I don’t recall exactly what I was doing when I received a phone call from my sister a few weeks before Dovid’s bar mitzvah, but I’d safely assume I was stressing about bar mitzvah plans or trying to get my kids to attend a Zoom class.
That has pretty much engulfed our lives for the last three months, so let’s just say, to be safe, that I was stressed out in some capacity.
She called and explained that since we didn’t know the likelihood of summer camps opening, they’d found a summer rental in Ellenville and thought it would be a great idea to move up to the rental for the month so the kids could have each other.
Truth be told, with 21 children ages 13 and under, we could run our own little (free) camp.
The house was situated on a beautiful 4-acre property and included a pool and pool house and a lot of other amenities.
While I couldn’t wrap my head around living with my siblings and their children in one house for the better part of the month, my parents had gone upstate to survey the house and assured us all that it was a beautiful and spacious home that would easily accommodate our large family.
I also don’t know if I’ve ever admitted this to you in my previous columns, but in the past, when presented with a new opportunity or adventure (something out of the ordinary rhythm of my life), I’d immediately think of reasons why I couldn’t commit to or do whatever was in question. It could be anything from a new business opportunity to accepting an invite somewhere for Shabbos. It was always “No, thanks!”
I think it was difficulty transitioning or fear that things wouldn’t work out the way I wanted them to that prevented me from trying new things.
And it would make perfect sense that after having my life upended with Moshe’s death, I’d be even more apprehensive to try them.
But it seemed to have had the opposite effect — I suddenly didn’t want to miss out on anything. I think the reason for that was that I saw firsthand how fleeting life is. I had this newfound urge to carpe every diem.
You think you’ll have time and you think long life is a guarantee. But it isn’t. So do I want to spend the time I have missing out on new experiences? Absolutely not.
While my mind was in a completely different headspace at the time when my sister raved about this alleged piece of paradise in upstate New York, I agreed to join them and try something new. And possibly slightly chaotic and claustrophobic.
The day after Dovid’s bar mitzvah, we packed up the car and went on our way. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my general dislike of long drives, but another new theme in my life is doing things I absolutely abhor and being met with a high-pitched cheer from my tiny sister that goes something like this:
“Yay, Malkie! You did it! See? It wasn’t that bad!”
It’s usually met with an eye roll from yours truly and a retort that sounds like, “Uh, yeah, it was and I’m never doing it again, Dini. They’re gonna have to fly me back to Woodmere because I’m not driving back. I’m done.”
I can be a ray of sunshine like that.
We got to the house and my kids promptly scattered. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see some of them for a few days at a time, they were so happy to be there with their cousins.
As the days progressed, our siblings and their children joined the house on Diane Place that seemed to expand as the number of people within its walls increased.
The kids would wake up in the morning and daven. My sister had arranged for a rebbe to come give a class for an hour for some semblance of a schedule and to get the kids to begin their day on the right foot. Then they’d find their way back into the kitchen where I held my post and fielded requests for more food. Between the gorgeous weather, which meant endless pool time, and constantly feeding them, the days flew by.
At some point, I realized how enjoyable it all was. How everyone was happy and no one was getting on each other’s nerves.
It had been awhile since my family had such a get-together. Because of scheduling conflicts, it was almost impossible to get everyone to spend yontif together in one space, unless it took place in a hotel. The last big get-together had to have been my brother’s wedding and sheva berachos last year. But it had a different feel to it, being more of a formal event where we’d congregate at a hall and seat ourselves in front of a plate of catered food. The kids would be tired and complaining and the parents would be sitting and smiling but wondering how early they could sneak out in between speeches. This reunion had no external program or agenda — it was just about everyone being present and connected with each other. It was wonderful.
One of the first memories I have after Moshe’s death is walking into my house after coming back from Brooklyn and being told that they tried reviving him but were unsuccessful.
I remember walking in, seeing my siblings there, and registering their looks of shock and horror at the sudden news. I looked up and saw my newly married brother trying to wipe the tears off his face before I saw them. I actually felt O.K. that he felt the way he did because my emotions hadn’t caught up yet and I was still numb. He cried in the absence of my emotions, and I needed to see that and have him feel that for me when I couldn’t yet do it myself.
Moshe’s death impacted my whole family tremendously, and with that came a closeness I hadn’t felt with my siblings up until that point. They visited and looked after the kids and me. They stepped up and shouldered the burden of single parenting with me, came for Shabbos, and always thought of us, knowing that just about everything would be harder without him here. A year and four months have passed since that tragic day that changed our family dynamic forever.
I wasn’t beneath petty bickering, sometimes egging my siblings on just to get a reaction and start something. (See? Sunshine) I sobered up with the fast track of seeing what life can throw at you, and I realized pretty quickly that our job while we’re lucky enough to be here is to take in as much as possible, to enjoy the blessings, and forget about the small inevitable annoyances.
There were kids coming out of every nook and cranny in that house. And it’s a big house. There were family pictures taken, and only after Alana took several shots, telling everyone to scream “pizza!” and “ice cream!” did we realize that we had a count of 20 grandchildren, not 21.
Back in your places, people.
There wasn’t a block of time allotted for speeches or places we had to go at any given time. We ate at the meals and ended up sitting there leisurely for hours, reminiscing about the worst car accidents we (ahem, Yochanan) got into and how I’d had a habit of taking off the passenger mirror making sharp turns, and would eventually just use masking tape to reattach the mirror to my poor car. I laughed so hard that I had to take Motrin to stop the headache that formed from it.
Throughout the week, I’d observe my parents sitting by the pool, watching their grandchildren and chatting with their kids, and feel that pride in knowing what a special time this is for them.
I also felt a pang of sadness knowing that I’d never get to celebrate that tender nachas with my husband, but I was happy for them that they are lucky to enjoy this feeling in their lifetime.
One night, while speaking to the owner of the house (we’ve become fast friends), I explained how special it was to have this time with family and how it’s something we’ll remember forever and always treasure. I wanted her to know how she was partly responsible for allowing this to happen and that she should share in the joy of giving us an opportunity we might have never had if she hadn’t had alternate summer plans that took her away from her beautiful house in Ellenville.
Growing up Gordon has had its ups and downs, like being a part of any family. But family is a gift — especially in hard times. The privilege of spending this hiatus with our whole extended gang together is priceless, an experience that we will recall fondly forever.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.