Wednesday, February 17, 2010


My grandmother passed away a couple of years ago. I miss her. Who else could rock a hardhat like that?

My brother recently sent me photos he scavenged from her house. And this is what struck me: My grandmother spent an awful lot of time on beaches and at dinner parties with her third husband (my grandfather was her second).

That jibes with my experience of the lady (minus the husband part-- Poppop died when I was really young).

One of my earliest memories is of her teaching me how to fold linen napkins to put inside wine glasses-- party origami. She was the consummate hostess.

Other memories
revolve around time spent poolside, where she dominated at bridge. Nanna made a religion of the lounge chair while we played in the water. Then she would say she was off to "float" for a couple of hours (code for nap time) and insist that we do the same.

She had an eye for art and design. She collected M.C. Escher and Leonard Baskin, among others. Dress, makeup, and hair always just so.
I inherited her freakish organizational skills (passed through my father)-- I can color-code anything.

She could be straight-up caustic and a royal pain in the ass...

but look at how tender she is in this photo. That's genuine. She saved every card I ever wrote her. It broke my heart when I found that out.

And she could cook. Ironic in a woman who scorned the overweight and ate half a grapefruit for breakfast for as long as I can remember. Her cheesecake was mythic.

1 box Sweibach
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 lb melted butter

Blend dry ingredients, a few crackers at a time. Add sugar and cinnamon and mix in melted butter. Pat in a buttered springform (9"). Put in oven at 350 for 10 minutes. Cool while preparing filling.

2 lbs creamed cottage cheese
1 large cream cheese
8 eggs, one at a time
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbls melted butter
1 pint sour cream
1 tbls flour
1 tsp vanilla
juice of a large lemon

Blend all together, making sure there are no lumps. Pour into bowl while further blending and then into cooled springform. Bake 45 minutes to an hour until top has risen and browned slightly all over. Turn off oven and crack door. Gradually cool and refrigerate overnight before serving.

I miss her cooking something fierce, but what touched me most about her life were the small ways in which she stepped out of her world in order to connect with mine. We were so different in so many ways.

Sometime in the 1990s she decided to take a Stanford Alumni trip on a cruise ship in Alaska and called me for advice on packing. "Would Ralph Lauren be a good choice?" she asked earnestly.

In her late-seventies, when she had boyfriends in two different states-- one of them an Austrian geography professor named Guido whom she dated in part because he made a mean margarita, she called me to ask if I knew about free STD testing at Planned Parenthood.

And then there was the time she and her sister, Mimi, came to visit me in Prescott, Arizona where I was going to college. Nanna genuinely thought I was majoring in Leisure Living (while possible at Prescott, I was not). They drove up from Phoenix in my grandmother's 1976 silver Mercedes sedan with navy blue leather interior, both wearing fur coats and heels. I never saw Nanna in a pair of pants in my life. Our driveway was a mud pit due to melting snow, so Ry and Ben had to piggyback the two women into the house. They had the trunk of the car loaded down with grocery bags of trail mix from Trader Joe's. What else would a Jewish grandmother bring to feed a house full of outdoorsy types? We had enough nuts and berries to last through Armageddon.

These are the stories I share with my students on long paddling days. And so it goes...

Dust to dust. Feliz Ash Wednesday.

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