Where were you on 9/11?

For my parents, the question was what were you doing when you heard the news that JFK was shot.

For my generation, it is about remembering where we were on September 11, 2001 at those awful moments when planes crashed into the World Trade Center, or during the ensuing destruction and horrible aftermath that were all caught on video.

My response to the question is a confession. I was asleep.

In the spirit of T’shuvah, I must ask for forgiveness. Not from one particular person, per say. Just forgiveness. And of course it comes in the form of a story.

Last July, my husband and I spent a few days in New York City. We have both made many trips to the city before this one, playing tourists, taking our kids to Broadway plays, standing in line for the elevator to go to the top of the Empire State Building, visiting the Museum of Natural History and indulging ourselves at Dylan’s Candy Bar. We’ve also taken both kids to Ground Zero. We’d pretty much covered most of the main landmarks, until this summer.

This summer we visited the 9/11 Memorial.

And this is where my words fail me. I can only share vain attempts at capturing what it felt like to be there.  While I have rave reviews in appreciation for the logistics of its design in terms of accessibility and crowd management, I’ll save that for another post.

For some reason I keep thinking of Percy Shelley’s poem, “Mont Blanc,” that I studied in high school and college and haven’t thought much about since then. The feelings that nature inspired  him to write about in that poem, are similar to the feelings that the memorial inspired in me. The memorial is awe-inspiring, deep, untouchable, sad and beautiful. All at the same time.

I also had a revelation, which leads me to the confession part.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was asleep when the phone rang at about 5:30 a.m.. It was my mother. She  had called to ask me if I knew what was going on and to tell me to turn on the T.V.. I got mad at her for waking me up. I watched for a few minutes and went back to sleep and did not click the T.V. back on until later.

The morning of September 11, 2001 was in the middle of one of the biggest personal crisis of my life. I was in the throes of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad divorce.

I had recently evicted my first husband from our house. I was afraid for my safety. Armed only with the meager protection of a restraining order, I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep and was generally a mess. My daughter was only four years old and the tension and change in our home put her in a constant state of distress. All of my energy was spent taking care of her.

I had taken off work for a while to get our life together. From my perspective at the time, my mother, who knew that my life was in shambles,  chose to wake me up on one of the few mornings that I had actually had a chance to get a bit of sleep and she pissed me off. My feelings were hurt that she had been so inconsiderate.

Of course, by later in the day I  was much more coherent and realized why she had called. I began to pay attention to the events that played out on the television in my remote Wai’anae Valley home on the leeward coast of O’ahu. But not really.

Over the course of the next months I was vaguely aware of the course of the historical events, but it seemed so far away. I cared, but not with my heart. I was so selfishly wrapped up in the details of the most terrible thing that had ever happened to me and distracted by the tasks of putting  life back together for both me and my daughter, that I never made an emotional connection to the horrible magnitude of 9/11.

Not until this summer. Not until I visited the 9/11 Memorial.

Standing with my second husband next to the deep well of the memorial, reflecting on the names inscribed around it  and absorbing the profound spirit that the quiet space evokes, I filled with regret.

I should have paid more attention….with my heart. I am sorry.

When we took photos at the memorial I couldn’t bring myself to smile for the camera. It felt disrespectful. I needed to assume a solemn pose, one that reflected in my demeanor the heaviness that I felt inside. I needed to honor those that were lost and those that were heroes during this grave moment of our history. I  am sorry that I didn’t do it sooner.

During the same trip, I visited my friend, Anne Blumenstein, in New Jersey. Her grade school aged son was obsessed with the construction of the “Freedom Tower” and all factual information surrounding it, as some boys that age can be. Anne told me that the father of one of her son’s classmates had died in the World Trade Center while his mother had been pregnant with  the boy at the time. Thus Anne’s son’s keen interest and empathy. A whole new level for his generation’s  questions and stories.

Which leads me back to where I started and so I ask again, where were you on 9/11?

