My dad got it right when he said about my grandmother: “Millie was someone who left an indelible mark on all those who met her and we will never see her like again.”
I can’t say it’s been a hard loss. My grandmother was 101 years old and her quality of life had shrunk considerably. She was not always lucid. She needed assistance for every aspect of her daily life. My brother Simon mentally said his goodbye about seven years ago when she could no longer play scrabble.
It is a loss none-the-less, made complicated for me by my mom’s inability to mourn.
At the funeral, Mom cycled through several emotions. At one point, as she was walking to the gravesite, she told her sister, my aunt Barbara, that she had forgotten to tell her mother where she was. Then she repeatedly told me it was a waste of time to be there.
So, too, at the traditional mourning, shiva, that we held in my parent’s apartment. Mom listened to all the stories we told about Millie and asked if the person we were speaking about was still alive. Then, very strongly, she yelled out, “My mother is not dead!”
On the advice of Mom’s friend Rachel, we started talking about the funeral of our “friend.” It was easier to shield Mom that way from the repeated discovery of her mother’s passing.
My grandmother was a big presence in my life. I was her first grandchild born a day before her 50th birthday. She apparently made it her mission to bless me by superstitiously holding her thumb between her fingers—holting a farge—she called it, and telling everyone how ugly I was. Her large, uncompromising personality accompanied me as I grew and developed. Those early years were filled with frustration at the way she embarrassed me with her outspoken criticisms, her bossy nature, and the all-encompassing strength of her own convictions. All that changed when, during college, I spent a month with my grandparents in their Netanya apartment—my grandfather Hilly was still alive then. I learned to appreciate their give and take, their dedication to friends, their activism and volunteerism. I also accepted that though we were related, I was not responsible for their crazy antics.
Booba, as we called her, would tell me about how famous she was in Netanya, how everyone knew her because she used to dance Israeli folk dances every Saturday night in the square (while Zaida sat on the sidelines and played his drum). She boasted about how well she danced. Yeah, right, I would think to myself. And then one day, walking in the streets of the city, a stranger came up to us and said, “Oh, I know you! You’re that wonderful dancer in the square!”
She once stopped a pick-pocket with her umbrella.
Not many people are privileged to have had such a long, mature relationship with their grandparents. I was lucky in this respect. And my children, who grew up with Booba, and who have their own funny and annoying stories to tell about her, have also finally come to appreciate that they knew their great grandmother in all her glory.
There are those moments, like when she danced at my wedding and sang to us in Yiddish or when we celebrated her 100th birthday, the true smiles and understanding that the celebration was for her, that we will cherish forever.
I imagine that when Alzheimer’s incapacitates my own mother, despite the fact that large parts of her are already missing, it won’t be as easy to say goodbye.
As is my wont, I spend extra time in my kitchen when I’m stressed (and even when I’m happy, but this week I felt sort of flat). Two events came together to shape what I decided to cook. One was finding a used copy of The New Moosewood Cookbook* when I was walking in Netanya with Mom. It was a real bargain! My original copy is taped together with some pages falling out and quite stained. The other was the arrival of my vegetarian friend Sharón who is staying with me at my house for a few days. Need I say more?
My grandmother would probably call this recipe ongepatchky, a Yiddish word meaning overly elaborate. Except that these burgers are worth the effort.
1/2 cup orange lentils
1/2 cup green lentils
2 cups water
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
about 8 mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts (or almonds), finely chopped
1 tsp prepared mustard
1/2 cup oat germ
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring lentils to boil on stove top then simmer partially covered until water is all gone and lentils are soft (orange lentils will disintegrate; green lentils will not). Mash with vinegar. In a large frying pan, saute onions and garlic until onions begin to brown. Add mushrooms and walnuts, mustard and spices. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. Combine mashed lentils and onion mixture, and add oat germ. Chill for up to an hour. Form patties and fry on both sides in a small amount of oil until crispy. Serve in a bun with tomatoes and lettuce.
*Katzen, Mollie, The New Moosewood Cookbook, 2000, Ten Speed Press, Berkley, CA.
The above recipe is a slightly modified version of the one that appears in The Moosewood Cookbook.