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March 25, 1988 - Image 31

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

FAMILY LIFE

Poughkeepsie Is For Pinching

Sometimes getting back
to your roots
means you have
finally grown up

SHEILA PERLMAN

Special to The Jewish News

bought this non-refund-
able airline ticket, so I guess I have
to go.
When I first got the invitation, it
sounded like a good thing to do. Un-
cle Abe's surprise 70th birthday —
Poughkeepsie, New York; I don't even
know where that is any more. Up-
state, I think. Near the penitentiary.
As the reality of my acceptance of
the invitation takes hold, I find myself
feeling ill. I'm scared to death. For the
first time ever, I will be related to my
estranged kinsmen as an adult. A
grown woman. What a frightening
thought this is for me.
Recollections. Atlantic City, New
Jersey. A family gathering, 1962. I'm
ten years old and everybody else is at
least 100. My cheeks hurt. The aunts
keep pinching me and say, "Smile,
what's the matter, why don't you
smile?" These are not the beautiful
people, not the ones you read about in
storybooks. Everyone looks dumpy.
And everyone's nose is too big. Just
like mine.
At ten years of age, I vowed never
to attend a family gathering again. To
me, these people were all from
another planet. Their language was
a strange mixture of English and Yid-
dish; it felt like I 1? as being placed in
a foreign country without an inter-
preter. What little information I was
able to amass was all about people
dying of the "Big C."
In the years following this fiasco,
I conveniently contracted a suspi-
ciously high temperature the day

before the family events were to take
place. My mom's best friend Syd
would always vounteer to nurse me
while my parents and sisters would
trek off to the Poconos, or the Cat-
skills, or some other ungodly place.
I remember feeling a mountain of
relief as I wistfully waved goodby. My
older sister, Susan, would give me a
dirty look as the car door shut. I think
she was angry because I had
originated the high temperature, and
therefore she couldn't use it. To this
day, I am the only child in my family
without fingernail marks on my
cheeks.
Thinking back, I'm sure my
parents were aware of my intense
dislike for being thrown into family
situations. Eventually they stopped

including me in the invitations, and
I stopped having to pretend illness. To
this day, I have no idea what they told
the relatives about their absent
daughter, but I'm sure it was more
creative than my high temperatures.
My mother recently told me that the
family refers to me as "the sick one."
I find that amusing, since I've never
been ill a day in my life.
I guess I've always felt resentful
of the fact that I have had no choice
in determining what family I was
born to. When I moved out of state, my
friends became my family. And they
never pinched me or told me to smile.
While my family had expectations
about how my life should look, my
friends seemed to accept who I was
without conditions.

So why am I going back? Why am
I throwing myself into an arena with
people whom I have nothing in com-
mon with except for a last name and
a big nose? Why am I choosing to sub-
ject myself to a barrage of ancients
who will undoubtedly want to know
why I'm not smiling?
My personal evolution into adult-
hood has taught me a few things.
First, those expectations the old folks
had for me were probably the primary
motivators in my life. Having people
who expect me to be better than I am
makes me a better person. Knowing
that people love me, no matter what
I do, allows me to love myself a little
more. Knowing that people want
what's best for me, allows me to want
what's best for myself.
I've spent so much of my life
negating that I belong to a family. To
a heritage. To a people. And what it
really comes down to is that knowing
that I belong to a family, to a heritage,
to a people is what makes me respon-
sible to my environment, to my corn-
munity, to mankind.
The truth is that these are my cor-
ner people, just like in a boxing
match. They give me my strength,
and they each have a towel with
which to wipe my brow. If that's what
I want.
So I'm going to Poughkeepsie to
get pinched. By Uncle Abe, and Aunt
Sophie, and Uncle Joe, and so on. And
by the time I get back home I will pro-
bably single-handedly find a cure for
the "Big C." D

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