License to Kvell
By Joel Samberg
(Author's note: There are many Yiddish words sprinkled throughout these essays. They would likely be italicized in other literary venues, but they aren't here because, as some of the pieces describe, they are an integral part of our lives and culture, and as such I decided to make them as common as every English word. Also, some of the spellings may differ from what you're used to, but you'll still know what the words are, what they mean and how to pronounce them. Anyone who complains about it is a schmuck.)
The Maternal Oy
I heard my mother say "Oy" the other day when she walked into my kitchen. I had no idea what she was oying about, but I knew it must be serious because her oys are few and far between, reserved only for those times when something really oyish deserves a strong maternal oy.
I was confused. It was a beautiful day. Everyone was getting along.
So I had to take her oy seriously. Even though oy is not in my Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary and is automatically underlined by Microsoft Word as being misspelled, I've always known what it meant. I grew up with it. It's part of me. I inherited it, like high cholesterol and an under-active thyroid. I'm sure it's the same for many of you. It's the kind of word that's just part of the wonderfully expressive world of Jewish words, along with vey iz mir, shep nachas and kinahura. You just know what they mean, even if you've never been formally taught. Magnificent, vivid, often comforting words.
Oy is one of the less comforting ones, however, simply because it can be used to follow anything from "Honey, the mortgage check bounced," to "Dad, I left my laptop on the plane."
The oy in question occurred just as my mother and my wife Bonnie walked into the kitchen together. There hadn't been any issues between them that could have created an oy situation. Bonnie was building her own custom cake business and was very excited about it. So that was far from an oy situation. None of our kids had unnaturally colored hair, tattoos or ungodly piercings. So what could it be?
It was the mystery of mysteries, and for the first time in a long time I was scared to walk into my own kitchen. But I was the man of the house, and everyone inside was my responsibility. So if there was an oy situation in the kitchen, it was my duty to go in there and check it out. I'd have to be a mensch.
Earlier that morning, before my mother had arrived, Bonnie began preparing several special cakes for new customers. The cakes, still unadorned, were in the refrigerator, but on the kitchen table, laid out on trays, were the individual design elements that would later be affixed to the cakes-all crafted by hand out of fondant and gum paste. Lots of them. Smooth and glistening. Most of the cakes were for religious confirmations, and what my mother saw splayed all over my kitchen table were dozens of large, robust, pink and white crucifixes.
So that's what prompted the scary maternal oy. But at least it was a sweet one.
There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the coming of the rapture, and it made me think back to something my daughter Celia said when she was a little girl. (True story, as are all the essays in this book).
I was at the Chang-An restaurant in Avon, CT the other night picking up some Chinese kreplach (steamed vegetable dumplings) and grabbed one of those 'alternative' newspapers that they have on the windowsill. I'm always looking for editorial outlets, although this particular paper was not necessarily one with which I'd like to be professionally associated, what with its picture ads for more-than-just-massages and its no-holds-barred sexual advice columns. Flipping through, I stumbled upon the Personals section and scanned it just for fun. You never know when something will trigger an article idea.
The other day I had to decide which of four important things to do right away:
1) Pay some long-overdue bills.
2) Catch a chipmunk that had somehow gotten in my basement.
3) Get the car ready to pick my son up at college later in the day.
4) Watch a musical.
These are just a few excerpts from the author's new e-book. For more, contact the author, Joel Samberg, at JoeltheWriter@Comcast.net.
Visit his website at http://JoeltheWriter.com.
To order copies of his print books and e-books, go to Amazon.com and type his name into the search bar:
from the April 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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