I still remember when I was a young boy how frightened I became during my first encounter with the custodian at my family’s synagogue. My fear stemmed from his voice. He must have had some kind of throat surgery because he spoke through his esophagus, which involved loud breathing and a very grainy, almost robotic, sound.
Not long afterward, I ended up becoming friendly with the man everyone called John, and his voice became just that to me—his voice, nothing more. When I took an extended bathroom break from a Sunday school class, which I did on more than one occasion, he would provide a safe haven for me, usually in the synagogue’s kitchen. He’d open the refrigerator and see if he could offer me any tasty leftovers from a weekend Bar Mitzvah or wedding reception. He’d tell me that if the goodies weren’t eaten soon, he would end up taking them home before they spoiled.
Years later, I heard a story about those leftovers that involved my grandfather, Pat Mendelson. Actually, Pat wasn’t his first name, but he grew up in an Irish neighborhood, and nobody in an Irish neighborhood goes by the name of Manuel. So, his buddies started calling him Pat, and the name stuck with him the rest of his life, even for his grandchildren.
Pat was well known throughout the community for his generosity, and when he passed away several years ago, there was an outpouring of stories from members of the congregation. One of those stories involved Pat and John:
Pat and my grandmother, Lucille, lived rather modestly, with one exception: Pat’s Cadillac Eldorado convertible. (He never put the top down; he simply liked the look.) One day, Pat happened to be pulling out of the synagogue’s parking lot when he saw John walking to the bus stop with a banquet-sized bowl of salad doused in dressing. Pat pulled over and told John to jump in, and he’d give him a ride home. Delighted, John carefully started to wedge the salad bowl along the floor of the back seats so it wouldn’t spill. He must have used too much force, because the bowl suddenly somersaulted, and oily salad rained all over the backseats. John was mortified knowing that the Eldorado’s upholstery was probably ruined. Pat turned to him and said, “Don’t worry about it, nobody sits back there anyway.”
I was so thankful to hear that story because it served as a lesson to me in how to deal with adversity. It’s so easy for people to become angry, vindictive, or exasperated. Pat, instead, immediately accepted what happened to his beloved Eldorado and was prepared to move forward.
On a much grander scale, that same attitude manifests itself in several stories throughout this issue, including the cover story. In “Career Woman” (pages 14-18), we learn how Tepper alumna Ann Marie Petach has forged a headline-grabbing business career while dealing with everything from the grave illnesses of loved ones to the October 2008 U.S. economic collapse.
I’m not sure what kind of car she drives, but my guess is that if anyone ever spills something on the backseats, she doesn’t get flustered.
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