set the table for breakfast like he does every day.

“Mom—do you want a toothpick?”

She laughs—and looks for just a second like that was thoughtful and she seems really grateful that I thought ahead to her needs and she says, “I’ve never thought of using them for other than testing a cake.”

I say, “Hey, it’s a tooth pick!  You can pick your teeth with them!  It’d kind of fun and I think it’s good for your gums,” and she looks down at her napkin for second like—can I do this?

But she doesn’t say anything—maybe she’s not thinking “Can I do this?” but she’s thinking “I have to go to the bathroom but this is kind of fun, talking at breakfast, so I’ll just hold it in a bit longer.”  She looks up and says, “Okay, honey, I’ll take one,” and I hand her one and she holds it between her thumb and finger like a baton major holding a tiny miniature baton in such a delicate way that I can see a lesson is in order.

“I’ll take one too,” my dad pipes up, realizing that we’re going to have some family moment and he doesn’t want to miss it.  I hand him one and he seems like he’s a little more ready—he has it in all of his fingers, next to his palm, with just his index finger up near the point.

“See, Mom, hold it like Dad, like you would hold chalk up to the chalkboard” and she smiles.  She was a teacher.  Mention chalk to her and she’s suddenly 55 years younger and in a second or two, if I don’t keep her engaged in the toothpick thing, I can see how she might tell the story about when they had a surprise assembly at her elementary school to tell the kids she was engaged and one teacher pretended to be Mom walking down the aisle.

“Look how Dad’s doing it, Mom.  That’s good.”  And look—I demonstrate here—“You can kind of hold the toothpick in your palm so people don’t see exactly what’s going on—kind of public and kind of private all at once—like breastfeeding under a shawl.

And there we are, me and my parents in their 80’s in their Florida kitchen with the bright fluorescent lights and the gentle flowered wallpaper, picking raisin bran out of our teeth like we are playing some new tune and we’re a little chamber orchestra.

Published Sept 21, 2020, the three year anniversary of my mother’s passing. A mother’s never-ending love is a beautiful memory. May her memory be for a blessing.

 

Hello, friends.  Perhaps you are reading this in your PJs, or you took the big step today to shower, put product in your hair, and zip into jeans.  It’s 7:48 AM as I write this, coffee by my side, in my flannel yellow duck PJs.

But here’s really what I want to talk about. We recently announced a new class that I am teaching starting next week on April 16 about writing your ethical will.  I thought I’d write a bit about why I’m doing this.

Here’s the flyer for the class. You are invited to attend.

Although the incentive to teach this class is not really related to the fact that we are facing a worldwide pandemic right now, the effort to change it from an in-person class originally to be offered in May, 2020 to an online class offered for the next three Thursdays in April, when we will all still be home, is directly related to what we are all facing.

Since you might want to consider attending you might be curious about why I am teaching it. Yes, I’ll tell you that, because I always love to read about the background of things, and people.   But let me step back two steps so everyone is with me.

What is an ethical will?  It’s a document that describes what you care about in life. That’s it in a nutshell.  The document does have its roots in Judaism.  For example, here is the Wikipedia entry

I honestly can’t remember when I first heard the term.  But around fifteen years ago, I decided I liked the idea of the ethical will enough to create a class around it, to teach at our synagogue, Temple Beth Emeth.  Honestly, it was partly an incentive to get my own ethical will done!  Also, I spent time interviewing my parents about their thoughts on it.  (Not the only thing I interviewed them about.  I spent hours recording their thoughts on family history, their childhood, and really enjoyed hearing what they had to say.)

Yes, I did get it done fifteen years ago. Then fast forward to Sept, 2019.  Two congregants at my synagogue asked me at High Holiday services if I would teach this class again.  I put about two seconds of thought into the question, then said “YES!”  (Thank you Bette Cotzin and Stu Simon for asking me!)  Rabbi Josh Whinston helped me with the details.

In the last year, I completed another memoir, which could be seen as an ethical will as well, especially the chapter that answers the question, “What makes your faith stronger?” But my new memoir, From the Period. To the Colon: Memoir of a Child Writer is 325 pages.  It was so comforting to have this book done, about so much in my life that is important to me. But obviously its not a one-sitting read, which every writer knows is the optimum length if we want something read!

