Thursday, March 22, 2007
Let me tell you about Helen
Grandparents are important. They hold you in the hospital the day you’re born. They sit with your parents at your wedding. They never, ever miss a birthday. And they forgive everything.
Mine are all gone now. We lost Richard in 1970, his wife, Ella, in 1997, Erich in 1999 and Helen on Thursday at age 90.
Grandma had been in poor health for several years. We knew this day was not far off.
Somehow over the years, I gained the reputation as “the hugger.” I don’t remember how it started, but every time I saw Grandma, the first thing she said was: “Where’s my hug?” It was our special routine.
I decided the mental picture I carry like a wallet snapshot won’t be the way we saw her two weeks ago, when I hugged her tightly one last time.
I will think of Christmas Eve – every Christmas Eve of my childhood. The entire extended family would gather at my grandparents’ large house on West Shore Drive in Massapequa.
There was food and laughing, presents and cousins. It was loud and it was wonderful.
Grandma had a silver foil Christmas tree that came with a spotlight and a rotating lens that would make it appear in different colors. Decades later, we still teased her about it.
My grandparents moved to another large house in North Massapequa, then to a condo in Snug Harbor in Amityville. And I remember my first question was what we would do about Christmas Eve. Grandma still hosted, but it was crowded. Very crowded. And still wonderful.
Our family today is so spread out. But every other Christmas we host Julie’s side of the family. It’s crowded and noisy and I love it because it reminds me of those years at Grandma’s.
Helen was the second oldest of four daughters, mother of five, grandmother to 12.
She loved to get dressed up and go dancing with Erich and spend time with her sisters, the last of which we lost last year.
Grandma always made time to listen to me talk about the Mets, or whatever stories I was working on.
For as long as I knew her, Helen was sacrificing for other people. She cared for my great-grandmother until she died at 97. She raised my cousin – Samantha’s an attorney today -- and took care of my aunt.
We were in Florida visiting on the morning my grandfather died. I sat with Grandma on the couch holding her tight while paramedics worked in the other room. She was worried about me. That’s just the way she was.
She was worried about others again when we saw her this month, concerned my children would be startled by her appearance. We shared our hug when we arrived, and again when we left as I whispered "We love you very much" in her ear.
"Give me one more hug," she said.