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scene stealer

I’m in the midst of watching Scenes from a Marriage, the new limited series that examines moments from a fictional marriage (and is based on the classic series by filmmaker Ingmar Bergman). It is intense, emotional, and incredibly dramatic so far.

That having been said, the title itself started me thinking about my marriage to B. and the scenes you might find us in on any given day. Intense? Sometimes (but also intensely funny a lot of the time). Emotional? Sure, but whose marriage doesn’t include those moments. Incredibly dramatic? Only when someone (okay, me) runs a bit amok. To wit:

SCENE – The Kitchen, Middle of the Night

He: (shuffling in, barely awake) What are you doing?

Me: (removing my head from one of the kitchen cabinets) Just trying to find the parchment paper.

He: The what? And why do you need it at 3 a.m.?

Me: I want to make scones for us.

He: For breakfast?

Me: No, for later this afternoon. But I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d get all the ingredients together. (Moving around pots and pans to see if the parchment paper is hiding behind them)

He: (a bit grumpy) You woke me up with all the rattling around.

Me: (head in another cabinet, this time rifling through bottles of extract looking for vanilla) Hmmm – what? Oh, sorry. I didn’t think you’d hear me out here. Let me just find a few more things and then I’ll be done.

He: (checking out the kitchen counter already covered with bowls, cookie sheets, measuring spoons, flour, sugar, etc.) Is all this necessary right now?

Me: (a bit defensive) I thought this would be a creative project for me given that I’ve never baked these before. Don’t you want me to find new creative outlets?

He: Sure, whatever makes you happy. I’m just wondering why it has to make you happy in the middle of the night – can’t it wait until morning? (Looking around, fully awake now, and curious. Uh-oh.) Why do you keep those bowls in that cabinet? Wouldn’t it make more sense if they were closer to the stove?

Me: Because I like the red bowls next to the blue bowls and there’s not enough space in another cabinet.

He: But if you just move a few things around … (proceeding to empty out two cabinets and rearrange them) Isn’t that better?

Me: But now the bowls aren’t near the drawer with the measuring spoons.

He: Okay. (More stuff piling up all around him as he tries to make order of out what’s now quickly becoming chaos) How about now?

Me: Now I don’t know where anything is because you’ve emptied my entire kitchen onto the floor.

He: I’ll sketch out a plan. (Grabs a pad and pen and proceeds to diagram the entire kitchen cabinet and drawer system, indicating what should go where. According to him.)

Me: (looking at the sketch) Nope.

He: What? Why not?

Me: (shrugging) It just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t flow.

He: How can you say that? Everything is close to where it needs to be for maximum efficiency.

Me: But it’s not pretty. It’s just not the way my brain works. I like the red mixing bowls next to the blue mixing bowls with the yellow-and-green salad dishes nearby.

He: But you don’t use them together. I don’t see why –

Me: (stamping my foot because it’s late and now I’m tired) You don’t have to see why – I’m the one who uses them all and I want them the way I want them!

He: But this way is more logical and will make it so much easier!

Me: But it won’t make me happy. (Sniffling) You just don’t understand me.

He: What are you talking about? It’s just a few mixing bowls.

Me: JUST A FEW MIXING BOWLS? Are you minimizing what’s important to me? Forget it, I don’t want to make the scones anymore.

He: (trying hard not to roll his eyes) I think that maybe you’re overreacting here. (Takes one look at me and realizes he’s headed in the wrong direction) No, not overreacting. What I meant to say is that maybe you’re overtired right now and should just try to go back to sleep.

Me: (more sniffles) Now you just think I’m being silly.

He: No, no, I don’t. Really. (Calculating how much more sleep he can realistically get if he wraps it up right now and realizing the answer is zero) I think you’re adorable. And I think you’re tired. And I think this is going to end up in a blog post which, to be honest, would have been a quieter way for you to spend the time in the middle of the night.

Me: (already headed back to bed, trying not to trip over my bunny slippers)

SCENE 2, The Kitchen, Several Hours Later

(B. has replaced everything exactly the way I had it, with all the scone necessities sitting neatly on the counter. Including the parchment paper.)

