able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, pets

Pain, Poop, and Patience/Patients

I never dreamed while contemplating my reverse right shoulder replacement that I would actually have a good time during the process. That never happened after previous surgeries. I’ve had my gall bladder removed; back surgery; both hips and my left shoulder replaced, yet nary one laugh escaped me during those ordeals.

 

I tried to focus on the outcome of the procedure rather than the process. Does Dr. Sawbones refer to the method of removing the old shoulder parts? OUCH!

Several days after this surgery they transferred me to a brand new rehab center. I should have suspected an unusual environment when the head nurse introduced herself as, “Nurse Anthrax,” (not her real name but one equally toxic). I was incredulous at the naiveté of her parents for giving her such a moniker. That set me off on a scavenger hunt of other ironies, such as entering the physical therapy room and noticing that they were playing “Masonic Funeral Music.”

One day, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Fritz standing in the doorway. His neatly trimmed grey beard and hair reminded me of my late husband. Imagine my excitement when he sat down on the bed, his body touching mine. I wished that he would kiss me. Instead, he turned away and eagerly kissed my red-headed woman visitor. This aroused my jealousy, but then suddenly he disappeared. Could I hold a grudge against him?  No! I knew that next Tuesday, Fritz the Schnauzer therapy dog would visit me again.

 

Stand-in for Fritz the Therapy Dog.

When you look around the dining area, superficially all you see are old bodies in wheelchairs, some with oxygen cannulas in their noses, others with drains coming from their kidneys, or those with broken limbs in splints. It’s so easy to discount these wounded folks. But that would be  a big mistake. Many of them had led adventurous lives and had had marvelous careers.

Once I opened myself up to their stories, I was constantly stimulated and amazed. I learned the gory details about a husband who dumped his wife for a much younger woman he met on a Greek Island; Wynona entertained me with descriptions of being in Tehran just before the Shah left and the Iranian Revolution began. Nursing attendants told tales of being abused by ex-mates; or about the suspicions single dads encounter when they accompany their teenage daughters to buy underwear. And do you know the difference in the way male attendants give showers compared to female attendants? Mine washed me like he was washing his car, spraying first down one side of me. Then I turned and he washed down the other side. I took care of my own headlights.

One dinner hour I said to my tablemates, “Aren’t the nights long here?” To my  amazement, one ordinarily quiet woman began reciting lines from “Macbeth.” Then she told me about attending Yale and her life’s work as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing instructor.

I met the son of a patient who’s a retired probation officer.  Guess what he does in his retirement? He collects and repairs fountain pens. He has written articles about his collection and even had an exhibit of them in nearby Alamogordo. This was a folklorist’s delight.

Sometimes snippets of conversation captured me:

I miss my dog more than my husband;

I married a Roman Catholic priest;

If you leave off your brassiere, your wrinkles disappear;

My dog knows how to spell D-O-G-P-A-R-K.

Food services were excellent and unique for such an institutional setting. For example, one time they served eggs benedict for breakfast; chicken Alfredo over fettuccini for lunch; stir-fry steak and veggies and rice for dinner. And there was an alternative menu available for all three meals.

I met Angelica Wagner, also a patient at the rehab center. She teaches cooking and does catering when not recovering from surgery. As a special occupational therapy exercise, she taught us how to make cherry-filled empanadas. The following week we made mini-cinnamon rolls. This was a very enlightened healing environment.

 

Angelica Wagner teaching Occupational Therapy patients how to make empanadas. Step one, cutting out the dough. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.
Finished product. Notice fork for using tines to seal the empanada.© Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019.
Putting cherry filling inside dough circles. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2019

 

 

 

 

Still patients complained:

“Can you believe they call this bean soup. The beans aren’t even white?” (I had a cynical hunch that her attitude applied to people, as well.)

“You know, I have to hit the TV remote button FIVE times before it will change channels.”

Overcoming pain and getting the digestive system back to normal after anesthesia and medications are the two most difficult post-op tasks.  It takes patience to be a good patient, something that I lack. Nonetheless, social interactions go a long way in helping rehabilitation. From the many colorful get-well cards to my many visitors, two laden with Stroopwaffel McFlurries, and to my almost-daily visits from Damien, a Papillion, and his driver Carol Witham, fellow patients and staff with their intriguing stories contributed toward my recovery. After almost a full month at the rehab center, I eagerly returned home and with thanks to all of you.

