My good friend Molly of The Molly Bawn Chronicles has tagged me to do this exercise.
After reading hers, I was quite intimidated by its excellence and had no intention of offering my own version. But then she challenged me, and I am far too macho to resist a challenge.
I am from a sandbox my father built with green and white striped awning, from Bazooka Bubble Gum and puppies.
I am from a Cape Cod colonial house with dormers and green shutters that I wished were blue, white picket fence and a terrace that seemed like a mountain to a small child with sled, a secret passageway from my closet to the attic, burning leaves on full-mooned autumn nights, captured fireflies in jars with air holes in the lid and the clatter of birds building nests, the praying mantis on our front door who stayed all summer.
I am from the magnolia tree on the front lawn, picking blackberries in the woods, running through the sprinkler, lying in the cool grass naming kitten-faced pansies, pulling radishes from our Victory garden and daringly eating them without washing off the dirt, peeling rosebuds to force them into bloom before their time as I was expected to act adult before mine.
I am from brilliant Irving, a father who was God all his life, his rock star presence huge although he was not a large man, from beautiful Pearl whose many talents were eclipsed until he died, from Charles the grinning tease and elegant brown-eyed Daisy, from plump Etta of damp kisses and pinching fingers and nearsighted Jack, who wrote poetry for me on lined yellow paper.
I am from book-lined walls, my father's graceful Chopin etudes and watching him, adoring, as he hand-fed brown thrashers in our backyard and collected daily injustices as I collected seashells and stray animals. I am from salty lips and the smell of waves, mustard-soaked hot dogs on the boardwalk, road trips to Washington, DC, Colonial Williamsburg, Canada, Toledo and New Hampshire, where I first saw mountains and knew that God must live there.
From "Don't talk back" and "Stop aggravating me" and never being as docile as girls were "supposed" to be.
I am from resigned Jews who never heard of Chanukah and grudgingly gave us Christmas presents but wouldn't have a tree, who offered no religious training yet expected us to identify with our heritage and were notably displeased by my fumblings toward Catholicism.
I'm from New York and from Russia, England, Germany and Hungary, the lights of Broadway, Lindy's cheesecake and candy apples, demanding my own lobster at Gloucester House at four and eating it, from roast beef and crispy potato pancakes with applesauce, stuffed cabbage and apple pie cooling on the kitchen table.
From the maternal great-great uncle who married a daughter of Emperor Franz Louis Joseph and was disowned by his Orthodox family because she was a shiksa, from my paternal grandmother who so opposed my parent's marriage that they eloped two months before their wedding, my father working his way through night law school as an interpreter in several languages on the NYC docks, my mother finally going to college in her 70's and graduating with honors at 79, and the crippling disease my brother overcame magnificently because he refused to believe he was limited and proved it.
I am from people who came through Ellis Island with nothing but their talents and their willingness to work hard, who depended on themselves to succeed, who became doctors and lawyers and artists, musicians, designers, actors and movie makers, who treasured words and family loyalty, who instilled integrity and independence and determination, the ability to adapt to change, and a love of the natural world.
Though I often felt like a misfit, I was born in the right time and place and the perfect family to learn the lessons I needed to learn and which I am still learning. I wish I could thank them all for their immense gifts to me, especially the ones I resisted, because in those were my greatest teachings.