Randi Kreiss

Promises kept, in the wilds of the High Sierra

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Fifty-one years ago a handsome hunk of a guy showed up for Rosh Hashana dinner at my parents’ house in Cedarhurst with an engagement ring in his pocket. He was all dark curls, red cheeks and heavy breathing, and he couldn’t even wait for the chopped liver and crackers to ask me to marry him.

He took my hand, pulled me into another room and gave me the diamond that had been his mother’s. Of course, it wasn’t a surprise. My future mother-in-law had (not very surreptitiously) measured my finger when I was having dinner with them one night. And, in truth, it was perfect timing, erev — the beginning — of everything: a New Year, a new commitment and the wild feelings of being in love in the Age of Aquarius, 1967.

When we married in July 1968, the people who stood under the wedding canopy — the chuppah — were our beloved, our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. The rabbi reminded us that throughout our married life, they would be the ones who would hold up our house, especially when the walls trembled. The chuppah traditionally has a light and fragile covering, a metaphor for marriage, often tossed and torn in unexpected ways over the years.

For the 50 years after our wedding day, Rosh Hashana always felt particularly sweet to my husband and me. We knew that evening a half-century ago was our beginning and the moment when everything seemed possible.

This year, for the first time, we decided to spend the holiday apart, ironically, as an act of faith in our long marriage.

It’s a story:

In 2002, my daughter got married in a sun-dashed field in Vermont. The chuppah was a gorgeous bower of cascading white flowers, and we stood there with the bridegroom’s mother and father, the sisters and brothers, and we heard the same words we had heard at our own wedding ceremony.

A traveling rabbi, who had driven from Saratoga Springs to Middlebury, carried the ancient message. She told those of us under the wedding canopy that our own promise must be to hold up our children’s marriage and their home in the years to come, however we could.

We all moved on and geographically, apart. For more than a decade, our daughter and her family have managed brilliantly on their own, cherishing the wilderness life in California, and loving their privacy and independence.

Then, this summer, the walls began to tremble. As I wrote earlier, my daughter discovered in late May that she has the BRCA1 gene variant. It was a life-changing bit of bad news, but she moved forward to do what she needed to do to stay healthy.

Late last month, she underwent a double mastectomy. More surgery will follow, which is part of the prophylactic protocol. My husband and I asked if we could help, and she and her husband said yes. So Don and I have been out West for two months in the small mountain town where they live, helping to hold up the household as we promised we would. Who could have imagined, 14 years ago, when our daughter got married, that life would take this turn?

We’ve been carpooling the kids, buying school supplies, cooking meals and doing the mundane tasks that keep a family moving along through a rough patch. When Rosh Hashana rolled around last week, there was business in New York that required my husband to go home. We talked about it, and agreed that I should stay. There was still work to be done.

My daughter wanted to have the holiday dinner at her own table. She felt ready to be with friends and put on a dress and make matzo ball soup. So I helped cooked Rosh Hashana dinner here in the mountains for 14 people, pretty much all the Jewish people in the high Sierra. By the time we sat down to light the candles and cut the challah, my husband was already asleep for the night in New York.

He and I have spent lots of time apart, but this separation, on this particular night, traced a new path in our journey. We have sat down to the same dinner table on every Rosh Hashana since 1968. Initially it felt sad, but then I realized that this is exactly what we promised each other 50 years ago: to build a life and a family. And this was the commitment we made at our daughter’s wedding, to hold up the walls when they threatened to fall.

When our daughter told us about her plans for surgery, we knew we would fly out West and stay for as long as we were needed. It’s quite simple, really. This summer, we are doing what we promised each other we would do, in the beginning, under the chuppah.

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.