All posts filed under: Love+

Fall in love, shrug off that bad date, spend time with family, walk the dog, be a friend

My Search for the “Oh Yes!” When Sex Was a No-No

Sexual education in my conservative, southern, Christian upbringing was strictly on a need-to-know basis: I needed to know what I should avoid. An entire sexual revolution swirled around me, giving not thought at all to my existence, yet it was I, I, who madly sought it. My curriculum was carefully curated so that I might be informed, but still avoid the rising tide of desire. Too much information would no doubt trigger the awakening of the wanton sexual temptress hell bent on besmirching my family name with gonorrhea and out-of-wedlock children that ignorance had allowed to lay dormant. I dubbed my sexual curiosity my white whale — an obsession that consumed every waking moment I spent away from the Bible or Knight Rider, sure to lead to my undoing. I had to use context clues for everything else. I asked my parents where babies came from when I was six. They gave me a splendidly clinical “a-man’s-sperm-meets-a-woman’s-egg” spiel. “How? They rub stomachs or something? Does he feed it to her?” It wasn’t until a year …

Fvmbe Humor: Honoring My Ancestors with Belly Laughs

In my culture — the Mvskoke (Creek) tribe — humor is a constant. There’s even a certain genre of humor which one of our scholars, Craig Womack, termed “fvmbe humor.” (In Creek, “v” is pronounced like a “u.”) “Fvmbe” means “stink,” and “fvmbe humor” often has to do with the body, though it’s not crass. It is difficult to translate, but we’ve kept the word despite the government’s many attempts to take away our language and culture. Laughing at certain things is almost a marker of belonging. But another marker of belonging is knowing when not to laugh, when not to let suppressed giggles burst out at the wrong time. Especially, in church. My family attends a Mvskoke Baptist church. As is custom in our tribe’s churches, the church house is in the center, and it is surrounded by family “camphouses” — small houses which are usually just a dining room, kitchen, and seating area. Some have a bedroom because some people stay at church from Saturday evening to Sunday night. All of us stay …

My Husband’s Manic Break Left Me Running for My Life

Nine years ago a battalion of police cars and a whole lot of crazy portended the end of my 16-year marriage, and I — someone who’d gone from living in my mother’s house to living with my husband at just 19 years old — was now completely on my own with two young children in Westchester in a crumbling house I couldn’t afford. To say that I was scared would be like saying this first year with Trump was just a little bit rocky. I was panicked. Low-key panicked in that way that vibrates off of you, no matter how cool you’re trying to play it. And I was trying to play it cool, at least for my kids. At 8 and 11, their whole world had been upended and they were struggling to comprehend why and come to terms with it all. They needed me to act like it was all going to be okay, and while I faked the funk for them every day, I needed everyone else in my life to tell …

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On Going to a Better Place: What I’ve Learned from My Brother’s Death

Originally published in the Loss Issue, 2016 I have a picture of my younger brother when he was four days old. I’m sitting on my parents’ black and white geometric-patterned bedspread, cradling him. It’s one of my favorite photographs. I’m the oldest, followed by my sister, 13 months later. Almost a decade passed before my parents had another baby. Bryce’s birth was momentous. He was charming from the first day, with a wide, impish grin. As time went by, my mother would say, Bryce is going to do great things: He has the brains, the work ethic, the brawn. When Bryce was thirteen, he started drinking. In our family, drinking wasn’t just about experimentation. No one in my family drank. At fourteen, when the cops called to say he had broken into our neighbor’s house on the hunt for cash to buy booze and drugs, my mother called me at college, desperate and knowing there was a real problem. What had begun as acting out for Bryce had become a salve for anxiety and depression. When my …

Childbirth Is No Place for a Fever — or Fear

“Are you feeling ok?” my ob/gyn asks me. I’ve been in labor for 26 hours with my first child. My water has broken in dramatic fashion and I’m preparing myself to start pushing. “Am I feeling OK?” I ask myself. “What does ‘OK’ even mean in this context?” I am tired in every sense of the word. But I guess I feel OK. She keeps asking, though, and I don’t understand why. “You have a fever of 103.5. Are you sure you’re OK?” I emerge from my epidural haze and finally register what she is saying. I arrived at this hospital fever-free. I had had a normal pregnancy. Actually, it wasn’t normal — it was very easy. No vomiting, minimal nausea. The labor has taken a long time, but that’s not unusual. Now all of a sudden my temperature is rising and alarming everyone around me. This moment in 2009 is the very peak of the swine flu pandemic; by the time it run its course, it will claim nearly 15,000 lives around the world. …

