Early this morning, something I haven’t thought about in years floated up out of the vasty deeps within and refused to go away.  Don’t ask me why, or why now, because I haven’t  a clue.

It was the case of “I. de S. and Wife.”

This was the very first tort case ever reported in Anglo-American case law, and the first case I read when I went to law school at the ripe age of 51.  I think “I.” stood for “Isaac.”  I’m not sure where “S.” was. Surrey? Suffolk? Salisbury?  Maybe a friend across the pond can help us out here?

[ Glossary of terms. Consult as needed.]

  • Anglo-American law.”  American law derives from English law.  No big surprise. We were English colonies before we went off on our own.  English law was all there was. Moreover, the law is thrifty; it keeps everything that gets decided, and builds on it.  Even after a revolution. “Stare decisis” (it stands decided) — if you want to use fancy words.
  • Case law.”  Also known as bench-made law. Or common law. (In contrast to law enacted by legislatures.) What judges decide after all the factual evidence is in, and after they’ve considered all the relevant case law that came before.
  • Tort.”  Not a misspelled Austrian pastry.  A branch of civil law having to do with various kinds of intentional or negligent harm people inflict each other (excluding breach of contract, which is part of contract law ) — for which there may be financial compensation.
  • Civil law.”  Not criminal law.  No jail time.  No executions.  Can get expensive, though.

Ouch.  Yes, I know it hurts.  But how can I tell you about I. and his wife, who both lived in S. at the very beginning of the 13th century, without the vocabulary?  Anyhow, that ‘s all out of the way now. Onward!

As I  recall — and it’s been a long time, so some of the details may be fuzzy — I. was a tavern keeper.  After he had shut up shop for the night, there was loud and horrid caterwauling in the street below the window.  The wife of I. — nameless for eternity — looked out, and became afeared.  (Tr., She was frightened.)  I.  went to court. He brought suit. He prevailed.

The judges decided there had been an assault.  Even though the guy in the street hadn’t actually touched anyone.  It was the first actionable tort!  Assault:  any intentional act or conduct which  creates in another person a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm.  Stare decisis.

Significant words that will be on the test:  (1) intentional; (2) reasonable; (3) imminent; (4) bodily.   But never mind that.

What was really significant — to me and all the other women in the class, which was 50% of us — was I.’s wife.  Because she was so in-significant.  She had no name.   She had no right to bring her own complaint. (I. had to do it instead.)  In the eyes of the law she was not a person, and therefore had no injury.  She was his appendage, his property, his chattel.  Frightening her  — by inflicting reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm — was an injury to him.

Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? Thank goodness we’re not living then!

Not so fast.   As recently as the mid-twentieth century (when I was in college), a wife in some states still couldn’t sue her husband — except, under certain limited circumstances, for divorce.  If the brakes on his parked car failed, and the car rolled down the driveway and hit her as she was coming in from the street with the groceries — she couldn’t make a claim against his insurance company.

Why not? Because of the time-honored legal doctrine of marital harmony, with which the courts  — and the insurance company —  chose not to interfere.  Man and wife were one flesh, went the reasoning. So how could a man (or his insurer) pay himself for hurting his own flesh?

Flash forward to a few days ago when, blog-browsing, I came across a really adorable young man.  He’s twenty-five, and still unmarried, but he’s writing posts about what he’ll tell his future daughter(s), and what he’ll tell his future son(s) — most of both of which I really like.  So I clicked “like.”

But he also wrote a sweet and loving post to his future wife, whom he hasn’t met yet, in which he promises to go out in the world to work for her, and take care of her, and always consider her in all his decision-making for the two of them. I know he means well, but I  couldn’t click “like.”  Why can’t she  — the future wife — also go out in the world, and take care of him, and always consider him in all their decision-making for the two of them?

My ambivalence about traditional “wife”-dom is perhaps surprising in someone for whom being married has been such a central preoccupation over the years.  I used to say I couldn’t leave a husband till I had a shrink, and I couldn’t leave a shrink till I had a husband.  And that was the story of my life, until Bill.  Bill has broken that pattern for me by being both a shrink (now nearly retired) and someone who’s stuck around, unmarried, for almost thirteen years while agreeing that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

I guess he’s my common-law husband. And I’m his common-law wife.  [See glossary, above.]  Not quite a wife, but almost. Works for him, works for us, works for me.


