Learning From the Best

Learning From the Best

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler spreads her energy and humor as a regular contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Before I learned to shop, I had to learn to crawl.

I have a photo of myself as a wee little one. My dad (z”l) is bent at the knees with his arms stretched toward his firstborn, me. I am sporting a big-brimmed pink corduroy hat with a matching grosgrain ribbon tie. My coordinating outfit consists of jodhpurs and matching coat with high-top white shoes. So adorable.

Dad is encouraging me to walk toward him, one shaky step at a time. And so I learned to pick myself up from the comfort of a crawl and begin the long walk toward adulthood.

Dad loved to dance. As I got older, he would show off his skills with me at his side at all the family events. I felt like the charm on a bracelet.

When I turned 14, Dad taught me to drive in the New York mountains. My dad and my uncle Joe (z”l) had invested three years before in a small bungalow colony in Highland Mills. Dad kept an old green stick-shift Chevy pickup there.

One beautiful summer afternoon, he said, “Today I am teaching you to drive.” He drove to the top of said hill, and I wound up in the driver’s seat. Dad named all the parts of the car and how each was needed, then simply said: “Drive and look straight ahead like you ride a bike. Do not look at the hood or at the immediate road. Just look straight, and don’t forget to use your mirrors to see who is in back of you or on the side of you.”

When I turned 18, I passed the driving test with flying colors. By the way, he also taught me how to fix a washing machine and a lawn mower and to be respectful of electricity.

When I started dating, my mom (z”l) taught me about “mad money” and where to keep it. Always carry your mad money in a “knipple” in your purse. A knipple is a handkerchief tied in a knot. If I was not carrying a purse, mad money went in a shoe.

My aunt Ruthie (z”l) was a champion knitter. She could whip up beautiful sweaters, hats, mittens, coats and blankets. I would sit near her and watch in amazement. When she deemed me ready, she bought me my first knitting set: two needles and a couple of skeins of multicolored wool. My first scarf was born. Sweaters, hats, scarves, little dresses, booties and blankets soon followed.

I wasn’t an elite athlete, but I loved athletics and tried my best. However, I could not figure out how to pitch a decent softball. Enter my cousin Larry. His pitching instructions taught me great form. He soon realized I also needed lots of help in learning to catch a ball. I could finally handle first or second base.

Basketball was not as great a challenge. My friend George was my coach. To this day, if I am close to the net, to the right, and if I aim for a specific spot, I can score. Usually.

My uncle Jack (z”l), whom we called Zaidle, taught me how to wash and dry dishes quickly and efficiently. Am I saying I could not wash and dry a dish? Of course I could; he just didn’t like the way I did it.

Why would we call Uncle Jack Zaidle? Zaidle is another way of saying zaide, grandpa or old one in Yiddish. His mom, my bubbe (z”l), had a couple of miscarriages, and using “Zaidle” was a way to trick any evil forces into thinking that an old man, not a baby, was being born. It worked, didn’t it?

My aunt Jeanette (z”l) taught me to sew. What a thrill. Create haute couture clothes for my dolls. Sewing by hand became too tiresome, so my bubbe showed me how to operate her sewing machine by pressing on the pedal. My aunt Jeanette also taught me the joy of baking. Her little cookies were the best.

Not last, and certainly not least, my cousin Loretta taught me how to shop. She schlepped me to Orbachs department store in downtown New York. She gave me strict instructions on how to find the department I needed, the size I needed and the color I preferred. I hated shopping, still do. But when I shop, I always follow her instructions.

Loretta also taught me how to file and paint my nails. The very first color she used on my nails was Ten Baby Fingers, a soft pink. I still use her method, and it still works.

Shaindle is eternally grateful to her aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and anyone else she may have forgotten to mention for getting her started on the road to adulthood.

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