On January 20, 1991, my grandmother Rose Ridnor wrote an essay about war. It was a month before the end …
The following essay was written by my grandmother, Rose Ridnor. I found it humorous because I’m often precariously balanced on a ladder, in the middle of summer, trimming the dead flowers off our two lilacs in Mount Vernon, WA. And while I have the clippers, the nearby apple trees also gets a trimming.
The lilac tree was long overdue for pruning. This particular morning, after spending almost two hours pulling weeds, cutting, and cleaning up the front and side of the house, I was finally ready to begin trimming the lilac. When I as more than half done, I found I was getting terribly tired.
The burning sun had followed me all morning, making my face flush and sticky with sweat. My legs ached from leaning against the runs of the ladder, my hands were stiff from wielding the clippers. I just had to finish. Stop now and who knows when I could get back to it. So I pushed harder with the clipping and snipping to finish faster.
I was concentrating hard on lopping off a heavy branch, my mind as blank as it could get, when out of the blue, a line of words popped into my head. It was odd. I eased off a second to repeat it to myself, “I can always plant another tree, but I can never grow another me.”
Quickly, I fathomed its meaning, and for a moment was tempted to heed its message. But no, I couldn’t stop now. I had to finish.
But it kept bugging me. Why am I pushing myself? What am I out to prove? I have just so much energy, exhaust it, and I’m finished. The tree doesn’t give a darn whether I cut off its dead flowers or crowded limbs. It will just go on doing what it has to do: Grow and produce more flowers that will die, and I’ll have to cut off.
I set the clippers down, stepped off the ladder, went into the den, and plopped into a chair. I could feel the tiredness ease out of my body.
Ten minutes later, quite refreshed, I went out, put away the ladder and tools, left the sweeping to Morris [husband], and that was that! I didn’t hear one word of protest from the lilac tree.
Life is a constant weighing of the importance of one’s own self in relation to everyone, and everything else.
I suspect my grandmother, Rose Ridnor, didn’t have a recipe book to flip through for ideas on what to fix for dinner. She therefore had lists on index cards, such as this one for meats, which provided ideas. Because my grandparents grew up in the tenements in New York, they were always very frugal, eating little meat, and supplementing main courses with bread, potatoes, pasta, kasha, and other grains.
For the most part, my grandparent’s subsisted on lower quality cuts of meat, cooked for hours, and subsequently labeled “pot roast.” My grandmother would always add potatoes and carrots an hour or so before the roast was done to make a more substantial meal.
My also routinely roasting or boiling chicken. The broth from the latter was turned into chicken soup with carrots, celery, onions, homemade noodles, and kneidlach (soft matzos balls).
For special occasions, my grandmother made tiny sweet and sour meatballs, which were eaten with crushed matzos. The sauce was made from ketchup, brown sugar, and white vinegar.
I don’t recall her ever making lamb, veal, steak, or fresh fish. Maybe my grandfather didn’t like fish so it was disguised as gefilte fish, lox, herring, kippers, and canned and smoked salmon. Below is her recipe for scalloped salmon, which was showcases how a can of salmon can ended up serving several people, possible for multiple meals.
- Pot roast
- Swiss Fried
- Pan fried
- Chicken fried
- Meat balls
- Sweet & sour
- Tamale pie
- Barbeque sauce
- Ground pepper loaf
- Ground patties
- Ground balls
- Chops fried
- Chops pan fried
- Breast stuffed?
- Sweet & sour
My grandmother was a list-maker so it was no surprise when I found a stack of index cards among her papers, containing lists of how much to tip someone (bellboys 25-50₵ per bags), painting and household advice, uses for vinegar, and what to make for meals. Below is what she wrote down for appetizers, followed by her recipe for deviled eggs.
- Kippered salmon
- Bismarck [herring]
- Sweet & sour meatballs
- Sweet & sour chicken
- Chopped liver
- Liver and eggs scrambled
- Brains [beef, boiled, mashed, and mixed with onions]
- Chopped egg
- Deviled egg chilled
- Eggplant [Russian caviar]
- Fruit cup
Written by Rose Ridnor, September 1963
A real glamour gal, hair bottled blonde, lovely creamy white skin, daily cold-creamed, lotioned, manipulated and patted woman with a flair for clothes and figure to show them to advantage, all finished off with beads and bangles to charm the eye. Sound catty? You betcha’ I am.
