One display, one playlist, one eighth-grade groper & one heart-to-heart across voting lines: a 2016 presidential election word buffet

Fifty days ago, I made an election display at the library. There’s so much crazy flying around and libraries are supposed to be safe havens. I wanted my display to do two things:

  1. Provide a way to give people access to digestible and genuine information about the candidates.
  2. Remind us all that at least this phase of the crazy would come to an end.

 

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The first day. Those are tweets beneath their pictures. Each day I added a tweet and tore off a calendar sheet.
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This is eight days out. Mom never threw anything away, so she gets all the credit for that postage stamp, which I enlarged for this display.

 

So every day since I built it, I’ve been pulling a sheet off the countdown calendar and adding a one thing a day from each candidate’s Twitter feed. It’s been pretty satisfying to see people reading them. (One day a man actually took one home! I just printed a new one and put it up in the old one’s place.)

I wish I was more enthusiastic about this election, but at this point I am secretly wishing for one last presidential debate. In a dog park, with both candidates dressed in gender-appropriate versions of Lady Gaga’s meat dress.

The election has at least given me a chance to put together my first blog post for the library. It’s a playlist menu for election night parties. (Click here to read it, and special thanks to Amelia for editing/formatting.) Every song has some tie to a presidential candidate or election, and I am especially pleased to have included Patrick Sky and Timbuk 3, a couple of brilliant and un/underappreciated acts.

The good, the bad and the groping

The display and playlist were two high points of my election season. The low point was the Donald Trump/Billy Bush tape. Had it been Donald Trump, reality star, gleefully explaining how unwanted sexual contact with women was part of the standard “Fame Privilege” package, you wouldn’t be reading what I am about to write. But Donald Trump, a man who could potentially be representing me to the rest of the world?

So here I am, speaking up about the eighth grade classmate who, when our English teacher sent the two of us and six other boys to the auditorium to check on something connected to the class play, took advantage of an opportunity to come up behind as we stood on the stage, pin me against him and grab my breasts to settle the question of whether what was under my shirt was actual breast tissue or the paper kind. (Being a well-endowed middle school kid is no picnic.) I never told anyone then. I was too ashamed, thinking it was somehow my fault.

I’ve seen him at three reunions, most recently last summer. It made me kind of sick to watch him talk and laugh with female classmates as if he hadn’t a care in the world. It also made me kind of mad at myself for not being comfortable enough to confront him. He can’t change his past any more than I can mine, but it would be nice to hear him express some genuine remorse.

That said, I’m a realist, so unless I do grow a pair and confront him, it’s probably not gonna happen.

I’m with her, he’s with him, we’re good

Speaking of reality, that tape didn’t bother a lot of the people voting for Donald J. I don’t get it. I didn’t get it before that either, but after, I really didn’t. So I phoned a friend I’ll call Dave (because that’s his name). His social media feed is filled with anti-Obama and pro-Trump memes.

We went from kindergarten through sixth grade together. He was one of the cutest and nicest boys in school, and he’s still adorable and kind. He and his wife have two married sons, a crop of grandchildren and three rescued dogs. On one of my recent trips home, we hung out with Grandkid 1 at their house; I’m looking forward to our next get-together.

I wanted to have a conversation with a Trump supporter that wouldn’t turn into some sort of horrible bashing session on either side, so I asked Dave if he’d be okay with us talking about it and me writing some of what he said. Which he was.

So here, for people voting for Hillary Clinton and befuddled as to why someone would vote for Donald Trump, are some reasons.

  1. Bush/Gore was a turning point. He was a registered Democrat until then. Now, he’s Independent.
  2. He hasn’t seen his life improve significantly over the past eight years. “I can call myself middle class but what I do know is that I’m paying twice the health care I used to pay. I have it through work, but what I used to pay pre-Obama care and what I’m paying now, it’s doubled.”
  3. He knows someone who worked in close proximity to Bill and Hillary Clinton during Bill’s presidency, and was not impressed by what he heard regarding her personal conduct.
  4. Memes aside, Dave isn’t thrilled with Donald Trump either. “He’s an arrogant asshole, there’s no doubt about it, but if I have to pick between the two I’ll pick him.”
  5. We both wondered, and agreed about whether we can look to our leaders anymore for the kind of character, honesty and assurance we expect of someone hoping to become president.

