From Generation to Generation: All We Need Is Love

Sometimes I wonder if my niece, Laura, and I would be so close if her dad (my brother) hadn’t died from a rare blood disorder when she was in high school. A death in the family sometimes dissolves even the most loving bonds. But when my brother died, I think we all got closer. Still, I adored Laura from the moment she was born. I was in college in New York City; my brother and sister-in-law lived about a mile downtown, a short bus ride away. I shared an apartment with four other young women, and we had one phone. (Yeah, those days.) When it rang at 2 .m., all my roommates could guess: the baby had been born. The next afternoon after classes, I took the bus across town to Mt. Sinai Hospital and saw what I then considered the most beautiful baby ever born. (Since then, my own two kids and Laura’s two have competed for the title.)

As Laura grew, I adored her even more. Remember those times when you were a teen and you just couldn’t talk to your mother? Laura was lucky to have me and another aunt, my sister-in-law’s sister Heidi, close by. Then, some time after she finished college and settled in Boston, we became friends. It helped that my kids adored her. My daughter in particular has become particularly close with her. In fact, Laura promised she’d have a baby if Ariel chose a college near Boston. Sure enough, baby Ben arrived a few days before Ariel’s freshman orientation. Someday Ben will tell stories about how he spent many days of his babyhood in a sorority house (being totally doted on by a bunch of wonderful young women). Harper arrived in time for Ariel’s senior year.

So this is how we have it now: a mishmash of generations who love and adore each other. I know Ariel tells Laura stuff she won’t tell me — back atcha Ariel, if you don’t think I talk to Laura about you! Oh, also add into this my sister-in-law, Zelda, who is, well, a sister and a friend.

As I mentioned in a previous post, over February vacation, Laura and the kids came into the city for a day of fun with me, Ariel and Zelda. We began at Dylan’s Candy Bar, had lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup and then went on the the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harper had enough after about two or three mummy cases. At first she was a little spooked — she is only 4 1/2. But after a while she informed us that there was nothing to be frightened of: after all, mummies are only dead people wrapped in tissue paper. (Love the tissue paper idea — I guess that’s what it looked like to her.) 7 1/2-year-old Ben loved the medieval armor exhibit. I mean, take a little boy and show him some interesting looking swords, and he’s in heaven.

Ben wanted to see the musical instruments and ancient coins, but Harper had had it, and we headed out to the park next to the museum where we all sort of pooped out on the bench and talked a while about what was going on in everyone’s life. Then, too soon, it was time for them to catch a cab back to the train.

I think about everything that went into making this such a special day: I live in New York City, where there’s always something fun to do. Laura lives in Boston, not too far away. Zelda lives in Lancaster, PA, also not too far. Ariel is in the city. We all had a day off.

But more than that there’s this funny generational thing that makes Laura my niece and one of my best friends — and Ariel and Laura first cousins and best friends. Ben and Harper worship Ariel, and I can see the day when Harper and Ben are there to babysit Ariel’s kids. There we were, over 60 years separating the youngest from the oldest of us, with so much in common, so much to share.

And there’s a lesson here: These days with all the articles about how Baby Boomers are selfish and not planning on leaving their kids an inheritance (um, first let us get over the college payments and plan our retirements; then we’ll think inheritance), when I look around, I see different generations working, playing and getting to know each other. Some people like to make theories about colliding generations. I’ve been shrugging them off as trouble makers. When I was small, there were always moms we wanted to hang out with and friends of our moms who were so interesting to listen to that we’d hang out with them.

With all this talk of Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists (or whatever we call the generation of those born before 1946), we’re all just people. As divided as this country is politically, I find that when we don’t talk politics, we have a lot in common. So that’s what I think we should concentrate on — building community and relationships, in our neighborhoods and so on. These days we have online communities. Are you reading this? Well, welcome my friend. Leave me a comment, and I’ll reply.

As usual, I’ll leave you with some things to think about — and comment on.

  • What are the best ways for building communities that include several generations?
  • What are your inter-generational stories and memories?
  • Hop/skip generations used to be so common in the days of large families, when uncles and aunts would sometimes be younger than their nieces and nephews. Is there anything like that now?

And that neighbor of yours, the kid who’s driving you crazy with his skateboard, the old lady with her cats — take a moment out of your day and start a conversation. It’s a beginning.

We Teach Our ADULT Children How to Drive

My 25-year-old daughter doesn’t have her driver license. If you’re from New York City and you just read that sentence, you probably aren’t too shocked. Many New Yorkers never learn to drive. There’s no need to. Subways and buses, which go to most parts of the five boroughs, run 24/7. (Or not, depending on the on-going service disruptions due subway construction. This recent article from the New York Times captures our sense of entitlement, frustration and dependence.) In fact, I had a much easier time of the teen years than did my friends in the suburbs, ex-urbs or car-dependent urban areas: I did not have to worry about my kids driving drunk. Sure I had to worry about all the other things parents of teens do — teens do stupid things and can end up in trouble, or, worse, hurt. And it wasn’t until my son was in college that he mentioned that one night their senior year of high school, his friend Ben had taken his grandparents’ car (with permission) and driven them all to Great Adventure down in Jersey. But back to my daughter. While many New York City non-driving kids do learn in college because getting off campus becomes imperative, my daughter went to school outside of Boston, and was within walking distance of the “T.” (My daughter had one friend in college at Emory who owned a car before she managed to get her license, and got in trouble at a routine traffic check because she was driving without a license. As I said, young people can have lousy judgment.) So here she is, at age 25, without a driver license and maybe about to move out of New York City. (Yes, I wrote those words, and I’m sick over it, but that’s another blog.) Her permit had actually run out. But she took care of that. And now we (and her boyfriend) have been giving her driving lessons. I must say that this time around–she actually did try half-heartedly several years ago–she is fantastic. She steers well, keeps to the speed limit, and shows great confidence and determination. She came upstate for a few days and drove the long way to the supermarket (six miles) and the very long way back. We had even thought of making a trip to the outlet mall in Lee, MA on Friday. I90 may be one of the easiest interstates around. But we woke Friday morning to snow, and that killed our outing. No more driving lessons from us for a while. No outlet bargains for us.

