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He Was the Egg Man by
25
(41 Stories)

/ Stories

(Although I published a version of this story last year in response to the prompt about grandparents, my grandfather was truly an unforgettable person. And it is a family tradition to tell stories about him over and over again….)

Throughout my childhood, Grampa Mike was always there : birthdays, holidays, ordinary days...and he used to show up with a flat of eggs and maybe some roses that were a little past their prime.

His obituary doesn’t say very much. It’s written in a tiny font and takes up about a square inch of newsprint. I keep the yellowed square of paper in my jewelry box, the one I took with me the day my house burned down in 1991.

The obituary states when he died–June 11, 1977– but not his age; it lists the names of family members who survived him, and mentions that he was a former leader of the Jewish Educational Society of San Francisco. His name was Morris, but I never heard anyone call him that. He was Mike to almost everyone, and Grampa Mike to me and my cousins. His own children rarely called him Dad: he was Chief, Father Citrus, Pater Familias, Moishe, and Mike. Mike was his nom de saloon in the days when he owned a bar on skid row in San Francisco. My dad and my uncle were enlisted to work at the bar too, and they all had “bar names.” This was way before my time, of course. By the time I came along, the bar was long gone and had become part of the family folklore.

The obituary didn’t mention the box of stale bread my grandfather always carried around in the trunk of his car.

     Feeding the birds. Note box  marked eggs on the bench

It was his go-to entertainment source for his grandchildren when we spent the day with him. We could go to any park and be ready to feed the ducks and the pigeons. Hours of fun! The aroma of stale bread always reminds me of him. So do flats of eggs, fedoras, and ice cream.

 

Happy birthday to me!

Unlike many other Russian immigrants at the time, my grandfather did not leave the old country to settle in Petaluma and raise chickens. Instead, he sailed to New York, then moved to San Francisco and started his own business as a wholesale egg distributor–he bought the eggs and sold them to restaurants, bars and hotels. He was the Egg Man!

Throughout my childhood, Grampa Mike was always there: birthdays, holidays, ordinary days…and he used to show up with a flat of eggs and maybe some roses that were a little past their prime. He goofed around with us and mugged for the camera. He bought us ice cream and   pretended to scold us when we stuck out our tongues to lick our cones. When we sat next to him with food on our plates, he’d look surprised and point at something behind us. We’d turn around to look, and he’d have taken a bite of our sandwich. His big blue eyes gave nothing away–he was innocent!

I wish I still had the letters he wrote to me. He loved to write letters and he especially loved to receive letters from his grandchildren. His penmanship was full of flourishes: with curlicues and swoops, the words danced across the pages of the onion skin paper they were written on. He wrote in several languages sometimes, mixing English and Russian, Yiddish and Polish. From the time I learned how to print, he encouraged me to write letters and stories. When my family moved away from San Francisco for a time, my grandfather wrote long letters to my dad. Luckily, I have those letters. Although he wasn’t formally educated, my grandfather wrote knowledgeably about art, the state of the world, philosophy, literature and so many things. He signed one of his letters “Your padre.” In a postscript, he wrote a note to my sister in response to a letter she had sent him: “According to your letter you sound as if you were walking on high heels like a ballerina and you must have some makeup on your face. One thing my darling, give me a pledge that you will not start smoking, not even Lucky Strike. Otherwise, to me you are tops.” Keep in mind that my sister was 8 years old at the time.

     His fancy penmanship

My grandfather died while I was pregnant with the first of the great-grandchildren, so he never got a chance to meet a member of the next generation. But he lives on through the stories we tell about him. I bet that every great-grandchild can tell the one about the time my grandfather concluded an important business meeting with a potential client, reached into his breast pocket for a handkerchief– and pulled out a sock instead. It’s a classic. At any family get together, someone would start with the Grampa Mike stories, and we would laugh until we cried. All of his bad business deals, the odd guys down on their luck that he hired as handymen, the load of oranges he drove over the Grapevine that got cooked under the hot sun, the red-light district motels he unwittingly invested in, his insistence that he came from a place called “Minsk and Pinsk,” and how he was convinced that his business partners thought he was Swedish because of his blond hair and blue eyes–even though he spoke Eastern European-accented English.

