My grandmother passed away a year and a half ago, the last of my grandparents to do so, and the one I wish the most was around to see what’s been happening in my life in the past six months.
She was a formidable woman, that grandmother of mine- the daughter of a poor tailor who was forced to leave school in the 7th grade to go to work for her father; who stayed behind in the family apartment in Paris as long as she could, while her siblings and parents fled to southern France to escape Nazi persecution; who sued the German family that moved into that apartment and won it back for her family; who cooked and cleaned and raised her 5 siblings following her mother’s death when she was 18.
She lived a fancy life as the wife of a Polish diplomat, traveling around the world and attending parties in long white gloves, until being Jewish in the Eastern Bloc forced her to flee again, only to start life over again in Paris as a secretary, while her diplomat husband bagged groceries and later sold copy machines.
There is a long list of things I wish I had the foresight to have done with her- to talk longer, to dig deeper, to come out earlier. By the time I was settled well enough into my own skin to start looking outward, to finally figure out that there was a whole world to this woman beyond her magically delicious chicken liver pate (don’t knock it ’till you try it), she’d started to succumb either to old age or the Alzheimer’s Disease that affected four of her siblings. She’d forget what she’d done- I spent a good ten minutes trying to convince/remind her that she had, in fact, attended my college graduation when she insisted she hadn’t; she’d tell the same story 5 times, back to back to back; she’d sit silently for hours, locked away somewhere we couldn’t reach.
From the time I hit eighteen years old, she started asking the one question that made me squirm the most: “When are you going to marry a nice Jewish boy?” By this time I’d figured out the answer was never, but it took me 7 more years to tell her that. She greeted the news with a shrug, and moved onto the question she’d ask me until she died: “When are you going to have children?”
She passed away in 2009, and by 2010, both her grandchildren were married and carrying babies- those great-grandchildren she once told me were the last thing she had left to look forward to before dying. I’m sorry, ma petite Grandmere, that you won’t be able to hold your great-grandchildren. Maybe you can see them, where ever you are.