Friday, September 3, 2010

Part 17 of "Miracle Boy”

I've been off-line for the past 48 hours. I hate to admit it, but it's been a little like learning to breathe without air.

How dependent we become on our machines! Or is it just me?

Prediction: In the next few years, current modems and WiFi will become obsolete. We'll all connect to the Internet (and one another's computers) via satellites, as iPhones and such do now.

I'm tempted to make the move now, but it's not quite cost effective for me yet.

Enough! On with the wedding chapter --

Three weeks later they set a wedding date—December 27, which will be Paula's twentieth birthday.

Yet a few days before the wedding, Mrs. Plotnick confronts Everett. "If you're having second thoughts, say so now. Hurt my daughter before the wedding, not after."

It's uncanny! Has Everett let slip that he's feeling too young to be sure of anything, let alone love, and thinking Paula, though poised and self-confident, is practically a child who couldn't know what she's doing? "Don't be silly," he says.

"Come now. You can tell me. If you don't want to face Paula directly. Be a mensch."

But isn't a mensch supposed to be married, certainly by his age? It's the right thing to do. After all, to put his cold feet in perspective, he's never sure of anything.

In retrospect, their intellectual compatibility notwithstanding, their backgrounds are substantially different. Everett's family is well-to-do. His father, Jacob—whom he can't stand—is a crass, shrewd businessman. Arriving at Ellis Island at age 12 all alone, in steerage from Russia by way of England, Jacob Mattlin made his way to Columbus with nothing. He had distant family there who provided scant help, only a geographical destination. Once settled in Columbus, he launched a successful cooperage. Some of his customers may or may not have been bootleggers. Jack, as he became known, married a beautiful American woman—the daughter of a previous generation of Russian immigrants, who had grown up in the neighboring state of Kentucky—and they had two sons. When Irwin, the younger one, died at the tender age of nine from influenza, Jack and Jennie went and had another. They named the replacement boy Everett—a goyish appellation, connoting their assimilation. The Great Depression, and possibly the repeal of Prohibition, wiped out Jack's barrel business, but the scrappy entrepreneur pulled himself up again by buying property cheap. Soon he had a profitable real-estate business. The legend goes on and on. Everett's never sure how much of it's true, but he never could live up to his larger-than-life poppa. Unlike his brother Morrie—sixteen years his senior!—who played football at Ohio State and served in World War II, and would soon inherit the family business.

For the bookish Everett, having a child with a disability years later is another sign of failing to live up to some standard.

By contrast, Paula's nebbishy father, Samuel Plotnick, the germs-obsessed struggling attorney, born in Ohio to immigrant parents from Lithuania, was unyieldingly pious. His wife, the former Molly Bernhardt, of Baltimore, who emigrated as an infant with her family from Latvia, maintained an Old World stoicism. What was the use in complaining about her husband's religious strictures or the miserable, hardhanded life he made for them? This became her way in all things. When as a small child Paula tripped and scraped her knees, Molly told her not to cry. "Scrapes are a fact of life. Scabby knees mean you're having fun! Now pull your socks up before your father comes home from shul."

The message was clear: Feeling sorry for yourself does no good. Years later Paula reverts to this lemonade-from-lemons coping mechanism in reaction to my disability.

Given all their differences, perhaps it's not surprising my parents' marriage dissolves after seventeen years.

[My own marriage has now outlasted theirs by four years!  But who's competing?]


  1. This comment came from a friend:

    Hi Ben-

    I'm thoroughly enjoying "Miracle Boy." (FYI, my 4-year-old son Logan has SMA). A part of today's post really caught my attention: "For the bookish Everett, having a child with a disability years later is another sign of failing to live up to some standard."

    If you're looking for input from readers, I'd be interested to learn more about that from your perspective -- what is your reaction to that feeling and how have you dealt with it ... and whether your father came to terms with it and cast off that demon.

    I think it is common for parents to feel like they have failed their children just by the fact of the genes they passed on. That thought never occurred to me, but I have heard it commonly expressed by others.

    If you're not looking for input or suggestions, just ignore this message.

    Either way, hope you and your family have a great holiday weekend.

  2. Here's my answer:
    Thanks very much for writing. I do like feedback (after all, that's why I put the thing out there). As for how I felt about my father's feelings, and how he came to terms with my disability, if indeed he has, well, read on. Or to put it another way, therein hangs a tale. I really appreciate your careful reading. Best, Ben