December 2, 2011
Jeopardy Trumps Granddaughter
For the years that our time here on earth overlapped, my Grandma Sadye lived in the Bronx. The first apartment I remember had heavily-painted kitchen cabinets that never fully closed. Grandpa’s cigar burned in an ashtray, and British hard candies gathered in cut crystal bowls that dotted each and every surface.
Her last apartment created an entirely different collage of memories. Grandma was the tchotchke queen, an acquirer of delicate things: creamy blue Wedgewood, Bennington pottery bought with Grandpa on anniversary trips to Vermont, Rosenthal cake stands, and that crystal, much of it gifted to her by lifelong friends. Above all, though, she cherished Grandpa’s tokens of affection and the cards colored for her by her grandchildren.
She sang to her philodendron and African violets as she took them for walks around the apartment. Who was I to question the source of her green thumb? She hid her jewelry in the freezer and her bus money in her bra, and she never left the house without lipstick, even to go down to the laundry room. She always wore a smile, too, undeterred by the arduous, daily commute on public buses to the nursing home, where she spent her days with my grandfather, who had long forgotten who she was.
When I visited, she would wait in the doorway of her apartment as if the queen were coming for tea and all of my childhood problems, adolescent anxieties, and adult stresses would evaporate. She called me shayne punim, especially when I didn’t feel particularly pretty. She was my guardian angel and I was her pearl and I was the luckiest girl in the world.
Still, I could not call her during the sacred hour when “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” aired. She would perch herself on the couch, sipping her cup of Sanka as Alex provided the first answer. Then she would knit as she watched, her wrinkled hands working the wool into cardigans until Vanna had turned over her last vowel.
And so she was until her first tumble out of bed in the middle of the night, the one which derailed our every confidence in her ability to live alone. There was time in an assisted living out of the Bronx, and later, a brief stay in a nursing home. Then suddenly, she was gone, too short on earth as angels must be, leaving the scent of her violet talcum powder in her wake.
She bequeathed to me her heavy Persian coat, its strength and beauty reminiscent of her. An angel must hide her wings somewhere, I thought, when I noticed the coat was torn in the back beneath the arms. The tailor said, “Sorry, nothing to be done. The wool is too old and fragile.” But I knew it was because he feared he’d clip the wings that she’d hidden for me beneath the monogrammed lining.
They are my yerusha, my inheritance, from her, and it is she who continues to encourage me to fly in my own direction.
In memory of Shayna bat Mariyasha on the occasion of her yahrzeit