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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. This week’s prompt was:

What was your first job?

Encouraged by my parents’ post-depression work ethic and my small weekly allowance, I had a number of jobs before I graduated high school. I was inside, I was outside, I was climbing the stairs, I was carrying dishes, typing, talking. I liked new challenges. Here are eight different jobs I had in high school and college.

My first “real” job–where I got dressed up and worked in an office–was also one of my hardest.  When I was 16, I got dressed up, and took the 59 bus North on Castor Ave., then switched with a paper transfer when I got to Bells Corner to the 59B bus, which I took north on Bustleton Ave.

I arrived at the answering service company, which was in a relatively new medical services building, and went in for the interview.  I had applied for this job all on my own, maybe a friend worked there too, I don’t remember why I decided to try this job, but I was excited to try something new. Did the switchboard seem like a big toy to me?  Lite-Brite hadn’t been invented yet…

But I remember the look of the room down in the basement, windowless, covered with, not toys, but real telephone operator switchboards. Yes, I was about to become like Lily Tomlin on Rowan and Martin.   I was about to become Debbie the telephone operator… “one ringy-dingy…two ringy-dingy…”

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the switchboard operator

I was only 16, and this was a job that required poise, quickness, and attention. Maybe it was good that I had started with some easier jobs in younger teen years.

When I was 15, I was a counselor in training (CIT) at Camp Cherokee in Philadelphia where I had also gone to camp, and was paid about $25 for the summer for that.

Although the camp is no longer there, having sadly closed, I can see it so clearly in my mind: the small pool with its cement deck where the pictures below were taken, the baseball diamond, the swings, the boat dock where we crawled into rowboats and watched brave boys jump off the rocks and splash loudly into the water, the ponies that walked obediently in a circle in a small coral.

Here you can see what counselors looked like at Cherokee in 1962 and 1963, and can see me as a 6 and 7 year old camper.

I’m the one with the Band-Aid on her chest (I bumped into something while biking or running probably) and with the untucked t-shirt. No pictures of myself as a CIT there at Camp Cherokee.

At 15, I remember laying in the sun wearing my dad’s old white button-down work shirts over my bikini, but I’m sure I ran around and chased kids a lot.

As a teen, I babysat occasionally, though I can’t remember for who. This was, for me, mainly an opportunity to eat junk food that my mom didn’t buy, like chips in Charles Chips cans.

I can remember that I was paid 50 cents an hour, a sum so low that it’s even difficult to find the symbol for cents on a standard apple keyboard.

After high school I took a test, passed, and was awarded with a job that gave me some of the money that my dad and mom paid in taxes. I worked for the federal government, at the Phila Navy Yard.

In college at the University of Delaware I worked in the school library, shelving books and getting returns from people at the counter. I loved that job.

During the summer I was a camp counselor at an overnight camp.

To make a little more money, I delivered newspapers in our high rise dorm at the University of Delaware. My employer was a high school boy who had advertised for someone to take the Sunday route…was he going to church or just wanted a day off? My task was to load up my shoulder bag with the papers he dropped off for me, then to the elevator up to the 14th floor, and walk down, dropping off papers as I went. I prayed with newspaper smudged hands that I would have the correct number left (zero papers) when I got to the last door on my list. Otherwise, that meant I missed a door.

And thus began my love affair with the New York Times.

One summer during college I worked as a waitress at Gingham House in Phila on Castor Ave., where I was fired soon after I was hired for not cutting lemons correctly. It didn’t sour me on waitress jobs though, I had two of those after I was married and had an MSW, at more upscale restaurants in Ann Arbor.

We also had winters off during the month of January at the University of Delaware, so once I landed one-month job in a factory in Philadelphia. It was a film factory on Roosevelt Blvd., and my job was to take the rolls of film out of one envelope and put them in a bin to get developed. I stood on my feet for hours, trying to stay interested in doing the same thing over and over. That was very motivating for getting an education.

Although that job was difficult, it wasn’t as difficult as my first “real” job—where I wasn’t wearing a bathing suit to work— where I worked for an answering service running a switchboard.

My job was to take a message, write it down on a slip of paper, and put it in a pile that someone else would sort and distribute. This was a really hard job, because when a light lit up, you had to pull the peg, stick it in the hole to connect, say hello and ask them to hold on, and then remember where you were (which peg) and flip a switch to go back to that one, complete that message with a calm, pleasant voice and nice neat handwriting, and then go on to the second one.

I’m not sure how long I lasted. One week? A month? I was only 16. Have you seen the women in the telephone pool in Mad Men? It looked just like that!

