On My Mind

When Dad is Colorblind: A Love Story

October 25th, 2010 by Julie Silver

Until very recently, my father, who is completely color blind, had been wearing the same brown leather belt for thirty years. And unless you are browsing the gently worn shops or the Salvation Army store, you would no longer be able to find this particular style of belt for sale. On a fashion scale, it fell somewhere between what one might have worn to a groovy 70s wife swapping party and what Gordon Lightfoot probably wore while he was inhaling bong hits and composing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. My hard-working father would not have been physically involved in any of these scenarios, but in a romantic way, this two and a half inch thick belt buckled him to a time and place, despite keeping both at arm’s length.

Dad got dressed in the earliest, darkest hours of the morning and it always looked like an ensemble that he hadn’t merely thrown together. He tended heavily toward plaid. As a student anxiously picks the perfect outfit on the eve of a new school year, I imagine my father laying out his old blue jeans lengthwise and draping them on the bedroom chair next to one of the many, many plaid shirts he had held up next to the jeans to see what worked. He wore plain white undershirts beneath plaid shirts. This combination made me feel warm and protected as a child, embarrassed as a teenager, and finally comforted as an adult. With the belt, he looked like he should be holding a hatchet and standing next to an ox named Babe.

In our tony little suburb of Newton, Massachusetts where professionals dressed like professionals, my Dad went his own way. While other kids’ Dads shopped at The Men’s Wearhouse on Route 9, my very own lumberjack of a father looked more like he drove the hard highways of Northern New England, shaking hands and looking people right in the eye, selling equipment to other hard working men, and maybe even chopping down a tree or building a fire. And while other kids’ Dads looked like they were going to an office, my Dad looked like he was going to a log-rolling competition.

Not once in my childhood did I ever go shopping with my Dad or hear him say things like “I need a new _____”, or “Let’s go to ____ to buy some ____”. I never saw my Dad spend money on himself. I only saw him earn money. In 1974, my mother who handled the household finances gave my father a blank check to use in an emergency. Any time he opened his wallet to give me a few bucks, I would see that old check from 1974, ink fading, edges tattered, waiting in vain to be filled out and signed. But it was never to be. The unused check had taken on the smell of cash and the bend of his wallet, which had left an equally permanent outline on the back pocket of my father’s old blue jeans, confidently held up by that brown belt.

During the Spring of 1978, my mother took a rare trip by herself to see her parents in South Bend, Indiana. I was 11, my sister was 13, and my Dad was 38. No one was really on their A-game for the ten days my Mom was away. She had only been gone a few days and the house and family were already showing signs of neglect. Chores had been ignored, dishes were dirty, food was scarce, morale was low. One Saturday my Dad took my sister and me to a Woody Allen film, “Interiors”, a film so dark that it ends with the mother committing suicide. My Dad fell asleep while I ate milk duds and memorized dialogue, barely blinking.

The one thing I appreciated about having my mother in another state was the fact that she couldn’t monitor my clothing choices. I was a tomboy, but my mother wanted to dress me like the girl I simply was not. Every morning, I would get dressed, walk downstairs in my ripped up jeans, high top Nikes, and hooded oversized sweatshirt to a loving look of disappointment. You’re wearing that, my mother would say as she poured herself a cup of decaf. No Mom, I’m not wearing that, I would mutter under my breath as I climbed the stairs towards my daily morning wardrobe change.

I wore my hooded sweatshirt almost everyday while she was gone. One particular day, I wore my favorite football jersey to school: The Patriots’ quarterback, Steve Grogan, #14. I was in heaven wearing that jersey. My Dad slowed down the car to drop me off at school that day. (Having my mother in Indiana was beginning to take a toll on him as well.) I ran to my classroom with the confidence of a starting quarterback running onto the field for her first team huddle. Then came the blitz. My best friend, Terry Hassol saw what I was wearing, ran up to me and yelled, “It’s picture day, Julie. You’re wearing that?” She was wearing a cocktail dress. I felt like I had been sacked in the end zone.

Recovering from the hit, I ran against the rush to the office and called my Dad who had just arrived home from dropping me off at school.Dad! It’s picture day at school. I am wearing a football jersey. You have to help me. Dad, you have to pick out a different shirt for me, OK? And then bring it here now!” There was silence on the other end of the line. “Go to my room, Dad, and pick out a nice shirt,” I hollered. My Dad had no choice but to comply. I was panicked. “Dad, pick any color shirt you want but it has to be here now.” “Jesus Christ, alright already,” he said.I’ll be right there.”

The school secretary laughed into her attendance rolls as I hung up the phone. I ran to the front of the school and paced for ten minutes before I saw the station wagon pull up to the school. My Dad did not get out of the car. He made the hand-off and sped away. I looked inside the wrinkled brown bag to find an old, faded light blue turtleneck that to this day I believe he found in a pile of dirty laundry.