It’s fun to swim at the YMCA

This blog post is about how I like to go to the local YMCA whenever  I am on vacation and swim and some of the interesting Y’s I have visited. But when I started thinking about what I wanted to write, I realized what a long history I have with the YMCA. It stems back to my childhood and I feel compelled to share that too.

It all boils down to the title of this post which is that it is fun to swim at the YMCA.

My family joined the Anaheim YMCA when I was in grade school so that my sisters and I could join their synchronized swimming team. My father ran and swam there as well. I kind of grew up there. Over the years I also joined the  swimming team and socialized in their teen center.

It’s where I got my first job when I was in high school. I was the babysitter on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for children whose parents were working out and going to exercise classes. Eventually I worked as a counselor at the summer day camp  until I was a sophomore in college.

While I was attending UCLA, I joined the West L.A. YMCA so that I could swim in their masters program and from there I moved over to the Beverly Hills YMCA where I got a job one summer at their day camp. It was at the Beverly Hills Y that I forged friendships that have lasted until this day.

This particular group of counselors spent several summers working together, including a week each of those summers at Camp Arbolado in the San Bernardino Forest where we strengthened our bonds and pulled pranks on each other straight out of the movies.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. I got involved with the Leeward YMCA on Oahu when it was merely an old sugar mill’s  smokestack in Waipahu,  long before they had a swimming pool. Both of my kids have attended Leeward Y’s A+ program that they operate in the local schools  as well as their summer and school break programs. Just as I was a counselor for other people’s kids when I was young and had loads of energy, I depended on their youthful staff’s expertise and care in handling my precious kids.

And then they built a pool–and I joined. What I like best about being a Y member is that I can swim at any Y facility across the island. I often swim in the Nuuanu Y’s pool as it is close to our shul and I can zip over while the kids are at Hebrew school and swim a few laps while they are in class.

The added benefit of YMCA membership is that when I go on vacation, I can go to the local YMCA where ever I happen to be and they will extend a guest pass to me to use their facilities.

When I visit my friend Kathy in our hometown of Fullerton I dive in the pool at the Fullerton YMCA. When we go to Carlsbad, California to enjoy our time share vacation there, I swim at the Magdalene Ecke Family YMCA. A few years ago I attended a high school reunion in Southern Orange County, California  and I swam at the Irvine YMCA. Last winter I stayed in Santa Monica and swam at the Y there. I even swam at the Embarcadero YMCA in San Francisco a few summers ago and had an amazing view of the San Francisco Bay and Bay Bridge right from the pool.

During the summer of 2012 I ventured to a YMCA outside of California.

I swam twice at the Bethlehem YMCA in July when we were visiting my husband’s side of the family in Albany, New York. Not only do they have a nice indoor pool, but I learned that  “The Bethlehem YMCA Ice Rink is a NHL regulation sized rink and is one of only six YMCA’s in the country with indoor rink facilities.”

On my way back to Hawaii from the East Coast of the continental U.S. I stopped in Santa Rosa to visit our older teenager at URJ Camp Newman. I went for a swim at the Sonoma County Family YMCA before I hit the road for our reunion.

I asked the lifeguard a few questions about the pool and noticed that her name tag said “Malia.” I asked her if she is from Hawaii and she said that her father is from here and lives in Ewa Beach. We were both happy to make the connection.

When I started writing about the Bethlehem YMCA it reminded me that I visited the Jerusalem YMCA in Israel a very long time ago in the 1980’s, but I will save that for another post.

Thank goodness pay phones have not been layed to rest

I was so concerned about charging my iPad so that I could read from my Kindle app for the duration of my six hour flight from Boston to San Francisco, that I forgot to charge my cell phone and somewhere along the way it died. All that searching for a connection can be exhausting, even for a cell phone.

It would not have been much of a problem except that I had made reservations with Marin Door to Door shuttle to take me to my Santa Rosa destination and I was supposed to call them before I collected my baggage so that they could dispatch a driver. My iPad can do a lot of amazing things, but making a phone call is not one of them. At least not with the few apps that I’ve downloaded so far.

