Grandma Who?


Growing up, I called my grandmother Grandma.

We were Jewish, but also American. There was never any question but that my grandma would be Grandma. Even if she was born in the Old Country and, like all my friends and all their grandparents, spoke with a Yiddish accent. I used to think, in fact, that in order to be a grandparent you had to have been born in the Old Country and speak with a Yiddish accent.

When I became a mother, making my mother a grandmother, I wondered how she could even be a true grandmother, a real grandma, if she was born American and spoke English the way you are supposed to. Nevertheless, in due order she became Grandma to my daughter. And my grandmother moved up a notch. My daughter called her Bubbe.

Jewish as we may have been, that was the first time it entered my head that Grandma could be anything other than Grandma. Of course, my mother could just as easily have been Bubbe to my daughter, but somehow that never seemed an option.

This all seemed very simple compared to the thinking that went into the mental deliberations, considerations, contemplations, ponderings, trying on of this title and that, which arose when my daughter was pregnant. What did I want my grandchild to call me?

The baby’s paternal grandmother quickly claimed Nana. That was fine with me. I had no desire to be a nana. The paternal grandfather quickly became Grandpa, and my husband took Poppy. Leaving me in the undecided column.

Honestly, I wanted it to be something Jewish, warm, with ties to my past and my people. But Bubbe was still too far an old-fashioned stretch. I am way too much a modern American woman who spends time trying to stay young to want to be tagged with “Bubbe.”

An Israeli guy I know from the gym suggested Savtah, which, as I heard him tell it, is Hebrew for grandmother. I loved the thought of it. It worked on the Jewish side. But somehow having a little one tag after me calling me Savtah was not my idea of being a modern American woman.

Yet there was a trace of an idea there.

Recently, I came across Web sites offering gobs of newfangled names to keep a modern grandparent feeling modern, American and not the same-old-same-old, but something more interesting. I can see I am not the only one facing this question. In fact, if you Google “names for grandma” you’ll see this is far from a Jewish question.

Mothers on the DrSpock.com message board, responding to requests for other names for grandmothers, suggested some you might never have heard of, like “Memaw” or “Maw Maw.”

The site Name Nerds asks people to submit their most clever suggestions, and trumpets the fact that the most common names for grandparents, at least in the United States, are Bubbe, Nana, Grandma, Granny, Gran, Gram, Grammy, Papa, Grandpa, Granda, Granddad and Gramps. (Note that Bubbe is first!)

The whole point, as one blogger put it, is to get away from plain old Grandma.

Others in my extended family have their grandchildren call them “GiGi” or GayGay.” I found that a stretch.

Eventually, I settled on good old “Grandma.”

For me that seemed to fit, if only in the default mode, since I had always used it for my grandmother for all those years.

And then my grandson, once he learned to sort of talk, solved the problem all by himself.

We tell him I am “Grandma.” Only 2, he can say the “ma” part, but not the “grand.” So it comes out “E-ma.”

“E-ma.” Hebrew for mother.

“Hello, E-ma,” he says. “I love you, E-ma.”

I like it. A lot. Even after he learns to say “Grandma,” I may even keep it. Jewish. Loving. Something he came up with not knowing how far back in time, out of so many loving mouths, mothers have been called to their child’s side by that name.

And so a child has led me back to my beginnings. As children so often do.

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for “ABC-TV’s Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down Heart,” co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml: My Heart Remembers,” and a columnist for The Digital Journalist. She can be reached at douglas-steinman.com.

VIDEO: Rachel Somekh teaches two classic Iraqi Jewish recipes — potato chops and cigars


Rachel Somekh teaches two classic Iraqi appetizers, potato chops and cigars

 

Child’s Play


Is our culture trying to scam us into having kids?

This is an epic question and I only have 850 words, so let me start close to home, with my grandma.

“Listen to me,” she said last week over the phone from Reseda. “You have to have kids. You’ll never regret it. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do. Listen to your grandma.”

Catch any celebrity parent on a talk show and you’re likely to hear the same sentiment about the singularly life-changing effects of parenthood. When Jude Law, Eminem, Denise Richards and Esther Strasser agree on something, you have to give it consideration.