I see that 6th grade picture of myself every time I visit my old school. There is a wall of group photos that go back to the 1950s, and it’s interesting to see the changes as you walk down the long hallway. There I am, the only girl in my class wearing a wrinkled, pale blue turtleneck. I stare at that unshowered, eleven year old girl, wishing for just that day she had dressed like one. I would have looked better in plaid.

On and Off Training Wheels

October 14th, 2010 by Julie Silver

In 1974 I was eight years old and unable to ride a bike without training wheels. It was the source of much embarrassment. To make matters worse, anticipating that this would be the year I would finally balance myself on two wheels, my parents bought me a brand new bike. It was a beauty—the coolest bike I could never ride. It was purple, with a long banana seat covered in colorful power flowers. The handlebars were curved and set so high they forced your hands to rest above your head. Kickstand down, I would sit on that bike for hours in our darkened garage, dreaming of one day riding it on the streets of my town.

It stood there for weeks, teasing me, taunting me, whispering, get on—ride off into the sunset with me—leave a trail of rusty metal training wheel parts in your wake. Next to my untouched bike stood my old bike with training wheels. Like everything else I owned, it had belonged to my older sister. It was dull red, rickety, with a bent fender and plain, worn handlebars.

It was springtime and the days stayed lighter later. After work, my Dad would throw my old bike and a wrench into the back of our family station wagon in the evenings after dinner and drive us to the junior high school parking lot. He would not allow me to learn how to ride on the new bike. Learn on the old one, ride on the new one, he’d say.

I was a slow learner and my Dad was a patient man. In fact it would be on this same parking lot that, years later, my Dad would teach me how to drive a car. I ruined three orange parking cones and crushed countless tin cans during those lessons. Dad kept whatever frustration he might have felt inside, God bless him. By the time I got my drivers’ license, my Dad had gone completely gray.

One evening after pushing me off, running beside me and cheering me on, I rode–with a great deal of difficulty– the length of the Meadowbrook Junior High School parking lot without training wheels. I fell off my bike at the end, but I could hardly contain my excitement. It was my first taste of freedom, of independence, of tangible forward movement. That night we came home and told my mom the great news. “We’ll go back tomorrow,” he said plunging his spoon into a celebratory ice-cream sundae. “Proud of you, kiddo. Proud of you.”

And so it made perfect sense that I would wake up the next morning at the crack of dawn, run out to the garage, grab my new bike, all shiny and purple and calling out to me, and without hesitation ride it down our steep driveway, then turn left down our even steeper hill.

The wind blew through my helmet free hair and that feeling of freedom hit hard. Nine seconds later, I found myself lying on my back on Parker Street, a major thoroughfare in my neighborhood, with my brand new bicycle by my side. The bellowing sound of a truck horn and then a symphony of screeching brakes tore through the morning air. When I propped myself up on my elbows, there was a giant truck headlight eleven inches from my face. It dawned on me in an instant: I was inches away from getting completely run over by an eighteen-wheeler. Shaking, holding back vomiting, I pulled up my bicycle and got to the sidewalk. The wildly angry driver of the truck yelled from his cab but I was so stunned, so shocked I couldn’t understand anything he said. He wore dark glasses and had a moustache that resembled the handlebars on my bike. The truck made a loud exhaling sound as it drove forward, the driver yelling and pointing an angry finger at me the whole time.

I ran up the hill with my bike and got it back in the garage before my family even knew I had left the backyard. I never told a soul what happened.

I spent that day at school in a fog, tasting vomit in the back of my throat, biting my fingernails and reliving the short but powerful trip I had taken that morning.

On the way to my riding lesson that evening, Dad spoke in excited, hopeful tones but I heard almost nothing, only sentence fragments: forget about those training wheels…proud of you, kiddo…now the whole family’s on wheels…we trust you, kiddo. I couldn’t tell my biggest cheerleader about my near miss that morning. It will almost kill him, too, I thought.

Counting on the Fall

October 4th, 2010 by Julie Silver

I’m Jewish. This means that whenever the home phone rings, it is more than likely someone has died.Or worse.

Very early Tuesday morning, the phone rang. I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. From the bedroom, I heard Mary answer on the 2nd ring as I pulled the covers over my head and closed my eyes.As soon as I heard Mary say “And what hospital is she in—“ I knew it was my sister Robin and I knew, at that hour,she had to have had a bike accident.My eyes opened wide as I mentally sorted through my closet and picked the outfit I was going to wear to her funeral. For a split second before my warm feet hit the cold hardwood floor, I became worried that I wouldn’t fit into that outfit.On the short walk down the hall corridor, I said a prayer of gratitude that I had her as long as I did and wondered out loud how it had taken 17 years for her to finally crash into a tree and kill herself.

