Saturday, December 26, 2009


I’m in Louisville, KY at my grandmother Bebe’s house. We watched the late-night news together on her bed and she scratched my back, after I requested it, though not as hard as I begged her to.
I already said goodnight a little while ago when I brought our two ice cream bowls back down to the kitchen.  But now I’m in the doorway of Bebe’s bedroom to tell her something.
Bebe is, as always, on her side of the bed, which sags a bit extra from the sad habit of widowhood.  She is in her sleeveless, flowered synthetic nightgown, the kind that just hangs from the shoulders, with two seams, one up each side and no shape at all around the middle. I can see a crescent of breast on her side when she lifts her arms to lotion up her pink-nailed hands.
Maybe I have come back in to remind Bebe that I might go for a run in Cherokee Park in the morning and so not to panic if I’m not there not there when she awakes. More likely I’m there to apologize for something I said earlier in impatience or frustration, probably digging in a bit more while I do – no apology at all really – but that’s how these visits are with the two of us.  It’s a lot of guilt on my part, lots of it for good reason, and then recidivism.
When my grandmother turns now to speak to me, I see that she suddenly has no teeth in her mouth.  Her lips have sunken in, like the little knot of someone’s navel, around a maw.
With no teeth, I can clearly make out the skull under Bebe’s soft, wrinkly, beloved cheeks.  I envision the bones that make up her face and the place where her eyes rest in them.  I see that that is, in fact, all the eyes really do there: they rest on top.
The phrase “soft tissue” comes to mind and I understand that phrase now as never before.
I glance at the top nightstand, expecting a set of teeth in a glass, perhaps dancing and yammering in cartoons or commercials, but she must have secreted them away somewhere.  When my ears tune in finally, I have to strain to hear the consonants.  She sees me strain, hears herself and is ashamed to be seen this way.
I close the door behind me. We will not speak of what I saw the next morning, or ever.  When I’m back from my run, I will watch her smooth a marbled green cylinder of Revlon red across her mouth.  She will mug for the mirror, jutting her jaw and stretching her lips wide across the teeth behind them to get her lips taut enough to absorb the pigment, just as I do.
My grandmother and the big sinking house on Village Drive are the most permanent touchstones of my life.  But I know that someday Bebe will die. This will happen after many months where all we have of her is the shell of her former self, but sooner than we am truly prepared.
The day before that happens, I will bitch out my uncle and my little brother, who seem not to care that the caregivers have left Bebe’s nails witchy long, with bits of construction-site orange nail polish inched way up past the tips of her fingers.
While I work on my grandmother’s hands, suffering the stink of acetone as if it were smelling salt, I will raise my voice over her to proclaim that I am the only one who cares about Bebe dying with dignity.

I will be wrong. I will apologize. And I will be forgiven.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nana, from Christopher

 My grandmother is named Edna, known as Nana to me. She lives in a perpetual dual with my grandfather, and holds court every day beginning at 4:30, cocktail hour. She read every day during her afternoon nap, and before she went to bed. Now she listens to books because of her failing eyesight, courtesy the US government, through a program like Netflix, but for books on tapes. She grew up on a Masonic farm in Wisconsin, with a monkey. Her father and mother moved to Racine, her mother became a short-order cook, and so did Nana. Nana is partly Danish, identifies as Danish; she fed us herring, traditional Danish pastries like evascures and kringle, pumpernickel.  We called her closest elder sister Tootie, though she was christened Florence. Until Tootie’s death, they played bridge together with old friends every week. Nana married Emil, my grandfather, the beginning is shrouded in mystery. Edna and Emil have five children, twelve grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. She helped to take care of me for some weeks after I was born on an air force base in Illinois, and she gave me my first book, well before I could read, I still have it, it is called “Christopher for President.”

Terry Ross, from Susanne

Terry Ross is a charismatic woman, mother, grandmother, entertainer, and friend.  She lives in Miami and turned 85-years old on November 11th, 2009.  Terry often shares fascinating stories when she plays (and usually beats) opponents in Scrabble.  Further, she still entertains family, friends, and community members with her songs and stories.  Terry recently mentioned the following story: 
“My Russian grandmother from the city of Omsk would dress up her two teenage boys (my uncle and father) in girl outfits in order to deter the Russian Army from recruiting her boys as soldiers for the war.  Further, the two teenage boys would travel incognito to Riga, Latvia to stay with relatives until the army recruiters left their hometown of Omsk.  My father met my mother in Riga, Latvia.  And so the story of my life was written…” 

Eliza, from Ilene

Eliza was a very tinny woman, she lived to be 94 or 96 years old.
She came from Canada, her husband was 40 years old when he died.
Eliza had 12 children; she was a powerhouse, the champion of bowling, league one.
She gave you big bear hugs.