 

Damien, a frequent visitor who always brought me cheer. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Oops! I forgot to mention something. While I was away I had Liza Chase take care of my cat’s meals in the morning and Roxana Gillette gave Sweetie Beattie the night feeding. Liza left the TV on for the cat 24/7 so she wouldn’t feel alone in the empty house. Often Liza turned on the History Channel. However, one day as she was leaving, the History Channel was airing a show about Hitler. Liza thought that was inappropriate for a Jewish household, so she changed the channel to one about Aliens.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is relieved that the surgery is now in the past, and she is home at last with Sweetie Beattie.

Visit the Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

 

 

celebrations, independence

Enablers Can’t Be ALL Bad

My friend, Kim, and I met for a 10:30 a.m. showing of  “On the Basis of Sex,” about Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I dozed. When it was over, I asked Kim what I had missed and she commented, “What I got out of it was that without her husband, she never would have risen to her position. He definitely enabled her.”

Now most of us think of enablers as negative forces: they encourage our drinking, our dependency, our other bad habits. In this situation, Martin Ginsburg, a successful lawyer and law professor, empowered his wife to aim for the stars and become a champion for gender equality. He clearly respected her intellectual talents, and she didn’t disappoint. She admits that she would never have gained a seat on the Supreme Court without him.

I thought about my own life, and for the first time realized that my late husband, Harold, was also an enabler.  When I wanted to go back to UCLA in 1968 to finish my B.A. degree, he was excited and encouraged me. We both knew it would be challenging since we had two teenagers and one pre-teen at home, who needed my attention. Would I be able to balance being a mom and wife while being a student?

 

Professional photo for Harold’s career as a movie and television extra during the last 25 years of his life. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After experimenting by taking a few classes at Los Angeles City College to reach junior standing, I believed my goal was doable. I enrolled in the UCLA Anthropology Department and discovered that most female students were the ages of my children. I thought I could pass, after all I was only 37. Not so. When I sat next to a recent high school graduate in a very large lecture hall, she outed me: “My mom is going back to school, too.”

On campus, there were services for women undergraduates but only for the young ones. I approached the Dean of Women and asked her what could be done for the housewives and moms who were just beginning to return to campus. She suggested that I create a survey of married women to discover their motivations for being there, what roles their families played in supporting them, and what university services could help them?

Harold & Norine cutting their wedding cake, March 4, 1951. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Some husbands felt quite threatened. One student’s husband was a physician and resented her intellectual endeavors, especially when his acquaintances expressed newly-found interest in her ideas and achievements. At the same time, other husbands were helpful like the Dad who took the family out to McDonald’s once a week so that Mom could have a break from cooking. Still other women revealed that they were back in school to achieve an education before they left unhappy marriages and could be more easily employable.

Harold was so proud of me, he gave me a Senior Prom after I received my B.A.  Had I not dropped out of the university to get married, I would have graduated in 1953. Instead, it was now 1970, so I asked everyone to dress as if it were the original time. The two of us purchased appropriate formal wear from a vintage clothing store; our 17-year-old son, Mark, provided the dance music with his rock and roll band. Our daughters, Andrea and Amy, handed out homemade plastic flower wrist corsages to all the women. It was a joyous and humorous celebration.

Invitation to my Senior Prom created by dear friend and artist, Jan Steward. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After graduation, Harold continued to support me for two more years. He was content to stay at home with me on weekends as I turned out research papers or studied for exams earning an M. A. degree in Folklore and Mythology.

All these memories come flooding back at this time of year, the anniversary of his death on February 2, 2007 at age 85. He died one month before our 56th wedding anniversary. If he had lived, on March 4, 2019, we would have been celebrating 68 years of marriage.

Harold had a way with words. Weeks before he died, he said to Mark, “You know, I think Mom’s almost brilliant,” causing us to howl with laughter. When Mark retold this remark at Harold’s funeral, guests also found his comment amusing and endearing.

It’s difficult to say goodbye to one’s life partner, and even though he’s no longer with me on this plane, I will still say, “Happy Anniversary, Harold.”

