I remember an afternoon
I spent with my Grandma-Rose,
Fathers Polish mother.
I’d taken the #12 bus
across The Bronx from City Island
to her apartment near The Grand Concourse
to help her shop for groceries
for the coming Seder.
I was nine.
I enjoyed the freedom granted me
by Father for the journey.
I do not remember Mother concurring.
I loved being with Grandma.
She always had stories
and she used expressions
I laughed to hear,
spoken in a thick
then returned too her apartment house,
pulling her two-wheel-wire-grocery-cart
full of paper bags stuffed with,
(in my Mothers Irish opinion, anyway)
strange tasting food from the kosher markets
with the Hebrew letters painted on the store windows,
(there was a row of those old shops under the elevated train line)
and from the A’n’P,
the mircale Grandma marveled at
though she had been,
“In America already forty years!”
Carrying canvas shopping bags full of vegetables and fruit,
we schleped up three flights of stairs to her apartment
lugging the cart with us,
unlocked the three locks
and stepped into the muted, gauzy light
from a drawn-shade window in the living room.
“Wait. I’ll make the light.”
She flicked the wall switch.
Ceiling lights created an electric glow
in the foyer, kitchen and living room.
Like any kid,
“Grandma! You didn’t make the light!
Con Edison did!”
She laughed and called me
her “Mister Pister wise guy.”
As we unpacked the bags, she told me about
the candle maker in her little Polish town,
now long gone down in the smoke and fire
the “Nazi Bastards” brought.
There was no one ever lived
who could say,
like my Grandma.
For her, those two words were one,
the cursed memory spit out from a twisted snarl.
And always, with a pause, after.
“To clean the air,” she’d said,
“So not to dirty the next word”.
She told me of her mother,
“Your Great Grand Mother Sara,
such a lovely women.”
never heard from again,
murdered by Nazi Bastards
in some foul camp in a Polish forest.
She told me how my Great Grand Mother
would light a dozen candles around their home
to usher in Shabboths,
creating pools of shimmering light
in all the rooms,
turning Friday evening darkness into flickering lakes.
Grandmas eyes overflowed with her tears.
She dabbed drops from her cheeks.
She held her little handkerchief to her lips
and kissed her memories.
Then she held it to my lips
and I kissed it.
“It is up to us,
my goyisha grandson,
to make the light.
To make our own little glowing pool
in the darkness the world always
is ready to trap us in.
never depends on any other light
but what is in his own soul,
given by God.
Even you, child, can do the same,
(though the Law says you’re not a Jew).
No matter who you are,
Evil is always ready
to drag you into the night.”
I liked when she talked that way.
It reminded me of the little sermons
Father O’Conner preached on Sunday mornings
at Saint Mary’s Star of the Sea.
hers were better.
“Now”, she said,
“Light me the stove.
I’ll make you potato pancakes to take home
to that shiksa your father married.
You’ll eat one on the bus, yes?
Such a good boy you are!”
She kissed me on my right cheek
and touched the left
with her finger tips.
I nibbled the pancake down to nothing
on the bus ride
and memorized the poem
Grandma gave me before I left
so I could say it to my Mother
when I got home.
“Jesus was a good Jew,
so he knew
how to make the light
brighten the night.”
I learned the words while sitting
in the back of the bus
so I would bounce high when
the bus hit the pot holes
on Pelham Parkway
and when we crossed
the City Island Bridge.
When I recited the words
to Mother that night,
she screamed for Father to come.
And when he did not come quick enough,
my Mother slapped me across my face.