Mattie Carolle, from Matthew

Mattie Carolle, my mother has advanced Alzheimer, I do not know where she is.
She is hidden away form me, I am so angry.
She had 7 children, no one tell me how to find her, I can’t go where she is. I consider myself a man without family.
My grand mother had 11 children, 10 girls and a boy.
My mother was the youngest…There is an inexpressible rage within me.

From Juan

 "Little Man" was a name given to my by the counselors who looked at me ( due to my silence and obedience). 
Marie Christine, when you shared with me, during your performance,  the story of the wife assisting her husband (drinking problem) and then asked me about my family - my thoughts and feelings were caught in a black hole.  Because there were so many spaces or paragraphs left out of my development as it relates to family experiences.  The main stream stuff anyway. 
A great period of my life has been spent away from my biological family.  The Orphanage, group home, college, university and job relations.  But family and one to one engaging was pretty much mute.  The family was a ratio of one to 45 or something like that.  One adult for every fifty children.  Total children of boys and girls was over, i guess, fifteen hundred or so.  Not sure but knew that there were a lot of kids being taken care of by wonderful nuns and a few counselors not of the cloth. 
Anyway, will not go further due to time and excitement in sharing this with you.  But by the time i was nineteen years old - i already died a thousand time and afraid of what was to come. 
Hope to continue -
Little Man...

Beatrice, from Maeda

Beatrice was from Poland, she came with 12 siblings. When she arrive in America her mother was hiding her youngest kids under her skirt.
Later on Beatrice stole money out of a cash register and bought IBM shares.

Meme, from Denise

lMy grandparents died when I was very young. They were from Canada.
New Years day was for us as important as Christmas. My grandmother use to make
Pets de Soeurs Pastry. All the family would join in, it was a big, humongous festival.
It was so special to go to Meme. To see recipe and history of Pets de Soeurs go to


Friday, November 13, 2009

Rose, from Ana

my grandma rose
my grandma rose and i shared the same grief.
she... lost her son and misty july morning, to a
boating accident, on the hudson river.
and i... lost my father and my brother.

for 23 years, i'd silently watch her wake and beat her chest.
when she was done... she would take me into the nook of her bosom...
and i would feel safe.

when she was laid to rest, it was a snowy december day.
without words, i watched as they laid her body beside her beloved son
and grandson.

she had found, home -- and i had lost one.

but sometimes...
even now...
if i close my eyes and inhale really deeply...

i can still smell her milky breast.

and i feel safe.

From David

My grandparents lived in Middle Village, our entire family would gather at their place for various celebrations. While all the grand kids were outside playing, my grandmother would prepare the meal or so we thought. When we were finally called in to eat, my grandfather always asked with a big smile in his eyes.“who make the best chicken in the world? and all the children would shout "grandma".Only years later did we discover that grandma's home baked chicken was really faithfully delivered By Chicken Delight.

Audrey,from Lisa

My grand mother Audrey owned a candy store in a flea market. When I was 5 or 6 years old my mum let me work with her. I was so excited to be with my grandmother.Sweets and candies surrounded me; there were so many varieties.My duties were to move boxes, arrange the candies and help the customers.
One day my grand mother took me to her upstairs neighbor to help 
her bake cookies.I ate so much cookie dough that I could not eat 
anything else for the entire day. 

Many years later, I am now a holistic health counselor
helping people find healthy alternatives to sweets and candies.

Jessy & Essy, from Leena

I grew up in Texas and never knew about my grandparents, they had died before I was born. However I had my aunts and uncles. My favorite aunts Jessie and Essy would prepare all the food for the family gathering, they took over the role of the grandparents.Jessy had the eggs and flour ready for baking; she would let me taste the dough.Later I would tell my mum that aunt Jessie could make a cake without using a box.Unlike my mum who always baked using premade cookie mix.My aunts gave me a perspective for the wisdom of women.

Raffaella Darelli (Ya Ya), from Michael

I spent most of my weekends as a child with my grandparents; we are of Irish-Norwegian and Italian descent.
My cousins and I would be playing and laughing always. Our great Aunt Raffaella Darelli told me endless stories about Lassie the dog. Raffaella (Ya Ya) and I would play using props and a box, recreating the TV show.
Raffaella was my favorite person in the whole world.
She passed away in the later 1970’s. Her husband Michael Darelli was an Italian born Downtown NYC bootlegger who died in the 1930’s. Michael Darelli had a gold and diamond ring with the initials MD that was gifted to me by Raffaella before her death, as I was her very dear pet nephew. Coincidentally Michael Darelli and I had the same initials.
In the very early eighties I lost the ring and then moved to a different state and residence. In the early 90’s
a woman called me to ask if I had lost a ring and that I please describe it to her. This angel of a person also happened to have the initials of MD as well!
She was living in my former house and was in the midst of having work done there.
While workmen were digging around the front entrance patio they found the ring that I had lost buried in 6 inches of soil for more than twenty years and gave it to her. She then tracked me down through former neighbors of ours from this old neighborhood. As they say, the rest is now history.
I have been wearing this ring ever since and will never ever remove it again. 