Me: Aww … thank you for doing all this, honey. And you found the parchment paper! Where was it?

He: In the drawer over there with the the pizza pan and the extra potholders. Why you keep it there, I have no idea. But if it works for you, it works.

Me: (innocently) That’s the drawer with all the stuff starting with “p.”

He: (doing a doubletake) Ri-i-i-i-ght. Okay then. Just one more thing before you head into sconeland.

Me: (eyebrows raised questioningly)

He: You know I don’t like scones, right?

Me: (dumbfounded) I didn’t know that!

He: I guess after nearly 25 years of marriage you really don’t know me, huh?

Scene. And heard.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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leap year

So it seems that I find myself in what I like to call my second act. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision on my part but more as if I woke up one morning and realized hey, it’s time to find my next frontier (right after I find my reading glasses).

I’ve spent my entire, 40-year professional career in the business of writing for advertising and marketing, from the agency side to the client side, from working for others to working for myself. It’s been a rewarding, awarding ride.

The past year-and-a-half, though, has been defining (as in the proverbial wrench thrown into the works) career-wise, as so much of my freelance client work moved and stayed inhouse, changing my landscape. And with the art of print copywriting now more the biz of content blasts, it seems that I’ve reached a crossroads. My previous working life sort of behind me, it’s time to choose my next steps.

In one direction, the dreaded “r” word – retirement. I can’t look at that word without flinching, to be honest (too many parent-generation stereotypes of early-bird specials and leisure suits), even though I realize that so many of my friends have retired from incredibly successful careers into a new chapter. Different, yes, but full and active and meaningful. But the word – uh, no.

In another direction, the a-little-too-pie-in-the-sky-for-me “r” word – reinvention. The pressure of that word is way too much – and besides, I don’t want to change to the point of reinventing my wheel (although it would be nice if the wheel ran a little more smoothly, I’ll admit). So that leaves me, a person who thrives on words, with the task of coming up with a new one to suit this stage of my life (and, as someone who thrives on wordplay, I feel obligated to come up with one that starts with the letter “r”).

And so, the word reimagination. To my mind, it seems like the perfect next step down the creative path – not a retreat, not a reset, not even a restoration. But a realization that doing what I love to do continues now in newly imagined ways. Yes, I’ve moved from writing primarily for business to writing almost exclusively for joy. A first novel (something I never imagined being able to do until I did it last year), an ongoing blog (something I take more pleasure in the more of life I experience), creative non-fiction for magazines (no hard pitches, more like “here’s my heart if you’d like to publish it”) – it’s a different perspective and a different outlook and a different lifestyle. Mostly positive yes, but there’s a challenge involved too.

For me, it’s really difficult to turn off the “gotta work” setting, to give myself permission to evolve completely into reimagination without feeling guilty about it.

No matter how often B. may tell me that I’ve earned this chance to write for the sake of writing, old habits and mindsets are hard to break. And, of course, the idea of accepting the opportunity means that I’ve stepped off the professional merry-go-round I’ve been on for most of my life. The change in motion can be a little dizzying. A little anxiety-provoking. And a little scary.

But here’s the thing. You’ve got to get out of your own way in order to move forward. You’ve got to tell yourself it’s okay to make the change or else you’ll find yourself spinning your wheels in “I don’t deserve this.” And you’ve got to be a little bit brave about leaping into life’s new stage.

Imagine that.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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wait up

Yes, I married a younger man. B. is nine months younger than me. Exactly. Forty weeks to the day. So, theoretically, he was conceived on the day I was born (of course I know it’s not an exact science, but work with me here). I like to think that I entered the world, looked around briefly, and then sent a message through the universe that yup, the coast was clear, and that he should proceed accordingly. And I can’t say that I’ve been all that patient waiting from that time on.

