My Bibbie invented Gabazoogoo the Talking Dog when his grandsons were little. My sister and I, Bib’s first great-grandchildren, grew up with Gabazoogoo too. Stories rolled effortlessly off of Bib’s tongue, and when he spoke, it felt like I could sit still for an eternity, mesmerized by wisdom. I knew that Gabazoogoo was make believe, but Bib had knack for combining the fantastical with the very real, and I know his stories helped me to learn this world.
Bib lived in Florida, a plane ride away from my home in Pittsburgh, so we would only see him twice a year. In the interim, my grandparents would tell of Gabazoogoo’s adventures around the globe. My sister and I got these stories on Fridays when we would spend the night at their house. I loved sleeping at my grandparents’ house. The beds had soft, dark green flannel sheets, poofy pillows, and down comforters. We would take bubble baths in my grandmother’s jacuzzi, and in the morning, my grandpa would make french toast with the leftover challah from the night before. Above all else, my favorite part of this tradition were the stories my sister and I got after we had had our baths and climbed into our beds. Sometimes we got a chapter from Winnie the Pooh or Little Women, but both my sister and I liked it better when the evening began with: “This is a story about Gabazoogoo the Talking Dog...”
When I got to middle school, the tradition ended because and I started to spend most Friday nights with friends. But once, when I was 14, my parents went out of town for the weekend and I had to sleep at grandparents’ house. I was too concerned with being cool to ask for a bubble bath or a bedtime story. I ate Cheerios for breakfast. In turn, my grandparents busied themselves with my younger brother and their newspapers. It was mostly an awkward weekend.
About a month later, my parents announced that they were getting divorced. Later, I asked my mom when she knew. She paused, looking at me with tired eyes. I’m sure she knew that I was asking much bigger questions--questions about making hard decisions and trusting the people you love and forgiving them when they hurt you--and maybe she hesitated because she also knew that any story she told me would just become another story for me to cling to and resent. But in that moment, I didn’t care about my mother’s predicament; I stared back at her, unrelenting. Eventually, she let out a sigh, and began to talk. She told me that she had decided for certain on that weekend they had gone out of town and my brother and I had stayed with my grandparents. I never slept at my grandparents’ house again. When I was 18, they moved to an apartment building in a different neighborhood. They said that they wanted to be able to walk to their offices and that they didn’t want to worry about stairs or mowing the lawn.
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The summer after my mother left my father, I walked from Massachusetts to Canada. It was hard. Beyond the obvious physical challenge, I had to trust that a group of eight people could create everything we needed for seven weeks in the woods. I know that a lot of people who spend time outside appreciate the simplicity of the experience. For me, hiking through Vermont that summer was terrifying precisely because I learned that I need less than I have. I spent hours, trudging down the path, and willing this lesson to go back into its hole because I was scared. The scariest thing in the world is to not need a story. As scared as I was, I knew that I did not need the story of my parents’ love for each other nor the story of why it didn’t work out. I let these stories go. It was hard.
When I came back to Pittsburgh for sophomore year of high school, I plunged into everything. I joined the Think-a-Thon team, I played in the All City Orchestra, I did all of my homework, I worked in a lab, I mentored middle school students, I tutored second graders, I joined a Jewish youth group...I adapt. Somehow, I’ve figured out how to revel in the confusing, unfinished story of my family. These days, I am proud to be a character in it.
Gabazoogoo the Talking Dog is still a part of this story too, though his overt presence at bedtime ebbs and flows as my family grows old and renews itself. Soon, Gabazoogoo will become a part of my baby sister’s life. I’m excited to watch and support Mira as she uses Gabazoogoo to make her own understandings, learns through all her stories that life is messy, and realizes that the messiness is what makes living so much fun.
If Mira’s path ends up being anything like mine, she might discover, just as I am right now, that Gabazoogoo is more of a constant, gentle presence than a source for answers. Our Bibbie was a wise, wise man, and he didn’t spin his tales to make sense of this incomprehensible word--he knew better than to try to do that. Bib shared Gabazoogoo with us to ensure that his family would always know his love. In his wisdom, he knew that he wouldn’t always be able to provide the physical comfort of a lap to sit on and a good conversation. Through the legacy of my great-grandfather’s great story, I always have the simple safety of his great love.
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When Bib turned 90, his son, my Uncle Don, threw a party for him at his house in New York. When my Bibbie was 90, I was only seven or eight, so my memory of this weekend is a little hazy, but I vividly remember the song we sang at the end of the celebration. Before everyone left, four generations of my extended family stood on the lawn and belted out We Shall Not be Moved, the old folk song. My grandmother was on the guitar, and I think my uncle played his fiddle, everyone else sang.
I love this song, but it tells only half of a story. Everyone knows that the tree standing by the water moves. It’s alive! With each passing year, it grows taller and fatter, it sheds its leaves and then grows them again, it sways in the music of the wind. Eventually, as the water carves out the earth and erodes the bank, the tree gets swept away. The water carries it to a new place where it can tell new stories. And do you know what? Despite my family's insistent singing that Sunday morning, we all moved too. Bib moved from the earth, my grandparents moved from their home, my parents moved from each other, my sister moved from Pittsburgh, I moved from finished stories. We’re still moving, all together. I don’t think we’ll ever stop.
I wrote parts of this about a month ago in response to my experience at my younger brother's bar mitzvah. Last weekend, I decided to try and move my writing from a scattered compilation of memories to a more coherent story. I hesitated at first because I was wary of jumbling all of this together and staining it with our conversations from class. Ultimately, it was my hesitation which compelled me to keep working these memories. What I’ve done is smushed them together, gone about my life for a few weeks, added and removed things to make a story, cried, shared my writing with a few people, thought about their reactions, added and removed things, and now I’m reflecting on the whole process. What it feels like is that I’ve made a story and that the memories in this story can only exist in the way that I’ve just presented them. I haven’t decided yet if this is good, or bad, or good and bad.