My Grandmother

Ethel1931Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She was born March 14, 1913, and died at the age of 62 in 1975. Although she has been gone for so long, the date never leaves my memory.

She came from Germany at the age of 2 and lived in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, on the upper east side, where many immigrants settled during that period. Her father helped run a delicatessen there along with his wife’s brothers. She married my grandfather in 1932 and they had 6 children, the oldest being my mother.

The picture my mother painted of my grandmother as she was growing up was far different from the woman I knew. She had been a strict, no nonsense mother. She liked things in order, and ran the house that way. Though I was aware of this side of her, when with her all I felt was love.

I was her first grandchild. By the time I came to know her, she was in a a stage of her life far different from the days when my mother was growing up. My grandfather was making a good living, her children were all grown, life was easier. To me she was funny and warm and always made me feel so amazingly special. Every summer our family would spend 2 weeks at my grandparents home in the country- which was just a wonderful time. My grandmother kept a spotless house, so our visit was always a bit of a challenge for her. It was not easy with 4 kids and a dog tramping through all day- in from the pool wet, sand from the day at the ocean, her mop and broom never seemed to leave her hand. People used to say you could eat off grandma’s floors they were that clean. It was just how she was. After a day at the beach the adults would gather on the sun porch for cocktails and conversation before dinner. I always sat in from the time I was 11 or so, I loved to hear the stories, hear my grandmother tell some funny joke, and see how she and my father had such a wonderful rapport. After our 2 weeks were up we would head home, and I would correspond by mail with her. She typed all her letters, which were full of the news of what she was doing, with a lot of humor mixed in. I still have all those letters- dating between 1967 and 1974. I still take them out to read them- to look at her handwriting, to laugh at how clever her writing was. A part of her that I am still able to hold.

I was 17 when she died. She died suddenly, in her sleep at such a young age, with no warning. It was devastating for my grandfather, and all of us. But I am thankful I was old enough to know her, to have spent those summers with her. That today, I am still able to see her in my mind’s eye when I think of her, to still hear the crick in her knee as she walked down the hall of that summer home saying goodnight into the bedroom as she went by. And if a woman passes me wearing Estee Lauder Youth Dew Perfume, she is right there beside me once again.

What’s In A Name? (Or who you calling Grandma?)

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I’m a stepmother- my step daughter came on the scene at the age of 8 when I married her father. She is now 30 and has kids of her own. Hard to believe. Her son is the age she was when her parents divorced, her daughter is the age she was when her father married me. And so the life cycle continues and I now have the pleasure of enjoying her kids and growing with them too. My step daughter always called me by my first name, Lisa. When introducing me to her friends she referred to me as her “other mother” as we all know the connotation “step mother” has. When her kids were born I went back and forth about what they should call me. My mother in law was Baba- a European name for grandma- I certainly didn’t fit that bill. My mother was grandma – again, just too “old” sounding. Oma, the German name for grandmother is what they called their grandmother, my husband’s ex-wife. Self explanatory. So it looked like we were back to Lisa. Fine by me, I really wasn’t interested in some old lady label anyway. But here’s the thing – my grandson has no idea who I really am. Last time he saw my husband when I wasn’t there, he asked where Aunt Lisa was. My step daughter told me he thought I was her sister. (So loved that one considering I am 25 years older than she is) He hasn’t yet been able to figure out exactly where I fit into the family picture, the concept of divorce and remarriage. Maybe he thinks Lisa means grandmother. Just another label, not a real name. Who knows? What’s in a name anyway? As long as he smiles when he sees me and runs to greet me, it’s all good.