I count my comforts these days. Maybe it’s the times. Maybe it’s age, but as I write this, I count my dogs, the cup of coffee that starts my day, and my siblings. Yes, siblings. They are the ones who with one word know exactly where you are going. It’s kind of like the joke where comedians shout out a number, and they all laugh. The joke doesn’t even need to be told.
I have been blessed from the start with wise parents who shaped a family where everyone counted. My parents owned a small kosher grocery store where we all worked to support the business. Apply any financial criteria to our life, and we would definitely have been considered poor. The magic of my parents is that we never knew this. Our home was 1241 square feet with one bathroom for our family of eight. I grew up thinking that bananas are to be eaten when brown, and over-ripe peaches are simply the best (well they kind of are, right?).
Into this world, insert my three brothers and two sisters. We are alike in the most important ways and different in the ways that make life interesting. Ask any one of us what is the most heinous quality that a person could sport, and you would likely hear, “Arrogance.” We value community because we grew up in a small and connected neighborhood. We value education because my parents never had the opportunity to attend college, and we didn’t want our future to be running their store.
We are different in our professions, our lifestyle, our sports’ teams, and yes, our politics. We can have very spirited conversations — sometimes too spirited — but at the end of the day, we always settle upon shared values and unconditional love. The same kind of love that my dogs, Nemo and Teddy, give to me. My sibs are my littermates.
We all knew from the get-go that loyalty was essential. My parents hated the rare times we told on each other. My sister Beth once bit into a potato chip dipped in mustard and proclaimed it “delicious” to prove the person wrong who called my mustard-chip-eating brother “weird.” Beth’s loyalty showed itself in other ways, too. I was processing my mother’s keepsakes and was slowed down by reading Beth’s countless cards reminding us all, through good times and bad, that we have what it takes (in the now extinct talent of beautiful penmanship).
Each sibling brings something unique to the mix. My oldest sibling, Lee, would be called “spirited” in today’s vernacular. Lee traveled to the Soviet Union during the 1970s when it was considered risky. By the time she announced she was going on an African safari, we were accustomed to her adventurous whims. Lee taught us to love Thoreau for nature and Emerson for independence, embodying “whosoever be a man, must be a nonconformist.” Lee’s gift to us is spunk and showing up whenever and wherever needed. She was the first person I called to take care of our daughters as I prepared for labor.
There are also my brothers who helped create an action-filled memory bank with me, their tomboy sister. We once surprised my parents with a home-cooked anniversary dinner. I was the waitress who brought them the “Café Dudad” menu and took orders in our small candle-lit kitchen, decorated to set the mood. We also enjoyed cheap fun and played two-on-two basketball where it never occurred to me that, as a girl, I didn’t belong. If you gave me enough time to set up my shot, kiss the ball, and pray for a swish, I held my own.
My oldest brother Mark, who was inspired by watching “Dr. Welby,” became our own Dr. Welby and has served dutifully. I am sure there were times when he just wanted to be a brother, or a son, but he has never shirked being our medical safety net, intervening when necessary. Particularly meaningful, he helped extend my mother’s life, and with quality, giving us more time to adjust to the reality we knew awaited.
Ian, my middle brother, is that person who is crisp on the surface and a marshmallow inside. While he is an accountant by training, he leads with all heart. When my mother grew frail and needed around-the-clock care, Ian managed the details for my mom and for us, with a gentle and respectful hand. When the five of us see Ian, we beeline to give him as big a hug as is humanly possible.
The youngest of the lot, Rabbi Wes, was my nemesis on the basketball court but is our Rock of Gibraltar when strife or challenge hit, which invariably happens in anyone’s life. He is the one who turns walls into gates and offers perspective. He was present and caring for my dad when dad uttered his last words, “Make a cup of tea and everything will be fine,” and then my dad passed.
It turns out that everything will be fine, if you can find and appreciate your comforts. For me, my littermates are key. They are the ones who will give the same answer to the question, “What was Dad’s best advice?” Easy: “What goes around comes around,” which was a reminder to us all to be accountable for our actions.
We hope that what has gone around for us will go around for the next generation.