Lessons from our grandparents

For so many teenagers, grandparents take a special place in their lives. Sometimes grandparents fill in for parents, taking on all of the joys and burdens of child raising. Often, the relationship with a grandparent grows through visits. Even just one visit can leave a deep mark. Here, four young people reflect on what they have learned from visiting their grandparents. These essays are part of the anthology Hip Deep: Opinion, Essays, and Vision from American Teenagers (Next Generation Press, 2006).

My Two Meshugenahs

by Nicole Schwartzberg

Hefting brown paper grocery sack under one arm, Boebe began the short trek home past Williams Avenue and Turner Street. The cracked cement path left gaps in the pavement and mounds where the walkway tilted upward. Stumbling along, Boebe moaned from time to time as she bumbled towards Macallester Avenue and the front stoop to her apartment.

As usual, the kitchen smelled of fresh matzoh ball soup, kugel, and a Jewish-American blend of spices which filtered through the open windows past the boys out in the street playing stickball alongside the crowded spaces of parked cars. The aromatic scent of honey wafting from the pots
atop the stove lent a blend of Boebe’s Lithuanian immigrant background to the room as the sun melted towards dinnertime. In another kitchen, two thousand miles away, my Grammy in Wisconsin settled her feet on a wicker chair in her sunroom overlooking the lake. Sipping tea as she rocked back and forth on the sunny porch, she noted that Celia, her Polish maid, would return any moment now to whisk away her cup and bring her a warm plate of cookies. The house exuded an aristocratic American style, and a fancy Cadillac purred on the driveway. The pristine silence of Lake Mendota went uninterrupted while Boebe leaned out the window of her kitchen to holler at the rowdy neighborhood children.

I am used to the differences of my two grandmothers. They are two women, two worlds apart, who share the same role. Boebe, my father’s mother, chose the Yiddish appellation while Grammy preferred a more traditional American name. This simple difference is one of many which contribute to the diverse ways in which my two grandmothers show their love.

My grandmothers’ gifts have always reflected their different natures. On a visit to Grammy’s house, my sister and I received two stuffed bears with immaculate white fur and matching bow ties. I was delighted. Holding my new bear up to one cheek, I cuddled the sumptuous softness for hours. When I look at my bank account, the high balance coolly reflects the savings bonds and checks Grammy issues me frequently. And the porcelain china tea set was a gift from Grammy several summers ago. Boebe’s gifts are more thoughtful and infrequent. Some years, Boebe has only been able to greet me with a card containing her thoughts and love. Other times, I have
received a package of chicken soup with a handmade card and a soup ladle. On visits to Boebe’s house, I often received foot rubs as she told me stories of her years growing up in Brooklyn. I never once checked the price tags of these gifts. Boebe’s gifts were always just what I wanted. And even the fragile collector’s item dollhouse Boebe sent one Chanukah, though expensive, meant most because of the love that came with it. To this day the dollhouse stands prominently in the playroom of my childhood, while the bears, tea sets, and fancy dresses of my youth have all been packed away into crates to be brought up to the attic when I am through.

Through the foods they fed me, the backgrounds of my two grandmothers were also often exhibited. On visits to Grammy’s house, the refrigerator was always stocked with things Grammy thought all children must like. Apple juice, graham crackers, sugary cereals which coated your tongue in white froth, crackers, and cheese overflowed the bounds of Grammy’s butler’s pantry. She was always aiming to please us. Somehow she never noticed that I hated apple juice and crackers and cookies were not my favorite. While on visits at Boebe’s apartment, we were served watermelon and hard-boiled eggs, some of my favorites at the time, on the dinner table. Chicken soup warmed our tummies on cold days. And Boebe never failed to remember a pack of bubble gum for me and crunchy candy bars for my sister.

At Boebe’s apartment I was often greeted with a warm hug. Then, sitting on the sofa, she would beckon me to come sit down. For long, lazy summer hours, Boebe gave me foot rubs, until I awakened with the sun on my back. A kiss at the door was always forced at Grammy’s house. I simply could not bring my lips to touch Grammy’s paper-thin cheek, which reminded me of the fat Mom pulled off the turkey at Thanksgiving. Proper and foreboding like many wives of the elite class, Grammy hugged us infrequently, the love replaced by things bought in a shopping mall—a new bicycle, a new dress, a new game to play with my friends. As the years passed, and Grammy appeared less loving and warm alongside Boebe’s hugs and foot rubs, I began to hate the obligatory kiss at the door. Through their means of physical affection towards me, I saw that side of my Boebe and Grammy which showed their true colors. I will always remember Boebe for
her love and Grammy for her endless supply of gifts.

