what am i–chopped liver?

This holiday has been interesting in so many ways. I was very cognizant of how many different roles I play. (Yes, of course, that’s a reference to W. Shakespeare’s birthday? What else?)

I have been shifting somewhat not-seamlessly between (in absolutely no order; maybe I should just do it alphabetically as not to assign importance or lack of, but I won’t):

  • mother
  • grandmother
  • sister
  • daughter
  • rabbi’s wife
  • friend
  • social director
  • housewife extraordinaire
  • photographer/artiste /memory collector
  • oh yeah, wife

I originally added “oh yeah, me”, but I shouldn’t be playing a role.

The first number of days, I was switching around from getting ready for the seders, trying to incorporate the kiddies, trying to take little walks, enjoying the weather. We enjoyed a very good day trip to the MIT Museum, trying to foster our granddaughter’s interest in engineering. I was going to write about it and the contrast with visiting a farm the next day; the contrast of the natural and the artificial world (and maybe I still will; I do have some nice photos), but this subject became more salient.

The reason that this holiday became more fraught with role-playing is that my father started showing signs of feeling unwell. We’re thinking he has a very high threshold for pain (not my experience with boys or men, I must admit), or such an inability to admit he’s not 110%, that he was not admitting that he was really feeling poorly. And this led to my brother-in-law (oh, yeah that’s another one; plus mother-in-law) taking him to the emergency room at the closest hospital. They looked at his charts from 5 years ago, when he had come into the hospital on a snowy day also during Passover and sent him straight over to the bigger hospital in the big city that he went to last time…that is, after they stabilized him. It had become clear that the same bleeding ulcer that almost killed him then was acting up again. But since last time, I had been the one to go to the first hospital with him in the ambulance, and then my sister went with him to the second one. And last time, she stayed near the hospital with friends over the holiday, and brought him home.

But this time is different. This time, our son and daughter-in-law live somewhat near the hospital, so they could visit him, while my sister was not allowed to stay there. We went into visit him; that was our Sunday outing.

And so the order switched around–daughter, sister, and then mother/grandmother. And oh yeah, wife. Because I was still the rabbi’s wife, and we were having company…

Many years ago, over the holiday of Sukkot, we were supposed to have guests and I cancelled. It was right after ISHI’s cancer diagnosis and I just could not bear to have guests. And I never re-invited them, this 14 years later…

But the show must go on, so we stayed put.

Of course, the hospital called my sister’s house and not mine. So when people asked me how my father was doing, I found out that they knew more than me. That became more than awkward.

And so the expression of the title came to mind. I don’t eat chopped liver, so even more so, right?

Here’s what William Safire wrote in 1998 in his On Language column in the NY Times:

The earliest use of this phrase in its derogatory sense — that is, ”something trivial; something to be scoffed at” — in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang is by Jimmy Durante on his 1954 CBS-TV show: ”Now that ain’t chopped liver.”

In a 1980 monologue about the Reagan-Carter Presidential debate, Johnny Carson noted Ronald Reagan’s statement that if all the unemployed were lined up, they would stretch from New York to Los Angeles. ”He came up with another one today,” said Carson. ”If everyone on welfare were chopped liver, you could spread them on a line of Ritz crackers from here to Bulgaria.” A decade later, the actor-producer Michael Douglas applied the phrase to himself, complaining about his secondary role in a movie: ”That hurt me in the industry as an actor, and it ticked me off. I thought, What was I — chopped liver or something?”

This show-biz usage contributed to the treatment of the ethnic culinary delicacy (in Yiddish, gehakte leber) as an object of disdain. It may have also been influenced by its sense in underworld lingo as ”a beaten and scarred person,” or by the urbanization of the once-rural expression ”That ain’t hay.” Steinmetz speculates: ”Chopped liver is merely an appetizer or side dish, not as important as chicken soup or gefilte fish. Hence it was often used among Jewish comedians in the Borscht Belt as a humorous metaphor for something or someone insignificant.”

The tests all came back fine. He has to continue taking his medicine, which he felt he didn’t need since he was feeling fine. I took him to the airport today. Tomorrow, he has a doctor’s appointment and we’ll figure things out from there.

He never thought he’d live past 72, the age when his father died. His mother died when he was only 11; he was never told of what. All of his cousins died young; he’s the only one left from that family.

He’s a liver. Until 120 years.

And I have to choose my own life and my own metaphors.

So here is perhaps an apt one, from a recipe adapted from Martha Stewart that I had my crew assemble.

DSC_0364 DSC_0366

So what am I, an inverted pyramid?



2 thoughts on “what am i–chopped liver?

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