How Do We Remember?

Harold working as an extra in a Pepsi ad with a chimp. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Harold Dresser with a chimp, working as an extra in a Pepsi ad, mid-1990s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My husband, Harold Dresser, died on February 2, 2007. For the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to commemorate the occasion in a special way.

I had his name and death date engraved on a gold plated marker that hangs on a Memorial Wall inside the Alevy Chabad Center, an Orthodox Jewish place of worship here in Las Cruces. On the date of his death, the light adjacent to his name will burn brightly. Then for the rest of the month the light will merely flicker.

Recently, when I went to see the marker for the first time, the rabbi kindly turned on the light so that I could take a photo to send to my non-local offspring. Harold’s name alone stirred sorrow within me, but with the adjacent glowing light, the sadness intensified.

Harold's memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Harold’s memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There are many ways to remember a deceased loved one. In Cruces, I often see memorial car rear windshields as exemplified below.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Commonly, fatal auto wrecks are commemorated with floral displays and crosses at the site of the carnage.

090126 - Kennesaw - Friends and fellow students of Garrett Reed, 16 gathered at the scene of roadside memorial Monday morning, January 26, 2009 at Sylvia Drive and Midway Road where he died early Sunday morning. Drive and hit another car about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. Reed died at the scene. The other driver, Richard Reyes, 25, of Dallas, was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in stable condition, Pierce said. The wreck happened less than a mile from Harrison High School, where Reed was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Reed was the second Harrison athlete to be killed in a wreck in recent years. Luke Abbate, a junior on the school's lacrosse team, was killed, and four of his teammates injured, in a February, 2006 crash. The funeral for Reed will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at West Cobb Funeral Home. jspink@ajc.com

Back to the Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle (Yahrzeit candle)  that burns for 24 hours marking the death date. But with my night prowler cat, Sweetie Beattie, it is dangerous having an unattended burning candle while I sleep, so I have switched to an electric one that does the job safely.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

What are the ways in which you memorialize a deceased loved one? I would like to know and share the information with others.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist feeling sad at this time of the year.

When the Lights Go On Again . . . In My Toilet Bowl*

 

Guess what my daughter, Amy, gave me for my 85th birthday?

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An illumibowl, a gadget that turns my toilet bowl rainbow colors as I approach it in a darkened bathroom. It’s not sentimental, but practical. It keeps me, a natural born klutz, from falling.

Amy is definitely her father’s daughter, for shortly after we met, Harold surprised me with a gift of a green plastic toilet seat. And did I ever tell you that he was in the plumbing supply business? That meant he didn’t even have to go out shopping for this non-romantic present.

Actually, he thought he was giving me another gift during our one-year courtship. I was studying overnight for final exams at the house of a UCLA classmate, and he offered to pick me up the next morning. When he phoned the night before to confirm the arrangements, he told me he was bringing me a surprise. Ah, an engagement ring I hoped.

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The next morning when he walked me to the car, I discovered no diamond; instead his beautiful blue-eyed three-year-old niece, Madge, waited for us. She was the surprise and we were taking her to breakfast. I stifled my disappointment.

This event took place during the mandatory seatbelt, approved children’s carseat era. That meant that Madge sat between Harold and me in the front seat, and we formed an instant triangle.

On our way to the restaurant, Harold stopped at a drug store to buy a cigar while we females waited in the car. As soon as he was out of sight, Madge pinched me hard. In turn, I lightly slapped her hand and warned, “Don’t you ever do that again.”

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The small vixen didn’t react, until her adored uncle re-entered the car. At that moment, she burst into tears and cried, “She hit me!” Luckily, a distracted Harold paid no attention to her.

After marriage, Harold continued to present me with unique gifts. During WWII, he had been in the Naval Air Force and was stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY. He frequently ventured into Manhattan and loved eating at Katz’s Delicatessen. Over the decades, he often repeated their slogan, “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.”

One day, he announced that he had ordered a present for me. You guessed it…a salami from Katz’s Delicatessen. Of course, the salami was really for him, and he ate most of it. However, I must admit that I loved its aroma as it hung from a string in the kitchen.

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For my birthdays, he went on a Timex watch binge. Several years in a row, he purchased the same gift. Of course the styles varied, but it was as if he didn’t remember from one year to the next that he had already given one to me. You can bet that I remembered. And so did the children. They thought it was funny. I was not as amused.

I guess I’m feeling nostalgic during this year’s gift-giving season. And if only Harold were still alive, I would love nothing more than another quirky gift from him.

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist who, at this time of year, wistfully reviews the past.

 

* For those younger than me, this title is a play on words from the song, “When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World,” popular during World War II. The words refer to the London blackouts.