Mary was still on the phone when I walked into the kitchen, a look of concern on her face.She made a motion for me to step into my office so we could talk away from my daughter’s young ears.

Robin had indeed fallen during a long, early morning bike ride and had broken her clavicle, her pelvis, several ribs and sustained a concussion. All of her injuries would heal.Mary gave me the phone and although Robin was a bit incoherent, it was clear that she could still use her voice, her cell phone, her morphine button, and nobody’s opinion.

Nevertheless I sat and cried over my big sister falling off her bike for about 5 minutes. Hysterical, wet, snotty, loud, sobbing cries until my daughter came in and asked me what was wrong.”Oh, nothing, Sarah (snort). Eema just stubbed her big toe (sniff)”. Given my history, I was sure she would buy it.She didn’t.

OK, she’s alive, I thought.Now I’m pissed.Why must she ride that bike for that long at that hour on that pair of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen twin tires?“My sister!Jesus fucking Christ are we even related?” I whispered loudly to Mary as I put that fabulous black cocktail dress back in the closet.Then I got online to find a flight to Boston.Oh, I wasn’t going to be angry in Pacific Palisades.Not a chance.Have you seen my view?No, I was going to pay a small fortune and take a direct flight to bring my anger directly to Robin the very next day.

Did I tell you never to trust a ringing phone?

Now if flying to Boston to share your anger means being at your sister’s beckon call for three days and nights and doing 18 loads of laundry, then yes, I flew to Boston to share my anger.But I also shared three wonderful days with my older sister, Robin.I watched in awe and admiration, as only a little sister can, a constant stream of visitors, friends, family, neighbors, rabbis, fellow riders, fruit baskets, pies, apples, casseroles and various gadgets to make the next 6 to 8 weeks a little bit easier for Robin, pour down onto her house like a waterfall.

That’s the thing about never leaving the town in which you were born. Get hurt, and people you’ve known for 40 years show up to offer comfort, a laugh, a meal, or easy conversation.They heal you.My sister has lived in this community for 40 years so it was a familiar sight, watching her sit back and receive all of this love. She built this community. She maintains it. She passes it on to her sons every day.And if her neighbor fell, Robin would be right there, on hand and knee, picking up the sharpest pieces and working to put them back together. You can count on it.

I left home 16 years ago for Los Angeles and in many ways have lost that feeling of constantly being surrounded by familiarity. And perhaps that was why I left in the first place. More likely it’s why I fly back to Boston so often.But one thing was made clear to me last weekend that has never been clearer.In this life, you’re bound to fall off your bike. Somewhere around the corner, over that hill, beyond the next curve in the road, someone is going to run a red light and it’s not going to go well. In fact, you can count on it. And when you inevitably fall, there’s one thing that can make or break what happens afterwards: Community.Family members who, likefirefighters, run right into the crisis and carry you down the stairs to safety. Friends who bake their best pies and offer their tastiest trays of ziti with broccoli. Miraculously present parents and siblings and children who make sure the dishwasher gets filled and then emptied (correctly, I might add) And to know that you have that in your life and can count on it, just like you can count on falling off your bike, is the greatest gift life can give you.

That, and an excellent personal injury attorney.

Trust Me, Rhoda Morgenstern Never Had a Blog

August 27th, 2008 by Julie Silver

Two games left in that stadium with The Team That Dare Not Speak its Name.  Two hours until the first pitch.  I might blog after the game.  Last night the boys in red socks logged a W (not a “dubya”) and I don’t want to give it, in the words of almost every one in my life over 60, “a kenna hora”. From my mouth to God’s ear, we should have another W, live and be well, poo poo poo.

Here’s what I’m thinking about:  My friend Dave, let’s call him the Rhoda Morgenstern in my life, always has the same answer when I ask him how he’s doing.  “Read my blog”, he says.  I’m not too keen on that answer.  Don’t get me wrong–I read his blog all the time.  But when I ask, I actually want him to tell me how he’s doing.  I don’t want to read what tens of thousands of other people are reading.  I don’t want a status update.  I mean, he’s practically my husband (if that were in any way possible, which it isn’t).  As I used to say to my daughter, “Use your words, honey.”  Of course, that was before she started a punctuation-free sentence about a year ago which still has no end in sight.

If I took his advice and read the blog to find out how he’s doing, we’d never talk.  Which is sometimes what I think my go-to play date, my afternoon movie partner, my sushi loving friend of friends might really be looking for.  But I know in my heart that this cannot be.

