Note from Allison: I never planned or intended to write this. It literally spilled out of me, totally unexpected, today in Starbucks. (And yes, I was a sniffling, crying mess in public.) Even after I wrote this, I didn’t intend to publish or share it. But after some thought, I decided that this is a story I long ago promised myself I would tell. ( “Tell my grandmother’s story” is on my Bucket List.) So here it is, a story that is about a great love, about loving without conditions, about living and loving no matter what. It is just a fraction of a sliver of her story, but it is a start. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me share this with you.
I want to tell you about one of the great lights of my life.
Her name was Paula Dash and everyone who knew her, from the smallest child to the most grown-up of grown-ups, called her “Bubby” (a Yiddish term for “’grandmother”).
Bubby was everything to me. When I was young, she filled in in so many ways (many of which I will never even know of) for my Mother, her daughter and only child, who for various reasons just wasn’t totally able to handle all of the logistical and emotional aspects of being a Mom on a daily basis.
I grew up thinking that every kid has a Mom and a Dad and a Bubby at his or her beck and call.
In many ways and especially until my sister Erica was born when I was almost 6-years-old, Bubby was my everything.
She braided my hair into pigtails with satin-y ribbons woven throughout.
We made apple cake together.
She sewed, knitted, crocheted blankets, sweaters, scarves, gloves, mittens and virtually every sew-able/knittable item known to mankind for me.
She made me the most delicious and wonderful chicken soup with tiny A,B,Cs as the noodles.
When I was 4, she took me to the White House and snapped a now-famous (at least in my family) photo of a pigeon landing on my head and me being totally and utterly freaked out and not knowing what to do or how to get rid of it.
When my parents would go on vacation, she would send me to school with the most God-awful brown paper bag lunches that included a fatty bland chicken sandwich on rye with mustard and a pickle. She would shake her head in disdain when I told her that the other kids had Doritos, lemonades and bologna sandwiches. Not for her granddaughter, though.
She fed me, clothed me, bathed me, hugged me, smothered me in kisses and loved me in the most complete and uncomplicated way that any human being has ever loved another.
When I was homesick at a sleepover, it was Bubby, not my parents, I cried for.
I was her everything. And in return, she was my everything.
Later, when I met the man I would marry, she fell in love all over again. Why? Because he gave her, as a sign of respect on the very first day they met, the first kabobs off the grill that he had made for all of us. That one act sealed his fate with Bubby forever. She called him her grandson, and for a woman with just one child and two grandchildren, this was no small deal.
She made my veil for my wedding. She called me her “diamond” in her speech at my wedding. She danced at my wedding.
Yes….she danced at my wedding.
That in and of itself was a giant feat because Bubby was a Holocaust survivor. Except for one brother, her entire family – mother, father, sister, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, EVERYONE – was wiped out. Murdered. Gone. (In fact, upon arrival in the middle of the night at Auschwitz, her own mother was literally separated from her grasp – one to the gas chamber, the other toward an at least one more day and night of suffering). Through miracle after miracle, she was saved and spared at every step of the way.
Years later, she was a grand woman in every sense of the word. But life was pretty simple for her. All she had wanted was to see her two granddaughters happy. Truly, truly, truly that was ALL that mattered to her.
She was the most optimistic, cheerful, mentally sharp and highly opinionated (some might say stubborn) person I have ever known. She was a woman who had seen the very worst life can dish out and yet, bestowed on me and my sister and our families the most loving experience we have ever (or will ever) know.
When my son Daniel was born, all bets were off. For the first time in over 25 years, there was a new sherriff in town. And, as I and my sister had been over two decades before, this one was the most perfect, flawless creature who ever graced this planet (or any other, for that matter). Later, she equally reveled two great-granddaughters (one from me, one from my sister) who were born while she was still alive.
Throughout all of this, I was still her Golden Girl. Or at least she always made me feel that way. And like anyone who received that kind of love, I may not have always received it as nicely or sweetly as I could have.
I’d ignore her when she gave me unsolicited advice. (When I was all pleased with myself for losing weight, she’d tell me “Alkele, eat a carb. It can’t be healthy. The body needs bread.”)
I’d roll my eyes when she over-worried (calling me once at the office to lock the doors because of a televised police car chase going on in the next county).
Even after she died, I felt her presence. In big things and in the most tiny things. When the news of my husband and I divorcing became public, many people asked me, as their VERY FIRST question:
“But wouldn’t Bubby be upset?”
I’d totally cut her off when she made comments that reminded me that her objectivity when it came to my kids was non-existent (“You need to watch Daniel – he is exactly the kind of child a female teacher might prey on,” she told me during a time when there seems to be more than the usual amount of these cases in the news.)
Truth is, I had NO idea how rare and lovely this kind of love was until she was gone. Or maybe I did but took it for grated.
Either way, not everyone loves this way. Actually, very few people do. Heck, I don’t even know if I am capable of loving my own children this fully and unconditionally.
I consider myself fortunate that I had this love in my life for it was greater than most people will ever know or receive in a lifetime. That I know for sure.
Bubby lived out her life in her own apartment with the mental acuity of a 25-year-old and physically healthy until the last 10 days of her life. (Though her age when she passed away was somewhere between 90 and 94, she passed herself off as 65 and actually got away with it!) I am grateful my kids knew their great-grandmother enough so that they will always remember her. And I am so grateful that she never, ever veered from what she thought, what she believed and what she wanted until literally the last day of her life.
I didn’t plan to write this today but saw on Facebook (yes, that’s a source of news for me) that it had recently been Holocaust Remembrance Day and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to honor this great light of my life.
This woman who lost most of her family, who experienced horror that could never be explained, who lost her only child, who fought for everything she ever had, including her own life, was the person who taught me more about life and love and goodness than anyone else ever has or will.
Sometimes I worry that I could never possibly live up to the level of awesomenesss she saw in me or believed about in me. I need to always try, though. I know she is always smiling down on me, willing me to “eat a carb.” (And she is probably happy I have since gained back that weight. Sigh.)
I am certain I never said it enough so I wanted to make sure that all of you knew how much I loved her and how strong her light, to this day, shines on for me.
Bubby, thank you. I miss you. I love you. And I’m sorry I still go outside with a wet head.