Lessons from my Olympic Dad-Byron Krieger

My Dad, Byron Krieger, was a two-time Olympic fencer.

He also competed in the Pan American games, the Maccabi games, and many regional/national tournaments. He’s in 3 Hall of Fames.

Dad never boasted about any of this. Growing up, my siblings and I enjoyed hearing stories of his fencing days. He was clearly proud, yet his accolades were most often relayed to us by our uncles and mother. Years later, we’d learn even more about his accomplishments through reading newspaper clippings. 

Dad’s trophies and medals lined our living room. I liked to read the plaques and run my hands over the golden fencer figure on top.

Our friends were impressed, though we usually had to explain the sport of fencing had nothing to do with backyard boundaries. Once the kids heard about swords, their eyes would pop. “Did he ever kill anyone?”


A portrait of my father wearing his Olympic uniform hung in our family room. I’m sure my mom put it up.

Throughout our childhood, our father’s quiet but powerful presence emanated from this painting.

It’s funny how family pictures can become part of the background noise that you don’t even notice, until one day, after not having seen it for many years, everything comes back. 

Now, I can feel the weight of expectation, mostly unspoken, yet fully absorbed:

Work hard. Strive for excellence. Never give up. Face your fears.

Once, as a teen, one of my brothers asked Dad if he could wear his Olympic warmup jacket that hung in our front closet. His answer, delivered with a smile, surprised us. “No, because you didn’t earn it.”

Today, our father’s jacket is displayed in the Museum of Fencing

There were other ingrained lessons, too, mainly taught by example, lessons I still try to live by.

*Be the better person

*Avoid gossip

*Be kind.

*Don’t hold grudges.

*Treat all people with respect.

*Practice good sportsmanship especially when you lose.

*Deflect uncomfortable conversations with humor. 

*Admit and learn from mistakes.

*Don’t complain

*Be proud of your heritage


To honor his legacy, I created the Byron Krieger athletic scholarship for talented students who embody Dad’s values. 

Gabriella Hirsch

One of the special outcomes of this endeavor was hearing from children and grandchildren of Dad’s Olympic teammates.

The inscription on my father’s gravestone reads: Humble Champion.

The short phrase sums up a long and abundant life. ~

#Coronaversary. What have you learned one year later?

When was your last “normal” day?

What were you doing when the world turned upside down?

For me that was Friday, March 13th 2020.

Like toppling dominoes, one cancellation piled atop another. Our public school went remote. Our synagogue cancelled Sabbath services. Our town library closed. My gym and dance studio closed. An up-coming business trip was cancelled. My private students cancelled their lessons. My daughter came home from college (thinking it would be a few weeks).

Oh, and my son’s engagement party was planned for that weekend. 

I’m glad I didn’t know how long the doom would last. How many lives would be lost.

There is hope now. But our world is different. You are different. Hopefully, you’ve gained some things amidst all the losses. 

***

I learned the primacy of relationships over work and ambition. 

I learned that absence makes the heart grow fonder and stronger.

I learned how much I miss my grandchildren.

I learned that children are better mask-adapters than adults. 

I learned it’s okay to sit in the car and cry.

I learned to surrender to uncertainty.

I learned to expect plans to change. 

I learned how to teach lessons over Zoom. 

I learned we can build bridges with words.

I learned words I wish I didn’t have to utter: lockdown, social-distancing, aerosols, quarantine, asymptomatic, fomites, super-spreader…

I learned that family members can hold vastly different beliefs from me. 

I learned that when things are looking really bad, look toward the heavens. 

I learned just how wise my young adult children have become.

I learned that writing can sustain me.

I learned what I can and cannot live without.

I learned just how lucky I am. ~

Love Lessons in the 6th Grade

He was a quiet boy with dark hair and thick, black-framed glasses who spent more time reading than chasing girls on the playground.

I was one of those popular girls with a new boyfriend each week.

This quiet boy and I inhabited different planets, sharing a sixth grade teacher but not much more. Until our class Valentine’s Day party. 

While the midwest winter frosted our classroom windows, the air inside heated up with preteen energy. The main party event was exchanging store-bought Valentine cards (following the required “one for everybody” rule.)  We achieved this with efficiency by depositing our 25 valentines in personalized shoeboxes sitting on each kid’s desk.

The best valentines went to the cool kids. If you really liked someone, you’d write a special message inside, or maybe decorate the envelope. If you were lucky, an admirer attached a few NECCO Sweetheart candies imprinted with sayings like Hot Grl, Call Me, or XOXO. 

In the midst of the party, I stood chatting with two other girls in my solar system when the quiet boy stealthily entered our domain.

“Excuse me, Evelyn?” 

I turned to look at the questioner.

Poker faced, the quiet boy blinked a few times. Then, like a magician, he pulled from behind his back a large, heart shaped box adorned with lace and roses.

“This is for you. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I remember utter shock. Then…delight.

My girlfriends’ jaws dropped.  I’m pretty sure the rest of the room quieted, too. 

For the first time, I noticed the boy’s smile. Then he returned to his desk.

When I got home that day, I showed my mother the red satin candy box, a first of its kind for me.

“Wow, he must sure like you,” she said.

“But he’s never said a word to me!”

This was the first of many lessons I needed to learn about love. And boys. 

His name was Michael.

For the next two weeks, I relished those delectable chocolates, allowing myself a single one each day.

Then came an invitation to visit Michael’s house. I accepted.

