One recent erev Shabbos (the night before Shabbat, Friday night) was special. My oldest granddaughter turned 3 and we had the opportunity to continue a family tradition through another generation.
On my own third birthday, my handsome, fun Poppa, who lived around the corner and whose delight in me I still remember and hold dear, brought me brass candlesticks so I could light Shabbos candles with my mother. I am the eldest grandchild, and he gave the same gift to each subsequent granddaughter at the same age. Although he often took us to Heshy’s Toy Store on the Lower East Side (which was to me the 1950s and 60s equivalent of Toys”R”Us), and insisted that we could buy “WHATEVER WE WANTED!” somehow, that gift of candlesticks was very special. I was a big girl, I learned the bracha (blessing) for the candles, and from then on, stood beside my mom each week, bringing Shabbos into our home.
When my own daughter, his first great-grandchild, turned 3, Poppa again appeared with his special gift. He did the same for my younger daughter.
So, as my granddaughter’s birthday approached, and with Poppa gone now, I asked my daughter if she had her candlesticks and would she be giving them to the birthday girl. She did, and she would.
The same Friday, I went with my younger daughter to buy her 1-year-old daughter her first pair of shoes. That is my minhag, my custom–I pay for the first shoes. I am not sure why I started that but maybe it has to do with the four pairs of first shoes belonging to my four children which hang as wall art in my apartment.
We grandparents inherit, pass down and create traditions. That is part of our job and part of how we eventually will be remembered. I have already taken my oldest grandchildren to their first Broadway shows, movie and ballet. I hope to do the same for the others. We took them to Disney World when they were 6 and I look forward to doing that, too, with the rest (God should just give me strength!). I’ve introduced them to museums and to Greek mythology as I did with my children, as well as favorite books that I had myself read when I was a child and that I read to each of my children when they were young. I have cried six times over Charlotte’s death in “Charlotte’s Web.“(Seriously!)
Together we prepare the ritual foods for Passover and I plan to buy brass candlesticks for my granddaughters who do not inherit their mothers’.
I just had a milestone birthday which has made me think more and more about my past and my own mortality. My paternal grandfather, my Grandpa, was European, quiet and scholarly and he was the one who’d help me with difficult homework in Jewish studies and who insisted on buying any sefer (religious book) I needed. Grandma, who lived long enough to see my own eldest grandchildren, gave me my first exposure to the great New York City museums and a lifelong love of art.
Sadly, I lost my Nana when I was only 9. I remember a lot about my grandparents and still feel the love they had for me, a love that nourishes me even now, an unconditional love that can be given only by a grandparent. They could make me feel like the most special person in the world.
What will my grandchildren remember one day when I am no longer here? The Passover preparations, the books, the theater, the museums? I hope so.
But most of all, when they light Shabbos candles, or take their own grandchildren some place special, or read a beloved book, or just pause to reflect and recollect, I hope they remember how much I enjoyed them, how much meaning and love they brought into my life.
I hope they can now see, and will later recall, the absolute joy, and a love like none other, that I feel each time I look at them. And that they will always feel that special love, a love that, I hope, will nourish them, too, throughout their own lives.