Today is my Grandma’s Yartzhiet ( anniversary of her death).
In my earliest memories of Grandma, she already had early stage Alzheimers. I loved her so much and still, I wonder about all the things I’ll never know.
There is history and stories that would bring more of her to light, but today, even though it’s barely a light sketch of the woman she was, I want to tell you my stories. The Grandma I was blessed to know.
When I was younger, Grandma lived in her own apartment. My brother Ace and I would sleep over there once or twice a week. This kept her company and was a huge treat for us. We would sit in front of the TV – which we didn’t have at home – and watch for hours. Grandma would be there with us. Just enjoying.
Sometime in the middle of the evening she would say “Are you hungry? And she would fry us sliced potatoes and make us little plates of peeled apples. Funny how a slice of potato can taste so good when it’s made just for you.I can still feel my mouth watering as I waited for the edges to turn brown and for her to lift them out one by one onto the waiting plate.
Every Shabbos Grandma would come visit. She came from a more frugal era – and as a treat for the family she would bring ONE pack of Rollos. There were 9 of us, and there were 9 perfect Rollos . Ace and I would have long discussions about whether to freeze our Rollos before we ate it. We couldn’t decide if it was best to wait, or to eat it right away.
It was just a pack of Rollo’s but it was every week. And that’s the thing. You don’t have to do a lot – you just have to do it – and that is a lot. The consistency of Grandma’s gifts, the foods she made, like her cabbage soup – which I still make today, poured layers of love that cemented on our heart.
The time came when Grandma couldn’t live on her own anymore. She moved in with us for about two years. During that time my parents knocked themselves out to provide for her needs and care for her. I was at the awkward stage when she came; that age when you are self centered, yet self doubting and wondering why you don’t fit in. And looking back, I can see that having Grandma in the house was my saving grace.
On Friday nights, my mother would go to shul (synagogue) and instead of being the kid who didn’t want to go – I got to be Grandma’s caretaker. I would sit with her and sing her Shabbos songs, and hold her hand as she drifted off to sleep.
After Shabbos we would make Havdala ( a farewell to Shabbos ceremony) and my mother would play the piano while we danced with Grandma and ushered in a new week. She loved the song “Oh, what a beautiful morning” and would sing it for years even after her Alzheimers was quite bad.
One year her Alzheimer’s saved us from a fire. It was Seder night and we went to bed at around 3 or 4 am. But Grandma wasn’t sleepy. She wanted to walk the halls. My sister Shula got up to be with her and smelled smoke. We woke up and ran out of the house, the memories of our previous house fire coming back full force.
It turned out that there was a fire in the wall behind the oven which would have gotten much worse had we not smelled the smoke and taken care of it right away.
When the time came for Grandma to go to a nursing home it was done with so much care and sensitivity that I’ll never forget it. My parents researched the very best place they could find – but that wasn’t enough. They knew that we would be devastated and feel like we were betraying her. So my mother arranged a meeting with the nursing home staff.
All the children sat around the boardroom table and asked any questions we wanted. By the time our meeting was over we all felt pretty good (though I seem to remember that I still put up a bit of a fight.)
After that we would visit her whenever we got a chance. All the nurses would marvel at how lovely and polite she was. While many other patients in their compromised state were cursing or getting angry, she was always pleasant and refined.
Ace and I would drive our bikes 40 minutes and spend Sunday afternoon at the nursing home. Looking back, our actual visiting time was minimal. Perhaps we spent 20 minutes with her. After all, she wasn’t well. But we were in her presence. We felt good – and we cheered up the other residents and knew that we were doing a mitzvah (good deed). This empowerment that our parents allowed us, along with the independence was a gift.
But all this is just a kid’s perspective. If we were to fly on an eagles wings with vision that stretched forward and backwards in time, we would see that the greatest testimony to the life of Sophie Klatzko is that it is impacting the world today.
Grandma was a lonely widow with one son. She was a seamstress in the Depression Era. She never remarried and worked hard all her life to get by. Yet from her, are 9 grandkids, 2 adopted grandkids and over a hundred great grandkids all of whom are dedicated to Torah and kindness and building beautiful homes.
It was said at her eulogy – when she gets up to the Next World, all these people will be greeting her and thanking her. She’ll say in her signature humble way. “Why me? What did I do?” And they will answer “It was because of you, through the work of your children, that our children have come back to their their Judaism.”
And the lonely widow will be lonely no more.
Today, in honor of my Grandma, I will do a simple thing. I will work harder to be there for my family. In today’s age where dishwashers do the dishes and microwaves cook the food, we end up concentrating on all the other things we need to work on.
But there is nothing like a potato fried just for you – or an apple sliced just how you like it. And there is nothing like knowing that the person you love will show up on time, every time. And I’d like to try harder to be that person for my family – just like Grandma was for me.
Grandma’s Cabbage Soup
This isn’t Grandma’s actual recipe – it’s one that evolved over time. But I know that when I make it for my father, he ends up talking about his mother’s soup. so it must be pretty similar.
I also like easy recipes. so I paired it down to these simple ingredients and its perfect.
In a large pot ( I think I use an 8 qt pot)
3 16 oz cans tomato sauce
1 to 1/2 cups of brown sugar
1 bag of shredded cabbage
2 tsp lemon juice
4 lb’s beef cubes
Water to fill the rest of the pot
Bring to a boil, then simmer until the meat is soft.
Surprise your loved ones.