Something Lost

by Lisa Cristal

The breeze came in through the open window. Lila’s eyes fluttered awake and as she stretched in bed she felt lighter, as if something inside of her was missing.

She called to her mother in a panic, “Mother, something is gone.”

“Don’t tell me that you misplaced the necklace from your betrothed.”

“Of course not,” she said crossly. “It’s much more serious than that.”

Her mother pulled back the sheets and found a single drop of blood on the sheets.

“Who was with you last night?” demanded her mother.

“No one. Sister slept in my room.”

“No!” Her mother looked horrified, angry and sad at the same time. “The marriage imp has stolen your virginity. My mother told me about the legends.

“Your betrothed and his family will not be happy. Some do not believe that the marriage imp exists and think it is merely an excuse for wayward daughters. The best we can hope for is that your father can find more goats to add to your dowry.”

But Lila was not someone who would simply accept things. No imp was going to destroy her life.

Her betrothed, Matthew, came over later that day. “You seem different, Lila. You seem lighter and unhappy.”

Lila looked down at the ground. She whispered, “The marriage imp stole my virginity. But I know that that will not change anything between us.”

Matthew seemed startled. “Are you sure that is what happened? Of course, there are the old legends, but nobody believes such stories now. If my parents find out the marriage will be called off. According to our customs my wife must be a maid.”

Lila said sharply, “You know me. Of course, that is what happened. Technically, I am still a maid. When the marriage imp steals your virginity, he merely puts it in a red box. If I find him,I can take the box back and reignite my virginity.”

“If you say so,” said Matthew doubtfully.

“Let us go and hunt for the imp together.”

“I need some time to think,” said Matthew. “I’ll join you later.”

Disappointed, Lila began her search alone in the forest outside the village. At dusk she saw a small, wizened creature crooning to himself and hugging a red box. She quietly picked up a branch to knock him out. As she crept up, she heard him singing a song about beautiful Lila and his unconditional love for her beginning with her birth and reciting her accomplishments over the years. Fascinated, she put the stick down and listened. She began to realize that this imp knew her better than anyone in the world and loved her because of her strengths and despite her weaknesses. Then she thought of Matthew, who walked away at the first sign of trouble.

The imp turned to her and asked if Lila could forgive him. “I just wanted a part of you to be with me, even if it was for a small time.”

He extended the red box to her. She was so touched she bent down to kiss him. The spell was broken, and she watched as he turned into a handsome prince.

“I can never thank you enough,” he said. “Will you come back to my kingdom and marry me?”

She took the box and reignited her virginity. “I’ll think about it,” she said. “All of this has really made reconsider whether I want any man in my life.”

In her prior life as a trademark attorney Lisa Cristal only wrote non-fiction. The members of Writing Workshop helped her enjoy writing fiction and this assignment was writing fan fiction. 


Ode to Stolichnaya

by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling


Oh, tovarich, shining one,
you share my evening journey
to kitchen, table, TV…
Your chilly clarity, imported from abroad,
charms me.


My handsome father, born in Kiev,
preferred Bourbon,
But I choose your brilliance,
those crystals cascading down my throat,
the smile in the green company
of  olives that enriches the flow…
Ah, Stoli, comrade, precious diamond;
I praise you



Harriet Sohmers Zwerling is an ex-expatriate, explorer, educator, experimenter; author of two books: Notes of a Nude Model and Abroad, an Expatriate’s Diaries.  Also a grandmother, awfully aware of the waning of time.

Lives of an Oushak

by Elaine Greene Weisburg


There’s a building in the Twenties where
scores of Persian Jews
sell old mid-eastern carpets,
carpets that I love.
Once when I was shopping there
I happened on a circle
of rug men saying prayers.

The Oushak in my bedroom I gaze at every day.
Its geometric forms
spelled out in muted grays and blues
lie on a field of salmon red–
as warm to the eye as its wool to bare feet.
Accents of blackish brown are discreet
as is a flickering orange note.