Whatever your politics, if you can vote in this election, make a considered decision. Then get yourself to the polls (if you haven’t voted already), and strap yourself in. The next four years are going to be an interesting ride.

Dear Non-terrorist Muslims & White Men; Dear Impending Grandson: A pair of open letters

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If a man and a water buffalo can be friends, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Dear Muslims who are terrified of being collateral damage because of yesterday and white men who are terrified of being collateral damage because of all the shootings and massacres.

I do not think all of you are terrorists.

Sincerely:

Amy

PS I still think all the legislators who are worshipping at the feet of Wayne LaPierre  are spineless, wormy cowards.

 

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See that ukulele, Grandson? When you can sit up and hold things, I am going to start teaching you how to play. Also, this is a picture of me engaging in behavior that caused our governor to compare me to an ISIS terrorist. Just so you know. Your Bubby isn’t really fierce, but somebody thinks she is…..

 

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Butterfly ranching, Grandson. It’s another one of the great things we’re going to do together!
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And we will put together jigsaw puzzles, because it’s really fun.

Dear Impending Grandson:

While I am looking forward to meeting you, I’m wondering if you might want to reconsider your upcoming entrance to a world in which anyone seems to be able to get an assault weapon. While this is scary, what is really scary is that when a white man uses an assault weapon to mow down a bunch of people, he gets carted off to jail and is even, sometimes, treated to a hamburger while in custody.

This does not seem to be the case with black and/or brown people, who too often are shot first, and turn out to have had no weapons (or to have merely been playing with toy weapons) later. This is why, black, white or brown, you and your future cousins will never get a toy gun  – at least not from me.

As is the case with every other grandmother I have ever known, I am going to do everything possible to ensure that you are never in a position where some zealot with a gun (in uniform, in jeans, in underwear, in a wetsuit, in whatever) decides to shoot you first and ask questions later.

We have made a mess, and I am deeply sorry. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have a little girl who is going to be a couple of weeks older than you are. Her parents have pledged to throw a lot of money  at making the world a better place for her, and, I hope, for the rest of her peers.

Still, Grandson, you and I are going to do some great stuff together. Until you gain a little weight and grow a few teeth, you’ll be a captive audience. I plan to talk, read and sing to you (sometimes with and sometimes without guitar and/or ukulele accompaniment). I will play you many instruments and tell you stories. Some will be made up just for you. Some will be stories I told your mother and aunts when they were small. Some will be new.

When you are bigger, we will read together and I will teach you how to play the ukulele and the guitar and the cello and the piano. We will bake bread and make French Toast. I will help you become a monarch butterfly rancher and maybe even a beekeeper. We will go in-line skating at the Lakefront.

You will teach me things, too, because you are going to be brilliant and interesting.

Anyway, I’m sorry about the mess of a world in which you’re about to make an entrance. I’m going to do everything I can to make life easier for your mom, and for you.

Love:

Your Bubby

A vote for harmony and service: Skipping the Republican Debate to sing and tie a shoelace

I spent Tuesday night with some old white men here in Milwaukee, and they weren’t Republican presidential wannabes.

Not only did we get to see Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey on stage, but after the show, we got to go backstage and hang out with them. Well, mostly we hung with Peter. And we did get to thank Noel for co-hosting a great evening, and especially for the terrific story about how his song “Cue the Moon” came to be. They also talked about singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the March on Washington in 1963, and how their late partner Mary Travers (z”l) called it a song with nine questions.

Most of the audience was “of a certain age” and white. But there were a few whippersnappers in the house, among them Niece and Nephew (who survived my childhood) and a sweet young writer named Ben, his mother Wendy and their friend. Ben, Wendy and Friend had driven into town for a protest at City Hall in advance of the Republican Presidential Debate, which was occurring in a theater down the street at the same time Peter and Paul were performing.

My sister (she of the 1,400-mile road trip) and brother-in-law, Dr. Brilliant Scientist Guy are visiting Mom this week and sprung for the tickets. I am currently between paying jobs (read: unemployed and looking for work), so Sweetheart and I have stricken the live show line item from our household budget.

