After capturing a candid photo of me kneeling on his living room rug, eye level with his newborn baby, Solly, situated in her car seat, my eldest son, Judd, said, “Remember Alvie always used to say to me that Tottoo went on her hands and knees to play with me? Well I guess it runs in the family.” Based closely on his given name, “Alvie” was the moniker Judd came up with for my second eldest brother. The unique name “Tottoo,” however, calls for more of the story behind its creation.
Judd, a precocious toddler, was as young as 18 months old when he would answer the landline telephone and quickly distinguish between his grandmothers. The times he picked up the receiver and my mother was on the line, he would turn to me and say, “It’s that Tottoo grandma.” That was because excitedly hearing his young voice, she was the one who squealed, “Hello my ‘tateleh.’” Eventually, everyone she knew referred to my mother as Tottoo, even Judd’s other grandma.
Moments captured by a scene candidly depicting “generation to generation,” such as me on the floor playing with my granddaughter, the same way that her great-grandmother played with her father, were fodder for Solly’s parents to realize she would be living too far from family. Merely six weeks after she was born, they packed up and started their move in our direction.
Solly left her birth city of Portland, Oregon, snuggled in her mother’s trusted arms. While they flew east, her Uncle Moss flew west to drive with his older brother…Solly’s daddy, Judd, in the loaded U-Haul, with Judd’s 2006 Volvo hitched to the back.
When Solly came on the scene, we were asked by her parents to choose what we would like to be called. As his term of endearment, my husband chose Zeidy. I went with Grandma, for now, letting them know that in due time Solly would make that decision.
The first leg of Solly’s virgin journey was to meet her great-grandparents, grand-aunts and grand-uncles, in and around St. Louis, Missouri. (See the beautiful picture of Solly being held by her sabba rabba.) From there it was on to Cleveland, Ohio, for a stay with her maternal grandfather, sabba, while waiting for Judd and Moss to arrive in the U-Haul packed with all their worldly belongings.
In my blog post “Show Me the Proof: DNA or Handwritten,” dated June 11, 2019, I quoted from Anna Quindlen’s “Nanaville.” There’s more. She also wrote: “Reading history, looking around us, we have gotten accustomed to the feeling that family is eternal, spooling into the future without end. I have that feeling very powerfully now in a way I did not before my grandson was born… The children, the grandchildren: As long as they have stories left to tell, I live. If the stories are good enough, I live for a long, long time.”
I have to agree with Quindlen when she says, “I don’t care that much about getting older, but I don’t want to be forgotten, because to be remembered is to live and to be loved.” If Quindlen were Jewish, she would more than likely have added the saying L’Dor V’Dor. As a genealogist, that’s my favorite Hebrew expression.
Quindlen sums it up by adding, “When mothers die they leave children, and when nanas die they leave grandchildren and perhaps a trace memory of being coddled, kissed, attended to and loved, of being chased across the lawn or rocked in the middle of the night or taken seriously.” That’s precisely how I feel when I get down on the floor to play with my precious granddaughter Solly. Now, through pictures and stories, Solly will surely feel the love and I will not be forgotten. Neither will those who came before me, as evidenced in stories like those about Tottoo, z”l.
What memories did Judd and Moss make on their trip across the country in a U-Haul? Aside from the video clips they sent of the two of them singing as they drove those 15-hour days to hurriedly reunite with Judd’s own nuclear family, there were, undoubtedly, many discussions. The topics probably began with sports, especially baseball, centered around the Yankees, and moved on to movies, best reads and humor, entwined with lots of laughter.
Surely they spent a fair share of the time reminiscing about their childhood as seen from their eyes, knowingly or unknowingly including stories, which will assuredly be passed down from generation to generation. Their parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins must have given them hours of entertainment between periods of music streaming through their earbuds, entertaining them while blocking out the sounds of the U-Haul and surrounding traffic.
To use a Yiddish expression my father always signed off with from his telephone conversations, A bi gesundt und gay vitor. May my father’s blessing shine on and may Hashem give me the strength to be well and continue playing on the floor with Solly as long as she so desires. I better go now and clean the floors. Solly is coming to town! While her parents decide where to settle they will happily be staying with Grandma and Zeidy and making more memories to repeat throughout the generations of our family. L’Dor V’Dor. Amen.
By Sharon Mark Cohen
Sharon Mark Cohen, MPA, is a seasoned genealogist and journalist. A contributing writer at The Jewish Link of New Jersey, Sharon is a people person and born storyteller who feels that everyone is entitled to a legacy. Sharon was acknowledged by two authors in their recently published books and is looking forward to the publication of her family history book.