Baggage from a boomer’s own memories of the past

We’ve run many pieces on BoomerCafé over the years about boomers’ fond memories of their childhood. But this piece from Karen Karlitz, raised in New York but now from Santa Monica, California? Not so much! It’s an excerpt from her new novel, the e-book “Baggage,” and a lot of us probably can relate because a lot of us have baggage in our own memories of the past.

Thanksgiving, 1969. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch today, but I see that day as clearly as if I’m watching it on an old Magnavox. My mother Rose buzzes around our cramped apartment in Queens, her hair in rollers, no makeup. She’s beautiful though, anyone would agree. It’s early in the day. She’s been up since five cooking. But although her culinary plans are running smoothly her mood is lethal. Look closely and you can see thin plumes of smoke escaping from her mouth, and two horns peeping between the rollers on her head. This is not uncommon for her. She’s quick to anger, and this Thanksgiving she even has reason. You see, my Uncle Irving is coming to dinner. My mother hates just about everyone, Irving in particular. But my father won this skirmish the week before.

Writer and baby boomer Karen Karlitz today living in southern California.

Writer and baby boomer Karen Karlitz today living in southern California.

“Come on, Rose, he’s alone. It’s only one meal.”

“I don’t give a good crap about him,” she replies.

“He’s depressed. I hate to think of him being alone on Thanksgiving. And who knows when he had a decent meal.”

“If he stopped spending money on liquor, he could afford plenty of food.”

“Please, Rosie, it means a lot to me.”

She pauses to procure a last pint of his blood. “You win. But I’m not happy … and Irving will never eat here again. And I mean never.”

Later that afternoon, I sit on the couch reading An American Tragedy when the bell rings. My mother opens the door and Irving stumbles in. Apparently he had a few before making the trip from Manhattan.

“Rose, you look wonderful,” he drawls, fumes shooting from his mouth. The combination of run-of-the-mill halitosis with Captain Morgan rum is deadly.

“Good to see you,” she says, backing off. “Have an hors d’oeuvre. I have work to do in the kitchen.”

Karen Karlitz-baggageI am months shy of eighteen, the legal age then, but my parents had been letting me drink at home, making family gatherings palatable. I sit with Irving and my father in the living room. A weak wintry sun seepsthrough the plain white blinds. We eat cheese on Ritz crackers and drink vodka mixed with orange juice. My older sister Wendy sits at the kitchen table keeping my mother company. Every now and then Wendy comes in for a refill at the bar my father set up on my mother’s fake French desk.

By dinnertime Irving, Wendy and my father are smashed; I am pleasantly high. My mother is cold sober, but goes about carving and serving the turkey and myriad side dishes as if the meal she labored over means more to us than our next drink.

During the main course Wendy entertains us with a monologue about her dates. What my parents don’t know is that for two years, my sister has only been going out with Harry Krapner, a wealthy, fifty-year-old jeweler with a wife and kids in Bayside.

After dessert Irving and my father are barely conscious. The two brothers sit shoulder-to-shoulder, lean to the left, but don’t tip over.

“You have such a glamorous life, Wendy. If only I were young today…” My mother has a faraway look, as she clears the table.

The picture on the TV goes snowy, then fades to black.

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  1. Powerful and poignant. Thanksgiving brings together the family with all its warts and blemishes. I think many of us try to remember it as a happy time, but more often than not, when we really think back we see just how fast we could leave the table, get back to the football game or just get outside. Yes we all carry our baggage with us, some have carry on, and others it is jut to big and must be checked. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Karen – this piece will jog everyone’s buried slices of horrendous holiday “celebrations”. My uncle Mose could have been a stand-in for your Uncle Irving. Memories of him arriving frequently at 4 a.m., waking all the kiddos so he could get a smootch from us all, the stench of deep-fried food, booze and stale nicotine wafting from his clothing. He had spent another whole day at “The Big Ashtray”, his dive of choice.

    Slurred words, clumsy hugs, and a hastily prepared pot of coffee were the norm for these why-doesn’t-he-leave visits. Even now, family members struggle to find humor in these occasions when they were quite sad. He should have been at home raising his eight children, but found himself incarcerated time after time for ignoring child support payments. My paternal grandmother, his mother, was the Queen of Denial as she told everyone, “He’s the best boy you could ever want.” Really?

    But, there are other happier memories that always rise to the top, thank God. Alas, you can pick your friends and pick your clothes, but your family…….well, it just is. Thanks so much for the trip down Memory Lane.

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