13-Year-Olds Patrick and Curtis: Not Quite a Bar Mitzvah

Not Quite a Bar Mitzvah

Grandsons Patrick and Curtis, born 7 weeks apart in Chicago, both turned thirteen this fall. If they were Jewish, they would each have observed the bar mitzvah ritual: Bar = son; Mitzvah = law or commandment, able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life. Such a rite of passage usually culminates in a party with gifts.

Neither of our grand-boys wore yarmulkes. Nor did tefellin dangle from their heads or arms. Although these grand-boys have memorized Bible passages, during their birthday celebrations they did not wear religious headgear or black leather boxes (tefellin) on their fore-heads or near their hearts containing sacred scripts from the Old Testament.

 

What They Did Do:

After they turned thirteen, they read letters their Grandma and Grandpa Beaman had written to them when they were newborns and sent in the mail to their parents’ address with a postmark. These letters have been kept squirreled away until a special day.

At his party, Curtis opened a letter his NaNa had written to him with a December 31, 2003 postmark.

lettercurtisnotopen

curtis2003letter

The letter was typewritten, so he breezed through sentences, smiling as he read in his emerging bass voice.

But he struggled to read another letter, which I had dashed off in cursive handwriting, now a dying art, and no longer taught in public schools.

curtiscursive

Then he opened his gifts: a wireless mouse for his hand-constructed computer, and The DaVinci Code book.

curtiscomputermouse

 

Then it was Patrick’s turn:

Grandpa Beaman wrote Patrick’s letter with a similar postmark. It was typewritten, so there was no struggle to de-cipher looped letters. Before Patrick read his letter, Grandpa showed him a photo colláge he made for Patrick when he was a few months old.

Patrick and Grandpa, with matching lopsided grins, check out a photo collage
Patrick and Grandpa, with matching lopsided grins, check out a photo collage

An excerpt from Grandpa’s letter revealed his observations of newborn development:

When we feed you, you suck that bottle down pretty quickly. When it come time to burp, we hear it loud and clear! And then there’s often a big milk shoot-out which sometimes lands on my unprotected shirt and a big white splat a few feet down on the rug.

 

You are also making lots of cooing and other sounds. During the last couple of days when I made sounds, you tried your best to twist your mouth around in odd shapes to mimic some of my sounds. You REALLY want to talk. And someday you will for sure.

 

Patrick’s reading of the letter ended with these words:

He did not open a wrapped present. His birthday request was a gift certificate to Five Guys, a burger place in Jacksonville. Why such a present? Simple: His love for food is in his DNA – a “gift” from his grandpa.

It remains to be seen whether the boys, later as men, consider these “parchments” sacred, letters written to them as infants.

Bar Mitzvah – or not, we wish them Mazel Tov . . . congratulations and good wishes to both as they continue to develop into manhood!

And finally, our hope for them from The Shamá . . .

Deuteronomy 6:5  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

 

Cousins Patrick (3 months) and Curtis (1 month)
Cousins Patrick, 3 months and Curtis, 1 month

 


What can you add to my description of the Jewish ritual, the Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for daughters)?

What other rituals or traditions does your family observe with children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews?

 

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2 Tales from Roxann and Cheeno, Our Fresh Air Children

His yellow tag says: Cheeno Duncan –  Host Family: Ray & Ruth Longenecker

How would you feel if you were an 8 or 10-year-old from New York City and after a 3-hour train ride landed you in the farm pastures of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, lush but unfamiliar? Cheeno and Roxanne Duncan were part of the Fresh Air program designed to give urban children summer vacations away from their hot tenement building apartments.

My parents, always alert for ways to serve God through their church, Bossler Mennonite, offered a home to two of these children in 2-3 consecutive years in the early 1960s. A side benefit would be playmates for my 10-year-old brother Mark, who was 7 years younger than his closest sibling, my sister Jean. And for the first time, the whole family would be brought in close contact with children of a skin color and culture different from our own.

These two tales about Roxann and Cheeno come verbatim from letters my mother sent to me while I was enjoying a 5-week cross country road trip. One was addressed to Grants Pass, Oregon, delivered, and another addressed simply to Los Angeles, California, no street address, from where it was “returned to sender, unclaimed.”

LetterMomToMarianOR

TALE # 1   Crying

July 27, 1964   Written in my mother’s handwriting, unedited:

Good morning Marian   It is all but 8:30, quiet peaceful around here as yet. Sat. night Roxann decided she has homesick. Wasn’t to long till Cheeno saw her crying. Mark came down and said Mommie now they are both crying. So I went up into the bed room. There they were, two sets of tears. I asked Cheeno why are you crying. He said because she is crying. Then I said well now I will cry because you are crying. So I tried to start pretending [to cry]. Roxann had to laugh. It didn’t last to long. But they decided they would feel better if they slept in one bed. So I left them.

 

TALE # 2   Leaving

August 4, 1964

Dear Miss. Marian   Well we took the Duncans to the train station today. We were about 2 blocks away from the station Roxann said we don’t have our yellow tags on. I rushed in quickly and explained the situation. He said they must have tags on. But we can make some others. Well that was finally straightened out.

But oh horrors what could be next. Cheeno picks up his lunch bags and lets it fall to hard on the cement. There goes a broken jar with root beer all over the bag and the floor. I quickly got some Kleenex but not quiet enough. Ruthie [my Aunt] goes to the car and comes back with an old pair of her silk “panties” Oh she said we don’t even have paper to put them in. she had taken the broken jar and paper bag to the car already. There we were left holding some-thing we didn’t care to be seen with. Luckly we did see a trash can. Ruthie laughed and said if any body finds or see’s this they will think she just took off her ____??____

 * * *

The program, originating in 1877, is flourishing to this day. See more about the Fresh Air Fund here.

FreshAir Kids

There are many ways to experience independence and freedom. Here’s one example. You can think of some others as you reflect on this past holiday weekend. Hope you had a Happy Fourth!

Coming next: A Plate, a Parade, and a Song