I Just Can’t Take It!

The past few days have been very bad. It all started when I heard Dad say, “Uh oh” and then told me to look outside by the hot tub. What I saw was not a happy sight. In fact, it was disastrous. Sunning himself by the steps of the tub was a 3-4 foot black snake. You all know how I feel about these creatures. (Third Grade Stunk)

This was the second time I saw a snake this large so close to the house. The last occurrence was when Kelly and Mark were living with us, and we had an ill black snake leaning against the garage door. Dad and Mark checked him out before we all went to bed, and the next morning, he had not left. Daddy called someone from the golf course, who examined him and announced he was ill, which was why he would not leave. So the brave man from the golf course picked him up with a pole and flung him onto the course (I worried about it sailing through the air and hitting an early morning jogger, but my hero was not concerned.) And that was the end  of snakes at our house until this new siting.

I named the hot tub snake Victor the Viper. We watched him and decided he had taken up residence underneath the tub. Someone suggested that we sprinkle moth balls in the area of Victor’s home, and that seemed to chase him off for a while.  We could not eat dinner outside that evening because it smelled of moth balls and gardenias, which is not a pleasant combination.

Unfortunately, Victor was back yesterday, so I informed Dad that I was relinquishing the job of putting the chemicals in the tub to him. No way Jose would I go near Vic until we got a snake remover to relocate him.

Though I was assured that black snakes are harmless and afraid of people (the feeling is mutual), they can still cause death by heart attack to me. I informed Bryce that there would be no hiding in the bushes near the hot tub any more.

So to relax, Dad and I went to play nine holes of golf on Thursday morning. When we arrived at the 17th tee, I screamed. Victor’s little brother or sister was lounging near the cart path. I took my tee shot, and quickly hopped in the golf cart. En route to the green, I glanced to the right, and there, slithering off into the woods, was another black snake. With a pounding heart, I told Dad I was not hitting any more balls on Hole #17.

I had a great tee shot on #18, and a surprisingly good second shot. However, my thoughts were still with the Viper Family, so when my third shot landed in the sand, I was done.

I returned home and peeked out my bedroom window to see if Victor was back. So far, so good. But I am a realist. We have not seen the last of him. Oy vey!!

Off to Jail

Yodar Schussheim has returned from the dead today. He is very old—probably well over 120 years.

I first learned the story of Yodar on one of my first dates with Dad. He came into Dad’s life when his father decided he would not pay the telephone company to have an unlisted phone number. Your grandfather reasoned that to not print a name should not result in a fee.

Further research led to the discovery that one did not have to have their name, address and telephone number listed using their actual name. Any name was acceptable; thus, your grandfather decided that their family would be listed in the Yonkers telephone directory under the name “Yodar Schussheim.”

When I was told this story, I had no idea that Schussheim was a family name—Dad’s grandmother’s maiden name. It was not until I decided to climb Dad’s tree that I learned this piece of family trivia. I believe the name “Yodar” was invented by Dad’s father.

Once that name was listed in the telephone book, applications for credit cards and magazine subscriptions began to arrive at Dad’s house. Your grandfather would fill out the applications, explaining that Yodar was in great debt, spoke no English, and was unable to sign his name. One of his relatives was filling out the application for him. Then he signed it with an “X,” and the credit cards began arriving at the house!

No charges were ever made on the card. That was not the point. The point was just showing that anyone could get a credit card. That is how stupid those banks issuing the cards were.

Yodar “lived” for many years and probably died sometime around the time of your grandfather’s death I suppose.

Every once in a while, Dad would repeat the legendary tale of Yodar. Today, Yodar rose from the dead when we received a call from “the IRS,” telling Dad he was going to be arrested because he owed them money.

When they asked for Dad’s name, that is when Yodar rose from the dead. “Yodar” explained to the “IRS agent” that he did not have the $4986 to pay the taxe bill, which allegedly spanned a five year period from 2008-2012. They admitted we owed the money because of an error. Failure to pay today would result in accrued interest payments of $19000.