The only way to find out if this magical experience really happens, this moment of euphoric selflessness, this instant reshuffling of values and priorities, is to actually have or adopt a child of your own. There’s no other way to test the hypothesis. It’s like swallowing a new medication to see if it works for you. Let’s say it doesn’t, well, that’s one heck of a seizure you had to have to find out. Or worse.

“You can’t explain it,” parents tell me. “When it’s your own kid, you’ll understand.”

According to most parents, your own children’s cries rarely sound annoying and their poop literally doesn’t stink. In fact, their bodily fluids won’t gross you out at all and, in no time, you’ll be wiping their little noses with your bare hands and not minding one little bit.

You’ll excuse me if I need just a little more evidence. Here I am, somewhere between 29 and death, and I’ve got to figure out if it’s worth it, because if it is, I’m going to have to arrange my life accordingly; you know, decide if my mate is father material, maybe find some sort of stable employment, get air conditioning in my car.

I could be looking at years of carpools and making meals (which I don’t currently do for myself unless it involves a diet ginger ale and six pieces of toast), purchasing bottles and diapers and pajamas and “Harry Potter” books and “American Girl” dolls. With almost no proof that parenting is a positive experience, I’m expected to sign on for stomach flus, ballet recitals and protecting a vulnerable little being around every body of water, sharp surface and stranger.

There will be years of whining (assuming I’ll be a bad parent who can’t set boundaries) and tedious descriptions of what the cat is doing and what’s outside the car window. When I want to be alone, this will involve finding and paying a babysitter, who, if karma exists, will drink all of my beer and make long-distance calls. How will I even take a bath? Or go to the gym? I have to tell you, the closer I get to mating, the more freaked out I get. And I can’t get a straight answer.

In sharp contrast to the bill of goods grandma is trying to sell me, some mothers are admitting that it’s not all fuzzy blankies and painted clouds.

“Mothers Who Want to Kill Their Children,” screamed my TiVo, describing a recent episode of “Oprah.”

Actress Brooke Shields also went on “Oprah,” discussing her book about post-partum depression. I don’t know much, but I know this: If there’s a disorder dealing with hormone imbalances and resulting in wanting to drive a car into a wall, I’m going to get it. No matter what Tom Cruise says about natural healing, it’s going to take more than a few jumping jacks and some folic acid to make me all better. I’ll be the one at the Mommy and Me class staring out the window while my child is in the corner experimenting with matches.

It won’t surprise you to know that my mother wasn’t all that big on having children. It was the thing to do, so she did it, but it was never a passion of hers. I have to factor that into my ambiguity; my main maternal role model took a job driving a city school bus after I was born so she could afford a nanny to take care of me. Let that sink in. The woman preferred inhaling diesel fumes in Van Nuys to singing nursery rhymes and spoon-feeding.

My only hope that I won’t loathe parenting is the fact that I’ve raised two kitties from the pound. I know there’s no comparison at all to raising actual children, but I’m heartened by how much I adore my cats, pet their whiskers for hours and take them for shots without even resenting it.

I just wish I could trust parents. Once you have a kid, you sort of have to say you love the whole experience. Maybe nature even convinces you that you do. Maybe you get Stockholm syndrome, which is to say, you must fall for your tiny captor to survive the ordeal.

This brings me back to grandma. She seems like someone I can trust. What would she have to gain by lying to me? Oh yeah, grandchildren.

Teresa Strasser in an Emmy Award- and Los Angeles Press Club-winning writer. She’s on the web at www.teresastrasser.com.

 

Delicious Link to the Past


Year after year I would walk up the pathway to Grandma
Gussie’s apartment, passing her kitchen window on the way to the door. I would
hear the clanging of spoons, chopping of potatoes and vegetables or the tea
kettle whistling on her tiny stove. My senses filled with the aromas of cooking
delights as I entered the door and announced myself. Grandma would come from
the kitchen, always wiping her hands on her apron. She would motion for me to
sit down on her plastic-covered couch as she took a seat in her orange
recliner. (It was a horrible sitting experience: the plastic-covered couches
made a squeaky noise when you moved, and if it was a hot day, your legs would
stick.)