It was almost midnight and I wanted to make sure that the last part of this long journey would happen fast, so I stopped at the first pay phone I could find. I dug out a quarter from the change purse attached to my wallet and reached to put it in the coin slot. That’s when I realized that it has been a very long time since I have used a pay phone. So long, in fact, that I was not aware that it costs fifty cents to make a call.

I dug out another quarter and proceeded to dial the shuttle’s number when I got a message announcing that this particular call would cost 75 cents and that I needed to insert more money. Luckily I had the requisite amount in dimes and a nickel and I added that to the machine. I’m not sure what went wrong from there, either I incorrectly dialed the phone number or I should not have dialed it again, but the line went dead. When I hung up the phone, I was not returned my 2 quarters, two dimes and one nickel. I was out of change and perhaps luck. It was the middle of the night! How was I going to find my ride?

Not willing to panic just yet, I contemplated stopping a stranger who was passing by and asking to use his or her cell phone for a fast call. I considered my reaction if a stranger in an airport at midnight stopped me with a similar request, but before I moved into desperate action, I noticed that the pay phone is also set up so that I could use a credit card to pay for my call. What a relief. I slid my American Express card in and out of the slot for a $.75 charge and contacted the shuttle company as instructed.

Apparently the night shift operates differently than the day people who take the reservations, because this guy asked me to call again after I had my baggage.

Thank goodness for that credit card slot and my trusty American Express card and the fact that the airport still has pay phones. It took more than a few calls to negotiate my ride. (I won’t mention how terrible the service is from Marin Door to Door–you can check out all the bad reviews on Yelp.)

Our next bill will reflect several $.75 charges. I don’t think the night shift guy ever quite figured out that I did not have the convenience of a cell phone to call back and forth as he figured out how to do his job with me as the guinea pig.

But between that slot, my card and the electrical outlet on the nearby wall where I was able to take advantage of the ridiculously long wait for the late night shuttle and charge my iPhone enough to operate in case of emergency during the 2 hour journey to Santa Rosa, I managed to negotiate my ride and blend a bit of old technology with the new.

It’s nice to know that with a pay phone, when the line goes dead, there is redemption. Another phone call is just a few quarters or credit card slides away. When a cell phone dies, resurrection is a much longer process.

I also made for darned sure that both my phone and iPad were fully charged before I left for the airport for my return fight from San Francisco to Honolulu. I even remembered to turn off the phone when I got on the plane so I would have no difficulty calling my ride as soon as the plane landed on Oahu to get me home ASAP. I also think I’ll buy one of those back up batteries for the next time I travel.

Being Jewish in New York City

Growing up in Southern California, outside of the L.A. area, it seemed to me that New York was where the “Real” Jews lived–at least in the United States. It almost seemed like the non-Jews that I met who were from New York were kind of Jewish too. I have always been enamored of New York, travelled there as often as possible and imagined myself a “City girl” in my younger days. It is somewhat ironic that I chose to settle in Wai’anae on the leeward coast of Oahu. So not the city life and not a lot of Jews!

It turned out to be a bit fortuitous that I married a nice Jewish guy who has a slight New York accent when he makes the occasional pidgin comment and who loves living in Hawaii as much as I do. I get the best of all worlds right in my own home in Kapolei. But we like to step off the island and visit the Continent when we get the chance.

My husband grew up near the City in New York. Several of his family members still live there and we recently embraced the opportunity to visit with them and Manhattan for a few days.

We did not plan our itinerary much in advance. We set out each day with a destination in mind and discovered the area by foot and by mouth. We knew that wherever we went, whatever we did and whatever we saw would be interesting. We were in New York for goodnness’ sake.

Some people travel to the Big Apple for the culture-we went to a museum. Other people go for the theater- we went to a play. A lot of tourists want to see the historic sites–we did that too. But none of those were our main objectives as we walked the streets of Lower Manhattan, SoHo, Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side and Times Square. Our priorities-besides spending time with family-were about food.