 

Laugh until you cry: me and my dad

One day when I was in my twenties, I held his hand as we walked down the front steps of his house on Turk Street in San Francisco. Though he had some trouble walking by then, his grip was still very strong. He said to me, “It’s a terrible thing to get old.” I remember looking at him and saying,”No, Grampa. you’re not old.” I wasn’t used to hearing him sound serious and it scared me.

He was a wonderful grandfather, full of fun and tricks to entertain his grandchildren. I’m glad he felt like singing “Sunrise,Sunset” at my wedding. The rabbi, a family friend, gently admonished him at the time: “Mike! Shush…”

It was a joy to have such a thoughtful, impish grandfather. I think of him every time I  swipe a french fry from one of my grandchildren’s plates.

Ain’t Gonna Lie by
25
(41 Stories)

Prompted By Honesty

/ Stories

Honestly, if I didn’t skirt around the truth when I was a teenager I never would’ve had any fun. Was I dishonest? On occasion, yes. And on one occasion I got out of a jam by being honest after I got myself into said jam by cheating. Let me explain.

For some reason I no longer recall, I missed a geometry exam and had to take a makeup test. So I did the reasonable thing and asked one of my classmates if I could see his answers and, you know, copy them because that seemed like a good idea at the time. I liked my teacher, but didn’t really care for the subject, so I thought I could take a short cut, get the test behind me without having to study very much and no one would be the wiser. Except for one thing: my teacher gave me a different test, so basically all my answers were going to be wrong no matter what. When I got the test back, I figured there was no harm in coming clean and confessing that I had cheated (as if he wouldn’t already know this). So I went up to his desk after class and told him that I’d “borrowed” the answers and I was really sorry and would he let me retake the test. Reader, he did.

And just to prove how much of an impression this whole experience had on me, it’s the one thing I remember about test taking through three years of high school. I think my teacher taught me a more valuable lesson than he knew, although he really was a pretty smart guy after all and did know exactly what he was doing. It didn’t hurt that he liked me anyway and my record up until then had been clean, if not stellar, in his class. If I ever needed a reminder that honesty was the best policy, I got it early enough to make sure I never tried anything like that again.

Try to Remember… by
25
(41 Stories)

Prompted By Honeymoon

/ Stories

September 2, 1973

We began our honeymoon with an afterparty at a nearby restaurant. Several of our friends came along from the wedding; we shared some additional toasts at the bar before my brand-new husband and I drove to the airport to begin our long weekend away. Times being what they were, what with my job, his class schedule and a tight budget, we had only planned to be gone for a short time. Our destination: the historic Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.

As we walked through the lobby to register as Mr. and Mrs. for the first time, we hoped we would be greeted as experienced travelers, used to staying in grand hotels such as this one all the time.There we were, all of 21 and 22. Who did we think we were kidding? A bellman escorted us to our room and burst our bubble when he asked, “Newlyweds?” Never mind. We smiled and said we were. He  brought in our suitcases, smiled back (or did he wink?) and left us alone.

Because my husband had much more travel experience, he knew the ins and outs of room service, tipping, and all that sort of thing. I’d never stayed in a place like that, hadn’t ever ordered anything from room service, and was kind of awestruck by the whole experience. What a way to start off our life together!

 

 

Now, this is the part of my story where things go slightly off script, honeymoon-wise. We discovered that the Giants and the Padres were playing and the game would, of course, be on TV. So we ordered a shrimp platter and settled in to watch the game. Then there was a knock on the door. One of our guests surprised us by ordering a bottle of bubbly to be delivered to our room.  We let the waiter in and watched him set up the ice bucket and glasses. Clearly, we were watching baseball. On our wedding night. After he left, I was mortified that we’d been caught in flagrante, if that can even be a thing in this context instead of the usual one. After I recovered from such an embarrassing moment, we dressed for dinner and went to the hotel dining room. We ordered prime rib—my first time for that too.

I sewed most of the clothes I’d packed for our brief beach honeymoon. No fancy lingerie for me, though. I wore…a thin, black velvet ribbon.

(I don’t have pictures of the nicer things I made. Somehow all the pictures show me wearing what look like maternity clothes. I was not pregnant, just to be clear. Smocks were “in” back then.)

