Growing up, we were the typical American family in the 70’s. A Mom, a Dad and two girls. We all fit perfectly into our two-bedroom apartment on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. My claim to fame is that we lived one floor below Marissa Tomey’s family, long before she became famous. My photographer Dad actually did a family photo shoot for them.
My Dad had a passion for photography. There would be the big announcement before he would hole himself up in the tiny bathroom in our apartment to develop pictures. “I’m going in to develop film”, he would call out. “There will be no opening of the bathroom door till I am done, so go now”. Of course, I would never have to pee then. Made for good bladder training.
When I was 8 years old, my parents shared some exciting news. I wasn’t going to be the youngest anymore, they told me. My sister and I were elated. We were old enough to understand and appreciate a new sibling. We spent most of our time guessing if it was going to be a brother or a sister. I wanted it to be a boy, since I already had a sister. She was way too bossy. I thought if we changed genders, maybe I could catch a break. My parents involved us in planning for the baby. They even encouraged us to suggest names.
On a cold March morning, Mom got us ready for school. She sent us off with our hair brushed and school bags packed. We walked to the corner to catch the school bus. Little did I know, my mom was actually in labor that morning. At lunch time, my Dad showed up at the school lunch room to tell me that my mom had a baby boy. I was so excited and so were all my second -grade classmates. They even surprised me with mazal tov cards.
My mom went to stay the week with Grandma Rosie. We came everyday to see the baby. Mommy insisted we wear masks, so as not to get the baby sick. She let me hold him, but only while sitting down. The first thing I noticed, was the tiny cartilage on his ear. It was slightly bent. It looked as if he had slept the entire nine months in utero on one side, leaving him with a tiny crushed ear. But otherwise, he was the cutest thing I had ever seen. I even saw some resemblance between us.
Friday night, my grandmother hosted the Shalom Zachar. It is the traditional gathering the first Friday night after a baby boy is born. My grandmother baked her famous cinnamon rugelach and lekvar (prune butter) cake. Tante Teresa, one of my grandmother’s sisters, came over to help her prepare the desserts.
I watched as Tante Teresa decapitated pineapples and decorated each head with dried fruit. There were trays of nuts, candy and “arbis”, the traditional chick pea dish, served especially at this occasion. The paper plates had red flowers with gold trim. Fresh flowers adorned the large Shabbos table. Everything was so festive! Raspberry syrup with a spritz of seltzer was on the table. The men sang the Friday night zemiros tunes and made a L’Chaim on whiskey and schnapps. The women noshed on treats in the kitchen while wishing mazal tov to the entire family.
My father felt proud sitting at the head of the table with my grandfather. Daddy was going on 40 years old and had just welcomed his first son to the world. Two years later my youngest brother would join the family to make it a balanced two girls and two boys. I was a big sister and couldn’t be happier. I loved my brother from the day he was born and was so excited to “play mommy” with a real baby.