Friday, March 27, 2009
we were having a civil phone conversation, mother & i. this was pretty much a rare thing. things usually went in other directions:
"who is this?"
"my youngest what?"
"i don't have a son."
"you have 3 sons. i'm the youngest."
"my children are all dead."
"no mother, they aren't."
"they're dead to me."
"ok. well, happy mother's day."
the phone went dead. mother was quite a diva. she was the youngest of 13 children & really had to work for attention. she'd gotten really good at it. on the other hand, i'd gotten really good at not giving it to her. i never called back when she hung up like that. i'd wait till the next significant day.
this new conversation was a little different. she was trying to give me some information---mother was like the hyman roth character in godfather part2, always dying but never actually doing it.
"if i die & that could be any day, you need to know how to access some accounts."
"mother, you're not dying."
"says you. we're all dying, smart guy. listen to me, you need a password for these accounts."
"listen," her voice dropped conspiratorially, "it's your great grandmother's name."
there was a long silence.
"yep. sounds like it to me."
"your great grandmother & her family were jews. the good kind," she quickly added.
"the good kind?"
"yes. that's what some one told me, ashki's---something like that. i think that's what they called them, ashkis."
"ashkenazi?," i asked.
"yes. something like that." she was still whispering into the phone.
"this is pretty interesting. it explains all the chicken soup & lamb i ate as a kid," i joked.
"that's jew food," she replied.
"but you're telling me we ARE jews, mother."
the fact is, i don't think my jewish brothers in arms would actually accept me into the ranks of the chosen people. it has something to do w/matrilineal lineage(uterine lineage for those of you NOT in the know). many native american tribes would warmly welcome me. so too the nairs & kurichiyas of india, the naxi in china & those wild & crazy tuaregs(of god knows where). but the jews, well, they don't pay any attention to those wonderful laws that sinclair lewis wrote about in "kingsblood royal" that made you a jew or a negro or a native american if you had 1/64% of their blood. & i don't think they'd appreciate my great grandmother's family's anxiety, southern jews, doing what they could to hide their jewish ancestry in the south by marrying their young daughter into a family as weird but as neutrally named as jones. nah, i'm not one of the chosen people.
it's really no big deal. it explains a little, i guess, why many of my childhood friends were jewish(the kahns, the greenhuts, the rickoffs) though i never really thought about it back then. i guess i got circumcision & a sense of humor & a taste for chicken soup out of the deal. i didn't get the huge cock that ugly short jewish guys were rumored to have. i would never want to contest whether i was part of the chosen people, not even arguing for maybe a less than quality heavenly view. the bible hasn't really been a major part of my life for a long time & that's really where that pact was sealed.
i will say that at mother's funeral i mentioned our jewish heritage to my family. we were sitting in the hatton st house's living room & my brothers were there along w/their families. the judge & olga had gone. we were going through a bunch of old pictures & found a picture of my great grandmother on bobo's side of the family. she was a gorgeous, absolutely drop dead beautiful cuban woman. i knew that the jones family had migrated up from miami. that someone in my family had the balls to marry this gorgeous hispanic woman way back when didn't seem to bother anyone.
"o by the way," i said, " mother told me we're jews.
"what? what are you saying?", my oldest brother barked out. his body jerked up out of his seat like he'd been electrocuted.
"well, that great grandmother's name was gluckmeyer. she was jewish. that makes us jewish. "
"no way. that's not possible. it's a lie," there was an odd strained sound in his voice. his face was becoming bright red.
"i have no reason to lie about something like that, especially under the circumstances. it's something she told me. gluckmeyer. that name is part of our family, cam." at this point, i was reconsidering my telling them this. it didn't seem to be going down easily(tho to his credit, chip, by middle brother, wasn't pitching a fit like cam my oldest brother was).
"i wouldn't repeat that if i was you. that's not going to do anyone any good," cam asserted. he'd calmed a bit tho there was an underlying truculence to his tone. his face was jutting forward like he was daring me to take a swing at him.
"o, you expect fiery crosses on the lawn out there, cam?"
"you know what i mean, danny. it's not true. lies don't do anyone any good." he seemed to content himself by delivering this lame moral homily.
i just stared at him. everyone else in the room pretended to be doing something else other than listening to this conversation. "yeah, cam," i thought, "like the jones family doesn't lie. it took mother 40 years to fess up."
at another time & another place, i wouldn't have let this go. i can hear where i'd have gone w/this: "hey, a priest, a minister, & a rabbi all went into a bar...."
i like to think i'm better than that now. or at least that i know a better joke.