Happy Birthday Gloria–Ethan, go nuts!

Happy first birthday  to my nephew Ethan. I appreciate that he was born on August 28 because that is also my mother’s birthday. So from now on, every year on August 28, I get to be happy for his birthday while I am a little sad when I think about my mom and miss her a bit more than I do on other days. I appreciate the balance.

The house in which I grew up at 5081 Somerset Street in Buena Park, California was a fun one. We were encouraged to play (as long as we got good grades and read a lot of books). My mom, Gloria, went to great efforts to provide the opportunities. We had tons of stuff to do outside beyond the requisite bike and bat: a swing set, a ping pong table acquired with blue chip stamps applied to pages of books with wet sponges, hippity hops, kick balls, and even stilts.

Inside our home we had cupboards of board games, floor space to play marbles and jacks and the living room was not formal. Instead, it was set up so that we could hang out with our friends and play air hockey or pachinko, color large posters and do jigsaw puzzles. We even had a player piano.

By the time that we were teenagers and entertained gentlemen callers on the weekends, there was a multitude of ways for a young man to occupy his hands in that room without ever touching one of Gloria’s daughters. She was fun and smart!

We were also encouraged to have a “collection.” Each of us had one displayed on shelves in our room: Martha collected miniature pianos, Betsy (boo) collected deer figurines and I collected dolls from around the world. In the family room next to the TV was Gloria’s collection: nutcrackers.

There was a big poster on the wall that said, “Peanut butter is love. Spread some around today.” Not only did it appropriately decorate her collection below, it was also an inclusive nod to my father’s particularly strong affinity for peanut butter. Nowhere in this blog post will there be even a hint of suggestion that either of my parents might have been a bit nuts. That’s because they weren’t.

Underneath the poster were two bookshelves about 3 1/2 feet high that held an odd assortment of nutcrackers shaped like animals and machines. On top there was a bowl of nuts (still in the shell) and the opportunity to step up to the counter to crack one and eat it whenever one so desired.

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Her collection included a great variety: a small wooden contraption that Martha actually made for her, gifts that relatives brought back from Israel over the years and my all time favorite which is a pair of woman’s legs that my Great Aunt Tee gave to her. I loved that particular nutcracker long before its suggestive nature dawned on me along with the impressive significance that it came from a woman who was probably born in the 1800’s!

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I don’t know how the collection started, but I do remember when it made a distinct transition. Well, I don’t remember exactly when, but one year my parents went on a trip to New York City. (I’m sure my sisters can provide more specific details.) It was a big deal because my parents didn’t travel much. They returned from New York City with Uncle Alf.

Uncle Alf was married to my Great Aunt Tee which makes him great too. They lived in Omaha. He did not go to New York with my parents. Nor did he return with them. From their great travels, my parents brought home a toy soldier nutcracker. It was like the one from the ballet that had a white goatee and moustache just like our Uncle Alf, so that’s why we named it after him.

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I don’t have the original in my home as I believe one of my sisters has him in her care, but it looks like one of these.

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It wasn’t until this very moment, writing this blog post that I noticed that both Aunt Tee and Uncle Alf had a connection in my mother’s collection. Hmmm…

With the addition of Uncle Alf to the general collection came a new focus: toy soldier nutcrackers. Once again, it was fun. Over the years my mom collected all kinds of variations on the theme. We purchased them for her as Chanukkah gifts, birthday gifts, “I saw this and I thought you might like it” gifts. She collected cheap versions and expensive ones. The collection grew—exponentially.

Fast forward several decades and 3 homes later to her lovely abode at 125th Street in Johnson County, Kansas where she and her adoring paramour Aaron lived together in her final years. Even there you could easily find her collection that followed from Buena Park. Even New York City’s Uncle Alf was present along with my old favorites: the legs, the squirrel and the gifts from Israel.

Aaron & GPG1, 1-23-10

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For a long time the nutcrackers had their own room. Gloria had shelves built in the guest room where they lined the walls to stand guard over sleeping grandchildren and out of town visitors. The impressive collection had expanded to posters of nutcrackers and bookmarks and pretty much almost anything that sported their image.

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Finally, about 5 years or so before she died, she was done. She did not get rid of them, nothing as drastic as that. When Aaron moved in and they redesigned the guest room as his office, the nutcrackers were respectfully relegated to the basement. Once again shelves were built and they were displayed, but not in such a prominent position.

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She politely asked us to stop buying them for her, she no longer had room or interest.

The only people who spent much time in the basement were her kids and grandkids when we came to visit and the cleaning lady. But the nutcrackers did not seem sad and neither did my mom. She was finding other ways to have fun.

After she died we tried to donate the collection as a whole, but did not find a willing recipient. Our affection for the collection was not to be found elsewhere. So we each took tokens to our respective homes for ourselves and our children, gave some to others with fond memories and the rest was finally packed away and dispersed to parts unknown.

Last month I went on a trip to Leavenworth, Washington with two of my childhood friends. While walking through this oddly themed Bavarian town we came across the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. Imagine that! While we did not enter the museum itself, we browsed through the gift shop. My friends were very accommodating, having spent a significant portion of their adolescence enjoying the fun nature of my childhood home and cracking a few nuts in their tenure there.

