“She’s a dynamite lady; everyone loves her,” her daughter-in-law, Alice Grodman, said. “She’s just a positive, outgoing, friendly person – never negative.”
Martha Grodman, who celebrated her 100th birthday on June 15 surrounded by her two sons and their families, has lived to see many s’machot. The most recent was the naming of her new great-granddaughter, who was born almost exactly 100 years after her own birth.
Still, said Alice Grodman, an Englewood resident, her mother-in-law had many obstacles to overcome in her early years, both in Poland and in the United States. Indeed, she said, her mother-in-law’s “flexibility and verve remarkably seem to have sprung from a childhood marked by loss and turmoil.
|A recent photo of Martha Grodman|
“Her mother died in childbirth, and when her father remarried, the new wife didn’t want the baby,” she said. Young Martha was taken in by her grandmother, but when she was 12, her grandmother grew ill. The family decided to send the girl to America.
“It took two years to save enough money for the fare,” Alice Grodman said. “At the age of 14, in 1926, she went alone on a ship voyage to Ellis Island.”
Her troubles did not end there. When she arrived, thinking she would no longer need her ticket, Martha threw it into the sea. That left her without documentation and resulted in a two-month detention in the barracks of Ellis Island.
“After that, she lived with her father’s brother in Westchester, but it did not work out, and she was sent to live with a childless cousin in Brooklyn,” Alice Grodman said.
Fortunately, “This final experience was a positive one.”
When she was 19, Martha met and married her husband, Joseph, and they had two sons, Arnold and Eddie. She worked as a seamstress and Joseph as a printer, living in Brooklyn until they retired and moved to Florida in 1971. Joseph Grodman died in 1991.
“Joe saved her life,” Alice Grodman said. “He was her knight in shining armor. They met at a Jewish dance, and he went home with her.”
Today, Martha Grodman’s expanded family includes three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Her mother-in-law recalls learning her needle skills from a Polish woman who took her under her wing, Alice Grodman said, recounting a recent conversation. In Poland, she had worked as “a delivery girl who delivered expensive dresses to the women who shopped in the department store [near] where she lived. The lady said ‘You will not be a delivery girl. I will teach you how to fit clothing to the body.’ Once she learned this, she took her upstairs in the factory and taught her how to sew on the sewing machine. She was 11 or 12 at the time. When she came to America, she was a sample maker. She went to Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn at night and worked during the day.”
Alice Grodman said it was very important to her mother-in-law that her sons not work with their hands. Rather, “They had to go to college and work with their brains. If she had to work three jobs, she would do it so the boys could go to college,” she said, explaining that Joseph had once caught his finger in a printing press, prompting Martha’s fear for her boys.
Clearly, much has changed during Martha Grodman’s lifetime. And yet, Alice Grodman said, her mother-in-law still maintains that she was most impressed by Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 trans-Atlantic flight.
“There was such a commotion when he flew,” she said, recalling the stories her mother-in-law told. “She said it was the most exciting thing.”
Apparently, Martha Grodman also is intrigued by the GPS systems in modern-day cars.
“She can’t believe that they talk to you,” her daughter-in-law said.
She describes her husband’s mother as someone who has always taken care of herself.
“She doesn’t use a cane or a walker. People’s eyes drop out of their heads when they see her on the dance floor.”
The 100-year-old always has been extremely health conscious, Alice Grodman said, noting that Martha long followed the teachings of the late nutritionist Carlton Fredericks, eating wheat germ, green vegetables, and vitamins. After her husband died, she also took up water aerobics.
“We went to dinner recently and I asked her why she was eating her salad dry,” Grodman recalled. “She said [salad dressing] was too fattening.”
Grodman is most impressed by her mother-in-law’s treatment of others and her sincere appreciation for what she has.
Originally resistant to moving to New Jersey from Florida – where maintaining a house was becoming too much of a burden – Martha Grodman soon embraced her new home at Edgewater’s Waterford Towers.
“She’s on the twelfth floor overlooking Manhattan,” Alice Grodman said. “It overwhelms her. She asked what she did to deserve such a beautiful view. She’s an easy lady to help,” she added. “She doesn’t complain.”
In addition, Grodman said, “She takes pride in how she looks.” When her vision was clearer, “She liked to sew. She would take a plain T-shirt and schmaltz it up.”
A longtime member of Hadassah, Martha Grodman still attends synagogue on occasion, happily accepting the honor of opening or closing the ark. Her daughter-in-law said “she danced and waved” when a rabbi recently called her up to the bimah, announcing to the congregation that she was celebrating her 100th birthday.
“Wherever I take her, I parade her around like a trophy,” Alice Grodman said, adding that her mother-in-law remains extremely humble. “She says ‘One hundred is just a number. I don’t feel one hundred.'”