This was a REALLY hard job. I worked for the answering service that my Uncle Herman Rudnick and also a top boxer used— Joe Frazier. When Frazier called in to get his messages, the whole room was abuzz!

I’m not sure how long I lasted. But you may not be surprised, and neither was I, when I was fired from that job after about a month. I think I was relieved. Did I mention, it was REALLY HARD!

Don’t be afraid to try new things!  By 21 years old I had worked (with varying degrees of success) as a:

  • Babysitter
  • Camp Counselor
  • Newspaper Delivery girl
  • Waitress
  • Library clerk
  • Office clerk
  • Factory Worker
  • Switchboard operator

What were your early jobs?

 

 

 

 

Each week in 2019 I’m writing stories in response to a story prompt, courtesy of an awesome Storyworth subscription from our daughter Sarah for my birthday. At the end of the year, all of these stories will be made into a book. We all have stories, I hope these will help you remember yours.  This week the prompt is:

“Are you still friends with any of your friends from high school? How have they changed since then?”

I’ve always been a fan of those stories that start with, “Whatever happened to?”…and then you read about a child actor or someone well-known years ago. That’s why it’s so much fun to reconnect and to stay connected with old friends. Plus, I’ve found we still have so much in common.

Forty-eight years have passed since I have entered Northeast High School in Northeast Philadelphia in 1970.

I’m proud of my time at Northeast, and not just because Frederick Wiseman  made  a famous documentary movie there (“High School“) in 1968.

Tony Danza created a TV show there (“Teach“) in 2010.

I was there in between those two media events, I graduated in 1973.

I was active, especially in a club called SPARC, which stood for SPace And Research Club –where I met a nice boy named Bob Merion–I’m standing just to the left of him, the only girl in the picture, and one of a few girls in the group.

From left to right–people I’m still in touch with from Sparc 1973–On the right is a piece of tape with computer dots in it, that’s what Jeff and the other computer geeks fed into the computing aspect of the club.  You can see we are sitting at a monitoring station with computer screens, much like in the NASA shows.  The club had a real space capsule, that moved, and a contract for research with NASA.

  • Richard Carson (Bob’s first cousin)
  • Neil Harris, who lives near DC and Bob gets to see him frequently.
  • Me!
  • Jeff Selzer (sitting beneath me)–We’ve stayed in sporadic contact with Jeff Seltzer since 8/8/88
  • Bob Merion—we went to the senior prom in 1973 married July 25, 1976

Debbie Eisenberg and Bob Merion on their wedding day July 25, 1976

Debbie Merion and Bob Merion with their grandaughter, Jordyn Grey Arena, Feb 12, 2019

 

 

More SPARC kids from 1973–from left to right– people I’m still in touch with:

  • Not sure of left-most guy
  • Richard Freeman wearing the sunglasses, who we’ve lost touch with after a divorce from our friend Ellen
  • Gail Rothberg Eisenberg–we were best friends in elementary school and still have managed to see each other a few times since high school and stay close with letters and email. Gail became an Eisenberg about the time that I lost the name to become a Merion, when she married Fred Eisenberg, who sat near my brother Gary at Northeast. She teaches marketing at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, which my brother attended.  Gail and I were very close in elementary, I was taller, and more athletic and interested in writing, she was the math wiz with 2 sisters and a brother who helped me understand the drama of a bigger household. I also learned from her (and her sister) the beauty of making a lasagna for a family meal that lasts.

Deb Eisenberg Merion and Gail Rothberg Eisenberg in Florida in 2017

  • Fred Wittenstein, who lives in Orlando and we see almost every year with his lovely wife Laurie Levin when we’re down in Florida.
  • Marc Servetnick, who came and stayed with us in Florida this year for a fun night!

Fred Wittenstein and Marc Servetnick in Florida in 2019

Marc Servetnick, Bob and Deb Merion in Florida 2019

I stay in touch with some other friends from high school on Facebook.  There was Lynne Edelstein, whose locker was next to mine since they were alphabetic by last name (Edelstein–Eisenberg) and Marcy Cohen Lidman, who was the editor of the school paper that I wrote for too, and who had the party where I met Bob. We were also friends with Sheryl Rudie, who I also stay in touch with on Facebook, and who once visited us in England with her wonderful late husband Hank.

And there is Lisa Litman, who found me on Facebook a few years ago when she said, “Is that a picture of the Jupiter lighthouse?”Are you in Jupiter? I am too!  Then we became reunited and have been fast friends ever since, visiting in Phila and Florida. And since her daughter had a baby a few months before, we are now both bubbies! Here’s a picture of me and Lisa!

Deb Merion and Lisa Litman 2018–Now both bubbes!

