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Category Archives: Grandma

From one mother to another

“So tell me something you remember about me from your childhood.” My mom asked casually. “Anything.”

Oh no. I smelled a trap. This was definite trouble. I struggled to come up with something. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but my memories of childhood are basically a dead zone. I don’t remember spending much time with her at all, and my father was a mix of random play and me stepping over his drunk body. I do remember them fighting. Hmm. I don’t think that’s what she’s looking for.

“I knew it.” She concluded from my hesitation. “I was a terrible mom.”

Crap.

Okay, so I probably could have had a better childhood, but at this point, who remembers? Oh man, the pressure. Think! Think!

“Tell me something you remember.” I countered, stalling for time.

That stopped her. “Oh, okay.” Pause. Then, a giggle. “I can’t remember anything.”

Disbelief. “You can’t remember anything from my childhood?”

More giggling. “Where was I?” she asks. Like I should know?

I don’t know if it’s funny, but we are both amused. “That’s a good question, mom.”

“You were so precocious. You just raised your cute little self.”

“Apparently.”  Well, it was the 70’s.

We giggled some more about it and then moved on to lighter subjects, like how full she was from her over-sized dish of vegetables or how cute my boys are.

It’s good that we can laugh about the past and move on. Our relationship has evolved so much since the times I don’t remember, or my brain chooses to forget. I’ve grown and she’s grown as well. Emotionally, at least. There was a time when she wouldn’t even think to ask such a question. Not because she didn’t care, but whether it was her youth, immaturity or overwhelming circumstance, she just didn’t think of it.

I still remember a couple of years ago when I was telling her about a friend of my son’s whose parents were divorcing, which coincidentally was around the age my parents divorced. She said, “Wow, that must have been really hard for you.” I was shocked. It was the first time she had directly acknowledged my feelings about that time. Okay, so it was almost 30 years later, but still, I was touched by her, albeit belated, concern.

Physically, she’s gorgeous, strong and energetic, but tiny, topping out at about 5’1, and I’m giving her that inch because I love her and I know she’s just arched her back and is standing up a little straighter reading this. I can hear her bemoaning her stature all the way from her house. “Oh, why am so short?”  65 years and she hasn’t come to grips with her height. She is eternally cute.

It has taken years to come to this point, but our relationship steadily improved around the time I got married and markedly improved after my first child was born. I honestly didn’t expect all that much given our history, but she completely surprised me. Devoted, loving, generous. She dotes on each of my boys. They are such a joy to her and she is so attentive and wonderful, that I can’t imagine that she wasn’t always this way.

Later, my phone rang again.

I answer, “Hi mom.”

“Hi, I was just wondering if you thought of anything.”

“Uh no, mom. I haven’t been thinking about it.”

“Of course. Me neither…” She switches to her favorite subjects. “Hey, did I tell you how good the boys were the other night? And Julius did the funniest thing…”

I don’t know what happened back then. I can’t remember what I did five minutes ago. What I do know is that today, right now, she is the absolute best mom possible. I wouldn’t change a bit of her.

She, of course, has a list of things she’d change. But that’s another story.

A grandmother is born

A grand mother is born

My other grandma…I remember

I remember when I was a little girl, my grandmother, my mother’s mother, lived blocks from my house, and many days my mother would leave me and my brother in her care.  

I remember playing casino and pisha pasha – a card game that no one in our family can remember how to play and no one else in the world remembers as a game.

I remember going to her pool club, where I’d watch her play mahjong while eating cut up pieces of sweet, drippy cantaloupe.

I remember her refrigerator always had layered parfaits of Jello and cool whip, or it might have been pudding and whipped cream, but I think it was Jello. Could have been both.

I remember bananas, pretty little cups with flowers on them and stories of magic.

I remember beautiful holiday dinners and Shabbat candles.

I remember the whole family going out on Sundays for Chinese food and her ordering Subgum Chicken.

I remember singing, “Oh I won’t go to Macy’s any more, more, more…” and “In Bloomingdale’s Department store, you check them on the second floor…”  Clearly, the connection between Jewish women and shopping runs deep.

I remember sitting on her front porch, and as you could in Brooklyn, climbing over to the next porch and the one after that.

I remember playing Red light, Green light, One Two Three and Mother May I?

I remember rocky road ice cream was her favorite flavor.

I remember me being a bit snarky and insensitive, and really not all that nice.

I remember her getting sick.

I remember her dying.

I was 13, when it happened. I remember being so confused and uncomfortable at her funeral, my first real death. I curled in a ball on a chair and cried.

That’s really all I remember, little vignettes, snippets of truth that have been tenderized by age. I only had her a short while, and I regret not being mature enough to listen, learn or appreciate. I regret childish behavior that can never be resolved. I regret not hugging more. I regret being only 13 when she passed, and not having had her for 42 years like I did with my father’s mother. I regret not getting to love her more, to have built a relationship, to really know who she was.

I regret that I can only remember what I remember, and it isn’t nearly enough.

gm terry

Dead Grandma Totally Messes With Me

Before I even had a hint of the infertility problems which would plague me, before any of my babies were ultimately born; my grandmother envisioned me with a girl. She was prone to ‘seeing’ things, mostly dead people, but she also had an extremely refined intuition or esp. She’d offhandedly say things, like, “Oh, so and so just died.” While we were busy processing that information, the call would come in. So and so was dead.