When I mention these food prioritites we are not talking about fine dining experiences in exclusive restaraunts with celebrity chefs. Our list is derived from the memories of my husband’s youth. We lean more towards the food cart variety, diners or meals that you walk up to a counter and order and hope to find a place to sit down while you eat.

The stars in this food search production of ours were: pizza, hot dogs and a corned beef sandwich. Minor roles included a chocolate egg cream, a falafel (for me) and anything else we could manage to add in on the side.

From my perspective, we were very successful.
Our first night we had pizza in Hoboken. It was good, but my husband was looking for the pizza we had our second day in the Village.

20120731-083108.jpg

20120731-083151.jpg

We ordered buffalo wings at a bar on Bleeker Street and washed them down with a few beers while we listened to Bruce Springsteen in the background.

20120731-083207.jpg

One of the main events was our trip to Katz’s deli on the Lower East Side. We indulged ourselves in the best corned beef sandwich I have ever had, a potato knish and my husband had the requisite Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda.

20120731-083248.jpg

20120731-083258.jpg

20120731-083310.jpg

I haven’t had good cappuccino in Hawaii so I ordered it on this trip as much as possible. One afternoon I indulged in an iced cappuccino with a scoop of ice cream at Le Petit Cafe in Greenwich Village. I wish I could go back right now for another one. And of course I ordered it when we had breakfast in Little Italy which is not as big as it used to be!

20120731-083357.jpg

20120801-075512.jpg

And of course we made it to a diner, or two or three. At the Brooklyn diner in Times Square I ordered a tuna salad sandwich- not for the tuna, but because it came on grilled challah. The only time I get to eat challah in Hawaii is when we go to Erev Shabbat services at Temple. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where it was featured on a restaurant menu. Dare I say that it was heavenly. My husband had a Reuben sandwich-featuring a stack of corned beef that rivaled any of the delis I love–Katz’s or Canter’s.

20120801-075839.jpg

20120801-075852.jpg

And here’s the other Reuben that we adore. We did not eat him, but I had to share his photo because he is so cute.

20120801-082348.jpg

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray that I get in to a good college

When I think back to my childhood and the lively conversations around the dinner table or the intimate moments when my parents tucked me in at bedtime, I don’t remember many deep discussions about G-d. The almighty HaShem, blessed be (s)he, was not a major player in the lessons taught by my parents almost half a century ago.

We did talk a lot about education. My mother often intimated that of all the Jewish “Values,” education is one of the highest. Like many a nice Jewish girl of my generation, I was practically nursed and weaned on the words “When you get to college.” Academic achievement was top priority in the Gershun household.

Forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, but education was kind of the god in which my parents believed would make all things right in our lives. It was the key to our success.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a diatribe against the value of education on which I was raised. I’m just trying to give you an idea of how important it was in the house in which I was grew up.

My parents were the first generation of Americans in each of their families to go to college. Of course they believed in the power of a good education.

So do I. I was a high school teacher for 20 years, for goodness’ sake (I decided not to write the real phrase that I might say here as it is just not appropriate in this blog.)

When my sister and I stopped by last month to take pictures at Charles G. Emery Elementary and Sunny Hills High Schools in Southern California, my memory was aroused.

I have not been back to Sunny Hills since I graduated in 1980. I have certainly changed a whole lot more than the campus has since then. It actually looks a bit newer and cleaner than it did in the late 1970’s. The Performing Arts Complex (PAC) and the classrooms look pretty much the same. The quad is a bit smaller due to a few classroom additions and there is no longer a line of pay phones near the front office. No need for those any more.

We drove up “the hill” of our teens, the entrance to the school, and parked in the student  parking lot for a self guided tour.

We saved the best for last–Room 7.

Room 7 is an icon in Gershun family lore, it’s enchanting spell lasting long after graduation ceremonies. Each Gershun girl spent a significant portion of her high school days (and nights) in this classroom, learning about journalism: how to write a news story, how to edit a caption, how to produce a high school newspaper and so much more.

