The narrative of my life is punctuated by changes, from joyful to shattering. Yes, I can cope just fine but occasionally I wish I could take a little time out and have somebody take care of me. When I’m in such a mood, I reminisce about my childhood (the rough edges undoubtedly filed smooth by time) and pull out an old photo album to remember some happy times.
That’s why I treasure the photograph of me standing between my two kvelling grandmothers, Gram and Bubbe, at my eighth-grade graduation on a sunny afternoon in June 1953. Gram is the short, well-groomed lady with freshly curled white hair and polished nails. In contrast, Bubbe is unmistakably a European immigrant in old-fashioned clothes and hair pulled back in a bun. Despite their differences in style, both women were very intelligent and insightful, knowledgeable about current events, and calm, sensible matriarchs. To me, however, the most important thing was that they both loved me as only grandmothers can.
In the photo, I’m wearing a white eyelet graduation dress that I made in sewing class. In the early ’50s, girls took cooking and sewing while the boys took shop class. Nobody questioned this arrangement. It was just the way things were in those days.
The problem was that I had absolutely no aptitude for sewing. My mother wisely suggested that I use the same pattern for the two required dresses so that by the time I tackled the graduation dress, I would know what I was doing. I took her advice, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to help much. After sewing, ripping, and re-sewing the same seams over and over, I sneaked the half-made dress home, dropped it into Gram’s lap, and she finished it for me. My sewing teacher had to be aware of the deception, but somehow she never mentioned it.
While Bubbe never conspired with me as Gram did, we also had our own special relationship. Perhaps this was because she had four sons and two grandsons before I came along, so I must have been a wonderful novelty.
She lived near a beach, and I happily visited her whenever my parents took vacations, so thoughts of Bubbe evoke memories of carefree teenage summers. I was one of a dozen or more teenagers who spent the day sunning, swimming, and flirting. After dinner we returned to the beach, this time to the boardwalk, where we played miniature golf, rode the ferris wheel, and ate huge quantities of cotton candy. To this day, the cloying aroma of cotton candy evokes those warm summer evenings.
Bubbe kept her eye on me, of course, but never hovered. Maybe that’s why I felt comfortable enough with her to discuss the boys I dated. She told me which ones she liked and explained why some others didn’t impress her. Her opinions interested me, so our conversations were never fraught with the emotions of similar talks with my mother, which always seemed to end in the slamming of doors. (Years later, when I had two teenage daughters of my own, I came to understand the principle of karma.)
My grandmothers passed away decades ago, but this photo brings them back along with recollections of my childhood, made poignant over time.