Tag Archives: grandmothers

my modern love essay that the new york times didn’t publish

i know, i know. i kind of suck b/c i haven’t been blogging lately and you’re sick of seeing that androgynous goth person staring at you every time you visit to see if i’ve updated. (in all honesty: not a clue if that’s a man or a woman.)

i’ve been so busy working (pbbbbt! work! i know, right?!!) that i’m going to cheat and in lieu of one of my typically ridiculous entries, i’m going to share my modern love essay recently submitted to and politely and promptly rejected by the new york times. not a huge surprise they didn’t publish it, as i’m sure they get about a trillion submissions a month, but a bummer nonetheless.

the great thing is that essays like this don’t go to waste when you have a blog. so i am self-publishing my essay. please enjoy all the capital letters and proper punctuation and i promise i’ll be back soon…

You’re Gonna Meet a Prince(ss) 

Throughout my youth and adolescence, my grandmother predicted three things:

1. If I ate any more than 10 grapes (red or green, didn’t matter), I would get a “bellyache.” (This wasn’t just me, either. This was all people.)

2. I’d meet and marry a prince. A “Jewish prince,” she declared, despite my argument that Jewish princes hadn’t existed for at least a couple thousand years, if they ever existed at all.

3. That using a blow dryer every day would ruin my hair.

Which do you think turned out to be true? (I’ll give you a hint: It doesn’t have anything to do with fruit or princes.)

When she died nearly 11 years ago (she was 91, I was 21; “A babe in the woods,” she’d say), I probably had never eaten more than 10 grapes at any one time, and I was still on the fence about the hairdryer thing. But even in high school, I secretly knew in my heart of hearts that the prince she predicted I’d meet might actually turn out to be a princess. And who knows if she’d even be Jewish.

Losing my grandmother was devastating to me. Our coffee klatsch of two was now a coffee klatsch of one. I had lost my best friend.

Who would I have toasted bagels and lox with? Who would I call at midnight just to say hi? And now that she was in heaven, what would she think of the fact that her granddaughter was a rainbow flag-waving homosexual? Surely she would find out (after she hit the Heavenly Diner all-you-can-eat cheese Danish/macaroni salad/pickles and smoked fish buffet, of course).

I tried not to focus on what she’d think, and kept my head down and focused as a young community reporter in suburban Washington, D.C.

And then it happened: I met my princess. I met Holly.

It was an unusually hot April night in downtown Washington. We were both wallflowers at ladies night at a gay bar on 17th Street. Soon we were talking outside. She wrote her email address on a square napkin in blue ink. I emailed her a week later. She wasn’t Jewish. I went out with her anyway. I mean, how long could it really last?

That was 10 years ago.

Since then, we’ve been married twice (once “unlawfully,” once lawfully—both times in Washington, just up the street from where we met in 2001). We bought, gutted and renovated a boarded-up crackhouse in southeast Baltimore, which we now call home. Our life is one big adventure. I love her more than life itself.

While Holly never had the pleasure of meeting my walker-pushing, hell-raising, unfiltered Pall Mall-smoking grandma, I’ve kept her a part of our lives by reminiscing almost daily about our times together. Sometimes I’ll even call someone a bastard (“bas-tid” in Grandma’s Jersey-ese) in her memory. Usually behind their back, but not always. This would have made her incredibly proud.

I don’t wonder anymore what she’d think of the fact that I’m gay. She wouldn’t care. I don’t wonder what she’d think of Holly. She’d absolutely adore her.

My grandmother had four younger brothers. My 90-year-old Great Uncle Ben was the baby of the Leibowitz clan, and is the last sibling standing. He’s become like a grandfather to both Holly and I. He’s been our biggest supporter, and was up front and center—fresh off the plane from Fort Lauderdale—at our legal wedding in Washington in March 2010.

He is the male incarnation of my grandma—kind, funny, generous and always ready with a dismissive “ah-who-the-hell-needs-‘em” hand wave to anyone who does me wrong. I love him so much my eyes fill with tears when we’re together. We both do. And he loves us back.

Holly met him for the first time in August 2009, and he gave her a huge bear hug from his couch.

“My new niece!” he announced, holding her hand, his eyes shining with delight.

He took my parents, Holly and I out to eat that first evening. As he and I walked into the restaurant, he paused—his wheelie walker (the kind with the breaks) and south Florida humidity between us—and turned to me.

“Are you happy? Does she make you happy?” he asked, touching my hand.

“Yes,” I said, tears in my eyes. “Yes, she does.”

“Well, that’s all that matters. If someone doesn’t like it, they can go to hell,” he said. “Let’s eat.”

And with that, I knew. It wasn’t just Uncle Ben speaking. It was Grandma, too.