Whose rug was this long years ago?
Whose broken window blind
allowed the sun to fade
that narrow three-inch bar?
A Turkish imam? An artist from Spain?
And whose turn is next in this ownership chain?


Elaine Greene Weisburg spent about twenty years each at House & Garden (Conde Nast) and House Beautiful (Hearst) as design reporter and features editor, eventually editing a memoir column and two memoir anthologies.

College Days

by Carol Schoen

In the dour light of a Cambridge afternoon
We threw Pooh sticks off the bridge,
raced to see whose stick had won,
chanted bits of half-remembered lines.

Wandering back on Brattle to traffic jams
in the Square, we examined the books
at the Coop, ate popcorn in the  U.T.
had a beer at O’Conners, held hands, kissed.

We walked up Garden Street to the dorms
sat on the steps,  chatted with friends
unwilling to part, unable to stay,
we stretched time to catch the moment’s joy.

I recall each minute in that perfect day,
but I suspect it never really happened.


Carol Schoen wrote her first poems for Sarah White’s study group and has been chugging along happily ever since

Car Stories From the Writing Workshop, Spring 2016

Road Trip

by Lisa Cristal

I had finally convinced my husband, Bruce, that we were responsible adults.  We could stop inheriting old clunker cars and buy one that we could take care of for many years.

The black shiny Toyota Avalon was a sensible, highly rated car that would accommodate our growing children. We splurged and added a sunroof. We loved that car.

A week after purchase it was time for our first road trip. Our two small children fidgeted and fought most of the drive while Bruce accustomed himself to the nuances of a new car.  We were on the last part of the highway, within 10 minutes of our destination, when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a brown blur shoot out of the woods and charge toward the driver’s side of the car.   The impact pushed us off the road.  Looking up through the sunroof I saw the deer catapult over the car. Bruce tightly steered the car and righted us onto the road.

Our daughter asked where Bambi went.  “To find his mother,” I replied. Unfortunately, her older brother said that he saw the deer fly over the roof of the car. “Yes, “I said, covering, “but I saw him scamper away.”

Actually, Bruce had seen the deer twitching by the side of the road.  We stopped at a general store to report the accident. Bruce got out to inspect the damage.  The entire front of the car was smashed in and covered in blood and hair. Our son asked why daddy was kicking the pole of the payphone and yelling. “Stay in the car,” I ordered. “He is just trying to kick off the mud on his shoes.”

We fixed the car but it was never the same. We hated that car.

I spent my  entire career writing non-fiction and decided to go outside my comfort zone and take Writing Gymnastics. The support and provided by class members has allowed me to discover the great pleasure  of writing fiction.



by Elaine Greene Weisburg

Our first car, bought for $200 soon after we were married, was a used pre-war English Standard—a right-hand drive, two-seater, rag-top convertible. My husband named her after a current English movie character and we pronounced it English style: BED-ul. It was a source of entertainment as well as transportation. Even the kids in the street where we parked enjoyed it. We could tell that they played in the car at night and we assumed they used it as a stage set for pretend games, but they never harmed it. Anyway, we couldn’t lock them out because the two windows were Isenglass, set into a canvas surround that snapped into the snazzy low-cut doors.

I suspect some alarmed phone calls took place between our two sets of parents but neither set offered us a real car, so we enjoyed Beryl for a few years till we were expecting a baby. Then we sold her for the price we had paid. By that time the transmission was shot and we had to get the neighborhood boys to push us down the hill for the engine to start.

I still remember an encounter one rainy summer night on Sag Harbor’s Main Street. My husband was at the wheel and Dave, his former roommate, was sitting next to him. I was folded up on a narrow back ledge meant for luggage—your cricket bats and such—when a police officer stopped us about a sputtering tail light. He approached the left side and Dave obligingly snapped open the window. The officer asked to see Dave’s driver’s license. Dave respectfully replied, “But Sir, I am not driving.” Nobody laughed, the officer looked over at my husband and mumbled “Have it fixed” and quickly left us. Then we cracked up.

