Grandma did the morning work: scrubbed the stairs, made the beds, dusted chairs, washed dishes, polished windows, hung the laundry and brought it in. She made over dresses for my mother, turned the collars of Grandpa’s shirts. She repaid her passage, put flowered china on layaway and paid a little every week from her work constructing corsets and pressing sheets. It took another year to earn enough for Bobby, the bisque baby doll she bought since she never had a boy.
If it’s clean, mended and paid for you don’t have to be ashamed.
She married a man from home whose German family name meant “Grief.” I have a photo of him, with other men, hard and earnest in their aprons and caps, standing on the steps of the Cleveland steel works. He got slivers of metal in his hands; every night my mother picked them out. He could fight in German, Polish, Russian, but English always slipped away.
You must walk to show the world you’re glad to be alive.
Grandma bought live geese and ducks at the market and carried them home in a basket. Mother remembered those streetcar rides, the frantic squawks, how the other passengers smiled.
Grandma made duck’s blood soup, Blutwurst, Kugel with cinnamon and egg. Strudel, Apfelkuchen, Stollen; Hassenpfeffer from Mother’s pet rabbit. Christmas, there were thick slabs of Lebkuchen with tissue paper pictures pasted on.
A thin cook should be buried under the back steps so everyone can walk on her.
Grandma taught Sunday School for forty years. I have her bibles, hymnals and Luther’s Catechism, her German glass picture with the Lord’s Prayer, a primrose, butterflies, a bird.
You must never swing your legs in church. That’s giving the devil a ride.
Grandma had roses, lilies, calamus growing dense in front of the storied house. I helped her step on ants my one trip to Cleveland, the summer I was four. She took me to visit all her friends and made me play “Volga Boatman” on their upright pianos. She gave me a pink seashell and a tiny doll in a handmade red silk dress. She gave me a record she made for me about her father and the fourteen pears.
Don’t praise the children. You’ll put on the evil eye
I have a photo of Grandma picking lilacs. “That’s what she’s doing in Heaven,” Mother said. I have a photo of Grandma standing on her grave. She’s wearing a black dress and heavy shoes,her hair in a braid around her head. She’s smirking at the camera. Mother took the photo because Grandma wanted it.
You must never walk backwards in front of your parents. You’re leading them to the tomb.
Grandma sent to Poland for Grandpa’s favorite brother, Emil, who died of typhoid three months after he arrived. Grandpa never forgave her. Three months Grandpa was in the hospital, depressed, while Grandma ironed and sewed and shoveled horse manure from the streets to spread on her flowers.
Old woman had no troubles so she bought herself a pig.
When Mother was old, she told about the screaming, the aborted son and the blue days Grandma spent wrapped in her red shawl, weeping in her rocker by the stove.
Some days I can’t get out of my own way.