Monday, February 13, 2006

Mama Essie

I delivered this eulogy at my grandmother's funeral last friday. She was an icon in our family and I still can't really believe she is gone.

I search my earliest memories and I find my grandmother there. She is a thread woven through the fabric of my life and its texture is richer and finer because of her. Her love and steady presence wrapped around my childhood; a security blanket. Perhaps my relationship with Mama was that much stronger because she was four grandparents rolled up in one. It's difficult to believe she won't be here forever.

When I was a little girl, she used to call me on the telephone and we had a ritual that lasted into my adulthood. She would say 'baby', I would answer 'Mama'. 'Baby', 'Mama', 'Baby', 'Mama', and then we would both laugh. When I was 7, she moved to the Rooney Plaza. During school vacations and summers spent on the beach, running with a pack of children all visiting their grandparents, she kept a close eye on me. It didn't keep me from getting in trouble--reminders about being stranded on the 'roof' still embarass me over thirty years later. But she put up with the invasion of her peace and quiet by her grandchildren with grace and good humor.

In the evenings, we would walk down Collins avenue and young men would whistle at her sexy legs, only to be embarassed when they realized they were flirting with a grandmother.

When I brought Neil home to meet the family for the first time, she looked him up and down with a critical eye and asked him, 'so, when were you bar mitzvahd?'. I guess she thought she was being discreet and more polite than asking him right out if he was a nice Jewish boy.

She wasn't able to make it to Boston for Philip or Eric's bris, but I brought each of them to see her and I treasure the photographs I have of 4 generations of our family together. She seemed to have an especially close connection to Eric. My mother thinks he reminded her of Irwin. Maybe so, and I also think that they shared a bond as the oldest and youngest members of the family.

I wrote this after Eric was born, as a birthday gift for mama. I gave this poem to her along with a jeweled pin in the shape of a tortoise.

Gift of the Tortoise

In Africa
the tortoise is the keeper
of wisdom. She
births, deaths
sings the stars to sleep
greets the morning sun.
Her shell is etched,
marked by time.

My grandmother is
not smooth
like ancient shell: weathered,
her face wears a patina of worn leather
rich, comfortable.
She rests a sparrow's-hand
lightly on my head.
The power
of her blessing flows through me.

Eric was born
in her ninth decade.
Ten years for each month
he swam within me.
The tortoise and the guppy.
Each glides through different currents
of a single river.

She moves gracefully
under the obligation
of memory.
She grants the gift of the tortoise
to all who ask.

We were all together last June at Danielle's Bat Mitzvah and during the service, the rabbi brought the torah to her, and then across the generations to my parents, Betsy, and then finally to Danielle. That moment moved me to tears--to see the continuity of family on such a joyous occasion.

Now we face rituals and ceremonies, family gatherings without her. Yet, I know she will be with us, always, in our memories, in the love she gave so generously, in stories we will pass into the future through our children and their children. No one we love is every truly gone from our lives. So even though I grieve today, I also celebrate the life of a remarkable woman who enriched my life beyond measure.

I love you, Mama, and I will miss you.


  1. Hello. I came here from Miss Snark's blog. I'm very sorry about your loss. Please accept my condolences. This is a lovely eulogy and touched my heart. Thank you for posting it.

  2. Lisa~ I called my grandma Mama, too. She was a irreplaceable treasure, as I know yours was, too.
    Your blog is neat. Very interesting. Mine is a a lot of babble... LOL!
    take care~dale