Last weekend at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop I had the chance to try stand-up, below find an expanded version of my set…
Hi. My name is Ann. I hold the distinction of being a third generation Jewish Wisconsinite. Such a cliché, right? Because when you think Wisconsin you invariably think cheese curds, The Green Bay Packers, and plucky Jews.
My Mom hails from Janesville, Wisconsin. Her Dad hails from Janesville, Wisconsin. His Dad—my great grandfather--had the audacity to leave Janesville, Wisconsin to spend his later years on a Kibbutz in Israel. Other members of our extended family have followed suit by making their lives in Israel, including my brother. So naturally, my sister and I went West and found ourselves a Mormon to marry. No. Not the same Mormon.
The first time I went home with my husband, I didn’t find the religious differences as jarring as the cultural and political ones. Nevertheless, his parents welcomed me with open arms, open hearts, and open Fox News.
I remember walking downstairs to the basement and facing a huge framed poster of a peanut shell that read Election 1980: Get Rid of The Empty Shell. Jimmy Carter, blasphemed! Understand the context: In my Madison, Wisconsin elementary school presidential election of 1984, Walter Mondale won by a landslide 86% of the vote. Jessica Hallam copped to voting for Ronald Reagan, becoming the first Republican any of us bleeding-heart-fifth-graders met. She went on to confess her parents’ votes for Reagan, and moreover, that Reagan had actually won the “real” election. We had our doubts, but Jessica owned the first and only pair of Guess Jeans in our school, and suddenly we wanted in on trickle-down economics.
So, here I stood in a Springfield basement with my beloved, next to an autographed photo of Phyllis Schlafly, a book case lined with Coulter and Limbaugh, and window valances framing non-existent basement windows.
At My First Springfield Christmas, Husband’s family gave gifts with all sincerity that my family would classify as white elephants. A special edition Ronald Reagan coffee table book was bestowed with reverence and nostalgic sighs. Yuletide Hummels changed hands. My MIL-to-be gave me a solid cut-crystal…dreidel! I’d never received a decorative dreidel before, and if ever a gift symbolized intermarriage, the cut-crystal dreidel took the prize.
Husband’s family does Christmas the American way—huge and with plenty of salad starring marshmallows, mayonnaise and whipped-topping. I find Christmas overwhelming. As a kid I received presents at Hanukkah, but nothing like the three hour Springfield gift-athon that literally caused a two-year-old grandchild to cry and beg to STOP THE UNWRAPPING. Once, at a family Hanukkah dinner, I asked my Granny what she did for Hanukkah in her youth. She replied My Dad put 8 candles on a brick, gave us a dime, and that was it. Good thing Granny never had to play Santa.
Lasagna makes up Christmas dinner. Not just any Lasagna, but pork and cheese lasagna. Let me tell you that this Jewess goes hog wild on some pork and cheese lasagna, which only warms up the house for the main attraction: gift-opening snacks! On one Formican Island chipped beef (more meat plus cheese!) coexists with shrimp cocktail (shell fish!) and Ritz Crackers in their own specially-molded plastic Ritz cracker tomb (retrofitted crackers!).
In fairness, Husband did not find my family holidays exactly familiar. I thought I’d prepped him well for his first Last Supper. I briefed him on matzoh balls and Maneschewitz, and the names of the family short and balding. I warned him of atonal consonant-heavy sing-alongs. At some point during the Seder service, I turned to him for a spouse-survival check-in. I found my 6 foot 2 inch, blue-eyed, redheaded beau sweating profusely about the face, his head resembling a radish. I’m still not sure if I forgot to tell him about the jelled gefilte fish or the beet-horseradish.
*cue faux SNL get off the stage music*
My name is Ann. Good night!
I didn’t go on until midnight. Can you tell?