Monday, August 18, 2008


When we heard that the rabbi wanted to talk to all of us about my grandma the day before the funeral, many of us thought, "ugh, do we have to? is this really necessary?"

But it ended up being so, so worth it. Like, the best thing about the last 5 days kind of worth it.

Zeke and I had flown in that morning and were met at the airport by both my brothers, my sister-in-law Erica (Sam's wife), and my 15 month old niece, Hazel (Josh's daughter). The trip was long, and Zeke's getting too big to be a lap child -- he can't really sleep comfortably on me when he's used to stretching out on his stomach in his bed -- but he did sleep some, and I never sleep anyway, so I didn't feel much differently than I normally do.

We all schlepped over to the synagogue Wednesday afternoon. It was me, my two brothers, two of my cousins, my mom, her sister and brother, and my grandfather. Plus the babies, who crawled around and played and made noise. The rabbi was a youngish woman, maybe a few years older than I am, and she had a decidedly gentle aura about her.

We sat around a big conference table and she started asking us questions about my grandmother. And over the next hour or so, we talked about her and told stories and laughed and cried.

My uncle talked about when he had eye surgery and was recuperating in his bed as a little boy with bandages on his eyes. My grandmother stayed with him and read book after book after book. And whenever he became scared or lonely, she was right there.

My grandfather talked about how fantastic he thought she was from the time they met. He used to drop his friends off at night and then pick her up at 1 or 2 in the morning and they'd drink and talk and, in his words, "tell each other lies."

My mother talked about how stylish my grandmother was, and how she helped my mom get ready for her wedding. She also told a wonderful story about how close my grandma and I were, and how, when my mom was scolding me for something when I was very young (maybe 2 or 3), I glared at her and said, "you're too mean to be Ruthie's daughter."

My aunt talked about what a wonderful actress my grandmother was, and how much she loved the theater. Some of her greatest memories were of helping my grandma run lines for the plays she was in.

My brother Sam talked about how my grandparents took him in when he was evacuated from El Salvador (my parents were stationed here during the early 90s when civil war broke out), and how they became like surrogate parents to him.

My brother Josh talked about how they were so involved in our lives, coming to every graduation, to plays and football games and cheering us on always.

I talked about how when I was 18, my grandma took me with her to New York on a buying trip for her bridal salon. She wanted my input on the prom and bridesmaid's dresses, and basically gave me carte blanche when it came to what she was going to stock. So she and I marched in and out of big important design houses and I would tell the head designer of places like Tadashi that I liked this one and that one but the other one not so much. And when they turned to my grandmother for her input, she pointed to me and said, "that's your client."

My cousin Emily talked about how my grandma never stopped learning. My grandparents participated in study groups and book clubs and took classes at the University of Michigan after they retired. For our 8th birthdays, they took each of us grandchildren on a trip to New York, to see a show on Broadway and go to the Metropolitan Museum and to start to appreciate culture from an early age.

As we all talked, she sort of came to life in that room. We felt her dynamism and the joy and purpose with which she lived her life. We reminisced about her taking us to the theater and the symphony and teaching us to appreciate books and to be passionate about politics (Democratic, natch). And as we looked at the babies crawling around on the floor, we saw her legacy, and understood that it is now our mission to take what she taught us and make sure it lives on through the next generation.


  1. Anonymous8:39 PM

    Beautiful memories to cherish forever. Brings back memories of my granny.

    Great post, Wendy J.

    I'm going to cry now...again.


  2. What a lovely post.

    And frankly your grandmother sounds a little bit sassy (and I mean that in the best way possible...) -- sneaking out at 1 am in the 1920s or 30s to "tell lies" to her beau...I love it. (And your grandfather to tell the story...that is the best)

    And then to really "live" with such enthusiasm and purpose.

    It sounds like the exact kind of gathering that a woman like that would love to evesdrop on, which really is the best kind of memorial ever.

  3. She was truly sassy. She had balls, my grandma did.

    That was the first time we had heard about the sneaking out at 1 in the morning, and we were all quite impressed by it.