4

To Grandma, On Her 103rd Birthday

Dear Grandma,

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Grandma, happy birthday to you! It’s your best grandson here, and your only grandson.

It has been almost nine years since you’ve been gone, but I still think about you all the time, especially today, on what would have been your 103rd birthday. Time flies, doesn’t it?

So much has happened since I’ve last seen you. When we last talked, I had just moved to Washington, DC. I ended up switching out schools and finishing up at UMass Amherst, when I started writing plays. In 2008, one of my plays won a competition and was performed in downtown Baltimore for a whole week! I know you would have been there with Mom, Dad, and Aunt Ruth in the front row center, and you would have been so proud. You would have also been proud when I decided to move to Jerusalem for a year, and when I would call you every week, you would immediately call my parents and all of your other friends, telling them that your grandson called you from Israel. You would have baked a challah and sent it to me and it would have been delicious. You would have been puzzled when I moved to Houston for two years, but proud when I successfully graduated with my master’s, and got into the University of Wisconsin, where I sit today, on my way to become the first of your grandchildren to get a doctorate. Well, Susan technically has a doctorate in pharmacy, but never used the title. I will most definitely refer to myself as Dr. Jacob when I get that degree in my hands. I think you might have been confused over what I am deciding to get my degree in, and what I am going to do with it. You would not have been alone. But you would be proud nonetheless.

I don’t know how you would have felt learning about our family trip to Germany and Prague two years ago. I think you would have listened patiently on the phone or on Skype (if you knew how to use it) but you would have been sad not going with us and maybe a little worried for us. You would have loved to have seen the pictures and videos, and you would have felt much better about being here in America seeing how much things have changed. You would have been amused by our dinner at the American Embassy in Prague, and you would have not wanted any souvenirs at all.

You would be pleased to know how much all of us have grown up. You would be proud of my sister’s cooking and her job, and if you were feeling up to it, you would be right there in her kitchen helping her. She might also feel better about herself, since you were really close with her, and you would probably say things to her that would have helped her get through things. You would be so proud of having a great-granddaughter with a degree (and a job!), two great-grandchildren in college, and two others in high school. You’d also be happy to know that your name comes up at every single family function, and we are constantly asked by those outside the family if we remember you, and that you are remembered by others as a “tough lady” even though we all know how much you love us.

You would be very concerned about events in Europe and the Middle East, so I am glad that you are not here to worry about those things.

I don’t know how you’d feel about my decision to apply for German citizenship. You would probably not be happy with that choice, since they gave you nothing. But you might support our decision after we explained to you about the job market. Even still, you probably would be kind of weirded out. But you would love us all the same.

You would be shocked to learn that Cookie died, among others, but not at others who have also left. You would be pleasantly surprised by some of those from your generation who’ve stuck around, like Irma and Bluma.

Finally, you’d be happiest to learn that we still celebrate Jewish holidays together as a family as much as possible. Usually we have a few who are absent (I’d be the worst offender, so sorry about that :-/) but Thanksgivukkah was a blast. You know I’d call you every week and visit when I got the chance. You’d still be happy knowing that we’re keeping the family jokes alive and passing them on to the younger ones.

From your greatest, best, and only grandson, as always, with love,

Jacob

1

Pop Culture Showdown: Babs vs. Kelly

Today, we celebrate the birthdays of two women who changed American music in different ways: Barbra Streisand and Kelly Clarkson. One is 32, the other is 72. I’ll let you guess which is which.

So it’s time for another round of…

Pop Culture Showdown

Episode 2: Babs vs. Kelly

Born:

Barbra: Barbara Joan Streisand, in Brooklyn, NY.

Kelly: Kelly Brianne Clarkson, in Fort Worth, TX.

Got Her Start:

Barbra: Small audiences at gay bars.

Kelly: The highest rated reality television show of 1999.

Box Office Belly Flop:

BarbraThe Prince of Tides. Not a complete terror, but I read the book first and Ms. Streisand took an awful lot of artistic license. And on that license, there was two phrases: “organ donor” and “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! I’M SUSAN LOWENSTEIN! LOOK AT ME!”

KellyFrom Justin to Kelly. One of the worst movies of all time. That’s talent right there.

Grammy Awards:

Barbra: 40 nominations, 10 wins.

Kelly: 10 nominations, 3 wins.

Media Faux Pas:

Barbra: Making a stink about her home being on Google Earth, causing the “Streisand effect.”

Kelly: Unsportsmanlike reaction upon losing World Idol to Kurt Nilsen, winner of Norway’s version of American Idol, on international TV. Later claimed to have been ill at the time. Granted, she was contractually obligated to participate in this meaningless conference of banality.

SNL Connection:

Barbra: Paid homage to in Mike Myers’ Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, on which she made one thirty-second cameo appearance. Has never hosted nor performed.

Kelly: Three gigs as musical guest.

Bacon Number:

Barbra: 2. The Mirror Has Two Faces (Babs & Jeff Bridges), R. I. P. D. (Bridges & Bacon).