Brisket for Thanksgiving!

(One-third eaten, two-thirds to go.)


from The Jewish Festival Cookbook by Fannie Engle and Gertrude Blair

(as modified by me)

What you need:

  • 3 to 3 1/2 pounds beef brisket, first-cut
  • salt and pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 to 4 large yellow onions, sliced thin
  • chopped garlic, as much as you like (out of a jar is fine)
  • 2 cups of canned diced tomatoes

What you do:

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees
  • Brown meat in half the olive oil in heavy roasting pot or cast-iron pan, four minutes each side
  • Remove meat to platter and brown garlic and sliced onions in same pan with rest of olive oil for about fifteen minutes
  • Return meat to pot, cover with sliced onions, season with salt and pepper
  • Pour diced tomatoes over everything
  • Cover pot and bake for three to three and half hours, until fork tender
  • Let cool, remove meat and sauce, refrigerate both overnight
  • The next day, slice meat, add three tablespoons of water to sauce, and pour sauce over the slices
  • Heat at 350 degrees for about half an hour
  • Serve and enjoy


Six servings for hearty eaters, eight servings for picky eaters.

Good with garlicky mashed potatoes and haricots verts (very thin green beans).

Also good with anything you come up with.  Let us know.



This post was one of the three favorites — both with me and the teeny part of the blogosphere aware that I existed — from the blog with which I timorously entered the world of blogging.  (“Learning to Blog” it was called.)  Lucky you!  Another chance to look at it again (or not), thanks to a lovely lady named Natalie. She asked for a photo of my cat Sasha, about whom I’ve written.  I suggested she might want to go back to this post, which features photos of all the cats Bill and I have ever owned together.  “Oh please re-blog it!” she typed.

Normally, I might not, just because someone asked.  I often feel I re-blog too much as it is.  But in about three weeks, Natalie is going to have her knee replaced, and I bet she’s feeling a little scared. Think of a piece of you being removed for good, and maybe you can imagine what I’m talking about.  Having had a hip replaced myself about five years ago, I know that after some post-surgical physical therapy, Natalie’s new knee is going to be so much better than the old one she’ll wonder why she waited so long.  However, right now she’s hobbling painfully on what she’s got. So while she’s hurting and maybe still slightly nervous despite the assurances of her doctors, let’s give her something to take her mind off all that.

Without more ado, I therefore present for your viewing pleasure — ta-da! — (re-blogged from myself):


The Tale (with photos) of Rudi the Cat

Once upon a time, my daughter-in-law — who is a very sophisticated and accomplished woman — saw a little mouse in the kitchen of the New York apartment in which she was living with my son and their two young children. “I never knew she could get so upset about anything so small,” said my son. “She’s insisting we get a cat.” My daughter-in-law has a British mother and a Scottish grandmother and fond memories of British shorthairs. So she didn’t want just any cat. British shorthairs are housecats, expensive ones. As a rule, they’re not allowed to go out and get lost.  My son therefore had to scout for shelter British shorthairs — a breed none of us, except my daughter-in-law, had ever heard of — with the persistence of Churchill. (“We shall never surrender!”) And lo and behold a miracle!  He found three-year-old Max.  I will skip the part about where Max came from, as this is not his story. But let me assure you that no mouse was ever seen in that  Park Avenue kitchen again!


Max, a good eater.

When we came from Princeton for a visit and saw Max, the man I live with fell in love.  I myself thought Max was somewhat cockeyed looking. But, hey, that was the individual cat, not the breed.  And he was endearing.  Friendly, peaceful, quiet.  Nice to have around the house now that all our children, the man I live with’s and mine, are grown and gone.  Maybe, we thought, we should get our own Max. We looked and looked. And looked. And finally caved. We called a breeder. “I want a red kitten,” said the man I live with.  (I myself didn’t really care — red, blue, white, whatever.) “I have a red kitten,” said the breeder. Her red kitten was Rudi. We named him after Nureyev, because he had such a terrific jump.

Rudi as a kitten.

