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a tribute to my grandmother

tribute to grandmother

by Judy
September 6, 2013 

Recently I wrote an essay about my grandmother and it struck me afterwards how one’s lineage gets passed on from one generation to another: from grandmother to mother and then daughter. Each generation passes on certain qualities, values and even personality traits to the next.  Over time I can see how this ancestral line has certain threads; ways of being that both overlap and also diverge in new and different directions. One consistent thread that my mother taught me, by what she said and by example, was to be loyal and care.

I see this loyalty and caring as it passed through the generations. My grandmother who was the oldest in her family brought over all her brothers and sisters to America and gave them jobs. My mother cared for her older brother when he lost his wife unexpectedly and helped take care of her sister for many years after she had a stroke. And then there is me who finds herself caring now for my mom after being paralyzed from a stroke. In many ways this care comes very naturally. Who knows how far back this lineage goes and all the different permutations it has gone through. It is no doubt part of a much larger ancestry connected with being a woman and from a Jewish heritage.

Thinking about my grandmother, the “head” of this lineage, I realize now that I never saw her in her heyday - this courageous woman who came alone across the sea to a strange land that promised adventure and freedom from persecution. She landed in America, when she was seventeen, the oldest of eight children from a small village in Eastern Europe known as the “Pale,” the area between Russia and Poland where many Jews lived. She managed to learn English, raise a family and was widowed by the age of forty-five. She never remarried. She was, by all accounts, a very strong woman – a survivor, yes, but also had another quality which was sweetness and a delightful laugh and sense of humor.

I loved my grandmother very much. Years ago I wrote a poem about her that I unfortunately lost, but I remember the first and last lines: “My grandmother’s face was made of flowers…and when she smiled, she really smiled, twinkling pumpkin that she was.”

When I think of my grandmother, many particular memories have faded, but I’m left with a warm glow inside. She had a round face, great sense of humor and a wonderful laugh. She used to come quite often to visit our home in New Jersey from Brooklyn. I always thought of her as old but when I think now she was probably in her mid- seventies when I was growing up – not that old really - but she had that endearing accent, wrinkled face and in contrast to my busy parents, infinite patience to just be with me and my brother.

When I would practice the piano, she would sit quietly for ages and just listen to me play. It’s not that I was such a good player either, but she would appreciate just sitting and listening. For me, it was very special - no one else ever did that.

I was always aware that she was alone – no husband - and didn’t want to live with her children. She didn’t want to impose herself on any of them and yet was fundamentally happy. All her children loved her dearly. 

When I would sometimes stay with her in her apartment in Brooklyn, it was like going back in time. She had an old fashioned juicer and would make fresh orange juice for me in the mornings and wonderful matzo pancakes with honey. She lived simply. Although not educated formally, she had a real interest to learn – she would listen to talks given on the radio and was particularly interested in health. She walked a few miles every day and swam every morning. The day she died, she was going to go for a swim, but said she didn’t feel so good so she just lay down and died at the age of eighty-six.

My grandmother left an indelible imprint on me, on my soul… and because of that imprint; I have always had a soft spot for the elderly. I’ve always sensed intuitively how much richness lies beneath the surface but more than anything, I have gravitated to be with that warmth and goodness that I experienced years ago with my grandma.

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