To wit:

I knew from the moment I met him that I would marry B. someday. Him, not so much. Sure, he thought I had great legs (he was a 17-year-old guy) but I had the vision. Although I will admit that even I didn’t realize that it would be 22 years later before we said “I do.” (No, we weren’t dating for all that time – we did stay connected but lived in different parts of the country and had separate lives. It just took the cosmos that long to remember that we were meant to be together. That, and a chance phone call at just the right time.) I came to that conclusion before B. did (just like I was born first) – and, when necessary, I take every opportunity to remind him that I used up all the rest of my patience while waiting (sometimes that argument works, sometimes not, but he still loves my legs).

Then there’s the way we approach certain things. Simply put, I often jump right in first, sometimes without looking. Come on, I think, tapping my foot (figuratively), do we really need to consider every detail? His is a more considered strategy. The result? You know how Winnie the Pooh got that honey jar stuck on his nose and needed help removing it? So okay, maybe I have a checkered history with honey jars – but it comes from reacting with my heart first and going all in instead of waiting for my head to catch up.

The thing about patience is that you’ve got to sit still long enough to let it settle on you. With a non-stop imagination like mine (sometimes a gift, sometimes not) that’s not easy. The same coin that lets my creative mind toy with the infinite wonderful possibilities of “what if?” has, on its other side, my ability to find the infinite “uh-ohs” of that question. Sometimes it’s hard to get to the “sit still” part when there’s that much busyness going on. Yes, patience may be a virtue but fortunately it’s not the only one; otherwise, I’d be left to rely on my adorableness to get by (only kidding, adorableness isn’t a virtue).

And that’s where B. comes in (nine months late, but here, thankfully). He is the metaphorical steadying oar as I splash around causing calamity; his is the calm breathing to my proverbial hyperventilating; he finds the straight path versus my impatient zigging and zagging (and tripping over my feet). He’s my quiet place to fall.

So worth the wait.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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just a second

Like lots of other things that have been made easier with time, the telling of it (of time, that is) has become more convenient and much less of a learned skill. Analog clocks and watches gave way to digital versions gave way to smart devices (making those clocks and watches virtually unnecessary.) But for those of us who grew up telling time as more of a story (“it’s twenty to three” versus “it’s 2:40” or “it’s almost a quarter after eleven” instead of “it’s 11:13”), those timepieces strike more of a chord.

After this last strange, strange (to put it mildly) year-plus, where time just seemed to melt into itself, making every day the same as the one before, my watch is now making its cautious re-entry into the world (just like the rest of us). And while I had been depending on my laptop clock for the occasional update, now I’m looking at my wrist again – the way I have ever since I was a little girl, looking at my very first watch. To wit:

That first one had a pink strap and the beautiful Cinderella (whom else?) on its face. I wore that watch proudly, probably from kindergarten through first or second grade, when it was then relegated to a drawer because I had outgrown its childish design. While I no longer have the band, I do still have the watch – pink hands and all – a reminder of a time when growing up to be Cinderella was my life’s ambition. That and dancing in a pink tutu in the Nutcracker Suite in front of the Queen of England. And winning the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

Flash forward through all kinds of Sixties and Seventies “mod” watches – including those where you could “change the band to match your every outfit or mood!” until we land on the gold-toned “bangle watch” my parents gave me for my bat mitzvah. It was meant for “dressy” occasions and to celebrate that I was moving into young womanhood. But to me it symbolized something different – how many more anguishing minutes I would have to endure being the center of attention in the synagogue and how much longer until I could escape back to the peacefulness of my books.

The years passed – college, a career starting and flowering, my growing into who I was meant to be – and so did a few other watches. When I came out to the West Coast to start my life with B. (after having known each other for a mere 22 years), I bought myself a new watch. A new time in my life was starting, and I wanted to capture every minute, every second. That silvery, cobalt-blue-faced Seiko was my gift to myself, a congratulations for finally finding the right person, the right direction, and the right time to give a piece of my heart away (whom am I kidding – he has my whole heart).

After we got married, I gave B. my late father’s watch – a classic gold tank on a black leather band. I was passing something I loved from a man I adored to this man who means everything to me. It was a beautiful watch and B. wore it for years until it could no longer be repaired. But he still keeps it in a drawer as a reminder of us starting out. (Yes, it shares space with the Cinderella watch – sue me for being sentimental.)