Since we were too young to rent a car, we took a limo to our chosen destination: The San Diego Zoo. I made friends with the goats and did my best koala imitation.

We also rented a small motor boat and tooled around the harbor. We took pictures of each other in the boat and on the dock, but don’t have one single picture of both of us together. Two gold rings glinting in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We loved being out on the water and felt so happy to have the wedding behind us.

One more nice dinner at a place across the street, and the next day we packed up to go home.

 

 

 

 

 

Newlyweds might wonder when the honeymoon will end. Does it happen right away? Does it ever happen?

When we got back home, we called our parents to let them know we had returned. My husband got his father on the phone. His dad said, “You’d better sit down.” And then he gave us some terrible news.

Tom, one of our beloved guests and a college friend of my husband’s, had stayed longer at the bar. We don’t know how much longer.

He died in a head-on collision on his way home that night. Tom was only twenty-two years old, and the happiest we’d ever seen him. He’d stayed with us the night before the wedding and had left his weathered jean jacket behind. We kept it because we didn’t know what else to do.

We barely acknowledged our anniversary for several years. Too closely linked with the loss of a friend and the lingering sorrow that followed.

This September we will happily mark 46 years of marriage. And we will always remember.

 

A Date at Eight by
25
(41 Stories)

Prompted By First Dates

/ Stories

When I was eight years old, I had a crush on the rabbi’s son. Everyone called him Chip. Chip Diamont. Yes, that was his name.

I’m sure we thought we were terribly grown up, going on a date and all. Did my mother make me wear gloves? She may have.

He was a real dreamboat: picture a very young James Darren–black hair, piercing eyes, come-hither (who even knows what that means when you’re eight years old?) smile…and that was Chip.

I guess this wasn’t a very secret crush because our two moms consented to the two of us going on a (well-chaperoned, which was totally unnecessary because we were eight) movie and lunch date. I remember the details quite clearly: his mother picked me up, and the four of us (including Chip’s younger brother) went to Berkeley. We dined at the Mel’s diner on Shattuck Avenue–ordering non-kosher cheeseburgers and milkshakes–and then walked (or skipped) to the movie theater.

Before answering this prompt, I tried to pinpoint the year my date with Chip occurred. I was pretty sure I was eight, and my clear recollection of the  movie confirms this, since it was released in 1959.

What movie did we see, the two eight year-olds and a little brother? We saw Our Man in Havana. If I’m not mistaken, those of us under the age of ten fell asleep somewhere in the middle, after the burgers and milkshakes kicked in. What, I have to wonder, was Chip’s mother thinking? Was this just her way of getting to see a movie she already wanted to see without having to pay a sitter? I mean, it was so far over our heads it might have been airborne. Ernie Kovacs was in that movie, for crying out loud. Alec Guinness and Noel Coward. British accents! How could two little kids possibly grasp the plot of a film based on a Graham Greene spy novel? Now, if any of the Mouseketeers had been in the cast, we might have been a little more engaged. To this day, I could not tell you what the hell that film is about.

I’m sure we thought we were terribly grown up, going on a date and all. Did my mother make me wear gloves? She may have. They would’ve been a bother, what with the burger and fries we probably ate at lunch.

Chip’s father the rabbi had a rather short tenure at the small Jewish Community Center in Richmond, California, where Chip and I first laid eyes on each other. Rabbi Diamont was a serious man, as I recall, with black hair and a round face. After he and his family moved on, I never saw Chip again. I’ve often wondered if he grew up to look like James Darren.

I never did learn his real name.

A Long and Winding Road by
25
(41 Stories)

/ Stories

People rarely believe me when I say I started out as a Criminology major, but it’s true.

"Notably the Berkeley School of Criminology was targeted by key players in the US military-industrial complex such as Ronald Reagan himself, then Governor of California and Regent of UC-Berkeley."

I have a copy of my undergraduate transcript with all the classes right there: Protest, Politics and Crime;Organized Crime, The Correctional System, Etiology of Crime, Field Study (during which I volunteered with a bunch of kids in foster care),Sex and Crime, Social Perspectives on Crime. And then, it all stops. No more Crim classes. Why? A simple reason:the school was deemed too radical. For Berkeley.