From these friends I’ve observed dedicated husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, who have used their intelligence and creativity to help their communities and families.  I’m proud to know them all.

And even though my husband Bob Merion has grey hair now, I still think he looked like Ryan Phillipe in “54”.

Bob Merion and Ryan Phillippe–brothers from another mother?

Hail Northeast!

 

 

 

 

Each week in 2019 I’m writing stories in response to a story prompt, courtesy of an awesome Storyworth subscription from our daughter Sarah for my birthday. At the end of the year, all of these stories will be made into a book. We all have stories, I hope these will help you remember yours.

This week the prompt was,

What was your Dad like when you were a child?

Helen, Debbie, Gary and Morton Eisenberg, March 1956

I think these pictures were both taken on the same day in 1964, one inside, in the living room, drapes closed, and then outside on our front walk. Everyone looks happier outside! I wonder if they took that first.

At first glance, my dad Morton Eisenberg may have looked very straight-laced and unexciting. He was an electrical engineer, who drove twelve miles every day in a carpool over a narrow drawbridge to RCA in Camden NJ, from our home in Northeast Philadelphia. He wore white shirts laundered and pressed at the local laundry, which came back stiffened with a piece of cardboard that he always saved for my art projects. At his neck there was always a clip-on bowtie. In his white pocket he wore a pocket protector, and in that he placed some pens, a red RCA pencil, and sometimes a miniature slide rule. He wore dark pants over brown orthopedic shoes and drove a Chevy.

But he was anything but unexciting to me. To me, being with dad was magical. When he was home and relaxing, he traded in the white work shirt for a pale yellow or blue banlon shirt with two buttons. I think he wore old pants on the weekends, or maybe some tan “work” pants that were free for him to splash paint or grease on as tinkered around the house on ham radio or home-improvement or car maintenance or appliance repair projects down in the basement or in the garage.

That was the outfit he donned also, on occasion, when he was at our synagogue, Temple Beth Torah, helping the facility as he walked around with his small wooden tool box with the curved metal handle. I remember the story he liked to tell where someone stopped him to tell him about a problem. “Are you the Temple maintenance man?” They asked. “No, I’m the Temple President,” he admitted.

Magical moments happened when we did some projects together, especially in elementary school. I helped him send out reminders for his next ham radio club meeting, carefully writing addresses on the postcards and licking the stamps. We printed photos from my little Brownie camera down in his basement darkroom, and then put them in a photo album on black pages, and labeled them with a white pencil. He read my poems, corrected them with a gentle penciled checkmark in the margin, and helped me type them on Smith-Cornona typewriter. In the winter, we donned our rubber golashes and went sledding at Burholme Park on our flexible flyer sleds. In the summer, we wrote bikes in back of Carnell Elementary school. He had a record player in the lving room, and my mom and dad loved to cha-cha, and I remember my dad even teaching me that easy 1-2-3 dance.

I know my dad was proud of me, even though his face may have not shown it in pictures, like this one when I was the 6th grade valedictorian at our Carnell Elementary graduation. I won an award for an essay I wrote called, “Why I am Proud to Be an American.”

My dad disappeared for one weekend every year to “Field Day” with his ham radio buddies, including his best friend Harold Fox, who we called “Uncle Harold.” It was a competition that they found exhilarating, trying to talk to as many people as possible over the weekend.

Dad’s ham radio equipment was down in the basement, in his own room that seemed like a peaceful haven but exciting to me, with those machines with dials and knobs, and the walls covered with “QRL” postcards he had received from people around the world he had spoken with. His code letters were W3DYL—or darling young ladies as he liked to say to make it clear, and then later he got a shortened one—K3DG.

When I interviewed dad and mom in the early 2000’s about their lives, here’s what dad said about how he got started in ham radio: “As a kid in eighth and ninth grade, I became very interested in electricity. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I started playing around with radio in high school, and thought we were very fortunate to have a amateur radio club and the non-licensed teacher that sponsored that club built a short-wave receiver from magazine instructions. That was the nucleus of our radio club’s equipment. Later we got a transmitter and were on the air from the high school and we did pretty good. There was a better ham radio club, however, at Germantown High School nearby in Philly. They had a great radio station. They used to communicate with foreign stations. We never got more than a couple of hundred miles from Simon Gratz High School but we used to visit them and were amazed to see their QSL (confirmation of radio contact) cards. Germantown talked to people across the ocean and wild stories like that. I guess that radio was the big thing of the 1930’s. ”

On the roof was his ham radio antenna, another important part of the hobby, and another part I shared with him. He let me climb up the aluminum ladder onto the roof with him. I was always a little scared climbing over the 6 inch high lip around the room at the top of the ladder, but I did it because of the view. At that time, there was a law that no building in Philadelphia could be taller than the hat on the William Penn statue at the top of City Hall, so even though we were at least 10 miles from downtown, we could see “Billy Penn” as we called him on a clear day.

