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Each week in 2019 I’m going to be writing in response to a story prompt, courtesy of an awesome Storyworth subscription from our daughter Sarah for my birthday.  This week’s prompt:

Question: What were your grandparents like?

 

500px wideBessie and David Rudnick Sop

1950 (approx.) –My four grandparents—Bessie Rudnick, David Rudnick, Sophie Eisenberg and Meyer Eisenberg.  The location looks like Atlantic City, easily reached from their Philadelphia homes.

My father’s parents were Meyer and Sophie. Sophie was hard of hearing, and had a microphone that was attached to her hearing aid. I realize now she must have tucked it into the center of her bra as a holder, but all I knew at the time was my father said to me prior to walking up the steps into their one bedroom apt, “Talk into Grandmom’s chest.”

She had been a secretary who took notes in shorthand and he had been a proofreader for the Philadelphia Inquirer. My father said that Sophie would kid Meyer if she found any typos when reading the paper. As I child I thought of her primarily as the grandmother who made thin and buttery chocolate chip cookies. They had one toy for me, it was something plastic that hooked together, I don’t remember how I played with it, but I remember being grateful that there was something there just for me. People didn’t live as long back then, so children often didn’t know their grandparents in high school or adulthood like they do now.  They both passed away when I was in elementary school; I don’t think I went to the funeral.

My father Morton remembered his mother Sophie with quite a bit of fondness. He always spoke very proudly of how spry she was, and how accomplished she was in her job.

But he was not so pleased with Meyer, because Meyer didn’t support Morton’s desire to go to college, and education loomed large in my father’s world, looking back on his life as a father and grandfather.  He’d say, “No one can take your education away.”

My father’s story about going to college was so different from mine and people I knew. It was happenstance. A young man he knew was taking a class at night, and asked my father to join him. My father liked the young man, liked the electrical engineering subject, so said yes. That class turned into night school, which turned into a college degree, as he worked at RCA to send himself to Drexel College in Philadelphia.and graduate with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Mort worked at RCA for 45 years, retiring when he was 65.

 

500px-Gary Debbie Meyer Sophie Eisenbe

1958: Gary Eisenberg, Debbie Eisenberg, Meyer Eisenberg and Sophie Eisenberg on the porch of the house where I grew up: 1224 McKinley St., Phila, Pa.

When I saw this photo, I was surprised at the chicken wire near the railing. My parents must have put it there to keep us safe as children, over the railing was a 10 foot drop onto the driveway.That was a smart move because I was an active child, you can see that from the scuffed toes on my shoes. I was always getting scrapes from running around, falling down steps.

My mother’s mother was named Bessie, but I just called her Grandmom. I was crazy about her and visa versa, perhaps because he husband David died in 1955 while my mother was pregnant with me. I’m named after him—Debbie, Davida is my Hebrew name. When I was born, I was a distraction from Bessie’s sorrow that was still so present that my mother told me that Bessie wouldn’t visit her in the hospital; her husband had died in the same hospital months earlier (Albert Einstein Hosp in Phila.) and Bessie couldn’t bear to relive that sad event. Compartmentalizing was not her strong point, neither was dealing with loss.

500px-David Rudnick in Florida 1942

1942—This is my grandfather David, who I never met. Although I have many pictures of him with my grandmother in sartorial splendor as a stylish tailor, this photo always tickles me because of the old-fashioned bathing suit and because it allows me to see where I have inherited some of my bodily characteristics from. It was taken in Miami.

Grandmom Bessie loved fully, and deeply. She sold the tailor shop she had shared with my grandfather, the family business that gave them a home (they lived over the shop) and a livelihood—enough to send my mother to college at the University of Pennsylvania and my Uncle Herman to medical school. She then moved about two miles away from us, on Tyson Ave near Algon in an apartment called Tyson Arms. There she lived on the 3rd floor, in a corner apt. called C4, and avoided walking out the front, past the gauntlet of chatty “yentas” as she called them. In the picture of my four grandparents, I feel her quiet countenance, an almost regal pride, which I knew to be balanced by intense shyness and a quiet intellect.