Peter Yarrow, however, occupies a special place in Debby and Dave’s lives. Twenty-five years ago, D&D, along with a friend, headed straight from his successful dissertation defense to a pizza joint in New Haven to celebrate. There, they ran into Peter, who was dining with his daughter. Debby had had occasion to go to Peter’s apartment after a concert he’d performed with our cousin, and he’d been lovely to Debby, plying her with cranberry juice and engaging her in pleasant conversation. She wasn’t sure he’d remember her, but he did, or at least pretended to. They chatted, he congratulated Dave and they parted ways.

“Who was that again?” Dave said as they sat down at their own table.

Peter Yarrow,” Debby said, “You know, from ‘Peter, Paul & Mary.’ ”

Dave and his friend gawped.

“WHAT?” he said, when he’d finally recovered enough to say something. “That was PETER???”

Debby then answered a raft of questions about how it had come to pass that an original Puff Daddy and Debby were well enough acquainted to exchange friendly greetings during a chance restaurant encounter.

The story has become part of family lore. So when I realized Debby had a chance to take Niece & Nephew to see one of the featured players in their parents’ lives, I let her know. She asked if we’d like to come, and I told her that Sweetheart gets up very early for work and probably wouldn’t but that I’d be up for it.

Debby bought five tickets and then got in touch with the person she remembered as Peter’s manager. After a few bouncing e-mails, she eventually connected with someone who hooked her up with backstage passes. She was very excited, and asked me to keep it a surprise from the N’s, which I did.

Things got confusing when the guy working the Will-Call window handed her an envelope containing four tickets and four passes.

“I bought five,” she said. Then she looked at the tickets. They weren’t the ones she’d bought. By the time it was straightened out, we were holding five backstage passes and nine tickets. The five she’d bought (in the second balcony) and the four she hadn’t (near the front of the house).

She sent the family inside and we hung out on the street until we’d given the tickets away to our new protester friends and a kid on a skateboard who ended up not using it. I know, because those were my people. I sat up in the bought seats for the first half of the show, and Debby hooked me up with an unused front-of-the-house seat for the second half.

Our backstage visit with Peter was lovely, I met a local writer who is a friend of his, and doubled the items on my “Things I Have Done for Folk Singers” list, which consisted of “making coffee for Arlo Guthrie” and now includes “tying Peter Yarrow’s shoe.”

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Peter Yarrow with my sister and her family.  My brother-in-law was a mere boyfriend 25 years ago when Peter was the first to congratulate him on his successful dissertation defense.
Your correspondent (left) with Peter Yarrow and my sister.
Your correspondent (left) with Peter Yarrow and my sister. Maybe we should invite him to come along on our next road trip. (Or not.)

Nuggets from my life as a music journalist, featuring Mark Lindsay and the woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner

Once upon a time in another life, I was a music journalist. I started out doing it because I love music and it gave me the opportunity to interview (and in some cases even meet) artists I’d long admired.

It also, at a point when I was dirt poor, helped me feed my music habit.

I’m not sure how old I was when I started buying 45 RPM singles, but a babysitter gave my sister and me her Monkees albums when we were about 6 and 7, starting me down a music-collecting path from which I have never strayed. As a slightly poor single mom decades later, my big indulgence was one new record/CD a month. Things hit a point where even that got out of reach.

A couple of years into trying to escape my dirt-poor stage, I got my first career-track job at the ripe old age of 34. My title was features reporter, and the paper was a small-town daily that published six days a week. (Our Saturday paper was the fat one; we didn’t have a Sunday edition.) One of the first things I did was to start a record review column. As scams go, it remains one of my greatest.

I had just enough credibility with the record companies (read: tearsheets of interviews with Arlo Guthrie, Cleo Laine, Bruce Cockburn and a few others I can’t remember) to make the grade. Within a few weeks of sending them out, along with a letter of introduction on letterhead from the newspaper, the CDs started rolling in. I named the column “Fresh Sounds,” and it ran every other Saturday. On Monday, I’d haul out the scissors and have an arts-and-crafts marathon, clipping copies of the column and mailing them to my contacts at the record companies.

Pretty soon, I was swimming in CDs. Other record companies found me and started sending unsolicited music. Two of the companies, Rhino and Rounder, sent monthly mailings with lists and descriptions of upcoming releases, along with a checkoff form I’d send back with my wish list. Wishes were always granted – in full. Others included Virgin, Ryko (where they let me raid the closet when I visited them on a trip east), Atlantic and Narada.

