After several unsuccessful attempts going from Yiddish to English on the online Yiddish dictionary, I typed in “mischievous child” and there it was: Mazek! It’s what people called me as far back as I can remember. (While I was at it, I looked up one of my dad’s nicknames for me: Ketsele. It means “little kitty.” I never knew that.)
I wasn’t mischievous in a bad way and I was much too young to be considered a wise guy. I just tried to make people laugh in unexpected ways.
Two things I remember from when I was really little: We were getting ready for our big cross-country drive to New York in 1957 (I’m getting just a little ahead of myself here again). Using every opportunity to make a teachable moment out of the trip, my parents grilled us on the states and capitals we’d be passing through on our journey to the big apple. Nevada, Utah (Salt Lake City! What images it conjured: The Land of Sky Blue Waters like on the Hamm’s beer commercials. My dad used to pound that paradiddle on the table with his hands and drive my mom nuts. Fun!) Then there was Cheyenne, Wyoming. Would there be cowboys on a ranch like on Spin and Marty from the Mickey Mouse Club?
We knew all the states and capitals by heart. But we kept getting drilled on them anyway.
So here’s what happened one day.
My dad: Risa, what is the capital of Illinois?
Me: Illinois? Elohenu!
OK, so the punchline is transliterated Hebrew. You may have had to be there. But I got a lot of laughs out of that one.
Another time my cousin hit me in a friendly cousinish scuffle. Her mom, my aunt, invited me to “hit her back.” So I went around behind my cousin and hit her ON the back. This totally killed! Everyone who was there remembers.
Another surprise from my parents’ house: I found two small yellow boxes that contained canisters of film. The boxes had been mailed from a friend decades ago. We had no idea what the movies were or when they might have been taken, so I took them to a place that turns old film into DVDs. And this is how I got to see my four (and three?) year-old self at my birthday parties.
What a ham! Mugging for the camera, nearly tackling my cousin in a hug, chasing everyone around in a circle. My mother used to caution me not to get “overheated,” by which (I later came to understand) she meant: “Don’t have too much fun.”
But I did love to have fun!
(And I have the pictures to prove it, but I can’t figure out how to get them to go right here. Frustrating!)