A friend was over recently, and we got to talking about the old neighborhoods, where no one lives anymore. And it brought back memories of going to visit "Grandma Lee."
Grandma Lee had a tough life. Her husband had some problems and was not there to raise his kids. So she raised her son (my dad) and daughter on her own. She worked at what was then known as May Company for many years. She would get on the bus, come home and walk up what seemed like way too many flights of steps to her apartment. She lived with her sister Pauline. Aunt Pauline was a tiny lady with severe curvature of the spine. I now recognize it as scoliosis.
Grandma would have family dinners for our family and my aunt's family. My father's kids and my aunt's kids were very similar in age. Grandma would have a big table set in the living room. But it wasn't big enough to accommodate all of us, so my cousin and I, the youngest, would eat in the bedroom. My cousin was very skinny and didn't eat much. When no one was looking, she would flush her food down the toilet. I would never do such a thing. If I were one to throw out food, I might be a skinny person today.... My cousin is still skinny. And I'm still not.
At Chanukah, Grandma gave us each a big box of clothes, all purchased at May Company. The latest styles. It was always a fun time to open those boxes.
And Grandma could cook. My favorites were her cabbage and noodles, shell pasta with breadcrumbs ("sea shells"), chicken soup, and my all-time-favorite potato soup that had a beef base and chunks of potatoes. I would love to be able to figure out how she made it. I'm sure everything was made with a lot of chicken fat. And despite that unhealthy diet, she lived to be in her 90s.
One day I called her up to ask her how to make something. Aunt Pauline answered the phone. Grandma wasn't home. I said well maybe you can help me - I want to know how Grandma makes this dish. And I was very amused at Aunt Pauline's response: "honey, Grandma cooks. I clean." Very short and to the point. They had their division of labor and apparently they never crossed that line into the area of responsibility that belonged to the other. (Aunt Pauline was such a good cleaner that she sponged off the ice cream lids before she put them back in the freezer.)
Grandma had to be a tough lady. She didn't have a man taking care of her, but never seemed to have any remorse about that. When a cousin had a wedding, all of my grandmother's siblings would be out on the dance floor dancing. There were 8 of them.
In their later years, Grandma and Aunt Pauline moved into a nice apartment building. With elevators. I was always amused at how they shared the daily newspaper. One person would subscribe and when she finished reading it, she would leave it for another neighbor, who read it and left it for another neighbor. They only knew how to be frugal, and they would remain that way forever.
When we went to visit Grandma, she had a big round candy dish with non pareils in it. I remember all of us walking in the door and making a beeline toward that dish of non pareils. When I see non pareils today, I remember her with love.