Today I wear a stainless steel bracelet-style watch with a silvery-white face, Roman numerals (talk about a lost art), a tiny date box (too small to read without my glasses), and a second hand (for some reason, I really like that feature). Nothing fancy, but comfortable, comforting in its reliability, and completely at home on my wrist.

Some days I wish I could speed it up, to get past the tough times we’re all facing; most days I wish I could slow it down to savor all the good moments. More and more these days, looking at it actually reminds me to take a breath and take a moment to consider how far I’ve come – before I pick up my pace so that I’m not late for the next thing.

Time travels.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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sneaking around

Okay, I’ll confess — I haven’t worn a pair of high heels in nearly a decade. And the number of times I’ve worn a pair of “regular” shoes can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand (or toes of one foot). I wear Nikes. All. The. Time. No, not the super-duper, athlete-signed, bells-and-whistles versions — but terrific, supportive, adorable ones nonetheless. I love my Nikes (still affectionately known by me sometimes as sneakers, other times as athletic shoes) and my feet love me.

So when we got ready for our recent week-long vacation to northern California, my Nikes, of course, were ready to go too. And because we pack smart – that is, not over pack – the only footwear I took was the pair on my feet. Besides, why would I need a second pair?

As he is wont to do before we go anywhere that might require tons of walking (e.g., from city streets to Muir Woods), B. suggested that I check that the bottoms had enough tread left on them to ensure I wouldn’t slip. I laughed him off. I’d been wearing them every day (for longer than I’d thought, as it would turn out, in these days when everything tends to blur together); they were perfectly broken in; what did he think could possibly happen? (The fact that this pair wasn’t the usual sturdier Air Max running-shoe style I usually wear but more of a walking style never entered my mind.)

There we were, taking an after-dinner stroll around a small town in California wine country, somewhere between LA and San Francisco, when it happened. My right heel suddenly sank into the pavement with a squish. And continued to do so with each step. A collapsed Achilles tendon, my overactive imagination wondered? Not likely, given that, although I wear Nikes, there is nothing athletic about me. (Oh, yeah, and that there was no pain involved. Duh.)

Sitting down on a nearby bench, we inspected the bottom of my sneaker and discovered the problem. The small, cushioned air bubble at the heel had gone flat. Deflated. Hollow. I’d had a shoe blowout. Uh-oh.

What to do? We walked (B. walked, I squished) back to our hotel, but clearly that was the extent of how far these shoes would take me. I was off-balance, off-kilter, and off to flush my head down the toilet at the thought of actually having to spend any of our vacation time shopping for a new pair. When my brilliant husband said, “Hey, it’s 8:00 – how late are stores open?” I thought he was kidding. “Usually until about 9,” I answered glumly, wondering where he thought we were going to find a store that sold Nikes – or any brand of running shoes – anywhere in the vicinity at this late hour.

Suddenly the setting sun shone a ray of light (I kid you not) on a building just down the hill from where our car was parked. A building that was part of a shopping center. A building with a sign that glowed “Kohl’s.” As in Kohl’s, the department store.

Me: (Shouting) Look, it’s a sign from the universe! (Hobbling off as fast as my squished sneaker would let me)

He: Sweetie – ?

Me: (Impatient) Come on, they’re probably closing soon!

He: Honey –

Me: WHAT?

He: Get in the car, it’s easier.

Me: Oh.

And so my sweetheart of a husband, who hates nothing more than shopping, whisked me off to a department store while on vacation.

And that’s when all hell broke loose.

We now had 45 minutes before the store closed – so my take-no-prisoners shopper instinct kicked in.

Upon reaching the shoe department and locating the selection of Nikes (yay! they had about 15 different styles), I proceeded to pull out every box in every style in my size.

He: Slow down. You’re pulling out styles that don’t even make sense. You have to look at the display shoes on the shelf and then only pull the boxes under the shoes you want.

Me: Tried that! (breaking a sweat while trying to get around him) But they’re all mixed up. Hurry! Just pull all of them in my size!

