My grandmother, Clara Ida Feingold, passed away peacefully and painlessly this past Saturday at the age of 91.
I was extraordinarily fortunate to have had a close and loving relationship with her my entire life and to have had the opportunity to be with her for a few days before she died. I want to take this moment to commemorate her memory and to share some of my fondest recollections of Clara.
Too often we let life speed by without acknowledging the people who we’ve been blessed to be touched by and who help define who we are- friends and family alike. As anyone who has witnessed a loved one’s last days understands, life is transient, ephemeral, fragile- and what truly matters and what lasts is the impact of a person’s consistent actions, their unconditional love, grace, assistance, generosity, compassion.
Clara Feingold had all of the above in spades. And she was wickedly funny. And she liked to talk about boobs. Particularly if she had 2 Fuzzy Navels in her. Or if she ate the two olives from my grandfather, Jack’s, extra, extra dry martini ordered just with two olives for my grandmother. Or if it was Saturday. She thought talking about boobs with her pubescent teenage and then college-age eldest grandson was funny. And it was.
My grandmother and grandfather, Jack, who passed away three years ago, were married for 66 years. And I think they still “did it” in the memory clinic they were moved to 5 years ago. I have zero proof of this but I think they did. And you know what? The thought of it doesn’t gross me out as much as it should. That’s how much they loved each other and that’s just about how freaking adorable they were.
I mean look at this picture of them on their wedding day, March 28, 1943 in Midland, TX.
Jack and Clara met one sunny summer day in 1941 when they went with a group of friends to Wingaersheek Beach near Gloucester and where Clara won Jack’s heart with a soggy egg salad sandwich. After Jack enlisted in the service with two of his best friends, Normie Mayer and Jack Stengel, on the same day in 1942, Jack proposed and Clara said yes. That’s what you did back then.
As Jack was sent off to Basic, Clara hopped on a cross-country train with her mother to get married and to be with her new husband. Regardless of the nanosecond nuptuals, these two were meant to be together.
They had wonderful and wicked sense of humor with one another. When my grandfather died I had the opportunity to go through ALL of the letters that my grandfather sent my grandmother EVERY DAY during the War. In addition to providing a first-person account of D-Day and the mundane parts of the War, it was an incredible window into a love affair 6,000 miles away. The fact that he wrote daily and she saved all of the letters for 70 years makes me hope for that kind of unyielding love.
Here are some of my favorite passages that I wrote down while reading through the letters. In his letter of July 11, 1944 he said:
“I hope that your teeth are all better now and that you can bite into a nice juicy steak. I’m glad that it wasn’t serious and that you didn’t have to wear braces- although the $200 wouldn’t bother me as far as you are concerned. You’re worth a lot more than that to me- maybe $300.”
According to DollarTimes.com that $300 would be worth nearly $4,000 today. Good one Gramps.
…from August 21, 1944.
“My dearest honey- Greetings from a very cold and stormy England. This is the sort of night that I would like to be sitting in front of a fireplace smoking a pipe- and naturally have you there.”
Fireplace, cold night, pipe…I get the picture.
And this, as Jack ended his letter to Clara from New Year’s Day 1944:
“And so, my honey, I want you to remember that I love you very, very much and think of you all the time. And the nights are still cold.”
Clara was a giver, loved people and entertaining, held on to her close friends her entire life, and, most of all, placed family above everything. She seemingly had more cousins than the Jacksons and she would host them whenever any of them needed a place to stay or a warm meal in their bellies. “This is my cousin, Nathan,” she would say to me, “give him a hug.” Um, no thanks, Grandma. But nice to meet you anyway.
My grandmother hosted every major holiday when we were growing up- serving her tried-and-true menu of orange encrusted knishes (yum!), pickled herring on pumpernickel, a dixie cup of my grandfather’s Heineken, green beans, rice with mushrooms, beef brisket, potato kugel, Harvey Wallbanger cake laced with Galeano and Vodka. As we got older and the family expanded, grandma had to add more aluminum extension tables in an elongated “L” to accommodate her flock.
I never saw my grandmother happier than on those late afternoons and evenings- dishes simmering on the stove, her apron on, her cackle that sounded like Count Dracula bouncing off the kitchen walls.
My grandmother was consistent- she was nearly always in a good mood, happy to see her grandchildren, loved watching her “stories” on TV, talking on the phone, petting and brushing her Tibetan Terrier, Lotse. She was a Yenta- seemingly at Mission Control from her phone, all of her friends and family on speed dial, each button marked with a little stickie and her perfect penmanship. She wasn’t great with gadgets and technology, but you wouldn’t know it looking at her phone hook up. If she didn’t have a phone number either on speed dial or in memory, she could look it up in 5 seconds in her thick phone book that was organized in a way that only she and Stephen Hawking would understand.
I remember how squishy she was when I hugged her- which we did alot. She would put her arm around me when I stood next to her or we sat on the couch- which she did a lot. I do not recall her saying she loved me but words don’t matter when the actions are so obvious.
Clara Feingold loved her children, loved her grandchildren, loved talking to strangers, loved the “pictures”, loved her husband, and loved talking. Facebook would have blown her mind. “Oh enjoy it in good health” she would say for everything- even if I had invented Facebook. “Grandma, I started this company called Facebook that allows everyone in the world to talk with one another.” “That’s wonderful, Steven,” she would say, “Use it in good health.”
Clara hated exercise. The nurses in her Unit would laugh as they would begin stretching and exercises and Clara would get up and walk to her room. But she loved, loved mini Baby Ruths.
Here is to you, Grandma. I will think of you every time I host a dinner with your old China, eat a Baby Ruth, or think about what it takes to have a loving and meaningful marriage of 66 years.
I give you a big, squishy hug. And say nothing.