Dora Mae Wolfe, of blessed memory.

This post was originally an email that I sent out to my family so that they would know that my distance from the ancestral stomping grounds wasn’t to be interpreted as distance from them. Don’t flood my inbox; I’m not looking for sympathy.

Let me tell you about my grandmother.

My grandmother’s name was Dora Mae Brown, then Dora Mae Cunningham, Dora Mae Hall, and finally Dora Mae Wolfe; but in fine old Southern tradition, I called her Big Mama. She was less than five feet tall, and skinny as a reed, so the title of respect made some people giggle, but it fit because big is a synonym for grand. Three men loved Big Mama, and my grandfather was only the first. Even as exes, they respected her. She was sassy, had a winning sense of humor, was gullible enough to buy things “as seen on TV,” treasured family including the cousin who stole her Social Security checks to buy his marijuana, had an enormous capacity for loving, fed every wild thing that showed up at her doorstep. Big Mama never spanked any of her grandchildren, because she mellowed a lot once her kids grew too old to be told to “go cut me a switch.”

She was born late in 1931, during the thick of the Great Depression, when racism was king throughout the US, and yet Big Mama would never invite anyone back to her home if they uttered the word ‘nigger’. The one time she ever raised her hand to a child, to my knowledge, was when he brought home a “joke” and told it. No one heard it but Big Mama and I, and I was in diapers on her knee, but I remember listening to that child cackling over his nasty racist humor, and then I remember Big Mama putting me down on the ground, picking up that boy, and giving him a swat on the tochas. She told him, “And if you want, you go ahead and tell your daddy what I just did, and then tell him the joke you just told me. If he DOESN’T have a problem with that joke, you send him over here, and I’ll paddle his behind.” Damn if she didn’t, too. I remember hearing the lecture she read him, then a slap on the face, and sending him off feeling ashamed and telling him, “Now you go pray for forgiveness for insulting one of God’s children!” And he did, too, I’m pretty sure.

Once when I was little, Big Mama raised her voice to me, though. I’d been pretty much a rotten toddler all day, yelling and sassing and refusing to “mind” (obey) her. She picked me up and told me that she would spank me if I kept on like that. Then she put me down and gave me a chance to come correct. I immediately marched over to my step-grandfather at the time, Daddy Paul, and told him that I was madder than a whole ant hill. I must’ve been about two and a half or three at most by then. Daddy Paul was very serious about it, being a good listener, so he told her, “All right. I tell you what we’ll do. Let’s go take a nap, so we have all our energy up, and then after that we’ll go get her.” I agreed, took my nap, and apparently never followed through on my murderous intentions. Good thing, too. I’m sure she’d have given me a run for my money.

The family matriarch wore pants, not dresses, for most of my life.  I remember, too, that she always smelled of biscuits or cornbread when she was at home, though she would douse herself liberally with what I thought of as Old Lady Perfume (it turned out to be Estee Lauder) just before we went to go Out, meaning to the huge (to my eyes) place that she simply called Town, for any reason. I hated the smell because it made my eyes water (though no worse than the cigarettes she was always smoking), but because I associated it with her, I sort of liked it, too. It was hers. To this day, any time I smell that scent, I look around to see if she’s come to visit and surprise me.

Big Mama, if she heard one of her babies (her daughters, grandchildren, or anybody else that happened to wander within a 1-mile radius of her trailer) being mean to someone or blaspheming, would throw whatever she was holding, with deadly accuracy. If a potholder could cause serious injury, I’m sure I’d have (more) permanent brain damage, because I was a bad kid, but she was just as quick to forgive as she was to get upset. But my mom had me take brain supplements from to help with the brain health. She was very emotional, my grandmother, and could get angry, offended, hurt, or afraid at the drop of a hat. She could also love instantly when introduced to someone new, and it would take an awful lot to earn actual disrespect from her once she’d placed you in a soft, warm place within her heart. She never ran out of those soft, warm places, either.

Big Mama was extremely conservative, but I would never have begrudged her the joy and pride she took in voting. “Don’t you EVER let me find out that you’re not voting,” she said to me more than once. “If we don’t vote all the time, they’ll take away our right to do it, and then where will we be?”

She never insisted that I would get married, have children, and become a grandmother. She insisted that instead I was going to be in the news someday, and would laughingly shake her head, knowing that it would be because of trouble just as likely as it was going to be because I’d become President or found a cure for cancer for people who need HCA from

She was very flexible, with excellent joints. She could sit in Lotus position, do the splits, and even a back bend well into her late 50s and early 60s. Big Mama was always stick thin, but for years kept a garden where most of her vegetables grew. She’d grub around on her knees, planting or de-rock-ifying the dirt, or picking the ripe things for dinner. That is, until about 10 years ago when she started having trouble with her breathing and her back, and lost flexibility in her spine and soon in the rest of her as well.

