As I was writing the page on Gussie and Harvey, I started remembering little anecdotes about Grandma Gussie. Here are a few of my favorites. I hope you will comment with your own.
When I think of Grandma Gussie, I think of a tallish woman, neither heavy nor thin. She had very thin hair, though, which she kept pulled back. She once told me that when she was younger she had thick, beautiful hair but one day, she woke up and all her hair was on her pillow. I wonder what she would have been diagnosed with today. She was always dressed in a housedress with an apron over it and she always wore heavy support stockings and black, sturdy, laced shoes. As she got older, her head would shake. Today I would have affectionately called her a bobblehead. (oy vey, is this inherited?).
When I think back to when I was a little girl, I picture her sitting in a lawn chair outside of her Brooklyn apartment building where she would wait for us to arrive. She always had an apple or a peach and a small paring knife in her hands. She would cut off the skin of the fruit before eating it. Pop and I would go on weekends so he could go grocery shopping for her, and sometimes the whole family would make the visit.
We would proceed upstairs and into her apartment. When you first entered, there was a long, dark hallway that scared me and I would run to the light. I remember the blue, wooden kitchen table, the rocking chair that was a treat to sit in since we did not have one in our apartment, and the 3-way mirror in her bedroom. I also remember the steamer trunk at the foot of the bed. “Grandma, what’s in there?” I would always ask. She never did show me and to this day it remains a mystery. Did she have old letters from her family back in Latvia, or things she might have brought with her? We will never know. Avra now has the rocking chair that actually belonged to our grandfather, Harvey, even though we always associated it with Grandma Gussie.
Grandma always made me a “yashina” for lunch. I loved the soupy, salty scrambled egg that only she could seem to make. Years later, I asked my Aunt Mildred what “yashina” meant. I thought I could look up the recipe. She had no idea. Periodically I would ask other people and no one seemed to know what that word meant. Fast forward to 2016. My daughter-in-law, who is from Ukraine and speaks Russian, was making eggs for the kids. I couldn’t believe it, but they looked like Grandma’s eggs so I said that my Grandma always made me something called a yashina and asked Victoria if she knew what that meant. “Scrambled eggs”, she replied. Another, lifelong mystery was solved!
After my mother died when I was just 14 years old, I would call Grandma Gussie and she would teach me over the phone how to make a brisket and a roast chicken and other things. I know she enjoyed that and my father and siblings benefited from some decent meals as I often made Shabbat dinners or weekend meals.
Here is her brisket recipe:
- In a small bowl. mix together salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
- Rub the mixture all over the meat.
- Chop an onion and brown in a little oil on top of the stove in a Dutch over
- Add the meat and over high heat sear on all sides
- Add water to cover the meat
- Add a bay leaf
- Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 2 hours
- Add cut up potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour
The only time I remember Grandma laughing is when I was in high school and was learning German. I started counting for her and every time I got to “fumfh (5)”, she would burst out laughing. I guess I wasn’t pronouncing it quite right.
Grandma loved to listen to me play Jewish songs on my accordion and often she would sing along. She would listen raptly and always requested the same ones. She especially liked Rozinkes Mit Mandlen, Oyfn Pripetshik, and Tumbablaika.
By the time I was in college, Uncle Arthur and Pop moved her to a garden apartment on Cedar Lane in Teaneck. The apartment was across the street from the New Englander Pizza Restaurant. One day, I was bringing my boyfriend, Stan, over for her to meet. She was so excited at the prospect of meeting him. We went over on a Friday night after attending Services at the Teaneck Jewish Community Center and knew that Pop would follow us shortly over there. We knocked on her door and she opened it excitedly. She ushered us over to the couch so we could all sit down. She went to sit first and I was standing right in front of her. What she didn’t realize was that the couch cushion was partially off and leaning on thin air. As she sat down with no support under her, she lost her balance and fell right on top of me, pinning me to the floor. Stan tried several times to pick her up but she was too heavy and I could not move. Luckily, Pop arrived and with Pop’s help, they were able to get her up. So much for first impressions. The moral of the story: make sure the couch cushion is properly on the couch before sitting down!
Once she met Stan, she repeatedly said that she wanted to dance at my wedding. Every time I saw her, she would tell me that. I kept telling her I was too young at 16 to get married. However, little did I know that she left me a wedding present. Stan and I did get married young. I was 20 and he was 23. I was always sad that Grandma wasn’t there to dance. She died six months before we got married and I have no idea if Pop ever told her that we were getting engaged and married that summer.
For the first 4 years of our married life, Stan and I lived in Milwaukee, WI, where Stan was in graduate school. When Stan completed his PhD, he got a job in CT so we moved out there and found an apartment. I asked Pop if I could take my parent’s first bedroom set from the spare room and the chair that was in it. No one was using it. He said sure. When Avra came to visit me in CT and saw the chair, she said “Oh good. I am so glad you have that chair. Grandma Gussie told me she wanted you to have it as a wedding present. She felt it was the only nice thing she had left.”
Thank you, Grandma Gussie, for the chair and for the memories!