Rudi as a kitten.

But while Rudi was growing old enough to leave his mother, the man I live with looked at many picture books of British shorthairs and decided that perhaps — despite the non-refundable deposit — he had been wrong.  The ones called British Blues were the classic British shorthairs. “Why not get two?” suggested the breeder helpfully. ”I have a lovely little blue girl right now. They’re close enough in age to play together!” The texts in all the picture books said that the best thing you could get your cat was another cat.


Sasha as a kitten.

The little blue kitten was lovely. We named her Sasha. Rudi loved Sasha.  Sasha didn’t mind Rudi.  They explored the house together.  They played together. They slept together. Rudi wasn’t as clever as Sasha, but he was beautiful.  I loved brushing him.  And he loved being brushed. You could get enough hair off him for a whole other cat.


Playing together.


Sleeping together.

Rudi also loved to eat.  Naturally, the more he ate the more he grew.  He was big. Not fat.  B-i-g.  It became difficult for him to fit into any litter boxes that would fit into our bathroom. I have no photos of what used to happen because he didn’t quite fit, but you can imagine.

Despite all that, he remained beautiful.  Whenever we were cleaning up bathrooms, or picking up objects he loved to knock down, or vacuuming up hair, we would tell ourselves how beautiful he was. Sasha, on the other hand, was very smart. (For a cat.)  Here she is asleep at my desk, exhausted by intellectual activity.  (Watching the cursor on the screen while I surf the web is tiring!)



Little Rudi in the bathroom.


Little Sasha in the sink.

Then our two cats grew up.  They weren’t little kittens any more.

And an awful thing happened.

I will summarize:  It was a case of transferred aggression.  When he was three years old, Rudi was frightened by a raccoon on the deck.  Since a glass door separated him from the enemy, he attacked Sasha instead.   After a few days she cautiously forgave him.  But the next time something angered him, he did it again.  And a month later, with tooth and claw, again. The last time he went after her, he caught her, and she bled. They had to be kept apart.  She was terrified,  he was mystified, in between his spurts of rage. Here they are at this stage of their relationship, in separate rooms.


Scared Sasha.


Dangerous Rudi.

The vets, all three of them, shook their heads gloomily.  Medication wouldn’t really work in such a case.  Rudi needed to be — as they put it — “re-homed.” “Re-homing” means finding your cat another home.  Giving him away.   Rudi now lives with the mother of a Pennsylvania vet and three other male cats.  He gets on with all of them, she says.  She’s sent me some photos.  He doesn’t look unhappy, does he?


Rudi (right) and new friend (left) in Pennsylvania.


Rudi as a Pennsylvania resident.

But oh, it was hard to let him go, despite his messes.  He was beautiful!  I took some pictures to remember him by.  Even — don’t laugh! — a picture of his tail.  (Bad picture, beautiful tail. I loved brushing that tail!)


Goodbye, Rudi.




Rudi’s tail.

Now Sasha was Queen of the House!

Sasha on Cat Tree, 2012  IMG_1036

The Queen on her throne.

Suddenly, she was demanding this and that.  It was miaow, miaow, miaow all the time!

Sasha at 3

She Who Must Be Obeyed!

The best thing you can get your cat is another cat.  Right?  Then she won’t always be pestering you. Enter Sophie.  (The price of a new Blue kitten had gone up $300 since Sasha, but what can you do?)


Sophie. (Twelve weeks old.)


She was very small.

How did it go? Four days of hissing from Sasha.  (No maternal feelings at all!) Followed by sniffing and smelling and sniffing and smelling. And then?  Wash, wash, wash.  Lick, lick, lick. S & S had become a family.

Sasha and Sophie at front door,October 2012

S & S. (October 2012.)

End of story.  End of post. Apologies to all non-cat-lovers. Never again. Promise.


[Note to self:  Never promise.]



A friend recently pointed me in the direction of another blog by a lady growing older.  The lady’s name is Ronni Bennett, and the blog of which she’s the proprietor, and where she posts herself, is called “Time Goes By: What It’s Really Like to Get Older.

