After two years of marriage, my husband convinced me to move from our apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the neighborhood where my parents, sister, brother, aunts, uncles and grandparents all still lived. It was hard for me to comprehend why Len found it so difficult to commute daily to his job in Stamford, Connecticut from lower Manhattan, but I finally acquiesced after he seemed too tired to say much more than hello to me when he returned from work late each night. Before we moved, I tearfully made one heartfelt promise to my distraught mother, whose baby was leaving her to live in the galus, otherwise known as the Bronx. Every Thursday night without fail, we would be sure to come by for dinner, and more importantly, to pick up in person her specialty: hand-ground, meticulously-shaped, specially-flavored, made from scratch, gefilte fish.
This regimen continued for the next 23 years and followed us through three more moves and the birth of my four children. Inclement weather, tests, jobs, homework,Little League…nothing prevented these visits that slowly morphed into Sunday trips as well. Occasionally, my husband and children would complain about not having the time to go for a visit, but I remained firm. These trips were important to my parents, especially to my mother. They also made me feel special, because for a few hours I could bask in the warm feeling of being someone’s pampered child.
When we were first married, I was a junior in college and my husband was a Teaching Fellow in graduate school. We just managed to pay our rent and were only able to eat because my parents provided almost all of our food. They were a kind of home-cooked takeout service. I would pick up our dinner every day on the way home from school, so that my husband and I could eat later at home and be “independent.”
Then we moved and the children were born, and somehow the contents of those early “CARE Packages” changed. Yes, there was always the aforementioned gefilte fish, but then my son casually mentioned that he enjoyed Honeycomb Cereal. So every Thursday thereafter, Honeycomb would magically appear alongside the fish. And so it went, with treats being added. It didn’t matter that we could now afford to buy cereal or candy or cake for Shabbos. We still received bountiful provisions and, admittedly, we enjoyed every morsel.
Often, when we visited on Sunday, my brother and sister would show up at our parents’ home with their own families in tow. When they did, my mother would pull me aside and whisper in my ear, “No one has to know about them, but your packages are in my bedroom closet and you can just take them with you when you leave.”
Later, feeling both privileged and sneaky, we would sidle out of their apartment with several shopping bags buried in the baby’s stroller, to avoid offending my package-deprived siblings.
At a recent yahrzeit siyyum for my parents, my niece asked to speak. Naomi recounted how important those weekly visits to Bobbie and Zaydie were to her when she was growing up and how cherished they made her feel. She closed with an amusing anecdote about how very considerate her Bobbie always was.
“I guess it’s safe to tell you now, but our family’s relationship with Bobbie and Zaydie was very unique. Every Sunday, if anyone else was visiting, Bobbie would pull me over to the side so that no one else would hear, and whisper to me, “Mamaleh, I packed your family some bags and they’re in the closet in the second bedroom. No one else has to know. You’ll take them with you when you go home.”
Looking around the room, I saw that we all were looking surprised. And then I began to laugh. How clever my mother had been! She had wanted all of us, each family, to feel that we were special to her—that we mattered the most. It seems that along with her impressive culinary skills, my mother was also a skilled diplomat. In truth, we were all her favorites…but especially me, her baby.
By Estelle Glass