Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Spotlight with Chapter 1: Lori by Charlene Wexler

by Charlene Wexler

Paperback: 342 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 14, 2014)
Amazon Paperback Link

File Size: 781 KB
Print Length: 343 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1500431052
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Amazon Kindle Link

About the book:

A clash of cultures. A domineering mother-in-law. An alcoholic husband. A fatally ill child. The possibility of economic ruin.  

The sheltered, comfortable, liberal upbringing undergone by Lori in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago in the United States did not prepare her for marriage into the difficult and quirky working-class family of her husband, Jerry—or for the sweeping societal and social changes of the last quarter of the 20th century. 

Lori deals with relationships between family and friends, divorce, alcoholism, infidelity, homosexuality, the judicial system, the Holocaust, and financial booms and busts. Most importantly, it deals with cancer from the points of view of both the victim and the survivors.

Lori’s seemingly perfect suburban world is in constant peril. Fortunately, her lifelong best friend, Adele, is there every step of the way to provide support and advice—until Adele faces her own tragedy. When separated from Adele by thousands of miles, Lori also finds she can count on her new friend, Rain—an ex-flower-child with a surprising connection to Lori’s past that holds the key to Lori’s future.

Lori is the story of a woman gaining strength she never knew she could achieve, and of victory over adversity—a story with tragedies and triumphs to which every reader will be able to relate.

Chapter 1


Lori, was wiggling around and staring out the window like a cat ready to bolt.

“What’s wrong with you?” Jerry asked. “We’re just going to my family’s house for a Friday night Sabbath dinner. They won’t bite you. They’re eager to meet you.”

“Jerry, I’m not used to driving through bad neighborhoods, okay?” They made their way through the section of the city that held Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing development. Lori looked warily out the window. “I’m checking windows for flying bullets. Why didn’t you stay near the lake on the outer drive where its safe?”

“Hey, Lori,” Jerry replied, “you’re twenty-four. Maybe it’s time for you to venture out of Northfield.”

He drove on through the dirty streets filled with groups of black teenagers mulling around dilapidated buildings. I should have taken a different route knowing she was with me. Then the thought came to him, Maybe Mom was right. Maybe Lori is too much of a Jewish princess for me. The thought of what his mother said left him as he turned and look at her. He melted, quietly noting how cute she looked with her long curly black hair, enormous green eyes, and those beautiful legs showing through her short skirt.

Lori relaxed some as they drove out of the low-income housing project, turned east on North Avenue, and then right on a street called Orchard.

When they approached Jerry’s house, Lori noticed, that contrary to most buildings on the block, Jerry’s house had a very large vacant lot next to it. This was unusual in an area that was congested with houses, apartment buildings, and stores.

Thinking of the recent riots that took place in their city, she asked Jerry, “Was the house next to yours burned down after Dr. King was shot?”

“Lori, that was two years ago, and this part of the West Side was not where the riots were. Close, but not here. And anyway, I highly doubt any riots are going to break out tonight.” He tried to be reassuring and maneuvered the conversation to a less sensitive subject. “There were never any buildings on this lot as long as I can remember.” Jerry maneuvered his car into a parking space on the street and stepped out of the car, opened Lori’s side door, and helped her get out. “We’re here.”

Nervous about meeting the family as well as having driven through the seedier parts of Chicago she had only heard about and never actually seen first-hand, Lori grabbed onto Jerry’s arm as they got out of the car and walked up five wide stone steps to the entrance of an old one-story bungalow. The two white stone lion heads that stood on either side of the building reminded her of the Art Institute. The door, heavy and wooden, held within its frame a beautiful stained-glass pane with pictures of blue birds and red flowers. On the right side of the door was a small mezuzah. They entered an open door and quickly passed through an average-size front room with plastic covered furniture. The interior of the house was much smaller than Lori thought it would be.

She asked Jerry, “How did your family manage with only two bedrooms and four kids?”

Jerry gave her a funny look. What a strange question, he thought.

“When my sister Eileen was living here, she used the den, and my brothers and I slept in the second bedroom.”

He walked Lori into his bedroom. The room looked like the young men had never moved on. There was one bunk bed, one twin bed, and two dressers. The walls were still covered with sports team posters, especially banners sporting the logo of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. There were toy trucks and a basketball on the floor, and a red lava lamp sat on the dresser.

Lori opened her mouth, ready to say something, but before it came out, Jerry said, “Yes, as the youngest, I slept on the top bunk.”

She smiled but didn’t say what she was really thinking. It must have been very crowded. My single bedroom with the princess bed was twice this size.

“Where do you sleep now?” she asked.

With a broad grin, Jerry answered, “On all three beds.”