You can go see it at http//: www.timegoesby.net

Although Ronni’s style is very different than mine, her yesterday’s post (26 November, 2013), entitled “Crabby Old Lady and Thanksgiving Shopping,” really hit the spot with me  — despite its warm regard for Thanksgiving with the family.

So I’m re-blogging it here. Apologies to those of you not in the States; it hasn’t much to do with you. Why don’t you take the day off from “The Getting Old Blog” and do something else? Just don’t go shopping instead!


Crabby Old Lady and Thanksgiving Shopping

(Before Crabby Old Lady gets into this rant, she needs to tell you that she abhors crowds and has never in her life gone shopping on black Friday or any other crunch shopping day. There is no sale on earth that could temp her.)

For many years, Americans have been cajoled, enticed, coerced, pressured, seduced and, most of all,expected to spend a lot of money for Christmas on black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving. It was (and still is) almost considered unpatriotic not to do so.

The poor schnooks who bought the hype barely finished their Thanksgiving feast before lining up overnight to be the first of hundreds or even thousands of people through the doors of big box and department stores when they opened at 6AM.

If Crabby Old Lady is not mistaken, at least one person on a past black Friday was killed in that crush of people and others have been seriously injured. But never mind safety. What’s a broken arm or rib or even a life in giant corporations’ pursuit of profit and astronomical executive pay.

The best that could be said about black Friday through the years was that at least everyone had one day with family and friends before the commercial onslaught.

Thanksgiving is one of 11 official federal holidays in the United States. It is often noted that it is the single holiday with no obligations for gifts or revelry or spending. Just the warmth of a good meal and general conviviality at home with family and friends.

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of year as millions cover great distances to be with family and some make it a tradition to invite strangers to dinner who have no family of their own.

Even if that doesn’t warm your heart, the downtime from the hubbub of work and constant commercialism of our lives is a pleasant relief. It has been that way in all of Crabby Old Lady’s 72 years.

Until last year. In 2012, some stores opened on Thanksgiving Day for the first time and many more have joined them this year. Crabby suspects there is no going back. Ever.

From now on Thanksgiving will be a shopping day in America. According to DailyKos, here is a partial list of stores that will be open on Thursday:

Old Navy
Medieval Times
Toys “R” Us
J.C. Penney
Dollar General
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Best Buy

Although the majority of these stores are opening at 8PM on Thanksgiving, Walmart begins at 6PM and Old Navy is way ahead of everyone at 9AM – just about the time Crabby is getting the stuffing together for the turkey.

Crabby would like to remind you that these stores cannot be open on this national holiday without the sales staff – you know, thousands of minimum-wage workers, people with families (some of whom have traveled those great distances to visit) – who will have to jump up from the table to be at work before the 6PM or 8PM opening.

It is not inappropriate for Crabby to further remind you that at least two Walmarts have held food drives for their own employees who cannot afford Thanksgiving dinner on what the company pays them.

In the face of this holiday travesty, along the millions of long-term unemployed, other millions of underpaid workers and the many who are still stuck with underwater mortgages, Crabby is having a hard time enjoying her good fortune to not be among them this holiday.

For the record, here are some of the big retailers who are giving their employees their deserved holiday by closing on Thanksgiving according, again, toDailyKos:

BJ’s Wholesale Club
Home Depot
T.J. Maxx
Burlington Coat Factory
Radio Shack
American Girl


Thank you, Crabby Lady. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.  (What kind of stuffing do you suppose she’s making?)

Back tomorrow  — the Big T Day — with a re-run from the “Learning to Blog” blog. I need the time to slice onions.

For the brisket, remember?



Our topic for today is:  “What should ninamishkin blog about next?”

So far I’ve been doing all the heavy lifting around here, right? Well, now it’s time to put on your thinking caps and start clicking some of those “Leave a Reply” links.

Yes, YOU can help choose what you read about next in “The Getting Old Blog.”  Look at it this way: it’s a win-win situation — I get a breather, you get to put your two cents in.

Here are a few suggestions. (I just happened to have jotted them down on a handy iPad while I was supposed to be thinking about something else.)  Choose one and tell us why you chose it.  I mean tell us really. “Because it sounds interesting” is not persuasive.