Harold & Norine Dresser photo by Ed Keck taken circa 2000. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who greatly misses her enabler.

celebrations, Cultural differences, holidays, intermarriage

Holiday Mix and Match

A Christmas/Hanukkah sweater, sold by ModernTribe.com., reflects the commonality and celebration of intermarriage.

 

Offbeat holiday custom combos make me chuckle.

 

A clever depiction of a Hanukkah menorah made up of sushi.

 

First is the Hanukkah menorah made out of sushi. So what’s wrong with that? As long as the fish fit the regulations of being kosher and there’s no shellfish, it’s technically okay. Chenchi Schmukler, the rabbi’s wife at the Alevy Chabad Center in Las Cruces, occasionally includes homemade sushi at her marvelous meals. But sushi with latkes (the traditional Hanukkah fare)?  I don’t think so.

 

Halloween decorations hung on a Christmas Tree in a chain of Japanese stores called Tokyo Hands.

 

Another comical example comes from a Japanese store display last September. Some might call this “cultural appropriation,” insinuating that one should stick with one’s own ethnic/religious customs. Yet, in a way, it’s flattering that someone in the Japanese corporate world wanted to emulate American culture. However, next time they need to do their homework more carefully.

 

The Japanese seem fascinated with Christmas and call it  “kurisumasu.” For decades I heard stories about their nailing a Santa Claus to a cross for Christmas, despite it seeming more Easter-like. After finding this bizarre image online, I was disappointed to learn that it had been photoshopped. Snopes.com confirmed that there was no truth to this event. Even though it’s not valid, I include the photo because it’s such a startling image.

Fake photo of Santa Claus being crucified in Japan.

 

Then there are strange and incongruous mixtures here in the U.S. during the Christmas/Hanukkah season. I remember my own childhood conflicts being Jewish at Christmas time. I felt deprived without a Christmas tree  and the imagined fun being had by my Christian classmates.

ModernTribe.com targets Jewish shoppers and seems to have inventory addressed to this cultural conflict. They sell a Chrismukkah Stocking to be hung over the fireplace and filled with presents. The only difference is that instead of Christmas images on the stocking, the images are apropos of Hanukkah.

Chrismukkah stocking hung on the fireplace with care, from ModernTribe.com

 

They also sell what seems like a more tongue-in-cheek yarmulke (skull cap) trimmed in red and white Santa Claus colors and called a Yamaclaus. Listen to the company’s description:

  Why settle with one holiday, when you can crash them all? If you’re a lonely Jew on Christmas, a half-breed interfaith, or a gentile celebrating one of those eight crazy nights, with Yam Waclaus you’re automatically an honorary believer. If you’re feeling extra goyish, spread the love of Chrismukkah – the hybrid holiday where flaunting your Yamaclaus is your religious right.

Yamaclaus sold by ModernTribe.com. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

 

The above examples reveal that strict cultural rules about holiday celebrations are becoming less rigid, in great part due to globalization and growing intermarriage. Whether one approves or not, it is a reality.

 

My late husband, Harold, once accompanied me to a workshop devoted to interfaith issues. The leader broke us up into small groups and later when we all came back together, Harold whispered to me, “We don’t have any intermarriage in our family, do we?”

Highly amused, I answered, “Well, you have a Vietnamese sister-in-law, a Black nephew, a half-Iranian Muslim granddaughter, a Mexican American son-in-law, and an Italian American daughter –in-law, but other than that, no.”

What was so beautiful about Harold’s question was that he thought of these family members as JUST FAMILY; he didn’t see any ethnic or religious labels separating us from each other.

Three cheers for Harold! If only the rest of our world could see things the same way.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is very proud of her interfaith family and the cultural riches they bring to one another.

 

https://norinedresser.org

Visit Gallery of Folklore & Popular Culture

anti-Semitism, racism

You People Use So Much Garlic!

Coexist bumper sticker.

I invited an acquaintance over for supper, and as she walked through the door, she wrinkled her nose and remarked, “You people use so much garlic.”

I was at a loss as to how I should respond, so I said nothing. However, the recent massacre of eleven Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh sharply brought my friend’s words back to me. I now believe that these not-so-subtle disdainful comments that separate people should not go unanswered. But what should I have said?

“You people,” divides us. Remember when Ross Perot unsuccessfully used those words during his bid for president in 1992?