Lori smiled as they moved on through the other rooms of the house. She glanced at the numerous family photos on the walls of the hallway, then rested her eyes on the ones of the boys. It was easy to find Jerry. He always had a devilish grin, or he was in a funny pose. That’s my guy, Lori thought as she reached for his hand. Life with him would be fun. She noted an absence of photos of Eileen, but before the thought fully formed, Jerry had moved her into the dining room. She noticed that even though the family’s furniture was at least forty years old, it was in perfect shape. The green and pink patterned sofa was still covered with plastic and looked like nobody sat on it. Every counter and tabletop had a knickknack resting on an embroidered doily. Radiators warmed the house, and open windows adorned with lace curtains, cooled it.

The family had watched their neighborhood go from being a poor Jewish area to a predominately poor black one, and now in 1970, it was on an upswing to a middle-class area.

To Lori, their whole way of life seemed to be out of another century, the old country.

She and Jerry passed through the dining room into a large red and yellow tiled fifties kitchen containing a Roper gas stove, a metal sink, a patterned linoleum floor, a chrome and vinyl kitchen set, and a counter covered with plants and knickknacks.

As they entered the kitchen, they encountered Shelly, Jerry’s mother, who was busy with a dish of food.

“And make sure the wine’s on the table! Carol! Carol, honey, take this from me, will you? I have to check the oven.” It was immediately obvious that Jerry’s mother – standing only five feet tall, weighing barely one hundred pounds, sporting a head of gray hair, and endowed with a formidably booming voice – was definitely the boss.

“Jerry, you’re late!” Jerry’s mother screeched, slamming down the platter of food onto her Formica kitchen counter. “Where is Carol?” she mumbled to herself. “The sun is down, I’s time for the candles.” She waved her hand impatiently at her son and moved to the stove, not once looking up to greet him or Lori. “Go, seat your girl next to Carol.”

Lori joined the family in the dining room around the table as Shelly, in her floral-patterned, loose fitting house dress and traditional lace head covering, quickly followed them into the dining room, lit the Sabbath candles, and recited the prayer. Following Shelly, Jerry’s father, Jack, held up his glass of wine and recited the Brachah over the wine: Baruch Ata Adonai eloheinu melech ha olam borei brie hagoffin. All at the table held up their own glass of wine. At the end of the prayer, in unison they said “Amen” and then took a drink of wine from their glasses. The sweet Mogen David wine brought back to Lori memories of her youth.

Lori looked around the table at the family she planned to join. The Brill brothers’ physical features were as different as their parents. Jerry and Steve were short and stocky, similar to Shelly’s build. They had hazel eyes and thick black curly hair. Joel, with straight sandy brown hair and green piercing eyes, was tall, thin, and wiry like his dad. Darrell and Danny, Steve and Carol’s twelve-year-old twins, were adorable with their matching dimples. There were some missing family members. Lori knew Jerry had a sister, but she couldn’t get him to talk about her, and she knew Joel was married, but his wife was also absent.

Dressed in a casual tan sweater and brown pants to match her brownish-red hair, Carol was about Lori’s height and build, only much heavier. As the friendliest of all the family, she hugged Lori with open arms and said, “Great to meet you! Jerry’s told us quite a bit about you!” She turned and winked at Jerry. “All good, of course. Come and help with the serving so we can talk and get to know each other.”

Lori smiled shyly as she and Carol joined Shelly in the kitchen. Shelly handed them soup bowls. She never looked at the two young women in the face. She didn’t talk, not even a friendly hello; she just loudly issued orders like a short-order cook.

“This bowl goes to Steve. He likes extra matzo balls. And this one here goes to Joel. He likes an egg in his soup.”

The doorbell rang. Carol leaned in to Lori and winked. “Go answer the door. You’re dressed too nice to be serving soup.”

Lori was relieved. She would hate to spill soup on her new blue knit skirt. A wash-n-wear polyester pantsuit would have been more appropriate, she said to herself as she smoothed down her short skirt with her hands and moved to the front of the house and answered the door. Two women dressed in shabby and faded cotton house dresses similar to Shelly’s rushed pass her, shouting salutations to an unseen Shelly.

Shelly yelled out, “Rachel, Emma, you’re in time for dinner. Pull up a chair!”

Both women joined Shelly in the kitchen and quickly took over the serving. Lori went back into the dining room and sat down next to Jerry. She tried to say something to him but quickly gave up. It seemed like everyone at the table was talking in loud, fast voices. They seemed so at home. She looked around her. Wasn’t this what she longed for? A large, busy, happy family, something she never had. She would try her best to fit in.

