- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 8/14/20
Greetings and Happy August 14th!
Today is the birthday of my mother and my sister, born 1928 and 1958, respectively. As all of you who have lost loved ones can appreciate, a day does not go by without thinking about them. My mother was born and grew up in the depression, worked pumping gas at her father’s gas station, acted as a mother to her sisters, was the first in her family to graduate from college (and graduate school), achieved her mother’s dream for her (marrying a Jewish doctor), remained philanthropic and giving until her dying day. She had a lot of wisdom to dispense, whether solicited or not. Here are a few of Jessica’s pearls of wisdom:
PEOPLE CAN RATIONALIZE ANYTHING
My parents always impressed upon me the singular value of integrity, a value that is not always held in high regard. My mother felt people by-and-large were self-centered and viewed the world through their personal vision. She used to say that people are very good at rationalizing questionable behaviors to allow themselves to do things that we might objectively find objectionable. She would say the “right thing” was usually the “obvious thing.”
DRIVE SAFELY AND WATCH OUT FOR THE RAILROAD TRACKS!
Whenever I would get ready to leave a family gathering, my mother’s last admonition was “drive safely.” Eventually I developed the response, “Thanks for reminding me because today was the day I planned on driving recklessly.” Curiously, my mother also would say “watch out for the railroad tracks,” as if they recently were installed…
SHE SPELLS CULTURE WITH A “K” OR “THE ONLY TASTE SHE HAS IS ON HER TONGUE”
My mother used to say that someone with orange shag carpet or who thought something like the Phantom of the Opera was the height of theatre “spelled culture with a ‘k’.” In other words, no culture at all.
DON’T BE A MOCKIE
You never wanted Jessica to tell you that you’re a “mockie.” It meant a poseur. Someone who did things for show, rather than substance. I once thought this was a Yiddish expression. But then I realized it probably is derivative of “mock,” or fake. So be true to oneself!
CUT THE CORNED BEEF LEAN
It can be served with a lot of fat around the edges or not. Better without—same flavor and healthier…
DON’T TAKE THE MILK IN THE FRONT OF THE FREEZER SECTION
Before Howie Mandel and his germophobia or COVID, Jessica never wanted to take the first item in the case at the store. Besides probably having the earliest expiration date, other people touched it. So look in the back and your food will last longer.
WHEN IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY, BARGAIN, BUT APPROPRIATELY
Jessica loved to “honddle” (or bargain). That said, she wouldn’t waste anyone’s time if she didn’t want to buy. And she never grinded someone all the way down, leaving everyone to save face.
READ THE CLASSICS
My mother read voraciously but never trash. She didn’t want to waste the time.
MODERN MUSIC IS NOISE (BUT SHE LIKED SOME)
Jessica wasn’t a big rock and roll fan. But I recall she appreciated two groups (maybe others I can’t remember) for their musical abilities: Steely Dan and Chicago. And no, her general dislike for rock did not mean she liked the easy listening of Paul Anka or Tony Orlando…
I also recall that my father loved singing or whistling Sinatra. For some reason, he wasn’t at all concerned that singing “Strangers in the Night” probably wasn’t appropriate to sing in front of elementary school students:
Strangers in the night
Wondering in the night
What were the chances
We’d be sharing love
Before the night was through.
Of course, my parents’ good natured naivete also extended to my mother being unconcerned with “Midnight at the Oasis” or “Afternoon Delight…”
Much has been said about the loss of our society’s ability to write a good letter. We used to communicate by telephone (with all the inflection, pauses, quick and immediate exchanges) and letters (with a level of thoughtfulness, desire for detail and nuance, and a sense of permanence lost these days). Now it’s tweets, texts and, if you’re lucky, emails.
Not so with Jessica, who would write detailed letters in cursive to my apartment. She would comment on the issues of the day, recipes, the latest gossip, and literature. The best part was how she meticulously clipped newspapers for stories and political cartoons she felt I would enjoy. I miss the clipping service and my mother’s uncensored views of the world (and, particularly, her summary and brutal dismissal of stupidity).
EDUCATION IS THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
Jessica was the first college graduate in her family. Her parents, plenty smart but not formally educated, saw to the education of their daughters. Education and learning (not always the same) were drummed into Gale’s and my heads from an early age.
ALWAYS BUY YOURSELF A SOUVENIR
Whenever on vacation, my mother urged us to buy a small something as a remembrance—even something as simple as a postcard or stamps or one of the kitsch totem poles or kachina dolls hawked in every souvenir shop in the west. She felt it important to surround oneself with music, books, and mementos to remind one of places one had visited. This manifest itself in my love of museum guidebooks and general packrat persona.
NEVER, EVER, EVER LIE
This needs no explanation.
INTEGRITY IS EVERYTHING
Neither does this.
SQUEEZE THE FRUIT
Always in the market, make sure the fruit is fresh and ripe, but not too ripe. This admonition extended to thinking first and acting only after assessing the situation (or test the waters before jumping in).
THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER HEIFETZ
She loved her classical music, violin most of all (she played in orchestras on and off all her life), and Heifetz tops among the violinists (though also loved Kreisler, Menuhin, Stern, Zuckerman, and Perlman).
FAMILY IS EVERYTHING
There is nothing that stood in between Jessica and her family. My most vivid memory of my mother with her grandchildren is that she would get down on the floor to play with them, arthritis be damned…
HER WITTICISMS CAME FULL THROATED, SOTTE VOCE AND SOMETIMES JUST WITH A LOOK
Glenn Raines recounts a high school reunion held at our house in Anaheim when one of our classmates commented that “high school was the high point of our lives.” Glenn caught Jessica’s eye and said her expression conveyed judgment, shock, horror, laughter, pity, and dismissiveness—all in a single glance.
Miss her every day.
Happy August 14th!