My mom learned to accept dad going up on the roof, and she was even OK with me climbing up there, but she liked to tell the story about how my grandmother Bessie wasn’t so comfortable with it. Once she had driven over the house, the story went, and found the ladder next to the house but didn’t see any one. She started calling. Hello? And my dad leaned over the roof and called down calmly, “Hi Mom!” Apparently grandmom get super excited and worried, “Get down from there, right now!” and being a good son-in-law, dad did, but just made sure Grandmom wasn’t due to come over the next time he needed to go fix his antenna on the roof.

Mom and dad loved to go to the movies for fun, dad would read the reviews in Time magazine and write the movie reviewed on the cover. Mom was quite proud of the fact that they took us often on vacations—driving to Atlantic City or Washington DC, and once to Williamburg, Virginia. Because my dad was a history buff, and mom was a teacher, the DC vacations always seemed more intellectual that fun to me, but as I got older I could listen to my dad talk about history for hours. Also, as we got older they took us to more fun places. The best was our Bermuda vacation was I was 15 and my brother was 18, and we rode motor bikes around the island and went hard hat diving on a tour.

Dad on a motorbike in Bermuda, 1971.

One of my favorite pictures with my dad is this one, on my wedding day, July 25, 1976.

My dad had many favorite sayings.  Maybe your dad did too?

He never said a curse word.  But he had many funny ways to get around it, and some other amusing catch phrases.  Here’s some of his “dadisms”

  • Well, cheese and crackers!
  • You’re full of soup!
  • Well, I’ll be a dirty bird. (i.e. dirty word)
  • I’m had you’re glappy.
  • It just shows to go you.
  • I’m actually bug-eyed.
  • I feel like a million bucks—all green and wrinkled.
  • This jello is great—no bones!
  • My cup runnith over… and drippith on the floor.
  • And when presented with anything that he liked…That’s the best thing since the uplift brassiere!

Interested in getting notified each time a new story comes out? Please let me know. Thanks for reading!

–Deb Merion March, 2019

 

 

 

Jordyn Haiku

Jordyn Haiku

2/13/19

My granddaughter sleeps

I look at her placid face

Yes, born yesterday

IMG_3035

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pink and blue knit cap

Above a peachy soft face

Lips red as roses

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Mommy sleeps: not me

I hold the baby wondering

Who will Jordyn be?

 

Her face scrunches up

Then it relaxes again.

What is she thinking?

 

Her body so small

She will grow bigger each day

Now she has come out.

 

 

2/17/19

 

Eyes closed, on her side

Jordyn lays soft on my chest,

Squirming. Delightful!

 

IMG_3185

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please keep her awake!

We want her to sleep at night.

Soft tickles to wake.

 

IMG_3176

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her fingers- chilly

Her belly – warm, soft yet firm

Eyebrows up! A yawn!

 

Her head in my palm

Fits perfectly: 6 days old.

I wish she could talk.

 

IMG_3128

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2/22/19

Snuffy, fast breathing

Eyes closed, she squeaks, 6 AM

Warm lap baby sleeps

 

I thank God today

Science and love got us here

And Delta helped too

 

Ten fingers, ten toes

Two toes webbed on each small foot

Champion swimmer?

Toes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babies can teach us

How to get what we need, want

Focus, don’t stop. Milk!

 

Born 2/12/19

Seven pounds, nineteen inches

Blue eyes and brown hair

 

IMG_3027

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Forest, Cali

Forever your “place of birth”

Cool way: “The O. C.”

IMG_3177

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam is your dad

Alison is your mommy,

“Please mom, call me Al!”

Al, Adam and J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debbie is my name

I like “Deb”. To you: Bubbie

Call grandpop Zayde.

 

Teddy is your dog.

He’s a Wheaton Terrier.

His job: protect you.

 

IMG_3130

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teddy sniffs your toes

Sometimes he licks them a bit

You are his first babe.

 

“Sit, Teddy,” we say

When he gets too close to you

You’ll play with him soon.

 

You don’t need a phone.

You don’t need to text, call, surf.

Love is all you need.

 

I don’t need a phone.

I don’t need to text, call, surf.

You are all I need.

 

Ok, I admit

I thumb haiku in my phone

While you lay on me.

Manicured IMG_3138

 

 

 

 

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