I did a little bit of research for this topic, and discovered that Julia and Herman Schwendinger, known as key players in the Berkeley School of Criminology, wrote a book about what happened, entitled Who Killed the Berkeley School? Struggles Over Radical Criminology.

From the synopsis:

“The Berkeley School of Criminology stands, to this day, as one of the most significant developments in criminological thought and action. Its diverse participants, students and faculty, were true innovators, producing radical social analyses (getting to the roots causes) of institutions of criminal justice as part of broader relations of inequality, injustice, exploitation, patriarchy, and white supremacy within capitalist societies. Even more they situated criminology as an active part of opposition to these social institutions and the relations of harm they uphold. Their criminology was directly engaged in, and connected with, the struggles of resistance that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not surprisingly perhaps, they became a target of regressive and reactionary forces that sought to quiet those struggles. Notably the Berkeley School of Criminology was targeted by key players in the US military-industrial complex such as Ronald Reagan himself, then Governor of California and Regent of UC-Berkeley.”

While I didn’t know all the details at the time, things started to go amiss right around the time I got there in 1968-69.

I am no longer sure about what drew me to this major, but I thought learning about these things would be a way to make a difference.Plus, the class on organized crime was fascinating. My father was appalled at my choice, insisting that I had no business wearing a white coat and examining chalk outlines on the sidewalk, but he missed the point, I think. It’s funny because he started out studying social work and ended up as a drama teacher. He asked me at the time what I was doing because, he said, “You’re a writer!”  Oh, Dad. Jeez.

So there I was, with no hope of completing a degree in a major that no longer existed. Turns out my fallback was Sociology. But I often wonder why I didn’t just go with English, since the English classes I took were some of my favorites. My whole transcript is a hodgepodge of subjects. Once I had enough units in my major, I went off in a bunch of different directions: Astronomy (hardest class ever), Organizational Behavior, Biology of Man, Public Administration, Social Psychology, and Journalism. Because I was working full-time and taking one class a quarter for several years, I didn’t graduate until almost ten years after I started. (To clarify: I began taking classes at Cal while still a junior in high school. Then I took a year off to work full-time. When I came back, I took as few units as I could to accommodate my work schedule).  My transcript begins Fall 1968, shows a name change in September 1973, and Bachelor of Arts granted on March 26, 1977. A long and winding road, indeed.

 

What I ended up doing in my working life had nothing to do with organized crime or sociology, but it had everything to do with being a helper. I became a short-term crisis counselor, first working with parents of critically ill or premature newborns in an Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF. I went back to school and earned a Master’s in Clinical Counseling. Again, not exactly a straight line  from my undergraduate work. Then I went through a program for College and Career Counseling and worked in high schools for over 15 years. In 2011, I earned an MFA in Creative Writing and there you go. Should’ve stuck with English.

 

PE and other Sorrows by
25
(41 Stories)

/ Stories

Before I can start talking about PE, I need to explain a couple of things. When I was in elementary school (fifth grade, I think), I came down with pneumonia. I believe I missed an entire month of school. The teacher had all the kids in my class send me get well cards, which I saved for many years. I’m sure she got some blowback from the boys, but bless their hearts–they all made cards. This was during the bake-and-freeze-ahead sessions my mother held in our tiny kitchen in preparation for my sister’s Bat Mitzvah. So locked together in my memory are my ghastly endless coughing fits and the tantalizing smell of freshly-baked rugelach.

I had a bad run with pneumonia, but then I got back to school and all was well.

Junior high, as we called it then, required all the girls to wear crisp white blouses and blue shorts. The uniforms would be inspected each week, and we were obliged to respond to roll call with “Clean and complete!”  (Those of us who had started our periods were also obliged to announce when we were “observing” so we got excused from anything strenuous and didn’t have to put on our uniforms either.) For whatever reason (body shaming?), my mother insisted that I get the baggiest possible gym shorts they sold at Penny’s. Big, baggy Bermuda shorts that only drew attention to what they were  meant to conceal. A popular television ad at the time urged homemakers: “don’t wrap it, bag it” with Baggies. My so-called friends thought it was hilarious to sing this as I took the walk of shame from the locker room. We also had to embroider our names on our shirts (which had to be starched and ironed!) and shorts. Embroidery!