The One and Only Mahaiwe

1/2/12 On New Year’s Eve we went to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble perform all six of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. The founder, harpsichordist and conductor, Kenneth Cooper, was his usual ebullient self, giving a really virtuoso performance of the solo in the 5th concerto. And Eugene Drucker is such a fine violinist. The whole troupe, though, was great — and in a festive mood, as was the audience. Although Howard at one point joked that the average age of the audience was 72, and would have been 74 were it not for the two 20-somethings sitting nearby, the spirit was wonderful. Not everyone attending was a connoisseur of baroque music, but it didn’t matter. When people applauded in the middle of a movement, or between movements, or after a particularly roaring solo, it all felt so right. And being in the Mahaiwe is such a privilege. Built in 1905, it was the home to vaudeville performers, and is one of the oldest theaters in the country. John Phillips Sousa played there once. In 1930 it became a movie theater, and that’s how I knew it when my kids were little. It was dilapidated and freezing in the winter. I saw Saving Private Ryan there, as well as Duck Tales: The Movie (which I deserved a medal for sitting through). At some point the theater suffered a terrible fire, and we figured that was that. But starting in 2005 funds were raised for an amazing and meticulous renovation. My photos do not do it justice. The Mahaiwe is the theater we all dream about: sumptuous details, boxes overhanging the stage. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring incredible acoustics — well, let me say that the next time you’re in Western Massachusetts, it’s worth a visit.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street. Great Barrington. MA 01230
Box Office: 413-528-0100
Mahaiwe Box Office Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday: 12noon – 6pm
plus 3 hrs prior to all showtimes
www.mahaiwe.org

Have you been there? Let me know. Any other historic theaters you love? Tell me about them in the comment box below. As always, I’m at on Twitter @wordwhacker.

We worry about climate change.

1/2/12 So over New Year’s, it was so warm I was outside in just a sweater. This afternoon I ran in snow flurries, and the temperature tomorrow night is supposed to be 10 degrees. The climate this fall/winter has been so up and down. The late October blizzard dumped 18- inches on my deck at my house in upstate New York. (In New York City, there were a couple of inches of slush.) Then there were one or two little snowstorms, but there’s really been nothing like real winter this whole, well, winter. Long term predictions don’t put any snow in the picture. For NYC, I don’t mind. Snow is such a hassle there. It gets dirty quickly, full of dirt from the air and street and yellow and brown reminders that people who walk their dogs don’t always clean up the way they should. But for upstate, the lack of snow has taken its toll on the ski areas. When it’s cold they can at least make snow, but not when it rains. And there has been plenty of rain, so much so that the little brooks near my house have been flowing, hard and quickly and with a lot of noise. I took the photo above a few days ago when the temperature dipped below freezing for a few days: a little ice around the culvert, but otherwise rushing water. Then it got warm again–and some of my spring bulbs have pushed their shoots above the ground. Sometimes that happens in late February, but this January 2. The way plants and nature work in this zone is that they go dormant when the weather gets cold, building up their energy for the next year. A blanket of snow keeps them just warm enough. At least our bluebirds, who winter over, seem happy. They’ve been eating through a feeder full of meal worms every day. Still, even though last year in February I looked out my window at the vast expanses of white and felt quite claustrophobic, this year I miss the snow. I truly do. Would love your comments. And, I’m on Twitter @Wordwhacker.

Pumpkin Cake

I would like to call this recipe my “no-fail pumpkin cake” recipe. However, yesterday, Thanksgiving, I had a minor disaster. At about 11 a.m. when I poured the mixture into the fancy bundt pan from Williams Sonoma, the batter didn’t look right. An hour later when I pulled it from the oven, it still looked wrong. I’ve been making this cake for over 35 years; I should know. I let it cool, turned it over, and, boy, did it look strange. So I called the taste-tester, um, Howard, and asked him to cut into it. I mean, I was desperate. This cake was going with us to our friends’ Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t want to show up with a cake with a slice cut out; but neither did I want to offer something awful. “I left out the sugar, right?” I asked. Howard said, “yeah, probably, but it tastes OK.” So I took a bite. It was kind of like biting into canned pumpkin with flour mixed in. Luckily, I had the ingredients on hand for another try–and enough time. Second go-round, I got it right. Anyway, here’s the recipe. This must be one of the easiest cakes in the world to make. You only need one bowl and a measuring cup. The fancy bundt pan makes it look prettier on the table. I got the recipe from my college and graduate-school roommate Karen Altman, who got it from her mom. I remember Karen’s recipe card said, “Mim’s Pumpkin Cake.” I have the feeling, though, that Mrs. Altman got it off a can of Comstock pumpkin.

Mix together in a bowl:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin (Comstock if you can find it; I can’t anymore)
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 8 0z bag of chocolate chips, or more if you’d like
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if you’re into that, but I never add nuts

The batter will be a nice orange color. Make sure the sugar and flour are both mixed in well. Pour into a well-greased bundt pan. (I use spray stuff.) Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean, unless you stick it into the chocolate. Let it cool for a 1/2 hour or so; turn over onto a cake plate.