The “IRS agent” suggested  that Dad could pay $2000  today and then the rest via monthly payments. Yodar said he had only $56. That is when the “agent” gave up and hung up the phone. The lesson learned is that you don’t mess with Yodar Schussheim!


An Incredible Artist- Wow #4

I told you how shy I used to be, and I am happy that I have overcome the severe shyness of my childhood. I explained in The Shy Bug, which is when I chose to be the bird who quietly sat in the corner instead of my hero, the bunny, in my kindergarten play. It took years and was a slow evolution. Dad knew that version of me, which still exists, but to a much smaller degree now.

When I travel alone, I enjoy striking up a conversation with my fell passengers when I get an inkling that they are more interested in speaking to me than reading their book or listening to the music on their device.

Last year I was sitting in the middle seat between Dad and an older gentleman. Neither the stranger nor I spoke to each other during the early part of the flight between Dallas and Palm Springs. Sometime after the flight attendant delivered our beverages, the man began to make small talk with me.

Although originally from Great Britain, he told me he was an artist who had lived in Africa, where he specialized in painting the people and animals of that great continent. He explained that his father discouraged his passion for art during his youth, but he persevered until he became a success.

Over a shared glass of water (I drank from his glass by accident), he told me about his most famous work, which was a life-sized portrait of Queen Elizabeth, which he painted in 1992. He mentioned parking his car inside the gates of Buckingham Palace, where he was approached by a man who told him to move his vehicle before the changing of the guard.

He took out the airline magazine so he could show me where he now lived, which was on the island of Malta, just off the southern tip of Italy. I told him about my book, and he encouraged me to continue. As we prepared to leave, he handed me his business card.

I admit I had doubts about his incredible story, so I checked him out when I arrived at my final destination. He was who he said he was —an artist named Don Heywood– and is included on my list of “wow people I have met.”

They Drained the Lake?

Did I ever tell you about the lake in Boonton? It was located in the hill section of town, and if you are paying attention, you will note I am speaking of it in the past tense.

When I was very young, I would sometimes go swimming there. It was called Sunset Lake, and it had a nice beach and a snack bar. My most vivid memory was going there with a banana-shaped floaty thing that somehow got lost. It was eventually located at a house at the top of Wootton Street, which backed up to the lake. I never knew how it got there nor how I got it back. I guess it will forever be one of those mysteries of life, like why don’t sheep shrink when it rains.

Sometime during the early to mid-sixties, Sunset Lake was drained and replaced with two- family homes, packed tightly into the area where I once swam and others fished. I guess that was called progress.

Why did this happen? I read three theories. One was that the town did not want the liability of a second swimming area (the first was in the river near the area where Santa Land sits today). A second theory was that the town of Boonton refused to pay the owner’s asking price for the lake, and the third thought was that there was more revenue to be gained in taxes by all those new residences.

Whatever the reason, it was very sad. It was a nice recreational spot that is now part of a bygone era. RIP Sunset Lake.

Sunset Lake

I Survived a Dangerous Toothbrushing!

I made a little mistake the other night, and I made Dad promise not to put it out on Facebook even though I admitted it was sort of funny. Actually, it was so funny that I could not stop laughing. I then said, “It can go in my eulogy, just not on Facebook.”  I even told Kelly and Mark, but again, restricted the telling of the tale.

Then I thought, I am not afraid to make fun of myself, but nobody else can unless I initiate the mockery.

Let me first defend myself by reminding you all that my vision is very bad. The error I made was done with my glasses off and my contact lenses removed—and I was tired. Those are all my excuses for what I am going to admit to you.

I decided to try a new toothpaste. It was a whitening toothpaste, and I thought I would give it a try.  It is packaged in a shiny red tube—very attractive. So I grabbed my toothbrush and reached for the shiny red tube. I put plenty of “toothpaste” on my brush and shoved it into my mouth. Remember, this was a new variety to me, and I was visually impaired. I was not thrilled with the flavor, but I continued for a moment more. Then I reached for my glasses. I grabbed the wrong tube. It was not toothpaste I was using. It was generic Bengay!

