On my father’s side I had a Jewish Grandma from Brooklyn, Annette. I tell you the Jewish and Brooklyn bits because you would be unnecessarily handicapped in conjuring up the right image and voice without a little aid from this stereotype. She was the real deal.
I absolutely adored this woman. She was loving, and funny (she loved to tell dirty jokes), difficult and stubborn, nurturing and indulgent, frugal and brave, and a little bit mischievous.
From what I could tell, her hobbies were her family, feeding the people she loved to the stuffing point, kvetching about everything including things she liked, fashion, the stock market, getting out of the house, buying a nice rye, and having well matched accessories.
When I was five or six my sister and I used to go swimming at the pool in the apartment complex where she and my Grandpa lived in Glendale California. They left New York when my dad who was the youngest of three children was in high school. My parents would take us up to their apartment and then go off on their own for the day. I can still sometimes smell the hallway in their building when I walk into certain carpeted buildings, and the rush of wholesome love that washes over me is palpable. I could just lay down in it when I smell that. Have you ever had that feeling with a smell?
When we went swimming at my grandparent’s we always had a bit of a ritual. We would swim until our lips were blue and then we would lie down on one of the strappy lounge chairs in the sun, our skinny little bodies quivering and my grandparents would proceed to cover us with every towel they owned. One towel would have sufficed for such small kids but it wasn’t enough for their grand kids. They would cover us and pat us and make us feel so snuggly and blissed out lying there with the warm sun penetrating through the towels, each terry cloth layer conveying the love they were lavishing on us. There was no such thing as too much kindness when you loved someone. Back in the apartment we would eat cold canned peaches and cottage cheese or tuna salad on rye bread. Grandma kept her cans of tuna in the fridge and somehow I still remember her tuna well drained and with just right amount of celery, as the best I’ve ever had.
When I was twenty four and in that lost place after college where you don’t really know what your next move is, I lived with my Grandma in her high rise apartment in West LA for the summer. My Grandpa had passed away many years before by that time, and my Grandma at 87 was living by herself in a fashionable part of town. She had a market across the street and we used to shop there almost daily. She liked to buy just a few things at a time. I’m the same way. One day instead of shopping we went across the street to return a melon that hadn’t ripened in the appropriate amount of time. Grandma probably got a dollar or so back for that melon but was she going to let that slide? No way!
That summer we woke every morning and ate steaming bowls of over salted oatmeal, or bagels and cream cheese, and slurped cups of coffee while we watched the stock exchange business channel, the ticker running across the TV screen through all our conversations. My grandmother never learned to use her microwave properly but in 1987 when black Monday struck she took all of their savings out of the bank and invested it in stocks. She had been a secretary and my Grandpa had driven a milk truck among other things, they hardly had much money. But from that act of faith and bravery she created a comfortable future for them.
When my best friend M and I stayed at her house overnight before we set off on our big trip I had just finished telling M a little about my Grandma and her near obsession with feeding those she loves. Sure enough we were greeted at the door by Grandma holding a container of sour cream and clearly there were things going on in the kitchen. “This sour cream is so fresh!” she exclaimed. “Here try it” and she scooped a huge spoonful and pointed toward me. We weren’t two feet inside the house. I thought M would die laughing. But later that night my Grandma topped herself. As M and I lay on the pull out sofa in the darkened living room I noticed my Grandma’s silhouette in the hallway. “What’s the matter Grandma?” I asked. As soon as the words were out of my mouth she flipped on the light, she was holding an apple, “Ya wanna apple?”
My Grandma was out shopping for a hat to match a jacket just a day or two before she died at 89 years old. I’ve missed her in some way every day since. There is no one I regret as much that my husband and daughter (whose middle name is Annette) did not get a chance to meet. She left an indelible stamp on my life and to not have known my Grandma is to not know a little bit of me.
You know, people tell you to be yourself, that it’s the best thing. And I really think it is. But does that mean that there won’t be some strange things about you, some things that drive others crazy? Or that everyone will adore you as much as your granddaughter? No. Whether we struggle to fit in or we allow ourselves to unfold as we are naturally we will hit bumps, we will buy bad melons, and always be one hat shy of a matching set. But who cares. Be you anyway. Truly be it as deeply and fully as you can. Because in all that quirkiness is something that can’t be repeated and its value is immeasurable.
I love you Grandma.