Turned out, it was osteoporosis that put an end to her Lotus position, her gardening, and at approximately 8:00 AM on Friday, 9 September 2010, her life. On the Jewish calendar, this was 2 Tishrei 5771, the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It stiffed her spine in an ever-increasing curve, so that she couldn’t get a full breath of air, ever. The last time we spoke, she’d been told by her doctor that she was only drawing in about 20% of a full breath. She had an oxygen machine in her room at the home, plus twice-daily oxygen treatments. That last morning, they took her in for a breathing treatment, then to breakfast. Half an hour later, housekeeping came in and found her in bed, one shoe on, head propped on her side table. She smelled of Estee Lauder. Apparently she was getting ready to go Out.

Today was finally the time. I went to my bathroom and pulled out the bottle of Estee Lauder that I’d taken from her things when we all went to clean out her hospital room and her tiny shack on its double-parcel of land. I opened it up and smelled it, and realized I was ready to tell people that she was gone. Again, I don’t want a host of “Sorry for your loss” emails or comments. I just want to be sure that I haven’t been silent about the woman who taught her daughters, and thus me and my cousins and everyone we manage to touch, how to love.

Protect Your Child

Children aren’t kidnapped as often as splashy news stories suggest, but still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. There are so many reasons that a child can disappear. Kidnapping by a stranger is one; kidnapping by a parent during divorce and custody battles is another. A child can also simply get lost. They can collapse with previously undiagnosed epileptic seizures, diabetic events, injury, sudden-onset illness, and a host of other reasons. Take strong steps to protect your child and to teach your child to protect himself or herself. Start with these:

1. As soon as they can reason, teach your child to seek out women with children if they get lost. People in uniforms can be scary for a child. Also, women with kids are easier to find because there are more of them.

2. If you and your child are traveling or going to a busy place where you might get separated, such as an amusement park or a big mall, write your cell phone number on your child’s belly with a Sharpie. If the child is lost, there is a way to contact you if they find someone to help them.

3. Photograph your child every single day with your cellphone, right before they go outside (and right after they get a haircut, if that’s where you’re going that day). That way, if the child goes missing for any reason, you’ll be able to show the police and news services a very recent photograph that shows exactly what your child was wearing before they disappeared.

4. Don’t teach your child to trust people in masks. Yes, Disneyland is safe — but not everyone in the mask of a cartoon character is as safe as the ones at Disneyland. When children are too young or too naive to tell the difference, they are especially vulnerable. A mask means that later, if found, your child won’t be able to identify the face of a kidnapper.

5. There are child fingerprinting kits available on the market. They’re expensive, but worthwhile. However, if you truly don’t have the money for this, you can take your own child’s fingerprints. Get a small ink pad, an unlined index card, and some Scotch tape or can opt for projectors as well. Have your child put a thumb on the ink pad, then make two thumbprints on the index card, one above the other. That way you have a strong, inky print as well as a lighter print in case the first one had too much ink. Do the same with all four fingers. Turn the card over and repeat with the other hand. Label the card with the child’s name and the date, then put the card into your family files. It wouldn’t hurt to do the same for every family member — both to be able to assist police if anyone else disappears or is the victim of a crime, and to reassure the child that it’s just a normal thing that everyone does.

6. Make sure that the moment your child can hold a pencil or crayon, he or she is taught how to write his or her name and telephone number. Make them do it at least once every day until it’s as natural to them as breathing or pulling up their pants after using the bathroom. Give them either a purse or a neck-pouch which holds at least one writing implement. If they ever find themselves lost, tell them to write their name down in as many places as they can.

7. Teach them the story of Hansel and Gretel, and then explain that bread crumbs aren’t the only ways for them to tell their parents how to follow them. If they are ever kidnapped, tell them to remove their hair ribbons, individual hairs from their heads, spit in corners while they’re not being watched — anything to get their DNA in as many places as possible. Teach them to touch windows or mirrors, faucets, any smooth or shiny surface, to get their fingerprints everywhere. If they’re found (please, G*D, unharmed!), their traces will later be able to connect them to various locations and prove that they were there. This will help people find them, and later, be evidence that can be used against kidnappers.