  1. Playing the Personals
  2. Colonoscopies — yes or no
  3. Throwing things out
  4. Shrinkage  (the kind you pay for, or Medicare does)
  5. Shrinkage (as in weight loss, not laundry)
  6. Googling yourself
  7. Hair
  8. My three-minute engagement to a famous person
  9. A personal question (and what I answered)

Do I have more on the iPad? You bet.  But that’s enough for starters.  (And yes, you can vote for two.)

Don’t feel limited, though.  If something else comes to mind (that I might possibly know anything about), go right ahead….

I’ll give it a couple of days before I report back on the results.  Meanwhile, I’m off to buy that brisket!



Turkey Day is nearly upon us!

Everyone in the States will know what I mean.  This coming Thursday, the entire country is going to stop everything, jam the trains, planes, buses and highways, sit down with family, loved or otherwise, and eat roast turkey with all its trimmings.  (We also get Friday off to deal with the leftovers.  Turkey sandwiches, anyone? Turkey hash?  Turkey soup?)

Why are we doing this?  Because the Pilgrims survived their first year of hardship in the New World.  At least, that’s what the kiddies learn in school, beginning with kindergarten.

It’s also a wonderful annual opportunity for aging parents to make adult children feel guilty if they don’t try to surmount all obstacles, gather up their own little children, and come. In order properly to appreciate the trouble and aggravation involved, you should bear in mind that the adult children, if married, have at least two sets of aging parents to placate. Divorced and remarried aging parents make the calculus even more complicated:  “Mom, we’re going there this year.  We came to you last year, remember?”

Poultry farmers and other representatives of the food industry also have a heavy burden of responsibility here, but that’s another kind of post, so I ‘m not getting into it.  (Not today, anyway.)

A few words of explanation are in order for friends in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and everywhere else where English is spoken (and therefore read).  I omit Canadians because they’re our neighbors, and surely know.

In 1620, members of a radical Puritan faction that had separated from the Church of England and were seeking religious freedom set sail for America in a ship called the Mayflower — a replica of which you can visit if you ever come to Plymouth, Massachusetts. It had room for only 120 passengers in its unheated hold. No bunks, no toilets. And you thought flying coach was hard!

We now call them the Pilgrims. They were aiming for Virginia, where a first English colony had been established.  (That would be Jamestown, remembered today chiefly for an Indian maiden named Pocohontas who saved the life of one John Smith by placing her head upon his when her father raised his war club to do him in. She was all of twelve.  But I digress.)

Our Pilgrims got lost.  They landed at the tip of Cape Cod, in what is now Massachusetts. Then in mid-December, they moved on to the western side of Cape Cod Bay, where they eventually built a fort, watchtower and living quarters — in what they named Plimouth Colony.

But first they had to get through the rest of the winter on the Mayflower. Half of them died.  Harsh weather, not enough to eat.  Whoever said becoming part of a nation’s mythology is easy?

A year after landing, on the last Thursday in November 1621, the sixty survivors gave thanks with a feast. They gratefully ate tough stringy wild fowl which they had shot — a distant progenitor of today’s over-plump turkeys.  They ate pre-GMO corn, which the local Wampanoag Indians had taught them to grow.  They had carrots, from seed brought from England.  I think they had wormy apples. And maybe they had nuts, berries, and cranberries from the bog.  Pumpkins — also part of the tradition — I don’t know about.

And now here we are, 392 years later, with supermarket flyers clogging our mailboxes, and then our garbage cans, clamoring for us to come get one, get one now!  Before they’re all gone!  Choose frozen turkey, fresh turkey, free-range turkey, honey-basted turkey.  There are twelve-pounders, sixteen-pounders, twenty-pounders. [Try staggering out to your car with a couple of those if you’ve been so foolish as to invite the entire extended family!]  There’s even vegan “turkey” — made of soy or textured vegetable protein or some such substance — for the pure of soul and body.