What’s This Democrat to Do?

Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

The results of last week’s election devastated me. As a Jew, I have always voted Democratic. That’s because my parents did and because their parents did. My grandparents experienced racism and bigotry in Europe, so along with millions of other refugees during the early 1900s, they fled to these shores for religious and economic freedom. Once settled, they became ardent supporters of FDR. They believed he cared about the poor and working people, and thus a family tradition of voting Democratic ensued.

I was born in California and only ten when WWII broke out, but I felt the fear in my household about being Jewish. Even though we had no direct confrontations, a wariness prevailed. For example, scared of publicly revealing who we were, we never placed a mezuzah on our outside door.

When my junior high school homeroom teacher made all the Semites stand up, I got a flash of what it might feel like to be targeted as outcasts. My infuriated parents threatened to report my teacher. That terrified me because I feared the backlash. My mom and dad promised not to say anything, but behind my back, my father met with the principal. He told her about the classroom incident and said, “This teacher is either stupid or a follower of Hitler.” The principal had no choice but to assure my dad that the teacher was stupid.

That was merely a taste of what it felt like to be considered an “other,” yet it marked me in such as way that I cannot stand to see others targeted as outsiders.

After Trump’s campaign of name-calling and enabling racists, he has reaffirmed his stance by appointing Stephen Bannon as his White House Chief Strategist. Bannon chairs Breitbart News, an ultra-conservative news source. They are openly anti-immigrant, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-semitic, are racist and believe in white supremacy.

A few weekends ago, I heeded the TV reminders about turning our clocks back one hour to adjust to Daylight Savings Time; Sadly, I also agreed with the internet advice to “Turn Back Your Clocks Fifty Years.”

And so it begins. Trump has empowered the bigots. This past weekend, an Associated Press column documented reports of increased racist incidents in schools and universities. For example, white students called Black students “cotton pickers”; a university student attempted to pull off the hijab worn by a Muslim student; a “whites only” message appeared on a bathroom door in Illinois; students in Michigan chanted “build a wall” in the school cafeteria; and in Pennsylvania, African American parents were told to, “Go back to Africa.”

I dread that the worst is yet to come negatively impacting women’s rights; the LGBTQ communities; the environment; people of color, Muslims, and Jews. Who and what did I leave out?

And what can I do about it?

Of course, I will make donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. And although the thought of participating in the Women’s March on Washington on Inauguration Day appeals to me, that is much too daunting for this old lady.

Yet there is something positive that I can do.

After the 1992 Rodney King riots in L. A., I proposed a column to the Los Angeles Times, demystifying the cultures of people unlike ourselves. Called, “Multicultural Manners,” the eight-year running column received a 1998 award from the County of Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations. They recognized it for promoting intergroup understanding.

Now if I can accomplish something similar in this new environment of divisiveness, that would be fantastic. And best of all, I have a new platform.

Very soon a new community radio station will be on the air here in Las Cruces. Its call letters, KTAL (¿Qué tal?, meaning What’s Up? ), will be airing programs pertinent to community issues. Fortunately, they have accepted my proposal for, “Your Multicultural Minute,” where I will narrate incidents about people who have inadvertently confused, insulted, amused others and all because of cultural differences.

I believe that educating the public about the customs, beliefs, and values of different cultures will create respect for others.

Last Saturday Night Live’s opening skit nailed it. In her persona as Hillary Clinton, Kate McKinnon sat at the piano playing and singing Leonard Cohen’s poignant “Hallelujah.” Then she turned to the audience and said, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist who specializes in rituals, customs and beliefs of global communities.

Zack, the Rack

 

I’m not into torture, nor am I in pursuit of the fountain of youth. I am, however, in search of new ways to increase my physical well-being. I am persistent in search of new enhancements. Here is my latest discovery about which I have high hopes.

First, here’s a bit of my history. In junior high and senior high school when physical education was mandatory, I was always placed in “Corrective Gym” because the teachers diagnosed me with lordosis (inward curve of the lower spine). Because I was loathe to participate in competitive sports, I didn’t mind that at all..

Now, as an octogenarian, the lordosis has gotten so much worse that it is easily detectible by the way my clothing reveals my left hip much higher than my right. In addition, I have spinal stenosis, a condition that often comes with age. This is partly a result of gravity and the compression of spinal discs, those pads between the vertebrae.

I heard about a new machine here in Las Cruces at Millennium Health and Wellness that aims to decompress the spine and bring a non-invasive alternative approach for chronic back pain. After being assured and reassured it could not damage my spine, I signed up. That’s when I met Zack, the Rack.