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The gift shop was impressive and I saw many old friends in their collection, relishing the memories they prompted. It was bittersweet not being able to call my mom and tell her all about it, but a great photo opportunity.

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So, Happy 1st Birthday, Ethan. I hope your life is filled with fun and that you get good grades and read a lot of books. But most of all… today go nuts.

And mom, Happy Birthday. I miss you.

mom on phone

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbara Dawson
    Aug 28, 2013 @ 23:57:47

    Lorrie, I loved this one so much….I’ve been sitting here re-reading it with lots of laughs and a few tears, too. How lucky you three girls were to grow up in such a home, and I
    believe you are doing a marvelous job in providing such fun and love and learning for
    Malina and Jaymee. Also, I believe that the original “Uncle Alfred” came home with me
    from Kansas City. If we decide this is true, I would love to send him to you as I can
    tell you feel special about him. Let me know. Love, Aunt Barbie

    Reply

    • Being Jewish in Hawaii
      Aug 29, 2013 @ 07:18:10

      Hi Aunt Barbie. I was thinking about you today. I spoke to boo earlier and she said that you all had talked and that she thought the original was in your care. I am glad that Uncle Alf is with you. He is in good hands. He might go nuts around here!

      Reply

  2. Barbara Gass
    Aug 29, 2013 @ 00:15:53

    Lorrie,
    Another very moving, tearful blog. I often think of your Mom and it is wonderful that you have such fond memories. She was quite a lady.

    We have to save this one for Ethan to read when he is able to .
    Love,
    Barbara

    Reply

  3. Martha Gershun
    Aug 29, 2013 @ 02:00:16

    Lorrie – this is so beautiful – thank you so much. I am taking very good care of the nutcrackers entrusted to me! And that last photo… I feel like Mom is calling each of us just to say hi.

    Reply

    • Being Jewish in Hawaii
      Aug 29, 2013 @ 07:16:01

      I know what you mean. I love that photo. I was thinking that it was like she answered the phone and I got to tell her happy birthday. Thanks for taking care of the nutcrackers and sending the ones to Washington and remembering!

      Reply

  4. Harold Burger
    Aug 29, 2013 @ 05:06:27

    I just love this tale. My Mother had/has a larger collection of salt & pepper shakers that started by accident. (My fault), I purchased a pair of shakers on my first port visit in Bermuda and gave them to her. after that, I had to buy a pair in every port I visited. Soon other relatives and friends were giving he sets. When my parents moved to Arizona fry NYC 30 years later, the collection was packed up and never taken out again. It is now in storage in my sister’s basement as Mom doesn’t have room for them in her apartment. and she says that at 90, she doesn’t need and salt of pepper. Thanks for refreshing my memory

    Reply

  5. Shanny Morgenstern
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 16:13:03

    Lorrie- Truly beautiful. Thanks for sharing. It’s particular poignant this weekend, exactly a year after Aaron died.

    Reply

  6. Karen Therese
    Aug 25, 2016 @ 20:46:51

    My meandering journey to your blog began this morning when I received the annual email alarm I set up many years ago to send Gloria Gershun happy birthday wishes. We share the same birth month, fondness and soft memories of our brief time together reappeared. This then gave way to the vast busyness of life . . . I was sorry we had lost touch and wondered if we might reconnect so I could thank her for her kindness.

    I was a skinny single mom who worked part time at the JCC when we met. She had a new Apple computer that she was determined to learn how to use so she could communicate with her grandchildren. She graciously welcomed me and my young sons into her beautiful home so that I could privately tutor her there on her own computer.

    I was very saddened to learn today of her passing, just a few months after I retired from the J in March 2010.

    Thank you for posting all the great photos and wonderful childhood memories. I cried upon seeing your mothers bright lipsticked smile again, what a glorious smile! Thank you also for the photos and memories of your father, whom I never met but I believed they must have shared a wonderful life together.

    I did meet Aaron, he came along in her life in 2004 at the very same time I met the man who would eventually become my husband. Gloria was happy because my Tom was an attorney like her husband had been.

    Your family is truly blessed with these wonderful memories.

    I will not delete Gloria Gershun’s annual birthday reminder. I will always carry with me the joy of knowing such a beautiful and grand woman.

    Bowing to your lovely thoughts ~

    Shanti Shanti Shanti
    Shalom Shalom Shalom
    Namaste

    Reply

    • Martha Gershun
      Aug 27, 2016 @ 02:05:26

      Karen – I’m Gloria’s “Kansas City daughter.” I didn’t know you at the J, but very much remember and appreciate the great kindness and patience you showed to Mom. She sure had a love/hate relationship with that computer!

      Thank you so much for your lovely note. It really made me happy to remember Mom like that and remember how much she touched others, too. She had the greatest smile of all time!

      Your note was a beautiful tribute during her birthday week – thank you for taking the time to write! Lorrie shared it with boo and me, and it made us all think of Mom.

      Martha Gershun

      Reply

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