After I left the daily, I kept reviewing for awhile, and in 1998, Rhino released a four-disc boxed set called “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Original Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968.” I was working at a weekly paper group. There were 22 separate papers, each with its own reporter and a common features insert. The editor of that section gave me the go-ahead to do a story.

Recently Sweetheart and I attended a party to which we’d been asked to bring 60s artifacts. What could be more 60s than a “Nuggets” boxed set? (My Woodstock poster, that’s what. But it’s huge and framed, so I didn’t.)

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The Woodstock poster I did not bring to the ’60s party.

We got there and opened the box. That was when I discovered I’d hung on to the press releases and interview transcripts. I’d spoken to Lenny Kaye, who compiled the songs for their original Elektra records release (Rhino specializes in reissues) before becoming the lead guitarist in Patti Smith’s band.

I’d also interviewed Mark Lindsay. He was lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders and one of my childhood idols. He was teen-idol cute with a dazzling smile and a killer voice. I was as smitten as a little girl can be with a grown man who comes to her house via radio and television.

The band performed (including on an episode of “Batman”) in 18th-century costumes. But at least once I saw Mark Lindsay on TV when he wasn’t in fancy dress and he wasn’t singing. He was on a show called “The Dating Game.” (Couldn’t find a Lindsay clip.),” in which a man or woman, secluded from three potential dates, would ask them questions and then choose, based on their answers, which one he or she wanted to date.

I’d opened the interview by asking about his Dating Game experiences. Three lines into the transcript, a throwaway comment from an 18-year-old interview landed me straight in the middle of a current pop-culture moment.

“I was picked for a trip to the North Pole,” Lindsay said, “with the woman who married Bruce Jenner.”

Giant erasers, mean girls and shag carpet: A Dispatch from Misfit Hell

“And I never forgot how that year after Dad died and we lost our house, my best friend moved away and the youth group turned its collective back on me felt (picture one of those cartoons where Daffy Duck is standing on a cliff and the giant eraser comes and suddenly there’s only duck and no background).” E-mail, 2012

I sometimes joke that the worst parts of my life so far have been elementary school and the marriage part of my first marriage.

But there’s also the year I turned 15. Three months before my birthday, my favorite person in the world – my dad – died. Because he was the rabbi and the synagogue owned our house, we had to move. My best friend Nancy announced that her family was also moving – out of town. And I ran for an elected position in my synagogue’s youth group, but a girl two years older than I am got elected.

That wasn’t surprising, as older kids frequently won these elections. With this girl, though, things were more complicated.

Like me, she played guitar, and like me, she was youth group co-songleader. We were equals on that front, but I was the more accomplished musician. My ear was better, my intonation was better and I could feed out chords and learn songs more quickly. The rest of my life was a mess. But this was the one place I could shine. I also took the “co” in my title seriously, doing everything possible to make sure my counterpart was equally able to share the sunlight.

Without guitars around our necks, it was a different story. CoSong was tall, confident, had fabulous hair, a figure that didn’t quit and a natural gift for being the center of attention. (Which meant we had divergent definitions of “equal.”)

This is the guitar I got in December of the year referenced in this story. It lived under a bed in Phoenix, Arizona, and I bought it for $300 with confirmation gift and saved babysitting money. This picture was taken just after I got it. You can see it was a pretty joyful moment.
This is the guitar I got in December of the year referenced in this story. It lived under a bed in Phoenix, Arizona, and I bought it for $300 with confirmation gift and saved babysitting money. This picture was taken just after I got it. You can see it was a pretty joyful moment.

She was also a Mean Girl straight out of Central Casting. When Dad was alive, I had minor protection, because who wanted the rabbi to think badly of them? As a widowed teacher’s daughter, I was an ordinary nobody. Or, as CoSong and her Minions saw things, fair game.

That summer, I got shipped off to Kutz, the Reform movement’s national camp for three weeks.

It was harvest time for a huge crop of new songs, and I spent several hours a day in songleading class learning them all. My 12-string guitar took a little bit longer to tune than everyone else’s sixers, but our teachers – Doug Mishkin and Ramie & Merri Arian – didn’t mind. We learned upwards of 100 new songs that summer. I was going to teach them to religious school students during the next school year, working off the scholarship the synagogue had given me to attend camp.