Before We Ever Met, He Tattooed My Name on His Hip

When he got my name tattooed on his hip, we hadn’t met yet. He was 50. I had just turned 30. He had a big job in the city at a law firm, lived on Long Island, and wore tailored suits to work. I assumed he was rich. He sounded rich. I was working as a telephone dominatrix from my ramshackle apartment deep in Jersey City and had just filed for bankruptcy. His voice was measured, wise. I liked him more than the others and more than I was supposed to. My voice on the phone, was confident, lulling — often just a whisper. It was one of my trademarks and how I controlled them. I was good at it. The other women on the line thought the guys would spend more money on you if you yelled at them. They were mostly wrong. One of my best clients, a shy music professor from England who had six pet rats, left me five stars and this comment on my site one time: “I’d sell my …

Choosing Calm Over Chaos Made Me Less of an Asshole Mom

(Image: Isabella Giancarlo) For a long time, I couldn’t relate to mother-daughter relationship drama stories. I was way too preoccupied with an operatic level of paternal drama for that. My father’s attentions, and the absence thereof, consumed my childhood. I was too busy being adored, smacked, screamed at, and gaslighted by my dad to have any emotional space left to hate my mom. My own daughter, Amira, was born 11 days after my 30th birthday. Four and a half years later, my son Lev was born. I did the stay-at-home-mom thing for 10 years, throughout my 30s. My job performance was fair. In the “pro” column: I think I gave my kids pretty good advice about how to stand down bullies. “If someone teases you,” I said, “squint real hard, look totally grossed out and say: ‘Ewww…! What’s that green stuff coming out of your nose?!?’” They both say it never came to that, but I know they knew what I was getting at: Don’t dignify shitty behavior. You’re bigger than that. My temper, however, …

Life Blindsided Me And Then I Learned to See.

One Sunday afternoon about fifteen years ago, I wandered into a panel discussion at The Brooklyn Public Library just as Carmen Boullousa, the Mexican poet and novelist, was being asked a question. “How do you write?” the questioner asked. Carmen Boullousa threw her hands up in the air and slammed them down the table in front of her. “You don’t know what you’re doing!” she burst forth, with a shout and a laugh. “You start off blinded, and you work until you begin to see.” I was 37 or 38 at the time, with a husband and two young daughters doing whatever they were doing in our Prospect Heights brownstone a few blocks away. And for as long as I could remember, I’d been trying to connect life’s dots with a modicum of elegance and a minimum of fuss. Determined to press on, to be a trooper, to feign competence, to not give passport, ever, to a willingness to be blinded. Carmen Boullousa was talking about writing but I sensed her advice might help me …

That Last Day I Ever Trusted My Father

I trusted my father to always do the right thing because he constantly barked at my sister and me about how hard he was working for us to have a good home, go to good schools, go to college, etc. My father was the first Black man ever hired at Western Electric in their managerial program. He did a lot of good, helping other Black folks get jobs, being the President of the NAACP chapter, and integrating the Kiwanis and Lions civic organizations. In hindsight, though, there were signs I shouldn’t have trusted him as much as I did. He was of the generation of men who did not cry and were not affectionate with their family. From the time I was four years old, I knew that he and my mother didn’t have a very loving relationship. When I was five, I remember being awakened by a huge fight they had one night. They were yelling at each other, and she grabbed a giant glass ashtray and tried to smash him in his head …

The Day I Stopped Trusting My Memory

“I don’t have time for this shit,” I grumbled to myself as I searched the apartment for my keys. Moving piles of unopened mail around on the kitchen table, I felt the familiar pit in my stomach begin to grow. “Why didn’t I put the keys on its porcelain dish as usual?” I chastised myself. “And why was this happening so often lately?” Just last week, I went searching for my iPhone and found it in the freezer. In the freezer. Don’t even ask me how I did that because — guess what — I don’t remember. Back in my years before Impending Cronehood, I had a remarkable memory — almost photographic. Dates, names, and intimate details were etched into my brain so clearly that I could recall them vividly, and I was often used as my friend’s journals, to be opened when their own recollections of the past grew hazy. “Hey, Issa, what was the name of that guy I used to date our freshman year in college? You know, the one who was …

Am I Allowed to Be Happy Even If My Kids Are Not?

