By Marcia Bronstein
Although it hardly seems possible, Grandma Rose died 28 years ago.
With her, the Yiddish language and accents of my youth departed along with the old-world wisdom and lifestyle. That included baking bread, cooking meals from scratch every day and time management so successful that marketing and working full time fit into the shul and baking/cooking schedule.
My grandmother was a balabuste with a modern sensibility who embraced the notion that women could do anything, and the American ideal that with hard work all things are indeed possible. She was my hero, my savior and my friend. I often spent time with her in her stationery/card shop. She put me to work; I was cleaning, tidying up or helping customers under her tutelage, and remembering to say “thank you” and “please come again.”
On Sundays, I would show up at her house and don a shmata on my head just like hers, and we would spend the morning cleaning. She put the bed linens outside the window sill to luft and then proceeded to scrub everything in the apartment.
After that, we baked cakes, cookies and bread. Whenever I asked what amounts we were mixing in, she told me to just watch it, taste it and then you know. When everything went into the oven, Grandma took out her washing board and did the laundry, which went onto the clothesline outside the kitchen window. By then, it was time to clean the huge leaves on the plants and pinch back the dead leaves, etc.
Once all that was over, we went to walk in the park. Grandma never really walked leisurely — she never had time to waste — so I had to run to keep up with her. Our walk consisted of going to the Reservoir Oval Park — off of Gun Hill Road in the Bronx — and walking briskly three times around the track, and then going back to her house for lunch. I was always exhausted and happy after visiting her.
Fast forward to my high school years and my daily chats with Grandma. I stopped by to see her every day after school, even when I didn’t really want to because I had other things to do with friends. No one told me I had to check in and chat, but I always felt drawn to do so. When it snowed, I always joined my mom in shoveling the walkway to her store so she would not have to. Not that she needed any help those days.
In the summer, we went to our summer home in Monroe, N.Y., and then I helped Grandma do really fun stuff like mix cement and stood guard as she climbed the roof to fix the shingles. One time, my dad found her heading up to the roof and insisted he would do it. So he climbed up and immediately fell through the roof. After that she waited until everyone was out of the house so she could do her work undeterred.
Grandma’s wisdom knew no limits. She knew exactly what to do if a cake fell in the oven, if something needed to be koshered, how to best plant the garden, how to cook a meal for 20 for dinner while working full time. I often use her techniques, like setting the dining room table a week in advance of a large family gathering to save time later on.
Some of my favorite Grandma-isms were: Never stop wanting when you are young; make sure to vote because you don’t want to waste this special opportunity in a democracy; always smile and say “please” and “thank you”; it’s easy to fall in love, so make sure it is a Jewish boy; with hard work anything is possible, and when it seems impossible work even harder; get a good night’s sleep, and if you still have to study or do homework you can be smarter tomorrow; and if you are bored, then sweep the street.
Grandma was a good teacher. She seemed to know everything. She relied on no one but herself. As a 15-year-old, Grandma walked through the frozen Russian heartland and eventually made her way to England before coming to America in 1920.
As a child I knew that she always hated to say goodbye. She would hug me, look at me with tearing eyes and push me away. I knew it was the same way her mom said goodbye to her — at that time, it was a permanent goodbye.
Grandma was my champion. I could do little wrong in her eyes. When I was young, we played Miss America as I pranced around in my bathing suit and she sang, “Here She Comes, Miss America” with her Yiddish accent. She celebrated all my milestones and achievements.
By the time I was in graduate school, she had moved into our home as a new widow and made me a three-course breakfast every morning at 6:30, which I ate because it was so important to her. Then upon graduation, when the job offer phone call came through, my grandmother told the employer how lucky he was to be offering me a job.
When I was engaged to be married, I invited Grandma to be my matron of honor. She had already given my husband two thumbs up and she (although recovering from a broken hip) walked down the aisle — albeit slowly — on the arm of the best man. I chatted with Grandma every morning at 7:45 from my office loudly but thankfully in Yiddish when I moved to Philadelphia.
Grandma Rose Ruran was such an important force in my life and she remains such 28 years after she died. I think of her all the time, remember her with love and miss her wisdom and wit. However, I feel her presence and see it all the time — she is with me always.
On Mother’s Day she always said, “Don’t wait for one day a year: Mother’s Day is every day.”
Marcia Bronstein is the Philadelphia regional director of the American Jewish Committee.
Marcia, thank you for sharing such wonderful and personal memories of your grandmother. Grandparents can be a a major force in a grandchild’s life, and yours was no exception. I will have to remember some of her witticisms. You were a good grandchild to her, too. That’s what made your relationship so special.