Sunday, October 7, 2012

Latkes, Jello Molds and Eulogies

I attended the funeral service of a friend's mother today.  Her name was Vilma. The rabbi, who had not known her, described her so well from all the heart felt stories and memories that were shared with him.  The word that he chose to describe her best, and the one word that left an impression on my mind today was "balabuste".  A balabuste is a yiddish expression describing a "good homemaker".  Other definitions describe the word as a "perfect housewife" or a "gracious hostess".  After listening to the rabbi describe this woman it woud seem as a very fitting word to use.  She was gracious, a welcoming hostess, very skilled in the kitchen and took care of her family in every way.  She cooked for every holiday, not wanting help, never complaining, and doing it all herself.  She didn't like a mess in the kitchen and she probably cleaned as she cooked, so not to have to do it later.  She was probably very effecient in every area of keeping a house and taking care of her family.

I couldn't help but see some similarities between myself and this woman.  I prefer to do it all myself as well.  I enjoy keeping house and cooking and entertaining.  Characteristics of the role of a woman that may seem very old fashioned today.  This euology of a woman who I didn't know, made me remember how my husbands grandmother used to call me a balabuste and I remember the first time she called me that.  My husband and I were newly married.  I was begining my love of cooking.  While in college I had began to collect recipes and cookbooks, waiting for the day I could really spend time in the kitchen cooking and baking.  My husband's grandparents were going to come over for dinner one Sunday afternoon.  After much contemplation, because my husband's grandfather was a pickey eater, I decided to make something they would be familar with.  Something "old school".  I made homemade cornedbeef and cabbage with garlic butter knots (I was really in to making bread back then).  The table was perfectly set with all the dishes and serving pieces we had received as wedding gifts.  And during dinner Grandma Phyllis had complimented the meal and called me a balabuste.  That moment was such an honor for me, a young Jewish woman at the time.

Vilma's eulogy reminded me that from as far back as I can remember, all I ever really wanted was to be a good wife, to care for my family and to throw fabulous parties.  I would imagine that how I grew up influenced this.  Both of  my grandmothers were balabustes.  My grandma Sarah who cooked tradional Jewish foods and food from her homeland Russia and kept house, and my grandma Rae, who was always a gracious hostess and had hors d'ouerves in the freezer just in case someone dropped by for a visit.  My mother was a balabuste too. My father, a physician, worked all day.  My mother took care of the house and my sister, brothers and I. She cooked every night of the week.  My father would come home, pour himself a glass of Johnny Walker and unwind from the day of screaming kids and inspecting hospitals (he also worked for the Chicago Board of Health).  My mother would have an entire meal waiting from salad to dessert.  She ironed shirts and sheets, collected S&H stamps, and she knew how to throw a party. She was a good wife.

Like Vilma, who ironed her husband's under shirts, I admittedly fold my husband's underwear and I steam his polo shirt collars.  Like Vilma I enjoy cooking and planning a party with all the details. My husband will usually tease me at the end of our parties and say, "what a wonderful party for you" because he knows how much I love to plan them.  From the eulogy I gathered that Vilma was a great cook and I noticed that many people were nodding their heads up and down in agreement when the rabbi mentioned how good her latkes and jello molds were, or how she used to serve fruit, the crispest grapes, when guests would stop by, and always being the gracious hostess.

Eulogies are comforting.  They are supposed to be.  They help us remember a person's life.  It helps us to talk about a loved one and to remember all that made them who they were.  To me, even if you didn't know the person, after listening to a eulogy you wished you had know that person.  Sometimes you can relate a person's life to your own.  Sometimes you learn something that you didn't know, like about an a particular era, or event.  Sometimes you hear about a person's life and you want to aspire to be like that person, even if you didn't know them.  What I took away from today was that in many ways I really got what I had wanted for myself.  I am a good wife and mother. I am known amongst my good friends and family as the "Jewish Martha Stewart", a term that I am honored to be called. And what I learned from Vilma is that I could be better.  I could better focused on some things, whether it be being more involved in my children's schools, or an interest of a friend.  I liked it when the rabbi asked Vilma's family if she had any hobbies and they said no.  Her hobbies were her families interests.  She took time to learn and listen from those around her. Though I don't like a mess in the kitchen either and I want to do it all myself, I need to allow people to help when they offer.  I need to learn to take things a little slower and enjoy things a littler better than I do.  Vilma was a true balabuste, and though it's a little old fashioned today, but then again I am a little old fashioned, I am proud to be a balabuste too.

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