On this particular day the aromas that filled Grandma’s home
were especially strong — it was cold outside, and the windows were closed.

“What are you cooking for me today?” I asked.

“Potato latkes” she announced. “Come, today I show you how.”
(English, was of course, Grandma’s second language. She did learn to read and
write in English, but it was still sometimes hard for her to think of certain
words.)

Other families might only eat latkes during Chanukah. But
Grandma made latkes whenever someone asked. Her latkes were always golden brown
on the outside, and served with applesauce, sour cream, a sprinkle of sugar —
or whatever your tastebuds called for.

This recipe had been in her family for many generations. And
now it was my turn to learn how to make this dish, so that I could become an
expert just like her and one day pass it on to my children or grandchildren.

As I followed Grandma into the kitchen, she held out an
apron for me, and with loving hands she tied the strings in a perfect bow. We
stood in her kitchen — only big enough for two people — and I learned that she
had not written the recipe down exactly. A spoonful of this, a couple of
pinches of that — and then we would taste. If it wasn’t to her liking she would
purse her lips together and concentrate as she added a few more pinches of one
ingredient or another. Finally, when the batter was to her liking, she prepared
to teach me the proper way of frying.

Grandma Gussie was a woman of opinion. When I asked her how
she was feeling, she didn’t say, “Fine, darling, and how are you today?”
Instead, Grandma told me exactly how she was feeling. I received a rundown of
how her legs and feet were today, and questions of why I didn’t come and visit
more often. (When I grow old I hope I remember that a young person cannot
relate to the tales of arthritis or the swelling of feet from eating too much
salt the day before.)

Grandma also had no problem reporting her opinions or
political advice. This was a woman who had lived through religious persecution
in Europe, seen the Statue of Liberty coming through Ellis Island, two World
Wars, the Great Depression and life as an immigrant in the United States.
Somehow through all this, Grandma and my Grandpa Abe put their three children
through school and always had a warm and inviting home for family, friends and
any person or animal in need.

In the tiny kitchen my Grandma and I giggled and laughed out
loud as she told me stories about her life. Grandma Gussie was the youngest of
19 children — five of these were adopted. In the city of Vilna, which was then
part of Poland, my family owned the largest grocery store, and if there was a
child that had no place to go my Great-Grandma Ethel (whom I am named after)
would take them in.

My grandparents barely made a living. Grandpa sold shirts
with slight defects from a pushcart in the streets of Manhattan. It was honest
work and a specific corner served as his storefront. Of course his corner also
belonged to one of the Mafia families and he paid them a nice fee for
“protection from others that might want his corner.”

As a boy, my father was always getting into mischief. One
story that sticks out in my head is the time their refrigerator was making a
loud noise. Dad was a teenager, and as teens go they always know more than
their parents. Hiring a repairman was too expensive, so dad said he could fix
it. Dad and his friends, George and Max, spent an entire day taking the fridge
apart. When Grandma came to check on him she found the fridge turned around,
every part in its glory on her kitchen floor. Yiddish and English spewed from
her mouth as she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“I’ll fix it, I’ll fix it Ma, you’ll see,” he said.

Dad fixed it all right. By the end of the evening the fridge
was put back together with a few “unneeded” extra parts on the floor, the loud
noise had finally stopped as did the refrigerator, and yes, the repairman did
indeed come over the next day to reassemble the “Icebox.”

My dad also loved to torment his little sister, Marion. His
favorite was putting on my Grandpa’s suit jacket that was worn for Shabbat. Dad
put the jacket on backward and hid in the closet. When my Aunt Marion came home
from school, Dad would appear from the closet, arms straight out walking and
talking like Frankenstein’s monster. To this day, my Aunt doesn’t like watching
“Frankenstein.”

Through these stories the day flew by. We laughed; we cried
as we finished preparing our meal and sat down to eat. A few short minutes was
all it took to consume the potato pancakes, but the memories that were made on
that day have endured through the years. Learning to make latkes was more than
learning to cook a dish. I discovered the woman behind the apron and a link to
my past.

Ellen Press is a storyteller and writer who lives with her husband and two children in Thousand Oaks. She can be reached at storyellen@adelphia.net.

