Feature Photo: Aimee’s grandmother & grandfather, 1994
(Post by AIMEE LEDEWITZ WEINSTEIN)
When I finished college, I got a plum job right in downtown New York City. Of course, being my first job out of school, the salary was next-to-nothing, and there was no way I could afford an apartment in Manhattan. My grandparents, like they always had throughout my life, came to my rescue. They lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, about four miles over the George Washington Bridge, and an easy New Jersey Transit ride to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown every day. Thus I became a commuter and resident of my grandparents’ house for two years.
When I think back on that time now, though, what sticks out most to me is not the fun – and occasional monotony – of reading the New York Times on the bus, or the beautiful streets of Manhattan at Christmas, or even the job that I didn’t like all that much, but the atmosphere created by two people who never expected to have a child come home to live again. They were never ones to sit around, my grandparents. Right up until the last year of his life when he was 82, my grandfather worked as a pharmacist at the Veteran’s Hospital in the Bronx. Three days a week my grandmother drove him into the city at 8am, and then went back to pick him up at 5pm. He never used public transportation, and they never bought a second car. This was their ritual and it worked for them. They had other quirky habits involving who showered first and who ate breakfast first, and who watered the plants versus who washed the dishes, and other such things that made sense only to them. What I didn’t know at the time was that they were teaching me through example about the true language of love and the commitment and practice of a long, enduring marriage.
Dinner time was my favorite though. I didn’t get home from work until after 6:30pm every day, but they always waited for me to eat. It was common for the three of us to spend more than ninety minutes at the table, eating, talking, and going over the events of the day. At the time, they were working on computerizing Papa’s pharmacy, and my grandfather was fascinated with the process of entering the patient information and how the machine could “remember” each person, their medications, and other such information. He had been a pharmacist on a hospital ship in WWII, so this process and progress delighted him.
Grandma was a good cook. Her holiday dinners were feasts of the eyes and palates, and never-ending to boot. On a day-to-day basis, however, she was much more controlled. In a very civilized way, we started each meal with half a grapefruit in the winter and a slice of melon in the summer. Always health and diet conscious and ahead of her time, she plated our dinners for us. If you think about a plate as a clock, she put the protein from three to six, the starch from six to nine and then the rest, from nine to three, was vegetables. While the women in the family watched their weight religiously, there wasn’t an ounce of extra fat on my grandfather.
For the first few weeks of my sojourn in their home, one ritual in particular caught my eye. Every night as she plated the dinner, she spooned the vegetables out of the pot and right on to the dishes, which already held the meat and starch. Every night, my grandfather asked the same question: “Why don’t you use a slotted spoon? I don’t like so much water from the pot on my plate.”
Every night my grandmother had the same response: “I don’t have a slotted spoon.”
And that’s where they left it.
Finally, after about a month, I watched the exchange for the thirtieth time and I had to say something. “Papa,” I asked, “Why don’t you go out and buy Grandma a slotted spoon?”
“Aimee,” he said with that funny little twinkle that he always had in his eye, “You gotta have hope.”
At the time, my grandmother and I both laughed at him, and then the three of us laughed together and went on with our meal. But now, nearly twenty years later, the little exchange still sticks with me.
He didn’t care about the slotted spoon. He cared about her. She plated his dinner every night with those vegetables because she cared about him. Their banter was their own private language they used to show that love. And the whole “hope” thing, well, that was my grandfather’s personality. He looked forward to the wonderment of the computers and all sorts of other things he couldn’t have imagined when he was a young man. Hope is what helped the two of them survive the depression, the war, raising their family, their extensive travels, and then the quieter time together in their later years.
My grandmother is still living, still my very best friend, and she says now that I idealize him too much sometimes, but I disagree. I know he was a human and had faults like everyone else. I guess I was just impressionable at that time in my life and their lessons made a big impression on me to which I aspire in my own long-term marriage, as my husband and I create our own languages of love and care that would be incomprehensible to the outside world. My husband and I hit obstacles, of course, but we have learned to use our language – not always verbal – to work through them. It’s the definition of hope in action every day.
Oh, and I own a slotted spoon, too.
Aimee Ledewitz Weinstein, Tokyo, Japan
Dr. Aimee Weinstein is a writer and writing professor who has lived six out of the last eight years in Tokyo, Japan. She received her doctorate from the Department of Higher Education at George Mason University and has held positions at Temple University Japan, The George Washington University, and George Mason University. She has taught a variety of writing courses, from freshman composition to advanced expository writing. Her work has been published in Kaleidescope, Tokyo Weekender, inTouch, and Asian Jewish Life. She also maintains a regular blog at TokyoWriter, where she fondly observes Tokyo life through the eyes of an American expat and writes about writing. Aimee currently resides in Tokyo with her supportive husband and two beautiful children, where she continues to write and help others in their writing. Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/TokyoWriterTweet