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Thursday’s Post-Publication Post: September, My Grandmas, and Me

PRACTICING WRITING IS GOING ON A BRIEF HIATUS. DETAILS LATER IN THIS POST.

As most of you know by now, my debut short-story collection, Quiet Americans, is inspired largely by the histories and experiences of my paternal grandparents, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. In real life, as in the subset of linked stories within the book, these two met and married in New York, raised a son, and eventually became loving and involved grandparents to two little girls.

All four of my grandparents are often on my mind and always in my heart. Throughout the process of writing, publishing, and promoting Quiet Americans I have been thinking, quite obviously, particularly of my father’s parents, Ruth and Sam Dreifus. But in the past several weeks, I’ve been thinking of them—and my maternal grandparents, especially my Grandma Rose—even more often and intensely.

Part of that is because August is a big family month for us. Among our celebrations are the birthdays of both of my sister’s children, who are named for my father’s parents. All of us in my family are keenly aware of how much joy it would have brought my grandparents to have had the chance to meet these children.

Then, a couple of weekends ago, all nine of my maternal grandparents’ great-grandchildren were together in New Jersey. My maternal grandparents didn’t have the happiest of marriages, so seeing this very tangible, positive result of it is always a little bittersweet but also, somehow, uplifting.

Every August also brings my parents’ wedding anniversary (a milestone this year!). And, as usual, my parents have been reminiscing about their wedding and everyone who was there. On this, I’ll just add that one of the things that makes my parents’ marriage so noteworthy (at least, in my observations), is the degree to which my mom and dad were each welcomed into their “in-law” family. Now that I’m older and wiser, I am deeply grateful for how well everyone got along, and how much all of that warmth enriched my own childhood and growing-up.

Now that it’s September, I have even more reason to be thinking of my grandparents, especially my two grandmothers.

First, the approach of September 11 reminds me of the last time I saw my Grandma Rose: Sunday, September 16, 1984, at Windows on the World, the restaurant that was located atop the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

My Grandma Rose and Me, Windows on the World, September 16, 1984

That day, we were celebrating what my parents had cleverly labeled a “180th Birthday Party,” marking a year in which my dad was turning 40 and both of his parents were turning 70. (In Judaism, the number 18 and multiples thereof are considered auspicious and life-affirming.)

What no one knew was that Grandma Rose would be admitted to the hospital the next day. She passed away on September 30; none of us grandchildren—there are five—were permitted to visit her while she was hospitalized. This is the last photo I have of us.

My two grandmas were very different, and I’ve been thinking about that, too, in recent days. And the big prompt for that is what’s happening later today: I am going in for surgery.

Don’t worry. I’m going to be absolutely fine. In fact, I am going into this surgery fully confident that it’s going to vastly improve my quality of life.

For the past several years, I’ve been dealing with a pretty chronic “female problem.” And here’s where my grandmothers come in (again).

My Grandma Ruth & Me, Cambridge, Mass., June 1994

My father’s mother, who suffered from the same problem, had the same surgery that I’m having today to deal with it. In fact, fifty-something years ago this surgery was the treatment of first resort; my doctor and I attempted several other medical and even one previous (less major) surgical treatment, but we’ve ended up here anyway.

Although this chapter of my grandmother’s life was closed years before I was born, for some reason, she loved telling me about it, in graphic (and, to me as a maturing young woman, stomach-churning) detail. I am confident that she would have similarly loved hearing every last detail about my symptoms, (invasive) tests and treatment, and impending recovery. She’d hoped to become a doctor back in her native Germany, and in some way, I think she never really relinquished an interest in the human body and its functions (and especially its dysfunctions).

On the other hand, my Grandma Rose probably would have thought that even by mentioning a “female problem” I’d shared far too much! The one criticism I ever heard her level against my father’s mother was this: “Ruth, that [reference to a bodily function] is so unaesthetic!”

I don’t expect aesthetics to be my priority over the next several days, but I’m also keenly aware of how lucky I am. Anything that occurs around September 11 is likely to make most of us grateful for our own good fortune and blessings. And mine include the wonderful family that I have today and in my memories.

If all goes well—and I fully expect that it will—I should be back home on (or by) Monday. I am not bringing my gorgeous new computer to the hospital. So please forgive the hiatus here. The usual blogging schedule will resume as soon as I feel up to it.

You all stay well—and writing—while I’m away!

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15 Responses »

  1. All good wishes and prayers for a successful surgery and recovery. Rest.

  2. Erica, Lovely to hear about your grandmothers. Sounds like they would be very proud of you. As the French say, courage!

  3. Good luck, Erika! Last night I was talking to Kathy and she said, “Mimi and Rose will be very busy with Ivan and Erika…. I suppose Rose will have to go to NY.” It was so matter of fact! Love your Rose picture! Be well!

  4. good luck, erika!

  5. What an exquisitely written essay. Thanks for sharing some of your memories. May God grant you a speedy recovery.

  6. Erika,

    My thoughts and prayers are with you. Be well, and allow yourself whatever time you need to heal.

  7. Get well soon, Erika. Odaiji ni, as people say where I live.

  8. All the best for a speedy recovery. Some nice pictures here, thanks for sharing this personal story – makes a great read.

  9. Beautiful piece. You have my wishes for a speedy recovery.

  10. Hope the surgery went well, Erika, and that you feel 100 percent soon. I too enjoyed the personal post–thanks for sharing.

  11. Thank you all! Everything has gone well, and I may even get to go home sometime tomorrow. I appreciate all of your kind wishes.

  12. Glad to hear it went well, Erika. Wishing you the best; here’s to a continued smooth recovery. And thanks for sharing your grandmas with us!

  13. Hi Erika,
    Glad to hear all went well. I enjoyed reading about your grandmas — I had a grandma Rosie too! Take care of yourself during your recovery!!

  14. Erika,
    Your daily entries will be missed, but don’t rush your recovery. Do all that you need to do at the pace your body requires. All the best!

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