Some say the definition of a bore is someone who tells you how they REALLY are when you ask.  Sometimes waiters come to my table during a meal and ask me “Is ANYTHING alright?”  But floating somewhere in the middle of all of it is the language that only two friends can speak.  The low-down.  The skinny.  Just the facts, ma’am. The ugly truth.  The real deal.

The Rhoda and Mary.

Let’s face it.  There isn’t much I don’t want to hear.  Except of course anything that has to do with The Team That Dare Not Speak its Name.

Three left in the Bronx…

August 26th, 2008 by Julie Silver

How I love the long season of baseball. In fact the only thing I love more than the Boston Red Sox is the long season itself. Today we’re starting a three game series against The Team That Dare Not Speak Its Name in their soon to be demolished stadium. Good riddance I say. I never believed in the curse of the Bambino, but for some reason this morning I woke up with one thought: It’s finally going to be over. WHAT is finally going to be over I cannot say. But curse or no curse, after these next three, we never have to play in that stadium ever again. Now I’m not going to dump all over The Team That Dare Not Speak its Name here in this blog. I love New York, I love my father-in-law, and I love my friends who happen to love The Team That Dare Not Speak Its Name. But I will say this: Giambi looks like a prison chef and A-Rod is a ball-slapping whiner!

I’ll be fine.

Brazil, WUPJ Concert–600 in attendance

July 18th, 2008 by Julie Silver

Concert Photo, July 10, 2008, Rio

Concert Photo, July 10, 2008, Rio

Brazil, part one

July 17th, 2008 by Julie Silver

Rio, July 2008

Rio, July 2008

Back on the blog after far too long an absence.

It is 8AM Saturday the 12th of July, and my time in Rio de Janeiro is coming to an end.

I arrived on the 7th of July, 2008, but in truth, my voyage to South America began with a phone call in December of 2007. We had just arrived in New York after I had been on the road for the entire month doing concerts, mainly in the Southeast—Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama. That tour culminated in several performances at the San Diego Convention center for over 5,500 Jewish leaders from all over North America, Israel and parts of Europe. It was incredibly validating—to stand before the Jewish Community and realize that 20 years of writing, traveling and recording have passed and this faithful community of learners and teachers continues to embrace my work. I am grateful beyond words for all of it.

While at that convention, I shook hands with more than the usual number of Latin Americans. There is little I enjoy more than speaking Spanish with native speakers. I left that conference with a tangible sense of hope that one day I might visit Buenos Aires or Montevideo, and bring my music to a Spanish speaking country. All I want to do is use the Spanish I became so fluent in while living in Spain, I thought. And although speaking with our beloved Sonya and Lillian in our home has become quite natural, I wanted to speak of more relevant things with like-minded people—preferably outside of Southern California.

So there I was in New York, preparing for our annual Chanukah/Christmas/Mary’s (real) Birthday party when I received a call from my good friend, Rabbi Len Thal who is the Senior Vice President of the Reform movement. He was sitting in his office in Manhattan with a woman named Miriam Vasserman, a Brazilian and Board Member for the World Union for Progressive Judaism in the South American region. In that moment he switched the call to speaker and I heard Miriam’s voice, I knew that my prayers had been answered. I was being invited to sing in Brazil.

Lenny gave me an overview of the conference that was to take place in July, and whenever Miriam chimed in I could hear the accent that had become so familiar to me over the years as a lover of Brazilian music. I remember the moment I first heard artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim , Caetano Veloso, and Milton Nascimiento. I felt like I had found long lost relatives. The music made me want to dig deeper and deeper, and head for the roots. I can’t say I’ll ever actually touch the roots of this rich, beautiful music, but reaching for them feels really good.

Come on back for more on my actual trip later.

Judy A. and Julie A.?

June 8th, 2006 by Julie Silver

Fastidious J as Julie Andrews, Maria in The Sound of Music.  Just as an aside, Judy Aronson, one of my dearest friends, was my Hebrew School principal when I was 4 feet tall.  I used to do anything to get thrown out of class and get sent to Judy's office.  She had curly hair and blue jeans and she hung the moon.  Here we are at the Friar's Club in Beverly Hills where I was about to roast our friend Doug Cotler.  I made this dress from some old drapes!


Loves Zabar’s, loves to dance…

June 8th, 2006 by Julie Silver

The Solitary Man


The Two Faces of the Two Faces



Confetti and family

June 8th, 2006 by Julie Silver

This is us at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this past year in New York. Here we have, from top left going clockwise, Uncle Sumner, Mimi and Pop, Fastidious J, Mary Mary, Leo the hockey player, Jonah the fabulous chef and Aunt Robin holding her neice, Sarah E.. When we finally returned to LA and unpacked, confetti from the parade fell out of my suitcase. It was suuuweet!