And then corona virus came into our lives. Yes, I’m scared, but I’m hopeful, and like you, I’m just trying to survive.   I’m excited about the class, because I will (and you will, if you register) have the opportunity to create an ethical will with a one-quick-sitting length of 600-1200 words—the length of one or two typed pages.  As we sit at home in our pjs, trying to stay alive as we wash our hands,  this seems like the perfect time to hone in on, as Nietzche called it, the “why.” What do we cling to in life?  “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” — Nietzche  (Read my poem, Virus, Why Us?  about this thought here.)

So if you took my class fifteen years ago, please return and give your ethical will a facelift.  If you never took this class, please attend!   There is a registration form attached to the flyer here.  It’s a free class, and you don’t need to be a member of our synagogue to attend.

Do you have questions for me?  Please write to me at debbiemerion@gmail.com.

Stay safe, and stay well, friends!

Virus. Why Us?

A poem I wrote yesterday, and edited today.

Caution: May cause your brain to bend in thought.

Virus. Why Us?

I went to look
For an answer,
In a book.
Man’s Search for Meaning
By Viktor Frankl
I found my copy, yellowed.
Hello!
I knew it had wisdom.
But I felt dumb.

What was his point?
It’s slippery, sifted through
My hand like a fist of sand
Washed from my brain by
Beach sunset champagne

I get it, I don’t get it
I get it, I don’t get it
I must reread, rethink because
God has pressed our
Reboot button.

Virus? Why us?
A: To find our “why”
Says Frankl-We all suffer but we choose our own “why” – our life meaning.

This is our moment to find
What we cling to in life.
Family. Religion. Community.

In other words:
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
—said Nietzche. Peachy.

My mother thrived with a birth defect.
Stephen Hawking thrived with ALS.
Victor Frankl thrived mentally in a concentration camp.

I wash my hands.
A clean beginning.
We are home, quarantined
Time to think.
How many tomorrows?
No guarantees.
But I’m hoping, please.
Today. An Xcellent day to find my Why.

–Debbie Merion

Do you know your Why?  Please share.

In the summer of 2015, I was rushing to leave Harrods, the fanciest department store in England, maybe anywhere in this universe. I had just walked past a $400,000 dining table (it had glass artwork embedded in its base).

In my sweaty American fingers I carried a plastic bag that said “Harrods,” in which I had three little treasures that I had picked in the 15 minutes my schedule allowed: first, a little sparkly blue notebook that was the size of my hand and said “Harrods on the cover.

Snuggled next to the notebook in the Harrods bag was a box with some pretty pink luggage tags and a small orange leather holder for credit cards.

Harrods was bustling and I was hustling to leave with my three travel mates because we had a dinner reservation in an hour for our last night of a two week vacation. We rushed through the store, seeing both the grand glass chandeliers and sneakers for sale.

We almost walked out the front door onto Brompton Road, but stopped when we heard a BEEP BEEP BEEP. Darn. No walking arrogantly out the door I have done in TJ Max, where the common-as-dirt alarm is another way to say “have a nice day!” A guard in a white crispy shirt and black pilot-type hat walked toward us.

“Can I see your packages please?” he said with a cockney twang. One by one he held my friend’s bags up to the sensor. Silence. Then he held up my bag. The sensor squawked BEEP BEEP BEEP.

He stuck his hairy arm in my bag, pulled out the box and held it up to the sensor. Silence. Then the notebook. BEEP BEEP BEEP.

He palmed the little notebook into the air with a triumphant look of discovery like he had just tripped up a crafty Oliver Twist. He flipped the notebook around. “You see, they didn’t take the tag off here.”

I folded my arms and looked at him. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. I just bought that!”

My friends stood by, shifting their feet, one chewed her cuticles.

“Have you got the receipt?” asked the guard.

My stomach was starting to churn a little, like a washing machine on delicate. I knew I didn’t have it. I had rushed away after signing the receipt for the teller, thinking my friends are waiting for me and they think I’m always late because… because… I am always late.

“I need to leave!” I said to the guard. “We have dinner reservations!” I motioned to my friends, who put on their hungry faces, laced with a touch of worry.

“Yes, you can, as soon as we get this all sorted out.” He picked up a black phone.

“I have to call the manager of the department. She’ll come to meet us.”

“What can I do?” asked my friend Beth.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you want to go back to the hotel? “

I hated holding up the group.

“No,” she looked surprised. “We will wait.”

A young lady finally walked toward me, red sweater, 30ish flouncing black skirt, high heels, blonde hair tied back in a pony tail.