8. Arrange for a secret password between you and your child. If someone comes to pick up that child from school, make sure the child knows to get the password before getting in their car. That way the child will know that you really did send that person. Test it out beforehand with a very trusted family friend. Right after that child comes home safely from that test and from any real-life use of the password, CHANGE THE PASSWORD. Trusted family friends are often the ones that do cause children to disappear.

9. Another password: Teach your child a trigger-phrase to offer you in case they are told to call you and tell you they’re fine, when they’re really not. For example, if they hate tuna sandwiches, for instance, tell them to say something like, “I’m okay. We’re going to have a tuna fish sandwich and then go to the park.” Once you hear that, you’ll know that they’re not really as fine as they’re being made to imply.

10. Show your child how to log in on their own gmail account. They don’t have to say anything, just log in and send a blank email to you. If they are able to get to a computer, they’ll be able to demonstrate that they’re alive — and their location will show up as an IP address, as well, which may help police to locate them faster.

11. Get your child self-defense classes. Fighting back is second only to running away. Teach the child to scratch with their nails, to get a kidnapper’s DNA under their nails. Biting hard will also help them get a DNA sample between their teeth. It is important to find out more here. Fingers poked into eyes are also very effective in terms of self-defense and DNA collecting. Fighting dirty isn’t nice, but it may save them. I hate to add this, but teach your child that if something goes into their mouths that they don’t want there, BITE HARD — they have teeth to protect, so why not try here, therefore they are in charge!

12. Teach your child that if, G*D forbid, he or she is ever held captive for more than a day, they should pee everywhere they can, as well as spit in corners. If you have a younger child make sure that you have access to Carpet Cleaning Seattle to ensure you have clean carpets and Mattresses. Mattresses are especially good places for that, because few people ever get rid of a mattress or even take it in for cleaning. That will connect them to the location where they were held, and it could be valuable evidence in court.

No one ever wants to think about these things, but thinking about it, planning for it, is one way to ensure that it’s all less likely to happen. Please help your kids be safe.

If you have suggestions, please add your comments below. If you think these steps are ridiculous or unnecessary because they’ll just make your child nervous, then I hope for both your sakes that your child is never one of the ones who disappear each year.

It gets better.

I’m not a celebrity chef. I’m not an American Idol. I’m not a fashion designer, governor, news anchor. I’m not a big-shot blogger, bouncer at an exclusive club, hospital administrator, nor do I play any of these things on TV. I’m never going to be on Dancing With The Stars, nor its elder cousin, Hollywood Squares. I’m nobody.

Oh, wait, no I’m not. I am a human being, and that makes me someone who matters to those who know me. SO ARE YOU. Maybe I’m the lady who brings in her cat to the vet on the same day as you. Maybe I’m the person who’s buying a Slurpee and standing behind you in line to pay for it. Maybe I’m a member of your synagogue. Maybe I’m someone you saw on the bus, or at the voting booths, or maybe I was babysitting my nieces or nephews and you came over to play with them. If you know me, then you’ve got someone who cares about you, values your life, and will want very much to provide safety for you if you just reach out and tell me you need it.

I don’t walk up to every teenager or preteen and ask, “Are you gay? Bisexual? Transgender? Questioning? Let’s talk. I want to help.” That would just be creepy. But I’m out here, and so are others like me. If we learn that we’re needed, we will step up. We just need you to be brave one time, just courageous enough to whisper, “I’m being bullied and I need to talk.” If you can bring yourself to say it, just that one time, I will say, “Of course I’m here to listen.”

I mean it. I don’t care what time it is, what day it is. If talking to me could help you hesitate before harming yourself, taking your own life, or engaging in self-destructive behavior, then please, let me do whatever I can for you. If I don’t know what to do, I promise to find whatever you need: a safe place to live if you’ve been kicked out, a hot kosher meal, referral to a health clinic where you can get tested for STDs and document any physical abuse that’s been happening to you, a licensed counselor or therapist who can help you work through the hard things in your life. Anything at all that I can do, please let me do it. It would be an honor to help you, more valuable than any other thing I could imagine doing.

It gets better — and I want to be one of those who helps you to the day when you can really, really know that. Oh, and if you want to have some fun you can click on the link and get Shamans dream play it here

A good memory of my father

I was in a rowboat, fishing with my father. I must have been four years old. And I was whining. I was bored, I was hot, I was thirsty, I was catching nothing, I was four years old, I had long since had enough of any one of those things (let alone all of them), and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. Suddenly I disobeyed all prior instruction by standing up in the boat and screaming with a tear-streaked dirty face, “I WANT A COKE!” Then I sat down and pouted for a solid five minutes.