He: That’s not logical – maybe try to calm down. (Opening a box for me) Here, try these. They’re Air Max, the kind you like. They look like they’ve got good support. And there’s some pink on them, you love pink.

Me: (Head spinning around Exorcist style, grabbing the box from him while shoving my feet into another pair) Good, good, that’s good – keep ’em coming!

He: Honey, you really need to take a breath. We’ll find a pair, I promise. But throwing all these boxes around isn’t –

Me: (wild-eyed) Really?! I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation. We’ve got to find a pair RIGHT NOW!

He: (Offering up another choice while trying to sort out the mayhem I’ve created in the shoe aisle. And while trying to ignore the stares of fellow shoppers who have obviously never seen a neurotic former New Yorker in a shopping frenzy) What about these? Also Air Max. And they come in three different colors.

Me: (Close to hyperventilating) STOP LOOKING! This is the one – the pair you brought me before with the pink. I love these! (Attempting to get them on but getting tangled up in trying to loosen the laces)

He: Okay, it’s okay. I’ve got you. (Loosening laces and slipping the shoe on my foot à la Prince Charming) There you go. Take a walk in them.

Me: (Breathing calming down and spirits rising) Hey, these feel really good.

He: Done!

Me: See, I told you we’d find a pair tonight. Piece of cake.

He: (Staying quiet because, after 24 years of marriage, the man knows how to read the room. Sometimes.)

Sole mates.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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nonsense of direction

You know how the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz isn’t great on giving directions? “That way is a very nice way,” he says, pointing in one direction, but “it’s pleasant down that way too,” he adds, pointing the opposite way. Yup, that’s kind of me. Which is why, on B.’s and my road trips, putting the map in my hands is never a great idea.

Maps? You still use maps? We do. Sure, GPS is state-of-the art. But it has none of the magic, the on-the-road promise of adventure, or the colorful patterns and curious names you’ll find on a map. B. can spend hours plotting out a trip, poring over the details, and finding at least three ways of getting from here to there. He has an almost instinctual knowledge of which way we’re heading at any given time. Me, not so much. But I do love the possibilities a map offers. And I am always in awe of the fact that someone actually created the map – without using a map.

Yet “maps and me” is a relationship fraught with caution warnings and orange traffic cones. To wit:

Full-size, foldout maps are the bane of my existence. I never seem to be able to control them. Just when I think I’ve folded one down to the exact piece of road we’re traveling on, it turns out that we passed that spot about 20 minutes earlier (like the time I was trying to find our location in New Mexico and we were already in Colorado). Unfolding and refolding only leads to a paper cut or two (sometimes resulting in a spot of blood that I mistake for a town), accented by some choice language that eats up another few miles.

Once I do finally manage to find our location (usually pointed out to me by B. when we stop for gas), continuing to read and follow the map is like going the wrong way on a one-way street – I need reading glasses to see the map clearly, but I also need sunglasses because of the glare. So yes, I have actually had to don my sunglasses over my readers (the ultimate in road-trip geek chic). Not only do I look like a deer caught in the headlights, but wearing both pairs of glasses at the same time puts undue pressure on my allergy-ridden sinuses (while generating undue snickers from B.).

And, while I theoretically can follow the map’s details thanks to wearing both pairs of glasses, I can’t focus. Because reading while riding in a car makes me queasy. Between the sinus headache and the motion sickness, I feel so awful that figuring out which way we’re headed is no longer of any interest to me. I’m sure that I am headed straight to hell.

What usually happens next is that a) we stop to buy me some ginger ale, b) B. pores over the map and memorizes what he needs to know, and c) I get “promoted” to exit patrol, i.e., “Let me know when you see signs for exit 29.” (I can do that.)

My last confrontation with the map is trying to fold it back to its original state when the trip is over. All I can say is that it’s not pretty — I end up rumpled; the map, crumpled. Score: map, one; moi, zero.