I hate turkey.  And I hate all that goes with it, starting with the moist bread (or cornbread) stuffing that’s held together with more melted butter than I consume in a year, plus all the turkey fat that’s dripped into it during four or more hours in the oven. I hate thick grayish-brown gravy,  even when laced with cooking sherry.  I hate glisteningly sticky-sweet potatoes, and also hate your great-grandmother’s special whipped sweet potato fluff.  I hate creamed onions, puffy white rolls, jellied cranberry sauce that slides out of a can.  (Sugared cranberries swimming in a dish get no kudos from me, either.) I’m not overly fond of brussels sprouts, that time-honored Thanksgiving vegetable. (String beans, if you’re having them, are all right.) And I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or apple pie a la mode —  especially not when all three are lined up next to each other on the groaning board and I have to choose a slice of at least one so as not to offend the hostess.

It wasn’t always thus. On my first Thanksgiving as my second husband’s bride, I brought home fresh oysters to make a New York Times Cookbook stuffing. I clarified the drippings from the pan for gravy.  Eschewing bakeries, I made my own pumpkin pie (in a purchased crust), laboring over a real pumpkin, not canned pumpkin puree.

Then came the children.  And twenty-five years of it.

  • Twenty-five years of stuffing turkeys.
  • Twenty-five years of unstuffing them again. (Leaving uneaten stuffing in the turkey is a no-no.)
  • Twenty-five years of dirty dishes and greasy pans. Help from the family?  Are you kidding?  The football game is on!
  • Twenty-five years of Tupperware containers full of leftovers in the fridge.
  • Twenty-five years of “Turkey again?”


One son — with wife and little ones — is in Florida, where they are wisely not flying anywhere and making do with a chicken which the children will probably not eat.  (They are pastaholics.)

The other son — also with wife and little ones — is in New York City, where they usually go to her family. Which we eventually got used to.  And then this year they didn’t.  They invited us.  Consternation!  We are too old for Penn Station at Thanksgiving.  They said they forgave us. But did they? We’re going to see them on Saturday instead.  Maybe they’ll have disposed of the turkey by then.  Given the leftovers to a lonely doorman?

Bill hates eating turkey, too.  (He’s never had to deal with the cooking and cleaning up, so his hate is entirely taste-driven.) Actually, he used to hate eating everything with a face and feet, but over the years we have met half way.  Turkey is still on his kill list, though.

So what, in God’s name, are we going to eat on Thursday?  I have been asking myself this question for a couple of days.  Last night, God answered.  Bill asked me sweetly:  “How about brisket for Thanksgiving?”

Last spring, Bill discovered brisket at Bon Appetit, our local purveyor of fine cooked foods, foreign delicacies, cold cuts and cheese. He really liked it. Liked it so much, he went back the next day to buy more. Then — Passover being over — brisket disappeared from Bon Appetit.

Bon Appetit probably won’t be doing brisket for Thanksgiving.  But I have a worn copy of The Jewish Festival Cookbook. I have access to Epicurious. I have the butcher at Whole Foods.  (He must have a nice piece of beef brisket hidden away in his freezer, just for me.) Then all I need is lots of onions and garlic and tomatoes and time.

This Thursday, I ‘m giving thanks to brisket.  You can come for dinner if you like.



When I was a little girl in the 1930s, my favorite story was Hansel and Gretel.  I was an only child.  But after my mother had tucked me in and turned out the light, I would close my eyes and not be me anymore.

Alone in the dark I became Gretel, with a brother two years older and much braver than I.  We would live in a rough-hewn cottage deep in the woods — German woods, of course; there were no woods in New York City — and our parents were always away. But my brother would take me by the hand and lead me out of that dark place, where we were hungry and cold, to search for something better.  And no matter how difficult the journey I would feel safe and happy, because I was with him.

I got over wanting to be Gretel when we began to have Current Events in school and I learned that in real life, Hansel would probably wear a Hitler Youth uniform with a swastika on it and shout, “Sig Heil!” —  whereas I would have to wear a yellow armband and die in a camp, after which Hitler would make a lampshade of my skin.

That wasn’t the end of Hansel, though.

He resurfaced in the theater of my imagination three or four years later, Mediterraneanized.  Sometimes he had a name, Greek or Spanish or Italian or gypsy, but mostly he didn’t.  What he had was dark hair and smoldering eyes, plus rage at how things were, clenched fists, and a will to survive.