I look at her, then look at me. Dumpy, blah, clothes that shriek homemade by a shaky-scissored, ten-thumbed, blurry-eyed seamstress. I sigh with pity for myself.
Now then, I was gossiping with a young woman of late twenty, and in course of conversation, I asked Miss Twenties how old she thought Madam Blondie was, and to my utter amazement, she guessed her age within two years.
Evidentially, the young see age with clearer eye than we oldsters. They know but two ages, young and ancient. Their eyes do not gloss over wrinkles, sags and pouches, whereas, we oldsters become so accustomed to them with the passing years we skip over them.
Of course, I didn’t ask Miss Young Smarty-pants to guess MY age. Think I’m nuts or something!
Which brings to mind, a night quite some years ago, a woman came to the door selling religion. We asked her in. She talked for a couple of hours, and at one point, asked Grandpa quite coquettishly, “How old do you think I am?”
He peered at her appraisingly. She had ghastly red hair, streaked with orange, sag lines on her face, but slim and trim in a full skirted black dress with large red flowers, girlish cut and gay.
Now when a woman like that asks a man to guess her age, she thinks she’s a spring chicken with a capital “S” for sexy.
Before I could pinch Grandpa in warning, he jumped in with both feet and opined she must be about sixty.
Well, that woman almost keeled over. When she recovered her composure, her lips parted in a sickly smile, but she was gracious enough to admit he had guessed right and complimented him on his astuteness. She put it down, however, as a lucky guess. For no one else, she finished, had ever guessed her to be more than forty-five.
If that makes her happy when she shuts her eyes and looks in the mirror, hurrah for her. But it seems to me, when you try too hard to fool other people, you focus more attention on what you’re trying to hide.
And guess who told who that he should take a course in etiquette and diplomacy. And if he ever volunteers the age of you-know-who, he better remember to lop off at least ten years!
After almost a year, Grandpa had an appointment with the doctor. The sign of the pretty young nurse reminded him that during his last visit, she’s mentioned getting engaged and was to be married shortly thereafter.
Now he offered her belated congratulations and good wishes. She thanked him, then added, “But I’m already divorced.”
Divorced! Engaged, married and divorced, all in less than a year. What a pity, what a waste.
As I sat there pondering the state of human affairs, while Grandpa expressed proper words of sympathy and understanding, the thought occurred to me: Whatever it was that tore them apart so quickly, must have been present even at the altar. It was not something that developed and grew in time with the stress of adjusting to each other, and to their own still evolving natures.
Not out of sheer curiosity, but rather to gain a little understanding I asked an asinine question, “Why could you not have discovered during courtship that you weren’t suited to each other?”
She provided a very sensitive answers, “Because then we were on our best behaviors.”
A rare bit of insight that comes too late to too many.
O Lord, we know that in your scheme of creation the sun rises faithfully at its time to announce a new day, bringing warmth and light and sustenance to all your beings.
But some days, your sun is hidden from view, the sky is clouded over. Some days, our eyes cannot see your sun, they are welled up with tears.
And some days, we cannot feel its warmth, our souls are troubled. We have closed off our senses and immersed ourselves in sadness.
On such day, O Lord, when we are lost within ourselves, remind us that even the longest, darkest night ends with a sun bursting into glory, beginning a new day with new promise, bright with hope.
And remind us that if we look beyond our fears we will find a ray of sunshine. We must grab it, hold on, use it to light our way through the day.
My grandmother, Rose Ridnor wrote this invocation on July 17, 1985. It was a Wednesday, and according to the New York Times, Moscow had offered new arms ideas in the Geneva negotiations. Today, they’re the aggressors in Ukraine.
On this day, over thirty years ago, President Reagan had a cancerous tumor removed from his colon. Today, Reagan would probably be appalled at the continuing arguments over the need to provide healthcare to those who can’t afford it or don’t have it offered through their work.