So it was no surprise to me, and I took it as almost a certainty, when 11 years ago, she called and told me I was pregnant. I had been quietly trying for almost two years by the time of her call. I was seeing doctors, and was on an emotional roller coaster month after depressing month.

“Why haven’t you told me you’re pregnant?” she asked, her strong, smoky tone full of reproach.

“Uh, because I don’t know that I’m pregnant. Wait,” I held my breath like I was speaking with a doctor holding test results, “Am I pregnant?”

“If this old witch still has it, you are.”

Five days later, full shock and glee, I called her back. “I’m pregnant.”

I could hear her blow her cigarette smoke into the phone before she offhandedly replied, “It’ll be a girl.”

I had a boy.

She scratched her red head (what other color would a witch have?) and said, “I guess it’ll be the next one.” Nearly three years later, she was wrong again. Almost 3 years after that, when I had my third and last child, she was so convinced it was a girl, she snapped at me.  “What do you mean, it’s a boy!? Well, I’m sorry!”

I certainly didn’t care, but my grandma was not one to be wrong, ever. She didn’t take it well, but decided to love my boys regardless. They each were a shining, joyful light in her life.

By her 90th birthday celebration, she still remained convinced that I would have a girl. Somewhat dramatically (she knew no other way) she said, I would be naming the child after her, implying her death was near.

In the Jewish religion, a name is passed down after a loved one passes. My grandma had been housebound for the last decade with a variety of issues, but none of them life-threatening. Still, as she put it, over and over again, her suitcases were packed and she was ready to kiss her old ass goodbye. We listened to this talk for years, but recently, it seemed she might actually be getting closer to taking that trip.

I was over 40 by then. Given my age, and the fact that I had never become pregnant without assistance, I told her that, she would have to rely on another grandkid for that girl. Besides, I insisted, she was an ox with special powers, she wasn’t going anywhere.

Her response was a dirty look, but she conceded that maybe, in this one instance, her radar had been off. I don’t think she really believed it. She just no longer had the energy to argue. When I think about it now, I love that she remained truly convinced that she was right; such beautiful, dogged stubbornness.

Six months later, she died. I held on to her promises to haunt me and she didn’t disappoint; showing up in many ways, most notably as a fly on my wall, something she had always wished to be in her last homebound years.

I miss speaking with her, knowing I could just pick up the phone and hear her raspy voice. I know she hears me out there, but I’d be much happier to have her hear me over here. I try not to think about it.

But this week, I was late. Yes, that kind of late. A solid, bloated, hormonal and crampy, full week late. I knew I couldn’t be. I counted days and considered. It was not possible. Still, her voice was loud and bossy in my head; you will have a girl. Against all reason and sanity, I went and purchased a pregnancy test, cursing her under my breath.

I’ll spare you the suspense. I wasn’t pregnant, and two hours later, my friend, ‘Dot’ arrived. I laughed at myself and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

As the year anniversary of her passing draws near, I love that she can still mess with me. And since I don’t plan on having another child, I’m definitely going to be just a bit more careful about ‘things’ in the future. My grandmother doesn’t like to be wrong, and I don’t trust that witch at all.

grandma & jack

Boy, did she love her boys, but would it have killed me to have a girl?

 

Grandma Has Landed

There’s a fly buzzing around my kids’ heads at the kitchen table. They jerk reflexively out of its path, but know better than to swat at it. “Is that Grandma?” My eight year-old asks.

I shrug a knowing, little smile. “Could be. Either way, the fly is our friend.”

“But grandma keeps going around my head. It’s annoying,” complains my oldest son.

“Maybe she wants to say she’s thinking of you.”

He nods, somewhat appeased.

“Or,” I reconsider. “That you need a haircut. Yup, that’s it.”

“Aw. Come on!” He protests.

“Blame Grandma.” I say and push the hair from his eyes.

“I want gramma!” mumbles my five year-old with a mouthful of macaroni.

I look at them warmly and feel a spark of my grandmother’s pride. I am now the matriarch of my own beautiful clan. Beautiful and innocent. It is the gift of childhood; my stuffed animals are really alive, why can’t grandma be a fly?

Of course, she wasn’t always a fly. For all my years, she was the Queen Bee. Grandma Bebe – the most wonderful, fascinating and formidable woman I ever had the honor to know, love and be loved by; a woman from an era of class and balls rarely seen today.

For years before she passed, she was home bound, long-suffering with her hip, back and other calamities of age that do its best to damage life’s dignity. My grandmother refused to be diminished, certainly not in people’s eyes. Instead, she refused visits and exercised her influence from the phone.

It was she who insisted, wistfully when she longed to see me or my children or spitefully when I was brave (or stupid) enough to poo-poo her power, that she would return as a fly on my wall and make sure things were as they should, meaning as she liked. If they weren’t, well, the implication was threatening. I wondered if she could still throw shoes from the after-life.

It was a month after she passed, on a cold winter day that brought night before its time. I was on the phone with my father. He was troubled, which meant trouble for me. As I heated up with frustration, a fly from nowhere, circled my body and landed on my hand. It rested there and as I gaped, it stared back. Grandma had come to comfort me. I accepted it as I accepted the sun.

So grandma is a fly, as well as the lox on my bagel, and licking my lips before chocolate cake and scratching the backs of my boys. She’s living and breathing in my heart. I hear her smoky voice in my head, or her words coming from my cousin’s mouth. I miss her presence, but I do love knowing that sometimes she’ll still fly down for a visit and buzz “What’s doing, pussycat?” in my ear.

My door is always open, Gma.