I’ll love you forever “Ya Ya”...


Thursday, November 12, 2009


My favorite grandmother passed away 15 years ago.
She used to bath me, as she knew I hated being in the water.
The tub was a metal basin perched on a tabletop outside in
the garden. One day during the bath ritual my grandmother was
bitten by a scorpion, she screamed but kept attending me so as to make sure I would not fall out of the tub.

From Michele

I never had any grandparents, so I think that's why I love listening to old people talk about their lives.

Rufus, from Marcelo

He was named Rufus because he liked being on a roof.Going up the stairs, the steps synchronized with the clock.
There was a boy who spent time in that house, he heard the sounds of the money jingling in the old man pocket with each steps.
One night their was no sound, simply because the old man had no money to go out any longer. So the boy sang a click clack song.
Much later he understood that sometimes the stupidest things could be the nicest.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Olive, Anonymous

Olive was a dressmaker, she lived to be 102.
Her mother would send her out to work from the time
she was 13 years old,earning $5 a week making disposable glass needles for the army using a glass blowing technique.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Grandma Joanne, from Rebekkah 9 years old

My grandma Joanne.
We had tea parties on the back porch, our secret garden.
We would have cookies and tea, we talk about American girls dolls and Archie comics.
My great grandmother use to read them when she was young.
Archie comics are 100 years old. We play tic tac toes.
She lives in Ballston Spa, a long time ago it was compared to spa such as Baden Baden.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Maria Dolores Abraham, from Dolly

Thoughts of my grandmother bring back memories of a true renaissance woman. She was born into poverty, however, that didn’t stifle her great pride and belief in herself.Mamy, as she liked being called (grandma was too old for her), believed in dressing well, taking care of herself, being charitable and always thinking of tomorrow.  One of her favorite sayings was: “You know about today, but you don’t know about tomorrow.” She always believed in not being frivolous with anything.  When she was a young lady, she couldn’t afford to buy cosmetics, so she used to take red tissue paper, wet it and rub it on her cheeks and lips – instant makeover!!! Mamy was known for welcoming people into her home and somehow she would stretch a meal to feed any guests that arrived.Having a great love and children and family she married a widower at the age of eighteen. She said that she fell in love with the man and the children. We would often see her and my grandfather dancing in the kitchen while she cooked dinner. She raised most of her grandchildren – since the parents were working.She ran a family daycare of sorts and took care of the kids very well.Mamy was extremely loving and strict.  Education was especially important to her since she was not able to study past elementary school.Anyone that met her couldn’t believe this since she was so intelligent –she would give all types of wonderful advice: parenting, career, financial, you name it. She was truly a wise person.
Mamy was especially important to me because, besides raising me, she also moved so that she could be near me and helped to raise my children, as well. By this time she was in her seventies!!! But she never skipped a beat –going for at least one long walk a day and saying her prayers several times a day.  She could have been an even greater woman given the opportunity to get a real education.However, she taught most of us college and advanced degree grads in the family more than school ever could have.  Mamy was ninety four when she passed away and some of her last words to me were: “Take care of yourself and your family.”

Maria Dolores, her grandchildren & great grandchildren

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lee Barlowe, from Warren

Lee Barlowe was cleaning the kitchen, it was a stormy night. There was dust on a lamp in the kitchen, so to clean it she decided to remove the light bulb.
As she unscrewed the bulb the whole house went dark, all the light went out.
She looked out of the window and saw that all the houses all around were dark, she felt terribly guilty. “Could have I done this?” then she turned on a portable radio and heard that the entire North Eastern US had lost power at that moment. Much later she found out that it was to be called the Great Blackout

From Dave

When my grand mother was a little girl she lived in Sweden, she would wait for her sister to come home. She sometimes waited hours for her sister to come home.

Tyra, from David

When we visited my grand mother Tyra, we could smell the coffee being brew but she only gave us milk.
I thought that every grandmother lived in an old house, that every grandmother had an accent. I thought that every grandmother came from Europe.
At my cousin’s wedding, we had a big family reunion. I had no seen my grandmother in a year, the whole family was scattered outside the house. My grandmother saw me, she called my name. I felt very special because she called out my name.

Annalisa Pietsch, from Alex

Annalisa Pietsch lived alone in north central Germany. She had a stroke, her children came back to take care of her. She is the reason why I love everything about plants.
She created her own forest with a lake. Her husband died during the war, she had 5
Children, she was an educator. She lived to be 91 years old.