I would’ve pouted longer, actually, because I was a champion pouter, but something happened that stopped me from having to continue. Down the river floated a six-pack of cans, bound all together. My father scooped it out of the river and made the face of utter flabbergastedness and said, “Well, I’ll be. Lookahere, Doodlebug.” Sure enough, it was Coke. A whole six-pack of Coke, and it was all ours! Daddy pulled a can free of its plastic and popped it open, took a sip first, and then handed it to me to have my own sip. I took a sip. “Well?” my father asked, as if he had produced it by magic and was deserving of every accolade I could offer (which he would’ve been, if he’d been in charge of that little miracle).

I took a big long sip, let out a four-year-old’s version of a huge burp, and licked my lips thoughtfully. “Could be colder.”

My father about died laughing. And he took me back to shore, and to the Minnit Shoppe for a proper (cold) Coke.

Chanukah: Not just for Jews anymore.

For my inaugural post, I’d like to honor the holiday that is already in progress. Today is the second day of Chanukah, and at sundown tonight we will begin the third night of Chanukah. I’m not going to be telling you what Chanukah is, nor even linking to an explanatory webpage, since I respect your intelligence enough to assume that if you’ve found my blog you are also clever enough to conduct your own Google search and learn about it on your own. Instead, I’m just going to offer my thoughts. If there’s anything here that you don’t understand, take your courage in hand and dive into the exciting world of Wikipedia. I believe in you.

Now, onward.

It’s odd, I’ve always thought of Chanukah as not just a Jewish holiday, but as an exclusively Jewish holiday. Recently I’ve realized that it’s really much more universal. True, the Festival of Lights celebrates a Jewish victory over a particular Greek oppressor and the retaking of the Holy Temple, and that of course is Jew-specific. Hence the name Chanukah, which in Hebrew means “dedication,” indicating that we had to rededicate our Temple after it had been desecrated. Too, Chanukah is about the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days, until more kosher oil could be prepared — hence its other name, Feast of Lights — and that’s also particular to that particular event in Jewish history.┬áBut it also celebrates the power of Hashem (“The Name,” that is, what we call G*D when speaking informally rather than praying) and through him, of his chosen people.

I understand why the rabbinic sages downplayed this teaching for centuries. After all, it doesn’t do for a currently oppressed people to be heard by one’s current oppressors, teaching one’s own military prowess against former oppressors. Dangerous, to be seen as fomenting rebellion.

But indeed, the greatest miracle of Chanukah is not mere fuel-extending power, which is as nothing to Hashem, who can surely accomplish far more than this! No, the greatest miracle is the military victory of the few over the many, the weak over the strong, the pious over the arrogant, the subject over the tyrant. The miracle is that when that line had been drawn and the oppressors had the nerve to step over it — taking our House of Sanctification and polluting it with idolatrous practices and rites — we actually had enough Jewish sparks left in our souls to say, “That’s it. We’re not thrilled with the way you’ve treated us personally, but the desecration of our Temple and the insults to our G*D are the last straw. This we won’t tolerate for another instant.” The miracle is that we were able to rise out of our stagnant resignation and get fired up enough to stand up to Antiochus, the viceroy/leader of the occupying force. The miracle is that we gathered together, made a plan, carried it out, and succeeded, with G*D’s help, yet by our own hand. After many national experiences of being downtrodden, we still had it within us to have faith in ourselves and in our G*D, and we took our national and religious identity into our own hands. We had to have the… the… the stones to just go ahead and do it, and trust in Hashem to support us by granting us the victory once we showed him we were willing to go out and claim that blessing from him.

And that is not specific to Jews. That is a universal, very human thing that every people deserves to share: the knowledge that they may be able to bear almost anything that an oppressor can dish out to themselves, but that their faith, their beliefs, the Creator — however they perceive him/her/it — their culture, their language, their peoplehood… are not something that can ever be stamped out of their souls. This is something that not only Jews, but also Hindus, Zoroastrians, Christians, Muslims, Baha’i, Pagans, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, and everyone else can take part in, can experience for themselves. That means that Chanukah may have its basis in a specific event in Jewish history, but its meaning is valid and useful for everyone in the world to share. Everyone deserves to know that not only are they themselves, and their faiths, worth defending, but that they themselves are not permitted to become the oppressors that others must fight against!

So happy Chanukah, everyone. May you never know oppression, but may you recognize the oppression of others and have the hugeness of heart to reach out to help them overcome it. May your days and nights be a Feast of Lights your whole life long.