My family moved after my seventh grade year, so I changed schools. This new school had a much more rigorous PE program, with hard-nosed, no nonsense, whistle blowing dictators in charge of our physical fitness. We were required to run. A lot. Fifty-yard dash, hundred yard dash, relay races, etc. I was terrible at it, and felt terrible afterward. I may have mentioned this to my mother, or maybe she got wind of it somehow. But she took it upon herself to get me into “Special PE” which was a horror unto itself. Why was I, an able-bodied kid, forced to be in this class? Oh, right. I ‘d had pneumonia three years prior. One teacher in particular gave me a hard time. I guess she thought I wheedled my way out of regular PE for some bogus reason. My mother must have been quite convincing. Maybe you’ve heard of Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy? I’ve always suspected there was a little of that going on.

An unintended consequence of being in this PE gulag was that I made a really good friend. She had a legitimate basis for being in special PE, and showed me how we could leverage our position to do some serious goofing off while making a good show of doing the busy work we were assigned. Without her, I might have remained bitter and defensive all year.

I apologize in advance for this, but if you took PE in the 1960s or ’70s, this will ring a bell. Now, up out of that chair!

 

 

 

Of Shoes–and Ships–and Sealing Wax by
25
(41 Stories)

Prompted By Poetry

/ Stories

When I was a little girl, we had a great big book of poems. The dark green book with gold lettering was called Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris. Divided into many sections, the book covered a vast number of subjects: Myself and I, My Family and I, My Almanac, It’s Fun to Play, Little Things that Creep and Crawl and Swim and Sometimes Fly, Animal Pets and Otherwise, On the Way to Anywhere, From the Good Earth Growing; Roundabout the Country, Roundabout Town; My Brother the Sun, My Sister the Moon, the Stars, and Mother Earth; Bird-Watcher; People to Know; Friends to Make; Almost Any Time is Laughing Time; My Fancy and I; Sign of My Nation, Great and Strong; From All the World to Me; Story Time is a Special Time; and From the Family Scrapbook. With its acknowledgments, indexes of authors, titles, and first lines, this book runs to almost 600 pages, no kidding. I guess you could call it a weighty tome.

I eat my peas with honey, I've done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny, But it keeps them on my knife. --Gelett Burgess

 

Of course, I am not recalling any of this from memory–once I found that the book was still in print, I ordered a copy. I had visions of sitting with my grandchildren and introducing them to the ones we used to beg my dad to read: all the poems by Ogden Nash and Edward Lear, all the limericks, “Jabberwocky,” and other Lewis Carroll favorites like” “Father William” (“You are old Father William,” the young man said, “And your hair has become very white; And yet you incessantly stand on your head–Do you think, at your age, it is right?”),  and “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”  We never got tired of hearing the poems of Gelett Burgess (“Purple Cow” and “Peas”). A.A. Milne is well represented in this book, as well he should be.

We were introduced to spoonerisms with Lear’s “Once a Big Molicepan.” Hilarious.

At bedtime, my father read to us from this giant book o’poems. Depending on what he was in the mood for, he would read us about the brave Barbara Frietchie in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier (“Shoot if you must, this old gray head/But spare your country’s flag,” she said.) Or maybe he would read us “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
Before bedtime! I have to wonder if this was the best choice. We liked “Casey at the Bat” better, even if there is no joy in Mudville at the end.

My sister and I got introduced to poets and writers we would come across much later: William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, William Blake, J.R.R. Tolkien, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, Don Marquis, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe and others.

I loved the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson, especially “My Shadow.” Not only did I love the stories in the poems, but also the new words and phrases: India-rubber ball, or arrant sleepyhead.
One of my favorites: “The Swing”:
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do
My across- the-street- neighbor had a swing set, and I spent many happy hours up in the air so blue.
Here’s a good one by Rachel Field called “Some People” that resonates with the grownup me as much as it did the child me:
Isn’t it strange some people make/You feel so tired inside,/Your thoughts begin to shrivel up/Like leaves all brown and dried!/But when you’re with some other ones,/It’s stranger still to find/Your thoughts as thick as fireflies/All shiny in your mind!