Wrestling With Family


Yes, it’s true. I was raised as an Orthodox Jew — in Bakersfield no less. My parents were very strict about going to temple and observing the holidays and religion. But Dad also used to take me to the local wrestling matches when I was around 10. He got a kick out of watching the wrestlers and their antics, and I did, too.

I’d watch wrestling on television in black and white, with Dick Lane doing the commentary. One day — I was still 10 years old — I got really into it and grabbed my mom and put a hammerlock on her, not realizing the pressure I applied. It dislocated her shoulder and put her in the hospital.

After school, I joined the YMCA because it had a good weight room. I wanted to get in shape and develop my body a little better. I was pretty thin and just wanted to become more athletic looking.

Things began to change — I started developing muscles where I never had them. Dad at that time was going in for open-heart surgery and was inspired by my progress. He wanted me to take him to the gym after his surgery and help him get in shape. But he never recovered, and died that year.

I kept up my training with Dad in mind and started competing in bodybuilding contests, winning Mr. California and then Mr. America. I started to make a name for myself. At that point I felt that I needed to cash in on this, so I began training as a pro wrestler at the Olympic Auditorium.

Enter Bubbe, a terrific, wonderful grandma. I could do no wrong in her eyes. She was extremely old fashioned and very Jewish. She didn’t want me to get my hands dirty. I’m sure you know the type. But, I loved her very much.

It was bad enough that I took up bodybuilding and weightlifting. She would ask me over and over why I was killing myself in the gym lifting all those weights. She would shake her head at me and say, "You poor thing, killing yourself. Poor little Richard!"

She couldn’t figure out that I really enjoyed this stuff. I was building my tolerance for stress and pain to the point that one day they’d disappear.

Most of my Jewish friends weren’t into wrestling, bodybuilding or anything like it, but I guess I just liked taking chances, or maybe wanted attention. Whatever it was, I stuck with it.

But how do I break this to Bubbe? I told her and Mom that Dad would be proud of me doing this, and why can’t they be too? There was no argument with that, and he wasn’t here to dispute it. But, I know that he would have enjoyed it. If his health had been better, he would have joined me in the gym for sure, and maybe even a few holds in the ring.

So, I began the wrestling training and would come home and tell Mom and Bubbe about it. Mom would hum when she would get embarrassed about a subject, so as I’d tell Bubbe the gory details, Mom would stand there and do a lot of humming.

I heard through the grapevine that Bubbe was bragging about me being a well-built wrestler to her neighbors and friends. She was proud in her own way.

I was winning wrestling titles such as NWA Jr. Heavyweight Champion. Later on, I became "Rookie of the Year" at the Olympic Auditorium and then AWA, CCW, NWA, WWF and AWF wrestling champion.

My family was proud. I really didn’t have to be a lawyer or doctor. I was now in sports entertainment. I was developing my mind along with my body, just so no one would ever call me a "dumb wrestler."

I was one of the few Jewish wrestlers around. There were a couple here and there who during the day were chiropractors. I went to the South to wrestle and it was bad enough being from Los Angeles or Hollywood, but being a Jew was even more difficult out there. I told a few guys, and they always told me that they didn’t believe me.

"It’s impossible," they said, "You don’t look it, and you have blue eyes and blond hair."

Maybe that’s why I never had any prejudice against me. It just never happened.

I later moved from Bakersfield to Santa Monica where I began training at Gold’s Gym. One day, in 1971, Arnold Schwarzenegger came into the gym fresh from Austria and we became friends. Arnold and I trained together for the next four years. He used to joke about us training together being a Austrian and a Jew but in a fun way, and even at that time he had a lot of respect for the Jewish religion. We’d talk about it a lot. Arnold was a good friend and a great training partner. To this day, we’re still friends.

Bubbe died at the age of 96, and I know she was proud of me. I always keep her and Dad in mind, as I want them to know that they are a part of it. Mom is still alive and doing well. She’s approaching 90 and I’m approaching 60, but we both have a lot of the "kid" in us and that’s what keeps us motivated. Who knows? With the way things are going now, I may run for a political office.


Ric Drasin, pro wrestler, author, producer and businessman, is involved in senior fitness programs. He conducts motivated speaking engagements and demos and can be contacted through