I was raised to believe that happiness and motherhood were inherently incompatible, if not irreconcilable. I learned from my mother’s example. Mothers did not live to be happy. Mothers lived to be useful. Mothers lived to be productive. I don’t remember my mother ever talking about being happy. I do remember her always working, laboring, being useful to others. My mother’s hands seemed like they never stopped moving. If she wasn’t pulling strings off string beans or picking worms off tomatoes in her garden, she was peeling apples for a pie or peaches for a cobbler. Or, she was sewing us or herself a new outfit, or turning our old outgrown clothes into quilts. Over time, arthritis made sewing too difficult, but she kept cooking and gardening until the day she took her last breath. As infants, my children were born pushy, in that way that is socially acceptable only for babies and cats. My daughter came out stubborn, demanding and unapologetic. My son, on the other hand, used his fat cheeks, bright eyes and …

A Luminous Photograph with a Story to Tell

It’s a photograph no one else but me could have taken. My mother didn’t take it, that’s for sure. She was great in front of the camera, her rightful place, and pretended — feminine wiles, how quaint — not to understand how to depress the shutter button on a point-and-shoot. My ex-husband was a distracted photographer with an artsy eye that didn’t translate to family photos. Twenty-five years later, no, Philip, I don’t remember whose earlobe that is. But Philip didn’t take it. I’ll describe the image. My daughter, Sophia, is three. Her hair is summer blonde and flows. She is wearing a yellow dress that is now packed in a bin marked “Girls,” in the basement of my building. My father, Tom, is 67. He is tanned and grey and rugged, with a big dad head, square and block-sturdy, the kind of dad head you don’t see much anymore, who knows why, something to do with the internet? Craniums diminish to accommodate next level evolution? I don’t know. Anyway, my father with his big …

He’s 25. I’m 53. What Could Go Wrong?

“Make my day go from good to great and tell me you don’t mind that I’m 25, not 45.” Oh, this old trick. Present yourself as a Gen-Xer when you’re really a millennial. I understand of course; my age, in the universe of dating apps, is a moving target. I have the slightest amount of empathy. Slight enough to answer him back at 1:30am instead of falling asleep. Like middle-aged humans do. “You’re closer in age to my daughter than you are to me.” Dating-wise, the formula I’m fond of applying is half my age plus seven. I’m 53. Even with my Bumble age — 46 — this 25-year-old doesn’t make the cut. Unless I make an exception. We’re playing the same game, after all. The liberal age gap. He generously adds 20 years to his age, I’m mindfully lowering mine and we’re both hoping that somewhere along this sliding scale we’ll each get what we want. “I find you very sexy. I don’t care about your age or mine. I want to get to …

Baby Shower 2.0: Celebrating My Transgender Son’s New Identity

The blue jellybeans were assembled in pint-sized mason jars on my kitchen table. My husband was about to head to the store to pick up the balloon bouquet while I put finishing touches on the decorations. The kids and I had made a batch of homemade chocolate ice cream, and the giant, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie was frosted in blue with our son’s new name: Max Grayson. “It’s A Boy!” read the banner across the wall and on the sign in the front yard. We were thrilled to welcome so many excited guests to our home for “Baby Shower 2.0.” We had already thrown our child a baby shower back in 2008, back when we named him Mary Grace and thought he was our daughter. Our son is nine years old now and has been telling us he is a boy since he was two. Once we were able to finally recognize that he was transgender — a process that was neither fast nor easy — and then took the steps necessary to officially …

Why I Changed My Son’s Last Name to Mine

When I married David Adelson, I never seriously considered changing my name to Adelson any more than I ever seriously considered changing my name to Duchovny, or Gosling. Caveat: For a little while, maybe because I was super-stoked to be married — and super-confident that 20 years of professional feminism made my creds otherwise clear — I tacked “Adelson” on after Harris in non-professional settings. But “Lynn Harris Adelson” didn’t stick. I STILL LOVED MY HUSBAND, but after the thank-you notes were sent, it started to grate. I’d been a journalist and author forever — and though it was EXTREMELY IRRITATING to be constantly confused with the late bestselling author E. Lynn Harris, whose books best-sold way more than mine — I was not about to touch my byline. Plus, feminism! “Harris” wasn’t going anywhere. Then came our daughter, Bess. We considered “Bess Harris” for about five minutes, two and a half of which were spent thinking, “That’s a lot of S’s,” and two and a half of which were spent noting that both names …

I Tried to Break Up With My Therapist. It Didn’t Go Well.