Zack, the Rack, a spinal decompression table. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

Zack, the Rack, a spinal decompression table. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

The entire procedure takes about two hours. After a preliminary warm-up of electrical stimulation, heating pads and massage, they strap me into tight fitting harnesses.

Norine strapped into harnesses before boarding Zack. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine strapped into harnesses before boarding Zack. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Then I back up against an upright Zack. The technician presses a button and very slowly the table changes to a horizontal position and elevates. After reaching the appropriate height, the technician firmly secures more straps and hands me a button to start the twenty-five minute procedure.

Unlike regular traction machines where you feel the pull as it stretches the spine, Zack does so without detection. Additionally, the discs are oscillated and that is undetectable, as well. Therefore, I feel no discomfort during the procedure; the treatment is quite relaxing.

Norine relaxing during spinal decompression session. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine relaxing during spinal decompression session. Photo by Doug Zischkau. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

The theory behind spinal decompression therapy is that the oscillation creates negative pressures within the discs. This reversal of pressure creates an intradiscal vacuum that helps to reposition bulging discs and pull extruded disc material back into place and remove pressure from pinched nerves. Spinal experts believe that nutrients, oxygen and fluids are drawn into the disc to create a revitalized environment conducive to healing.

A beeping signals when Zack is finished, and after I descend, I enter another room to receive a ten-minute laser treatment that stimulates the cells thus promoting additional healing. Application of electrical stimulation pads plus ice packs complete the session.

As of today, I have gone through this procedure 19 times. In total I am scheduled for 36 sessions and am committed to treatments three times a week.

Now this is a huge commitment in time, and money, too. But I am determined to find a solution for the chronic pain that I have endured for decades. It’s only after the pain abates and I feel more sprightly, that I realize how much the chronic pain has deprived me of a full life.

At age 85 (almost), I don’t know how many years I have left, but I want to feel as tip-top as possible for as long as I can. And I might even regain part of the two and one half inches in height that I have lost!

In just a few months, Zack has become so popular and in demand that Millennium has purchased a second table that I have dubbed Mack, the Rack.

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser is willing to take risks while seeking a physically improved life.

How Far Do You Go?

I’m referring to pampering your pets. I am certainly guilty. My daughter even accuses me of spoiling my cat, Sweetie Beattie, just because I give in to her finicky eating habits.

One indulgent act I am certain I would never take. I would never have plastic testicles implanted in my neutered dog, no matter how beloved he might be. Obviously, inventor, Gregg Miller disagrees. He came up with the idea for implanted testicles after his bloodhound, Buck, began to clean himself following castration. According to Miller, the dog acted extremely depressed. However, after the implants, Buck happily resumed his old cleaning habits because they replicated the weight and feel of his natural testicles.

Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Bumper Sticker. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Miller’s invention of Neuticles has been a huge success, with over 500,000 neuticles implanted since 1995 in the U.S. as well as in 49 other countries. Miller even won the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine, a parody of the real Nobel Prize. I would love to have heard THAT acceptance speech.

Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Package of neuticles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

There seems to be few boundaries for what we won’t do for our animals. I know of other pet owners who regularly inject their diabetic cats with insulin; some who travel out of state to visit veterinarian specialists. Then there is the Colorado couple whose Samoyed needed dialysis with each round costing $1,300. After they were over $25,000 in debt, they established a GoFundMe account to solicit additional funds.

My friend, Marilyn, had a cat, Blossom Dearie, named after the famed jazz singer. Unfortunately, Blossom developed hyperthyroidism and had to be treated with radioactive iodine. As a result, Marilyn had to collect the cat’s feces and deposit them in a hazardous-material container.

And in Australia, as recently as September 14, 2016, a woman rushed her pet goldfish, “Conquer” to the vet. The observant owner had noticed that her fish had stopped eating, and that’s when she realized that Conquer had swallowed a pebble from the bottom of the fish tank. The small stone had gotten stuck in its mouth..

By using anesthesia and a tiny instrument, the vets extracted the jagged rock. The procedure was successful, and Conquer happily returned home to its own fish bowl. The veterinary bill for this life-saving procedure? $500.

Here in Las Cruces, musician, Ross Le Comte and his wife, Alta, had to have their elderly dog, Ace, put down. As the veterinarian administered the first injection, Ross picked up his trumpet and played, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a tune that Ace loved to sing along with Ross on trumpet in a nightly musical ritual.

As Ross tearfully recalled, a few days later, when he and his wife glanced out the back window, they spied a rainbow and said,  “There’s Ace. Everything is Okay.”

 

Folklorist Norine Dresser cherishes her current feline companion but draws the line at extreme measures.

Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Sharing nap time with Sweetie Beattie. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.