Kelly: 2. From Justin To Kelly (Kelly & Marc Macauley), Wild Things (Macauley & Bacon). Hmm. Surprising.

Google Hits:

Barbra: 16,700,000

Kelly: 44,200,000

First Animated GIF Upon Searching Her Name:

Barbra:

Kelly:

Worst Album Cover Hairstyle

Barbra: Memories.

Two words: Oy gevalt.

Kelly: Breakaway.

Streisand’s got some great looks, but I pored through pictures of albums and singles by Clarkson, and there really isn’t one that stands out; she looks pretty similar in all of them and none have tragic ‘dos. I picked this one based on the fact that her face and hair are pretty, but I’m not exactly sure what she’s supposed to be doing here. Is she frustrated? Seductive? Bashful? Complicated? Actually, the more I look at this image, the weirder it looks. It’s like a Magic Eye.

GIF Of Her Giving a Compliment to Her Opponent

Barbra:

Hello Gorgeous GIF

Who isn’t charmed by that classic line? A very true statement, Babs.

Kelly:

Kelly - kelly-clarkson Fan Art

Kelly really hits the nail on the head with this one. I couldn’t agree more.

WINNER

It’s a tie!

Did you really think I’d pick one or the other? It’s like Sophie’s Choice, only with talented singers.

4

My Redheaded Firecracker Grandmother

Today would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.

She was my mother’s mother, and my last surviving grandparent, whom I affectionately called Mimi because my oldest cousin couldn’t say “grandma” when she was a toddler.

Over the course of her very full life (97 years and 89 days) she accomplished an amazing number of things before she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are ten of them.

 

  1. She was remarkably well-educated at a time when not all women in America had that kind of luxury, drive, or wherewithal. Not only did she complete high school, but studied accounting at City College, today known as City College of New York (CCNY). 
  2. She was a member at the workforce at a young age; we think it was 16 since she lied about her age to get a job as a saleslady at Macy’s in Herald Square, which started her lifelong trend of denying her age. A true lady never reveals her age.
  3. She helped with the war effort; after seeing an ad in the newspaper, she moved to San Francisco to work as an accountant for a meat-packing plant. She lived with a cousin, and remembered how she got chauffeured to work every day in a private company car; a luxury. She also fondly remembered how her employers offered her a competitive salary.
  4. After the war, she returned to New York City, where she worked in accounting at a private hospital on Park Avenue in Manhattan, where she billed the rich and famous. One of her favorite memories (which she told me, and only me, over a plate of pasta at Noodles & Company) was the day she met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In those days, hospitals had doormen, and one day, one of the said doormen came into her office, saying that Mrs. Roosevelt had walked in with a bouquet of flowers. Along with all the other hospital staff, she went down to the lobby to catch a glimpse of the First Lady, who had just finished visiting her friend and was walking down the stairs. I like to picture it as a Hello, Dolly! moment, only in more sensible shoes. All the staff members lined up and Mrs. Roosevelt went down the line, shaking everyone’s hand. Mimi also remembered that plenty of other celebrities came in as patients and visitors, but by the time I asked she had forgotten who else she had met.
  5. She traveled around the country and around the world, managing to hit up most of Western and Eastern Europe, China, Japan, and Indonesia, as well as visiting Israel six times.
  6. Her skills with numbers won her money in canasta and gin, and though she always liked bridge, she never replicated the same success. She was also a gifted singer. My grandfather, who was obsessed with audio/video recording, made a record of her singing some pop songs. My uncle found the records a few years back and shipped them somewhere (Wisconsin, I think) to have them converted to mp3 files. I heard it once, but since then I don’t know where that recording is. I wish I had it.
  7. She was strong in faith and in giving; she was a lifelong member of Hadassah and loved all Jewish holidays, especially the ones with sweet treats. One of my favorite memories of her later in life was Chanukah 2010, where even though most of her brain was gone, she still remembered the blessings over the candles and said them out loud, in Hebrew, without any help.
  8. She was also strong-willed; she gave up smoking in 1949 when smoking was the glamorous and popular thing to do. She did it when she got pregnant with my mom, her first child, because her doctor suggested that smoking while pregnant might be harmful to her and her baby’s health. After my mother was born, she lost interest in cigarettes.
  9. She was beautiful, with short, fire red hair and a New York accent and was often compared to Lucille Ball. She was also known to crack a good joke in her time. Her fiery hair and personality made her my “firecracker grandmother.”
  10. She always had a good sense of humor. At her 97th (and final) birthday, after the cake was served and eaten, I turned to her, saying “Thank you so much for inviting us to your party and being a wonderful hostess. Same time next year?” Her response: “Absolutely!”

Mimi, I miss you, I love you, and I will always love you.

Ruth Ellen Feingold Wilen Cooper

4/18/14 (The Bronx, New York, USA)  – 6/18/11 (Baltimore, Maryland, USA)