Two women, two worlds apart, share the same job as grandmothers. The life of a wealthy aristocrat rendered Grammy untouchable. A never ending supply of gifts often followed our visits to make up for that which she could not give. On the other side of the country, Boebe lived the life of a poor widow in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of New York. A sister of four, a mother of two, and now a grandmother of two more only meant more people to love. And even after they are gone, I will remember the differences of the two people who tried to love me the most.

Nicole Schwartzberg first published her essay “My Two Meshugenahs” in her high school
literary magazine, The Andover Reader.

From a Boy to a Man

by Ayodele T.M. Adesanya

As I prostrate to Elizabeth Omoluyi Omolayole-Adesanya, she says, “Pele, Ayo. O se, O se.” Welcome, Ayo. Thank you, Thank you. Those are the first words that I have ever heard coming out of her mouth. A tear falls out of my eye onto the floor. I am meeting my grandmother
for the very first time.

Having recently left Nigeria, she is definitely tired, aged, and worn. I remember my strong grandmother, my mama agba, from my father’s many stories. I remember the grandmother that walked miles with children on her back to sell gari, a Nigerian staple. I remember the grandmother that walked five miles to her husband’s funeral. Now, Mama agba, burdened
with arthritis, has difficulty walking the ten feet to her bathroom. Though her physical state is not well, her mind is keen. In Yoruba, a large, established tribe/language in western Nigeria, she tells stories of my father’s boyhood, his mistakes, and his good deeds. She reminds me that I am a Yoruba boy and not to “convert” to the African American stereotypes of cornrows and pierced ears. She tells me everything from the value of education to what kind of females to fancy. Calling me “fine, fine,” she commends me on my attire and manners. She instructs me to take care of my family. In short, my grandmother desperately tries to tell me, in one night, all of the important values in life. Tonight, she and I are going to sleep in the same bed. Mama agba, lying on the side of the bed close to the floor, is saving a spot for me near the wall.

I ask her why she doesn’t lie near the wall.

She replies that she doesn’t want me to fall off the bed.

“Eseun, Mama agba,” I say, Thank you. But I insist that she lie near the wall so that she remains safe. “Odaaro, Mama agba.” Goodnight.

“Odaaro, Ayodele. O se.”

After a while, I finally fall to sleep on the side near the floor.

Late on a Saturday night in a Hackney, East London flat, the Adesanya family, filled with glory, faith, and love, stood together. Baba (my father, Omotayo), Uncle Taiye Kekere, Mama Ayo (my mother, Joyce), Aunty Mosunadedayo, Omorayo (my cousin, Linda), Olurayo (my cousin, David),
Omoluyi (my sister, Luyi), Mama agba, and I all stood in the tiny room singing. Our deep Nigerian voices, notably off tune, sang with confidence and pride. My father, being the eldest child of Mama agba, began: “This is my story, This is my song/ Praising my savior, All the day long.” All of the rest of us picked up at that point and sang the repeated verses of “Blessed Assurance.” While we sang these words, I looked at the wise and loving face of my grandmother. I looked at my father and uncle: the oldest child and the youngest child respectively. Though they had their differences in views, they stood together singing. I saw my mother and aunty leading the “family
choir.” Then I glanced at my sister and Morayo, the young women of the Adesanya family. They would grow up, marry, and lose their maiden names. I then looked at Olurayo who was called “Oba ni London,” which means “King of London”; he wore a jubilant smile. Then, I thought of myself, the second-oldest Adesanya male in my generation. I would carry on my family name, and I would represent the Adesanyas for years to come. Then, I looked at everyone together singing. At 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning, the Adesanya family was together singing.

Today, we will be leaving my uncle’s family and grandmother to return to the United States. During the day, I spend most of my time with my grandmother. She calls my sister, Omorayo, and Olurayo into her room. After they leave, she calls me. I prostrate, greet her, and enter her room.
There, she gives me a Nigerian cloth that she tells me to put on the bed in my boarding house. She thanks me, repeats the sentiment of “fine, fine,” and tells me to do well and represent the Adesanya family. I prostrate again to thank Mama agba, and another tear rolls down onto the floor.

Ayodele Adesanaya wrote “From a Boy to a Man” while in high school at Phillips Academy
in Andover, Massachusetts. His story appeared in the Andover Reader.

Paper Mill Town / Israel Is My Home >>


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