My Grandma Sylvia passed away 3 weeks short of her 100th birthday. She died the night of April 28th, and my last conversation with her was earlier that morning. I was visiting her, and when I kissed her on the cheek and told her I loved her, she replied that she loved me as well. I then went to work on Wall Street, flew to Los Angeles, and got the news when my plane landed the night before last.
As awful as the last 24 hours have been, I would like to take today and share some of my memories of her. She was an impressive woman on every level. Below are some of my interactions with her. All of these exchanges took place when she was in her 90s.
I pointed out that there was an NBA basketball player that was nicknamed “Grandma-ma,” and that this player wore the booties, the bonnet, and the rest of the grandma outfit. My grandmother floored me by saying, “Yeah. Larry Johnson. The Knicks aren’t doing so well.” I have no idea when she followed basketball.
When I told her I was going out on a date, she told me to make sure to protect myself. I told her I had a warm winter jacket. She replied, “That isn’t what I meant young man, and you know it.”
She was married for 67 years, and had 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren.
She told me the other day that it sometimes took her 30 minutes to get from her chair to the bathroom and then back into bed. I told her that It took me longer, especially on weekend mornings. She laughed. She said, “Well you are an old man. You are not as young as you used to be.”
When she went to visit my grandfather in the nursing home, there was ice on the ground. The accessoride was late, so she decided to walk it. When the light started blinking, she said, “Let’s go.” When I pointed out that the light was blinking, she replied, “There are no cops. Let’s go.” She then said, “Hold on to my arm. There is ice and snow on the ground and I don’t want you tripping and falling and hurting yourself.”
She was fiercely independent until age 94. She even cooked for me. She gave me grapefruit, knowing I would make that squinty grapefruit face. She would even insist on giving me green beans, even though I hated green vegetables. She would give me less and less of them every year, in the hopes I could handle smaller doses. The last year she cooked for me she gave me four green beans. I ate two of them, and said, “Grandma, I can’t do it. I don’t like them and I don’t want to eat them.” She relented, and thought I did not notice when she doubled my grapefruit intake. At least on the cereal front she allowed me to have Lucky Charms. Yet despite that privilege, I had to finish all the milk, in addition to the orange juice, and of course, that wretched grapefruit.
Pure dumb luck allowed her to live another 6 years.
On one visit in 2002, shortly after my grandfather died, I was sleeping in the guest bedroom. There was no phone in the room, so I would have to get up and go to my grandfather’s study just to answer the phone. When the phone rang and rang one morning, it was 10:30am. I stayed in bed, figuring my grandmother would answer it. At 11:15am, it started ringing again. When I got up to answer it, I saw papers strewn on the floor. Something was not right. She was on the floor having a seizure.
I calmly called 911 while thinking two things, which I later shared with my grandmother. My first thought was “not like this.” A woman who had been independent her whole life did not deserve this type of ending.
My second and more selfish thoughts was “not on my watch.” The last thing I needed was for the family to find out that she had died when I visited.
Thankfully the paramedics were fabulous, and saved her life. My grandmother thanked me for saving her life by giving me $1000. I thanked her and told her that with her money, I now had $800 in the bank.
Although she had more seizures over the years, they were not as serious as this one. Her levels would be off, and they would be readjusted. In the past year she had a new medicine, and it was working well. She walked with a walker, not needing a wheelchair. She had a live in aid who took care of her.
When I had a subsequent visit, she had a fall, and had to be taken to the hospital. Despite her occasional falls, she was lucky enough never to fracture anything.
Yet I had to deal with the teasing from my cousins, who decided I was a jinx.
So on more than one occasion, including a few days ago, I laid down the law with my grandma.
“Grandma, you have to be healthy when I visit. If anything happens to you when I am here, the entire family will think I did it. Then Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote or Matlock will show up and I will be arrested and taken away in handcuffs. I don’t need this.”
She laughed hysterically.
When I told her this weekend that I enjoyed spending time with “my best gal,” she asked “I’m your best gal?” When I replied that of course she was, she replied, “for now.”
On Sunday night we were watching “Deal or no deal.” My grandmother wanted to make deals, and my answer to everything was “No deal!” It did not matter what the situation was. She remarked, “You just don’t deal with anybody.” When a pizza commercial came on for four dollars a pizza pie, my grandmother remarked that at least that was a good deal. I again told her, “no deals for anybody about anything. We are not making any deals tonight.” She laughed, and when the 1-800 Flowers commercial came on, I told her that I did not care how pretty the flowers were, the answer was still “no deal.” She said I was too tough on people.
One memory of her was when she received an invitation to be the guest at a rubber chicken dinner in her honor. In real life, she did a lot of work with various organizations, but told me she was not going to the ceremony. She dryly said, “I don’t need an award to know I am old. My age tells me that, and so does my body.”
Although they had snacks in thew living room, my grandfather was not supposed to eat them. I would distract her, and he would eat them.
On the Sabbath, my grandfather would want to watch the Mets game, which was in direct contradiction to being an Orthodox Rabbi. My job was to be the heretic grandson, trip over the table, and have my nose turn on the tv. This was difficult given that it was a knob.
Nevertheless, she would come in, and I would say, “I forgot.” She would say, “Eric, you know better.” The truth is, she knew better. We thought we had fooled her all those years. She was not happy about my chicanery, but she knew I loved my grandfather. Besides, I pointed out to her that my grandfather had suffered enough. No, not because he was Jewish. He was a Mets fan. She did not accept that as a valid answer, even after we tried to show her their horrible record.
Yet the one incident that will end up in my hall of fame of situations was when I tried to sneak in well past curfew. Yes, I was an adult, but her home meant her rules, and nice boys did not stay out all hours of the night. It was a few years ago, and I was returning from what I will only describe as a social function. I did not arrive home until several minutes after 4am.
I quietly entered her apartment, but unfortunately she had one part of her hardwood floor that always made a loud creak. As soon as I stepped on it, her perfect hearing caused her to stir. It was a race against the clock. As she walked with her walker, I quickly dove for her couch, got under the covers, and pretended to be asleep. When I saw her, I stretched, as if she had woken me up.
“There you are, sleeping like a little angel.” I smiled.
Then she took a cane (She never used one, it probably belonged to my late grandfather, although I do not recall his use of it.) that was attached to her walker, and used it to pull down the covers to reveal a fully dressed young man.
The 10 minute lecture I received was less mortifying than having to hear from my cousins how I stayed out all night like the deviant I was.
My grandma took notes of everything. She claims this was because her memory was failing. I suspect it was because she had ties to J. Edgar Hoover, although she most likely destroyed that evidence.
When she fell ill a few months later, I checked her notebook for phone numbers. I inadvertently opened up the page to my previous visit where the last entry said, “Eric, 4:20am.”
When she got better, I brought that up with her. I explained to her that her entry was wrong, and that I got home at 4:10am, not 4:20am. She would not budge.
“The fact that I had to scold you for 10 minutes is because you stayed out so late. The 10 minutes counts. I am not changing the entry.” When my cousins mention 4:20am, I instantly protest by saying, “it was 4:10am!”
She was a funny, bright woman, and I am still in shock over her death. Yes she was old, but it still stings.
I had grandparents until age 36, which is 36 years more than many.
Besides, she is with my grandfather now in heaven.
They took a brief break from each other, but after 67 years, they were bound to continue together.
I just hope that when she sits at the head table with God and my grandfather, that she does not force them to eat green beans. I suspect at the very least, on days when it rains, it is either because the grapefruit they are being forced to eat is squirting down upon us, or because the tears of wincing after eating it is dropping to the ground.
I miss you grandma. May God bless you.