“So sorry about this. We will get this sorted out. “ she said. Her professional swagger was swaddled in an accent I’d place somewhere between guttersnipe and Oxford.
“Is this the way your treat your customers? I raised my voice, pursed my lips and locked my eyebrows into an angry unibrow.

“We’ll just have to go back to the department to get this sorted out. “

I firmly placed my arms akimbo and widened my stance, as angry teapot about to steam.

I had to follow her. What else could I do?

For a second I hoped that she would pull out a pair of diamond clad handcuffs with a six-figure pricetag hanging down from a string, clamp them on my wrists, snap a picture for Instagram, and then start to laugh as she typed in the hashtag #DorkyAmericantourists and maybe #howtheenglishcelebrate4thofJulyhahaha

No such luck. She walked off quickly. Clump, clump, clump in her high heels. She darted and weaved through the crowd.

“How long have you worked at Harrods?”

“Just three months, actually” she said, barely breaking stride.

“Oh, did you work in another shop before this?”

“Actually, I was a London police officer. A detective”

I realized then that I was in the clutches of a cop. A private dick, so to speak. And a cop that might be a little lost in this big store too.  But she sure could clump along fast in those heels. I wondered for a second if they were her major weapon.

“Where did you make your purchase?” she asked.

“Do you mean the department? I have no idea,” I said, “but it was a room near “the Great Writing Room.”

I know how I had gotten there, though. Harrods has a destination escalator. I had taken it minutes earlier— an ornate golden Egyptian escalator. Unfortunately, it had been built as a memorial to Princess Di and Dodi by Dodi’s father, the former owner of Harrods.

But after we got up at the 6th floor, I desperately tried to keep my eyes glued to the her bobbing pony tail in the crowded store.

“I’m taking you a slightly different way,” she said, as I breathlessly followed her at a pace that probably beat my best 5K ever. We ran through rooms crowded with people in sneakers and soft tasseled loafers staring at carved wooden display tables and gleaming glass shelves. This is not going to end well. I had not been in any of these rooms. I had no idea where to turn.

Then, miraculously, we were in the Great Writing Room. Which wasn’t so great, I might add. Just some fancy pens. Meh? Who cares. I’d lose them anyway.

Leaving it meant choosing door number one, or door number two, or…up to door number six. I exited the not-so -great -writing room via Doorway # 1. I darted in and out of doors, trying to find the one I had take. Finally, something had changed in my dance with the shopper copper. She was following me.

I darted for the other doorways, my t-shirt starting to stick to me. This was a Harrods tour on steroids with the sword of Damocles hanging over my passport.

I finally found the room crowded with displays of notebooks and leather wallets. Relief washed over me.

“This is it!”

“Can you find the till?” asked My Fair Lady shop cop.

Fortunately, I speak English. It’s rath-ahhh different than American.

Translation “Can you find the cash register where you paid?”

We had lived in Cambridge England from 1982-1983, just an hour from the iconic Harrods. I had never visited the store. But my mom had, which is why I was buying her this friggin’ little notebook to begin with.

It’s a miracle that Harrods was open the day mom visited it in 1983. Harrods display windows were all gone, shards of glass glistened in the sidewalk cracks. Someone supporting The Irish Republican Army had been planted a bomb there days earlier, sadly killing six people.

Mom had been as determined to visit Harrods as I was to leave it.

I stared at the till teller. She looked different.“The young lady who had been there was African-American.” Obviously the copy must have translated this Americanism on her own head to be black or “African-English.” The redhead at the till went to search for the brunette.

The detective explained the dilemma to the black till woman. “Did you sell something to her?” she asked, motioning toward me, her prisoner. (By this point I had asked the blonde shop dick questions to learn she was 32, named Vivian, and had just come back from a vacation to Tenerife with her boyfriend.)

The saleswoman froze and mutely nodded. Perhaps she remembered my bright green glow-in-the-dark t-shirt, my wild and willful curly hair, or the fact that she had given me her professional opinion, “I like the orange wallet best, it’s warmer looking,” when I started to salivate in lust and indecision over the purple wallet.

“This notebook still has the tag on it,” said Vivian. The till-then saleswoman winced, her chin dipping down.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“And do you have the receipt?”

The till-woman picked up the keyboard at the cash register. Underneath, neatly folded in half, was my receipt. She handed it to Vivian, who glanced at it and handed it to me.

