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One Less Survivor

February 25, 2014

My maternal grandmother Fela died before I was born. Soon after, my grandfather married Tosia, also a Holocaust survivor. And though I was named for Fela, Tosia was, in every way, my grandmother.tosia young

Food, especially to a survivor, is very important. But even more important for them is making sure their grandchildren eat. Nana is no exception. I’ve been happily eating her thick soups you can eat with a fork, mundelbred (what I call “Jewish biscotti”), and cholent, a potato and meat dish that takes half a day to cook.

Before my visit this past January, Nana warned me, “Mamelah, I’m not the same person I was six months ago. I can’t cook.”

“That’s okay Nana,” I said. “I can cook.”  She laughed. While yes, I can cook, the kitchen is Nana’s domain.

From the moment I arrived, Nana was in tremendous pain, but that didn’t stop her. Walking deliberately, a hand on her back, she started heating up soup for me.

tosia nd murray“Nana, let me.” I took over. And though I knew the meat dishes from the dairy, she instructed which pot, which bowl, which spoon. It was still her kitchen; she was still in charge.

“So Mameleh, how are you doing? You lost weight, yes?” Standard greeting.

“Forget me,” I said. “How are you?”

“Eh.” Her pale eyebrows scrunched up. “How should I be? I’m 88. I’m tired.”

Days in Florida go slowly; time marked by pills, meals and television shows. On that visit Nana slept most of the day, her pain knocking her out, but she still insisted on hosting a dinner party for seven, with Papa and I helping to cook her famous cholent.

The party was a success, but the best part was the leftover cholent.

“For breakfast Mameleh?” Nana said, laughing when she walked into the kitchen. But I know it made her feel good to know she still had it in her.

Every evening we watched Jeopardy and Nana slapped me every time I knew an answer. (I would like to say it made a bruise, but there weren’t that many slaps…)

One afternoon before going for a bike ride, I checked on Nana. She was awake staring into space. I sat at the foot of the bed and rubbed her feet through the blanket.

“I lived a good life,” Nana said looking at me, but seeing something far beyond. “But I’m ready to go.”

“Go where?” I asked; humor my auto-response to sadness.

Nana gave a resigned smile. “The last time I saw my mother I was a thirteen and was being taken away by the Nazis. My mother ran after me to give me a sweater and this one Nazi started beating her. I can still see this so clearly.”

“What did you do?”

Nana shrugged. “What could I do? I looked back and saw my mother lying on the ground, blood coming out of her head. This is the last image I have of her.”

“Do you think you will see your mother again when you die?”

Nana smiled. “That would be nice.”

This past Friday my grandmother passed away. As I sat crying with the news, a little part of me was happy for my grandmother, because I pictured her, a little girl again, running towards her mother’s open arms.

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34 Comments
  1. Eileen Elias permalink

    You have truly made your Grandmother’s life a blessing Felice.

    All my best,
    Eileen

  2. Tracey Lundberg permalink

    That’s all lovely story, Felice. Thanks for sharing. God bless your grandmother.

  3. Jennifer permalink

    May G-d console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Felice I’m so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family. What a beautiful tribute to your Nana. Hugs.

  4. Eddie McGarry permalink

    Felice,Thank you for sharing this story. I am sorry for your loss but at the same time happy for your Grandmother… Enjoy this world and all the beautiful things that God gave us .. I just believe that God made an even more beautiful place in Heaven for all of us. It will be a great reunion the day we get to see our families again. It sounds like your Grandmother suffered unspeakable hardships which makes that day even more special.To see her Mom again.. Good always wins over evil. Peace and again I am sorry for your loss. Eddie

    Sent from my iPhone

  5. Deborah Golden permalink

    I am so glad you were able to spend some time with your Nana recently. It sounds like you had a very rewarding and loving relationship.

  6. Beautiful piece — my condolences to you and your family. Your Nana sounds like a woman who provided you with much nourishment that impacted way beyond the delicious food she prepared.

