In my unsuccessful attempt to obtain a good night of sleep last night, I found myself thinking about my great grandmother Rebecca. Great Grandma was my mother's father's mother. She was the only great grandparent that I knew. When I was a wee lass, she lived in a nursing home which I hated visiting because my family once got stuck in the elevator and I feared using it every time we went. (I also became slightly phobic of all elevators for a little while, but that is another story.) Great Grandma was fairly spry, though, so she always came to parties, holiday meals, and other family events. She was a hard of hearing, so she often sat quietly amongst the action, observing everyone, smiling. My dad said he could tell how proud and content she was to be with her family. I remember she walked with a cane, was short, and had gray hair and pointy glasses. People teased her because she carried her purse with her at all times, even in my parents' house. Everyone says that Great Grandma was a wonderful, generous, and kind person. Even my dad, who follows the credo "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all" when it comes to my mother's family, has something to say about Great Grandma. "She was a nice person," he told me when I asked him about her recently. "A truly great lady." My bubbe, who disparages everyone (although to be fair, she was not as bad in the past as she is now), adored Great Grandma. My father thinks she was like the mother my bubbe always wanted. (She did not get along with her own mother, and after my bubbe left Russia at the age of 23, she never saw her again.)
Great Grandma died when I was in second grade. It was winter break. My mother had promised me that we could make one of my favorite treats - Jell-O mold (made by mixing thawed frozen strawberries and Cool Whip into the strawberry Jell-O mix and hot water and pouring the resulting liquid into a mold - delicious!) - during vacation, but then Great Grandma died and I was angry that we didn't have time to do it. I was also relieved that I would never have to go into that elevator in her nursing home again. That's how eight year olds think. (That's probably also how adults think but won't admit it, but I digress.)
We didn't know how old Great Grandma was when she passed away. It is likely that she was in her early 90s. Her birth certificate, if she even had one, did not survive the journey to the United States from Russia. (I wondered for a long time how someone could forget when she was born or how old she was. Then in the last two years, I've forgotten my own age many times. I started to understand.) She came when she was a young woman with her family. She was already married. My grandfather and great uncle were born in Chicago to the impressive-looking, svelte women in the upper left corner of the picture at the top of this post. I think she looks amazing, sort of like Emma Goldman. She ran a grocery store on Chicago's West Side for years. Her husband, my great grandfather, died in the late '40s or early '50s, but she kept going. She remarried and outlived that husband (who may not have been a very nice person) as well. She traveled frequently to California to visit her oldest son and his family, and I recently saw some pictures of her in the 1970s, out on their balcony sunning herself, holding her purse. (I also like this picture of her, smiling on the right end of the couch, no purse.)
My cousin is named after our great grandmother, which I think is fitting. She is a fighter, too. Rebecca was born many years after Great Grandma died. I am sorry she didn't get to meet her, and I am sad that my sister and I were too young to fully appreciate the opportunity we had. So on Monday, which is my 35th birthday, I am going to celebrate Great Grandma Rebecca's birthday as well. We are lucky to have such a great woman in our lineage.