Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My Puffy Coat, or, A Prince Among Men

This is a very personal good deed story, but it totally made my day/week/month so I thought I would share it.

First of all, as my people know, I'm always freezing, and I hate, hate, hate winter. I like it well enough if I'm in a snuggly robe and slippers, sipping tea and looking out the window at a snowy landscape; or swathed in long undies and a down jacket and zipping down a ski trail; but schlepping back and forth to work in the icy wind and sleet seriously brings me down.

I have many different coats, but none of them is really warm enough for New York walking around winters. Fernando has been shaking his head in dismay at me for months as we've tromped around Soho, because I am usually tense, shivering, and clutching my lapels around my throat while my teeth chatter like a tap dancer. I've really been miserable.

He decided to look for a long down coat with a hood for my early birthday present, and found one we both liked on the Lands End web site. It came in black and also a pretty burgundy color, and looked very, very warm. I preferred the burgundy, so he ordered it, and voila! a few days later, a big box arrived at my desk! I opened it with glee!

Alas! I nearly threw my back out recoiling in horror from what I saw in the box. It was HOT PINK - I mean HOT!!! PINK!!! and huge! I put it on and realized I looked like a raspberry version of Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka - you know, the girl who blows up into a giant blueberry? You should have seen the looks of shock and terror on the faces of my coworkers when I tried it on... and when Fernando came to see it, I could tell that he was struggling not to collapse into hysterical laughter. We folded it up grimly, and sent it back. No. No way. I'd rather freeze.

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to go shopping at a mall, so he insisted that we go try on some more coats. Black ones. Ones that didn't make me look like a barn door or a sack of potatoes. We found many - but the ones that fit me were either too skimpy insulation-wise, or they didn't have a hood, or the hood was festooned with lots of fuzzy fake fur that tickled my nose and obscured my vision and made me sneeze and scrub at my face. Finally we gave up and went to get a beer and some hot wings.

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King day, we planned to spend the day painting our new apartment. Again. (We're really so very tired of painting.) I was waiting for Fernando to show up so that we could get started, and wondering where on earth he was, because normally he is the most punctual man on earth (oh, the irony!- that he is marrying me of all people!) Finally he came up the stairs and cheerfully tossed me a bag from Paragon Sports. It seems he had made his way from Brooklyn into the city in the morning, gone to a sporting goods store, found the perfect coat for me, chosen the exact right size, and spent a fortune on it. Then he took the train to my house in Queens to spend the day working hard on our new home with me.

Thank you, darling.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fabulous Grandmothers

I recently had lunch with my dear friend Jill, a fellow Omaha transplant in New York (how I met her is a whole nother wonderful tale - thank you Thomas!) . We enjoyed a fantastic lunch at Balthazar, which, though appallingly trendy, is just a spectacularly wonderful French bistro in Soho. Off topic, but I highly recommend it! Actually, their chef does a very good deed every time he makes those pork medallions with polenta... but... I digress.

Anyway, over lunch my friend Jill and I were discussing our holiday plans, and I told her about how much I was looking forward to seeing my wonderful grandmother in Omaha.

My Gramma Peg is 87 and is a complete superstar. She is beautiful, wise, funny as hell, strong, generous, practical, loving, and immensely charming; basically, along with my mother, she is one of the heroines of my life. She is passionately anti-war, and spends her time and considerable energy running around protesting the war, handing out leaflets at college campuses, getting herself arrested at Strategic Air Command, and organizing the various religious leaders in Omaha for peace prayer services. She and my mother (who was 73 at the time) spent the millenium New Year's Eve protesting for peace at the Nevada nuclear test site, and sleeping on a high school gym floor in sleeping bags. In addition, she manages to keep track of her immense family, including a gazillion grandchildren and great-grandchildren; my son receives a funny, loving, handwritten note from her on his birthday every year, and I don't know how she does it. She came to the family Christmas party this year beaming, wearing a red apron, a Christmas tree hat and a natty tie festooned with blinking green and red lights. She is AWESOME.

Her whole life is a good deed!

So I was raving to Jill about Gramma Peg, and she laughed and said "Your grandmother should meet MY grandmother!" -- and she proceeded to tell me her grandmother's story.

Jill's grandmother worked for many years at Boys Town, which I grew up thinking of as the home for "wayward youth" in Omaha. Their website describes the place as "offering help, hope, and healing to abused, abandoned, neglected, handicapped or otherwise troubled children throughout America."

Wow. I'm going to paste that again.

Offers help, hope, and healing to abused, abandoned, neglected, handicapped or otherwise troubled children throughout America.

Talk about a good deed!

So anyway, Jill's grandmother wanted to work there, but worried that they might not hire her because of her age. She was in her seventies, but no one would guess that, so - she fudged her age a bit on her application. She was hired and spent many years as the assistant to the director. She was the person who welcomed the new, scared, defiant, lonely, chip-on-the-shoulder kids who were shipped there as a last resort from all over the country. When they arrived at the Boys Town campus amidst the cornfields outside of Omaha, most of them had nothing but the clothes on their backs.

So Jill's grandmother had the idea that Boys Town should have a "store" for these kids. In fact, she was determined that they would. She went to local retailers, wouldn't take no for an answer, and obtained promises of continuous donations of new clothes, backpacks, school supplies, and toiletries. From then on every kid at Boys Town could "shop" for what they needed in her store, free of charge, and also (maybe more significantly) recieve her kind, loving attention and solicitude. She became the unofficial and beloved "grandma" of the school.

Many years later, Jill's grandmother decided to retire from her position as the director's assistant. Her colleagues were shocked to hear that she was actually in her eighties, not her late sixties as they had thought! However, she couldn't bear to give up the Store, so she still runs around getting businesses to donate money and goods, and still gets to help the kids pick out their things. Jill's fabulous grandmother is also 87, like my fabulous grandmother.

Our grandmothers really should meet each other; maybe they already have. I'm just profoundly glad that they exist. I've been blinking back tears as I've been writing this, simply overwhelmed by the majesty and courage of lives so well lived. I'm deeply grateful to be able to witness women like this. I hope I can be half as cool.

Happy New Year to all our readers! Let me know if you have a fabulous grandmother too.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Least of Our Brethren

Denise, one of my co-workers, and her partner have recently become foster parents in New Jersey. They have enthusiastically opened their arms, their home and their pocketbooks to a series of profoundly disadvantaged and ill infants.

Many of our colleagues have taken an interest, and since we work in a children's book company, it's been easy and fun to be on the lookout for freebies to bestow upon her.

When I got back from Christmas vacation yesterday, Denise told me about their new charge, a drug addicted infant whose mother is unable to care for her. Denise's eyes glowed with joy as she told me, beaming, how much more wonderful Christmas was when they had a little one to share it with.

Her generosity, selflessnness, open mind and kind heart leave me speechless with admiration. I'm so grateful that someone like Denise is providing safety and affection (however briefly) to these poor children, against whom the deck is stacked so drastically.