The Creme De La Creme (eulogy for my grandmother)
How do you commemorate one woman’s life, one woman’s loving, one woman’s smile and furrow of her brow, her accent and back scratches into words?
Words are one way we share memories. We share through stories and tales of days gone by. We tell stories to remember and to co-participate in the literal re-membering of our experiences.
Stories are how we re-member together our experiences so they might continue to be shared.
In this way I offer you a few words about my Bubby. First it feels important to simply say how much I love her. I have never loved in the way I share with Bubby. It was and is a special kind of love. One I know I share with Lauren, Izzi and Morgan. We knew we were loved.
Bubby was, still is and will forever be, the champion of my heart. I was raised in her embrace and under her watchful eye. Those of you who know me probably remember that as a young child learning to speak I even had an accent just like her. My parents tell me I would say “vait a minute, vait a minute”.
Bubby did not teach me about the great planet we live in. She taught me about the vast inner world we each have within. And in so doing was a huge influence in my devotion to its understanding as my life’s work
I found Bubby curiously reserved in her emotions. Of course she expressed happiness and joy on many occasions with me, but I never heard her speak badly about someone to my face. She never actively disagreed with me and she never, well almost never, shared stories of her past. Bubby rarely bestowed to me the word--her word--of the past. On rare occasions after I had sat with her for quite a while she would sometimes tell me bits about the old country and the war. But she rarely shared prolific memories. Though I always knew she had them.
As a child and through college actually I was a figure skater. Some of you probably remember those days of skating practices, competitions and the little outfits. Years of skating went by before Bubby told me that she too had figure skated. I sat dumbfounded that day as she told me how she and Leo would skate down the frozen river together. The entire time prior I thought I was forging a new path being original in the Shapiro line. Little did I know I got the gene from her. She gave me her very old pair of ice skates with fur on the top ankle rims.
And so despite the few instances like what I just mentioned, Bubby kept her inner world mostly separate from me. Which frankly as a child I think I liked. I loved that I could go to her and be her entire world. I loved that when she picked me up from school she was 15 minutes early always. I loved that she had a food remedy for every mood of mine.
See what Bubby may have not realized all these years is that in the space of not sharing so many words and stories of the past she always showed up fully for me in the present moment. She taught me about what it is to BE with someone. She taught me how to be quiet and just exist in the comfort of another’s company. She taught me that the inner world could be shared without words. She offered to me through her love, her devotion, and her quiet even attitude a sense of respite and relief in a world that always seemed big and mad.
Bubby was my island of sanity.
Just recently a colleague said to me “Livia, you are lionhearted. You are a voice of sanity amidst the madness.” I took this as a great compliment with tears in my eyes. For what this friend and colleague didn’t know is that I am after all named for Bubby’s ever and always beloved Leo. Indeed, I do have the name of the lion And the lion heart is always betrothed to the voice of reason and sanity. Bubby was my voice of sanity inside my own madness for many years. She never waivered. Ever.
Bubby also understood that people thrive in the arms of love. She knew that in order to be lionhearted and the voice of reason in places where everything seems bonkers, We need a beloved with which to share. She was devoted to seeing my heart in love more than most.
For years I tried to get her to give me the recipe for her Kugel. I remember she would make a big pyrex of it and would slice it into portions and freeze them individually. Then when I would come over she would immediately put a piece in the microwave and serve it up with some sour cream. Have a problem? In a bad mood? Here have a piece of Kugel. It’s worth mentioning that the sour cream was always fat free. The kugel however was not. Defintley not. And the running joke in the family was always when we would ask her how to make it and what was in it. She would say:
“Vell, noting really. Dere is really noting in it.” She then would proceed to list the ingredients.
“You know, vone cup sugar, five eggs, vone stick butta, vone package egg noodles, vone package cottage cheese. Vell and you know you can use any cottage cheese. Can be vone percent, two percent, four percent. Don’t matter. And zen you know you put vone can crushed pinaple. And zen of course ze raisins. You know ze fruit is very good for you.”
So for years I tried to get her to right it down for me along with the directions so that I could make it. But to no avail she would say yes but then I never came a way from the house with the coveted prize
When I met my husband I told him this story and it of course became a comedy act of me impersonating Bubby. I have to tell you. I do an amazing rendition truly. It is sort of to the point where my friends tell me I am such a Bubby. He was so excited at the prospect of having real old style kugel he was determined to get the recipe.
On a trip to visit Bubby a while back I was determined to get the recipe. We sat down and chit chated a while and I slipped into the conversation.
“Bub, I have been cooking a lot”.
“Oh yea, “ she said, “vat do you make? Do you cook for elliot?”
“You know me Bub, I cook a lot of vegetables and chicken and salmon.”
“Vell sure sure you can’t go wrong with those.”
Elliot then of course chimes in saying
“Yea, Liv is such a good cook”
“Oh, yea?” bubby replies, “Vell of course she is a good cook. Her mother is a good cook and you know i taught all da boys too cook”
So here was my chance. My big moment to use the boyfriend as collateral for the recipe. I went in for it.
“You know Bub, I really want to make Elliot the kugel”
“Yes!” Elliot chimes in. “I reeeeeeally want Liv to make some kugel. Do you think you can give her the recipe.”
“SURE! Get a pen.”
So she gave Elliot the recipe and the directions and told us the trick is to cook it at 325 covered with aluminum foil so it stays moist. She also told us not to cook it on the bottom rack but in the middle of the oven so the bottom doesn’t burn. Upon arriving home I proceeded to buy the ingredients and cook it ala her directions. The completed product was one of such culinary family traditional beauty. It looked exactly like hers, and you know, it tasted just as good. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach well I came to find out that the way to get Bubby’s recipes is through being betrothed. It was as if she had kept these recipes under lock and key until I had a man and potential babies to feed. So the lesson was that sometimes these family recipes are best kept through sharing with those you love. Bubby understood food was meant to be shared and so she made sure I would carry on her traditions in the right way. After all cooking and food is as much an act of the lion heart as any great act and provides sanity to a frantic world.
I wish I could express in words to each of you the complete joy and contentment she had at the end of her life seeing me and my husband Elliot together. I never heard her speak of her own mortality. But several months ago when Elliot and I were visiting, we sat side by side with her and she wept. She told us how at peace she felt knowing I was ok. She told Elliot how good of a man he is. This was the first time I ever saw her loosen her grip on her own life force. And it was perhaps the first time I was really let into her inner world deeply. Like a beautiful stained glass window she cast the light of her own awareness onto her heart in such a way that we were allowed to see through.
Bubby gave me the best of her world. She gave me her happy memories. She gave me her recipes. She gave me her joy. She gave me her blessing. And today she gives us all her blessing.
Bubby gave me the crème de la crème of herself, which ironically is what she used to tell me I was. “Livia, you are the crème de la crème”. She used to say.
So today, I would like to say, Bubby, YOU are the crème de la crème.
We are all forever changed by you and we rest in the light of your spirit.