Elaine Greene Weisburg (under her first two names) worked as an editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden, and House Beautiful, spending two decades each at the latter two publication. Voices helps her keep her hand in.


Rainbow of Cars

by Sara Pettit

I’m the least knowledgeable person about cars you can find. Being a born New Yorker my family never owned a car but we all got Driver’s Licenses so we could have ID’s to cash checks. My inability to tell one car from another made it impossible for guys to impress me with their wheels when I went on dates..

When I finally did get a car it was a Dodge Omni. The only car on the market at the time worse than the Omni was the Yugo. I would drive the car around East Hampton where the Honda of East Hampton was a De Lorean or a Porsche. I had a nifty little bumper sticker on the back that said, “My Other Car is a Piece of Shit also!” You can see I like to irritate the Hamptonites.

About 5 years ago I took a trip to Cuba and being a visual person I was overcome by the beauty of the Cuban cars. Most cars were from 1960 or earlier and they were in a rainbow of colors that rivaled any floral bouquet I’ve ever seen.

For two weeks I stood at stop lights all over Cuba and photographed cars. When I got back to New York I showed them to a gallerist who invited me to have a one person show and I was invited to become a member of the gallery on the basis of my Cuban car photographs.

These cars were a tribute to the ingenuity of the Cuban people who kept them running and in perfect condition. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be fascinated by cars and that they would give me entrée into the New York City art world..

I spent most of my life as a textile designer and artist. It is through the IRP that I discovered my interest in writing. I look forward to my writing classes and the challenges they set for me.



by Charles Troob

My Grandpa had a boxy two-tone Oldsmobile 88. It seemed weightier than Dad’s series of Buicks–but maybe this was just the secure feeling given by Grandpa’s methodical driving, along with the comfortable odor from years of loving use. He would take a grandson or two out to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, to watch the coming and going at the LIRR trainyard. With Grandma we would go to Jones Beach in the off season to take in the salt air. My first Sunday school was in Kew Gardens. Grandpa would proudly drive me there, then pick me up and take me to their house in Jamaica for the afternoon.

In time the house was sold and my grandparents moved to an apartment not far from us in Forest Hills. Grandpa would regularly drive over to bring us Grandma’s chicken soup or borscht, her brownies or cupcakes–or just to say hello. Sometimes they would drop in together after an hour with family and friends at the cemetery off the Interboro Parkway.

In 1970 I left graduate school and moved back home. That summer Grandpa admitted to feeling poorly and was rushed to the hospital. A few agonizing weeks later he was dead of cancer. The ancient Oldsmobile was passed on to me. In September I started a day job at a public school in Bedford-Stuyvesant and an adjunct college position in the west Bronx. I tooled around the outer boroughs, enveloped by Grandpa’s kind spirit, ignoring the worsening tailpipe fumes.

On my way into Manhattan one evening I was stopped at a tollbooth and told that the car was not welcome in the Midtown Tunnel. The next day, at a junkyard near Shea Stadium, Dad and I sadly said goodbye to Grandpa a second time.

I am grateful to the IRP for making me write something each week — and for providing a receptive  audience.


Car Ride, 1945

by Lorna Porter

Nestled in a drowsy state, I hear the purr of motor and feel my sister’s leg stretched along mine. We have a wool blanket sprawled over us.

She lies on her side with her head at the other end of the back seat from me. I am propped with a pillow against the arm-rest on the door. Lights flash rhythmically through the dark car, yet I am drifting softly.

Kate is seven and I am six, on a long drive that has lasted all day from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. In front, my mother may be asleep, and surely my two-year-old sister, Emily, is asleep on her lap. My father drives silently against the night air.  Briefly, my mind sees me as a bunny down a snug hole with my bunny family.

