We were in the Catskills again. My family and I went every summer for two weeks. We stayed at a hotel in what was called “The Borscht Belt” at the time. The Borscht Belt was a string of hotels where a lot of Jewish people vacationed. We stayed in the hotel, but some people stayed in the little cabins peppered around the grounds. They were call Cooch Aleins, which means “cook alone”.
Once a week, on Saturday nights, the hotel had a talent night. The performers were mostly the kids who were staying there with their parents. They were kids with money who took lessons like piano and dance. So they had something to show off in the talent show. At this point I hadn’t taken piano yet, so I really didn’t have a talent to perform. But my mother didn’t think that was a good excuse. She believed I could do anything I set my mind to. This philosophy served me my whole life, but at this talent show I wasn’t so sure.
“Get up there and tap dance, Judy” My mother looked at me with a matter of fact stare.
“Mom, I don’t know how to tap dance” I couldn’t believe she wanted me to do this. Dancing was never my thing, comedy was. I quickly said, “I can sing Tanda Wanda Hoy Konica La” I loved Jerry Lewis. She said, “No Judy, I want you to tap dance.” and that was that.
Next, I got up from my seat and walked up to the make-shift platform stage. The nasal sounds of the singer before me were quickly muted by the terrified thumps of my heart. Oscar, the creepy Maitre-D stood by the stage to take names of amateur performers as they nervously approached the stage.
I said, “I’m going to tap dance.” Oscar looked down at me with his shiny bald head.
“What song would you like us to play for you?” I quickly scrolled through the limited list of songs I knew in my 9 years of life experience. I remembered a song we sang at school in the auditorium.
“East Side/West Side, please”
Before I knew it, Oscar whispered something to the piano player and a rumbling introduction began on the piano. Suddenly it was time, and I hopped up on the stage in my special dress and Mary Janes. I looked out to the audience and there was my mother. As I looked at her sweetly determined face, just like that I began to dance.
I don’t know how I did, except that I was still alive after this performance and I didn’t win the competition. My mother never mentioned it again.
Speaking of competitions, I attended a beauty contest on the roof of the Educational Alliance. My cousin, Joyce, who is 3 years younger than I, had entered the contest. Rather her mother signed her up, my Aunt Frida. I was 6 and she was 3.
My whole family my uncle Jack, my Aunt Blossom, my Uncle Larry, my Aunt Ruth, my Grandmother Lil, my Grandfather Tom, my Auntie Lil (she insisted on the Auntie because as she put my nose to the ground and said she didn’t look like one of those “ants”) was there clapping & stomping for her. So was I. She won the contest and my Aunt Frida never stopped calling Joyce the beauty of the family. I on the other hand was called the “the John L. Lewis” of the family due to my thick eyebrows. But thats ok, because in my experience, beauty fades but eyebrows just keep growing.