He seemed to have planned out the afternoon which began with him making me a vanilla milkshake. I don’t think I’d ever had a boy prepare food for me. I sat on the bar stool as he garnished the drink with whipped cream and sprinkles.

He then played us a Bill Cosby record. Michael laughed at the stand-up routine. I didn’t know who Bill Cosby was, nor did I fully get his jokes. After that, Michael asked me things about myself. What did I like to do? To read?  We talked for a while. Then, would I like play Stratego or chess?

This boy was twelve going on twenty.

I can’t remember if I shared his romantic feelings. Certainly it felt nothing like the intense crushes I’d experienced before.  Perhaps we held hands at some point.

I don’t remember much happening between us at school. Maybe it was summer when we went to the movies (his nice mom sitting a few rows behind us).

Another time we went bowling. Of course he had his own bowling ball. I could barely lift the thing. He taught me how to keep score. Afterwards, he bought me Cracker Jacks and a Coke. While we snacked, Michael told me he especially loved my smile and long shiny hair. I felt both embarrassed and flattered.

I moved away at the end of the summer and never saw Michael again.  But I held on to that empty red box for a long time.  

And, every February since then, when the stores fill with heart-shaped candy boxes, I’m reminded of that brave boy who made the first move toward a girl from another planet.  

Postscript:  Decades later, Michael tracked me down online. 

But that’s another story. ~

Closing Chapter 2020

You made it!

Ten months of pandemic living. Through losses and suffering. Bravo!

Hopefully you’ve managed to dodge the COVID bullet so far, or maybe you were lucky to recover.

If you’ve lost a loved one to this terrible virus, I offer a virtual hug and prayer for healing. 

Thank you to those who’ve reached out to me privately. I’m okay. Anxiety and stress are creativity killers. Throw in a pandemic, a contentious election, remote schooling, job and family matters, dooms day news… who wouldn’t feel wordstuck?

We’re all relieved to close Chapter 2020, but the story is far from finished. There will be dark moments for us all to pass through as we turn the page.

Yet, hope now shapes the final chapter of this sad story.  

As it happens, the end of 2020 coincides with my writing the final chapter of a novel-in-progress: a project that has taken too long for my liking. COVID time only deepened the chasm between my vision and its outcome.

When the warm weather finally arrived during Boston quarantine, my despair lifted. I became determined to see the project through. I tried to show up each day whether my muse accompanied me or not.

Somedays, I wrestled with words until my head ached.

Some days, I spent hours trying to spin chaos into order.

Some days, I was left with a mess I didn’t know how to clean up. 

And some days, the jumble of words magically lined up, like a string of pearls for me to polish. 

Still, I have no idea whether this book will see the light of day.

There is editorial interest and a grant backing me—a welcome vote of confidence. Yet the road ahead, like our New Year, remains uncertain. I have no control over the publishing market, or the particular tastes of an agent.

Luck factors in, too.

What I do have control over is the shape of my story—making it the best story possible. I can rewrite the beginning as many times as I see fit. The story’s ending is mine to tinker with until it feels right—“surprising, yet inevitable”.

We cannot write our own ending to the pandemic story. What we can do is try to write our own new chapter by focusing on taking good care of ourselves. 

We can nourish our souls with art, music, words, and nature.

We can reflect on what matters most to us now.  We can make revisions. We can get rid of the fluff—those details that no longer serve our story.   

Writing and revising is a lonely endeavor.  We need the support of others to offer encouragement and direction. 

So, as you begin Chapter 2021, be sure to look for kindred spirits, whether nearby or over the virtual bridge, who will help you write the best story possible. ~

What do you miss right now?

Our_Town

My friend told me she feels guilty about her sadness at missing her oldest son’s high school graduation when so many people have lost their lives to Corona virus.

I told her there is nothing to feel guilty about. There is no yardstick for grief. Yes, it can always be worse, yet why don’t we feel better when someone says this?

We are all experiencing loss right now of every magnitude.

We have lost our physical communities.

We have lost trust in our leaders.

We have lost milestone celebrations.

We have lost the freedom to travel freely.

We have lost the chance to attend that special concert.

We have lost our spot on the beach.

We have lost the ability to kiss our grandchildren.

Gig & Rivkah Pesach 2016

And much more.

Some losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic aren’t apparent at first. They hit us as our child’s birthday approaches.  The hit us as we flip the calendar: Cape Cod trip. 

These losses may seem small but they add up. They loom large in our heart.

Before the pandemic, I tried keeping a gratitude journal as espoused by so many self-help gurus. My entries tended toward big things: family, friends, health, work, and home. It was hard to think of the small things.

That is, until they are gone.

Here’s one thing I missed early on: my morning writing space at the library.  This sunny glass room with a view. Free to use—just sign up. 

LIbrary Spot

Why didn’t this appear in my gratitude journal? 

Because I couldn’t fathom losing it.  

I have a good imagination. Over-active sometimes.  I write fiction, after all.  Yet, I never imagined that in March 2020 a world-wide pandemic would close my special writing space in Boston.

Often, we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Trite but true.

I am confident that I’ll have this writing space back in the near future.

But you only get one high school graduation.

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Acknowledge your losses. Grieve them, no matter how small. Find comfort. Think of something to look forward to. Make a list of what you still have.

Rosmarie Heusser's Comments - Peace for the Soul

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And remember, it’s okay to miss the small stuff.  Manicures and malls. Coffee shops and handshakes. Smiles from strangers. 

So go ahead, tell me what you miss, big and small. 

No yardsticks here.

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