There is no greater safety in life than having our entire family held close in this humming embrace. No one else in the world exists and no one in our family will ever be apart or alone. The heavy metal of our sturdy Packard is a tank like the soldiers have and we are a little  army headed for home. Dad will get us there.

I enjoy the weekly writing exercises and critiques that the IRP writing workshop has provided for many years now.



by Tom Ashley

One of the great perks when I was elevated into a management position was a new car when I became the head of sales at Turner Broadcasting. I had owned some great cars in the past. After all, I was from Detroit. But the idea of having a nice new car with gas, insurance and repairs fully covered was a big-time bonus.

I was provided with a list of several dealerships with whom we were doing business and took the weekend to shop. Turner didn’t care what it was, but it had to be fairly large for taking clients to lunch, dinner and sporting events. I settled on the biggest Pontiac Grand Prix ever made, jet black and equipped with the largest engine on the market. It was fully loaded with every imaginable option: air conditioning, tape deck, sun roof and it even had a device to listen to, not watch, all of the local television stations. That baby could fly. Other than flooring the accelerator, I took great care of that machine. It was washed every week and it glistened to the point that I could comb my hair in its hood reflection.

About nine months into my job I pulled into my regular spot next to Turner’s. His red Ferarri was nowhere in sight. In its place was a Toyota. I figured Ted was out of town and Vera, his long-suffering secretary, had parked in his space. Wrong.

He must have seen me entering the building as he screeched, “[author, author], come on in here.” In I went. “[author], those A-rabs have us by the balls and are starting to squeeze hard.” He rambled on about an oil embargo, then, cutting to the bottom line, I was told to head over to Voyles’ Toyota, turn in the Grand Prix and pick up my new car. I don’t know if you recall those early Toyotas, but this was not my happiest moment. I was pissed as I drove off Voyles’ lot in a pea-green, stick-shift, AM-radioed, roll-up-windowed deathtrap. My lawnmower had a larger motor.

A few months later I arrived at the office simultaneously with Turner who was driving a new Lincoln Continental. After my, “What’s this, Ted?” he informed me, “[author], I got to thinking how valuable my life is and how my children should not be put at risk. Driving around in that Toyota was far too dangerous…for me.”

“Are you telling me your life and your kids are more important than my life and my children?”

A week later I had a new Grand Prix.

Taking many study groups and writing over the years at the IRP has been a growing and stimulating process. In college I dreaded my writing courses. I LOVE them now.


Cuba and Cars

by Carmen Mason

I was going to Cuba in 2009. I had a list of items we could take to its struggling people, mainly pencils, notebooks, candies. I’d learned from friends these would be immediately sold for a quick profit so I packed a lot, but then I also decided on some baseballs and half a suitcase of professional pliers, hammers, Allen wrenches, screw drivers, tweezers and packets of nails, screws, nuts, bolts, coils of wire, crazy glue, work gloves and flashlight visors.

Once in Cuba, we drove to a small house in a run-down barrio. The grandmother of the family — living under one low and metal-patched roof –- was boiling strong tangy coffee in a battered pot. The kitchen cabinets were makeshift; the beds and sparse tables and chairs like ones resting in the decaying lots of the South Bronx.

The Castillo family was shy but smiling. Senior Castillo shook our hands and lead us from room to room, then out into his dusty, struggling garden. And there it was: a bright green Chevy Bel Air parked next to a table of taped-up hammers and awls, plastic scraps and broken parts.

On our way to the Castillos we’d cheered, even shouted ‘holas out the bus windows to the proud drivers of a Ford Mustang Dodge Challenger, two Daytonas, and a Plymouth Superbird – all 50’s or 60’s models. Now we were close-up to Senor Castillo’s 1957 four door sedan. He opened the hood lovingly. Inside were the intricate connections of tubes and wires and obviously jerry-built substitute parts body-fillered in place.

Before we all said goodbye I took out my heavy pack of tools and parts and gave it to him. He opened it hesitantly. Then he fell to his knees and started to weep. His wife rushed to his side, then turned to me and laughed like a young girl.