Once upon a time, they lived happily ever after...

Roy,from Emily

When Roy, my grand father, was a little boy he would be chased by Chachi, the town bully. Many years later Roy met Chachi who became a priest.

Quick, from Stephan

With my grandmother Quick I use to love just making cookies and baking cakes.
At the end, she would let me lick the spoon.


Mama, my mother's mother, used to come up on the train on Christmas Eve every year and we picked her up in the train station in Schenectady. She always gave us pajamas as a gift on Christmas morning.
So one year I asked “Mama why don’t you give us our presents on Christmas Eve, so we can wear them on Christmas morning?"
She was shocked and said, "I don't know you mean?"
On Christmas morning when she gave us our gift, we all got pajamas as ususal.
The next year she gave us our presents on Christmas Eve and we wore them to bed and had them on the next morning as we opened the gifts
that Santa brought.

Robina, from Megan

Robina had 7 boys during the Great Depression. She was a very good cook. One of her most famous dishes was “CBCs,” or chocolate-bit cookies. She had a plaque on the wall of her old-fashioned kitchen, with a drawing of a granny and a saying:
"Some grandmas have limousine and the biggest homes you’ve never seen, but my grandma
is best by far, for she has got a cookie jar.”

Grandma Marline, from Stella

There was a big pool with a ramp and I wanted to go with her every days.

Grammy Irene, from Randy

Grammy Irene and I slept on the fold out couch when she came to visit us. We had so much to say to each other that when it was time to sleep she would say “Good night again, and again and again”. I knew it was time to go to close my eyes.
My grand parents, they came to my house, we played patty whack…

Rose, from Dan

My grand mother Rose use to bake very delicious cookies, we called them Jaw Breakers. When I was at camp she send me her cookies, she was very giving.

Grace, from Evie

Grace was my grandmother, together we made cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, and I eat them all.

Gae Mc Farlane, from Jane

She never said no, her name was Gae Mc Farlane.

Har Kaila

I never knew my grandmother

Ma, from Emma

Ma, she was witchy, every time I called her
She would say I was just thinking about you.

Carry Anna, from Montana

Carry Anna, my grandmother, was raised by her very strict and religious grandmother.
When she was young she was caught riding on her boyfriend motorbike
without permission. As punishment, she was no allowed to go out for a year.
Carry Anna died last year, she was 85 years old.

my grandmother, from Elizabeth/Ela

I believe my grandmother is part of me. I feel her love and her presence even though she died more than 30 years ago. She was a good person, wise, giving, quiet and - in a beautiful way - simple. I remember people coming to her for advice and moral support. She knew how to listen. I don't remember her smile much, but in my memory, I have a picture of her, with her warm, friendly smile.

My grandmother was very religious. Catholic. As a little girl, I tried to impress her by going to the church, even though, soon my experience with the institution of church went really bad. At the same time when I was escaping the priest who was a child molester, I realized I would never be able to identify with this part of her.... I lost my religion...

My grandmother had three daughters. My mother was the youngest child. They lived in a little town in Poland, close to the concentration camp. When my grandfather was sent to the concentration camp, my grandmother and her three daughters would go and throw food to him and to other people in the camp. The three sisters, young girls, kept going there and threw my grandmother's kasha knishes, over the camps fence, even after my grandfather death.
I still can not imagine how my grandmother could let her young children risk their life by sending them, bare footed (so they could run easier), so close to the gate of hell, the concentration camp.
Each time my mother tells me that story - it makes me feel good as a person. She was humane. In my life, I try to follow that direction.

Sometimes I wonder if my love for cooking and giving food to people doesn't come from her....

Lolita, from Pablo

Pablo's grandmother, Lolita, comes from Urcuqui, a very little town in the Andes mountains in Ecuador where unusual things happen frequently like in the magical realism... One day, when she was home alone, doing her usual things, with the Catholic radio on in her bedroom, she suddenly heard the voice of her mother talking. She was shocked and surprised. Started to cry... Her mother passed away 15 years earlier.... Lolita then realized that the voice she heard was a recorded interview with her mother…. The journalist said “I am introducing you to Ms Julia Dolores Vallejo.”
Pablo’s great grandmother was a special person. A liberal and a poet involved in politics. From the pastel portrait made for her by an artist, she looked like a very attractive woman. Julia Dolores had several children without being married. Although her daughter, Pablo's grandmother - Lolita, was very influenced by her, she became conservative.

Hearing her mother's voice on the radio was a very strong experience for Lolita. After sharing her story with her son, Oswaldo (Pablo's father), he went to Ibarra City and found the radio journalist who gave him the copy of this interview with Julia Dolores… The family did not know that such a material existed.

This was Pablo’s second "meeting" with his great-grandmother. The first one was seeing her portrait.

Monday, October 19, 2009