20 Oct 2010

It can’t all be bagels and cream cheese

5 Comments Family, Personal Crap

Growing up, my Grandma used to have us over frequently for Sunday brunch. It was a long drive from Woodland Hills to Fullerton, but just the thought of the bagels and lox, and blintzes and goodies that Grandma would make was totally worth the drive. She and my Grandpa (these are my dad’s folks) lived in a delightfully cozy little house that was immaculately kept and always smelled like something baking and my grandpa’s cologne. Oh, and pipe tobacco.

We always ate at the dining room table in front of the dry sink with the big, wooden salad bowl on it that now sits in my dining room, beneath a picture my dad painted when he was in his twenties. There was always a ton of laughter at the table and a lot of eating. Grandma always made the best coffee, too. A teaspoon for each cup of water plus one for the pot. I still do that today. My grandpa would sit at the head of the table and cut all of our bagels with a giant, serrated knife. I would watch his hands, tanned from golfing with long fingers and thin knuckles. There was something incredibly deliberate and delicate about the way he cut a bagel. I can see it so vividly now.

Grandma would have everything prepared and get up constantly to make sure we all had what we needed. She’d always make sure our elbows were off the table, our napkins were on our laps, and we weren’t talking with our mouths full. Grandpa would usually tell some brilliantly hilarious story, complete with 9 different accents. He was one of the last great story tellers. After we ate, she’d bring out homemade cookies or rice pudding or chocolate cake. Then we’d all go into the family room where there would be a newspaper opened to the bridge section on the table and a book that someone was in the middle of reading. My parents and grandparents would talk about life and politics and my brother and I would play with their metal tic tac toe set or watch TV, or go into the office and look at Grandpa’s things.

I swear I look back at these times as “Rockwellian”. I feel like you could paint a picture of any of these brunch Sundays and hang it in a store that sells Americana. And it would sell. My grandpa passed away when I was 14 and I was devastated. For weeks I felt like I was walking through fog. The next ten years, my grandma and I became very good friends. As soon as I got my driver’s license, I would drive to Fullerton for lunches or dinners just to hang out and talk. She was still cooking and baking, but we’d eat at the kitchen table now; the dining room saved for only very special occasions. She loved to know everything that was going on with me, with boys, and with friends. We’d shop for clothes together. I still have a skirt I bought the last time I shopped with her. I can’t throw it out. That was 15 or 16 years ago.

After my grandpa passed away, my grandma was still very social, very active. She dressed beautifully and exercised daily. But there was a tiny bit of her that had clearly changed. A part of her that was lost. I wonder what my niece and nephew see in my mom now. Is she different to them? She isn’t to me. She’s just in mourning. Grandma passed away when I was 24. She did it gracefully, just like she lived her life. One day I’ll tell you the story.

Tonight Garrett was walking around using his baseball bat as a cane. He put on a different voice and came into the kitchen saying, “Hello!” I said hi and asked him who he was. “I’m Grandpa! The one with Grandma Joan!” I asked if he meant Grandpa Art. “Yes! Grandpa Art! Do you want to come with me?” I said, “Sure! Where are we going?” “Just to my room”, he said. I bent down and hugged him a little too hard. “I miss you, Grandpa Art”, I said. “It’s good to see you.”

Garrett won’t remember much about his Grandpa. Heck, he only knows him walking with a cane or a walker, and that didn’t happen until the last year or so. I hate that he won’t have a memory of him like I do of my grandfather. I hate that he won’t know what my mom was like when she was around my dad. But I sure as hell hope he knows her until he’s well into his teens. I’m so lucky I was able to know my grandparents as long as I did. I had my mom’s mom around until I was 21, too. She was sweet and beautiful and could cook anything better than I’ll ever be able to. I can’t stand that Garrett won’t have stories about my dad. But I’ll tell him as many as I can, and I hope he can see him in those stories the way I see my grandpa still today. At least he’s thinking about him. And he let me see him for a minute tonight, too. That’s a start.

I’ll tell you what I just realized reading this post back. Garrett will have all of these people in his life forever. The way I make my coffee, and will teach him to make it. The way we laugh at meal time (and ALL the time), the traditions we have that will be passed down. The storytelling and the discipline. The foods that we love, the games that we play. All of this is a part of me because of Them. And all of it will be a part of Garrett. That is a very comforting thought. As comforting as a bagel with cream cheese on a Sunday morning in Fullerton.

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Lisa Arch likes being a working actress... but LOVES being a Mom!
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5 Responses to “It can’t all be bagels and cream cheese”

  1. Reply Christine says:

    Thanks so much for making me cry first thing inthe morning. Really, I am grateful. Grateful for all the memories of my childhood that came flooding back to me as I read your post.