The alternative? Don’t even get me started on Ms. GPS and her know-it-all tone of voice. I don’t need her to tell me we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Time for a latitude adjustment.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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so this chicken walks into a bar

Chickens have little to fear from me. I won’t order them (nor will I order them around). I will not eat them in a sub, I will not eat them in a tub. Just no. Basically, I’m a chicken-friendly zone unlike, say, Buffalo. Or so I thought.

To wit:

One of B.’s and my habits during the summer is to play dinner by ear. No real plans, no menu carefully thought out beforehand, no big deal. Sometimes it’s a bowl of Cheerios. Or ice cream. Or Cheerios over ice cream.

The other evening though, we actually decided to act like responsible adults and think ahead to what the future of our dinner life might look like. We opted for takeout with a pizza, a meatball parm hero, and two salads (no three-bean combo, no onions) from our usual place, figuring that that would work for dinner, the next day’s lunch, and dinner again (maybe with a slice or two left over for an impromptu breakfast).

We fell into our usual pattern, my calling in the order and B. dropping me off outside the pizza place (because there’s no parking on the city street) and driving around the block a couple of times while I went inside to pick it up. (Driving around this block frequently entails our circling the movie studios where you never know what – or whom – you’ll see).

The aromas in the restaurant were so enticing that I felt like grabbing a slice out of the box right there and then. That might have made all the difference in what was to come. But no, I carried the pizza box and the bags of food outside and waited impatiently for B. to come get me.

It was hot and the order was getting really heavy – a lot heavier than usual. Curious, given that we’d placed this exact order many times before and I’d never noticed the weight.

At long last my knight in shining armor pulled up, but this damsel was in no mood to be charmed. Distress ensued. With the trunk popped open, I needed to balance my carefully piled food in one hand while pulling the trunk fully open with the other. A precarious balancing act if ever there was one, particularly since I was trying to avoid having my foot run over by the stream of too-avid cyclists riding by at just that moment.

Finally, I got the food settled inside – not without the pizza almost ending up mozzarella side down – and myself settled in the car. Now I was tired and hot on top of being hungry. Not a good look for me.

He: You missed some cool stuff at the studios.

Me: Uh-huh.

He: It looked like they were getting ready for something really big. All these trailers and tons of crew. Maybe they’re shooting that movie we –

Me: (not in the mood to hear it) Right.

He: What?

Me: Are you kidding? (deep breath) You want to talk about how you were enjoying watching studio stuff from the air-conditioned car while I was standing in the heat waiting for you for like half an hour while holding a ton of food?

He: It was only a few minutes.

Me: (after looking at the car clock and realizing I had only been waiting about five minutes) That’s not the point. It weighs a TON.

He: (insisting on being logical) It can’t weigh that much – it’s just a pizza, a sandwich, a couple of –

Me: Really?! You’re going to estimate how much each item weighs?

He: But I –

Me: Shut up or the pizza gets it.

A pause, then:

He: Are you sure you ordered the right things? Because it smells different.

Me: (agitation setting in) Are. You. Sure. You. Want. To. Continue. This. Conversation?

End of conversation.

Once we got home B. grabbed the items out of the trunk and conceded, “You were right – these are heavy.” Imagine that. Having passed beyond-hunger in the rear view mirror awhile ago, we both knew it was time to feed me. Fast.

Or not so fast. Because instead of a large cheese pizza, it turned out that our takeout included an extra-large pizza covered with ham and pineapple with a few olives scattered on top (come on, that’s just such an affront). Instead of two plain garden salads – please hold anything that might resemble a bean or an onion, I’d asked – three salads fully loaded. And – ta da! – instead of one meatball parm sub (half of which I had been fantasizing about for my dinner), two containers (one pound each) of – wait for it – Buffalo chicken wings (ah, the fragrance issue solved). Have I mentioned that I don’t eat chicken?

By this point, I had broken into the Cheerios. The idea of driving back to the restaurant was just too unappealing (almost as unappealing as those wings), but I called anyway, hoping for some kind of credit toward our next order (which I would check completely before leaving there, believe me).

Surprise. Realizing their mistake, the staff couldn’t have been nicer. They delivered our correct order within 15 minutes (you mean they deliver?!).

