If you ask me the thing that I will remember most about my grandmother, I’ll tell you it’s a well made bed: sheets tightly tucked, blanket neatly folded, and pillows were carefully arranged. For a woman with a history like my grandmother — a Jew who fled Nazi Germany as a girl — I realize it probably sounds like a neatly made bed doesn’t do her life justice. But it’s the thing I’m holding on to.
When I was younger, my grandmother was all I aspired to be. I was a perpetual “house” player, so I thought the way she cooked and cleaned was magical. I have spent years perfecting my craft, yet my home and food still pale in comparison.
I don’t know how she did it. A visit to her apartment always included a three-course meal: green kern soup, pot roast, and no shortage of cakes, pies, or cookies for dessert. Everything was homemade — always. Growing up in a healthy-minded house, these visits were heaven for me.
Holidays were her shining moment. Aside from an envelope of money — “Buy yourself something nice,” she’d say — there were always handmade gifts. All my life, I received knit helmets from her; once I no longer needed them to play in the snow, she started making them for my own kids.
And I loved the way she took such great care of herself: hair perfectly done, nails painted, and outfits far fancier than anything I ever wear. But perhaps most inspiring was my grandmother’s attitude. Despite everything she went through, she was always positive. If I called and complained about the weather or that my kids were sick, she’d say, “Oh well. Nothing you can do.”
The last few years I’ve been on a mission to both uphold and create traditions for my family. My grandmother took traditions seriously. She cooked her native recipes, like cooked red cabbage and almond crescents, and practiced her Judaism ever faithfully. Losing her scares me. Will we be able to uphold some of the customs she shared with us?
The joy of watching her hold each of my children for the first time is one I will never forget. She loved to have us visit, and she always made sure there was something special for my kids, whether it was a pack of crayons, some dried fruit on the table, or just a walk to Menchies for frozen yogurt. She knew how to make you feel loved, beyond belief.
My grandmother’s love was in the details: She was a fan of a good thank you note or a phone call following time spent together. She kept in excellent touch with everyone she cared about. Simply put, she took the time to let people know she loved them.
A few weeks ago, I drove to my grandmother’s apartment for the very last time. Although she was 96 ,her death still came as a shock to me — she was healthy and vibrant right up until the two days before she passed away. I was there to clean out the remainder of her belongings. As I crossed the George Washington Bridge, tears filled my eyes. In that moment I made a silent vow to honor her memory, and my family’s traditions, by living my life through the details.
Now, when I walk past my kids’ unmade beds, I make them. I am trying to become more disciplined, the way my grandmother was — she was meticulous in her housekeeping and, well, I’m not. I tell myself that any working mom with three kids wouldn’t have a perfect looking home, but I am trying to be more consistent, like she was.
I realize there’s a sort of sacredness in slowing down enough to make the beds, clean my home and cook homemade meals. I can’t do that all the time, but I’m finding the joy in these tasks; these small displays of love. I’m making it a priority to follow up all visits with friends and family with a text a text thanking them for time spent together. (It’s not quite a handwritten note, but it’s something.)
And to everyone’s satisfaction I’ve brought back white flour; I break out a pound of butter and sugar and my grandmother’s tins, and I instantly feel connected to her. It’s in these moments — these details — that I I know that I’m passing on my grandmother’s traditions and her love.