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When Youth Retreats to Sweet Memories

March 19, 2009 By:
Mara Sokolsky, JE Feature
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As I round the corner to our kitchen, I come face to face with a large photo showing me and Sam clowning around near Lincoln Center. The two of us are beaming right off the page. You'd think that we'd just been picked to play violin solos with the New York Philharmonic, when the less dramatic truth is that we were in the middle of one of those rare moments of second childhood.

I've known Sam since I was 2. He's the brother I never had. Though we both left New York in early adulthood, we always managed to stay in touch.

On the day the picture was taken, almost 12 years ago, Sam was visiting from London. His mother flew in from Fort Lauderdale, I had just stepped off the bus from Providence, and my mother had taken the subway to meet us. It was a glorious, warm July afternoon.

We marched around Lincoln Center, our mothers with linked arms in front of us. These two former dance teachers caught up on each other's news as they moved through the fountained plaza. Soon they'd find a restaurant, settle us in and pay for lunch.

For a brief moment, Sam could forget the tensions of starting his own company on foreign soil. I could forget the stress of raising young girls, and we could revert to our playful childhood personas because our "mommies" were there, taking charge. Walking behind them, speaking to one another in goofy accents, we felt light and giddy.

As we cross the Mid/Yid border, the number of people looking out for us grows smaller. If anything, we're expected to take on more and more responsibility, including the welfare of those who once cared for us.

It's to our credit that we've reached a point where we're capable enough to take charge. But it's also scary to think that we're becoming the authorities we once looked up to.

The 'Yungerman' Phenomenon
Aaron Lansky, founder of the National Yiddish Book Center, writes about his Yiddish-book rescuing efforts in the eminently readable Outwitting History. As he visits countless apartments and senior homes, the older Jews there hand him their precious volumes. Throughout the book, they refer to him as Yungerman/"Young Man."

How long has it been since someone referred to me by the female equivalent of Yungerman?

Actually, I do get an occasional moment. Once a month, I give a little presentation, in Yiddish, to the Yiddish Schmooze group that meets at our local JCC. The median age of that group is 82. Perhaps that's why they're delighted to hear a "youngster who speaks Yiddish" -- even if that "youngster" is now 55!

My husband has his own strategy. He refuses to admit that he's aging. He honestly can't remember how old he is, and needs me to fill that in if it's ever required for documentation. By going to the gym and obsessing about fitness, he persuades himself that he's still young. I smile and nod: He does move well for a man with a head of white hair.

As my daughters mature, I could envision a future where they look out for their mom. Only that would make me feel old. Being cared for by one's children feels like the start of giving over the reins of parenthood, and thus giving away some of one's hard-earned adult status.

I'd rather just have the generation ahead of me stay vital forever. That way, I could pick and choose which direction suits me that day: a parent to my child, or a grown child to my parent.

Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I. E-mail her at: sokolskaya@cox. net.

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