I learned all the swear words in Yiddish from my grandma -- the Russian we called 'Ma' who was married to a Turk. Her pet names for me were: little coo (cow), glump (dummy), and little drek (shit). Despite the unflattering names, I knew I was her favorite grandchild.
Other families had grandparents living with them, too, but none scared people like MY grandma. Was it her bark, her bite? Or, was it the facial hair?
Self Portrait, acrylic on canvas, 20" x 10", 2010
When I was little, she'd take me on adventures unparalleled by parents in cars. We'd take the 17 bus downtown-- our regular stops were Power's basement, for fabric, the Great Northern Market downtown, which always smelled like fish, and then to Munsingwear for thread and zippers. I had horrible social anxiety as a child and wouldn't talk to anybody. This was rewarded by gifts from sympathetic shopkeepers who thought I was mute. One time I came home with a nice piece of cotton yardage with purple butterflies on it and my own small trout.
In 2009, the Coen Brother's movie, A Serious Man (ASM), perfectly captured the stark emotional and physical landscape of St. Louis Park growing up. There were the pale ramblers, a few young trees, manicured lawns and sidewalks of new suburbia. As one of 200+ 'extras' in ASM, I became a small part of the artistic wizardry of Mary Zophres as she made us into background wallpaper for the movie. Every minute detail in wardrobe, hair, and make-up recreated 1968, and allowed us to become our own aunts and uncles, in flashback. Funny how time becomes more fluid as you get older, and as you become your meshuggeneh grandma.
ASM pix from NY Times ~ the author, at 2:00, with an amazing bouffant and a heavy glint off her glasses