Thursday, May 4, 2017

Red Dress



My parents, Herb and Roberta, had a small wedding in late February. The forsythia was in bloom, and the yellow flowers graced the reception. Roberta wore a red wool dress. It was bought at Hattie Carnegie
My grandmother Clara loved to tell the story of the interaction that her daughter Roberta had had with the sales lady. But I can’t remember the exact details. The gist was that the woman was condescending and assuming, bringing out only the cheapest merchandise for my mother to see; Roberta was insistent and demanding. Finally the uppity woman brought out the finest dress and my mother was satisfied.
After having children, my mother grew too large for the dress, but then, ravaged by disease and chemotherapy, her body shrank. She had the dress altered and began to wear it again.
It’s hanging in my closet now, and I can just zip it up; my shoulders must be a bit wider. The dress is horrid to have on for more than five minutes, it’s like a hair shirt. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monolithic Mom


I never met her and was not a diligent recorder of family stories; and as this particular tale illustrates, truth is so very subjective. So I am not totally sure of her name.  Lena (or Leah) Bluma Olmer Schmukler.

My grandma, Clara, said that her mother was the perfect mother. 

Clara’s father bought her a beautiful taffeta dress; it was the only present that she had ever received. Great Grandma ranted and raved and screamed. She made him return it. Clara was not deserving of a store bought dress.

Roberta is my mom, her older brother was Alvin.


Another vignette: My grandparents, Clara and Harry Held were out. Eleven year old Al was babysitting five year old Roberta. Al was feeding Chinese food to Roberta in the kitchen of the family’s Bronx apartment. Great Grandmother came into the house, walked into the kitchen, said “Treif!” then threw the food out the window. Without any other words, she walked out the front door.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The mother of all mothers!


This is my great grandmother.
My mother said, “You think your grandmother is hard to deal with? You should have met my grandmother: she was a real ******.”

Grandma always said that her mother was the perfect mother. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Really the BOTH of them were torpedoes!


My mom once turned to me and said “I hate my mother.”
I was surprised. I had thought that it was only me that was driven by the (irrational?) fear of turning into my mother.  That’s when I understood the anxiety as universal.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The lessons I learned (from the aforementioned incident)


Lessons learned?  
The value of scissors: I went out and bought my own pair. And then another, and then another: shears for fabric, a pair for paper, kitchen scissors, embroidery snips, pinking shears, a pair for the car, one for my purse, and etc.


The importance of hair: I save every ponytail that I cut from the head of each of my children.  Although I get my hair dyed professionally, I always cut it myself. And I never cut anyone else’s hair without being asked. 

And finally, I try to stay away from making statements about hair that might imply judgement or criticism.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pinking Shears




I don’t quite remember how this exactly happened. In the midst of the process of working on that dress, there she was, my grandmother, Clara Held, upper arms swinging, curved arthritic fingers of one hand wrapped around my hair, pinking shears in the other.

These are not the original set of scissors, nor is that my hair. Mine was dark, thick, springy, quite matted, and thus the focus of her anger. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sewing with Ma





My grandmother, Clara S. Held, lived in Coop City, the Bronx. She was one of the first residents. I remember going with my family to see these massive towers being built. Coop City is the northernmost edge of the city; it’s right there on I-95 as you are about to enter into Westchester. Monochromatic and gargantuan brick structures. Tessellating endlessly in the distance.

Coop City wasn’t on any subway line. In order to get to our apartment in Manhattan, my grandma would have to take a bus, then a subway, and then walk. She could’ve taken the express bus, but that was a few dollars more. Then, when she arrived, laden with shopping bags, she’d get right to work, cleaning, consolidating. After her visits, my dad would complain that he couldn’t find anything in the refrigerator, my mom would puzzle over why her two distinct varieties of coffee grounds had been mixed into a single batch.


My mother was teaching me how to sew, we’d picked out a pattern and fabric. These photos were of the two of them working on a dress; it’s gone now, but I still have a bunch of scraps of the fabric. It’s mildly fuzzy with no elasticity.  The dress had gathers on the shoulders, long sleeved, long waisted, loose, below the knee. I was about 20! Our efforts rewarded me with a fantastic sack. We weren't even Anabaptists.