Never Too Late!

At our house we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, and we also give a nod toward the Solstice.  This year we planned to observe the Solstice with a bonfire, and burn twenty years’ accumulation of tax receipts in our firepit, but it never stopped raining long enough to light a match.

Eli and I told Christmas and Hanukkah stories at the Renton History Museum.  One cannot properly tell stories without feeling the spirit within, so we were primed for both holidays.

Afterwards we went to Farmer Brown’s Tree Farm to cut our own Christmas tree.

Then we went home to light the menorah.

 We had company this year, cousins of my father, the son of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine.  June Aptekar Allen Smith and her husband Haskell traveled to Seattle from Texas to celebrate their first Hanukkah ever.

They played dreidel and sang the blessings for the first time, just as June’s ancestors had done for nearly two thousand years.

At 88 and 89, they are still fascinated by the world around them, by history, travel, current events, and the stories of strangers they meet in their every day life.  We reconnected with June and her daughter Leslie ten years ago, at an Aptekar family reunion in Tucson.  They introduced us to June’s niece Nancy and her husband Ian, who happened to live right here in Seattle, and who we now love like, well… family.

We compared notes and stories about our Aptekar roots, taking into account June and Haskell’s meticulous research, papers and letters from my mother’s attic, my Grandma Rose’s recently rediscovered autobiography among them.  Cousin Bryan drove up from Portland to represent the descendants of Dave Aptekar, yet another branch of the family tree.  We pieced together all our snatches and snippets and scraps of information into a more comprehensive family history, from before the pogrom of Odessa in 1905 to my great grandparents’ subsequent immigration through Ellis Island, and on to Detroit.

In 1905, the Aptekar family huddled in the cold and the dark, listening to the screams of horses and the crash of breaking glass, as Cossacks charged down the street, burning the businesses and homes of Odessa Jews, killing 800 Jewish men, women and children, and causing 2, 500 casualties.  Trapped inside without food or fuel for the fire, the Aptekar family huddled in their winter coats, and broke through ice in the water pail to drink.  With tears streaming down his cheeks, my great grandfather Jacob Aptekar chipped tiny pieces of sugar from the sugar cone to feed to his hungry children, promising them he would find food for them soon, while making a silent promise to himself to move his family far from that hateful place forever.  Jacob’s hair turned white overnight, and my Grandma Rose’s little sister Clara died in her arms.

Victims of 1905 pogrom in Odessa

Over the next two generations, time, geography, estrangement, and self-imposed exile tugged at the threads of the Aptekar family tapestry.  But more than a hundred years later, the descendants of Jacob’s children, Reuben, Rose, and David, gathered around one table for latkes, applesauce, and Hanukkah sushi.

Broken threads can be repaired and rewoven…


…and it is never too late for a happy ending.

All words c2012 Naomi Baltuck.

Hot to Trot!

Last September the kids and I took the perfect road trip down the West Coast.  Travel is my passion, but my nesting instinct is strong.  Those two inclinations might seem to be at odds, but while exploring the  town of Ferndale, CA I saw this hot little vintage set-up parked on the main drag. Bells went off in my head.  Like Pavlov’s dog, I started to salivate, and experienced an almost uncontrollable urge to sidle up to it and polish its chrome.

Check out these digs! I peeked into the windows, and decided where I’d put my bookshelves, what kind of coffee I’d stock the cute little cupboards with, how many pairs of shoes I would bring, where I’d pack my kids into this arrangement.  And, of course, how to charge my laptop.

There is a time to make tracks.  I’ve done the seven countries in five weeks thing, kept up a wicked pace, and lived to tell the tale.  I’ve even spent months at a time on the road in an old VW bus, hauling a beat up Apache tent trailer.

As I get older, I want to stop and smell the coffee.  One day  I’ll take my laptop, and spend a month of the shoulder season at an Italian villa, a thatched roof cottage in the English countryside, or a log cabin in the Tetons.  In the meantime, this combo would be just the ticket!  I wonder if it comes in purple…

I’m an old dog, but I can still learn a new trick or two.   What a wonderful way to cover your miles, fill up your story banks, and crank out that next novel!

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Gloss

Click here for more interpretations of Cee’s Travel Theme: Vintage Cars.

All words and images ©Naomi Baltuck