A Tribute to My Grandma
In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to pay tribute to someone who, while she’s no longer with us, played an important role in shaping who I am today - my grandma, Dora Goldman.
My earliest memories of my grandma started around the age of five. Grandma was the first person to teach me how to blow bubbles (even though she had dentures), tie my shoes and make matzoh balls. When I was really young, Grandma lived next door to our house and kept a watchful eye on my brother and I when my mom went back to work full time. By the time I started attending public school, Grandma moved down to Florida full time where her husband (who had passed away a few years prior) had bought a home they had intended to live in before he became sick.
Despite two incredibly tragic losses in life - my grandfather died at the age of 63 of a massive heart attack and her second husband, Morris passed away less than two years into their marriage - to me, my grandmother seemed to be the most fearless person in the world. My mom once shared a story of how someone tried to steal her purse and Grandma chased him down the block and retrieved it. On another occasion, she came home to find a burglar stealing her television set and once again, pursued the robber on foot. I don’t know if she ever got that TV back, but I’m just glad she wasn’t hurt in the process!
I remember always being so excited to visit my grandmother at her home in Sunrise Lakes. Her house was situated on a canal and every morning, I would walk down to the water to feed the ducks and sometimes slipped them some of her favorite Hershey’s kisses. Grandma, of course was not too happy that I had lured the ducks away from the canal to her back door, but she still let me do it every time we’d visit. Grandma also had an adult-sized tricycle that she rode all over Florida since she never got a driver’s license. In fact, one day, she even pedaled more than 10 miles to my grandparents’ house and was pulled over by a policeman who cautioned her that riding on major roadways was dangerous for a woman her age. In a word, my grandma was unflappable.
During the summers, Grandma Dora would return to New York and then join my family at our second home in Dingman’s Ferry, Pennsylvania. While we were there, Grandma taught me how to crochet hook rugs, watched me as I swam at the pool, played cards with me, cooked for our family and took care of Tweety - the parakeet we had brought from home who spent several summers with us until his untimely demise on my 13th birthday (one day, I’ll share that story too).
I still vividly recall the day we arrived at our summer house and my mom discovered it was infested with mice. While my mom stood on a chair and screamed at the top of her lungs, Grandma kept her cool and chased all the mice away with a broom. On a separate occasion, when I caught my first fish, Grandma was the one who, like an expert fisherman, hit it over the head, cleaned, gutted it and prepared it for the grill. I, of course, didn’t want to actually eat it - but instead wanted to keep it as a pet. This incidentally didn’t go over too well with my animal-phobic mom.
By the time I was 10 years old, I sensed a change in my grandmother. It was the summer of 1981 and my parents had decided to take my brother and I to Israel to see our relatives and tour the country. It was truly an amazing experience for us, but while we were away, Grandma started exhibiting the first signs of Alzheimer's disease. When we returned back to our summer home, a neighbor who had been watching over her expressed concern about her behavior. But my mom, either because she was in denial or was afraid to admit that something was wrong, chalked it up to us being away from Grandma for the month.
Sadly, things got progressively worse. When Grandma returned to Florida, she became a recluse and no longer visited with my grandparents. She became suspicious of friends in the area and claimed people were stealing from her. When my aunt and uncle visited, they informed my mom of these changes and after a few years, decided to pack up her things and have her live with them.
Grandma moved with them to San Diego for a short time and then eventually, she came to live with us. While I used to long to see my grandmother and couldn’t wait for her to teach me something new, this time, it was as if our roles had been reversed. As an impatient teen, I didn’t have time to answer Grandma’s questions over and over again. And when she’d tell me to “Sit here, sit here,” I’d get annoyed with her repetitiveness and retreat to my bedroom. What I wouldn’t give to have those moments back again.
After I graduated college, my mom made the incredibly difficult decision to move my grandmother into a nursing home. It was becoming increasingly harder to look after her while my parents were at work and Grandma had begun to wander into the street without knowing where she was going. I remember being so upset that my mom had decided to move Grandma to a home but soon realized that it really was too hard for us to care for her - especially since we all were out of the house so much and it wasn’t healthy for her to be alone.
Grandma moved into the Cobble Hill Nursing home in the early nineties and I remember visiting her with my mom. Sometimes, she’d have a wonderful one liner she’d zing our way and other times, she seemed out of it and confused about who exactly we were. I also remember making the painful decision to not have Grandma at my wedding. At that point, she needed round the clock care and there was no way my mom could have enjoyed that day if she had been worrying about her own mom. Instead, after the wedding, we visited with Grandma and shared photos. I vividly recall Grandma smiling as she looked at my wedding album, pointing to me in the pictures asking who that “pretty girl was.”
Nearly three years later, my grandmother passed away. I was eight months pregnant with my daughter and somehow knew that while her grandchildren would never get to meet their great grandmother, there would always be a piece of her in our lives.
Today, my Grandma Dora is truly a part of my every day life. Each morning, I use the hairbrush that she had used in the 1970’s to style my own hair (yes, it has stood the test of time). When I get dressed, I slip on the diamond ring she wore when I was a little girl and smile when I think back that at my Sweet 16, Grandma Dora wore that ring. Grandma received it as a gift from my grandfather in the 1950’s and my mom gave it to me on my 40th birthday and I will treasure it until I decide to pass it on to my daughter.
At the end of a long day, I curl up with the psychedelic blanket that Grandma crocheted for our family when we used to spend our summers in the Poconos. And according to a friend who happens to be a psychic, Grandma actually spends a lot of time in my home.
During the holidays, the lights always flicker in our dining room chandelier just as we’re about to start dinner. On separate occasions, our cats meow at what seems to be an empty chair - it used to be the chair Grandma sat in when my parents lived in Brooklyn. We took the chair with us and had it re-upholstered. I guess Grandma doesn’t like the cats napping on her favorite armchair!
As we get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day, all I can say is that no matter how old I get, I will never ever forget the impact my grandmother has had on my life. Her legacy now lives on with my mom, who has recreated her recipes at all our holiday dinners, my independent daughter - who happens to crochet like a pro - and my son, who shares her incredible sense of humor. Grandma Dora - you may be gone, but you will never ever be forgotten!
Happy Mother’s Day!