I’d like to think it was more than serendipity that brought Holly and I together that warm April night 10 years ago.

“That one,” I imagine Grandma saying from her regular booth at the Heavenly Diner, her mouth full of potato salad and beets and everything else she loved from Jersey diner salad bars that I couldn’t stand as a kid.

“She needs to meet that one,” she said, pointing down at Holly. “That’s the one. They’re going to have a wonderful life together.”

And we really do have a wonderful life together. I have my coffee klatsch of two again. Sometimes, when we’re lucky enough to all be together, it’s even a coffee klatsch of three—me, Holly and Uncle Ben.


isn’t it crazy what can make you miss someone?

scientists say that it’s our sense of smell that can bring back our most poignant memories, but that’s usually never the case for me. usually it’s a song or a sound or just the look of something–maybe a combination of the two. it happens out of the blue, too, and almost always at the wrong time. and if the memory is connected to someone you’ve lost, it can really bring you to your knees.

we’re up in western pee-ay right now. we came here suddenly over the weekend. holly’s grandma–she’s 80 and still works full-time; she can actually run circles around people half her age. hell, she can run circles around us–had a bad fall at work. we jumped in the car as soon as we heard and made the five hour drive up. she’s ok, thank goodness, but pretty badly bruised on her face and hands. we’ve been staying with her while her parents are on their annual vacation (they go away just one week a year), and i’m so glad we’re here–she’s needed some tlc.

there’s so many special things about grandmothers. too many to count, really. if you lucked out and got a really great one–and had the privilege of spending many years w/her–you know exactly what i’m talking about. i’ve written about my grandmother quite a lot on this blog b/c she was, and still is, even almost a decade after her death, such an important part of my life. since i lost her in august 2000, i’ve sort of been…collecting grandmothers. holly’s grandma is now my grandma, too, and i take care of her as gently as i would my own.

i love spending time w/joanne (holly’s grandma), but sometimes it’s hard b/c it makes me miss my own so badly. usually the feeling creeps up on me. i got a huge, whopping dose of that sunday night while i was making myself a snack. i made toast. it was white bread (something we don’t usually keep in our house), similar to what my own grandma used to keep in her apartment. on one slice i put peanut butter, on the other, i can’t believe it’s not butter. ha. so cute, i know. my grandma didn’t keep that in the house. heck, i don’t even know if it was around back then. what she did have was tub margarine.

i used to go to her house on saturday nights when i was growing up. back when there was the saturday night lineup on nbc or abc or whatever it was. there was 227 and amen and empty nest–but the shining star of the night was the golden girls. omg how we loved the golden girls. hell if i could understand half the jokes back then (all sexual; most involving blanche or sophia calling blanche a slut or rose not getting that sophia was calling blanche a slut). i didn’t care about the jokes, tho. i  just loved being by her side. we would sip sugar-free swiss miss and eat white toast with margarine. i just loved it. looking back, i see that those were some of the happiest moments of my childhood.

i’m standing in holly’s grandma’s kitchen sunday night and i start spreading the butter spread on the toast. and something cracked in me. it was like…the looks of the toast, white bread with just a little golden brown, and the sound of the butter knife scraping against it. it was like i was whooshed back 20+ years in my own grandmother’s kitchen in new jersey. i was 10 years old again and my grandmother was in the living room waiting for me as our shows–our “programs,” as she would call them–were just about to start. it was just a split second but it split me in two and i stood in the kitchen and just started quietly crying and couldn’t stop. it just made me realize how something so small–just the look of a piece of toast and the sound of a butter knife scraping against it–can make you miss someone so badly it feels like your heart’s going to break in two.

it is so hard losing people. so so hard. i just hope that my grandmother knows how much i still miss her and how thankful i am that i had her in my life the 20 years that i did. i’m sorry this post is kind of a downer but it’s what i’ve been feeling and i try to write things here that a lot of ppl will identify with, happy or sad. if you’d like to share your thoughts on all this, pls do. you know i love it when you guys chime in. xo.

grandma would have been 100 today

and lemme tell you, i can say with great certainty that she’d be mad as hell.

if you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you know i was extremely close with my late grandma. she passed away eight years ago (it’ll be nine this august). she was born february 13, 1909. so this would have been her 100th birthday (!).

grandma, if you’re getting the internet version of the Heaven Newsletter (you probably are), i want to wish you a happy 100th. and i want you to know that even tho you’re not technically here, and you never really wanted to (read: didn’t) make it to 100 in the first place, i am very much thinking about you today. well, to be honest, i think about you a whole lot every day. (but i think that’s in the newsletter, too.) and even tho it breaks my heart that you’re not with us anymore, i’m relieved that you don’t have to deal with all that elderly “crap,” as you would have called it. plus all the, yes, even tho you told me not to say it, bastards, down here. (oh, and there are quite a few of them.) i couldn’t really think of a way to mark this day. but i figured a lasting tribute on the internet would do just fine.

