Thursday, December 25, 2014


We were nothing if not assimilationist Jews. After all, as my mother's brother Uncle Jerry was keen to point out, after ridding himself of the distinctly Hebraic "Paschkes" surname in favor of the blander American-cheese "Parks" moniker upon immigration, my father proceeded to name us kids Andrew and Kathryn- an apostle and a Russian Czarina.

So Christmas trees and stockings hung on the bureau with care were de rigueur yearly fare. Uncle Jerry would come down from the Bronx and he and my mother would "sneak" a fresh ham with the admonishment "don't tell Grandma."

When Grandma did visit during the Yule season she would stick her head into the living room, look at the tree and mutter streams of "oy gevalt" and "a shonda, a shonda- DAT'S vhat it is" under her breath (but at the same time loud enough so everyone in the next apartment could hear it) throughout the day. Every Christmas morning after the wrapping paper covered the floor Uncle Jerry would crack that it "looks like Santa Claus threw up in here."

I was apparently a born investigative reporter because at the age of three my source (my best friend Barry's four-year-old brother) had informed me as to the "Santa Scam." So I decided that this year I was going to catch my parents in the act of posing as Mr Claus, sneaking into my bedroom and filling my stocking with all manner of American consumer crap- crap without which I couldn't live.

Being the original "toothpicks under my eyes" kid I thought staying up and staking out the stockings would be a breeze. I wasn't sure whether I was going to jump out from under the covers and yell "Gotcha" because I apparently was also clever enough to know that if I blew their cover, next year all said crap might not "magically" appear.

Using my trusty wristwatch and the light beam from the street lights outside my window on FDR Drive, every half hour I'd go and check the stocking. 11:00... nothing. 11:30... nothing. Midnight... nothing.

Finally it was 1 a.m. and I KNEW I had remained vigilant. Yet miraculously it was FULL. The thought that I'd actually fallen asleep was anathema to my budding Sherlockian persona but while I wasn't stupid enough to think a fat man in a red suit had actually stopped by my and every other kid's home, there was, for the next couple of years, always that nagging sort of "but what if" agnosticism.

So when it was my daughter Jessica's turn we had the tree, the presents, the stocking and the whole schmear. Same with my grandson Tony. Why not- why scar them with being the only kid that didn't get to have a tree in the house with all the accouterments?

Flash forward to December 2000. My parents- at this point my dad and step mother- are permanently ensconced in Florida where, I believe by law, all old New York Jews must go upon retirement. Many had escaped the Nazi concentration camps only to find themselves in pre-fabricated rows of alphanumerically-delineated barracks, surrounded by guard shacks and barbed wire fences. Go figure.

And, my step mother is dying because she "didn't want to bother anybody" about the colon cancer that had been growing in her belly for who-knows-how-long.

So there we all are: me, Jessica, Tony. my sister Kathy and my dad and trying to give Tony, who was four, Christmas in the Heart of Jewville- Century Village in W. Palm Beach.

My step-mother Sylvia was pretty much comatose 23 hours a day but her lucid moments consisted of doing a reprise of my Grandma- opening an eye, looking around at where Santa had upchucked, mumbling "oy gevalt" before dropping back into unconsciousness.

Now Florida has quite the Home Hospice operation where they come into your home and help with, as the end nears, whatever level of palliative care the, shall we say "pre-deceased" requires. By Christmas eve 250-plus pound Sylvia's had deteriorate to the point where ambulatory bathroom trips were out of the question. So of course we let hospice know that we required the promised "next level of care."

Now of course the Hospice employees were not the little old Jews of Century Village but were the local Floridian gentiles- for the most part black women. And somehow we hadn't gotten the message that it was Christmas and no one was going to show up.

And when I asked around, all the old Century Village Jews could say was "Vell, vhadda ya expect- it's 'The Gentiles' Big Day.'"

That night this little couplet wrote itself:

'Twas the Night before Christmas and all through the joy
Not a gentile was working not even a shabbos goy.
The Jews were all snuggled in their self-made camps
Ordering Chinese food and lighting eight lamps....

Happy "Big Day" all you gentiles out there.

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