I was an English teacher of literature for 35 years andI have been writing forever and published here and there through the years. Editing for VOICES has been an added challenge and I am thrilled that I could help our VOICES come into its own.

My Father’s Pillow

by Lorne Taichman                   


Most nights my father slept on an oversized down pillow. It must have been about 3 or 4 times the size of a regular pillow. I think the it helped to alleviate a chronic backache.  What made that pillow so memorable was its smell: a warm, comfortable, all-embracing smell that originated from the use of Vitalis.  Vitalis was a pale-yellow, greaseless hair tonic for men. It was supposed to keep hair in place all day.  It came in a small, clear glass bottle that had a tiny opening at the top so that the bottle could be inverted and the tonic sprinkled on the top of the head without dousing the user. My father applied it every day.  He didn’t have a big bush of hair, rather, he had brown, straight hair of medium length, and after he splashed on Vitalis he would work the tonic in with a comb.  Before creating the part he would comb his hair forward, straight out in front of him, forming a flying wedge, a pointed prow, a bridge to nowhere. Cantilevered out there it held its shape, defying gravity. When he wasn’t around we kids would sprinkle Vitalis on our heads and try to create that same effect, but we had inherited our mother’s frizzy hair gene making our hair incapable of matching that proud beak.

The smell is difficult to describe. It wasn’t the odor of Vitalis, that clear, pungent, crisp, antiseptic smell; it had the essence of Vitalis at its base, but the scent had been transformed and reformulated by years of sweat, skin oil, body warmth mixed with whatever magic the feather down brought to the brew. It was a smell you didn’t whiff; you buried your head deep into the down, drew in a full breath and allowed the personality to totally envelop you. It was a smell that meant security, safety, continuity, comfort and well-being.

The alternate hair product for men, for those who wanted something more substantial, was Byrlcreem, a greasy, white cream you removed from a wide mouth jar with two or three fingers and rubbed deeply into your head. Again, the purpose was to keep hair in place all day.  We kids used Brylcreem – Vitalis was too old fashioned.  It took a bit of rubbing to work it evenly into your hair, but once in place it held your hair, no loose ends, guaranteed.  Brylcreem was first advertised on television with the jingle “Brylcreem – A little dab’ll do ya! You’ll look so debonair. Brylcreem- the gals’ll all pursue ya, they’ll love to run their fingers through your hair.” Ronald Reagan used Brylcreem. I think we teenagers stuck to Brylcreem because it gave a bit of sheen to our mops, and it felt manly to rub it vigorously into our heads.

Brylcreem had a mild soft odor and although we used it every day, our pillows never acquired a distinctive, friendly Brylcreem-based aroma. In fact, years of Brylcreem led to no pillow odor at all.  If you wanted comfort you went to the big pillow.

When we divvied up the contents of my parents’ home, one of the items I took was the big pillow. It rests in a large, green, plastic bag in an upstairs, out-of-the-way closet.  That size bag is usually used for tossing out large items of junk, though it fits the big pillow well.  However, the smell is gone. As hard as I try, as hard as I pull air through that down into my nostrils, I cannot find that familiar smell.  I am filled with deep sadness every time I try. Something so personal, dear and so intimate, is gone forever.


I was an academic medical researcher for several decades at Stony Brook University. I joined the IRP three years ago and have coordinated two courses — Cancer Therapy and A Broken Heart with Bob Braff.

Letter from Director – Fall-Winter 2016


This issue of IRP Voices continues a long tradition.  For more than fifty years, the Institute for Retired Professionals has been an integral part of the New School.   IRP members have always been encouraged to explore their unique ideas, skills and talents.  As in so many previous issues, this publication showcases the remarkable abilities of our members–in prose, in poetry, in photography, and in the visual arts.

Forty-seven IRP members have contributed to this issue–many with their creative work displayed here, others as readers and judges.  Our online archives include the work of many others.

