My Turn: If only I had one redo

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Published: 5/17/2022 7:07:26 PM
Modified: 5/17/2022 7:05:40 PM

I see you Grandma, presiding as you once did in your kitchen realm. You are in a house dress, with the flamboyant cabbage roses, worn loosely over the underneath armor you insisted on even in the kitchen. Each morning, waking early, there you were making … what were you making? I wish I had looked closer. Wish I had learned what you alone had to teach. And now, If I could have one do-over, only one (and really I’d like two, make it five, even 10), but if I could have only one do-over, I’d be nicer to you, Grandma. I wouldn’t mind (well, I’d understand) your old ways, your perpetual complaints, your bitterness.

I wouldn’t hold it against you how you filled us, your grandchildren, with such dread: “Don’t walk so close to the building, a brick might fall on your head and kill you dead.” When we veered closer to the curb, “Watch out kindelah, a car may crush you dead.” Your familiar and dire predictions, whenever you took us in hand to the park or when we accompanied you on your many campaigns to the butcher and grocer. Barely able to see over the high shop counters, you intimidated. Arguing loin chops with fierce diplomacy for the “lean but not too lean” selections.

So many ways to become dead. Instead of laughing, as I grew older, or crying before I grew older, I’d understand how many ways you had encountered death: those left behind in the old country, and those you had the misfortune (according to your words) to have outlived.

With the re-do, I’d thank you more often for the things you did for us. Taking us for lunch at the Horn & Hardhart’s Automat, letting us insert the quarters that opened magical doors to a ham sandwich or slice of apple pie. Trekking hot city blocks to the playground so we might run in the sprinklers. Hemming our clothes. Letting out our hems. And making your specialty — blintzes. To this day no one makes blintzes like yours, Grandma. The sweet insides, the silky wraps, the spoonful of sour cream on top. Or how you’d pour cream into a tablespoon of coffee, pretending we were grown-ups drinking our barely coffee coffee. Or the butter, real butter, you heaped on raisin bread. And your Saturday ritual of pounding and pounding livers to make chopped liver with the real schmaltz (chicken fat) you bullied the butcher into saving for you each week. And in my redo, I’d hug you even after I was a big girl not so much given to hugs.

If I could do it again, I’d praise your skills at canasta and gin rummy. The petty cash you won each week from Mrs. Deitz and Mrs. Sullivan. I’d watch as you played the piano in the Arion’s apartment, and notice how you played by ear. I’d be more patient as you tried to teach me your skills with a needle and thread. Tiny, perfectly even stitches. Your stubby fingers exacting such a prize. But not my stubby fingers, snarling and zig-zagging the thread.

I’d remember your birthdays, instead of leaving my mother to send a card and forge my signature. I’d call you more often. Or sometimes. I’d remind you how we used to hang the wet laundry on to the clothesline on the roof, and how you’d let me be in charge of my father’s shirts, showing me how to stretch out the sleeves so they’d dry without a single wrinkle. And I’d remember the starchy, fresh smell of you.

Of course, I have a new perspective as a grandmother myself. I know how impatient I get with all the new devices I can’t work properly. Handing off the smart phone to the smart granddaughter, saying, “don’t’ tell me, just do it.” I am witness to my own age-ripe errors often the subject of rolled eyes and youthful giggles. And I admit, I utter my own do-nots, warnings and visions of fatalities. One grandmother to the other, I’d be more on your side.

And one more thing, I’d learn how you made those blintzes but maybe not the chopped liver with the artery clogging chicken fat. I’d master your latkas topped with apple sauce, and all those delicate herbs you put in the chicken soup. And how you made the perfect matzah balls for the Passover Seder soup. If only, I had that one redo. One.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.

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