In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a federal proclamation declaring the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. I always dismissed Grandparents Day as another one of those “Hallmark” holidays. I never sent flowers or a card or a made a special call. Ironically, this past Grandparents Day, I attended the funeral of my last surviving grandparent, my Bubbe Lilly, who died a few days ago at the age of 99.
Bubbe Lilly was born in Boston in 1914. She grew up modestly in a three family home in Dorchester, and met my grandfather, a round-faced, cigar-smoking Russian immigrant, when she was 17. My grandfather ruled the house, and supported the family well with a plumbing and hardware business. My grandmother, foregoing a high school diploma, devoted her life to bringing up my mother and my aunt. To my knowledge, my grandmother put her foot down about only one thing: she never let my grandfather smoke his “shit stick” in the house.
Because she became a grandmother in her 40s and we visited often, I got to know my grandmother well. We were together on her balcony overlooking Collins Ave when my husband Mike came to pick me up for our first date. She was there when Mike gave our daughter (her first great grandchild) her first bath, and bragged, “No one holds a baby like Michael Benjamin,” long after that baby had graduated college. Bubbe Lilly was the one who discovered that our nanny had been stealing from us for a year, noticing a bottle of Crown Royal missing from her house and insisting that we conduct a search of her room.
If you asked Bubbe Lilly if she could be somewhere, she always answered, “God willing.” When you gave her good news, she always said, “Halavai” When she talked about the dead, she would always add, “May he/she rest in peace.” She often spoke in clichés: Better out than in. You reap what you sow. Don’t believe everything you hear. Everything in moderation. What will be, will be.
Bubbe Lilly crocheted afghans in a zig zag pattern (it might have been the only one she knew.) She liked us fat, not thin. She believed in family, not friends. She had no use for fancy handbags, clothes or jewelry. She kept a box of doggie treats in her nursing home room for when the grand dogs visited. She respected honesty, hard work, and sons and daughters who called their mothers every day. She added a pinch of Sweet n’ Low to her tuna salad, and damn– that made it good.
Not many 54-year-olds have a grandmother, and mine had all her marbles until the very end. Because she lived for so long, all six of her grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and countless grand doggies really got to know and love her. Until her last days, she knew what each of the kids were doing, who their current boyfriends and girlfriends were, where they were traveling, and when they were home safe.
Every winter night since I can remember I have wrapped myself up in one of Bubbe Lilly’s afghans because there is no other blankie quite as good as one made with love, even if the color schemes leave something to be desired. When I wrapped myself in her afgan at her funeral, I remembered that every time she saw me, her face lit up and her eyes twinkled, and she made me feel beautiful.
Maybe Grandparents Day is good for Hallmark, but it is also a nice time to remember how very special grandparents are. If your adult children are lucky enough to still have grandparents, it wouldn’t hurt to send them this post to remind them that they won’t be around forever.
As for my grandmother, may she rest in peace.
Do you have fond memories of your grandparents? We would love to hear them in the comment section below.