In Memory of Judith Jae

In Memory of Judith Jae

My grandmother has always been a model of womanhood, for me. Although she was a housewife through the sixties and seventies, there was never any question that she was my grandfather’s equal in absolutely everything, and in every way. He is a professor with multiple Ph.Ds in physics and mathematics and she was a housewife, and she showed me so much of what it means to be a feminist.

I was constantly awed by the respect she instilled in my mother, who always seemed to me the ideal of motherhood. Just last week I told my mom how I wish I was a fraction of the mother she is, and she told me she wishes she was a fraction of the mother her mother was, and we agreed it meant my granny was truly exceptional.

Granny and Granddaddy with RH

Granny and Granddaddy with RH

Granny got me to apply to art school, to the school SHE wanted me to go to, when I roundly refused to apply to my father’s alma mater. She was one of the first people I told when I was accepted and offered a scholarship, and she was so pleased I was moving to Chicago, her home town. to attend the school of the Art Institute, one of her favorite museums on earth.

Granny was better acquainted with the earth than most. For their anniversary several years ago, my grandparents traveled to Antarctica, and they spent much of my life living in Spain during the winters- where my grandfather teaches at a university.

It’s hard to write this. Not just because my arm is immobilized in a sling after a nasty shoulder surgery, but because yesterday morning we lost my grandmother.

I can still barely wrap my mind around the word “died” in relation to her- everything about her was so alive.

I can hear her voice so clearly in my head, saying “my darling,” and laughing over a story it’s taking her forty minutes to tell. I can see her so clearly, grinning and and then nodding seriously to drive home a point.

I have no idea what we’ll do without her. She tied our far flung family together through love and the sheer force of her personality.

My doppleganger

My doppleganger

When she met my grandfather. she had just moved back to Chicago after spending much of her childhood in Mexico City. She was sixteen and attending the University of Chicago, and saw my grandfather playing a game of chess. She watched a moment, and in Spanish spoke over his shoulder. “That was a terrible move.”

My grandparents in their home in Florida

My grandparents in their home in Florida

He looked at her, and in perfect Spanish replied, “No it wasn’t.”

My teenaged grandparents’ idea of a date was for granddaddy to pick granny up, take her to Wrigley Field, buy her a ticket and a hotdog, and sit on a bench outside the stadium with a book. He would read, and Granny would sit in the bleachers, scoring the game. I watched a little of the Cubs/Pirates playoff game this year with her over Skype, she was so pleased to see her Cubs in the postseason.

While they dated, my poor northsider grandfather never managed to find the courage to speak to my great-grandfather- a very wealthy Hyde Park socialite. When they wanted to marry, my great grandfather refused. Granny begged granddaddy to elope, and he wouldn’t. He said he could never earn her father’s trust if they ran away. So my grandmother took matters into her own hands- she got pregnant. Three months pregnant with my mother and wearing her engaged sister’s wedding dress, she married my grandfather. They refused financial help from my great grandparents and moved to a shack in Florida where my grandfather worked on his Ph.D.s. My grandmother had four children in six years, with an untreated broken knee, with faulty electricity, on the student stipend of about $3K a year.

She wrote a cookbook for the woman who distributed her food stamps rations, because Granny was the only woman who ever came and said she didn’t need all the food- she still had some left over from the previous week.


Granny at my father’s graduation

Granny has always been a fixture in her community. Teaching hebrew school, or as president of the synagogue, or just as the person who knows everything. Seders at her house were filled with community members without places to go, adult children with Down Syndrome, friends of friends of friends, her table was always beautiful and welcoming.

She had no sense of shame. She told me how when she suffered chronic yeast infections. her doctor said that although no woman would be willing to, she could go without underwear. My grandmother stared him in the eye and tossed her panties in the garbage. She didn’t delight in always being right, she simply always seemed to know better than anyone else. She was patient to the extreme. She was kind and warm and funny.

It was in her home I first encountered gay people, mentally disabled people, and the oddballs that make up my family, by birth or otherwise. It has always been clear how much of my remarkable mother comes from her mother, and I have never been anything but proud to be a part of that lineage.


Granny and I lighting the Shabbat candles at my wedding

I wish I could tell Granny how much she meant to me, and how sorry I am that I ever let a moment go by that I thought of her so fondly and said nothing. I know she knew, I know she understood, but it would have brought her joy to hear how loved she was. And I wish I could have given her that.

I will miss her blintzes and her tamales. I will miss the snail’s pace stories she told. I will miss her smile. I will miss the way she said “darling.” and referred to her parents as “mother and daddy,” and the way she laughed about getting old. I will miss the way she quizzed me in Spanish, and talked art with me, and made haroseth. I will miss the way she said “adonoi,” and the way she rolled her eyes , and her twinkling eyes, and her elbows on her knees, and her millions of allergies and dietary restrictions, and how she was the only one who could explain my swiss cheese allergy to me properly.


Granny reading the girls The Story of Ferdinand

I miss all of it now.

I miss her.

Read more a letter from Granny: Always Listen To Your Grandmother
Read my latest post here:  I Pretend To Be Honest

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Filed under: Life, Love

Tags: Death, Family, Grief, Stories

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