What I was really excited about, though, was teaching them to the youth group. All the other TYGs (Temple Youth Groups) would have to wait until conventions, when the regional songleaders would teach the TYG songleaders. We’d be able to sing them right away.

I came back to our new home – a townhouse on top of a hill. It provided several sensory experiences. In the winter, it shook when the wind whistled through it. In the upstairs bathroom, you could turn a timer switch next to the light, triggering a percussive ticking sound and a blood-red light that turned the white walls pink. The light was a heat lamp, so at least it had that going for it.

The townhouse also featured dreadful avocado green and brown shag carpet that covered the floors and stairs, my holding-cell-sized new bedroom (my former room had run the length of the house, from the front of the garage to the back of my father’s study) and an electric stove. We’d always had gas. I’d loved turning the knob to bring the flame to life, and missed the whooshing sound of the oven turning on.

In September, the youth group held songleading tryouts. There was no question about who was most qualified. Three of us were vying for two spots. One girl was a year older than me. She played and sang passably, but not as well as CoSong or me. My guess was that it would be me and Sweet Girl, because CoSong already had an officer position. Or, if Sweet Girl blew the audition, it would be me and CoSong.

I taught a song I’d learned at camp. I don’t remember what the others did.

The Executive Board, including CoSong and her best friend, Minion, went behind closed doors to deliberate.

I knew CoSong didn’t want me, for the same reasons some kids pull the wings off of flies and hold magnifying glasses over them.

Our TYG president was a lovely, self-possessed girl to whom I ascribed a highly-developed sense of fairness. So, given my qualifications and the fact that CoSong already had an elected position, I felt confident that she and the rest of the board (Minion excepted) would shut Mean Girl down and give Sweet Girl and I the job.

The board came back with its decision, along with the news that I’d mistaken the president’s highly-developed sense of fairness for a highly-developed sense of something else.

CoSong approached, with Sweet Girl trailing behind her.

“We need you to teach us all the songs you learned at camp,” CoSong said.

I was still taking it in. I looked at her. I looked at her co-songleader. Then, I uttered the words that sealed my status as youth group pariah until the next election cycle.

“Learn them yourself,” I said. “You’re the songleaders.”

A trip to the dentist, featuring “tooth-colored” filling material and a few good bands

You know life is getting stressful when the prospect of multiple injections in your mouth followed by the replacement of every filling on two quadrant’s worth of teeth sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon.

To be fair, a part of that is my new-ish dentist, Dr. J and her hygienist, L.

Dr. J is young, beautiful and so fit that four months after having a baby, she looked like she’d never been pregnant. Her daughter is about six months old. The last time I was there, L had just gotten married and was getting ready to go on her honeymoon.

So we took care of the really important business first. I checked out the latest baby pictures, then got the skinny on L’s Dominican Republic honeymoon.

Four years ago, Dr. J bought the dental practice where Sweetheart has been going for decades. After listening to him talk about how good she was and wax poetic about all the high-tech equipment she used (a headlamp rather than an overhead light, and other tools that he said made his dental experiences much more interesting than they’d been when the previous dentist owned the practice), I thought about giving her a try.

But I wasn’t unhappy at the Big Dental Mill where I’d been going since finally having health benefits that included dental insurance. Then, Mom moved here and asked me to find her a dentist. So I took her to Dr. J.

She was deeply kind and welcoming, instantly putting Mom at ease. Dr. J shares what she’s seeing. She tells you what she knows about it and what she thinks should be done about it in a way leaves no doubt she understands you’ve got a bigger stake in this than she does. After all, those teeth are in your mouth, not hers!

She also appears to be a terrific boss, unless the camaraderie between she, her office manager L and L the Hygienist is just a really good act. (Doubtful.)

After my last cleaning, she said it would be a good idea to replace my fillings. She talked about how best to handle it (two appointments, one for the left side and one for the right) and had Office Manager L check to see what my insurance would approve.

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The LED light is for curing the filling once it’s in. The tool on the right is what Dr. J used to put the filling material in the tooth, and the lipstick rack-looking thing is the adhesive she put on the inside of the tooth before inserting the filling.

“You have really good insurance,” OML said. “Your co-pay will be $27.”

“That’s great!” I replied. “Sign me up!” Which, because it was January and the appointment was months off, I was all chirpy about.

