Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Hiatus and Days Gone By

I blame Mad Men!

If AMC and Matthew Weiner would have gotten off their keisters and settled their differences earlier, I would be spending my summer all totally ensconced in Mad Men, and fantasizing about aqua net hair, games of bridge and Vodka Gimlets.  But since they had to drag it out, I have no such summer obsession (and for some reason I am in no mood to start watching a new show) so I am stuck with a summer of reruns.

Current on my hit list is rewatching the first and second seasons of Parenthood.  This show always holds something special for me because one of their main characters is a family that is dealing with having an autistic child.  As I have stated in other posts, this situation is portrayed with a lot of sensitivity and realism and they really go into a lot of the many faceted issues that parents with kids on the spectrum face.  Dealing with the diagnosis, finding the right schools and therapies, dealing with tantrums, dealing with well-meaning but judgmental relatives, dealing with the loss of a favorite teacher or therapist, the loneliness that parents feel when they can't connect with their children.  It's all done very realistically and sensitively, well except for the part that money never seems to be an issue.  A school which costs twice as much as other private schools, therapists which seem to spend enormous amounts of time are easily arranged, but other than that it is quite a realistic reflection of dealing with a child on the spectrum.

Besides that though I love this show.  The acting and writing are great, it is zippy but not too trendy.  But mostly what I love about this show is the family dynamic.  I love the Bravermans and I always loved the film Parenthood as well.  The family in the movie (they were called the Buckmans) had some similarities with their tv counterparts but they are not exactly the same, they are a bit more updated and maybe just slightly less stereotypical.  I love that there are often big and little family get togethers and that the whole family comes out when one of the kids is in a play, has a baseball game, is hurt and in the hospital or at some other school event.  I like that all the characters make mistakes, get angry at each other and on the one hand love each other unconditionally but don't always agree or like the choices that the others make.

I think I love Parenthood because the family seems somehow more real than in other family series, like Brothers and Sisters, which I watched for a couple of years but couldn't deal with Calista Flockheart anymore  (am I the only person out there that didn't like Ally McBeal (John Cage notwithstanding)?

But I think the real reason I love it is because Parenthood brings me back to my own extended family.  Growing up we were very close to my dad's sister and her family.  There were 7 grandchildren in our family and we were more like brothers and sisters than cousins.  We went to school together, we were friends, we hung out together.  We liked each other, we got each other.  We spent every Sunday at my grandparents' house, the whole family.  Boys watching sports, girls watching romantic movies or cartoons in the bedroom.  Kids running all over the house.  My grandmother cooking for us all.  We always ate steaks on Sunday at her house, Delmonico Steaks and her homemade french fries.  And her salad, which is my go to salad today, made only with classic vinaigrette put at the bottom of the bowl ahead of the salad.   I can still remember the little salad bowls she served it in, clear glass with turquoise design (G-d how I wish I had kept those bowls).  Nearly everyone that walks through our door and has dinner with us compliments me on my salad.  Each time, I say thank you and then glance upward in the dining room above the table, where I have my collection of old family photos, some nearly a century old now, that my grandmother lovingly carried with her from her childhood home to America (and all the stops in between).  I always look up there at her photo and give her a little wink. I realize several decades later that my grandmother, Meme was recreating that classic French dish, steak frites and  somehow reconnecting to her infused French culture which she loved every single Sunday.  I always marveled at how Meme could make steaks for 12 people (Pepe, my grandfather ate chicken, giving up red meat way before it was fashionable) so effortlessly and they all came out hot from her broiler at the same time (I have no idea how she did that).  I never serve steaks for more than 4 people unless I use the grill and even then it is a challenge.

After dinner the conversations with our parents and my grandfather always seemed to get more passionate.  There was a lot of politics and history spoken about in our presence and although as a kid I didn't have a clue as to what they were talking about, I used to love to curl up on the couch next to my dad and listen while he had his arm around me, safe in a world of brocade couches and velvet armchairs, of limoges miniatures and books and newspapers that were strewn around my grandfather's chair, a world that smelled like lemon pledge, mixed with chicken soup and the slightest hint of Chanel No. 5.  A smell which I, when feeling lonely try to recreate in my own house.

My family were not the types who came to a lot of our school events.  Our parents were too into their own stuff to really think about our stuff too much.  I was always sad that I didn't attend more of my brother Gary's swim meets.  He was an amazing swimmer who set all kinds of records in high school as a sophomore.  In 1975 we moved to Miami because my dad got a job as a professor at one of the Universities there and so we had to move.  Gary was the most heartbroken of us all over that.  He had a lot of friends and he was the top swimmer in the area.  I remember on his first day of swim practice in Miami he came home upset because he was no longer number 1, he came home saying that the girls swam faster than he did.  But he worked his butt off and set records in South Florida too.  I wish my parents and I had been there to see that more often.  But they weren't focused on it.  They also didn't come to see me when I had one of the lead roles in my senior class play.  I remember on the opening night being almost afraid to go on.  The play (which was a stupid play called The Clumsy Custard Horror Show and Ice Cream Clone Review).  I played the part of the narrarator and the play opened with a shot of me on the stage under a spotlight.  I was terrified and 10 minutes before curtain said I couldn't go on.  Everyone thought it was stage fright and reassured me that I would be great.  But I was really freaked that all the other kids' families were out there and mine wasn't.  I was already the Jewish kid, the kid with divorced parents who lived with her dad in a little town in Southwestern Pennsylvania where everyone around me lived in the same town, neighborhood or house for generations.  I basically walked around high school, a time when it is so hard to be different,  with a neon huge sandwich board that said I don't fit in.  Then to have the lead in the play and not have anyone in the audience for me?  I was devastated.  The opening night of the play fell on a night when my dad had a night class and it probably never even occurred to him to cancel class for the evening.  Like I said these things were not a big deal in our family.  Somehow I got myself together and got out on the stage.  I said my opening monologue and got through it.  During intermission I peered out into the audience and in the very back I saw my grandmother sitting, in a navy suit with a navy and yellow silk scarf and her matching shoes and handbag and my grandfather standing silently next to her.  After the curtain calls they were gone but I was so surprised and happy to see them there for me, that it made me happy for days thinking of them, these little Jewish people, with their Yiddish accents, coming to a school in a town full of coal miners and college professors, the distance from their world to California, PA was galaxies but they made that trip for me.  They stood out like, um, er Jewish people in Appalachia.   It was the first time I really ever thought about how much they loved me and the rest of their grandchildren and what we meant to them.  I love them for that and so many other reasons.

So maybe we aren't exactly the Bravermans, but I know that when I do watch that show, I have one eye on them and one eye back in Washington, Pennsylvania, being at Meme's, sitting on her sofa with my dad, my aunt and uncle and cousins, all of us squeezed together.

I think I need to find a vodka gimlet recipe?  Who's in?

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