August 13, 2014 | Ronda Jambe

Cookin’ it up in the melting pot

For the first time in many decades I am spending a long summer break in the land of my birth and childhood. I escaped New Jersey shortly after university, but now events require my presence. Mostly my visits have deliberately avoided the extremes of summer and winter, but this year I have no choice but to sweat it out and put in some hard yakka.

We are halfway through two months of sorting out my mother’s affairs and placing her into assisted housing. Thank heavens for clever and obliging spouse, for without him the myriad tasks with so much process and detail could not be accomplished in this timeframe.

Houses with attics and basements, I conclude, are conducive to the storage of unwanted items and (occasional) treasures. We sold a crumbling box with Kennedy assassination newspaper headlines and even old high school yearbooks.

Burdensome as it is to quickly pack up someone’s life and home and memories, there are some rewards and reminders of the good as well as the bad and ugly dimensions to life in this extremely multicultural society. What a parade of accents and backgrounds have come to look at the ‘estate sale’, and poke around at the house for sale! How nice to speak French with a pretty Algerian woman!


The suburb of my childhood was settled by Germans in the mid 19th century, and still celebrated German festivals when I was a kid. The big wooden beer hall was demolished to make way for a Borough Hall, police station and fire department, as every tiny town has its own full blown facilities. In Australian terms, it would be like Glebe and Annandale in Sydney having separate services, including a Board of Education. No wonder the local taxes can be up to $20K per year in more salubrious areas.

The next suburb is fully Polish, and every shop and business has Polish speaking staff. Other areas are Italian, and you can speak Spanish pretty much anywhere. Turks, Koreans, Syrians, Africans, you name it. The only thing that has changed since my childhood is that the mix has become even richer.

But the tasks at hand require great concentration and much patience. If there is anything more frustrating than a stubborn old German, it is a stubborn old German with dementia. Knowing that the responsible person is often the main target for anger and aggression doesn’t make it more pleasant. She will be safe in the Altenheim:


She is fortunate to be there, despite what she says about her mean daughter. To begin with, the retirement home was founded about 117 years ago. In those days they would only accept northern Germans, not Bavarians like my mother. It is also a non-profit, and one of the few that operates like Disneyland: pay once to enter and after that all care is included.

The staff is of course also a diverse mix of Filippinos, Latinos, etc. A stone’s throw from NY, we have found time to catch up with another visiting Australian, and even lured him into the MOMA to see a show by another foreign observer of exotica, which you are sure to recognise:


Friendly as Americans are, aspects of the culture leave me sweating. The weekend paper has an unhealthy (IMHO) balance of ads to news, and a young guy we met who works in NY (and therefore should be ‘sophisticated’) had never heard of the political party called The Greens.


As I write this, the US news is awash with sadness at the untimely death of Robin Williams. He was an American prince, the best of the best. He was one of the actors you would always go out of your way to watch, and never come away disappointed. Vale.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 7:52 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. There are simply no words that sufficiently describe how difficult this time has to be Ronda.
    Only those who have had to abandon an aging parent in this way, will have only the slightest inkling of the inner turmoil, you will be going through, and indeed the grief/guilt, that this is surely causing?
    In time you will come to understand that this was the only available option, and so nice that you were able to place her with a truly caring not for profit operator; and so different from the parasites, who make millions from this industry/aged “CONSUMERS”!
    So sad to hear about Robin Williams and or, the demons that ultimately drove him to this final desperate act.
    No one will understand, except someone as sensitive and an open vessel, like he clearly was!
    Best wishes, and don’t let the bar stewards get you down.
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — August 13, 2014 @ 9:30 am

  2. Very kind words, Alan, sounds like you have been in a similar situation. PS I’ve added another para and picture since last night, relevant to the consumer culture.

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — August 13, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

  3. Indeed, an emotionally taxing time! Empathy flows re the duty a daughter must perform for mother – with or without dementia.
    However, coming closer to home the reality is, believe it or not, there are many Australians (of voting age) who’ve not heard of the political party called ‘The Greens’. Aren’t they part of an undesirable and unexciting diet?

    Comment by St. Kevin — August 22, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

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