My grandmother was one of the deepest influences on me. Every time I go to New York City, I make a requisite pilgrimage to her old apartment. Here is a VIDEO of my trip there this time around and a short piece I wrote to go along with it.
The apartment is gutted now, refurbished after 60 years of her living twelve stories above the changing city. For me, it will always be as she was, frozen in time in a two bedroom strong hold of Old New York. She found a hairstyle she liked when she was in her late twenties and wore it into her nineties, when she finally couldn’t lift her arms above her head long enough to maintain the pompadour up-do. She loved company and loved being alone. Kept cocktail hour before dinner regardless. Ice clanking vodka in a crystal glass. Played poker and bridge with equal subdued viciousness.
Summers and winters I would come visit. Flying alone, even as a child, so that we could have our special time. The pass off from parent to flight attendant, plane peanuts and the super shuttle ride to the upper west side. Always dark when I got there three hours progressed and her always awake, in some elegant garment, blue eye shadow on rheumy sliver-blue eyes, stick thin arms outstretched for a tender and feather-light hug. We’d sit at the table and within five minutes my whole life story would be spread out and shmeared like so much zabaars.
One book, one play, one movie. That was how the game was played. One block away from Barnes and Nobles on west 82nd and Broadway, a short walk to the ten screen movie plex she called the whore house. A stop at the drug store on the way to tuck a pack of red vines under her mink coat. This was how I learned to open my world. To drink in culture, to become curious about the experiences of others and to feel the value in sharing my own.
There I am, sitting at her heavy dinning room table, nine years old discussing the Virgin Suicides. Crying over the deaths in Rent at age ten. She always took me seriously. Always respected my opinions and talked to me like an equal. In an interview my mom did before she died, when we already knew she was going to, she said that she always felt like we were peers.
Relatives from every part of the country, from every far-flung branch of the family tree would come to sit at her table, to spend their nights in the antique museum of her apartment. It was not uncommon to find stationary supplies from the 1950’s, cosmetics from a different era packaged with craft and care. Even the objects on her desk and dresser where living more in JD Salinger’s world than mine. Marble bases with gold stems that swung around to hold pens, paper weights made of clock gears, a heavy perfume bottle from Paris big as my two fists with a woven, tasseled pump.
That apartment, that slice of the sky, still exists for me. It is a place I carry with me always, connecting me down the string of pearls to the mysteries of my whole matrilineal line. As lasting as my memories of her. As timeless as love.