Please join me in celebrating the wonderful creative efforts that appear in Voices.  Many thanks to the team whose hard work allows us to present it to IRP members–and through the miracle of technology, to the wide world.

Miriam Lawrence,
Interim Director


Letter from Publishers–Fall-Winter 2016

Dear Colleagues,

We are proud to present the sixth online issue of Voices. The talent in this organization continues to astonish us.

We would like to thank our editors, judges, and readers, who do so much of the heavy lifting to make Voices a reality. And there would be no Voices without the enthusiastic support of the the IRP administration and Advisory Board.

We dedicate this issue to our dear Ivy Berchuck, who gave so much to Voices and to the IRP. Her courage will continue to inspire us, and it is an honor to be able to share some of her last writings with you.

We hope you enjoy this issue. We have enjoyed putting it together for you.


Charles Troob, Publisher

Susan Rauch and Tom Ashley, Associate Publishers

The Guest

by Ivy Berchuck


I’m holding the remote in my hand with a finger on the volume button.  Even on PBS there are commercial breaks, and theirs upset me the most.  They consist of testimonials from hospitals profiling people whose lives have been saved by physicians at places like Presbyterian and Memorial Sloan-Kettering.  I can’t listen to their stories, focused generally on cancer survivals.  Along with the promising statistics conveyed in the press about cancer survival rates, they fail to provide me with anything to grab onto.  I’m different. You’ll never see testimonials or statistics for my pancreatic cancer, because there is no such thing as a remission or recovery.  Only 6% of patients live for five years.  It is a one-way street and I’ve been prodding my way down it for almost two years.

There has been chemo and radiation, loss of hair, fatigue and constant concern about what the next CT scan will show.  The key word is containment.  Keep the monster at bay for as long as possible, but apparently never long enough to appear on those lists of statistics.  So far my tumor has been confined to the pancreas.  That is some comfort, but it certainly puts living in the moment to the test.  Take it day by day.  Some of the days are wonderful, but don’t think about tomorrow which could be quite the opposite.

I’ve been an optimist and problem solver for most of my adult life.  Even if the survival rate were small, I’d be thinking, if someone is going to make it, let it be me.  Even if it were not to work I’d feel some semblance of control.  I often joked with my oncologist and said he should make me his break-through patient and I’d throw him a party when he walked off with the Nobel Prize in medicine. He likes me and the effort I’m putting into this, but he did not laugh at my joke.

I love and enjoy life so much so I am trying hard, really hard to look well, feel well and act well. One day I remembered something. When I was an exhausted new mother, I hated it when I left the dishes in the sink at night and didn’t have the energy to even pick up old newspapers from the floor.  Facing the mess depressed me, so I decided the early morning hours would have to be the time for getting things in order.  I gave the baby her 5 a.m. bottle and threw some cold water on my face.  Energized, I knew I wouldn’t hear from her until 8 or 9, so I scurried around cleaning and puffing pillows.  I picked fresh flowers from the garden and placed them all around the rooms.  I showered and dressed, put up a fresh pot of coffee so Bob and I could share a few moments before he left for the commuter train to Chicago.  “I don’t know how you manage it,” he said adoringly. “This place looks great.” And it did.

After he left I’d sit with a book, some Mozart and a cup of coffee. There was nothing I had to do until the baby woke up. I looked across my lovely room, exhilarated, and thought, “Hey, this is wonderful. I’m a guest in my own house.”

And that’s how I’m approaching this period in my life. I’ve swept away the casual and unimportant. I am cleaning things up. Only real friends, beloved children and grandchildren, good books, some plays and classes and more good days than bad. I’m a guest again. This time I’m a guest in my own life for as long as it lasts.



Before her retirement, Ivy Schiff Berchuck was the director of  Gifted Education for District 28 of the N.Y.C. Board of Education.  A long-time member of the IRP, she died in 2016.



by Ivy Berchuck


“You’ll never find such soft, elegant material if you don’t shop now.  Come on, be nosier. You won’t be sorry.”

