Bubbie is the Yiddish word for Grandmother. It is a term of endearment and to this day I know not a soul who embodies the old school Bubbie tradition quite like mine. But then again, I think everyone believes their Bubbie is the cutest. Mine though people, is really cute. And if you sit with her long enough to really start talking she is a wealth of wisdom, comedy, and unmatched strength.
Bubbie was quite the cook in her day and she called all of us in the family her best costumers. In fact her food was so good that my uncle used to sell some of her items like chopped liver, kugel, and gifilte fish in his Jewish deli. People all around Baltmore used to look for Minnies chopped liver. The item was so epic it was considered a poetic symphony of Jewish eating delight, much like the chef herself.
When I was young and before it was trendy to be gluten free, dairy free, soy free and the like, I would eat all the food she made. I ate all her cooking because I loved it and I loved her. I always felt nourished by her without thinking twice. As I grew into my teens and began to see my family in more of a stark broad daylight, I was less able to tolerate some of her foods. I became more controlling over what I chose to consume and I believe accepting and rejecting food was one of the ways I did that.
I became vegan, watched my sugar intake, stopped eating carbs and in general became the one in the family rejecting the foods of our family. But rejecting the family cooking was synonymous with rejecting the family. I think I had to do this for my own sanity and growth. But that time did not come trouble and pain free. In fact quite the opposite. I was heart broken that I felt that in order to find myself I had to reject my family and of all people Bubbie.
People have a whole vast array of relationships with their grandparents. I certainly was not close with my Grandfather the way I was with Bubbie. I never had a nanny so if my parents couldn’t take care of me I got sent to Bubbie’s. So basically she helped raise me as much as my parents, but of course she never reprimanded me. She only every fed me delights and told my I had a shena punim (which means pretty face). Her support was unending but I felt like as I grew into my later teens and twenties she started to loose me because I was changing. I was defiant because that’s what you do at 18. It was hard to move to college and be away from her and the guilt was consuming.
Bubbie could never quite understand why it was that I wouldn’t eat her food anymore. I think on some level she felt disappointed she could not connect with me in the same way as we once had. After all, when I moved to college our relationship drastically changed. I used to talk to her almost everyday and see her at least once if not twice a week. This then became weekly phone calls, which became monthly phone calls, which became bimonthly phone calls, which became three visits a year. More recently I have been trying to call her more, even if she only stays on the phone for a few minutes.
Bubby is hard of hearing, and refused to get a hearing aid after all these years and she is pretty good at reading lips. But it is hard to read lips through the telephone. She sort of just asks me if the weather is good, if I feel okay, if I am done with school, and if still teach people to bend in half. (which is her understanding of yoga which is of course partly true). I have come to earn that even thought the three to five minute conversation might not be that satisfying for me, it is for her.
For her to hear my voice and have me tell her I am alright and happy and for her to know I am thinking of her, is enough. She always ends the call with profusely thanking me for calling her.
"thank you, Livia. Thank you dear for calling. Thank you so much for calling sweetheart."
This without fail brings tears to my eyes every time we say goodbye. My parents tell me when I call her it makes her day.
For many years I felt a tremendous weight and guilt for moving away from Bubbie. I felt like she would never understand how and why I couldn’t live in Baltimore anymore. Still when we end our brief phone conversations I feel that twinge in my side of wishing I could live there for her. She gave me so much I wish there was something I could give her.
One day when I was visiting a while ago, I expressed how I felt badly I lived so far away. She looked me in the eye and said in her distinctive polish accent “Vell, I only want you to be happy. You have to do what makes you happy. Then I am happy.” So it is hard to be so far away. I know she wishes sometimes it was like the old days and we could all be together. But Bubbie was never one to stop me from following a dream and so she has smiled and sent me on my way for a long time now.
What brings me closer to her in our distance nowadays is when I cook in her vein. I have perfected the art of the kugel and although I still am gluten free, soy free, dairy free, egg free. Whenever I make it, I always have a little piece. Guess what? The allergic responses I have to those food items doesn’t really come into play as intensely when I eat the food that was made with such love, care and devotion.
Kugel might not be good for your waistline or your cholesterol, but it is health food for the soul.