Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Up and Down the Aisle with Grandma

More on this photo of my grandmother in a moment.   But, first, I need to tell you what sparked this memory.

I am fresh back from a sojourn to New York after not being there since last July.  The good news is that nothing much changed except for a growing cobweb or two in my apartment.  Now, on my trips back, I immediately fall into a distinct pattern as soon as I arrive.   I usually take the same 7AM plane out of LAX for the same arrival at JFK by 330PM.  If all goes well, I am up in Westchester by 5PM.   I drop off my bags and immediately head out to the A and P super market to pick up some food.

Except...the A and P is gone.  


I went to the other one I would frequent.  Also kaput.  Then I remembered reading that the chain closed hundreds of stores.   This deviation to my schedule was so devastating that I had to take a nap.

And I realized one more time.   That I am truly my grandmother's grandchild.

Now to the picture at the top.  You finally see Grandma. With me and my hand up Popeye. So to speak.

You'll notice there is a wristwatch on me, but not Grandma. The woman was timeless. But, still, growing up in my house, we had wall clocks and calendars all over the place. Frankly, we didn’t need them. You could always tell what day or time it was by paying attention to whatever my grandmother was doing. A set schedule of weekly activities that never ever varied one iota.

The morning hours after breakfast always were set aside for some sort of household chores. On Mondays, she descended down the cellar stairs to do the wash. The machine was circa 1935 and the clothes were wrung out through one of those mechanical rollers. I was always warned not to put my fingers anywhere near it. Tuesday mornings were one of two consecutive mornings devoted to cleaning her house. Major dusting. Living room, bedroom, and the stairs that went up to our apartment. With no door or wall separating our area, Tuesday was not a day you could sleep late. Because, by 830AM, there was Grandma on the top step. Wipe, wipe, spray, spray, wipe, wipe.

Wednesday mornings featured part two of the cleaning parade. Floors. With the vacuum. At perhaps the earliest hour you can imagine. Again, no sleeping late as the sound of this massive Hoover canister, probably purchased during the Eisenhower administration, could be heard from our house all the way to New Rochelle.

You get the picture?  Now I will explain why the closing of the A and P chain would have made her take to the bed.   She was at the super market in an almost ritual-like fashion once a week.

I got sucked into this Thursday morning project when school was out for the summer. My father would drive her to the A and P (and later Waldbaum’s) for the weekly grocery shopping. This took almost two hours as Grandma methodically propelled her shopping cart up and down every aisle. She carefully surveyed all the shelves as if some new amazing product would be added to the items on sale. Not that Grandma would deviate from anything she had routinely purchased for the past forty years. The same brand of chocolate chip cookies. The same little cans of Carnation Condensed Milk. The same box of H O Oatmeal. The same bag of specially ground Eight O’Clock coffee. You could take a picture of her cart one week and it would exactly the same the very next week. And her attention to the prices was almost Rain Man-like.

”You see this jar of pickled beets? Last week, it was 79 cents. This week, it’s 80 cents.” Nothing got past her. Amazing that she could read numbers, but not words.

Friday mornings were special. Her kitchen linoleum was washed and waxed. Every single week, as if Army troop maneuvers were regularly conducted there. By the time I was in high school, all the accumulated wax on the floor made the whole kitchen one inch higher. Of course, you risked life and limb walking through there if the floor was not 100% dry.

”Go out through the basement. The floor is not dry.”

I loved Grandma on Saturday mornings because that’s when baking would commence. An apple pie. A pound cake. A rhubarb pie. Some bread pudding. The aromas wafted through the entire house as if we were living next door to the Entenmann’s main headquarters. The finished product was always kept in her pantry and usually was missing a hunk as soon as I could sneak in there.

There were, however, some Saturday mornings we dreaded. When the bus would stop on the corner and out would come Grandma’s niece or cousin Adele. We were never quite sure of the familial connection because it was described differently on any given day. Nevertheless, Adele’s arrival heralded complete polarization. On one hand, she was more than welcome because she always brought these homemade strawberry squares which she had baked lovingly with about five pounds of butter. But, on the other hand, Adele’s visit could only mean one dreadful thing.

Grandma was going to be getting a Toni Permanent.

In her home upstairs, we would immediately go into Defcon 4.

”Quick, Grandma’s getting a Toni. Go close the door! And make sure the dog stays upstairs.” 

My mother began to bark like General Patton. But, if you did not react quickly, the rancid smell of a home permanent concoction could last for weeks. Luckily, this was only repeated on a Saturday once every two months.

Sunday mornings sometimes found her at the German service of our Lutheran church. But, you could always count on a big Sunday dinner getting cooked up for midday consumption. She used to eat around 1PM, but, as time wore on, she started eating earlier and earlier. Had she continued to live, by now, she'd probably be eating her Sunday dinner on Saturday night. 

Sadly, the great baking on Saturday didn't translate to phenomenal cooking on Sunday. Probably as a result of Depression living, Grandma made due with the barest of ingredients. Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup was used as spaghetti sauce. Salad dressing was some vinegar and a spoonful of sugar. Not even mixed together. Serviceable meals, but nothing from the annals of Rachael Ray.

Afternoons? More clock setting. A 45 minute nap on the couch, always referred to as "beauty sleep." Then, One Life to Live and General Hospital.

It might sound boring to you, but something worked about all this precision. The woman made it to the age of 92.

So maybe my copying one of her traits is not such a bad thing.

Dinner last night:  Prosciutto and argula on flatbread at the CineMark theater in Playa Vista.

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