 

Hearing these poems as a young child instilled in me a love of language and the sound of words. They appealed to my imagination and my sense of humor. And I learned what Stevenson meant when he wrote about “The Land of Counterpane.”

 

Years later, I became a big Rocky and Bullwinkle fan. Much to my surprise and pleasure, several of the poems my father read appeared (somewhat edited) as a feature on the show.
William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” gets the Bullwinkle treatment here:

No FOMO for me! by
25
(41 Stories)

Prompted By Spring Break

/ Stories

Back before FOMO was a thing, it never dawned on me to do anything on “spring break.”

Now, what do we think about when we think about spring break anyway? Off to the beach or the slopes, depending–right? College or high school kids up to no good, shenanigans and high jinks that these days are both IG fodder and YouTubeable. It’s funny: my dad was a schoolteacher, so he also had spring breaks, but I don’t remember us “doing” anything or going anywhere. Selective memory? Maybe…

And what about college? As I’ve probably written here before, I went to work right after I graduated from high school so I could leave my parents’ house and begin living on my own, more or less. I never actually lived alone, but I did eventually move into a house with three other people and had my own room. So, once I left high school and joined the world of drudgery–er, work– I didn’t get a spring break. Or a summer vacation, come to think of it.

Even when I went back to college after a year of mind-numbing boredom as a telephone operator in San Francisco, I still worked. Spring break for me usually coincided with whatever student strike gained momentum on the UC Berkeley campus. Spring flowers brought tear gas and demonstrations, it seemed.

When my daughter went away to college, my mother-in-law gave her a wonderful gift: airfare to wherever she wanted to go during her four years far away from family. Knowing her to be the savvy person she was, I’m certain this generous grandmother expected her trailblazing granddaughter to choose to return to California each spring. However, my daughter made different choices at least a couple of times. And good for her!

During my college years, I burned the candle at both ends just trying to keep up with work and schoolwork. Luckily for me, I didn’t experience the all-too-common Fear of Missing Out that drives so many college kids (and others) today.

One thing I do remember about the advent of  a particular spring fifty years ago now:  the feeling that anything was possible when the trees blossomed and puppies appeared out of nowhere, when love (but not the tear gas) in the air gave rise to those intense feelings so eloquently written about by e.e.cummings:

here’s to opening and upward,to leaf and to sap
and to your(inmyarms flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain

 

2725 Haste Street by
25
(41 Stories)

Prompted By My First Apartment

/ Stories

I couldn’t wait to move out of my parents’ house after high school. I had decided to take what is now referred to as a “gap year,” and got no end of flak from my parents about it. I went searching for a job so I could make the first and last months’ rent for the apartment I would share with my sister and two other young women, just blocks from the UC Berkeley campus. Once I landed my only option for employment as a telephone operator in San Francisco, I packed up my stuff and moved. If I recall correctly, my share of the rent amounted to $57.50 per month. Or maybe that was the quarterly tuition I paid when I went back to college after my full-time work experiment ended. Either way: ridiculously cheap.

For the first time in several years, I once again shared a bedroom with my older sister. Our two twin beds barely fit into the small room. How did we ever share a closet again? The other bedroom was occupied by a succession of young  women over the short 18 months or so I lived in the apartment. One woman used our address as more or less a mail drop as she lived almost full time with her boyfriend. She was “never home” when her parents called on the landline. The first time I met her: in the morning on New Year’s Day, shortly after I moved in. She came out of her room wrapped in a sheet as we both ran to answer the phone at the same time. Quite an introduction!

When my boyfriend came to visit, we would move my mattress into the living room for “privacy.” He wasn’t the only gentleman caller I had in those days. One unwelcome visitor: an ex-boyfriend I really didn’t want to see. I left a “drop dead” note taped to the door and refused to let him in. A guy I’d really liked one summer came to visit and walked in on us while my boyfriend and I were in bed. I did the “pull  the sheet up” thing women do in the movies as he draped himself in the doorway with a big grin on his face. Unfazed, he stood there and shot the breeze for a few minutes. Awkward?

