Miriam Hendeles’ memories of her grandmother, filled with warmth and life lessons, have influenced how she is a grandmother all these years later. Read more from Miriam on her blog, Bubby’s Joys & Oys.
When I was a little girl, both my grandmothers lived close to our home. We’d spend lots of time with them at their homes or ours. My father’s mother lived right down the block, together with my Grandpa, in a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a big apartment building. Every Friday night, after my mother lit the candles for the arrival of our Shabbat, my sisters and I walked down the block to visit my grandmother. While we were gone, my mom took a nap, and my father and brothers went to the synagogue.
When we got to my grandmother’s house, we dashed up the steps to apartment 2E, knocked on the door, and were greeted by Grandma who sat us down to serve hot chicken soup with matzah balls. We chatted with Grandma and before it was time to leave, she scooped out 3-colored ice cream from a carton. I’d say, “Grandma, no strawberry or vanilla, please.” And Grandma gave me chocolate.
After my grandpa passed away, my grandmother hung out more at our house. She was a kind and loving person, who always had a positive word to say about everyone, but the one trait that stood out for me about my grandma was her determination and perseverance.
As a teenager in the 1970’s, I recall my grandmother dreaming of writing a best-seller full of her grandchildren’s genius remarks. Compiling her notes into a small spiral notebook, she read parts of her manuscript to us at the dinner table. We chuckled at the material, not sure her submission would be accepted by a publisher, while relishing how special Grandma believed we all were. And all those years, she added cute comments and antics to that notebook. After she passed away, one of the grandchildren bound the original into a booklet, and made copies for each of the family members. We treasured Grandma’s wit and warmth.
My grandmother’s ambitions continued. Taking art lessons when in her 80’s and 90’s, Grandma painted fruit, flowers and landscapes, passing out canvases of her work at family events. Some of her beautiful, signed paintings hang on the walls in my home, warming my heart and reminding me to be creative and original.
My grandmother continually sought opportunities to grow. She spoke seven languages, but still wanted to study Hebrew at the local Y. Grandma helped me with my French homework throughout high school, and found articles in the New York Times to use for school projects. Wednesday was for Grandma’s social time at the senior citizens center. On Fridays, my grandmother volunteered in a school office, stuffing envelopes and filing.
My grandmother’s ambitions were ingrained in her as a child. Her stick-to-it behaviors began back when she lived in Poland as an only child. Lonely in the home, she would devour books in whatever language she was learning in school at the time. Grandma told me she worked hard at school and at making friends. Whatever she did, she wanted to do well. When she met my grandfather and got married, they relocated to Antwerp, Belgium and raised two children, my father and my aunt. During WW II, they left Belgium when the Nazis invaded, and escaped to France, Portugal and finally the U.S., through Cuba.
Now that I’m a grandmother myself, I value my grandmother’s upbeat personality and ability to see good in others – but I especially appreciate her motivation to improve herself and grow through each experience. I learn from her process that no matter how old we get, and what life brings us, we never stop growing, creating, and loving. I realize that everyone – even grandmothers- can grow up and mature!