Under the brilliant direction of Mrs. Carol Hallenbeck, we became writers. She is  somewhat of a goddess in the annals of our family’s educational history. We worshiped her.

My oldest sister, Martha, was the first to discover the magical and inspiring world behind the door of what is now the attendance office (so sad).

Martha was editor-in-chief (her junior year, I believe) of the award-winning newspaper The Accolade and later the magazine, Excalibur. She filled our dinner table with stories and gossip, painting a vivid and exciting picture of life on a high school newspaper staff. Boo, my other sister, also served her stint as editor-in-chief (was it also in her Junior year?) and I couldn’t wait for my turn.

Alas, I was not selected to serve as Editor-In-Chief of the Accolade. That honor went to my friends Jennifer Lorvick and Julie Wilson (it was well deserved.) I eventually shared the editorship of the Excalibur, with John Yoon and was content.

While not the protege each of my sisters proved to be, I thoroughly enjoyed my own tenure in room 7.

When I joined the faculty at Wai’anae High School in 1991, it never occurred to me that I would become a journalism teacher in the footsteps of Carol Hallenbeck. It happened in 1998 when I agreed to advise the school newspaper, Ka Leo O Wai’anae.

I taught my SP students what I had learned in Room 7 over 20 years before, finding  in it the power to transform an ordinary classroom into an extraordinary setting. Turns out that I am a way better teacher than I ever was a student.

To my pleasure, I saw Mrs. Hallenbeck at a Journalism Education Association convention when we took a Searider Productions trip to California in 2001. I proudly introduced her to my students and colleagues and I bought a book that she co-edited, Practical Ideas for Teaching Journalism. It guided the lessons I taught for the next eight years. Talk about influence.

I later met A.J. Nagaraj who joined the Wai’anae High School faculty in 2006. I was pleased to learn that he is from my home town and  his sister is a former Accolade editor.

I was looking online for information about Mrs. Hallenbeck. I found many stories of the honors she received for her excellence in teaching before she retired a few years ago. I also found a wonderful story from 2005 of another teacher who was honored in Southern California. She mentioned Carol Hallenbeck as a teacher who made a difference in her life.

And now it is time to tie this all together and I’m not sure how.

Back to the Jewish part: I think that we have more conversations about Tikun Olam and Tzedakah with our kids than my parents did with me. I am also trying to add in some blessings and conversations about our beliefs.

I’m not saying that we don’t value education or believe in the power of a good one (just ask my kids how often we bug them about their grades and talk about college). Nor am I saying that my parents did not believe strongly in doing the right thing. I do think that our children learn as much from what we don’t say as what we do, so I try to say it all to avoid confusion (just ask my husband!)

Finally, I discovered that when I look back through the door of Room 7 to the 1970’s at Sunny Hills High School, I still feel the amazing power of that one simple classroom.  I can see the row of manual typewriters along the back wall with several long tables in a parallel line just a few feet away. On the other side are the student desks arranged in three groups, facing each other to facilitate discussion. I also see the magical world that blossomed within, led by one mighty teacher from her podium at the front, and how it developed into a colorful thread woven through the fabric of my family’s story, touching us in the past, present and future.

Follow the red brick wall

I have often written in praise of the “Hebrew School Carpool.” Around here we call it the Kapolei Carpool and it has become an established method of transportation for the small group of West Oahu Jewish families who are driving  the 21 miles back and forth, some times several times a week, to Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu for our kids to attend the Jewish School of Studies.

On Sunday mornings it’s pretty easy. We zip in and out of Honolulu in less than 30 minutes, with little interference. Traveling west on H-1 into Town on a weekday afternoon poses a challenge. Traffic congestion is random and can start as early as 3:00 pm. Often the pace makes a slow crawl until well after 6:00 pm.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. It has to do with the carpool, but in a much different way.

While forming the Kapolei Carpool was generally effortless, it took me much longer to find a carpool with neighborhood families whose children go to the same secular school that mine attend. I’ve been looking for a kindred group of drivers since my Teenager was in second grade and was not successful until recently.

