Why is it that weeks before Pesach I unconsciously start planning when and how I will start Spring Cleaning my house? It’s because I see my deceased Bubbe floating over me like in Tevye’s dream about Golde’s grandmother who demands a change in their daughter’s marriage contract! I know in the deepest part of my soul there is no way I could enter the Passover season without the annual Jewish Spring Cleaning because my Bubbe is watching me!
Regardless of the time of year, Spring Cleaning your house is a good thing. I was brought up that we also did Spring Cleaning in December, before Chanukah, not to just make room for new toys, but as good Jews, we would donate books, toys, records, clothes, etc. to “poor children” as an act of tzedakah. So, twice a year I do heavy duty Spring Cleaning and have taught my kids to do the same, in fact, we made a day of it, to the tune of “Whistle While We Work and we’ll go out for pizza afterwards!”
This year while I whistled and worked, my mind was reliving so many Bubbe memories: Sitting on her lap while she sang Tumbalalaika to me, watching her cook, prepare for holidays, telling stories of her childhood in Russia and the journey to America. She got her US citizenship some 40 years after setting foot on Ellis Island, she could discuss politics better than most and review the best sellers. She was intelligent. She went to yeshivah in Russia, an educated Jewish girl from the early 1900s, raised by a grandfather who was a rabbi and a merchant and owned, as she described, “a mansion with maids and servants” that was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.
But her life was also filled with tragedy, losing four children in her life-time, including my parents who were killed in a car accident when they were 38, so in her middle 50s, she moved into our house and raised me and my two brothers. She never lost her sense of humor, interest in life, teaching us our history, traditions and Jewish rituals while devoting every inch of her being to loving and caring for us. She was so full of wisdom as she never forgot her rabbi/grandfather and what he taught her, then teaching us “never forget, honor those before you and what they gave so you could have.”
My Bubbe was born and died in April, within weeks of Pesach.
So I can’t help but Spring Clean and relive my life as a granddaughter to a “Woman of Valor.”
I also can’t help but hope we teach our kids/grandkids to Spring Clean, acknowledge and appreciate those who have experiences that make them wise and endearing and honor them in ways our coming generations will learn and never forget.
Oy vey, what’s a Baby Boomer Bubbe to do?
Some memories of my Bubbe: (Did I mention she was shrewd for all of her five feet, wanted the best value for her gelt and could bargain with the best of them?!)
-I cringed every time Bubbe asked me to take her on Fairfax (the Los Angeles Jewish section) to buy the fresh foods for the holidays, like nowhere else in LA had fresh food! She would walk into the fish market and ask the smelly shlub behind the counter to see “that carp” or “that white fish, NO! That one!” and he would have to hold it up to her nose so she could smell it! One time the shnook behind the counter yelled at her, “Lady, you don’t smell this fresh!” That’s when I decided to wait outside.
One time she asked a butcher when the chicken was killed and he replied, “Mrs., the minyan is still saying kaddish!” And how many stocks of celery did one have to pick up before you got the right one? All the way home she would kvetch about the shisters that cheated her, the gonif that charged too much and the draykop that gave her the wrong change!
-Bubbe had a few heart attacks over the years. As I watched paramedics wheel her away she would always yell to me, “In the linen closet!” or “In the Purex bottle under the kitchen sink!” I would rush to these secret hiding places (knowing if I got to the hospital before I looked she would be angry) with the anticipation of finding millions of dollars wrapped up in handkerchiefs or change purses and only to find bubkes! When she did pass away I tore apart every little thing she had in her apartment, anything that looked like a treasure chest and came up with gornisht! zilch! zero! Nothing! Except for the little change purse that had a $5.00 bill in it. I still have it.
-BUT! More than a year later, I was living as a single parent, going through the pains of a divorce, with little money. One morning I wake up to a busted water heater that flooded two rooms of my house! While reaching for towels in a high cupboard, something came flying out, I ignored it till the floors were free of water. Frustrated not having enough money to pay for a new water heater, I finally glanced at what had come out of the cupboard only to find a bank book (remember those?) It had my name and Bubbe’s name on it with a balance of $1000.00! I rushed to the bank, embarrassed to ask how much was in the account because how could I not know? I wrote a withdrawal slip for $10.00 and when I saw the balance after I got the $10.00, I looked up and said, “Thank you, Bubbe, for watching over me!” We got a new water heater.
-Bubbe lived in an apartment building with 20 other widows, all 5-15 years older than she was, and she was in her middle 70s! Once a week, she’d take her push cart and knock on all “the old ladies doors” and ask if she could shop for them! She’d get their orders and walk two blocks to the market, gather her list and walk home and deliver her friend’s food. She believed herself to be the baby of the group and could do more than they could!
So with these incredible memories I cherish, I now share a poem with you that my brother wrote to honor Bubbe at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah several years before she passed away (1984).
For most of us a name is made up of two
A first and a last to distinguish just who.
But there are those few people whose first set apart their wisdom and talent
The realm we call heart.
The root of this puzzle begins here and now with a single named LADY
Who reminds us just how
To be a good person, faithful and true
And the importance there is in being a Jew.
The history of our People, traditions and song
Have been taught by this prophet steadily and strong.
So to this congregation, with respect and delight
I request she bring forward her lessons of life.
That we are all her children, by birth or by right
And that’s why one name is sufficient tonight!
Wishing all a Joyous and Happy Passover with a thought to share at your seder table the memories and stories of those who made us who we are. May they all rest in peace.
Enjoy a video my brother produced of Bubbe that we play for the family on Pesach each year. If you had a Bubbe, you’ll feel the joy!