Tag Archives: stories about my mother

Nancy and Julie.

When I look back on the women who’ve had the most impact on my life, I don’t look to teachers. I don’t look to historical figures.

I look to my mother and her friends. I look most of all to Julie, and I look to Nancy.

About five years ago, Julie died. Cancer.

Last week, Nancy died. Cancer.

And I am at a loss for words — again.

But if there’s something I should say about these two women — these two amazing women, these two women I am so blessed to have had in my life — I say these two things:

Julie and Nancy laughed as hard as any people I’ve ever met.

Julie and Nancy always made you understand that they loved you, and that they put you first.

Laughter and love. Those are two of the most wonderful things in the world, and I know it because of them.

I miss you, Julie, and I’ll miss you, Nancy. Thanks for teaching me so much about this world. I won’t forget it.

The Story About My Mother and Moses.

“Me shooting 40% at the foul line is just God’s way to say nobody’s perfect.” —Shaquille O’Neal

 
A story about my mother:

About five years ago, my mother was asked to serve on the board of directors at my synagogue. They asked her to write a short essay about her favorite moment from Jewish history. They wanted to publish it in the next synagogue newsletter.

Mom’s not much of a writer, but she got into the assignment. She spent a few days writing the essay. She wrote and re-wrote the essay. She kept us updated on her progress.

At the end of the week, she finally had a draft ready. I’m the editor in the family, and so she gave her essay to me.

Like I said: Mom’s not much of a writer, but she worked really hard on this one. And it showed.

Her essay was about the story of the exodus from Egypt, and it was a nice essay.

There was only one problem: My mother had written all about the parting of the Red Sea, and how Noah — not Moses — had been the one to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

“Uh, ma,” I told her. “It would’ve been way easier to get across the water if they’d had Noah and his ark.”

Point is: My mother is a remarkable woman. She’s one of the best networkers I know. She loves to help. And she’s a fantastic project manager.

She just knows how to make stuff happen.

But she also knows her weaknesses, and one of them is writing. She needs an editor — or sometimes two.

What I love is that she’s always willing to ask for help on these things. She’s willing to recognize her weaknesses.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need it.

Sometimes, we’re just too stubborn or too vain to ask for it.

But we can’t be. Not when we’ve got work this important to do.

We can always use help to get it right.

An Oshinsky Family Lesson: Do Big Things With Crazy Amounts of Love.

“Of all the things to be picky about, people is the most important.” — Nick Seguin

 
Two years ago, I wrote a happy birthday message to my mother on this blog. It read:

“A very happy birthday to you, mom, without whom this blog would not be possible, and without whom I would be rendered hopelessly, painfully normal.”

Normal.

Normal.

Normal.

I shudder just thinking about it.

Normal isn’t something we Oshinskys do, and it gets us some weird looks. I’ve done a lot of things that I keep being told I’m not supposed to have done. For me, lots of stuff has come out of order. I covered my first NFL game before I went on my first real date. My first paid job in newspapers wasn’t a full-time gig, but it did involve covering the Olympics in Beijing.

This thing I hear from others — that there is some sort of order to this life — has never really applied to me, and I don’t mind that at all.

Mine is my path, and I’m rather fond of where it’s been taking me, potholes and steep climbs and all.

I learned the ways of the unmarked path from my family. The Oshinsky family does not do ordinary.

My father, at 55, decided he wanted to get into the best shape of his life, and he spent a year doing just that.

My mother, at 52, decided she wanted to run a marathon, and she finished at a 14:30-per-mile pace.

My sister decided she wanted to spend a semester of high school studying abroad — and then pulled off five months on the beaches of the Bahamas.

My brother decided he wanted to use his bar mitzvah for good, and raised $15,000 to build a playground in post-Katrina New Orleans.

I do not believe that we are an extraordinary family. We are not the smartest people you will ever meet, and we are certainly not the most athletic.

But in the Oshinsky family, we take pride in our work. We do big things with great amounts of love. We hustle.

When we go for something, we go all in.

I cannot imagine life any other way.

That photo at top is of my little sister, Ellen. She does crazy beach workouts.

At Least My Mother Isn’t *That* Embarrassing.

Arrivals, Tokyo Haneda

I’ve gotten dozens of excellent responses to my Puta Grande talk. But my favorite was passed along to me from a cousin on the west coast. She sent the video to her friend, a mother of four, and that mom emailed back to say, Oh, this is nothing. When our family picks up someone at the airport, we dress up in full costume for them. We did pilgrims and turkeys when our daughter came back for Thanksgiving. We wore lederhosen when our son came back from study abroad in Germany.

Yes, really.

And there it is: The first time I’ve ever thought, Wow, I’m so glad my mother isn’t that embarrassing. It is a thought I don’t expect to ever think again.

The Puta Grande Story, Told Live.