So to answer the age-old question of why the chicken crossed the road, it wasn’t to get away from me. I’ll venture a guess that in this instance it was to audition for a part as an extra (not crispy) in that new picture.

The plot chickens.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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going dutch

Note: I love to write about strong women. This essay, published in its original form in Victoria Magazine in June 2018, is about my grandmother, who had the courage to come to this country from Eastern Europe a century ago – and about the love story that accompanied her here.

My grandmother, Mollie, was the perfect image of what grandmothers used to look like – a plump, silver-haired woman, face lined with life, apron tied around her middle, baking up delicious treats from scratch. She styled her wavy hair in a roll at the back, always wore dresses, and often went visiting in her big-collared, blue-grey coat and hats with tiny veils. Her only jewelry was a beautiful gold wedding band, an heirloom sapphire and diamond “cocktail” ring (for “special” occasions), and a heart-shaped, sterling silver pin.

Growing up, I saw that pin almost daily on her dresses or her coat, so much so that I began to equate it with her.

My grandmother’s story was not unlike that of many other women of that time. She left Poland in 1920 to follow her husband to the United States in search of a better life. My grandfather had gone to New York seven years earlier, leaving my grandmother and their baby girl behind until he made enough money to send for them. It had taken a long time, but he finally booked passage for my grandmother and their daughter, who was now eight years old, on the Rijndam I, a ship of Dutch registry sailing out of Rotterdam, Holland.

And so, knowing not a single word of English, my grandmother arrived at Ellis Island, holding her daughter (my aunt) tightly by the hand and scanning the crowds for my grandfather. 

When a stranger approached and tried to take her arm to lead her away with him, she pulled back, aghast. “I don’t know you!” she insisted in Yiddish, her voice raised. “I won’t go with you – you’re not my husband!” The customs officials rushed over to calm everyone down. “This is not my Max,” she said firmly. “When my Max left seven years ago he was young and strong, with a full head of hair. Not like this old man standing here. I don’t know who this person is!”

“Malkala, Malkala,” the stranger said softly, trying to soothe her. “Don’t you know me? I’m Max, your husband.”

At the sound of my grandfather’s affectionate name for her, my grandmother’s eyes got big, her face pale. “Max?” she whispered. “What happened to you?”

My grandfather’s eyes welled up. “It’s been seven long years, Malkala,” he said gently, “and my heart was missing you.”

It had also been seven years of backbreaking work and of saving every penny to bring his family to America, and time had taken its toll. My grandfather was now a bit stooped over, losing his hair, his face creased, his young-man muscles gone soft. But the eyes – those blue eyes that had wooed my grandmother and showed up in my aunt’s little face – those were the same.

And so my grandparents were reunited, my aunt meeting her father again for the first time. But that wasn’t the end of the surprises.

Once they got home to the tiny apartment my grandfather had found for them, he took a little pouch from his pocket. “For you, Malkala,” he said. “My heart.”

From inside the pouch, my grandmother pulled out a little silver heart-shaped pin of a Dutch boy and girl, the boy offering the girl a bunch of tulips as they kissed. A Dutch ship had brought my grandfather back his heart and the loves of his life – and he would never forget it. Nor would she.

I inherited that pin (I also inherited my grandmother’s fondness for a good romantic story and for a beautiful bunch of tulips). And whenever I polish it (old silver needs extra care) I am struck by how, despite the passage of time, it always returns to its original soft glow.

Just like true love. Dutch treat.

©2017 and 2021 Claudia Grossman

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mad for words

There are words that have moved mountains, moved hearts and minds, moved the world forward. Noble, majestic words that have changed our lives for the better.

This post is not about those words. It is, however, about words that are clever, compelling, and impactful in their own right. The words of exceptional advertising.

When it comes to the language of advertising, here are three of the best lines I know, each classic, each iconic, and each a brilliant example of the power of the write words. The proof? We’re still talking about them today.