to all my readers, my apologies i’ve been less than…what’s the word i’m looking for…well, i haven’t really been around. not writing so much. i guess i’ve just been feeling uninspired. just bogged down by the weight of the daily grind and everything that comes with it. (prolific! that’s the word i was thinking of.)

and to my late grandma…oh, grandma. happy 100th! thank G-d you were born. thank G-d you were in my life for as long as you were! i will brew a pot of coffee (in the perculator you gave me) tonight and toast a piping hot cup in your honor. i hope you have a permanent seat next to the unlimited pickle/olive/potato salad/cheese danish/lox/bagel/cream cheese bar in heaven. and that you’re smoking all the unfiltered pall malls you want. b/c, after 100 years, you sure as hell deserve it. love you!


holly’s grandma’s microwave


is so old and so awesome that i’ve got to tell you about it.

that’s it, above. not the best photo (c/o my cellio), i know. i was heating up some coffee [when it comes to coffee i’m no snob, and certainly not above heating up some from earlier (sometimes way earlier) in the day] over thanksgiving and was like, that’s it: i need to take a photo of it right now. every single time i use her microwave i think, man it’s so friggin fantastic that it still works after all these years. in fact, it’s so old it wasn’t even called a microwave back in the day! look closely (below)…


it’s called a “Multi-Wave”!! i know, right?? and check its digital display!


sweet, right?!!

holly’s grandma (first name: joanne) is one of those rare ppl that take such good care of things that they last forever. it’s not so much that she’s frugal or anything, it’s just that, well, i guess it hasn’t broken yet. “she refuses to get a new one,” explains holly. she actually bought it for her mother [holly’s great-grandma, aka “Big Grandma,” something she liked being called (actually she preferred “Fat Grandma,” but that sort of morphed into Big Grandma, tho she still liked the former better). joanne is still called “Little Grandma” to this day even tho Big Grandma passed some time ago], but, holly continues, “if she knew anybody cooked her food in there she wouldn’t eat it. she just refused to use it.” it was stovetop (or the oven) for Big Grandma all the way. the family has tried for years to convince grandma joanne to buy a new one but she refuses. for her purposes (cooking a baked potato here and there, reheating thanksgiving leftovers once a year, making early-morning tea for family over the weekend), it’s just fine. so, i guess that’s the story of the microwave. my grandmother had a vacuum that just wouldn’t quit either. by the end of her life, i think we had trouble even finding bags for it. oh gosh, which reminds me (b/c my late grandma had a really old tv that she refused to replace)…her tv. omg, holly’s grandma’s console tv. that’ll have to wait til next time.

well, i wish i had something “deep” to tell you but i don’t. for the moment, the well’s run dry. i just got over the flu (omg, ppl. take your vit. c) and my brainpower’s not at its finest. it’s back to work w/me tomorrow. the wedding photos are coming soon i promise. 😉

dear grandma,

it’s been a long time since we talked, and i never thought i’d be writing you a letter like this, much less posting it on the internet. hopefully you’ll read it. i don’t know if they have internet access in heaven, but i have a hunch you have pretty much everything you’d ever want at your fingertips, at least that’s what i imagine…

grandma, i don’t know if you’ve heard the news up there (is there a family newsletter in heaven?) but i’m getting married soon, in just a couple weeks. back when i was in middle school and high school, and more so in college, you used to always tell me i’d meet a prince.

“jessie, you’re gonna find a prince, lemme tell you,” you ‘d say in between our collective slurps of chicken soup or sips of coffee in your cozy apartment.  “a prince, i tellya. you just wait.”

i waited. and waited. and you were right. except i didn’t find a prince. i found holly. we found each other. she understands me better than anyone. i’m crazy about her, and i know you’d love her, grandma. and i know she’d love you. eight years later and i still talk about you constantly. i feel like she knows you already.

grandma, i can’t help but to think that it’s a shame you don’t know me now. i’m all grown up. i mean, you’d be almost 100 by now. and miserable, i’m sure, as you never intended on hitting 91 anyway. you used to always say, what am i good for? i’m so old, jessie, i’m so old, i’m no good for anything. i used to tell you, grandma! what are you talking about?! you’re so important to me, you don’t even know. and you didn’t know. but maybe you know now? your absence has left a hole in my heart a mile wide. i don’t know if you know it up there in heaven, but all these years later, i still ache for you as much as i did that summer morning in august 2000 when a phone call let me know–still in bed, my feet cold as ice–that you had left us, quietly, peacefully, in your sleep. only a few months, it felt like, after i called you on new year’s eve (you always were a night owl) and shouted, “YOU MADE IT!” into the phone. b/c, born in 1909, you never thought you’d make it and you totally did. and we laughed and laughed and hung up, both of us still laughing.

