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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Three grandparents

When I was quite a small child I didn't know who everyone in the family was.  I thought I had three grandparents, courtesy of my mother:  Bubbe, Zayde, and Rosie.
Rosie was my grandmother's helper; what used to be called a"maid" or "girl" in polite society.  In short, Rosie was a black servant.  The fact that I have never mentioned  her astonishes me.  Must be racism.  Of course.

My memory tells me that Rosie was at my grandparents' house every day.  She and Bubbe were always working.  I can't believe the ordinary household required so much housework, but they always seemed to be busy doing something.  In those days, dishes were washed by hand.  And laundry was done on a machine with a wringer.  The wet wash --remember that expressions?==was wrung out by the wringer and then carried up the basement steps and hung on the clothesline.  When it dried it was brought inside, trundled down to the basement again, where most of it had to be ironed.  The only items that did not have to be ironed were   underwear, as I recalled.

And then there was kashrut, a form of organizing food and dishware and pots and pans which Rosie had not learned growing up in Savannah, GA.  She understood it very well by the time I knew her.   A novice could not work in a kosher environment; it was too complex.  The kosher housewife needed someone who understand how a kosher kitchen worked.  It governed almost everything that went on in the household where food was concerned.

On special occasions, known as Spring cleaning, carpets were taken out to the back yard and hung over the clothesline, where the dust was beaten out of them with a carpet beater.  The curtains were taken down and stretched on huge stretchers that looked like a bed of nails.  Everything was out of its proper place and children needed to disappear or be scolded for getting in the way.

I loved Rosie,  She was not too busy to tell me stories about growing up in Savannah, a place I always longed to visit.  I finally went there when I was in my 30's and loved it.   And she told me about her husband, who was named Blue, the only man I ever heard of with that name.  Rosie governed by threats.  Little girls who did not behave would be locked in dark closets.  And if we were not careful, we would get shot by needles which Uncle Moe carried in his doctor's bag.  I was so frightened of Uncle Moe, one of the gentlest of men, that I hid under the dining room table when he was expected.  No wonder I grew up to be crazy!

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