A friend suggested that I consider happier, perhaps even funny, posts. The idea made me chuckle because the reason I started the blog was to share my experiences surrounding overwhelming grief.
“You can still make them observational,” the friend suggested. He has a point. At the very least, it can be an exercise in strengthening one’s writing muscle.
I do seem to go for the emotional jugular.
Matters ranging from the meaning of politics to reasons for crime and belly aches were openly and eagerly discussed in my household. We were loud, sometimes angry, often opinionated. It was fabulous.
Our large and tightly-knit family on my mother’s side was where we spent (almost) every holiday from Rosh Hashana to Thanksgiving, from Chanukah to Passover. My grandmother was a Polish immigrant with piercing blue eyes who once was stylish and beautiful. She was married to the man I always considered to be my grandfather, even though he had married in after my actual grandfather died and was of no blood relation to any of us.
He was, however, a supporter of my writing at a time when I appreciated the recognition, long before the idea of becoming a writer entered my consciousness. He listened to poems of protest and puppy love, and responded with gentle critiquing and praise. In oddly pronounced English, he told me to keep writing. He was an immigrant like my grandmother. I loved his funny sounding Russian accent and word formations. But Grandpa Joe’s impact was serious. He understood parts of me better than my blood relations.
Grandma Sarah spoke in broken English sprinkled with bits of Yiddish and Polish, so that you got the main idea of her communications without needing to understand her every word. What proved to be eminently clear was her enormous heart which produced soft hugs, blanket cuddles, mushy face kisses, lap naps and of course her trademark brand of love; feeding us delectable ethnic morsels that delighted the tongue and tummy.
Her style of English didn’t hamper understanding unless she was giving the memory inspired specifics of a recipe for say, challah, which my cousin and I badly botched the yeast amounts for. The loaf grew to quadruple the size of any challah I have ever seen. When it pushed the oven door open, we knew trouble had found us. We watched a loaf of bread grow to gargantuan heights and widths. Breads should not have the capacity to open oven doors on their own, to say nothing of the horrified look on my grandmother’s round, usually peaceful, face.
Eventually my cousin and I reacted as we usually did to situations beyond our control – we doubled over and roared with laughter as we watched my grandmother stare at the stove, shuckling (shaking) with both hands glued to her head, while the ever-expanding, over-doughed, excessively-yeasted challah grew into something that could be used as a lethal weapon.
Grandma Sarah was stoic, and she wasn’t finished attempting to impart knowledge in the art of cooking to her only granddaughters. She wanted to teach us, perhaps by way of salvation, to make kreplach; dumplings filled with meat or potatoes, usually found in soup, and particularly delicious. If you haven’t tasted them, add them to your bucket list. Immediately.
In order for this to occur you must: find a Jewish grandmother from the old country who isn’t dead, who cooks with proper ingredients, and uses no formal recipe (just dashes, pinches, and improv). This is not an impossible feat, these women are rare but not extinct. The warm soup and triangular dough stuffed with filling is nourishing on a physical and soul level. There is nothing like food cooked with love.
Which is why my grandmother got very upset with my cousin and me, when she showed us, after the challah fiasco, how to close the kreplach dough by mushing it gently between our thumb and middle finger, in dips similar to the perimeter of a pie crust. We didn’t squeeze tenderly enough for her sensibilities, and unwittingly added insult to this serious endeavor by giggling incessantly. She felt we weren’t respecting the food and the process. We weren’t. She didn’t get it. Neither did we.
Yet, take notice of how the experiences stick with me forty years later. Thank you grandparents for your roles in my life. And now, grandma, I do get it.