From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

Raisins and Almonds

The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.

Henry Ward Beecher

When I was small, the neighborhood was big and Bubbe’s lap was bigger. Bubbe was my grandmother. She had the kindest smile in the world. When I sat in her lap, she’d put her soft arms around me and kiss my neck.

Bubbe taught me to cook in her clean little kitchen. She made ruby-red soup—borsht—from beets and all the other vegetables I could carry from her garden. I’d help her stuff chicken necks with breading, then watch in wonder as she sewed them together with a needle and thread!

As she cooked, my bubbe would sing songs of her childhood. My favorite was a lullaby about raisins and almonds—”Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen.” “Shlof zhe,” Bubbe would sing, “Sleep now, Yidele, sleep.”

When she made chopped liver, Bubbe used an iron grinder from her grandmother, which clamped onto the table. As I turned the handle around and around, the meat would tumble into her big blue bowl. Then Bubbe would add chicken schmaltz, eggs, onions and secret spices.

I loved to watch my grandmother in the kitchen. She could make a steaming mountain out of mashed potatoes. She’d offer me a juicy slice of orange faster than I could crack the rind. And Bubbe could peel an apple in one long, shiny red ribbon.

Bubbe’s yard was a beautiful garden of life. She loved to sing as we wandered among the fragrant flowers and fat vegetables. There were greedy squirrels, noisy birds, dragonflies with double-wings. Bees would settle on the peonies. The cherry tomatoes were as sweet as candy.

I’d watch the sunflowers grow until they towered over me. Then I’d stand under their giant petals and stretch. My grandmother would smile. “Klayneh kinderlach,” she’d say, “sweet child, you are such a bright flower.” And she’d kiss the tip of my sunburned nose.

The garden held other wonders. Once, when I poked my stick in a bed of brown leaves, I found a shimmery snakeskin. When I showed my bubbe, she said I had found a memory of the snake, and that memories were precious. Of all the trees, I loved the slender birches best. I would gather bits of their papery bark and write parchment letters to Bubbe. Whenever she read one, she’d blow me a kiss. I didn’t know until much later that my grandmother couldn’t read.

We played dolls in the dining room. Bubbe called them all dollinkeh and sang to them in Yiddish. “Rozhinkes mit mandlen; sleep now, babeleh, sleep.” When I was frightened or sad, she would stroke my hair and hum. Her voice was my rainbow.

I grew, and Bubbe aged. Each year, she measured me against the door of her kitchen, making my mark with her pencil. I measured my grandmother, too. The day my mark was higher than hers, I called her The Incredible Shrinking Bubbe. We laughed and laughed.

When Bubbe got tired, she’d sit on her glider and watch me play. When we went to synagogue, I’d help her up the steps. But the day I became a bat mitzvah, a daughter of the covenant, Bubbe danced the special dance of celebration, the Hora, with me.

Now I am big. The neighborhood is small. My bubbe is gone; she’s gone to the gardens of memory. But the gifts she left are more precious than any treasure.

Whenever I reach for the old blue bowl, I remember the smells of my bubbe’s kitchen. When I run my palm against a paper-white birch, I recall the parchment of her skin. And on quiet nights, as I rock my drowsy daughter to sleep, I can hear my bubbe’s lullabies.

Shlof zhe, bubbeleh, shlof. Sleep, my dear bubbe, sleep.

Elizabeth Sussman Nassau

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