I’m stretched out on a mesh lounge chair in the courtyard of my daughter’s Manhattan apartment. Sunlight plays through the trees, defying the urban noise. The proud looking bird gives me the once over but doesn’t move closer.

“You won’t be sorry,” I cajole. “I know that summer isn’t the season for avian interior decorating, but consider what your nest will look and feel like next spring when the new chicks arrive.”

Years of Audubon magazines have convinced me that wife and hubby will return after the winter break to make home improvements to the very same nest. We humans would call this proactive, thinking ahead, but I don’t know how it works in the bird world.

I continue, unconcerned about the people reading around me. I coax some more: “You’ll never find such soft, elegant nesting material if you don’t shop now.”

I am five weeks into bad news. A cancer diagnosis and a regimen of chemotherapy have me in an unbelieving stupor. I hang onto some words–early, few malignant cells, shrinkage hoped for.  I’ve had few bad reactions to the chemo, mostly fatigue, which is bitter for an active person.  Now this new side effect has clicked in.  I reach under my gigantic sun hat and gently pull at my curls.  Out comes a handful of hair.  If I roll it around it becomes a ball, like something an owl would regurgitate.  If I separate the strands some float away in the breeze, others land in spots near my chair.  These are the strands I’m advertising to the robin.

I sprinkle some of my biscotti crumbs as incentive.  They attract her but not the soft blond hair.  The pulling is like nail biting.  I can’t stop, but unlike the robin I am proactive.

Last week, with my hair still intact, I visited a fancy wig shoppe.  I brought along some photos of how I look when I have my hair blown out to celebrate an event. I asked for advice. “What do you recommend, curls or straight?”

“I say we stick with your own color and go for the straight look. You’ll never have a bad hair day.”

We try on a numbers of styles. She’s right about the curly one.  I look like Harpo Marx and that makes me laugh, but the ones I do select look just like me, only better.  Wow, I think, a silly silver lining to this awful summer.  I buy two frames to stand the wigs on but draw the line at spending twenty dollars for the wig hairbrush.


The time for a test run arrives.  I’m off to spend the weekend with my youngest daughter and her family at their beach house in Greenport.  The wig is a big hit with the grandkids.  I love that the humidity doesn’t transform the straightness into corkscrew curls.  Elizabeth is packing to go back to MIT for her junior year.  I tell her about my wig shopping and the outrageous hairbrush price.

“Gram,” she exclaims. “I can help.”  At this she starts to hurl things from her closet. A bikini top and a soccer ball swish across the floor.  My protests are ignored.  Finally she reaches what she’s looking for. She pulls out a disheveled looking American Girl Doll with stringy, knotted hair. Taped to the doll’s arm is a four inch hairbrush emblazoned with American Doll across it.

“I never really liked her that much,” says Elizabeth “and I never took care of her hair. But you’ll take care of yours Grandma, and you’ll always look perfect.”  I’m probably the only chemo-wig-wearing grandmother using an American Girl Doll hair brush.


The effects of the chemo have become worse. I remain optimistic and do feel that I’ll get over this. I want to make the most of the days I feel good, and at some point I’ll relive this year the way it should have been. But on that city afternoon it would’ve made me happy if mother robin had cushioned her nest with my hair. I kept floating out strands while she pecked around for more biscotti crumbs. I know that I’m impatient. I want to exercise control when so much control has been taken away from me.

A writer friend sent me a card I read every day. Her note ended with this: “I hope you’re keeping up and looking forward to your lovely curly locks coming back with benevolent vengeance.”

Benevolent vengeance.  Don’t you just love it?  That is what I feel.  That is what is going to happen.


Before her retirement, Ivy Schiff Berchuck was the director of  Gifted Education for District 28 of the N.Y.C. Board of Education.  A long-time member of the IRP, she died in 2016.