People say it’s hard to date in New York. (I once went out with a guy who looked like Gargamel from the Smurfs, so I know how tough it is.) But I think it’s much harder to find a good therapist. It’s early 2001. I’ve been living in New York City for a few months to do a seven-month comedy intensive program after moving from San Francisco. In addition to working full-time for my west coast office, I’m going to school every night during the week and doing homework, shows and other catch-ups on the weekend. The pace of Manhattan and my jam-packed schedule begin to take a toll on me, and in no time, I start to have panic attacks. So I do what any other overwhelmed person does: I tackle one more thing. I look for a therapist. On paper, Linda is great. She’s five minutes from work, she’s in my plan and she’s only $5 a visit. Score! In person, it’s another story. When I first enter her windowless office, I notice …

How to Lose at Wife-Carrying, and Win at Marriage

Author and journalist Jo Piazza had no idea what to do when she got engaged. She was terrified of taking on the role of someone’s wife. To figure it out, she traveled to 20 countries on five continents for her new memoir, How to Be Married: What I Learned From Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage. Told in honest prose with astute reporting, the book is a survival guide for the first year of marriage. The following is an adapted excerpt from the book. Most dating advice given to newlyweds is horrible. Maybe not horrible, but at least not terrifically helpful. It’s like the people writing the advice wrote sitcoms in the ‘80s where the laugh track covered the sadness and every problem was fixed in 28 minutes, including commercials. There’s a lot of “don’t forget to have a date night,” and “never go to bed angry,” and “say ‘I love you’ at least once a day.” In other words, there’s a lot of bullshit. In the …

Oh Ottawa: Reflecting on a Canadian Life Left Behind

If Belle from Beauty and the Beast were 40 today, would she still be living happily ever after or would she have second thoughts about leaving her provincial life? Would she still identify with that life at all? Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, I suppose in some ways I was a modern-day Belle leading the proverbial provincial life*. The grass is green, and there’s lots of it – in the summer months at any rate. With the federal government headquartered in the nation’s capital, the job market is robust and typically weathers market downturns well. There’s access to good schools and, of course, universal healthcare. At home, we indulged in many popular American imports. Our family tuned in to ALF and laughed at Steve Urkel’s silly jokes, my dad received a hero’s homecoming when he signed up for a Jumbo Video membership (Canada’s answer to Blockbuster) and surprised us with a copy of the newly-released Batman movie, and in the 10th grade I became completely obsessed with The Phantom of the Opera when a touring …

Taking Care of the Strongest Man I Ever Knew

My father asked me, “How long does it take?” I felt all the sound, light, air — everything — leave the room; only the weight of those words remained. I was standing at the side of his bed, lightly stroking his forehead. Mom was exhausted, slumped in a chair in a dark corner. He was dying and wanted to know when it would be over. He had seen so much life and death on the farm — animal life and death — for 40 years, he knew when death was near and he was ready for it. But for him to ask me… that took me a minute. I was the youngest and a girl. You didn’t reveal this kind of vulnerability to your youngest daughter. Four months earlier, I’d come home for a visit and it had been clear to me: Dad was not going to make it. It was upsetting to see him so much thinner and weaker than just a month ago. It was before the dialysis. Before the hospitalization. That January afternoon, he sat …

When My 4-Year-Old Punched Another Kid, I Became That Mom

So. My kid punched a kid. Let’s just start there. It happened at preschool, on an unassuming, every-day kind of a day. But at pick-up, the teacher slid next to me on the sectioned colored rug and delicately started in, “…so, your son was a little off today…” What’s that? She then unveiled my son’s litany of attacks that day: a shove, a push to the cement and the whopper finale of three sucker punches to the ribs of his classmate. Oh. Oh, God… When she asked him why he did it, he stared blankly into space and said, “For no reason”. Quick backstory on my kid: He’s a hyper dude — but not a violent one. His body goes before his brain, and sometimes it’s a struggle to calm him or focus him or get him to put on his shoes (putonyourshoeswillyoujustputonyourshoesyourshoesrightthere…), but he is usually a keep-his-hands-to-himself kind of a kid. Until today. The teacher excused herself to talk to the parents picking up their wounded children. “So, Jasper was pushed…Markus was shoved…Michael was punched …