Anti-Semitic bumper sticker on a car owned and driven by Paul Schmieder of Queens, NY.

As a Jew or member of any minority, we must not let divisive words be used without consequence. On November 4, 2018, the online version of The Forward revealed that the State of New York invalidated an anti-Semitic vanity license plate with the initials GTKRWN.

I had no idea what that acronym stood for, and it horrified me when I found out: Gas The Kikes, Race War Now. Thanks to Jay Firestone, who infiltrated an alt-right community and wrote about it in Commune magazine, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens contacted the Motor Vehicles Commissioner, Theresa Egan, and requested that the plate be cancelled. The words were a form of hate speech that incites violence, and the agency took appropriate action.

In the past, I have tried to be pro-active when my family felt the sting of anti-Semitic actions or words. I regret that I made no moves when a neighbor boy once told my son that he should have been burned in the ovens, too. I knew the boy’s family was openly anti-Semitic, and I felt inadequate to the task of confronting them. I felt so guilty that later, when a minister’s son accused my daughter of killing Christ, I took action.

I called upon the family and told the father what had happened and how this had upset my child. Sternly, the minister called in his son. “Stevie, didn’t I always tell you that we killed him, too?”

Even though the results were underwhelming, at least I tried. Then when my younger daughter’s two fourth grade classmates opined, “We wish Hitler had killed you. You should have burned in the gas chamber,” I reported the incident to the teacher who subsequently contacted the parents. What happened after that escapes my memory. Nonetheless, in this situation, I knew that I personally could do nothing other than turn to a higher school authority, and in retrospect, that was a good move.

No one should make back-handed criticisms of another’s ethnicity. I’m more convinced of this than ever before, so back to my original question: What should I have said to the acquaintance who said that my people used so much garlic?

I welcome your suggestions.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is on heightened alert to not ignore racial, religious, or ethnic slurs against anyone.

Coexist bumper sticker.

Visit my website, The Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: https://flpcgallery.org

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, independence, mobility

IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE

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Recently, a friend with an unexpected life threatening physical condition complained that she might have to be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. Reflexively, I commented, “It could always be worse,” thinking insulin injections, chemo, radiation.

That same week another acquaintance mentioned that she had been just diagnosed with A-Fib and was now on blood thinners which she ruefully confessed might have to be taken for the rest of her life. Again, I responded, “It could always be worse,” thinking about those same alternatives given to my first friend.

Later, I wondered why I had made such automatic assertions. It could always be worse was something I even told myself when I had to perform unpleasant procedures, e.g., struggle while strapping on a back brace; wrap my left leg daily; pop in my hearing aids; deal with chronic and increasing back pain. Yet the “It could always be worse,” phrase helps me put my own physical state into perspective. And I recognized that the phrase was tied to Judaism.

Although I am Jewish, my parents were non-synagogue attendees and always spoke only English.  Because I was a sickly child, I missed a lot of public school days so I never even attempted religious school. Despite this, I obviously had absorbed Jewish attitudes and culture.

When I Googled the expression, sure enough I found a children’s book by Margot Zemach called, It Could Always Be Worse, based on an old Yiddish folktale.

As retold by Zemach, accompanied by her lively illustrations, a poor man lived with his wife, mother, and six children crammed into a small hut. With the husband and wife constantly quarrelling and the noisy children fighting and screaming, chaos reigned.

Overcome with frustration, the husband sought advice from a rabbi who counseled that he should bring his chickens, rooster, and goose to live inside with them. Obligingly, the man did, but it only made the household more frenzied. He returned to the rabbi, who then instructed to now bring his goat and later his cow inside the shack.

Their abode became even more unbearable, so the desperate man returned to the rabbi who told him to let all the animals back outside. That night, the family had a wonderful night’s sleep and, the message was clear: At least you don’t have to sleep with your livestock, and that is always worse.

To my regular blog readers: Several months have elapsed since my last posting, and I apologize. I have been sidetracked with chronic pain and reduced mobility that also decreased my ability to write. Although, I am trying a wide variety of treatments, so far I have been unsuccessful. Despite feeling sorry for myself, I must take my own advice and remind myself, “It Could Always Be Worse.”

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who, like most people, unconsciously absorbed ethnic attitudes from her family.