Monday, December 08, 2008

Good things about being a Colorado Jew

December 8

I don't understand why people feel a need to travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sure, family's important, but it's your family. Why does it have to get together at the same time as all the other families? Who made up that rule?
So I flew to Denver on Saturday, on a two-leg flight (New York-Boston, Boston-Denver), both legs of which left on time, actually landed early because of good tail winds, and had empty seats. People were relaxed, the crew was friendly. A woman working security at LaGuardia was wearing an elf hat and standing in front of a giant inflatable Grinch.
I asked if she wasn't nervous with the Grinch at her back.
"I could take him down," she said.
"I bet you could, too," I said.
"I have an advantage," she said. "I have a pin."
Who laughs in airports during Thanksgiving weekend?
Besides, it's always a holiday when Uncle Bret comes to town.
I was picked up at the airport by my brother Todd and we went straight to his house for dinner with his family (wife Helen and kids Harrison, age 9, and Alia, 2), my parents, my niece Tahirah (13-year-old daughter of sister Courtney, who was at home with a cold), my Aunt Donna (mom's sister) and Aunt Florine and Uncle Phil (Florine's my dad's sister; Phil is her husband -- since roughly a third of this blog's readers are in New York, I'll point out that their daughter Sarah Boxer was on staff at The New York Times for many years, writing about culture and other things, including Charles Schulz's obituary).
Dinner wasn't intended as a Thanksgiving celebration, but we did have herbed turkey breast and string beans with onions and bacon and roasted potatoes and both cranberry compote and cranberry chutney.
We drank a table wine from Palisade, in western Colorado, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese grapes all grown in the Palisade area. It was pretty good.
And we played Nintendo Wii. Todd and Helen just got Wii Fit, theoretically for themselves, but Harrison had been on it all day. No one's complaining, though. Most of us took turns on it after dinner, including Aunt Donna, who it turns out has quite good balance.
I switched between playing with Harrison and talking to Uncle Phil, who told me stories of his father, who in the first decades of the 20th Century was a wildcat oil well driller, mostly based in Wichita, just like Aunt Donna's father-in-law, Jay Kornfeld. In fact, the two families were very close friends. It is coincidental but truly fascinating that both of those families married into my mother's family.
And really not that unusual, I suppose, since there just weren't that many Jews in this part of the world, and you'd imagine that all the Jewish wildcat oil prospectors would have known each other.
Since we were on the subject of family, when I got back to my parents' house, Mom pulled out a type-written biography that had been written years ago of Abraham Cohn, who we think was her father's uncle, or maybe great uncle. We're not sure. But he was the mayor of the town of New Castle, Colorado, between Glenwood Springs and Rifle on I-70, before finding his way to Denver where he ended up taking over the Windsor Hotel downtown.
The Windsor was an important gathering place, and, according to family legend, at one point it had saloon doors and periodic gunfights. During that time my step great-grandfather, Phil Waterman, was selling newspapers outside. Phil Waterman was my grandfather Harry Cohn's stepfather after his own father left (in a subsequent letter to his son, he blamed the "demon rum" for his absence). So "Grandpa Phil," as Mom called him, was working outside the hotel that was owned by the uncle of the guy whose wife he would ultimately marry. Or something like that.
So as a Denver Jew, I came from both a pretty big city with a degree of anonymity and a small town where everyone knows everyone else. It's fun.
Yesterday was bonding-with-Harrison day. I picked him up at Hebrew school (saying hi to people I knew, of course) and then we went Hannukkah present shopping. I decided to splurge and got him an iPod Nano, and so I got one for Tahirah, too, and those giant leg-o's for Alia ("a brand new toy!" Alia said later that evening).
You might have noticed my tendency to bad-mouth the celebrity chef phenomenon, but I'm not above working it to my advantage, and I won considerable points from Harrison when I told him that Rocco DiSpirito (whom he knows from Dancing with the Stars) is a Facebook friend of mine.
At the time of this writing, Rocco has 4,983 Facebook friends, but I didn't tell Harrison that.

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