At 19, my grandmother left the Ukraine for America with her sister Julie. My grandmother’s name was Sarah. It was the 1st decade of the 20th century. The Tsar had stolen their oldest brother and burned Jewish homes & villages in pogroms. From the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic into the St Lawrence Seaway & the Great Lakes to Chicago. Grandma worked in a handbag factory and met her husband, also a Jew from the Ukraine. She spoke Russian + Yiddish + broken English. They moved to northern Minnesota, opened a dry goods store for the iron ore miners, and had 2 daughters—the youngest my mother. Grandma’s husband ran off with a young, gentile woman, leaving her to raise her daughters alone. She made chocolate cake for my mother to eat at bedtime to show her love. When my mother & her sister were grown, Grandma moved to Los Angeles where Julie lived. They both worked in another handbag factory. Grandma slept in a Murphy bed, ate at the automat and enjoyed sitting under palm trees in the park. When I was a child, Grandma would take the train cross-country to our home in New York. She’d fill our freezer with homemade cheese blintzes and rolled cookies with Welch’s Grape Jelly. With flour covering her hands and across the belly of her apron, she’d call me Marsh-a-lah Marsh-a-lah Shena Madel. Grandma wore a girdle & a brassiere. She called panties bloomers. She died at 93 and is buried in LA next to Julie. Weeks before my mother died 4 years ago, she slipped my grandma’s old diamond rings on my finger.
Marcia Milner-Brage June 6, 2011