BY CHANA SHAPIRO / AJT //
My petite mother was a terrific eater. She had a big appetite and loved good food. And she wasn’t embarrassed to show it.
When my father took her out for dinner and proposed marriage, she asked him to wait a bit for her response, “Let me just finish my soup,” she said. They enjoyed a meal of much more than soup, after which she enthusiastically answered “yes.”
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The rest is history. Really, can one be at ones best intellectually, physically and emotionally over a plate of watercress, toast bites and celery sticks? I don’t know about the rest of you, but like Mom I’m always in a great big mood after a great big meal.
Speaking of food, I bring tipping to your attention. A person consuming a delicious restaurant repast with polite, careful service warrants a big tip. Your generosity will extend good will long after you’ve gone.
When we moved to Atlanta in the 70s, we were advised not to tip the moving men who were sweltering in the 90 degree heat.
“They get a salary,” we were told; “Don’t spoil it for the rest of us.”
I asked our new neighbor, standing beside me as the men maneuvered large, heavy furniture up our front steps, if it was OK to buy them lunch. “It’s not necessary,” he answered. “They’re used to it.”
I consulted my husband, and we decided to tip the men a few dollars and buy them a decent lunch. My neighbor, watching from his front porch, disapproved, but we didn’t care. Years ago, I’d worked in a laundry and my husband bused tables. Big tips rewarded our hard work. Empathy, a form of largeness of spirit, grew from our history and, yes, it’s in our Jewish DNA.
Speaking of DNA, let me mention our family teeth.
Both my maternal and paternal sides are blessed with gigantic choppers. We kids had braces and even had select dental units extracted, but we are all easily identifiable by our smiles. My Dad used to exclaim, whenever he saw me after a long hiatus, “You still have those big teeth!”
“Thank G-d,” I would mutter, happy as all get out that I still had them. But, I never gave it much thought, until I bumped into an old friend at the MJCCA.
“It’s great to see your daughter working here,” he remarked. “She looks like you!”
Rachel, who looks nothing like me, does have one familial feature. “Do you really think so?” I asked. “I never thought we resembled each other.”
“I love her smile!” he explained.
When I told Rachel about it, we had to laugh. “It’s our big teeth!” we said in unison. This is not an isolated incident. Many people have remarked that I have an impressive display of oversize ivories, but this anomaly may have an upside.
Long after my demise, which I hope will take place around the year 3000, there will be no need for dental records (when scientists study women who lived a really long time.) My big teeth will do the trick.
Let me relate a story from a different time and place, far from the MJCCA in 2013.
A friend’s mother, Bryna, used to talk about life during the Holocaust. When her Polish family was about to be deported, their cultured, university professor father made the three children put on heavy work boots. He’d bought these big, ugly, dirty boots from street laborers, and had been forced to pay top dollar for them.
The children were 12, 15 and 17, and all begged to keep their own stylish, comfortably fitting shoes. Of course, their father prevailed, and, according to Bryna, the huge boots, which all three siblings wore during their years of slave labor, protected their feet through all manner of filth, debris, terrain and weather, and at the same time allowed room for their feet to grow.
Bryna believes that the too-big boots kept them alive.
Remember when our parents bought everything we wore at least one size too big? We were expected to wear our school outfits and play clothes for a whole year. We got new shoes, which were purchased a mere half-size too large, twice annually, but only if we really needed them.
“Too big” was totally pracatical.
There are other times when super-sizing is called for. When I worked at the community center and later at Congregation Beth Jacob, I witnessed many amazing acts of largesse. Every institution, house of worship, school, symphony and museum exists because of huge donations.
At the same time, people like you and me often contribute more than we thought we could or would. My friend, Edith (wheelchair), and her buddy, Elaine (oxygen tank), attend every Bronx neighborhood meeting and sit on their community council. They, along with Frank (building superintendent on call 24/7) and Luba (new immigrant), volunteer for neighborhood watch, work in a monthly soup kitchen and prepare the weekly synagogue Kiddush. Their groups visits sick and homebound people and pick up groceries for them. That’s super-big giving.
I’m no fool. I know that when it comes to mayonnaise and egos, smaller is better. But, think for a minute. It’s great to follow big ideas and big dreams, to live as large as we can. Let’s celebrate all the big birthdays; in fact, let’s make a big, big deal about every simcha.
Most of all, let’s model and mentor by expressing love and compassion with our great big hearts.
Chana Shapiro confesses that this column is kind of sappy, lacking the hard-hitting, earth-shattering, fact-finding, refreshingly raw and unemotional punch of her usual stellar work. She apologizes, but is quick to point out that her last column, which explored things that aggravate her, elicited an unexpected slew of letters supporting her anger. So, in the public interest, to mollify those who believe that we’re living in a purely worrisome world, she offers this piece. You must admit, that’s mighty big of her.