Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Smiles, Laughter and Sparkly Memories: Two Years

Grandma and her Grandchildren
October 10, 2010. My Wedding Day
Two years ago today, we lost the matriarch of our family, my Grandma Freda. And although under Jewish law we generally commemorate the anniversary of a death based on the Hebrew calendar, which is a lunar calendar, it is this particular date in January that sticks in my mind. It was a Sunday. I was mid-way through training for my first half-marathon, and I found out as just as I was leaving for a seven mile run. After I got off the phone with my mom, I took that run through a snow covered Central Park, comforted by my most favorite place during my most favorite time of year, and by the memories of a woman who walked through each and every day of her life with a smile.

Hours later, we were all gathered around my parents' dining room table in Pittsburgh thinking, laughing and talking about the woman who was our greatest role model for a life well lived. The woman who taught us everything we know about filling a family - and a life - with sweetness and joy. At the funeral, my sisters, cousins and I stood together and shared our memories with all the people who gathered with us to celebrate and remember. And this is what we said: 
When we were little, most of us spent a lot of our time at the farm, visiting Grandma Freda and Grandpa Leonard. While we all had a great time picking dandelions, swimming in the lake, going on treasure hunts, and playing in the tire sandbox, I think what we remember most were the pies. Mostly apple, sometimes cherry, occasionally blueberry, and always delicious; served through the little window in the kitchen. It was at the farm, at such young ages, that Grandma Freda taught us about the importance of dessert.
And the lesson didn't end with pies at the farm. Wherever Grandma Freda was, there was always something sweet. Cookies, her signature coffee cake, a chocolate bar broken up into little pieces, and homemade ice cream on the farm for breakfast (“it’s calcium after all”). After dinner, before dinner, in the middle of the day, the timing never seemed to matter. When we were younger we mostly cared about the cookies, but as we got older we all came to understand that they meant something more than just a fun treat. 
To Grandma Freda, dessert was her way of injecting a little extra something special into every day. It meant taking an ordinary dinner (or breakfast or lunch or snack), and making it just a little more fun. 
We would soon learn that dessert isn't the only way to make a day extra special. Grandma taught us that a pedicure just isn't a pedicure unless the polish is red, a bath just isn't a bath unless there are bubbles right up to the top, a little sparkle or some sequins, or even a dress full of pearls never hurt anyone, and eyeglasses just won’t do unless they have something red, pink, or green around the frames. We grew up hearing “honey don’t you just want to put on some color with that plain black top?” and because of Grandma Freda, an outfit, no matter how casual, is not complete without some jewelry to top it off.
Over the years, we also grew used to making sense out of Grandma’s frequent mispronunciations  The restaurant “Gilliftys,” she called “Gulfittys,” the actor “Walter Mathau” she called “Walter Mattau,” “Rick Santorum” was “Rick Santorium,” and her caregiver, “Mary Jo,” she called “Betty Jo,” until the day Mary Jo took a different job. Now, every time a Rosen inevitably mispronounces something we all just look, shake our heads, and say “Grandma?” 
Just last week, after living in Southwestern Pennsylvania for almost 70 years, Grandma’s true Steeler pride came out for the very first time. She was yelling and cursing at the TV, and could barely contain herself when they won. And the very next day, while watching the Patriots-Jets game Grandma said, “This is no Steeler game. These teams look like kids out there.”
If there’s one thing to be said about Grandma Freda, it’s that she was sharp as a tack.  Not only was she an accomplished world class bridge player, she was never without a Sudoku book, and NEVER missed an episode of Jeopardy. A lot of the time she was more aware of what was going on than her daughters, and sometimes her grandchildren, whether it came to politics- she read the Post Gazette and the New York Times, and listened to NPR faithfully - or directions - telling you where the turn is going to be miles before you reach it (except she never could seem to find a direct route from Candy Rama to Brewsters. She was convinced such a thing didn’t exist). 
As the head of a loud, crazy, and sometimes chaotic family, Grandma Freda always got right to the point.  She had her work cut out for her, but we couldn't have asked for a better role model. Smart, funny, independent, never judgmental, fiercely loyal, and always loving, Grandma Freda made us into the adults that we are. She taught the 8 of us the importance of family when she would casually say, “don’t you think we should call your cousin?” And she taught us the importance of acceptance when we would ask her how she felt about someone and she would respond with a simple, “what's not to like?”
With all the stories, fun and laughter comes an amazing woman who we are all lucky to have had as a part of our lives for so long. Her apartment was always open to us, and there was nothing quite as satisfying as walking through the doors. She kept us all together if we ever started to drift apart, and her contagious optimism and sense of humor created a family full of laughter and love. We are grateful for the gifts that she has given us, and are lucky to be able to pass along her shining legacy. Her tiny feet left us big footsteps to fill.


  1. This is beautiful, Sam. It reminds me of my grandmother, another politically saavy, Jeopardy-watching, backseat driving, Jewish matriarch who always has mandel bread and rainbow cookies waiting for me. (getting teary eyed at the office...must call grandma...)

  2. So many of my friend grandmothers made AMAZING cakes. Cakes with 9 layers. Does anybody do that anymore? I think women like your Freda, were from another time. A slower time, when pie crusts were made by scratch. We all could learn something from that generation. She sounds like she was a wonderful woman.

  3. Lovely post!

  4. Now I miss my grandma too! Lovely memories.