Several of  Middle Schooler’s classmates live nearby and together we have established a nice carpool system.

We’ve told her to be at the ready to jump in the designated driver’s car as soon as it pulls up to the house. I don’t like to wait for other kids when I drive, so I don’t want other parents to wait for mine.

I told her about my Hebrew School days carpooling with the Rosmans, Shermans and Oxmans. My parents made us go outside to wait for them. We would sit on the red brick wall that divided our yard from that of our neighbors, the Armstrongs.

That’s what this blog post is about, the red brick wall in the front yard of the house where I lived for the first 18 years of my life at 5081 Somerset Street in Buena Park, California.

My sister on the red brick wall when she was a teenager.

I pose on the wall when I was a teenager.

One of the main attractions of our trip to Buena Park was a visit to that house.

The Gershun girls pose with our paternal grandmother in front of our house on Somerset Street.

We entered the neighborhood from Beach Boulevard and turned right on Los Coyotes Drive. It was called Bellehurst when we were kids, but now the entrance simply boasts the way to Los Coyotes Country Club.

Turning right on Country Club Drive, we wound our way to Somerset Street. We pointed out the few houses whose former occupants we remember. We got to the Morish’s house, 5 doors from ours and entered “The Zone”: the Morish’s, The Jensen’s, The Sheatz’s, please remind me if you remember the name of this family, the Armstrong’s and ours.

And there we were, facing the home of our childhood and the wonderful memories it holds. The front yard was the gathering place for croquet games, hide ‘n seek marathons and relay races of any kind.

The red brick wall was not only a bus stop for the local carpool. It was home base for kickball games and the launching point for piggy back rides and the wooden stilts that a family friend made for us.

We hesitated about parking in front of the house to get a good look. It felt kind of stalkerish. But I insisted. Why hide?

They have added plants in front of the wall where we used to play so we had to take pictures sitting on the wall from the Armstrong’s side.

My sister poses on the red brick wall in 2012.

I pose on the red brick wall in 2012.

By the time I was taking pictures of the tree, a lady came out the front door to ask us what we were doing! We explained who we are and she was very nice. She told us that mail addressed to the Gershun family was delivered to them a few times. We talked about the yard, the area and the schools. And then we were on our way.

While not as prominent as the red brick wall, our front yard tree was ever-present in our childhood games. It was known to grow leaves and shed them at odd times of the year. It was my job to rake the leaves.

I visited the area in 2009 and took photos of the house and wall. It has changed, even since then.

The red brick wall in 2009.

The house and tree in 2009.

On that trip I reconnected with childhood friends.

On this trip I reconnected with my sister, our childhood and myself. Each stop on our itinerary prompted us to relate personal perspectives of experiences we shared, rejuvenating the wonderful memories of growing  up in our childhood home at 5081 Somerset and the surrounding Bellehurst neighborhood.

What does Knott’s Berry Farm have to do with being Jewish?

Not much generally, but it played a surprisingly strategic role in my formative years. That’s why it was a poignant stop on our recent visit through time to important landmarks of our hanabada days, growing up in Orange County, California.

My parents sent us to Religious school on Saturday mornings at Temple Beth Ohr, about a five minute drive from our house in Buena Park. Before I was of school age, I’d go with my father to drop off my older sisters and while they were learning the Shema or how to make Hamantashen, we would enjoy a few hours at nearby Knott’s Berry Farm.

In those days, Knott’s was not a major amusement park, but a small town attraction. We did not have to pay an entrance fee and there were only a few simple rides near the famous Ghost Town and Independence Hall.

He would get some coffee and lift me up onto a colorful horse for a spin on the merry-go-round. Later I’d sit in a nearby electric car and he’d drop a coin in the slot. I would jiggle the steering wheel back and forth, pretending to drive while the car shook me back and forth enough to thrill my four-year-old sensibilities.

