I was eleven when my mother went to work. I went to my grandparents’ house after school some days and stay until the evening. I helped my Bubby around the house and she taught me to sew and cook. She had been a seamstress in a women’s clothing factory before marrying my grandfather, so she knew how to sew well. She sewed her own suits, blouses and dresses.
I helped her lay out fabric on the mahogany dining table; pin and cut out patterns; notch the darts, and clip the corners and curves. I watched her carefully baste pieces together; run the long seams on her sewing machine; sew in zippers so they lay flat; and make beautiful bound buttonholes. I acted as her fitting model. I put on garments-in-progress and stood on a kitchen chair while she marked the hems with white tailor’s chalk and pinned them for later hand sewing. She showed me how to hand stitch an even, virtually invisible hem, easing in the extra fabric as you went along.
In the kitchen, Bubby showed me how to make her special recipes. Blintzes with sour cream and homemade blueberry compote were a big favorite. When she visited her sisters out of state, she would return home with a huge chunk of fresh Farmer’s cheese which we’d make into blintze filling. It took all day to make the crepes, fill and fry them in butter. Everybody helped. On other visits, we made knishes, kuchen, homentashen with prune and poppy seed fillings, noodle kugel (food of the Gods), chopped liver (with real schmaltz), and gefilte fish (for the grown-ups).
Bubby and I watched her favorite TV programs together after the cooking was done. One Life to Live, As the World Turns, Search for Tomorrow, and the Secret Storm. She watched them every day. She could tell you the life stories of every character from the beginning. There were weird story twists, feuds and vendettas, life-threatening accidents, lingering illnesses, occasional deaths and resurrections. Oddest of all, there were puzzling transmogrifications when one actor left the show and a completely different actor took over as the same character. No explanation was ever given. The character’s story went on as if nothing had happened.
For such a halcyon decade, the predicaments the soap opera characters got into were often shocking and always fraught. You could say they were the precursors to (un)reality TV shows. But my Bubby loved her programs, so I watched them with her.
While she and I were doing “women’s things” in the kitchen or sewing room, my Zaydeh (grandfather) was in the study doing “men’s things” like reading the newspaper or listening to the radio and smoking his pipe. Occasional wafts of cherry-vanilla scented smoke reached us like reassuring smoke signals saying all is well, Zaydeh is here.
I hadn’t thought about these good times with Bubby and Zaydeh for many years until this week when I came across the folder of my Bubby’s recipes, handwritten on old college notebook paper. I’ve kept them all these years. The paper is yellowed and brittle with age. The edges are ragged and falling away in bits. I’ll transcribe them onto my computer, but will not throw the originals away. They bring back memories of very good times with Bubby. I’ll make them into a family recipe book for my son. I hope he and his family will use them and pass them along to the grandkids.
Do you have family recipes? Do you still make them? What special times did you spend with your Bubby or Grandmother?