The Precarious World of Online Dating After 50

  “You’re cute, do you have a younger sister?” “Hi there, what is your sexual appetite?” “Can I fist you? Women in their 20s and 30s don’t like to be fisted?” “How bout a full-body massage in exchange for a shoulder rub? “No way you’re THAT old” “I have mommy syndrome and would be heaven going down on you” That’s just a random, word-for-word sampling of the text messages I get from my online suitors. No kidding — these are their opening salvos. You’d think men would have matured by this time. In fact, the opposite is true. To be honest, I never would have imagined that I’d be single post-50, without kids and attempting to date in New York City. But, alas, this is my predicament. Independent, financially secure and very, very single. And it’s challenging. I often equate quality single men over the age of 45 to the endangered species list updated nationally by the government. Where are they hiding? Certainly not on the dating apps/sites I have tried over the last two-plus …

I Loved My Dog, But Do I Really Miss Having a Pet?

A couple of years ago, my friend Susie and I were strolling along the Riverside Park promenade with our elderly dogs, Lucy and Daisy. “So,” Susie whispered, as if she were afraid the dogs might overhear, “when Lucy dies, will you get another dog?” After a moment of self-reflection, I whispered back, “I love Lucy. But when she’s gone, I’m done.” “Thank god!” said Susie. “I thought I was the only one.” Apparently, we both felt some degree of shame over our willingness to relinquish our status as dog people. After all, we’d both taken great pleasure in our dogs over the years and showered them with love in kind. So could a true dog lover really turn her back on all the wonderful things dogs bring to our lives? Perhaps she could. [pullquote]Lucy died a year ago, and I miss her every day. But she was also a pain in the neck –nippy, ornery and expensive.[/pullquote] Lucy and Daisy had entered our respective households more than a dozen years earlier when we both had …

Their Father’s Daughters: Four Sisters Come Together to Say Goodbye

I am the eldest of four girls, a number that felt ever-so-slightly obscene. Like, couldn’t we have stopped at three? But no, we couldn’t, because numbers 3 and 4 were identical twins. Prior to their conception, Mom had read an article about how to conceive a boy. She followed it to the letter: eat this; do that; have sex at this time of the month; stand on your head and clap three times, chant a Tibetan prayer, who knows what it said? I never read it. But I have always wondered how many other babies born in 1972 have that article to thank for either their twins or their vaginas. Each sister, in our own time, were supposed to have been named Jeffrey Scott. Instead we were Deborah Elizabeth, Jennifer Robin, Laura Suzanne, and Julie Michelle. We literally used up all the innocuous girl names. When my eldest was born, 21 years ago, my dad rushed into the hospital room to meet his first grandchild. “I don’t believe it!” he said. He ripped open the …

Honoring the Women in My Maternal Battalion

Technically, my godmother is some white lady. Those three words are literally all I know about her: some, white, lady. And it took some digging for me to even get that little bit of information from my parents. At first, I sent my mom a text message that simply asked, “Who is my godmother?” Her reply: “I can’t remember. Curtis will remember.” So, I called my dad (Curtis) and he said, “I don’t think you have one. I don’t think your mother believed in godmothers.” Then, of course, I called my mom to verify my dad’s theory. And, of course, she disagreed. “That’s not true,” she said. “You have a godmother. Your godmother is some white lady who your father knew when we lived in Baltimore.” [pullquote]Just because we grown-ups don’t need legal guardians doesn’t mean we don’t still need support from people who are more grown-up than we are and who can step in when our parents cannot be there.[/pullquote] I considered calling my father back with the new “some white lady” clue to …

Silly Things People Have Said to Me When I Tell Them I’m Not Having Kids

There will be no children in my future. Ever. Yes, I am married. Yes, my husband knows that I do not want children. Yes, we both realize we’re extremely fortunate to be able to elect to live childfree. He doesn’t want kids either. It’s part of the reason I married him. (That, and he has excellent hair.) He married me knowing that and also because I always clean the litter box. I probably brought up the topic of kids on the second date — it would have been a deal breaker. My husband would make the world’s greatest father. But that alone isn’t reason enough for me to become the mother I’ve never wanted to be, to take on a crushing financial burden or to add more to my already too-full plate. I love my friends’ children. Because I don’t have to take care of them. Their cuteness is there to fulfill my need to see cute things. I don’t expect them to behave for me, and they don’t expect 18 years of dinner from …