The hum of voices in the room quieted. The leather in the display cases seemed to soften. Someone much cruder than me might have said I now had the dick by her balls.

“We owe you an apology,” said Vivian.

Damn straight you do, you English bitch. A lady next me in white sneakers and wearing a Wisconsin baseball cap high fived me. Then my top-bitch fantasy ended.

What actually came out of my mouth was, “Thank you.”

Vivian stopped and asked directions three or four times to get me back to the door where my friends were waiting. They rushed toward me when I emerged from the men’s shirt section and Karen said, “our hero.” Ha. At least I didn’t have to eat worms to finish my own episode of “Survivor: Harrods.”

Vivian and I hugged and promised to send each other Christmas cards and meet next year at Harrods door 8 for a gin and tonic to remember this amusing International kerfuffle. Then she said she would send me a 10% coupon from Harrods as their way of apology. I wrote my email address down neatly for her. I’m still waiting for coupon. I expect it will arrive at the same time I receive Vivian’s xmas card and another heartfelt apology.

“How was Harrods?” asked my mom when I returned. “I saw you went there. I remember when we went how tight their security was. They looked through my bag on the way in.”

“Not much has changed, mom. Except now they look in your bag on the way out.”

Me and a cappuccino in my green t-shirt in Harrods — a picture taken BEFORE they almost arrested me.

This story attempted to answer the question we all ask ourselves as we go through an airport to get on a flight, “Does security actually make you feel secure?”

If you liked this, read more of my personal criminal history, “Did You Ever Get Into Trouble in School as a Child?

In 2019 I’m writing stories in response to weekly prompts from Storyworth, a gift from our daughter Sarah. All of these stories will be made into a book in January 2020. We all have stories, I hope these will help you remember yours.

Does this look like the face of a criminal?

In 1968, when I was in 7th grade in Fels Jr. High School in Philadelphia, someone thought so.

Even a little bit of trouble when you’re a goody-goody like I was can make your adrenaline spike, dampen your palms and dry your mouth, and tighten your throat in that feeling that is a signal that you’re about to cry. But for me, the biggest signal of my own fear was my heart pounding.

I remember getting called to the Vice Principal’s office, and he started to ask me questions.  He looked at my innocent face with braces.

“Were you in the girl’s bathroom on the second floor between at three o’clock?”

I looked up at the ceiling to think. “Yes.”

“Was anyone else in there with you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Ok, then have a seat on the sofa there.”

“Why?”

“We are going to call your parents now. You are being suspended.”

My heart started to pound. Hard. I can still feel the fear now. I didn’t do anything wrong, all I did was pee when I was in the bathroom.

I just sat there while he called home, trying not to cry. Fortunately, my mother was home. She was a pro at asking questions too. The Vice Principal was saying, “Yes. No. Yes, I did.She wrote something on the mirror in lipstick. Hold on a minute.”

Then he looked at me. “She wants to talk to you.”

My mom said to me, “What happened? I exploded, wanting to cry and yell all at once. “What? I don’t even own lipstick. What is he talking about? I didn’t do it.”

My mom said to put him back on.

She said something, and the Vice Principal said, “OK, I’ll wait.”

We lived only a few blocks from my Fels. My mom never walked anywhere, I’m sure she hopped in the car and drove right over though, going as fast as our 67 Impala could go–legally, that is.

Fifteen minutes later she was in the office of the Vice Principal. I’d never been so happy to see her. She smiled nicely and greeted the Vice Principal as though he was her best friend. “Can we see the bathroom, please?”

We walked over with the office secretary, who went in to check that there were no girls in there. We walked in and there was red lipstick on the mirror. What the words said, I don’t remember. But I remember how my heart started pounding again, the scariness of being falsely accused.

My mother said “that’s not Debbie’s writing. Did you check with her teacher? She knows her writing.”

“She is teaching right now, Mrs. Eisenberg. I can talk to her later.”

“Well, my daughter didn’t do this, as she has told you. Can she go back to class now?”

The Vice Principal looked discouraged. “Oh, all right. Go ahead, Debbie.”

“Doesn’t she need a note about why she wasn’t in class?” asked my mom, who had been a teacher herself.

He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to me. I hugged my mom and ran back to class.

I never talked to that Vice Principal again. What a jerk. Maybe he was just doing his job. Maybe someone had written on the mirror after I left. Or someone was in the stall next to me and was quiet and I didn’t know they were there. But ever since then, I have always had a lot of sympathy for people who are falsely accused.