So, today I showed up. After we got the baby and honeymoon news out of the way, Dr. J. spread some coconut-flavored numbing gel on the inside of my left cheek and the party started. She told me to wiggle my toes while she did the injection, and I sang while I wiggled and she injected. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t so evil. That numbing gel is great stuff.

Before she came at me with the second injection, I dragged out my ipad and threw on some music so I wouldn’t be singing alone.

While the numb-up took effect, we talked about the music on my i-pad (bands with local ties – The Violent Femmes, Garbage) and some from other places (Each Other).

Then I went looking for music to get your fillings swapped out to, eventually settling on Manhattan Transfer and Southern Culture on the Skids, because, why not?

She started. I felt pain. She stopped. Turned out she’d needled me with a normal dose of numb-up.

It wasn’t enough. So she fetched more coconut numbing gel, even though I was numb enough that it wouldn’t make a difference (it didn’t, but it smelled good). Two injections and five minutes later, any remaining feeling on the left side of my face was gone. If someone had told me they’d seen it out shopping or hanging at a bar while I was getting worked on, I’d’ve asked if it was having fun.

After drilling out the top filling (there was only one up there, and four on the bottom), Dr. J undertook a multi-step process to replace it. First, there was adhesive. Then, a “tooth-colored” filler (which made me think about “skin-colored” band-aids and that inside our mouths, we’re a lot closer to the same color).

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That’s the tooth-colored filling material. Dr. J used “A-2” for my teeth. A and B are for white teeth that are more orange or yellow cast. C and D are for white teeth with a more blue or gray cast. I thought the purple dental bib holder would make a great cat toy. I was sorely tempted to snatch it for our cat Betty. But I behaved myself.

She put the filler in and cured it using a tiny LED light. Then she took off the excess filler so I’d be able to bite normally. She repeated the process with the bottom teeth, and then it was over.

Several hours later, home with the numb-up all but worn off, it seems that at least one of my life plans is on-track – the one about dying with all my own teeth.

Newsmakers make news, religious fanatics make trouble and Mom’s community hosts a Debbie Friedman event with a millennial twist

It’s been a terrible week for the news business. Brian Williams has been handed a suspension without pay for six months, or as I’m calling it, “book leave.” Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show to have dinner with his kids. And Bob Simon, whose latest stop in a distinguished career was 60 Minutes, was killed in a car accident.

Which is senseless, but not as senseless as those three Muslim kids in North Carolina who got shot by their neighbor. Over a supposed parking dispute? And somehow, we’re searching for an explanation. The alleged shooter – who has confessed, btw, was an….atheist. Which explains it about as well as a Christian or Jew killing them would. Which is to say, not at all.

Then there’s Kayla Mueller, the young woman from Arizona who died in Syria after more than a year in captivity at the hands of those people who are doing terrible things in the name of Islam. Other than returning the world to the time when we lived in caves and threw rocks at each other, it’s hard to figure out exactly what they’re after.

I am starting to think none of this religion stuff matters very much except as a veil for mean people to hide behind and decent ones to wear in order to try and make the world and their lives better. Based on news reports about them, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Kayla Mueller fell into the latter category.

Moving on – as best we can after change happens – a few weeks ago was Debbie Friedman’s yahrzeit – the fourth anniversary of her death. Her birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. She would have been 64. Not a day goes by when my mother and aunts – who considered most of their kid pile one amorphous group of offspring – aren’t thinking of her.

Debbie might not have lived as long as her family and friends and the millions (I am not exaggerating here) of people who loved her music wanted her to. My sister and I were sure we would hang out being old ladies together with Debbie and her sisters. But she lived long enough to be remembered by people she never met. Some of those people work at the nursing home where Mom lives. One, the music therapist and activities person, Amy, approached me about six months ago with an idea.

“What would you think about having a concert of Debbie’s music around her yahrzeit? I was thinking it would be really great for your mother to help plan and be part of it.”

What did I think? I thought it would be great. The next thing I knew, Amy had Trish involved. Trish is the activities director on the assisted living side of the house, where Mom lived before she moved to the nursing home. Trish’s daughter Lauren and my Alex were playmates from the time they were about four. Now they’re both married – to Canadians – and living above the 48th parallel. Anyway, Trish is an activities genius.

