The following is a letter that Alexandra, Iris’ granddaughter sent to the family.
I hope you are all doing well. I wanted to write everybody because December 3rd marks 6 months since Grandma passed away, and I would like to do something in her memory. What I thought of, since she would never want everyone getting together to do something sad and sentimental, is for everyone to share a memory of her. If you reply to this email and hit ‘Reply All’, we can all just kind of share some thoughts of her and all be thinking of her at this time. It would mean a lot to me to hear these stories and have them for the future. Something happy preferably, that captures her character and spirit. I love you all and am thinking of you.
If I were to name Iris’ most endearing trait, it was that though she didn’t love or even like a lot of people, those she did love knew they were loved. We never doubted it for a minute, even if she called us stupid girl or didn’t let us visit when we were ONE BLOCK AWAY FROM HER HOUSE. I knew she had “issues” but she loved me.
In fact I frequently told her that I was so proud that she was my best friend and let me into her inner circle. It was like being friends with a cobra.
Okay, here goes. I was at Mattie’s apartment where Iris was staying –convalescing from somthing –and we three were playing cards and talking about how Iris didn’t have any of the scatalogical humor that the rest of us did. A little while into the game she excused herself and went to the bathroom. When she came out, she was laughing so hard she couldn’t talk and it was was because she wanted to tell us something…. She had made a doody in the shape of a question mark.
It was kind of odd for me to read Mattie’s depiction of grandma Iris; as someone who didn’t like many people but loved a few deeply. Grandma had said this to me a couple times, but it hits me somewhat more being said by another person. I never had the opportunity to see her from that perspective. I was lucky enough to be born into that inner circle.
What I thought about most six months ago, and to this day, along with her humor (because it appears you could fill endless books with stories, and I love telling them to others), was how she acted toward those she loved. That is, that she would put making others happy before herself in a indescribable way. I can think of her playing Monopoly with me for hours when I was younger because it was my favorite game. She would make sure to let me win every time because it would make me happy. It’s difficult to really emphasize this without being able to show how much she would play with me, over and over and over, even as she was undoubtedly tired and bored of playing a game for hours that she would purposely lose.
I also think of a book I would ask her to read whenever she would visit. It was an incredibly depressing short story of zookeepers trying to put an old elephant to sleep because it was sick, and not being able. They kept trying different methods to euthanize the elephant. I’m not sure why I enjoyed the book so much, other than I was a ten year old boy. Each time grandma Iris read me this story she would break into tears halfway through, but continue until the end. She did this because I wanted to hear the story, even though it made her incredibly sad to read it. Nobody else was willing to read me this story, and with good cause. Yet, she read it to me each time I saw her, for many months, each time breaking into tears.
There are so many more stories that cross my mind, which I’ll leave for another time. I just continue to be amazed that any person could so completely disregard themselves to make someone they love just a little happier.
Its selflessness beyond anything I’ve seen, and I really hold it as an ideal for me to act the way she always would. I know that’s not as lighthearted as other stories, and grandma certainly was funny, but I just want to add something more about her. She would hate letting another person lift a finger for her, but she would do anything for them. I could see how frustrating it would be for my mom and others when she wouldn’t let them help, especially when grandma would do anything for them.
Zachary’s story reminds me of a little story that Iris told me about him.
He was spending the day with her and they went to the veteran’s hall down the street for some kind of function. I don’t have the details of it, just what she told me.
She was entering some kind of contest and when she went up in front of everyone she said to Zach, “Be sure to clap for me.”
The whole time she was up there she said she looked back at him and he was very serious and applauding wildly. She said she felt such a rush of love for him.
I have to admit that whenever I think of Zach I think of that very little boy applauding wildly.
See, Zach, we made her happy too.
Stephanie said I did my story wrong so I’m going to try again.
When I first got married I was having a big dinner party. I called my sister and asked her how to make a turkey.
The next day my doorman said that my sister was in front of my house in her car and she wanted me to come down.
She handed me a fully cooked turkey and a ham.
My story is very painful for me to tell as I am going to have to relive my “awkward” teenage years … as you already know, Mattie used to taunt and tease me about my Casper the Ghost-like features and mom dressed me in kelly green and bright orange Danskins (because they did not have to be ironed and because nobody on this planet bought those colors, they were greatly discounted). Also I wore glasses that were too big for my face, which instead of a family member confiding in me about, I had to hear it from a stranger. Suffice it to say, I did not have a very good self image.
I had a terrible crush on a boy in high school that I wasn’t even on friendly terms with. OK, he didn’t know I existed. Mom would always sit in the kitchen with me after school and give me fattening cake (another way to help improve my image) and talk to me about my day so I told her about this boy. She asked why I didn’t ask him out and I said I couldn’t possibly, I could not just call him out of the blue. Mom acted disgusted with me and asked what’s the worst thing that could happen? He would say no? I couldn’t figure out if she was giving me good advice or bad and sat there hesitating. Finally she said, “Do you want me to call for you, for Christ’s sake?” I said ok …
Well, she gets on the phone and asks for Jerry Brophy. And says, “This is
Stephanie Egener. Would you like to go to the movies with ME AND THE KIDS?”