Back in December, I went out to Phoenix for NewsFoo, a conference for 150 of the brightest minds in news. I’m not sure why I was invited; my guess is that I was there to keep the group’s average IQ from skewing too high.

Regardless: I was there, and at the conference, I got to give a five-minute Ignite talk. The gist of Ignite: Presenters get five minutes and 20 slides. The slides automatically rotate every 15 seconds. So it’s a whole song and dance type of presentation.

My talk was on sources. Screw ups.

And, of course: My mother.

Enjoy.

A Note Regarding the Nature of Stories About Myself and My Mother That Appear Here on This Blog.

By now, you’ve probably read about Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.” Mortenson, according to a “60 Minutes” report, embellished, fabricated and radically altered key details in his book.

Which is a roundabout way of saying: Greg Mortenson is a liar.

I can’t prove to you whether or not Mortenson has lied  — I’ve never read “Three Cups of Tea,” and I wasn’t with him in Afghanistan or Pakistan to confirm or deny any details presented in that book — but I know he’s not alone among the accused. The list of writers alleged or proven to have told stories that were more fiction than non-fiction is growing. James Frey famously altered details for his memoir. David Sedaris has come under scrutiny for his words. All fall into a particular category of liars:

They are writers.

Writers — particularly writers who specialize in the re-creation of events that they themselves experienced — don’t always portray real-life events in the most accurate light. I’m not talking about outright lying — wholly inventing events and then claiming them as nonfiction isn’t excusable.

I’m thinking more of the nature of personal recollection. The best personal stories get told and retold, and often, they change. They become bigger than their parts. They operate in a vacuum independent of space and time.

They are, often, part-true and part-bullshit.

Everyone has a fish story — some have an entire memoir’s worth — and I’m okay with that. No one’s confusing David Sedaris for David Halberstam.

Consider this thought, recently published in the Baltimore Sun:

“Some of the allegations regarding Mortenson seem to fall into the category of poetic license — collapsing time to tell a better story. That was an issue that I discussed Saturday with James Patterson and Charles “Chic” Dambach on a CityLit Festival panel on memoirs. They both acknowledged taking some license in their books, and I really don’t mind that — but an author should acknowledge the practice in a preface or elsewhere in the book.”

I couldn’t agree more. But it shouldn’t stop at books. I think this very blog needs some sort of explainer as to the way I tell stories. I’ve seen what “60 Minutes” did to Mortenson. I don’t want to get the Steve Kroft treatment.

Here goes:

❡❡❡

Dear danoshinsky.com readers,

The stories you will read about my mother on this blog are true. On the whole, at least. My mother really did ride a fire truck dressed as Mrs. Claus. She did hold up the ‘Hola, Dan, mi puta grande’ sign. She did once abandon me in a stroller to go chasing after a limo that was not actually driving Kevin Costner through downtown Washington. All of these things are true.

What cannot be verified as entirely, scientifically accurate are each of the conversations within the respective stories that appear on this blog. Those conversations appear here in the most complete version that memory will allow, and where my recollections differ from those of the other involved parties, such has been noted within the context of the story.

I cannot fully guarantee that every word here is exact. Some memories have worn beyond the point of recognition. There are times when I will tell one version of a story, and then, months later, I will tell an entirely different version of the exact same story. In nearly every case, the latter is a more embarrassing, degrading or absurd version of the story, and my readers have repeatedly requested stories that feature any or all of those qualifications.

I can guarantee this: these stories, in no way, have been embellished to enhance the credibility of the author (or his mother). They have not been edited to portray the characters within as overly competent or even decent.

These are my stories, and I am just doing my best to tell them. They are not meant to inspire you. They are not meant to portray life as anything other than absurd. They are here because I have lots of embarrassing stories, and other people like hearing them.

That part, I can guarantee, is true.

The Power of Love (or: Things My Mother Does Not Know About My Father After 29 Years of Marriage.)

If you are reading this, then there is a good chance that my mother knows everything about you. She knows when you were born and how much you weighed. What elementary school you went to. Your favorite type of Girl Scout cookie.

Everything.

I can say this with certainty because she really does remember everything. I’ve seen her whip out personal trivia on people she hasn’t seen in decades, and I’ve seen them stumble for an explanation on how she could have remembered something so forgettable. The first time I saw the show “Chuck,” I thought: a Jewish person with a Polish-sounding last name and a database of totally useless information stuck in his head? Hey, that sounds like my mom!

Which is why I was so surprised to learn last week that when it comes to my father — with whom my mother has been married for the previous 29 years — my mom doesn’t really know that much.

At all.

It started innocently enough at first. My mother wanted to transfer some airline miles between frequent flier accounts. We logged onto Delta’s website, and logged in with my dad’s information. (He had the miles.) They asked us to first submit two security questions for my father. Our choices were:

Mom looked at me. “Are there any other choices?” she asked.

