Aging & Attitude
Granny “B”, really Great Granny “B”, became Granny “B” after my children were born. My son and daughter were fortunate to have many grandparents, two grandmothers, Grandma and Nana and two great grandmothers, Grandma and Nani. Are you confused? So were they and started calling my grandmother, Granny “B”. But, Gertrude Pennell Boylhart will always be Grandma to me.
I struggle to remember the details of her Thanksgiving dinners but not the feelings accompanying “Over the River and Through the Woods” a tune our family sang driving from Long Island to the Bronx, Thanksgiving Day.
We would pull up in front of her apartment building on Bainbridge Ave and run up the steps while our parents hunted for a parking space. Turkey smells engulfed us as soon as we were near the door.
My grandmother shared a one-bedroom apartment with our Uncle, giving him the bedroom. For twenty-five years, she slept on a Castro Convertible couch in the living room. When I asked why, she said, “Petty I want to be able to afford the apartment when he moves out.” He never did.
Inside the apartment, a dining table, formally set for twenty, a cornucopia of oranges, pears, apples grapes, and nuts in the center, occupied the middle of a twelve by twelve living room. Folding chairs, some borrowed some rented were stacked in the bedroom.
I struggle to recall the guest list, because cousins visited after dinner. The head count, for sure, included; Pop-pop, Aunt Carol, Uncle Tom and Aunt Abbie, Helen and Harry and their kids, seven of us, it added up. There was a children’s table. My sister and I peeked at the place cards praying we might sit with the grown-ups.
When we had guest on Long Island, an ironing board was suspended between two chairs for extra seating. That would not be the case at Grandma’s. The ironing board served as a sideboard for pies: apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat (one-half of the top covered with hard sauce) in the kitchen. God, I loved mincemeat pie.
The kitchen was five feet by eight feet, a miniscule space to prepare a feast. There was a four-burner stove and a Hoosier in the corner. I know Grandma cooked two turkeys, one the day before. How everything was kept warm is a mystery, although Grandma was a master of the double boiler and yeast biscuits, some with raisins some without, double wrapped in foil, set on the stovetop. Extra space to keep food cold was the fire escape, of course.
Creamed onions were for Uncle Harry, turnips for my mother and oyster dressing for Uncle Tom. The stream of side dishes was endless.
After dinner, the women washed the dishes while the men folded up the table and scattered chairs around the room making space to dance. Grandma sat talking and listened to forty-fives.
In the bedroom several toddlers slept among numerous coats on a bed, the floor provided a playground for jacks and coloring. We darkened the outline first then crayoned lightly inside the lines.
Eventually the children joined the adults’ smoke filled living room for turkey sandwiches layered with Hellman’s real mayonnaise and cranberry sauce on Arnold’s white bread. It was heaven.
When it was time to leave Grandma put “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” on the record player. Excitedly, we got our coats anticipating Grandma’s kiss accompanied by a shiny quarter pressed into our hand.
Thank you Grandma.