Silly Things People Have Said to Me When I Tell Them I Don’t Want Pets

I know, I know, you think I have no heart. Everyone does when I tell them that I don’t have (or ever want to have) a pet. But I do have a soul, I swear. I’m just not that into four-legged, furry creatures, and I certainly don’t want one running around my cozy one-bedroom apartment. Listen, I never said I don’t like pets. And I don’t think I’ve ever implied that I’m “anti-animal.” I’m just not a “pet person” (and neither is my husband, thankfully). But still, people just don’t get it. Recently, when I told a friend that my husband and I were thinking about starting a family next year, she said: “Get a pet first. That way, you’ll know you if you can handle kids.” When I told her no way, and that I’d take a baby over a dog any day, she looked at me as though I had just murdered a bunny rabbit. To me, a pet is just as much of a responsibility as a baby, maybe even more of …

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The Story of the Guy Who Crapped in My Bed

I knew he had a girlfriend, but that didn’t stop me from liking him, nor did it discourage me from making out with him at any opportunity. He told me all the old standard lies — she was a bitch, she was crazy, they never had sex anymore and they were pretty much dunzo anyway — and I chose to believe him. Sigh. Yet due to some sort of highly flexible boundary system he had worked out in his head, though we would fool around, we never actually had sex. Because somehow being handsy and mouthy was fine, but actual p-to-v would be cheating. Sigh times a thousand. Maybe it was because I had been single for so long, or dating jerks, or catching a case of the incredibly stupids, this went on for some time. I lost sleep, moaned to my extremely patient friends, and basically acted like a complete asshole. “He’s so nice,” I’d bleat, savoring the little crumbs of affection I’d collect whenever we’d manage a few minutes together. Like every other …

He Said, She Said: What Adulting With Money is Really Like

Honest hour: Adulting isn’t easy. And when it involves a significant other and money, it becomes a thousand times harder. Let me give you an example: In 2016, the self-improvement industry raked in almost $10 billion, according to neuroscience site Brainblogger. My purchases of podcasts, books and membership sites accounted for 10 percent of that figure. I’m may be exaggerating a little, but one thing is for sure: Advice books tell you to keep communication channels open and discuss issues, concerns and, most importantly, “feelings” when navigating your financial map in marriage, but they don’t tell you how wildly different your perspectives on spending can be from your spouse. Seth Herzog is a successful NYC comic, actor and producer. He is also my husband. I am an author, built a booming retail research business and have a production company.  What follows is an oral history of a week’s worth of spending and financial transactions in our household: What does it mean to be “poor?” My take is very different from Seth’s. Seth: You are talking …

How Making More Than My Husband Almost Ruined Our Marriage

Growing up, my father controlled the finances in our family. And when I say he controlled the finances, I mean that he left my mother completely in the dark. Though she had a good job as a special education teacher, he had a higher-paying job as an attorney. That created a power dynamic that allowed him control over their finances until the day he died last year. It was only a few months before his death that my mother realized he had spent most of their savings, taken out a second mortgage on their house (without telling her, forging her name and spending the money without her consent) and had made no plans for her financial well-being after he was gone. She’d allowed the discrepancy in their earning power to give him control over her life, and it cost her dearly. Watching the two of them provided my first lessons in financial planning and marital survival, but not before I had the chance to make mistakes of my own. When my husband and I got …

This Is What the American Dream Actually Looks Like

My late father-in-law was an immigrant. He was also one of the most American guys I ever met — if you believe that what defines our national character is a willingness to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, a love of family and community, a thirst for knowledge and, of course, a really green lawn. Boen Tong — known as “Tong” or “BT” to his wife and friends, “Dad” and “Grandpa” to his kids and grandkids and “Tom” to the slightly deaf old Jewish ladies with whom he played bridge in his later years — was born in Indonesia in 1919. He spent his childhood working in the family batik business, pedaling his bike through the Javanese jungle to pick up the beautifully dyed cloth for which Indonesia is known. He spoke Malay and Javanese, but when his parents sent him to study at Dutch schools, Dutch became the first of four foreign languages in which he would eventually become fluent. By age 19, BT showed signs of grit and determination that would put a …