I just stared. “Mom, one of the options is, ‘Where did you meet your spouse?’ Come on, you remember that one.”

“Don’t you?”

Mom kept staring at the screen. Then she yelled up the stairs.

“Billy! Where did we meet?”

Now, I’ll say this: some of those questions are tricky. I don’t even remember the name of my first pet. (Or even what type of animal it was. A goldfish, maybe?)

But it’s also worth wondering: Should a woman who’s been married nearly three decades really get foiled by a Delta security questionnaire?

Especially on a question involving herself?

These Things I Know To Be True.

Jorge Chávez International Airport is not a fun place to be, especially after midnight when you’re leaving Peru but your flight back to Houston has been delayed yet again. But my delay at Lima’s airport gave me a few minutes to reflect on my recent trip abroad, and especially on a few things that I very much know to be true.

  1. A country cannot be truly free until its people can print out airline boarding passes from home.
  2. If my mother starts running at the sight of someone, you should start running too.
  3. Wherever your are, the drivers are worse than wherever you just were.
  4. There is nothing more arbitrary in this world than airport taxes.
  5. If you are on a historical tour, and your tour guide is not speaking in his/her native language, the truth will become slightly more malleable.
  6. It is difficult to trust anyone who packs more than 50 lbs. of luggage for a vacation to anywhere short of Antarctica.
  7. The same holds true for those who refuse to turn off their phones in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
  8. The number of crying children on your plane varies directly with the length of your flight.
  9. It actually kind of helps to smile while you’re getting screwed.
  10. Luxury is a very, very relative term.

A Eulogy for Dexter, the Boykin Spaniel.

Like many people who I refer to as aunts and uncles, my Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby aren’t actually related to me. They did, however, have the unfortunate privilege of living across the street from my family when I was growing up, and they had the poor sense to engage my mother in regular conversation. At some point, they were granted familial status, though I’m not sure exactly when.

In the time that they lived on Pollard Road, they had two dogs — one of whom I was apparently quite fond of, though he died before I’d even learned to walk — and another, named Dexter. Unlike all the other dogs in the neighborhood, all pure-bred from well-known lineages, Dexter was a Boykin Spaniel. Before he came to live with Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby, he’d come from a long line of South Carolinian hunting dogs. Judging by Dexter’s ability to chase but never capture neighborhood squirrels, we didn’t think much of South Carolinian hunters.

Sometime around middle school, Uncle Bobby and Aunt Lois started wintering in Arizona, and they asked us to take care of Dexter. My mother, naturally, was delighted. I’m not sure what it was about Dexter, but she loved him. I’d always guessed it was Dexter’s coat, long and brown and curly, with the kind of poof not seen outside of one of my dad’s high school photo albums.

Dexter would stay with us for a few weeks at a time in the winter. Aunt Lois would drop off Dexter and his doggy bed, and then he would immediately decide to instead take up residence on our couch. He’d arrive smelling like an Herbal Essences commercial — Aunt Lois liked to pamper Dexter at a place called Bone-jour, a salon for suburban yuppies and their puppies — and he’d leave smelling of mud and filth and the salt that they use to de-ice roads. Mom loved Dexter, even when he smelled, and even though she usually made my dad walk him on the coldest days in winter.

Dexter died when I was in high school, and afterward, my mother was as sad as I can ever remember her being. I guess I don’t really remember how Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby felt about his death; we often joked that Dexter had been “bark mitzvahed,” but we didn’t sit shiva for him after he died (1).

I haven’t thought too much about Dexter since, but today, my boss sent me down to take some photos at a local dog show. It’s about what you’d expect from a dog show in Texas: there was an American flag hanging over the premises, but it only had about 23 stars on it. The dogs at the show were enormous, which seemed to explain why I had one of the only non-RVs in the parking lot.

They had about eight large rings set up inside, with dogs parading around each. I stopped by a ring of small dogs, then taller ones that looked like miniature llamas. I rounded over to a ring in the back, where three brown dogs with floppy ears were being judged. I heard a voice.

“They’re Boykin Spaniels.”

I looked up from my behind my camera. A woman at a judging table was looking at me and pointing to an official dog show program.

“They’re Boykin Spaniels,” she said again, now pointing to the ring.

I looked back at the dogs. The middle of the three was being coddled by his owner. The dog had those floppy ears that hung like the flaps on a Russian man’s winter hat. He had that shaggy coat. And he had this brown ring around his pupils, just like Dexter.

I looked back at the woman. “I know,” I told her. “I used to have one just like them.”

She seemed surprised, and I asked her where the dogs were from. She placed her thumb over one of the dog’s names. I didn’t see the name, just his home state:

South Carolina.

I looked back at the middle dog, and I wondered whether or not he’d ever been quick enough to catch a squirrel.

  1. UPDATE: Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby have written in to say that, yes, they did sit shiva, though there may not have been a full minion present.