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Archives for Families and Family Life

My Christmas Yarmulke


I’m not much for the winter holidays. Christmas can’t pass quickly enough for me; I loathe the excessive commercial emphasis and look forward to packing the artificial tree in the basement once it’s over.

This has nothing to do with my evangelical views. I’m just little suspicious of anyone who thinks overdoing Christmas in the weeks after Thanksgiving makes up for eleven months of decidedly non-Christian living.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those folks who gets upset when someone says “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Both are perfectly valid ways to greet friends, enemies, strangers, business associates, and family. As with so many other traditions, if the church thought it was a good idea to abdicate authority for sacred celebrations to the folks on Pennsylvania and Madison Avenues, it seems to me that we’re getting what we deserve.

And it’s not that I don’t have many Christmas memories, I do.

I recall running in an all-out panic and frantically trying to hide under the couch one year when my father dressed as Santa and knocked on the front door. My parents and grandparents thought it would be fun to see the look of joy on little Michael’s face, but weren’t too disappointed when joy was replaced by terror. For the next ten years, I got to watch that scene replayed on Super 8 film as a holiday tradition.

A few years later I peeked out of my bedroom window when mom and dad were returning from a shopping excursion and spied Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots being toted in the door. I really wanted Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, but with a few weeks to go, knowing it was going to be waiting for me under the Christmas tree removed all the anticipation. Why bother with the paper?

But of all my childhood memories, it was a Christmas twenty years ago that stands out in my mind.

I had been out of the Navy a little more than a year and was living in Portland, Maine with my friend John Sullivan in a cluttered bachelor pad at the Los Angeles Apartments. Across the hall lived an old woman named Mrs. Prilutsky who was as sweet a lady as could have been. She was preparing to relocate to an assisted living facility a few blocks away, but we got to know her through frequent neighborly conversations, and by purchasing some of the things she wouldn’t be taking with her when she left her apartment.

The day Mrs. Prilutsky left the Los Angeles Apartments she extended an open invitation to visit her at her new place, and we said we would. A couple weeks later I paid her a visit and brought with me a pumpkin pie I’d baked for Thanksgiving. It was little more than pre-made crust filled with a can of One Pie mix, but I was proud of myself and seemed to make Mrs. Prilutsky’s day when I presented it to her. We chatted for a few minutes and I excused myself, promising to return in a week or two.

When I came back, Mrs. Prilutsky confessed that she’d given the pie to her brother. I wasn’t aware, but she was diabetic and the pie’s sugar content was more than enough to cause trouble. Even so, she told me she chanced eating a small sliver out of respect for the gesture.

The next week I called on her again, but was told at the front desk that Mrs. Prilutsky was at Maine Medical Center. No reason why, but I hoofed it over and inquired at the front desk then rode the elevator to her floor and found her room. Her brother was with her and I entered to say hello, but my visit lasted only a few moments. “She’s very tired,” her brother quietly told me. I left, naively offering a joke about her speedy recovery as I did.

Two days later I went back, but Mrs. Prilutsky wasn’t there. I returned to her assisted living home and was told that she had died the day before.

What I didn’t know about Mrs. Prilutsky was that she was Jewish, the implications of which would not have mattered much except that, because she died on December 22nd, her funeral would be held on December 25th.

So Christmas morning, I walked the mile and a half from my apartment to Temple Beth El, put on a yarmulke, and paid Mrs. Prilutsky one last visit.

All these years later I still wonder if it was my pie. Happy holidays, Mrs. Prilutsky.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 8:43 PM | Permalink

Not So Nice New England Ice


As I sit here at my computer, a Honda generator hums in the background, a near constant companion since Friday when I ventured outside to assess the damage wreaked by New England’s great December ice storm.

Honda’s trusty piece of equipment has kept the house warm and the fridge cool, kept water flowing from our well, and kept a few lights and outlets energized. All things considered, we’ve got it pretty good; up the street one house has a basement filled with water. It was three feet deep before the local fire company arrived with a gas-powered pump to keep things from getting into the electrical system. A friend in one of the harder-hit communities also has water in his basement – and a tree in his house. His family is huddled around a woodstove making memories while keeping the pipes from freezing at night (with a little help – on Monday temperatures neared an unseasonably warm 60).

Apart from the main thoroughfares, the roads here remain littered with trees and wires. Off the main routes, the damage this storm visited upon the region is vividly apparent. Few trees were spared, losing tops and limbs under the weight of the heavy ice that coated them during the overnight storm (which the National Weather Service warned as late as Thursday might only amount to a “light glazing”). Many roads were blocked by fallen trees, wires, and utility poles, and many houses were damaged by fallen trees and limbs as well. No telling when things will be back to normal, but I’ve got some observations to share with the outside world as soon as I’m able to get to a source of free WiFi.

First, thank you to WTAG, the big AM radio station out of Worcester. Once I got the generator running and tuned in, their broadcast provided a hugely important local service, namely the dissemination of information. To hear radio out of Boston, you’d have no idea of the extent of the devastation folks in much of Northern New England are feeling. WTAG was up and running on generators, answering questions and conveying information received from listeners via text message. WTAG’s suspension of normal broadcasting to provide that vital service was appreciated by many thousands of people otherwise cut off from the rest of the world.

The staff of the Boston Globe, on the other hand, should be ashamed of themselves. While many the region were still without heat or power on Sunday morning, that paper’s lead story was about the difficulty South Shore auto dealers are having selling cars. Pardon me while I wipe the tear from my eye.

You’d think we outlanders would be used to the snubs by now, but I suggest the Globe reconsider calling itself New England’s newspaper until they post a reporter or two west of Route 128. My parents had read more about our situation in the Atlanta Journal Constitution than the Globe carried in their paper. And folks who have gotten television back say the news stations are also largely downplaying the storm’s aftermath.

While listening to WTAG I also noted the regular updates on power restoration provided by electrical utility National Grid. My electric company, Unitil, has been absent through it all. The Fitchburg area, which is largely served by Unitil, is among the hardest hit areas of the state, but no one has heard much from them. I managed to get online briefly this morning courtesy Panera Bread’s free WiFi service and browsed over to Unitil’s web page where I found one pathetically uninformative press release on the situation.

Here’s a clue to the folks at Unitil: when the power is out, most folks can’t get to your Web site. How about a call to the local radio stations to let us know what you are up to?

I’ll spare you a full catalog of the the object lessons in self reliance and the dangers of becoming dependent on Big Government. But I will suggest that you get yourself a generator. And I pity any who are still waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency or someone from Beacon Hill to come with the necessities.

Look out your window and you’ll find neighbors helping neighbors, and local communities mustering their resources to weather the storm — as it should be.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 8:44 AM | Permalink

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