Whenever we gather for a holiday or a special occasion, my father would invariably start dinner off with a joke. He envisions himself as some kind of stand-up comedian but it would be better if he just sat the hell down. If I make a comment, all he says is, "Amber ... if it's not funny, then you don't have to laugh."
Tonight was Erev Yom Kippur - Yom Kippur begins at sundown - and this was his attempt: "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been twelve months since my last repression."
My mother rolled her eyes. "Morty, please, for chrissakes. Would you cut out the jokes, just this once?"
"Gimme a break, Sheila. I'm just lightening up all the goddam seriousness. You know, these days of and and awe."
"My own flesh and blood. Such a schmuck I raised." My grandfather's laughter to soften the insult mutated into a phlegmy cough.
"Grandpa, please ... your language." My mother glanced at my brother and me. "You're just as bad as he is."
"Morty, if your mother was around, she wouldn't roll over in her grave."
I couldn't help cracking up; making such jokes was my grandfather's way of dealing with his loss. I knew I shouldn't've, but I said, "And if my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather."
"Oy gevalt, my own granddaughter. What's gotten into you? Such a sweet girl, my Amber. Such a shane maidelah." Then: "And it's 'As di bobe volt gehat beytsim volt zi geven mayn zeyd.' You gotta admit, it sounds so much better in Yiddish. More satisfying. More pleasing to the tongue."
"Morty ... Grandpa ... Amber ... would you stop it, please!"
"Oh, Sheila, my dear. Stop acting like the police."
The mood was broken when my brother Jason loudly cleared his throat. "Anyway, Dad, it's "'Bless me, Father,' not 'forgive me, Father ...'" My contentious older brother was the debate team star, the vice president of his eleventh grade class, the budding free-verse poet, and the biggest pain in my neck. Correcting everyone - especially our father - was one sin that he should certainly atone for.
"Oh, puh-leeze. Jason, what does it matter?" I couldn't help jumping in.
"It matters, Cherri Delite. Or should I call you Kristy Creme?" My brother was always teasing me about my name, which he insisted was a stripper's name. He'd tell me to go twirl around a pole, and I'd tell him that one day I'm going to stick that pole up his ass. But that was when Mom wasn't around.
I gave him the finger and asked, "'Forgive me?' 'Bless me?' Who really gives a crap?"
"Children! Enough!" My "peace-at-any-price" mother hated the commotion and our feuding. She would walk off the gangplank of appeasement for just one peaceful dinner.
"I give a crap, even if no one else does." Jason started to get up and announced, "If it may please the court, I'm going upstairs to Google the expression."
"Sit the hell down, son. You're upsetting your mother."
"But, Dad ..."
"I don't want to hear anymore of your pleas. I'm warning you ... not one more word."
A moment of silence and then, finally, my mother's quintessential non sequitor: "Who wants matzoh balls in their soup?"
Rev 5 / November 22, 2006
November, 2006 Copyright © 2006, Lloyd B. Abrams