My Grandma Dot passed away this weekend. She was such a prominent figure in my life that even though we knew she didn’t have much time left, I’m finding it difficult to write it down because writing makes her death definitive, and I partially still can’t believe it.
When her brother (my uncle) Nathan passed away a year and a half ago, I wrote down their shared history of leaving Lithuania for America as children in 1929 as Europe became highly antisemitic. Instead of recounting it here, I encourage you to read it: A History Lesson.
I had the privilege of being able to speak at her funeral and I wanted to share what my sisters and I wrote for her:
One thing I am certain of is that Grandma Dot lived a very long life. But if there’s anyone here from the office of immigration, she was 92.
Growing up, her age was always a mystery to us and a big topic of discussion. We’d ask her age, and without fail, she’d answer: “I’m a little different from everybody else; everyone else gets older every year, but every year I get a little bit younger”
We had our educated guesses, but still never heard her admit to her age until last week, when we were sitting around the table at Newbridge and one of the residents said, “I’m 90 and I’m proud,” and then proceeded to ask Grandma how old she was. “I’m 92,” she responded.
So even though that was the first time we’ve ever heard her say her age aloud, we still knew it was a little tiny white lie.
Sometimes we had to go a while without seeing Grandma Dot—due to college, or travels, or living far away, but we were always able to make up lost time through lunch.
There was always a lot of negotiation that went into lunch. Not about where we went (since it was always Cheesecake Factory or Legal Seafoods—or in recent years, the Cottage in Chestnut Hill), nor what she was going to eat (burger, pink—all the way through—not medium—but pink— all the way through, on a brioche bun…with fries….extra hot).
The negotiation was always about WHEN we would go to lunch. The conversation would always be the same: “Hi Grandma, let’s go to lunch,” we’d say –“OK, how about 4:00?” –“How about 12:00?” —she’d groan— and we’d usually end up agreeing to 1:30 and in actuality we’d head out around 2, have lunch around 3, and get back home in time for dinner.
I should mention that after the long lunch of us talking to grandma about our lives, we’d sit down in her living room and she’d recount stories from her life—about her journey to America, about her childhood in Lithuania, she’d share with us artifacts from her life that she had around the house, and she’d explain the context of Uncle David’s paintings that adorned her walls.
One thing that characterized our childhood—or at least mine and Nadine’s—was sleepovers at Grandma Dot’s. Despite a couple attempts, Ariel never quite made it through the night. One of Grandma’s favorite stories was about how Nadine was so little the first time she slept over that she surrounded the bed with pillows so she wouldn’t fall off. I lost my first tooth there. On Friday nights we helped prepare Grandma’s famous cornflake chicken and light the candles for Shabbat, and on Saturdays we went out for fancy dinners at the Marriot and collected tiny Heinz ketchup bottles. We’d always greet the new day with a hearty bowl of corn flakes and OJ with Papa Abie while grandma completed her meticulous morning routine, and we’d split the rest of our time between the Smurf tricycle and playing dress up with Grandma’s endless beaded necklaces.
She was a very dedicated grandmother. Even after we were too old for sleepovers, and especially when we were far away, she’d always hand-write letters to us. Her letters were sincere and heartfelt, often containing rhymes. However, she’d consistently place quotation marks in very odd places. Dear “Lauren,” a letter would start out. And it would always inevitably end with Love “Grandma Dot.”
I found one letter from her last night that she sent me when I was in college. On the outside where the envelope says to handle with care, she wrote “thank you” next to it. Inside, there was no note from her. Just the signature of her neighbor’s nephew, who happens to be a member of a famous musical group—Phish, for the youth in the audience. This is how cool she was.
When we found out what had happened on Saturday morning, Ari and I got in the car from DC and Baltimore respectively and started traveling home. Almost embarrassed, I asked quietly: Ari, what’s going to happen to Grandma’s glasses? We were very seriously concerned about this. This thought was reiterated when we made it home to Framingham and Nadine asked the same thing almost as soon as we arrived.
We mused that when we got to Grandma’s house we’d find brownies in the freezer and a stack of crisp $1 bills somewhere with the letters A—for Ariel, L—for Lauren, and H—for Hannah—Nadine’s middle name, because as children, without fail, she’d always hand us a $1 bill with our respective initial on them. Looking back, it must have been painstaking to track down dollar bills that corresponded to specific letters of our names.
Speaking of money, I can’t leave here without mentioning the countless savings bonds that she gifted to us year after year throughout our lives. At the time, I couldn’t understand their significance. I wanted a My Size Barbie Doll and Ari wanted Nadine’s Easy Bake Oven. But these gifts over the years have added up and have helped pay for our education.
So thank you Grandma Dot. We love you and wish you well.
Your “granddaughters” Nadine, Lauren, and Ariel