Black Sheep Flies North

Black Sheep Flies North

By Arlene Caplan Appelrouth /

I am sitting in a penthouse apartment in Montreal built by my uncle, who was born and raised here, along with my mother and another brother.

He has been telling me stories about how he grew up, including experiences of anti-Semitism and violence. He remembers a grade school teacher who punched him, and he responded by “beating him up so he never lifted his hand against me again.”

Bigger than life, my uncle is the kind of person who can’t understand why everyone doesn’t share his worldview.

He’s quick to share his values and criticize anyone whose actions he doesn’t understand. For instance, he emphatically said there’s no reason anyone should ever be late. For anything.

I had missed my 6 a.m. flight from Atlanta and was admonished to try harder and do better.

It didn’t matter to him that I could rationalize what happened. I hadn’t been sleeping well, and I carefully planned when to finish packing and when to leave for Hartsfield-Jackson Airport: Pack the night before, and get up and get dressed early enough to press the Uber app on my iPhone by 3:45 a.m.

Packing was complicated. I needed outfits for a b’nai mitzvah celebration in Montreal, a granddaughter’s sixth birthday celebration in Silver Spring, Md., and a grandson’s seventh birthday celebration in Toronto, where I had to adhere to the modest dress code of my grandchildren’s religious school.

My suitcase had been filled with toys and books for all seven grandchildren for a month. Packing what I needed for myself was a last-minute activity.

At 4:15 I told myself, “Press the Uber app.”

First Uber couldn’t find my location. I typed my address. The screen changed, and another address appeared. I took a deep breath and did it again. And again. Why don’t younger generations struggle with technology as I do?

By the time the driver arrived, I doubted I would get to the Air Canada ticket counter early enough.

I was right.

It wasn’t even 5 a.m., but the ticket counter was deserted. Someone from the Southwest counter, right next to it, informed me the agents had left to work the gate.

I hadn’t printed my boarding pass or sent one to my smartphone. Dan always did that, and I’m still working on picking up responsibilities I used to take for granted he would do. What a long list.

With no boarding pass, I couldn’t go to the gate. I called Air Canada and grimaced at the recorded message saying I could expect to be on hold for 35 minutes.

The next Air Canada flight was scheduled for six hours later. The airline’s website warned I’d have to purchase a new ticket for more than $500. Vowing never to be late again, I boarded the later flight and made it to my destination.

As sweet as it is to stay with my aunt and uncle as my first cousin’s twins become b’nai mitzvah, being here is bittersweet because of a long family rift.

My two uncles stopped talking to each other more than 20 years ago, making my family grist for the gossip mill of the close-knit Montreal Jewish community. At my uncles’ age, they’re unlikely ever to make peace.

When I was growing up, I never understood it, but I had to accept that family members sometimes were treated like outlaws. If my grandparents were angry at a sibling, they demanded that my mother and her two brothers have nothing to do with those family members, or else.

Or else was left unsaid but instilled fear.

I remember visits to Montreal with my mom. Sometimes we would visit her aunt and would laugh, drink tea and have cookies, but other times I wasn’t allowed to mention my great-aunt’s name. My grandmother said her sister-in-law was having too good a time “hullying” when she should have been by the bedside of her husband, my grandmother’s younger brother, who was in a terminal condition in a nursing home.

It didn’t make sense to me, so I called my aunt on my own, knowing to keep this to myself.

Family grudges were held indefinitely. But once in a while someone would be forgiven, and the family ties would bind again.

I refused to keep a scorecard or play this game of “now we’re related and now we’re not.” I always invited all my relatives to any simcha Dan and I hosted, turning me into a black sheep.

I accept that role and fantasize about becoming the mediator who unites my fractured family.

I’m a dreamer.

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