grandma, you were my best friend. and each day that passes, i see it and feel it even more. you were my rock in the storm, always ready with a dismissable hand wave for my enemies (“aahhh, who needs em!” you’d say with the force of a thousand north jersey grandmas), a hot drink, a piece of fruit, a fresh package of lox, some grapes (“ten,” you’d tell me. “only eat ten or you’ll get a bellyache!”), an espisode of the golden girls (oh, how we loved those! esp. when blanche’s balloon boobs popped! remember that??), a story to distract me from my worries, which seemed so large back then. looking back on it now, you never belittled them, you never made me feel bad.

there’s so much i want to write here about you for the world to see. all the things i miss about you. like how you used to kiss my feet as a little girl, and tell me about it as i grew up. “you know i used to kiss your feet?” you’d recount, laughing, picking up my tiny feet when i was still a kid. “eecch!” you’d laugh, making pretend you were grossed out. how we used to secretly hold hands in the backseat (i was always stuck in the middle of the family car on long drives and you must’ve known how i hated it). i miss your hands. so strong, stiff when you got old, but strong, always strong withbeautiful rings and so good to cook with. i miss all your hats, oh you always looked so gorgeous in your hats! some red, some green, blue and black and magenta, wearing them so well and so elegantly when we went to shul together…i always felt so proud by your side. i miss your cooking, your chicken soup (which i’m still trying to replicate), your thinly sliced sweet & sour meat (the “sweet” was sweet & low, i realize now and that fact makes me miss it even more). i miss the smells wafting out of your closed apartment door on the third floor–they’d tickle my nose before i even stepped out of that rickety old elevator (that i still have nightmares about getting stuck in to this day even tho we never actually got stuck in it–but we did have some close calls!). i miss you yelling at me that using a blowdryer on my hair every day would ruin it (you were right) and also that i ought to stop using all that other “crap” and just use dove soap b/c it’s the best thing for my skin (right again; i use it every day). i miss you yelling at us that we took away the only thing good left in your life (you were always dramatic, miss that, too), which, of course, was smoking unfiltered pall malls. (how you managed to keep your lungs clear remains a mystery to me, but i think it has a little to do withthe fact that you never breathed in the smoke in the first place, just in your mouth and out your nose for 65+ years) i miss you stealing everything salty that you weren’t supposed to have b/c of your high blood pressure–olives and pickles, mostly–off my plate at jersey diners. i miss splitting enormous, sweet-but-not-too-sweet cheese danishes withyou at those diners. i miss the way you used to look at me across those tables as i grew up. with so much love. like you couldn’t believe your eyes that i was growing up. and i wish you could see me soon, so soon, in my wedding dress. i wish so badly i could see your eyes looking into my eyes as i prepare to start a whole new chapter in my life.  

grandma, i knew i was gay a long time ago. when you died, i’m sure you found out everything quickly and i’ve been secretly relieved that i never had to actually tell you. my mom and uncle tell me that you and grandpa would be happy for me. that even tho grandpa was a rabbi, he could see thru all of society’s ridiculousness to the core of everything: that i’m happy. that i’ve found someone to make me happy forever. that two ppl that love each other makes the world better. uncle ben, your remaining baby brother, was going to come up from florida to the wedding, but he hasn’t been feeling well lately (he is pushing 90 afterall) and i couldn’t wait to see him. i figured he’d be your ambassador–and plus he looks just like you. now that he’s not coming, all i’ll have is your memory. but i’mquite certain you’ll be there with me.

i don’t really know how to close out this letter. it’s not often that i write a letter to someone who’s not here anymore. in fact, i’ve never done it before. i guess i want to ask you to bless us with a long, full, happy and healthy life together. to keep an eye on us from your perch in heaven, and know that i still love you as much as i did back then, that i love you even more now. that in my happiest and darkest moments i think of you and know that you’re watching over me. that if i could wish for anything, anything at all, it would be just five more minutes with you. just one more chance to kiss your soft cheek, one more chance to hold your sturdy hands, one more chance to stand next to you in services, just one more cup of coffee, one more golden girls laugh, one more argument, one more phone call making up, one more danish. one more anything. grandma, i miss you. please know how important you were to me back then. please know how important you still are to me. please know that an ‘old lady’ like you could have never imagined how much you did in the world when you were in it. and that you will be in my heart nov. 15th, my wedding day. and you will be in it always.

i love you,
your granddaughter,

my grandmother died in august 2000. she was my best friend.