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I wasn’t around for Pearl Harbor. Unbelievably, I’m not that old. But my parents equated their feelings about 9/11 with the feelings they experienced when they heard about Pearl Harbor. My father was unable to serve, so my first-hand experience of World War II is non-existent.

Almost.

Years ago, when I was a road warrior for work, I spent a lot of time in New York City.  On one visit, I had a string of meetings with ad agencies on December 7. I liked (and still do like) to create quintessential experiences for myself wherever I go, and so at the end of a long day, I decided to go have an experience at Sardi’s.

For those of you who don’t know it, Sardi’s is a classic restaurant in the Theatre District. It’s one of those places that you can go for a late supper after the show lets out. Known for the hundreds of caricatures of celebrities lining the walls of the dining room, Sardi’s has been a Broadway institution for 90 years. I considered it my duty to experience it firsthand, so on a chill December twilight, I made my way under the flashing neon and the burgundy awning, through the mahogany and glass doors with their brass kickplate, and into a slice of history.

The dining room was quiet so early in the evening, so I headed upstairs to the bar, which was bustling. I ordered a martini and stood back a bit, watching, gauging the energy of the people clustered together chatting. But not for long. The folks were welcoming and social and I was almost immediately included in conversations with people who seemed to have known the place forever.

There was a very drunk elderly woman, garbed in exquisitely pure white, complete with turban, wearing way too much makeup and hanging onto an extremely handsome young Brazilian man.  She was somehow related to the New York Times family, and we had a long chat. She kindly bought me another martini, and when she had excused herself to powder her nose, the Brazilian gentleman slipped me his card – thick, cream-colored, embossed with his name.  He was her kept man – her Giglio, he explained with pride. But if I required anything, he was sure he could get away, and she wouldn’t mind. How…. kind.  He was really quite charming, discrete and nice about it all. And I declined, in case you were wondering.

There was a small circle of old-school newspaper reporters who enjoyed complaining as much as they enjoyed drinking, which was quite a lot, and seeing as how I was a fresh ear, they bought me another martini and regaled me with tales about their long careers.

And then there was the final little circle of elderly gentlemen.  About six of them. They were all Pearl Harbor survivors. They met at Sardi’s every year, coming from around the country on December 7 to celebrate life, loss, patriotism, and victories large and small.  Two of them had overcome cancer.  Others had lost spouses, children, careers. But all were proud of their own survival, their own tenacious hold on life.  They told me stories – where they had been, what it had been like, how they had felt.  Tears were shed. After a couple more martinis for all – I bought them a round – they made me an honorary member of their unit and asked me to promise to come back the next year. They would be there.  I was honored. And I was proud to have been able to meet them all.

I did not make it back next year. In fact, I never made it back. But December 7 never passes without my recalling those men and that night.  I’m fairly sure that their number has dwindled, perhaps to nothing. Nevertheless, I am with them in spirit tonight, wherever they are.

(And after that many martinis, I had dinner with an ex-boyfriend and his wife, and spent the evening pretending that I spoke broken English with a charming French accent when the waiter was around, much to his amusement and her displeasure. I think the old boys would have gotten a kick out of it.)

 

Kelsea (and Uber-Cool Will) graduated from eighth grade last week. 

This was a big deal, much bigger than I had thought. 

There was no graduation from eighth grade for me.  Not that I didn’t, mind you, just that they didn’t celebrate such things.  I was in a Pre-K through 12 school, so for us, it was just the end of another year.  The big difference was that we moved to the Upper School campus in 9th grade, but otherwise? Meh.

So I was approaching Kelsea’s end of eighth grade as I had approached my own – just the gateway to another summer.  I had no idea how wrong I was.  I’m still unsure if it’s a big deal because she’s going to a different school – high school – or if it’s a big deal because times have changed and we now feel the need to make a big deal out of everything that our kids do as a part of being human and semi-adult, from coming in last in a competition to helping a duck across the street.

But a big deal it was, and I was proud to be a part of it.  All the girls in her class dressed up.  As you’ve probably been able to tell from my talking about Kelsea, she’s about as far from a girly-girl as Abe Lincoln is from Diana Ross.  So when she told me she wanted to wear a dress for graduation, I thought she was kidding.  She wasn’t.  And she didn’t just wear a nice short-skirted party dress like every other eighth-grade girl.  If she was going to wear a dress, she said, she wanted to do it her own way and make a statement.  Thankfully the statement wasn’t this:

or this:

No, she wanted to express her own sense of style.  So she wore a floor length dress, and her long hair down, and she looked gorgeous.  And she only tripped on it once on her two trips up to the platform (that would be her dress, not her hair).

The continuation ceremony was looong – almost two hours.  There were the requisite number of inspirational speeches about “what school has meant to me” and “taking the next step into the journey towards adulthood”.  One excellent student speaker told an embarrassing story about her mom from when she was in high school.  I surely hope she discussed this with her mom beforehand, otherwise the poor woman no doubt wished she could sink into the floor.

One of the 90 students in Kelsea’s graduating class had succumbed to cancer shortly after the beginning of the year.  The staff acknowledged her and her parents who were in the audience, and that brought tears to my eyes.  They acknowledged all the veterans among the parents, which I thought was a nice touch.  And at diploma time, when the principal said to hold applause until each row had received their sheepskin (or cardboard, as sheep are scarce these days), we were a poor audience and refused to do so, but came to an unspoken compromise by making a coordinated single clap for each student, with a more robust chatter of applause after each row.  I thought it was hysterical, but I would get distracted, and clap off beat, which was rather awkward.

Kelsea had straight As, so she was on the President’s Honor Roll, which included a certificate signed by Barak Obama.  She and I both wanted to wet the ink to see if it was a genuine signature, but we resisted.  My niece, who works in the governor’s office, also gave her a personal letter from the Governor, congratulating her on her achievements – that one really was a genuine signature.

And as for Kelsea, she is so relieved to be out of middle school that she said she almost wishes summer was over – she’s that eager to start high school.  I hope it lives up to her expectations.  She used to love school (in elementary school) and she just loathed middle school, even though she did well.  But for now, she just wants to sleep as late as she feels like sleeping.  I, for one, will let her do so – though I may be the only one who will let her do so.

I am so proud of my lovely girl.  Watching her cross the stage with poise and joyfulness was a wonderful experience.

So I guess it is a big deal after all.

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