“That has always been my claim to fame. I made my bubbie a bubbie.”
The above quote and all the quotes to follow are a part of the eulogy I gave when my grandmother passed away in December of 2004. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever written and presented and I never thought I’d post any of this. But here I am and I’d love to tell you about the most incredible person that’s ever been a part of my life.
By now, most of you have shared and enjoyed Hannah’s (my other grandmother) cherry snowballs, brownies and applesauce cookies with me. It’s been wonderful connecting with my dad’s mother again through her recipes and I’ve felt a re-connection with her through the process. With that said, it dawned on me that perhaps I was giving the impression that I only had one grandmother growing up. In fact, I was lucky enough to have all four grandparents in my life until I was in my early twenties.
I’d like to tell you about my mom’s mom or bubbie which is grandmother in Yiddish or as I called her, my bubs. She was an amazing woman who will always define what goodness is to me. She never quite cracked five feet tall, but her personality and energy made up for her lack of height and then some. My bubbie was a Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family in a concentration camp and yet, the horrors around her could not extinguish her spirit.
“When you think of a bubbie, you think of her. They are short, European, crazy about food and only want the best for their family.”
Unfortunately, my bubbie didn’t leave us a book of recipes. She was a great cook, but recipes were not meant to be written down, they were kept by memory or by whatever was available in the pantry on a given day. As immigrants to Canada after World War II, food was nourishment, there was little need to write it down. It was good, wholesome food, but it didn’t need to be celebrated in book form. Aside from a handful of recipes, my bubbie left us only with the memories in our hearts.
“I realized early on that my bubbie was all about food and how much of it she could feed us. The more I ate, the happier she was. I always looked forward to spending the night because I knew I would never go to bed hungry. Even before bedtime, it was never too late for a bowl of chicken soup or a piece of her homemade gefilte fish. Even waking up, I knew I was in store for a big treat, because she has always had her special scrambled eggs all prepared for me.”
(Gefilte fish is a Yiddish word for poached fish patties or balls made from a mixture of ground fish (minus the bones), usually carp or pike).
Maybe it was because she endured such terrible atrocities growing up or maybe it’s just a grandparent thing or maybe it’s both, but she took such delight in hearing about the school accomplishments of her grandchildren.
“I couldn’t hand in a paper or write an exam without her wishing me good luck or as she put it, GL. I lived for her gl’s. They meant the world to me, each time she said it, she put her entire being into those words. She would put her thumbs between her index and middle finger, shake her fist, look up to the sky, close her eyes and just repeat gl, gl, gl.”
It’s wonderful growing up with both sets of grandparents and I was lucky to do so. So much love and finally a use for all those wallet-size pictures you receive after picture day! But there is also a point in time when the tables get turned and it’s your time to take care of them.
“I believe things happen for a reason and I am convinced I ended up in Montreal for school to be with her. I would like to think that after so many years of taking care of me, I was finally able to return the favor. But how do you help out a woman who is so independent and stubborn? Before coming over to visit, I would ask if she needed anything, but the answer was always no. I quickly learned she was never going to admit to needing anything. So much to her I just started showing up with things. If bubbie’s are allowed to spoil their grandchildren, I figured it could go both ways. So in addition to groceries, including shmaltz herring, we would happily munch on BBQ ruffled chips and Drumstick ice cream cones.”
(Shmaltz is Yiddish for fat and a herring is a fatty oily fish. Together, shmaltz herring are preserved in brine and brown sugar and then rendered in fat).
As always, the best moments in life cost nothing. As much as I look back and smile at the thought of me as a young kid eating her amazingly yellow scrambled eggs or later on sharing a bag of chips, I’m happiest when I think of these moments we shared together.
“Over the last few months of her life, our visits always consisted of me giving her a back massage. After the first rub of the shoulders, she would always let out a big Ahhhhh. Initially, she would thank me after it was done, but near the end, when I would stop she would just keep on talking without even saying thank you. I would like to think she knew she didn’t have to thank me for it because it was me who should have been thanking her for everything she had ever done for me.”
As I was writing the eulogy, I knew I wanted the last paragraph to be me talking directly to her. It just so happened there was a room full of people to overhear our final conversation, but it didn’t matter. As I got closer to the paragraph, I could feel myself begin to tear up but I looked straight ahead and did my best to make her proud.
“Bubbie, thank you for being my bubs. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life. I cannot tell you how much I loved being with you the last few years. A Friday will never pass without me wishing you a good shabbas. I vow to keep every promise I ever made to you. But it is now for you to look after yourself. I hope you have a great shloof (sleep).”
And I have no idea how I got the final words out, they were more like a whimper.
“Love you bubs.”