Just one thing

Several years ago I was at one our extended family’s periodic gatherings. We were reminiscing about family members now long gone, and eventually the subject got around to my dad’s mom. Everybody had a different memory of her, and it seemed that most of the memories were quite different from mine.

My memories of grandma Helen, dating mostly from when I was between three and five years old, were mostly one of a delightful companion. She had one of those old apartments in the Bronx where all of the furniture is from another time, where everything looks and smells like something out of World War II or earlier. She was clearly always delighted to have me come and visit, during those times when my parents dropped me off for her to watch for the day, while they went off on some errand or another.

There were all kinds of wonderful things to play with in grandma’s apartment – old boxes with buttons and odd ornaments, framed paintings stacked up in the closet, old telephones, photos of mysterious people in little hinged cameo cases, a genuine miniature painted commemorative San Francisco trolley. Endless things and places for an intrepid little boy to explore. And through it all, grandma would bring me treats – one time it would be rugallah from the local bakery, another time it would be yummy Mallomars.

The rest of the family apparently did not share my remembered enthusiasm. Those who had been older than five when she was around recalled a very difficult and combative woman, obstinate and contrary, who consistently made life difficult for everyone around her. It’s as though we were talking about different people entirely.

And yet she clearly had a hold on everyone in the family. When I happened to mention that she had once given me a piece of advice, the entire group instantly became hushed. What I said, to be precise, was that grandma Helen had once told me there was just one thing I should always remember to do – advice that I had unfailingly followed ever since.

After what seemed like a very long and awed silence, one of my aunts finally asked what it was that grandma Helen had told me all those years ago. Everyone leaned in to hear what I had to say on the subject.

Feeling somewhat puzzled at all the fuss, yet rather proud to be the keeper of arcane family knowledge, I explained: “She told me that a young man should always remember, every day, to wash his face.”

One Response to “Just one thing”

  1. John Nordlinger says:

    Our perceptions and memories are very personal especially when regardinng our parents, siblings and probably of our progeny. I suspect the new wave of media devices will influence this to some degree although our preceptions still alter when watching the same video/movie.

    I think a nice game at a familty reunion would be to everyone pick a deceased family member and write one word that best describes that unfortunate family member and see what results. I suspect if its thanksgiving you would want to hide the carving knife first or if Christmas / Hanukah you might want to exchange presents first.

    I wonder of how my maternal and paternal grand mother recollections differ from that of other family members or for that matter even our own parents. Although Im sure my recollection of Ken is the same of most others – that hes a mensch with a really clean face.

Leave a Reply