This is my bubby: my maternal grandma, Jeanette. She passed away in January 1999, mid-way through my sophomore year of college, but today — June 11 — would have been her birthday. Happy Birthday, Grandma!
Sadly, she never got to meet Luis (we met the following year)… but even though he’s a “goy” [read as: non-Jew] we’re all pretty sure she would have approved. Especially because in addition to being a fabulous husband and father, like everyone else born in our family, Luis knows all the infamous “Grandma” stories inside and out and loves them as much as we do. It’s almost as though he was there.
And Maya? Well, she never got to meet Grandma, either–but Jeanette lives on in her. In her facial expressions (like when she scrunches up her nose or sticks out her tongue); in her physical features (like her cankles and, more seriously–her facial features and deep blue-gray eyes), and in her name [they share the same Hebrew name – -Yochana]. I know Grandma would be very proud to see how her family has grown and changed.
Few people in my life have had the kind of impact my grandmother had. Though I didn’t know it at the time as a child, as an adult, I came to see that Grandma taught me so much, namely the following:
Don’t feel sorry for yourself. A Depression-era baby raised by her immigrant parents in NYC, my grandma was dealt a pretty tough deck of cards in life. Though she married faily young, at 40, she became a widow when my grandpa died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving her to fend for three children – including my mom, the baby of the family, who was only nine. A stay-at-home-mom previously, Grandma suddenly had to enter the work-force to provide for her family. It wasn’t easy, but she did what she needed to do to make ends meet. Then when I was three years old, my Uncle Howie — Grandma’s son, one of my mom’s brothers — died from juvenile diabetes complications/kidney failure … adding more loss and challenge to my grandma’s life. But in spite of all of life’s hardships, she never complained. Sure, she’d tease us from her condo complex in Boca Raton every Sunday, telling us she was just “sitting home feeling sorry for myself’ when we called, but we knew better: between mah-jong, Rummi at the pool and early bird special dinners, she had at least four social engagements that week alone and was just playing with us; Grandma was nothing if not social. And for all her life’s challenges, even at the end of her life, she didn’t want pity. She just wanted love and acceptance. And lox 😉
Family is everything. Long before iPhones were ever invented, Grandma was “that woman” on the plane who showed photos of her five grandchildren to anyone and everyone who would pay her mind. She boasted to everyone about her son Jackie, The Lawyer, and about her daughter’s kids. Though we grew up seeing Grandma often when she lived in N.J., we would only see her once or twice a year once she moved to Florida when I was in middle school. But every Sunday we would chat on the phone after breakfast. (And now, every Sunday we Skype with my parents. It all goes full circle!). Grandma didn’t have tons of money (though her while-living inheritance definitely helped us with college), but she had lots of love to share and there was nothing more we could have wanted or needed from her. While we often felt smothered by her hugs as kids, I would give anything for a hug from her today. And even on her deathbed, in true Grandma form, she waited until all of her children and grandchildren had flown in from NY, NJ, DC, CA … before passing away. Family was, in every sense, her everything … til the end.
Live a full life [which, yes, involves food!] Some people eat to live and others live to eat. My grandma was definitely in the latter category. Nothing made her happier than meals with family and friends and salami! Life was cruel to my grandma at times — when colon cancer struck, she had to make major dietary changes; same with her breast cancer and quadruple bypass surgery prior to the colon cancer diagnosis. But she loved to eat and food was solace, comfort. She knew she was overweight and she didn’t really let that fact stop her from enjoying every bite to its fullest. Many of my family’s favorite “Grandma Stories” are related to her and food/her love of food. Lately, I’ve been on an eating bender. I don’t know if I can only attribute it to the pregnancy or if it’s a combo of moving stress and just not caring because I’m too tired to care, but I couldn’t help but think of my grandma’s favorite phrase, “I’ll go to hell with myself just this once!” Of course, her “just once” was every day and lately, that’s been me, too. While I don’t need to be on a bender of any kind now [pregnancy is not a good enough excuse for food debauchery!], I do love my grandma’s motto because, in all seriousness, she did enjoy every bite she put into her mouth. She never agonized over food or obsessed over it. And while I don’t think she ate healthy or well-balanced, necessarily, I love her carefree attitude of truly enjoying … whether it was falafel she was eating in Turkey, fresh salmon on her cruise to Alaska, or pizza [and calzones and gelato] in Italy or even free samples at Publix … Grandma never turned down a meal.
So those are just three of the key things I learned from my grandma. I miss her so much — especially now that I’m a mom myself — but today isn’t a day to be sad. It’s a day to celebrate her life and memory, and so I’ll do just that: I’ll go to hell with myself … just this once 😉 For you, Grandma. For you.