Though I have tried while writing this, I cannot recall the everydayness of that time: where did we shop, who cooked, when did I leave and come home each day–things that fell into a routine. I have no pictures of the apartment either. The two I have here I found on Zillow! That tiny kitchen with its electric stove! I do remember that my sister and I went on the then-popular “grapefruit diet” for a couple of weeks. I wonder if anyone else tried this one:

Examples of the meals include:

  • Breakfast: two boiled eggs, two slices of bacon, and 1/2 grapefruit or 8 ounces of grapefruit juice
  • Lunch: salad with dressing, any meat in any amount, and 1/2 grapefruit or 8 ounces of grapefruit juice
  • Dinner: any kind of meat prepared any way, salad or red and green vegetables, coffee or tea, and 1/2 grapefruit or 8 ounces of grapefruit juice
  • Bedtime snack: 8 ounces of skim milk
  •      Where the magic happened

Neither one of us could look at a hard boiled egg for quite some time. My daily on-the-way-to-work custard danish, those bags of M&Ms during my breaks, and the delicious cafeteria cherry pie were to blame for the extra pounds. My sister, always the skinny one, must have gone on the diet with me to offer moral support. But happily, I did lose weight–if only temporarily.

One of our roommates happened to be a true flower child. She kept pot plants on our back patio and had several mysterious containers scattered in the fridge with “DO NOT TOUCH!” notes taped to them. When there was a rumored raid in the building one day, another roommate dumped the contents of these containers down the sink. We locked up and left the building and ran into several other tenants around the block while we waited for the narcs to leave. The containers may have held homemade yogurt, but we could not confirm this.

The building had a dark, dank laundry room down in the garage. Someone began stealing our underwear out of the dryers. We never found out who it was.

One of our roommates worked at the local Copper Penny restaurant. She would go off to work in her unflattering brown uniform, returning in the evening to spend time doing her side hustle of tutoring a stream of international male students. She told us that her mother had been a contestant on the old “Queen for a Day” show–and won! What she’d asked for was a pair of artificial limbs for her younger daughter. Our roommate’s sister came over for a small gathering, and became so comfortable on the couch that she took them off and stashed them under the couch, with toes pointing up Wicked Witch under the house style. An unforgettable moment, for sure.

Another roommate, a few years older than I, seemed way more grown up. Organized and neat, she had a personal maintenance schedule that really impressed me: laundry, haircuts, shopping, personal grooming–all done right on time with no last minute scrambling– my trademark in those days.

I may be leaving one or two roommates out. There really was a revolving door in the other bedroom. We all had guys come over and I believe there were a few dinners or parties. I recall that one of us made a chocolate cake so rich, my roommate suggested that the best time to eat the rest of it could only be in the morning, with coffee. This was a valuable tip.

We made it all work: sharing a small space with people we wouldn’t have met otherwise, learning some limits, setting some boundaries, sharing one tiny bathroom with three other people and visitors, keeping the space relatively neat and clean, and having some fun in the process.But eventually the time came for me to move out. My next step? Sharing a one-bedroom apartment with a friend who had started dating my ex. That’s a whole other chapter…

The building at 2725 Haste is still there, probably full of students holding down part-time jobs like we did back in the day. I hope no one steals their underwear.

How We Like Our Eggs by
25
(41 Stories)

/ Stories

The skin on my grandmother’s hands was paper thin. It’s what I remember most about her. She also had piercing brown eyes and a way of clamping her lips together that signaled her disapproval. She wasn’t a warm and affectionate sort of grandmother. Not at all. She was more of a “my way or the highway” sort of grandmother who served soft-boiled eggs to her two young granddaughters. When my sister and I protested that we didn’t like runny eggs, she sternly informed us that “this is the way I make them.” Pursed lips, hands on hips, those intense brown eyes. Oh, I can still remember sitting at her table and staring at those liquid yolks, trying not to gag and wanting to cry.

My grandmother talked about her hands every time we saw her, which wasn’t that often, since she lived in Detroit and we lived in California. My mother wasn’t that excited to have her mother and brother visit us, and I didn’t blame her. My grandmother did not hide her feelings about the things she didn’t like: my mother’s hair color (dyed red), the fact that we lived so far away, her grown son’s attempts at independence (even though he never married and lived with her until the day she died). I heard her say one time that if she had it to do over again, she wouldn’t have had children—and she said this in front of her son, her daughter, and her two grandchildren.

