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My Paternal Grandparents

By Ruth Cohen

My maternal Bubbe and Zeyde (Yiddish for grandmother and grandfather) died before I was born, so I want to write about the grandparents who I knew—my father’s parents.

My zeyde Samuel was a tall, handsome man with a beautiful grayish beard. He seemed to be smiling most of the time. I don’t remember ever being admonished by him. After he retired, he was an ombudsman. I was seven years old when he died of pneumonia. I remember his funeral vividly. The street my bubbe and zeyde lived on was filled with people from all over town and neighboring villages.

My bubbe Esther was short. She was a good-looking woman with a dairy business of her own. Unlike my zeyde, my bubbe did not smile often; she was always busy. She did not even have time to admonish us, but we felt her love anyway. My fondest memory is being at my bubbe and zeyde’s table for most of the holidays. The most memorable was Purim. We had lunch at their very long table with many of our extended family members, some who traveled long distances to be there. Every few minutes, a group of young or old people would walk into the dining room, present a Purim spiel (a skit), get some money, and leave. This would go on for many hours of the afternoon. Our town had lots of beggars and poor people, but the people coming in were not doing it for the money, just in the spirit of the holiday. It was fun.

After my zeyde died, we moved in with my bubbe for a short time (though I don’t know why), and then she moved in with us. My bubbe was a very independent woman—being a businesswoman at the time was unusual and special. She was used to being the boss. However, when she moved in with us, she let my mother, Bertha, be in charge of the house without interfering with anything. This made for a fairly peaceful life. 

When my bubbe was 81 she suffered a stroke during our Shabbat dinner. She slipped into a coma and stayed that way for nine months, “sleeping” in our house. When she woke up, she said to my mother, “You too have a little dog in you.” This was her way of letting my mother know that she had been aware of what was happening around her during that time and didn’t always approve of my mother.

At 83 years old, she went to Auschwitz along with us.

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