Before I turned 50, I made a list of the most influential people in my life.
This list included teachers, friends, family and other assorted humans. Anyone who had a part in making me who I am — good stuff, bad stuff, crazy stuff, all of it. When you look at yourself in the mirror, the mirror of self-exploration, you are always a kaleidoscope of different experiences and feelings, and sometimes it is important to reflect on how you came to be that way.
Of course, if you are a man reading this, you probably already have stopped reading, because men look in the mirror, hopefully wash their hands, and then leave the room. If you have more substance than that, I apologize. Carry on as you were.
Though Husband #1 likes to believe that he is Number 1 on any list I would make, and on some lists he would be, on this particular journey, my maternal grandmother was up at the top. Her name was Ida. She was little in stature, but big in opinion — but not in the same way I am. She was very smart and crafted her words in a way that never belittled or reprimanded. Of course, her relationship with me might have been different than it was with others, so this is my view of her, through my experiences. Some of my cousins were able to name their children partially after her, so I have to hope that they will keep her alive for the next generation. But that is life. We live. We die. We hope someone remembers us fondly. (PSA — since turning 50, I have become a little too obsessed with death, so forgive the morbidity.)
After my grandfather died, my grandmother would stay with us quite often. And there was a routine. I would set up the little portable bedside table next to my bed, where she would sleep. I would sleep on the high-riser bed on the other side of the room. The bedside table was there to hold her eyedrop bottles. (I became quite adept at dispensing the drops. “Darling Banji, please go wash your hands with soap and remember not to touch my eye with the dropper.”) She also required cups of plain seltzer and a box of tissues.
It was during these sleepovers that she taught me songs from “her days.” Ever heard of the war classic “Over There?” I can sing it for you — “Over there. Over there. Send the word, send the word over there…” And other famous ditties. But the best part was listening to WOR talk radio. We would listen to the Fitzgeralds, who I think were a husband and wife duo who would chat about whatever was going on in the world, and then we would listen to “What’s Your Problem” with Dr. Bernard Meltzer. Dr. Meltzer would take calls from various listeners, who had a whole range of problems that he would solve in less than 60 minutes. That took us to 10 at night (or maybe 11 — I am not sure, it was quite a while ago). Then we would share an apple — since she said that apples are the only food you could eat after brushing your teeth — and then it was time to go to bed.
Do they still have shows like that on the radio anymore? Do you think they did follow up on the callers to see if their problems actually were resolved? Wouldn’t that be nice if someone could solve your problems in such a short time? I guess I thought back to these radio shows because when I was driving the other day, listening to music (secular, not Jewish, please don’t tell my kids) I happened across a DJ who was talking to callers on the phone who were having problems in their love lives.
In any event, in googling Bernard Meltzer I discovered he also was famous for a bevy of quotes, and there was one that especially hit home. “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” Words to live by.
Hope you are all staying healthy and sane and have wonderful memories of someone you really and truly loved and who made a difference in your life.
Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck has recently discovered the pomello — it is a delightful citrus fruit that tastes like what happens when a grapefruit and an orange have a baby.