Every so often, we walked over to the other side to the semi life-sized cars that we could  really drive along a track (like the Autopia ride at Disneyland.) They aren’t there anymore. Soak City now occupies that spot. He pressed the gas pedal and let me steer as we zigged and zagged across the track. I’d squeal with delight. It always felt like an extra special morning when my dad and I would go for a ride in those cars.

A few hours later we would return to the Temple to pick up my sisters and head home, where I suspect that my mother was cherishing the last few precious moments of peace and quiet and a break from her three Jewish daughters that Religious school, my father and Knott’s Berry Farm offered on a weekly basis. Believe me, I can relate.

That’s why, when I was talking to the guy sitting next to me on the plane ride to LAX and he said that the first place he goes to eat when he gets to Southern California is Knott’s Berry Farms’ chicken dinner restaurant, I knew that we had to go there too. Besides the fact that I know my sister loves fried chicken, the park itself holds memories for all three of us Gershun girls.

We took the Beach Boulevard (Hwy 39) exit from the I 5 Freeway and headed south. My father’s law office used to be on Beach Blvd. and Orangethorpe Ave.. We had a fleeting  hope to catch a glimpse as we hurried towards our destination. But alas, it is now just an empty lot.

Luckily, some things never change. As we approached the intersection of Beach Blvd. and Knott Ave., and the berry farm itself, we laughed that the kitschy stretch of road doesn’t look much different.  I was surprised to learn later that the Movieland Wax Museum closed in 2005 and is now the Movieland Plaza. It was not apparent from our quick glance as we drove by.  I never went there or to the California Alligator Farm that closed in the 1980’s or Medieval Times that popped up after I left for college.

After dinner we walked over to Virginia’s Gift Shop, which evokes clear memories of our mom.

My mom LOVED to walk through Virginia’s Gift Shop for what felt like hours looking at every single item on display to her heart’s content. It did not matter that her tired, youngest daughter (that’s me) had not an iota of interest in the china and crystal and tchachkes that went on for display room after display room. She had spent the day letting us do what we wanted and now she would have a moment of her own pleasure.

I gotta say that, after all these years, I was still not very interested in the amazing array of gifts the shop has to offer, but it was a very nice memory.

On a side note: when I was in high school and our Temple youth group planned social activities, we did not go to Knott’s Berry Farm. We went to Disneyland and Magic Mountain, but not Knott’s. Walter Knott was a known member of the John Birch Society. In those days it was said that they were anti semitic. Thus, we did not patronize the establishment as a Jewish organization.

Another change surprised us and also gave us a new connection to Knott’s Berry Farm. They now have a Pink’s hot dog stand that replaces the same cafe where my father used to buy coffee on those Saturday mornings over 45 years ago.

Ironically, we are related to Pink’s on my mother’s side by marriage. My Great Aunt Shirley Freidman’s maiden name is Pink. She was married to my Great Uncle Eli  and  was the sister of Paul Pink who started the dogs in LA in 1939. They were both the greatest aunt and uncle you could imagine.

My Uncle Eli was my mother's great uncle, brother of her mother.

I am sitting with Aunt Shirley and my maternal grandmother Blanche Polsky, Uncle Eli's sister.

Aunt Shirley (right) and my Uncle Eli on his 80th birthday sitting with his sister, my Great Aunt Tee (Frank)

I remember driving in to L.A. to visit them and on several occasions, stopping at Pink’s for a dog. There were also many late night visits when I was in college, but that’s a different story.

That’s the end of my story about Knott’s. I have to thank my seatmate on Hawaiian Airlines flight 10 from HNL to LAX on January 11, 2012. If he had not mentioned his affinity for a chicken dinner at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, I would not have thought to add it to our itinerary. We would have missed a plethora of wonderful memories and a chance to write this blog post.

I sure hope that Walter Knott wasn’t really an anti Semite and that he is not rolling over in his grave about the fact that Knott’s Berry Farm plays a supporting role in my memories of growing up Jewish in Buena Park, California.

Previous Older Entries