He had also developed a hard-muscled adolescent body and hungry genitals that were always seeking to escape the worn fabric of his ragged pants whenever he wasn’t being consumed with defiance at the injustices of life.  [He never wore underwear.  We were too poor for him to have any.]

As for his heart, it had long ago hardened and was accessible only to one other in all the world.  But ah, how he loved her — for her goodness, her sweetness, her gentleness. To him, she was beautiful.

And the best part was that she never actually had to do anything to earn his love except be true, which was easy.  Others might look down on him because he was poor and homeless and unlettered, but she knew that he was good [though a brawler], and therefore she trusted him and loved him and [eventually] opened her body to him.  Every night she did this, if I didn’t fall asleep first.

Now, of course, he was no longer her brother. I would make him her half-brother, or step-brother, or cousin. More often, though, they would have met when very young, cast out into the world as human detritus of the war — or of some other huge, unidentified societal calamity — so that they would have lived for years like brother and sister before they became lovers and made up for everything with the pleasure they took in each other’s flesh.

I would lie perfectly still under my clean sheets, blankets and white cotton chenille bedspread from Macy’s, devising on the screen inside my eyelids their meeting and growing up together. The rags they wore, the scraps of food he stole and scrupulously divided with her, the boxcars, abandoned shacks, and shelters for the homeless in which they slept, huddled together under straw — no detail was too insignificant for my careful consideration.

Both cunning auteur and excited audience, I also arranged for them to conceal — at least for the first hour or so — their immeasurably deep feelings for each other, watching breathlessly as she restrained her impulse to smooth back the lock of dark hair falling over his forehead and hid from him her heartache when he returned to her after a street fight with torn bleeding mouth and a fresh cut under his eye.  [Fortunately, both of these always healed without a scar.]

He in turn also had to experience emotions too deep for words. As when, for instance, I had him come upon her unawares as she bent diligently over her needle, patiently repairing, unasked, the rents in his few garments.  In fact, dialogue was generally an unnecessary item in these nocturnal dramas, except to trigger heart-rending, albeit temporary, misunderstandings.  However, for variety I did occasionally permit him to swallow his pride and beseech her, humbly, to teach him to read.

And each night I would need to determine anew whether his frayed pants should unbutton or unzip when it was time for him to release their swollen contents.  On the nights I managed to stay awake until it was time for this delicious decision, the passion then unleashed, after he had deflowered her (as painlessly as possible) left me with pounding heart, gasping, and unable to sleep at all.

Then I went away on full scholarship to a prestigious college for women, where I was invited to mixers and football weekends at Ivy League schools.  And the screen went dark.


One of the perks of getting old is the leisure to reflect.  When I look back now on those fevered nights of my girlhood, what do I make of them?

I still love the sex parts. They’re so creative. Especially as my actual knowledge then derived entirely from what I had read in my mother’s copy of “Sane Sex Life and Sane Sex Living” and had discovered under the sheets with my finger.  Hands-on experience with a real other person came later. Alas, much later.

I  am surprised that my nights were so dark with calamities. I had never gone hungry or cold.  Safe on the other side of the Atlantic, the war  — World War II — never reached me.  I had heard about it, read about it, adults were always talking about it.  But I cannot say it colored my daily life in any meaningful way.  On the other hand, there were movies, Hollywood war movies — and I loved movies. And there were my immigrant parents, who had known horrors, and who loved me, and who had therefore surrounded me with the clouds of their fear.

I am sad there was never an “I” in my stories.  “He” and “she”  enjoyed the action, but I could only watch. Even at night, in private, I was never off the leash.  What a creature of the culture I was!  You imbibed it with your mother’s milk: Men didn’t marry spoiled goods.

I am bemused at the notion that goodness and sweetness will get you a man. Or that someone will love you for being “true” — plus mending his garments and knowing how to read.

And why did I think you needed a Y chromosome to put bread on the table?  That was my mother’s model. I was taking Latin and Algebra and Physics and Chemistry in school.  What was that all about if the goal was to sit home and wait to be fed?

I did not grow up to be what you might call a feminist.  But sixty-odd years have certainly put a different spin on things.  Also, you hang around, you learn.

I do admit that the idea of not wearing underwear remains exciting.  Although it may lead to more frequently having to launder your jeans.