One Less Survivor
My maternal grandmother Fela died before I was born. Soon after, my grandfather married Tosia, also a Holocaust survivor. And though I was named for Fela, Tosia was, in every way, my grandmother.
Food, especially to a survivor, is very important. But even more important for them is making sure their grandchildren eat. Nana is no exception. I’ve been happily eating her thick soups you can eat with a fork, mundelbred (what I call “Jewish biscotti”), and cholent, a potato and meat dish that takes half a day to cook.
Before my visit this past January, Nana warned me, “Mamelah, I’m not the same person I was six months ago. I can’t cook.”
“That’s okay Nana,” I said. “I can cook.” She laughed. While yes, I can cook, the kitchen is Nana’s domain.
From the moment I arrived, Nana was in tremendous pain, but that didn’t stop her. Walking deliberately, a hand on her back, she started heating up soup for me.
“So Mameleh, how are you doing? You lost weight, yes?” Standard greeting.
“Forget me,” I said. “How are you?”
“Eh.” Her pale eyebrows scrunched up. “How should I be? I’m 88. I’m tired.”
Days in Florida go slowly; time marked by pills, meals and television shows. On that visit Nana slept most of the day, her pain knocking her out, but she still insisted on hosting a dinner party for seven, with Papa and I helping to cook her famous cholent.
The party was a success, but the best part was the leftover cholent.
“For breakfast Mameleh?” Nana said, laughing when she walked into the kitchen. But I know it made her feel good to know she still had it in her.
Every evening we watched Jeopardy and Nana slapped me every time I knew an answer. (I would like to say it made a bruise, but there weren’t that many slaps…)
One afternoon before going for a bike ride, I checked on Nana. She was awake staring into space. I sat at the foot of the bed and rubbed her feet through the blanket.
“I lived a good life,” Nana said looking at me, but seeing something far beyond. “But I’m ready to go.”
“Go where?” I asked; humor my auto-response to sadness.
Nana gave a resigned smile. “The last time I saw my mother I was a thirteen and was being taken away by the Nazis. My mother ran after me to give me a sweater and this one Nazi started beating her. I can still see this so clearly.”
“What did you do?”
Nana shrugged. “What could I do? I looked back and saw my mother lying on the ground, blood coming out of her head. This is the last image I have of her.”
“Do you think you will see your mother again when you die?”
Nana smiled. “That would be nice.”
This past Friday my grandmother passed away. As I sat crying with the news, a little part of me was happy for my grandmother, because I pictured her, a little girl again, running towards her mother’s open arms.