Saturday, October 11, 2008
Regrets, I've Had a Few....
Montreal, 1936. In the far corner of this gathering of the Montreal Russian Jewish community sit my grandparents, refugees from the hell of Czarist Russia thirty years earlier. My father's parents were a mystery to me. I never knew my grandmother, as she died before my parents even met. I knew she was an actress in the Yiddish Theatre, spinning tales of betrayal, tragedy, and exaggerated pathos amidst the smell of salami and hard boiled eggs in a building brimming with what was then a vibrant language for people starting a new life in North America. My dad made his debut at the age of one, urinating on stage and therefore literally making a local splash on the theatrical scene. My grandfather died when I was two, so there are no memories of me bouncing on his knee, something apparently he delighted in doing. Small and tempestuous, he was at various times a Communist, a grocery store owner, and a dry cleaner who specialized in "French Pressing", which usually required my father to take customers' clothing out the back door to another shop for better service. His legendary temper apparently cost his uncle a finger, and my father almost his life. Still, they seemed to make the transition to a new life in Canada with the same hardships as their peers, and my dad would speak of them fondly.
As I sit here writing this, my mom is visiting, talking eloquently about "Ghost Town" and the newest Woody Allen film, interest rates, and the passage of time, pretty much covering all four topics simultaneously. An hour ago it was the life of Jesus, and why a vote for the NDP is a wasted one. At eighty years of age, she is still sharp and lucid, articulate and intellectually curious, and I expect her to be around for a while yet. I'm lucky to have her. She has also taken to writing poetry, reflecting on a life unadventurous, but virtuous. A true performer like the mother-in-law she never met, she will always remain an enigma to me, keeping her real feelings hidden, and only allowing them to surface in times of great joy or anger. Living in Montreal during the Depression and suffering through both poverty and prejudice left her with an unwillingness to talk about the past, volunteering only the odd, angry snippet of a young person dealing with a lot of uncertainty and anger.
I often wonder how my son Jake will one day speak of me. I wonder if he will remember the jokes I tell him, the endless piggybacks I have given and the awful fast food meals shared. I hope he won't remember the volatile temper and criticism that he has already experienced at the age of four. I am not a saint. As I stumble upon old friends and family on Facebook, I realize that a lot of bridges have been burned, in some cases irreparably, owning more to impulsive behavior and immature folly than true maliciousness. I was a jerk for a good part of my life, selfish and self-centred, caring little about anyone who would not be useful fuel for my endless vanity and insecurity.
Age has mellowed me somewhat, and the fact that I have a job that requires me to help people has made me realize the importance of charity and self-sacrifice. I can't get the "lost years" back, but there are many more to look forward to, and I hope to be around when Jake introduces me to his first love interest, has his first beer with me (mopping up small stains with his sleeve as I do), and decides to parade me to his employers one day as the cute, raunchy old fool that taught him to tie his shoes, shake after a pee, and flirt harmlessly with the opposite sex.