Just like a mom would say. ME AND THE KIDS. When Jerry asked who were the
kids, my mom could not even think of my friend’s names, so she said “Guess.”
Like she was being coy. Well, he put the phone on hold for what seemed like
eternity and when he came back on he said that he had to babysit – sorry.
So, anytime I saw him in the hallway I would try to slink by looking down at my schoolbooks pretending to read. He never said anything to me for the entire school year but every now and then I would see him looking at me from the corner of his eye wondering what kind of mutant I was.
I guess this isn’t a very loving memory of mom but it sure as hell is a powerful one.
“…as you already know, Mattie used to taunt and tease me about my Casper the Ghost-like features…”
I have to defend myself on this. It wasn’t just me. Your mother was in on it. True I’m the one who pointed it out. Steph was wearing a Caspar mask and when she took it off she looked EXACTLY the same. We kept having her put it on and take it off. We were screaming with laughter. Iris and I thought it was alright because Steph was really (we thought) too young to know we were laughing at her.
Caspar isn’t unattractive.
Well, I have one story from when I was little. I was in kindergarten and we were all checked for head lice, because there was apparently an epidemic. Lo and behold! I had ’em. Well, grandma pearly bought the stuff to get rid of it, but she was too busy playing cards, so my big sister Iris applied the shmink and then combed it through with a fine comb. She just took care of me. In fact, when I started school, she was the one to bring me into my class and tell me she was in the fourth grade if I needed anything. She was a very good big sister.
What a wonderful idea Alexandra!
When Max was born Iris came out to Oregon to see the little guy and to help me, Barry & Evan.
She was always so generous with her support and treating the “grandchildren” to Toys-R-Us, yummies, etc. She decided to take Evan to get a new toy at toys-r-us and she insisted on driving there with Evan so I could have a nap or whatever. I gave her directions to the store, but forgot to give her directions to get back home. She called from the store and let me know that is a good way to get rid of “my mother-in-law and my son.”
When Mom and I went to Holland, she ordered marijuana off the menu “thinking” it was tea, while I checked my email at an Internet cafe. She was very upset to find out that I cancelled her order. She would have been happy to smoke so early in the morning. She loved the sex museum and the torture museum. She wanted to spend more time in the Red Light District, and she wanted to visit several sex shops. Your grandma was a drug addict and sex maniac. That’s all I have to say….Ran
I have another one. When Iris and Phyllis were teenagers they shared a bedroom. One morning, quite early, they were having a fight: “I’m prettier,” “No, I’m prettier.” It went on for quite some time, until Grandpa came tearing into their bedroom with his hair standing on end, and yelled SHADDUP!
Those were the good old days.
Mom was the prettiest. Sorry Lenes’s
We all (the sisters) had very defined personnas.
Iris was the smart one.
Phyllis was the pretty one.
Marcia was the sweet one.
And I was a happy combination of all of the above.
SHE MAY HAVE BEEN, BUT SHE WAS THE SMART ONE, PHYLLIS WAS THE PRETTY ONE, I WAS THE GOOD ONE AND MATTIE WAS THE BABY. WE HAD OUR ROLES.
In our family….
Barry was the smart one
I was the crazy one
Steph was the evil one
Laura was the good one
I don’t know how my kids “slot” each other, but I would say….
Alexandra is the loving one
Jessie is the adventurous one
Zach is the smart one
Sorry, but I have to say that my mom was MUCH prettier than Phyllis. And she also had all the brains, though she couldn’t play cards for shit. I was always stuck as her partner in spades, and it was painful. She had NO card sense at all, but she could play a mean game of Scrabble (though she still lost to me because I memorized all the 2 and 3 letter words, and she didn’t)….Ran
I haven’t had a chance yet to share on here, and I’m so happy that so many people are taking part. One story I love:
Grandma Pearl apparently bought each of her daughters a vibrator.
Grandma didn’t know what it was for, so she put it against her face, since she thought maybe the vibrations were good for your skin…
One thing I want to do with my children someday: Grandma would fill a garbage bag with air popped popcorn and we’d bring it to the beach and feed the seagulls. It is amazing to a child to be surrounded by tons of seagulls and be able to beckon them with popcorn from a garbage bag. And then we’d pop another bag to bring to the movies the next day, because we are NOT spending 4 dollars on popcorn!
I remember the vibrator story. Grandma Pearly would go to a wholesale drug place in the Bronx, before all the drug outlets we have now. She would buy four of everything, one for each of us. The vibrators came in colors. Mine was blue. Noone ever mentioned the vibrator’s use to her. She would have plotzed!
I just wanted to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. It had been hard for me to think about having Thanksgiving without Grandma there, but I made her sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top, and my mom made the green glob, and I know I was thinking of her, so it felt to me like she was there in spirit. If anyone still has anything they’d like to share, I’d love to hear it.