Be Careful

My mother ended all of her conversations with my sister and me with the admonition to be careful.  I do the same thing with our quite adult children and their children.  I note that our eldest grandson, a father himself, has already taught his two year old that my mother, Grandma Ida, left instructions to never ride a motorcycle.  So our little Noam can now spout, “no motorcycles”, with all the gravitas of a toddler, a message delivered through the generations!

My father, on the other hand, was never one to  dwell on all the infinite things that could go wrong, or to worry about the consequences of giving us space and freedom.  It wasn’t his way.  His own childhood had been so free of restrictions.  His mother had six children (Dad was number 4 or 5, a twin), a grocery store, and the job of mastering life as an immigrant to America.  She did not hover! Nor did his father who spent those early American years building a successful business without any benefit of language.  So, my father, luckily  did not become a criminal, or a worrier.  He would describe worrying as my mother’s job.

My mother, however, had a partner in all this worrying stuff.  Her father, Pop, lived with us, and he was a master of the art.  He was always running after one or the other of us with a warm coat, even if it was 75 degrees outside. You never knew.  The weather could change.  He spent much time at the front window of the Aldine Street home, looking out for us.  I was always on time.  Less to worry about.  My sister, however, now totally prompt and reliable, had her moments of forgetting to call when she would be late.  Lots of fretting as Pop and my mother shared the window space, looking up and down the street and bemoaning, “Where is she?” Inevitably she did always show up and was instantly forgiven just by proving she was alive when they were so certain that was not the case.

So, unfortunately, in this saga, I grew up knowing how tiresome worrying can be but still found the habit irresistible.  I’m sure I exceed my mother and grandfather since I now have a piece of equipment that they never could have conjured up, the cell phone.  When the cell phone isn’t answered, it’s instant panic.  And while my husband can find all kinds of excuses for why this might happen, anything from an uncharged battery to being at a meeting or any other logical reason, I can not.  My mind always, and I mean always, fast forwards to bad stuff.  So, when there’s no answer I am subjected to heart pounding vibrations that charge through my body and immediately end as soon as the callback ensues.

I’m not so stupid that I don’t realize that this is torturous and counterproductive but I am what I was genetically bred to be.  Hence when I visit the cemetery and tell my parents and Pop the stories of the past few months, I don’t  need to hear their responses.  Mom and Pop will always say be careful.  My father will smile and nod.

Of course, as is the human way, all of them eventually died, worried or not.

 Pop, the always careful guy, had his life dramatically shortened after a trip on the New York City subway.  He was off to see his son and family, my Uncle Charlie, a dentist in Queens, when he was violently pushed to the platform, for no reason at all.  He got up and proceeded to his destination where the tremendous pain he felt was diagnosed as a broken hip.  This was followed by surgery at Newark Beth Israel, by Dr. Firtel, the esteemed protege of the famed Dr. Kessler, and yet, Pop was just never the same, succumbing within the year.  Amongst his many worries there was never one about being cautious in the subway system.

My mother, albeit 85 as opposed to her father’s 77, met a similar end. She always did worry that the same broken hip that had taken her beloved father, would return and dispense with her.  How right she was!  She was being careful but the driver of the supermarket’s “mishloach” was not.  This convenient Israeli grocery delivery service, which was not even heading to my parent’s Herzliya apartment, was riding up busy Sokolov Street in the wrong direction. I suppose no one paid him much heed since he was maneuvering a bicycle not a car.  The elderly woman, my mother, a neighborhood fixture living a few doors down from the scene of the collision, was hit with full force, resulting in a broken hip.  Her robust good health, in which fear of doctors kept her away from them and therefore without any conditions at all, disappeared in a flash.  Her surgery, expertly done by an Arab orthopedist, as she, a lifelong liberal in every arena,  would relate, was destined to become one of those ecumenical “only in Israel” stories except that it was not very successful and she did not live very long thereafter.  I miss her still and am always on the brink of calling her to tell her to stop worrying since I arrived home on time!

My father, the total non-worrier, died in his bed at almost 98, with both of his hips intact, as well as all of his body parts and mind. So: note to myself, worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. Relax and enjoy life.

If only I could!

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.
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