Rachel, one of the women similarly dressed as Shelly, walked into the dining room, put down a plate of brisket on the table, picked up a bowl of broccoli, and with a big grin, yelled back to Shelly, “I knew you would have broccoli! It was on sale at Phil’s Grocery.”

Jerry’s brother Joel joined in the conversation by yelling into the kitchen, “Nineteen cents a pound at Jewel. Mom, did you beat that?”

Soon, everyone but Jerry’s dad seemed to be shouting something at each other.

As Carol picked up Lori’s soup bowl, she leaned down towards her and said, “Get used to it. This family strives on bargains and arguments.”

“Carol, who are those two women?” Lori asked of the two new members of the dinner party. “Are they family?” she asked softly.

Carol laughed. “That’s another thing you’ll have to get used to. Shelly’s house is a cosmopolitan rendezvous.”

“A what?”

“An open house, with people from everywhere coming and going.”

Lori nodded and then reached over for some food. With each taste of the traditional Jewish Sabbath dishes of well-done brisket, garlic roast chicken, and perfect moist and crispy potato kugel, she found herself lingering between bites as memories of her youth when her grandmother, her father’s mother, lived with them and cooked like this. So engrossed was Lori in her memories that she failed to respond to the excitement around her until Jerry poked her, saying, “They’re at it again.”

She looked up to see a serious scuffle between Jerry’s two brothers, with Joel punching Steve in the arm and screaming, “You’re cheating me out of money!”

Like a bat out of hell, Shelly came running out of the kitchen with a rolling pin.

“Enough!” she yelled. “Joel, take out the garbage. Steve, help Carol in the kitchen!”

The boys quieted down and obeyed without saying another word. Lori noticed that throughout the excitement, their father sat in front of the TV in his green vinyl lounger, ignoring everyone. In fact, the only thing the man said all night was the blessing over the wine. Speaking of wine, Lori wondered what had happened to the expensive bottle she had brought as a house gift.

Carol and Rachel brought out tea and strudel, and everyone sat back down, dismissing the fight like it never happened. After dessert, the table quickly cleared of its occupants. The men moved to the living room, but instead of sitting on the furniture, all three brothers plopped down on the floor in front of the television, next to the twins, who were watching a football game.

Carol sat down next to Lori and asked for her phone number, saying, “We should get together now that you will be part of the family.” Carol was the only one to acknowledge that Lori and Jerry were planning to get engaged soon. Steve had said, “Hi,” and the twins had waved when Jerry introduced her as, “This is Lori,” and his parents barely acknowledged her presence.

She didn’t talk to Joel until she and Jerry ended up walking out of the house with him, and he took her arm and maneuvered her towards a bright red Corvette parked in front of the house.
Grinning, he asked, “Why would you go out with my baby brother when you can travel in style with me?”

“Aren’t you married, Joel?”

He smiled and got into the car. She moved back to where Jerry was waiting for her and got into his five-year-old Chevy Nova.

She turned to Jerry with a million questions about his family. “Jerry, Steve said he was a financial planner. What does Joel do?”

“It depends on the day. By the way, the Corvette belongs to his friend. He wrecked up his car again.”

“Where was Joel’s wife?”

“Caryn usually doesn’t make it to anything. She’s always sick.”

“What about your sister?’

“She lives in California. Don’t ever mention her name around my parents!”


Jerry dismissed the question as he drove on and found himself dodging many of Lori’s inquiries about his family. When they pulled up in front of Lori’s house, Jerry pulled her to him and gave Lori a big kiss. “Honey, you ask too many questions.”

Lori was surprised to see the lights on in her house. Walking in, she found her father waiting for her.

“Why are you still up, Dad?”

“I wanted to find out about your evening.”

“Dad, you won’t believe what it was like. It’s like I’m marrying Woody Allen or something. What a crazy family!”

“He’s from a more traditional Jewish family, Lori. It’s going to be different than our Reform Jewish family in many ways.”

Lori rolled her eyes. “Plastic on the furniture, old ladies in house dresses. The house hasn’t been redecorated probably since Jerry’s folks were first married, but they all seemed so comfortable with each other.

Lori laughed at her recollection of the chaotic family get-together. “I can hardly wait to talk to Adele and tell her all about it.” She bent to kiss her dad on the cheek and saw a piece of luggage near the chair where he sat. “Why do you have a packed suitcase?”

“Honey, I’m leaving on business early in the morning,” he explained.

“I thought you were slowing down.”

“This trip can’t be helped.”

“Where’s Mom?”

“Sleeping, with a migraine.”

“Dad, make sure you will be here for my wedding,” Lori half-seriously admonished. “No surprise extended trips away from home!”

As Lori headed up the stairs she thought, At least Jerry has a large family, not a mom who is always sick, and a dad who is always gone.

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