When given the assignment to write about the life of my grandmother, I had the option between one living and one dead, one I come in contact with almost every week and one I have never met, one who I can picture perfectly and one who has become a caricature in my mind.
I chose the one whose stories I’ve heard time and time again without ever losing interest.
Grandma Lisa’s wig or bedazzled baseball cap extended her diminutive-self up to 5’2 on a good day. She was pear shaped and proud–never fully clothed. She didn’t ‘color in the lines’ while applying lipstick, took the ‘all eye’ eye-shadow to new limits as she applied the florescent blue powder from her lid to her eyebrow. A big fan of cold cream, she applied it religiously so her face had a permanent slick quality to it. She wore huge square, peach colored glasses that sat high on her very prominent nose. She sang in the temple choir every Saturday because she loved to sing and went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve just to hear the songs. She had served compulsory service in the Israeli army but got out of breath walking up stairs. She spoke with a thick accent, just imagine Charo with a smidge of Israeli thrown in. (In case you are unfamiliar with Charo this link should help you out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaWi5iWsysg)
We talk about Grandma Lisa often. My mom and/or dad have her accent down and the glimpse of a rhinestone encrusted anything or the sight of an AMC Pacer, or an electric carving knife will set them off on a narrative journey that captivates my brothers and I. I have chosen but a few of those moments to share…
This one begins with my 6 year-old father in 1stgrade and his 4 year-old sister in Kindergarten, heading to school. They walked, he in front with his metal Fabulous Thunderbirds lunch box and she behind with her own Scooby Doo version, through the busy streets of LA. The containers clanked against their short legs as they wandered in the scorching sun. My father, tiring of the walk, led them into the covered parking structure of an office building. They sat down on a curb stop and waited. My dad, not unlike most 1stgraders, did not have a strong grasp of the passage of time and he decided it must be lunchtime. So like good students, they pulled out their identical sandwiches – white Wonder Bread smeared with bright orange Cheez Whiz – and ate them. After lunch they played a bit, chasing each other between the parked cars and figured school had ended. They picked up their empty lunch boxes and found their way back to the two story apartment complex they called home. Grandma Lisa, with my dad’s youngest sister on her hip, yelled down to them from the second floor as they entered the courtyard, “So how was school?” (don’t forget to think of Charo in Israel here) Not a drip of sarcasm or anger, she had no idea when school ended. The clock on the wall read 10:05 AM.
In the suffocating heat of a San Fernando Valley neighborhood Grandma Lisa walks her beloved dog Butchi (Boo-chi) rocking her bikini top and terrycloth shorts pulled high above her protruding hips. She walked everyday past the beige stucco houses with terra cotta tile roofs, each one nearly identical to the one before it. She saw the same people, also somewhat indistinguishable from one another, each day. On this particular day she passed a large, fit, black man pushing a stroller. They both stopped in the sea of blandness that surrounded them. She, because she found him handsome, not as handsome as Tom Jones of course but a pretty close second. And I can only imagine, he stopped because she was, after all, Grandma Lisa. They exchanged pleasantries and commented on how nice of a “valley night” (think very hot and stagnant) it was shaping up to be. The black man after a few minutes asked somewhat proudly, “So, do you know who I am?” She replied, in the same tone, “So, do you who I am?” The man smiled, “I am Muhammad Ali.” She responded, “I am Lisa Feingold.”
Buying a Hot Tub:
My dad moved many times as a child and teenager. Once they got to the San Fernando Valley they lived in the flats in a typical California ranch house with a kidney shaped pool in the backyard. Eventually my grandfather, ‘after a big score’ – his words not mine, bought them a brand new two story house in the hills of Canoga Park. This house though bigger and newer did not have a pool. Grandma Lisa, who spent all of her time with the children, thought a pool was a necessity. With no money to spare, my grandfather said no. They argued but he prevailed. He travelled a lot so on a particularly hot summer day while he was away she got in her car went somewhere and bought a hot tub on credit. It arrived a few days later and my mother, my father and his sisters marveled at its beauty. When my grandfather returned in his maroon Pierre Cardin velour sweat suit he was furious and in his ‘Brooklyn projects’ accent said, “Ehhh Lise we can’t afford this hot tub, we don’t need a hot tub, why would we need a hot tub.” Not getting the reaction she had hoped for, she said, “No, I will get a job, we will keep it.” So what did she do? She went to the local McDonald’s and traded in her bikini and terrycloth shorts for a polyester smock with striped sleeves and the golden M on her chest. This annoyed my grandfather even more, he didn’t want his wife working at a McDonalds so he gave in. Lisa quit her job and the hot tub remained in the backyard on the small bit of cement slab that came with the house. She possibly went in the hot tub two or three times, but my grandfather wallowed in there almost everyday.
Look Natalia, that’s what a baby looks like:
My grandma loved my eldest brother Noah from the moment he was born. It probably didn’t hurt that he belonged to her most favorite son. She loved Noah’s golden blond hair that made him look bald, and the rolls of fat that appeared when he sat down, but most of all she loved to watch him eat. She would feed him banana after banana, bottle after bottle, until more often than not he would throw up. She commented frequently on his size and his growth and his obvious intelligence, at only six months she saw something amazing in each action or lack thereof. She took every opportunity to remind Natalie (my dad’s class cutting Cheese-Whiz eating partner) who had had a girl, Shalynne (shay-lin), 11 months prior to Noah’s birth, of Noah’s superiority. Grandma Lisa (don’t forget Charo) would lecture, “Look, look, look Natalia how much he eats, how he sits, how he smiles. This is what a baby should look like. Look Natalia, look how much he eats. He eats so much and is becoming so big. This is what a baby should look like. Why does Shalynne never eat, why can’t she be like Noah.”
I see a lot of Grandma Lisa in my dad. I will always be grateful to her for raising him to be caring, compassionate, and sensitive. I wish I had had the chance to meet her and have some stories for myself. She made such a large impact on so many lives and even without meeting her in person I have come to know her through the experiences of others. And just as my grandma did, I hope to live my life and leave an impression forever in the minds of the people I have touched.