The Congress in 1985 was at an impasse over spending. The resulting compromise was for an additional $24 million over three years for non-military spending, and a $5.4 billion increase in the military budget in 1986.
Thirty years later, $24 million is a pittance compared to the $1.1 trillion estimated cost of the 2003 – 2010 Iraq War. The Department of Defense reported spending at least $57.8 billion on the war.
In 1985, Morton Bahr, the new chief of the Communications Workers of America called IBM anti-union, and announced a worldwide drive to organize the company’s employees. His efforts didn’t materialize and today employees are shuffled out the door with every dip in earnings, and those who remain are furiously competing with cheaper labor in Brazil, China, and elsewhere.
In 1985, the computer industry was in its infancy, nevertheless, seven people under the age of 18, who lived in New Jersey, were charged with conspiring to use their computers to exchange stolen credit-card numbers, and provide information on how to make explosives, and make free long-distance telephone calls and call coded-phone numbers in the Pentagon. They’d also obtained codes that would cause communications satellites to change positions, interrupting intercontinental communications.
Computer espionage is considerably more sophisticated and destructive today, targeting not just government entities and businesses, but individuals.
With the only constant in life being change, it makes sense, as my grandmother wrote, to look beyond ones fears, and a find a ray of sunshine that lights our way through the day.
I recently uncovered one of my grandmother’s whimsical poems. She was a prolific writer who could write everything from philosophical essays to silly poems for her children and grandchildren.
At a spray pool, near a day school,
A fat gray cat and a lean white rat,
Sat down on a mat to have a fine chat.
About fifty feet down the street,
As an alley where playmates meet,
A mean little brat with nothing better to do,
Was kicking at a vat with the top of his shoe.
The mean little brat spied the gray cat and white rat
Sitting on a mat, having a chat.
“Oho,” said the brat, I’ll soon put a stop to THAT!
I can’t stand for fat cats to plat footsies with lean rats.
With head bent low, nose to the ground
He scouted around like a blooded hound
Until a fat wood slat he found.
“He, he, he,” he giggled with glee,
Watch me have a dog-gone spree.
With one clean swat, I’ll scat the cat, bean the rat,
Then, “ho, ho, ho,” make them flee up the tree.
He sneaked around without a sound
Until he stood, as near as he could,
Behind the fat cat and lean rat
Deep in their soulful chat.
Lifting the slat like a baseball bat,
Making sure his grip was steady,
He braced himself, he got ready,
He got set…
Hey there… hold it…
Is everybody read?
Is everybody set?
Is everybody watching the mean little brat?
All right, then…
Here we go…
Ready… Aim… Bombs a-WAY…
Swish… POW… BOOM…
Wow! He missed!
“Drats!” little brat hissed.
With a start…
Gray cat and lean rat, whirled ‘round,
Mouths agape, eyes ‘astound.
In heaven’s name, what kind of game…
Mean brat was already lifting the slat,
Getting ready, another swat.
This he time, he’d not miss.
Or his name wasn’t Sthunkie Bliss.
This time, no getting ready, no getting set
He was shooting off like a hopped-up jet.
He pulled back to fire up…
What was THAT?
Mean brat jumped and let out a yowl.
He stood stock still,
But through his bones ran a chill
Then head turned ‘round,
Mouth agape, eyes ‘stound.
And when he saw… WOW… he almost
Fainted to the ground.
What was it he did see?
Well, there by the tree
Stretched on the ground,
Behind a tall mound,
Never making a sound,
Was a big black, curly-haired hound!
Slowly… like a status come to life,
Hound dog rose up on haunches
Big as fat men’s paunches.
His muscles began to quiver,
His tail gave warning with a shiver.
His face took on a scowl.
From his throat came a growl…
Who dare swing a bat at my friend the cat,
And my friend the rat,
Especially when I’m listening to
Their interesting chat?
Now who do you think began to shiver and shake
Like a lump of unbaked jelly cake?
And who do you think dropped the slat,
Started to run like a scaredy cat?
