"Opa Im here," I said into the intercom in the vestibule of my grandparents apartment. Opa buzzed me up and I pushed the glass security door open during the four seconds I knew he would give me. I would have climbed the stairs since they lived on the third floor, but my suitcase was heavy because it had a punch bowl in it which my mother had me bring them for their 48th anniversary.
Ive hated the elevator in my grandparents apartment building ever since I was eight. I was visiting for the month of July, like I always have, and always will. I took down the garbage to the basement, one of my chores as my grandfathers butler. The elevator door opened but this was the kind of elevator where you have to push open the outside door yourself. I was about to push the door open when I saw a huge waterbug. It scared the hell out of me. Ive gotten used to the roaches that crawl over everything, its part of living in the City. But waterbugs, thats another story. Since then Ive taken the stairs accept when Opa and I do the laundry.
My Oma came to the door. "Who is it," she asked with her German accent, knowing that Opa had just buzzed me up.
"Its David." And Oma began unlocking the two dead bolts that all old New Yorkers have on their doors. The one that came with the apartment, and the one that their children make them get when they turn seventy. When the door opened I saw my Oma and was as surprised as I always am how short she is. I gave her a big hug, like I was expected to. She only came halfway up to my ribs. I bent over to kiss her cheek, even though wrinkles give me the willies.
"Youll be staying in Maxs room, your mothers has all the Pesach dishes in it. How have you been?" I had to get used to my grandparents speech again, a little German, a little Hebrew, a bissel Yiddish.
"Fine Oma, Ive never been better. Have you done your Passover, Pesach, shopping yet?"
"Mr. Keostrich brought over the meat himself and Mr. Miller promised to send someone over with the groceries this afternoon." Koestrich was the local butcher. My grandparents knew him from Germany, before the war. My Grandparents came to New York in 1935 and they took care of Mr. Koestrichs daughter while he looked for a job when he came over in 1938. But, to me the name Koestrich meant cold cuts. You can not get good kosher cold cuts in Denver. But, I would have to wait until tomorrow because the day before Passover all first born males are supposed to fast and we would have chicken at the Sader.
I wanted to run into the kitchen and hug Opa but Oma walked with a walker and I slowed myself for her. Opa was making Charoses, a Passover specialty which is made of nuts, apples, wine, and cinnamon. Its supposed to remind us of the mortar from the bricks but it is too delicious to remind me of slavery. I gave Opa a hug and a kiss and I asked if there was anything I could do to help, Passover is always a hectic time of year.
"David, its a pleasure just to have you here. It makes all the work we have to do for Pesach worth while. You unpack, take a moment to relax from the flight, Opa and I will take care of everything."
"Did you tell him hed be in Maxs room?"
"Of course I did Hugo. What you think I dont know hes used to staying in Hanneloras room." Another thing I had to get used to, my mom, when she started college, changed her name to Laura. It was bad enough to have to talk about her. Hearing her called "Hannelora" reminded me how little she cared for tradition. I didnt want to have to confront my grandparents about her. I hoped that they would be on my side.
"Why isnt Max coming over for Passover like he usually does?"
"Hes going to his wifes parents in Minnesota this year because his sister in law and the Shagetz she married had a baby they want to show off." Oma never could stomach the thought of a mixed marriage. My freshman year at Vassar I went out with a Non-Jew for about a month. When she heard Oma called me and asked if I wanted to see the Jewish people die out, as if dating one Non-Jew would kill us all off. I broke things off a couple of days later, things hadnt been going as well as Id thought anyway.
Max had a simple room with grand furniture. All the furniture was there from his childhood. His box spring bead had an orange bed cover which was so dusty that I had to force open the window which had been painted shut a five or six years ago to clear the air. My grandparents had everything possible that linen or cotton could be made into. They had a clothing store when they were in Germany. Opa always said that it was the largest one in Crechlingen. I always assumed that it was the only one in Crechlengen. When they came to America that was all they knew how to do, to sell clothes. Since they werent allowed to take money out of Germany they started by selling out of there apartment. Even when they had the store on Fort Washington and 178th St. during the fifties and sixties, Maxs closets were packed with long underwear, cloth napkins, bed spreads, doilies, and so on. When I open Maxs middle closet thats what fell on me, the and so on, mens underwear in every size. It was too funny for me to be upset so I just shoved them back on the shelf above my grandfathers black suit. I was going to ask why there was a long tear down the left lapel and then I remembered that he ripped it at his sisters funeral according to tradition. I whacked myself on my temple with the inside of my right hand, "dumkupf" for almost making such a tactless move. I hung up my good, Sabbath, clothes and opened drawers of Maxs dresser until I found an empty one for my underwear. The first one had old finger paintings. At first my ego said that they were mine and that Oma must have saved the ones Id sent her. But, the paper was much too yellow and worn to be from my childhood. I picked up one. It was a stick figure of a blue woman standing by a yellow house. On the back in big child letters it said, "" It was signed "hAnAlor." The capital As stuck out like the trees from my backyard did. Two short thin nothings in the middle of flatness. Oma must have brought it from Germany since my Mon had been ten when they left. I closed the drawer.
I wondered what Max thought of having such a grand piece of furniture in his room when he was growing up. My grandparents got there furniture out of Germany. Omas brother, Sigmund, of blessed memory, stayed because he couldnt get a visa to come to the states. He lost his life, we assume, we will never know, but he saved the furniture. Sigmund must have been a hell of a guy. The last thing Oma heard of him was in 1940. An army messenger came to the door of their apartment. Oma was scared because she wasnt used to thinking of soldiers as her protectors not persecutors. He asked if it was the Stein residence and gave her a telegram from the U.S. army which said that Sigmund had escaped from Dachau and was being hidden by a farmer in Southern Germany near the French border. That was the last they ever heard. My mother once wrote to Yad Vashem, an organization in Israel with all the names of Holocaust victims and all the war records that could be salvaged. They had not heard of Uncle Sigmunds story.
I was going to read the Vonnegut book my dad had mailed me for my birthday that Id started on the plane, but I wanted to help with the Pesach preparations.