So I told Trish about The Box. Mom has saved every scrap of paper from Debbie’s career that she ever acquired. I had it in a box to send to Aunt Freda for what will surely be some Debbie Friedman Archive somewhere someday that scholars will seek out. People will have to wear gloves to handle stuff that was jammed into various bags and between pages in books until I was tossing and sorting things in advance of her moves to where she is now. Trish was very excited about The Box, and started making noises about a display table.

She also made noises elsewhere. By the time Concert Day arrived, there’d been a squib in the local Jewish paper and a slew of local rabbis and cantors had signed on to take part.

Mom and I each got to pick a song to sing. She picked L’chi Lach, because she loves it.

I picked “Set me for a Seal,” because Debbie wrote it for my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding and we sang it together under the chuppah. She taught it to me, and then, intermittently for the entire weekend up to the wedding itself, my cell phone would ring and I’d pick it up and say hello.

“How does it go again?”

So I’d sing it for her.

Anyway, what with the Parkinson’s and all, Mom’s voice sometimes gives out. Also, I didn’t want her to have to stress about finding a key in which to sing. So we decided to do it with cello backup. That way, I could follow her around. Also, I played the melody through once, bowing, and then plucked so she could hear but the cello wouldn’t overpower her voice. It worked well.

Mom sings L'chi Lach. I pluck.
Mother/daughter bonding: Stillish life with cello. That’s Debbie on the movie screen. Mom was singing L’chi Lach. When she had her bat mitzvah in 2004, Mom led MiSheberach, Debbie’s setting of the healing prayer. Debbie stood behind her and played while Mom sang. At this concert, Rabbi Steve Adams did that prayer and he asked me to play guitar. I stood behind him the same way Debbie had for Mom. It was my quiet shoutout to both of them.

We were first, but before that was the best millennial part. Thanks to technology, I was able to get Aunt Freda up on FaceTime and she got to see the 200 people who’d showed up. I introduced her to the rabbis and cantors, showed her the display table and then shoved the microphone up to my i-pad. She thanked everyone for coming, and heard the audible gasp of disbelief when she said that Debbie was so afraid that no one would remember her music.

We lost the connection somewhere between the first and second song, but it was a truly lovely and meaningful afternoon, and I felt connected to Debbie, my family and the community in a way I hadn’t before.

Everyone was backing everyone else up – we had a bunch of guitars, a mandolin, a drum and the cello. Mom got invited up to play timbrel when Amy sang “Miriam’s Song.”

That's Mom on timbrel for "Miriam's Song." Amy the activities goddess is playing guitar. Behind her are Cantors Lauren Phillips, Karen Berman and David Barash (with his tabla).
That’s Mom on timbrel for “Miriam’s Song.” Amy the activities goddess is playing guitar. Behind her are Cantors Lauren Phillips, Karen Berman and David Barash (with his tabla).

We were in front of a theater-sized screen with an image of Debbie on it. As the last song, we sang “T’filat Haderech (The Traveler’s Prayer).” But it was Debbie singing on the screen, and we all picked her key and played our instruments and sang with her. I was very involved in making sure I was in tune, in time and listening to the other musicians (this was our first and dress rehearsal as well as the performance) so it wasn’t until the song was over that I looked over to find Mom, crying her eyes out and pretty much a mess.

For a second, I felt like the worst and most selfish person in the world. Here I was, sawing away on my cello while my mother was falling apart five feet away and I hadn’t noticed.

Then, I realized that it didn’t matter. Trish, Amy and other people she knew and loved were there, comforting her and lifting her up. If Debbie could have seen it, she would have hugged those women and invited them to dinner.

Years ago, Debbie had given me one of her “This is how it is” talks about how Mom shouldn’t be living on Cape Cod anymore because the climate was bad for her Parkinson’s and she should be in California with her mother and Aunt Ann and she was trying to get her to move. All I could think was “Do you want to kill her? Because if you take her away from her community, that’s what will happen.”

I said something like “Good luck getting her to leave the Cape,” adding a silent “Let me know how that works out for you.”

By the time Mom was at a point where she had to move, Debbie was dead. Mom chose Milwaukee. We all loved the idea of Mom & her sisters together, but California wasn’t practical.

Debbie would have hated it too, and agreed. She would have been a regular presence in Mom’s life, calling, visiting, singing and comforting. What I realized in the moment after catching sight of my weeping mother, surrounded by so many loving women, is that even death hasn’t stopped Debbie from that.