The man little brat?
You’re right. You’re hooten’ right.
And those feet pounded up the tree
Like they were being chased by a bumble-bee?
The mean little brat’s?
You’re right. You’re hooin’, tootin’ right!
And who laughed and giggled
Until their ears wiggled and whiskers squiggled?
Fat cat, lean rat, blooded hound, and everyone else around?
You’re right. You’re hootin’, tootin’, shootin’ right.
And who should be washing dishes, scrubbing floors
Soaping jelly-prints off kitchen doors,
Instead of messing around with
Fat cats, lean rats, and mean brats,
Blooded hounds atop grassy mounds
Coconut trees, and bumble-bees
Spray pools and day schools?
You’re wrong! You’re hootin’, tootin’, double-shootin’ wrong!
YOU should be helping your Mom with
Washing dishes, scrubbing floors,
Soaping jelly-prints off kitchen doors…
So hop to it, and don’t you cry,
Everything will be automated bye’ n’ bye.
Just wait until your Mom hitches a ride on a fly
To catch up with Daddy’s promise of pie-in-the-sky.
It has come, O’ Lord, the moment of truth. A harsh reality must be faced.
And we don’t want to. We wish we could close our eyes and it would go away. It won’t. Try as we might, deny or mask over, a reality, out in the open or lurking in the shadows, can’t evaporate into thin air.
Despite pain and reluctance, we must face the problem. And when we do, a decision must be made. A harsh, crucial decision. A flat yes or no.
We know, O’ Lord, no matter whether personal or business, a parting, a staying, a giving, a taking, a beginning, an ending, life or death, there must be mind-searching, weighing, debating. And the final yes, or no, must be our own. It’s a lonely pathway.
Until then, O’ Lord, grant us the understanding to know that until we face our problem, we can’t solve it.
Grant us the courage to face it without flinching, the wisdom to choose the decision wisely, and the fortitude to accept the consequences.
Help us, O’ Lord, not to run away.
I wonder what issue (or issues) my grandmother was facing when she wrote this invocation. Was she referring to herself or someone else?
Several thoughts are running through my mind when I read this invocation. First, the synagogue where I attend, has been searching for a senior rabbi for the past six or so months. The current rabbi announced his retirement, and a replacement needs to be found. The junior rabbi, a wise woman, who’s been with the synagogue for over ten years, was one of the top six candidates. She wasn’t chosen, however. Two male rabbis were selected. Both declined, citing family issues.
A week later, the woman rabbi gave her notice. The synagogue is now left with having to quickly identity an interim rabbi or perhaps offer the position to one of the other top candidates. It’s a harsh reality.
My empathy for the situation, nevertheless, doesn’t reside with the synagogue, but the female rabbi who was passed over.
For the past ten years, she’s juggled driving 60 miles, several times a week, from Olympia, Washington, where her husband is a rabbi at another synagogue, to Bellevue, Washington, where she’s the junior rabbi. In addition, she has two young sons, the oldest celebrated his Bar Mitzvah last year.
She’s been a fine rabbi, education director, and advocate for women’s issues. She’s influenced the direction of the synagogue, making it a caring and inclusive environment that puts more emphasis on the welfare of its members and devotion to Judaism, than their status and monetary donations (often a determining factor in certain reform congregations).
Plain and simple, she was the logical choice to succeed the senior rabbi, and build on the reputation, direction, and aura of the synagogue. Aura is the correct word. A rabbi like her, who greets everyone that walks through the doors, looking them in the eye, and taking a genuine interest in their lives, is what turns a cold sanctuary into an accepting haven.
The harsh reality she faced was whether she should continue to say “yes,” in spite of the rabbi search committee saying “no,” or the difficult choice of choosing “no,” after giving ten selfless years to the congregation. She strove down a “lonely path,” but in the end, she made a thoughtful decision.
By not selecting the candidate with the most experience with the congregation’s values, its members, religious school programs, local, and extended community, the rabbi search committee disregarded their core duty of retaining and building on the momentum of the synagogue. Hopefully, they have the strength of character to accept the results of their decision.