Because I’m worth it. Never underestimate the power of a new tube of lipstick to potentially make a woman feel better about her day – and never underestimate the power of L’Oréal’s ground-breaking “because I’m worth it” campaign, which first debuted in the 1970s for its hair color line, to have made a woman feel that she deserved the best. That she had earned her place in the spotlight. And that her possibilities were endless – all the way up through that glass ceiling. Kiss, kiss.

Think small. In a world where bigger cars meant better cars (and, in that vein, a better life perhaps), Volkswagen had the temerity in the 1960s to attempt to sell its VW Beetle by encouraging consumers to “think small.” It was a flabbergasting, fantastic, fabulous line that went against everything anyone had ever been taught about being a success. But thinking small was really thinking big – is there anyone on earth who hasn’t heard of the Beetle, even today? Now that’s a big deal.

Just do it. Nike’s mantra for that moment when whatever it is you’re trying to achieve seems just a few steps too far. Its anthem for everyone from extraordinary champions to ordinary folks trying to champion their own cause; from the multi-million-dollar endorsers who have gone beyond their wildest dreams to the multiple millions who dream in much smaller increments; from those who have achieved the impossible to those to whom the possible is a challenge everyday. Just do it is just perfect.

Good advertising sells. But great advertising sells an image, an ideal, an inspiration.

Required reading.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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sandcastles on the cape

Note: My essay (below) was originally published in Victoria Magazine in June of 2017; Father’s Day seems like a wonderful time to share it again.

As a little girl, nothing seems quite as large as the ocean, and no hero quite as large as Daddy. For me, no joy seemed greater than summers shared with my father on Cape Cod.

The Cape is part of the canvas of memories that I have been subconsciously painting since childhood. In her later years, my mother revealed that I was conceived there one summer, and that has always felt particularly right to me, a validation of my attachment to this long-ago place.

To this day, whenever I hear its name, I can’t help but recall those childhood summers – the feel of the salty air on my sunburned skin, the grey-pink of seashells found on the edge of the ocean, and the warmth of my father’s hand as we walked the shoreline, my taking two running steps to keep up with each of his single ones.

Summers on Cape Cod were where my father taught me about what was important in life, although to me it felt more like play than life lessons. Only later did I realize that what I had thought were hours spent merely learning to build sandcastles (my dad had wanted to be an architect at one point in his youth and his were the best sandcastles on the beach) were actually hours spent learning to build the foundation of a good life. A life of integrity and fairness, generosity and principles. A life of love.

A city boy all his life, my father loved the quiet rurality of the Cape and the time it gave him to relax and dream about the future. There were his children’s big life moments to look forward to. The plans of how he and my mother would have all the time in the world to travel once he retired. The uninterrupted hours he would have to paint. And the dream of making our Cape Cod rental cottage their own.

Every summer that we returned to that cottage, it felt as if we had never left. The scent of cedar, the feel of cozy rugs under my bare feet, the worn but comfortable rocker in front of the fire – it all welcomed us back. It was almost as if we had just gone out for a walk into town for homemade frozen custard instead of having been gone for an entire year.

My favorite times were the hours my family spent on the beach – and it wouldn’t take long for me to lure my dad away from his newspaper so that we could build one of his famous sandcastles, race down the shoreline with a kite, or venture into the ocean.

The funny thing was that although I was terribly afraid of the ocean, my fear disappeared when I was with my dad. For those few minutes when he would lift me high above the waves and then splash me back down, I knew complete trust, faith, and love. Nothing could hurt me as long as he was there – he was the hero of my heart.

But just as those beautifully etched summers on the Cape went by too quickly, my father’s life ended suddenly and much, much too soon – and my life was out of focus. The hero I had thought was invincible clearly was not. There would be no shared college graduation moment; not enough time for him to meet my future husband; no golden years with my mom, his forever bride.

But my father’s lessons, his love, and his legacy live on. I think of him – and his hopes for me – each time I glance at the jar of seashells that has been sitting on my desk all these years.

And although B. and I live on the “other coast,” the lure of Cape Cod is always strong in the summer. One year perhaps we’ll make the journey back. There are sandcastles yet to be built.

©2016 and 2021 Claudia Grossman

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