About her hands, though. If I remember correctly, she blamed my mother somehow for what happened to them. Something about a treatment for an ailment my mother had as an infant, involving a substance that burned and damaged her skin. No one ever challenged her story, just like no one challenged her version of how she arrived in America when she was pregnant with my mother, even though the timeline she laid out would’ve meant an eleven month pregnancy. It was easier to gloss over certain questionable explanations than to run the risk of the harsh stare from those eyes, and the look of disapproval she wore all the time—like the apron she wore every day over her housedress.

When my grandmother heard I was planning to get married to the young man I had been dating for four and a half years, she expressed her feelings about the fact I was marrying outside my religion. With a resigned sigh, she shrugged and said: “Well, we’re all God’s children.” Not a ringing endorsement for my choice of a husband, but it was a close to a positive reaction as we were going to get from her.

A few years after I got married, my grandmother and my uncle came to visit the family in California. This time, they stopped by to see me and my husband in the little one-bedroom apartment we were renting. At one point she wandered off into our tiny kitchen and came back to announce that “They leave the butter out!” I guess she had quietly peeked in our cupboards and wanted to inform the family about our unorthodox butter-storing habits. My husband was appalled, but I wasn’t surprised. Respect for boundaries was not my grandmother’s strong suit.

Several years later, she came west again. By then we had two young children and had moved into a house. I’m not sure whether she made another cupboard inspection, but when I asked her how she liked the place, she shrugged and offered this candid observation: “It’s not the Taj Mahal.” This was true, of course, but perhaps it didn’t need to be pointed out to us in so many words.

During this visit, my grandmother also gave me some unsolicited advice about weaning my baby, suggesting there was something I could do to make him “stop doing that.” Why would I want to do that, I asked. Again, she shrugged. The answer was obvious—to her, anyway. Children are kind of a nuisance, and one should not be at their beck and call, even when they’re babies.

I wish I knew the real story of what happened to my grandmother’s hands. As a young child, I was fascinated by how transparent her skin was, all the blue veins clearly visible just below the surface. The injury caused her pain her entire life, and she didn’t suffer in silence about it.

My grandmother was a master of the guilt trip. I remember how she brought my mother to tears over the phone many times. As I got older, I didn’t blame my mother for avoiding those phone calls, and assigning my father the role of correspondent. My sister and I were also pressed into service, writing letters so our grandmother wouldn’t be “sick with worry” when she hadn’t heard from us.

My mother on her wedding day. A rare smile from my grandmother

As grandmothers go, I think I got short-changed. My husband loved his Nana. She was a warm, affectionate woman who delighted in spoiling her first grandchild. I never met her, but I’ve heard stories about what a lovely person she was. My grandmother, on the other hand, wasn’t cut out for the role. Although she always told us she loved us and sang “I Love You, A Bushel and a Peck” every time we saw her, it seemed rote and somehow manipulative. Her hugs carried with them a sense of obligation.

Over the years, I tried to figure out why my grandmother was so bitter. I did find out a few facts that may have had something to do with her attitude.  She had grown up in a relatively well-to-do family in Poland, but they lost everything “to the Cossacks.” She married an educated man who became a house painter in America when his credentials as a bookkeeper weren’t recognized here. I don’t know whether she had any dreams or aspirations for herself. She never talked about them. She had two children and the paper-thin skin on the backs of her hands to show for her troubles. My grandfather seemed like a patient, caring man. I don’t remember too much about him, since he died when I was eight years old. But I can only imagine his struggle to temper his wife’s disappointments while providing for his family in reduced circumstances in his adopted country. There isn’t anyone left to ask anymore, so I’ll never really know the true story. My mother was surprisingly loyal, and never complained about being raised by a distant, unaffectionate mother. I know that she struggled with motherhood  and was unable to break the chain of behavior she’d grown up with.

I’m a grandmother myself now. I’ve given a lot of thought to the way I act around my young grandchildren. Do I spoil them? Maybe just a little bit. But I like to have fun with them, I love to make them laugh, and we’ve created some happy memories already. If I’m still around when they grow up and get married, I will not go through their cupboards and comment on their housekeeping. I’m trying to be a good sport. So far, so good.

And here’s another thing: I know they like their eggs scrambled, and that’s how I fix them.

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