“Oh, no,” I yelled to Dad after reading the label which warned to “get medical help or call poison control immediately if swallowed.”

Well, I reasoned. I spit but did not really swallow. I decided to do a little late-night research before panicking. I started typing into Google, “Brushed my teeth with,” and before I finished, Google read my mind and finished with “Bengay.” Since my mouth was not on fire, I was not vomiting, having difficulty breathing or feeling lightheaded, I believed my time had not come. I was not committing suicide by ingesting Bengay. Just to be safe, I took the suggestion of rinsing my mouth with water and drinking some milk. But was generic Bengay more toxic? Was a playing a dangerous game by not calling poison control or go to the Emergency Room? I decided to live dangerously.

Fortunately, I did not wake up at the pearly gates, but I learned the lesson to segregate my toothpaste from the Bengay. I suggest the same to all of you.


My Little Publicist

I got a text from Kelly today. She told me that she was looking at the Amazon listing of my book on her phone. Bryce noticed and said, “Wait a second Mommy! I saw Grandma’s book.” She then said “So he is proud of you too.”

That means a lot to me, and I appreciate that she passed that conversation on to me. I am impressed that he noticed. He’s a smart little boy and he remembers everything, so keep that in mind when talking to or in earshot of him. Kids are like that, and never forget that all your conversations can and will be repeated!

The reason he knew about my book was that last week, I showed him the cover and pointed to the photo of twelve year old Grandpa. I said, “That little boy’s name is Martin, just like you.” Remember, Martin is his middle name. He smiled and remembered our conversation when he saw my book on the Internet today.

Perhaps he can be my publicist!

Front Cover- May 2
Grandpa is the boy with the life vest

Thanks for the Help and Encouragement

I would like to thank all of you for putting up with me during the last seven years while I wrote the book about Grandpa. You all had to tolerate me, particularly Dad, while I disappeared into my dark hole of writing and researching while I tried to uncover the details of Grandpa’s life—all stuff I could have learned if only I had sat down and really talked to him years ago.

If I could roll back time, I would ask him how he and his siblings felt when they learned they were moving from New Jersey to Russia. You were unhappy when we moved to North Carolina, so I am sure that gives you an idea how they felt—just so, so much worse.

“Tell me about the trip,” I would ask, now knowing that they traveled on a luxury liner from New York to London.  Then I would ask about the remainder of the trip as they journeyed on a small Finish steamer stopping first at Copenhagen and then Helsinki.

I want to know exactly what the living conditions were like in that apartment that they shared with a Communist party member. I am interested in knowing precisely what it was like to be an American boy growing up in the Soviet Union.

Then I would question him about the long ride home across the Soviet Union on that train. What did he eat, and who did he hang out with on the Trans-Siberian Railway? Was he scared to be returning to New Jersey alone—only twenty-two years old–during a time when much of the world was at war?

I would wrap up the conversation inquiring about all those years trying to get the rest of his family home, and ask if he really spoke with the Secretary of State on the phone. It was clear from the letters I found at the National Archives that Secretary Hull knew Grandpa.

So many unanswered questions that I never asked but spoke about in my book. I wrote it from Grandpa’s perspective to try to put you all in his shoes. I wish he could read it and tell me if I did a good job telling his story.

Now it’s done. It’s out there and I feel proud, relieved, and fearful. It is like the naked dream, because while my book was sitting on my computer, I was safe. Now my words are exposed and that is a scary feeling, but I have no regrets.

I am grateful to your suggestions on what changes to make on each revision. You encouraged me when I had doubts about continuing. You all have busy lives, which makes me all the more thankful for your help.

So it’s available on Kindle now and in paperback tomorrow. (Don’t worry. I will give you each a copy) In a month or so, it will be available online at other booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million.

Do Svidanya Dad- The Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR

The End!