Gram and Groucho

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When I was age eight my maternal grandfather Max, passed away. My grandmother Bessie, known as “Gram”, moved into our two-bedroom apartment in a Bronx city housing authority building. She and my grandfather, immigrants from Romania and Russia, came to America in the early 1900’s seeking a better life. “Gram” experienced many hardships in her life including the loss of her two sons, but showered love on my younger sister and me who now shared a bedroom with her. When she wasn’t bending over to pick up a microscopic piece of dust hardly visible to the human eye, she could often be found in our shared bedroom sitting by the window of our 14th-floor apartment reading the Forward. She was a tiny woman, generally industrious and quiet. She was more than willing to travel by three buses for many hours to visit a relative or to go to Staten Island to pay respect at the graves of her departed before a holiday. With my sister and me, she was playful. She enjoyed interacting with all the different children who went past her bench as she sat in front of the building basking in the sun and kibitzing with the neighbors. My biggest surprise however came when our family attended a bat mitzvah of a cousin. As dancing started, out came my beloved “Gram” dancing with a Groucho Marx fake pair of glasses, nose, and mustache on, a Chinese hat perched on her head, and a big cigar in her mouth!  She twirled around the room gesturing broadly causing guffaws of laughter wherever she turned. Truly a matriarch in the limelight reminding all that this was a serious but joyous occasion where American aspirational values had to be met with old-fashioned shtetl silliness, self-mockery, and just plain old joy and fun. She would often grab my sister and me by the head, bring us down to her level, give us a” keppie kiss” on the forehead, and with a mischievous gleam in her eye say” I love you I don’t know why!” Her love filled our souls and her influence is with me every day of my life.

Marty Greenberg is the Jewish Grandparent Network Senior Advisor.  A clinically-trained social worker, he brings 35 years of professional experience to his role.  He is Zeyde to two toddlers, one in New York and one in Los Angeles.