How fitting that today, Mother’s Day, is the yahrzeit (Yiddish for “a year’s time” or anniversary) of the passing of my beloved grandmother, Chava.
Grandma passed away young, at the age of 59, when I was barely 12 years old.
I think about her often, because she was the epitome of motherhood. A large woman (back when most people were not overweight) with a big heart, her entire existence centered around her children, her grandchildren, and cooking.
I write about grandma with some difficulty, because I was so young when she passed. I so wish she could have stayed with us a little longer, giving me a chance to get to know her better, as an adult.
I am left with fragments of memories, broken pictures from a distant past. Grandma wearing her house dresses, her large warm presence soothing, reassuring. I grew up in a tense household, where both parents worked full time, my own mother a successful, hard-working, beautiful career woman. I adored mother and admired her, but she was physically – and emotionally – not always there (much like me as a mother). There was something grounding and reassuring about grandma’s constant presence in the background, the way she was always there for us.
Her large purse, a little frayed, always filled with candy for us grandchildren.
Sitting in front of the TV, eating (grandma allowed it!) her amazingly delicious and crisp schnitzel and latkes.
Grandma’s unique way of slicing fresh bread, holding the loaf on her lap and slicing it into thick slices. Her refusal to use stale bread – she bought a fresh loaf every day at the neighborhood’s little grocery store.
Grandma’s fragrant cholent, the classic Jewish comfort food, a traditional slow-cooked stew of meat, beans, potatoes and hard boiled eggs.
Her salad! The simplest chopped salad, made with fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, onions, and a dressing of vegetable oil, salt and pepper. I don’t know what could have possibly made that salad taste so wonderful. It must have been grandma’s love and generosity.
Speaking of generosity, another memory. Grandma and grandpa belonged to the working class and had very little money. I still remember them fighting over money. But when my brother and I stayed with grandma, when she babysat us or we were sick and couldn’t go to school, poor people were always knocking on her door. I especially remember an old lady with a wrinkly face and a bent back. She knocked on grandma’s door, and grandma opened the door for her and greeted her with kind words, with a smile, and with a few coins. Coins that I doubt she could have spared, yet she spared them anyway, giving them to someone who apparently had even less than she had.
Grandma’s love, her unconditional love. The way she adored me and thought I was beautiful, graceful, lovely, even when I started going through that awkward phase of pre-puberty and was anything but gracious. She didn’t see it, she loved me too much to notice anything other than beauty.
She never saw me emerge out of that awkwardness. She didn’t meet my husband, wasn’t at my wedding, never met her great grandchildren.
She passed away suddenly when I was almost 12, and on the night of her death I dreamed about her. She was with us at my parents’ living room. We were all sitting together and talking, when she abruptly stood up and started leaving. “Don’t go, grandma,” I begged, but she was drifting away. She turned to me, smiled and said “It’s OK, Veredke (the nickname she used for me), I’m OK. I’m happy.” And with that, she vanished.
I miss you, grandma. I hope you really are happy now. Happy Mother’s Day.