    My first thoughts are of the Grandma that Kate never had the joy of knowing, the grandma who left this earth long before Kate came into it. I am talking about my Great Grandma, or, as you know her, Grandma of the wee blue chair. When I was so, so young, before I had a sister, so I was younger than five, My Grandma used to take me “downtown” to visit her mother, my Great Grandma. She lived in a yellow brick building, on the third floor. There was no elevator. The hallways were brown with iron railings and always smelled the same, like food and dust and oil. Her door opened into a kitchen. In the kitchen we sat at a white table in front of a white sink and white window with a white curtain. I would drink iced tea from a jelly jar and listen to stories in broken English mixed with spatterings of Italian dialect, a language I am still fluent in today, and Great Gram would call me “Dolly” when ever she spoke to me. I clearly remmeber the set up of that apartment. Off the kitchen was a small room with a toilet, a sink, a shower stall and a hot water heater, or what Great Gram called, “the boiler.” Behind the kitchen was a bedroom. Behind that was a sitting room and behind that was another bedroom that I knew was there but never went into. I thought it was cool that the rooms lined up one behind the other, and at home I would often replicate this style of living with my legos or lincoln logs. But the best, most amazing feature of Grams third story walkup railroad cold water apartment was the fire escape. I loved, loved, loved to crawl out her kitchen window, three stories up, and play on her fire escape, totally unsupervised, for hours at a time. I must ask myself if I would ever let my daughter, at the age of five, crawl out a third floow window and play on a fire escape. Clearly, the answer is “Hell F’n No!” And yet, that fire escape is my fondest childhood memory of my Great Gram. That and her little Blue Chair.

    I also have fond memories of my Grandfather, who my mom called Pop and I called Pop Pop. He called me “Kid.” My Pop Pop was my favorite person in the world. He could cut an apple, with his pocket knife, in slices so thin that you could see through them. He could blow into his thumb and make his belly get so big. He could do that dance where you bend and put your hands on your knees and move them from one knee to the other as you move them in and out. He could make home made donuts and homemade cavatelli and homemade sweet potato pie. The day my gram gave me Pop’s Sweet Potato Pie recipe written on a small card in his own handwriting was a day I cried and laughed and went out to buy sweet potatoes. He took me bowling. He took me shopping. He let me sip the foam from his can of Schaefers Beer. He had a missing knuckle from the time he was shot in World War II. He had a bronze star. He had my heart. And when he was dying, I remember holding his hand and talking softly to him and telling him I loved him. The last thing he ever said to me was “I know, Kid, I know.”

    I was blessed to have these people, along with so many others in my life. Just as Kate is blessed with my Mom and Dad, her Grandma and Grandpa. and my Grandma, who she calls Grandma Grandma. My Gram is 90 now, my Dad 72 and my mom 68. I could write volumes about them, about me, about us. And maybe I will. Because there is so much that Kate will never know unless I tell her and show her and share with her. So much she is experiencing now that she will not remember. So many traditions that I will carry on so that Kate can one day sit and read and write about her legacy, her memories, and allow tears of joy and sorrow to roll down her face on a Wednesday morning with a heart full of gratitude for everyone she has loved, lost and never forgotten.

    So, Lisa, I do indeed thank you for your post today. Your memories are beautiful and vivid and I feel honored to have read them. And I thank you for giving me a place to share my own stories, thoughts and memories. May your day be flled with both the pleasure of sharing old memories and the joy of creating new ones.

  2. Reply AL says:

    I think this is my all time favorite (so far)! First, the tradition of “all time, best storyteller” lives on in your family…. Christine’s post should remind us all of the stories tucked away, within our hearts, waiting to be shared. It is just sad, to me, so many of these could be lost in the electronic maze used to communicate.

    Great Grandmother’s tea cups (just two survivied from her childhood) are my tangible link of time shared within the generations. A shared, sit down, cup of green tea, (carefully brewed WITH honey), at a freshly startched and ironed, embroidered cloth covered table,was my earliest, and most lasting memory. Together, we shared tea and sugar cookies ( lavendar & anise….still can’t duplicate that one) while listening to “her radio soap opera story” after morning chores. morning chores. It wasn’t until I began to pull together family history for our family that I learned how hard her life had been.

    Losing her Mother when she was twelve; the eldest of five children; taking the place of raising not only her siblings, and also, becoming the Mother’s helper to the FIVE more, step-siblings when her father re-married soon afterward. She literally raised two families before she married and began another hard chapter. Leaving the only family she had ever known, migrating from the mid-west, by freight train, (the first commercial class) then, by horse-drawn wagons, to carve out a small, hard scrabble existance, near the Canadian border, in Washington state. She lost her first two babies at childbirth, later, two would survive…how did she have the courage to go on, to provide life to the generations to follow? Slight of frame, physically, she was the absolute, embodiment of strenght as she went through her life, uncomplaining, resolute and ever gracious.

    I still have those two, precious, china cups, so thin they are transparent. Note to self: Have tea soon, with someone I love.

    Memories are living, breathing parts of not only who we are, but who we become, for generations. This blog was particularly cathartic, thank you.

  3. Reply flawlessmom says:

    My goodness. My two favorite comment bloggers made my heart swell today. Thank you both so very much for sharing these beautiful memories, and for making me feel like I had anything to do with helping you to think of these people today.
    I am truly humbled, and blessed to share in your memories.

  4. Reply Tracy K says:

    I am drenched in tears from everyone’s beautiful sharing. Thank you.

  5. Reply flawlessmom says:

    Awwww, Tracy. Hugging you from afar.

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