My mother was devoted to her mother. Grandmom Bessie was always around, babysitting me, having dinner with us, special events, some vacations.My mother would sometimes buy groceries for her, and even as I child I was amused that mom would show grandmom the receipt, because she insisted on paying back mom to the penny. Sometimes the two of them argued in Yiddish in the kitchen with the door closed, but that was rare. Grandmom was there to light shabbas candles, to meticulously sew my name tags into all of my clothes and underwear when I went to camp. My mom bought her skeins of colorful acrylic wool, and she was a crocheting machine, making blanket after blanket, and some adult slippers that I still keep as mementoes of her. I played rummy with her, watched her crochet, ate her vanilla cookies, slept over her apartment and ate corn flakes with a lot of sugar for breakfast.

Here are some moments that I remember about my grandmother:

· My Uncle Herman would pick her up from synagogue on Yom Kippur at the end of the day, give her a cup of tea before break the fast. I remember marveling how she walked to synagogue even in her elderly years, and stayed in synagogue, fasting, all day.

· She drove a 1955 Chevy, and I remember sitting in the front seat and helping her pull the steering wheel to park it; this was before the invention of power steering.

· As a child, I was a very picky eater, but I did like my grandmother’s apple sauce,which she make lump-free for me by squeezing it through an old-fashioned ricer.

· Talking with her on the phone, and our conversations always ending on a long blessing from her in her Yiddish accent: “You should live a long life, be happy my dahling, be safe and always remember I love you.”

· Going out to eat with her, she always ordered fish or a cheese sandwich, both Kosher options.

· When I slept over her apartment, I slept in her double bed on her insistence, and she slept on the sofa. Sometimes she’d ask me to help her put her stockings on, and I thought how soft her skin was.

· When I was in high school, her eyes had gotten bad from macular degeneration, she couldn’t sew anymore, but she could still read large letters. I used to get a handful of catchy novels in large print from the library for her each week, and she surprised me by reading them all, once I asked her about what she had read, and she told me details, and I never doubted her ability to read so quickly in her adopted language of English again.

· Surprising her with a final visit before Bob and I moved to England, her tears, she was getting frail and we both felt that I likely wouldn’t see her again. We had a loving spiritual connection;, I remember telling her before I left that she could pass away in her sleep if she wanted to, and how she told me that she knew God would listen to her. She passed away in her sleep on Sept 13, 1982, a few months after we moved to England.

500px-Gary Eisenberg Bessie Rudnick an

1966 Gary Eisenberg, Bessie Rudnick, Debbie Eisenberg at Gary’s Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth Torah in Phila.

 

500px-DEM Gary Helen Bessie June 1969June, 1969 Bessie Rudnick, Helen Eisenberg, Gary Eisenberg, Debbie Eisenberg. Not sure what party this was, but my mom looked like she was having fun, she loved parties!

 

500px-Margy Merion Milton Merion Bob M

Aug 24, 1975—Our engagement party at Temple Beth Torah in Phila. Left to right: Margie Merion, Milt Merion, Bob Merion, Debbie Eisenberg (Merion), Helen Eisenberg, Mort Eisenberg, Bessie Rudnick.

500px-Bessie Rudnick Helen Eisenberg a

Sept 12, 1976 Bessie Rudnick and Helen Eisenberg. I love this picture, they both look so soft and pretty and happy. I don’t remember ever seeing my grandmother wear a scarf like that! I’m not sure what this party was for and don’t think I was there, because it said on the back, Bessie Rudnick cocktail party and my grandmother didn’t drink. But that is exactly the way I remember my grandmother Bessie. I’ve written an essay about her, published by Crazy Wisdom, called “My Grandmother’s Spirit is Showing Me Her Pearls.” It’s on debbiemerion.com [http://debbiemerion.com], and on the Crazy Wisdom site in Ann Arbor.

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