The Suitcase Lady


November 25, 2008, 8:54 pm

Over the river and through the woods was definitely not the route to my grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving or any other day. The road went past the factories and around the taverns.

My grandmother lived upstairs in a dreary German flat on Milwaukee’s south side. Even on the sunniest day her house was dark inside; the frugal Germans built these massive blocks of houses with only a few feet in between them.

My father dropped me off at Grandma’s house every Sunday afternoon, and I adored being there. My grandmother, a typical German Housefrau in her faded, sagging house dress and run down carpet slippers, was wonderful to me.

Her house did not have a single toy in it, but the hours were richly filled. When I was very little, Grandma filled the old fashioned kitchen sink, and I would stand on a chair and simply play in the water. She also let me bang on the old, out-of-tune piano for hours, a monumental act of patience on her part.

Grandma taught me Canasta when I got bigger. She also made a valiant attempt to teach me to crochet, but I could never get beyond the chain stitch. She was definitely more successful in introducing me to cooking. I watched with fascination as she rolled out homemade noodles and hung them on the chair backs to dry.

My parents came back at dinnertime. The evening meal invariably involved something with noodles and schaum torte for dessert. Ed Sullivan always followed dinner, although he was barely discernible through the snow on the TV screen. Grandma’s favorite show came next.

My grandmother, a staunch German Lutheran, was the biggest fan in America of the Yiddish comic, Molly Goldberg. She would have loved to have had Molly as a next door neighbor. My multi-cultural education began early.

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1 Comment for this entry

  • PS (PSanafter-thought)

    Although I grew up in Milwaukee, I never knew anybody who lived in those very close together houses. And I didn’t know that the Germans lived on the south side. I thought that the Polish people were across the river.