Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Being a Sentimentalist

Young people in the US take so many things for granted. For the most part they were born into families with both parents living and all their grandparents living. For them this is business as usual and no reason for excitement.

How I envy them. My grandparents on both sides were killed during WWII. I never got to meet them, to have the joy of snuggling in a babi's lap. As a child growing up I was so envious of anyone who did have a grandparent. But I did know my grandparents, at least in one sense. My mother was and is a grand teller of stories, and the stories she told us as children were of "in der heim," of life growing up in Europe. And the stars of those stories were my grandparents and my great grandparents and the aunts and uncles going way, way back. And we'd lap them up and ask for more. And so she told us more.

Figuring greatly in her stories was my great grandmother, the Baba Gittle. The Baba had a saying for everything that happened in life, and when a story started out with "Die Baba Gittle hot geh zokt" (The Baba Gittle said) we were all ears. My siblings and I and my cousins all have our favorite Baba Gittle sayings that have become part of the fabric of our own lives. And I cried for happy when one of my own children told a Baba Gittle story.

Sentimentalism is not something that is valued very highly today, except perhaps by some of us who are older. Sentimentalism requires that you take note of all the little details, even in everyday things, and place them in your "memory book." Sentimentalism takes nothing for granted. Sentimentalism requires that you "stop and smell the roses" today because who knows what is going to come along tomorrow.

My china closet isn't just filled with things to display. Every item in there has a history. I may not remember how much the checks were made out for by people at my wedding, but I can identify every piece I got as a gift, and can tell you about the giver. Sometimes it's these things or the sayings like my Baba's that are all that are left to you, and you cherish them for the memories they evoke.

Years ago I was invited to the chasoneh of one of my students. Her aunt and uncle were also friends of ours. I was sitting with that aunt at the chupah and we were both crying. Why? Because the last brochah under the chupah went to the kallah's great grandfather. Yes, great grandfather. Both of us looked on in awe at something we neither of us had had. The entire hall stood up during this brochah. Somehow everyone came to recognize just how rare a thing we were viewing. And I wondered to myself if the kallah had any idea of the great gift she had been blessed with. And just for a moment I felt again like that little girl who so desperately wanted grandparents to be there.

No morbidity but just a suggestion here. Grandparents don't live forever. The time to become a sentimentalist is now, while they are still here to tell all their stories and for you to listen to them. Grandparents are not a burden: they are the most precious gift you will ever receive in your whole life. Treat that gift like the exquisitely rare thing it is; cherish it and memorize all the details. And when your children or grandchildren will say "tell me a story" recount the ones that really matter. Begin your stories "Die Baba hot geh zokt."



12 comments:

mother in israel said...

Came via Orthonomics.

You say that people take grandparents for granted. Parents, whether young or old, should also not be taken for granted.

My father is also a survivor and I grew up without any family on that side. Then I made aliyah, my mother died and I have had to manage without much support. But I try to focus on the positive. My sister and I are close (even though she says I post things on my blog that I would never tell her).

When I think about my family that was lost, I still feel pain. And there is also the loss that my father suffered, the effect on him and how it was passed down to me. Then there is my mother's family, who were refugees from Germany in the 30s (after having left Eastern Europe in the 20s) and all of the repercussions from that experience. In many ways we are an orphaned generation.

mother in israel said...

posting again to request follow-up comments by email.

Chana said...

I speak with my parents every day, sometimes more. The children were always asking me so how are bubby and zeide? I finally got smart enough to hand them the phone and say ask them yourself. They are now in the habit of calling them regularly and reporting back on something they heard from their grandparents. I'm not imagining it that the kids are much closer with them now. They've formed a kesher that only they could produce.

Anonymous said...

My mother's parents were horrible to her and to us. My dad's parents were and are the precious gift you describe here. My Oma (German grandmother) is also someone I love because of the gift she gave my mother. She showed her what a mother should be and what a grandmother should be. We kids are lucky to have the best mother in the world and our children know that there is no one else in the world who loves them like my mother does and like their Oma does.

Jay said...

Wonderful posting! Looking forward to more.

DN said...

Your posting got me to thinking. My parents don't live in our neighborhood. We mostly only see them on Yomtov or a special family occasion. It's almost like they are like other items we have, to be brought out only when needed. And I'm thinking about what you wrote and I'm embarassed that this is what my parents have come down to. I called and invited them to come for this shabbos. When my mom asked if there was a simcha I was really embarassed. I told her finally that there was a simcha. The simcha was that she and my father were coming for shabbos. Thanks for reminding me of something I needed to remember.

leah said...

I can relate...I also don't have grandparents. I never had a nice Jewish bubbe who made chicken soup and fussed over the grandkids. I sometimes wonder over what I've missed...

Rochi said...

My parents were also Holocaust survivors and they never spoke to us kids about their lives before the war. I guess it was just too painful to think about. It wasn't until the grandchildren got old enough to ask questions and to want answers that they opened up. There is just something about the bond between grandparents and grandchildren that even children can't make happen with their parents.

Anonymous said...

It's a pretty picture you paint, maybe because you didn't have the grandparents. Not all grandparents are like the ones you wish you had. Ours played favorites among the grandkids and caused more problems then if we never would have had them to begin with.

NJWife said...

And some of us were lucky and had these kinds of grandparents. It's the one really hard part of having moved to NJ. I can't just walk around the corner and see my Zaydie every day. It was easier to move away from my parents, and don't get me wrong, I love them a lot.

SephardiLady said...

Our kids have four grandparents, something neither my husband or I ever had. It is truly an amazing thing and it is amazing that this is fairly "standard."

I get a real kick out of the almost daily calls my almost 4 year old makes to his Grandfather. I never had a grandfather to call.

Anonymous said...

I deal with kids who don't have perfect home lives, whose parents may be the cause of distress. But what I see is that these kids know what real parents should be like and that is where their pain comes from. They know they don't have what is out there for some others. The same for grandparents.

If you are lucky enough to have the good parents or the good grandparents then profk is right. Don't assume they will be there later when you have the time to sit down and talk. Make the time now. I also see lots of people who come because they are feeling guilt and other negative things because they didn't treat parents and grandparents as special people.