My daughter recently asked me what I would like to be called when she gave birth to my first granddaughter. I replied without hesitation, “Bubbe,” even though, secretly, I felt like an imposter, an identity thief.
I felt that the name belonged to a matriarch of strength, a skilled balabusta (or Jewish homemaker), and a supreme grandmother possessing life’s ultimate grit.
Who was I to be given a title so wrapped in esteem, tradition, and fortitude? In my mind, I knew that the closest I could ever come to the grand title would be if it was accompanied by a qualifier such as “Bubbe Lite” or “Klaineh (small) Bubbe.”
My own beloved Bubbe left Lithuania as a teenager and traveled for two weeks on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to Ellis Island. Her brother met her and brought her to live with his family, amongst the cockroaches, in a tiny apartment in New York City. Within months, she was sent to Boston to marry a cousin. Having little money and broken English, in a country of high achievers and fast talkers, were not real deterrents when it came to providing her four children with the strength to succeed, values to hold tight to Judaism, and unwavering devotion to family above all.
The memories of my Bubbe continue to permeate my existence. Lasting images of her house linger with me, as does the aroma of chicken soup and honey cake, the sound of her words spoken in rhythms of Yiddish mixed with broken English. I can still feel her soft skin, creased with age, and I fondly recall her faded plaid dress covered by an apron with nylon stockings forming hoops around her knees.
Bubbe spoke of the “old country,” telling stories about her youth like the time a man came up to her and took her little pierced earrings right off her ears. These mesmerizing stories were told with a thick accent as we, her grand kinderlach, ate apple cake and watched Bubbe put a sugar cube in her mouth and sip tea from a glass.
I don’t have a single gray hair on my head, thank you Clairol! I wear pantyhose or nothing on my legs.
My delivery of words is generically American, defying localisms, except for an occasional Bostonian dropped “r.” The furthest I’ve ever traveled alone was on a plane across the United States. I complain if the dishwasher breaks and the washing machine isn’t fast enough. I have never, once, plucked the feathers off a chicken.
So, who am I to be called “Bubbe”?
Yet, I truly believe that the absolute requirements for being a Bubbe are being someone who, across all space and time, is filled with unwavering love, endless comfort, and spiritual nourishment for her grandchildren, and maybe even her great-grandchildren. I fulfill those requirements from the inside out—chicken feather plucking or not.
I truly loved my Bubbe, and I pray that the memories I create with my grandchildren, accompanied by the love we feel for each other, will continue to deem me worthy of the title. So, if you please, give me the honor of calling me “Bubbe.”