As I tell this story, I realize how it relates to what is happening these days with black lives matter. Being falsely accused sucks.

In 2019, I’m writing stories in response to weekly prompts from Storyworth, a gift from our daughter Sarah. All of these stories will be made into a book in January 2020. We all have stories, I hope these will help you remember yours.

Back in 2003, Angela Lee Duckworth had not yet declared that grit is more important than intelligence. I had to discover that on my own. My friend Karen Soskin was visiting, and we were in my home office using my printer. She looked up at my wall and saw a very funny-looking wood plaque. Even though it was professionally made, it looked amateurish and awkward, using four fonts on six lines of text. Karen didn’t hesitate to look at me puzzled, her head tilted in disbelief.

“Is that real?” she asked.

I laughed and laughed.

I had to tell her the whole story about the plaque.

In the last year, I had read a column in Parade Magazine by a woman named Marilyn vos Savant. Marilyn had the highest recorded intelligence quotient (IQ) in the Guinness Book of Records. An actress had written to her for advice, and asked her how she could join Mensa – the high IQ society. In the column I read, the actress was writing back to thank Marilyn, excited to say “I got into Mensa!”

I was inspired. “Mensa member” felt like a certification on my resume that I suddenly wanted to add to my bachelor and master’s degrees.

But first, I had to take a three-hour test. It turned out I knew the person who was the testing official with the local Mensa club. I sat at her kitchen table and sweated away while I filled in bubbles with a number two pencil. The one type of question I remember was a diagram of a flat cardboard box, and I had to identify what it would look like when it was folded into its 3D shape.

Two months later, my results came in the mail. Now I know how my students feel when they get their SAT score. My score was too low to get me into Mensa. Mensa didn’t want me. Oy.

How else could I get to be a member of Mensa, I wondered? Knowing a testing official didn’t help. I researched. I dug. I made phone calls. Turns out you could send in your test scores from school. I learned that Philadelphia, Pennsylvania keeps their IQ test scores for a long time. A long, long time. I ordered a copy of mine from kindergarten, before my brain had gotten stale. Or crowded with facts.

Mensa accepts a number of different types of IQ tests: You need a 132 on the Stanford-Binet, a 131 on the Otis-Gamma Test, or a 130 on the Stanford Binet 5, which is exactly what I had. I made it in without an IQ point to spare. Eureka! I had no shame. I was feeling pretty good about sneaking into Mensa with my kindergarten IQ test.

I ordered their $40 wooden plaque that said I was a member and hung it on my wall in my home office, despite its goofy look. Especially the Mensa logo. And don’t ask me why “member” has an initial capital but “Mensa” doesn’t.

 

Soon I realized that the Mensa plaque was perfect for Mensa because it was a little awkward, like everything that Mensa did. Their newsletter had lukewarm articles and no graphic design.  They met at an unappetizing restaurant—Old Country Buffet—which had buckets of overcooked, preservative-laden food from a can. Their parties lacked a certain something. I think it was “fun.”

So, as I stood there in my office with Karen, I explained how she had made me laugh, not hesitating to ask if the plaque was real. The next time Karen and I were with her son Eric, I had to tell him my plaque story too.

He said to me, “I can’t believe you are in Mensa!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, with a wink. “Don’t you think I’m smart enough?”

“Of course, I do, but Mensa, why join that?”

Touché. Eric was right. Why Mensa, indeed? I soon realized there was nothing in it for me, other than an awkward looking plaque. I stopped paying membership after a year.

The plaque does remind me of one thing I learned from my parents: the power of perseverance. My parents didn’t give up easily. If they did, I wouldn’t be writing this, because they didn’t conceive easily either.

Maybe this is why Angela Lee Duckworth values grit over IQ. She says that high IQ was not always one of the characteristics of her most successful students, in her TED talk and her best seller: GRIT – The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

I admire the perseverance I see in my friends and family immensely. Keep on keeping on!

P.S.  Mini IQ test: Do you recognize the font for the funny-looking Mensa logo? It’s very similar to Comic Sans font, the font with its own meme!

 

Thank you, mom, for teaching me perseverance!

In 2019 I’m writing stories in response to weekly prompts from Storyworth, a gift from our daughter Sarah. All of these stories will be made into a book in January 2020. We all have stories, I hope these will help you remember yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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