  7. Beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss. CL

  8. Julie Rougeau permalink

    Felice – This is the most beautiful tribute. A tear came to my eye, but I know her life should be and will be celebrated. Please send my best to your family. — Julie

    The Law Office of Julie A. Rougeau 5 East Street Franklin, MA 02038

    office phone: 508-541-4424 fax: 508-541-4421 e-mail: jrougeau@comcast.net

    The information in this email and subsequent attachments may contain confidential information that is intended solely for the attention and use of the named addressee(s). This message or any part thereof must not be disclosed, copied, distributed or retained by any person without authorization from the addressee.

  9. RJC permalink

    Oh boy…

  10. Nicely done, Felice. I think we had the same grandmother, only mine was nanny:-)

    Matt

  11. Jen Landry permalink

    I am SURE she is not only smiling down on all of you today…but doing so beside her mother. No pain, just love and light. hugs.

  12. Jennifer Altman permalink

    Sorry for your loss Felice. Your grandma sounds like a wonderful lady. Your tribute to her is lovely. My condolences to your family. Best always,Jennifer

    Jennifer S. AltmanPhotojournalistwww.jenniferaltman.com1-917-968-8093-cell1-212-570-5160-office

    Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2014 14:22:29 +0000 To: jenniferaltman@msn.com

  13. james nomikos permalink

    this is so lovely felice, so lucky she had you and you had her . best, naomi

  14. Edes Gilbert permalink

    Oh my. If I were there I would give you a hug and share a tear. And a smile. You and she are bonded now and always. Love and food are resilient bonds. 🙂

    >

  15. Joe Faucette permalink

    You got me ! I can feel your sorrow and your joy and above all your love for your nana.

  16. Ed and Lee Goulart permalink

    God bless myou Felice, and thank you for sharing this story with us. Our love

  17. Debra Topilow permalink

    Felice, I’m so sorry to hear about your Nana. I know how much love she had for you and your family. Your grandfather was lucky to find someone who could love you all so much. May her memory always be a blessing. Debra

    Date: Tue, 25 Feb 2014 14:22:36 +0000 To: debra@topilow.com

  18. Jamie Barr permalink

    Hi my favorite Felice! So sorry to hear about Toby. I should have contacted you earlier and I hope you will forgive my complete ignorance.

    When I was very sick in my 20s, she made me the most delicious food (I think potato kugel which is my favorite) and a few other things. I could see in her eyes that she couldn’t feed me enough to help me feel better. And she really didn’t know me well at all. It was the first time Mark introduced me when they lived in Brooklyn. The very few times I saw her afterwards, we would laugh about how delicious that food was for me but she always had that empathetic, sad look in her eyes for what I went through those many years ago. I always appreciated her feeling that way about me. May you and the whole family find peace in this difficult time.

  19. Robyn Macy permalink

    So beautiful. So sad. So loving

  20. marilyn permalink

    WHAT A WONDERFUL WOMAN YOUR NANA WAS. SHE WILL BE GREATLY MISSED BY ALL WHO KNEW HER. STILL NEED THE CHOLENT RECIPE!!!!!!
    TAKE CARE & WE WILL SEE YOU SOON.
    LOVE,
    M & N

  21. So sorry for your loss! It is nevereasy to loose someone we love so dearly!

  22. So sorry for your loss!

  23. Felice, I’m so sorry the pain of loss you are feeling. No matter what the person’s age or condition, when they pass away it is always a bit of a shock to our systems. Life is so different now. I hope your tears of grief will be dried by loving memories. Your Nana sounds like a remarkable woman who knew she was loved.

  24. Beautiful, Felice. I know Nana would love being remembered this way. What a tribute to her. Life is fragile; people are strong.

  25. Scott B permalink

    Sorry to hear this, my thoughts and prayers are with you and the family.

  26. Michelle permalink

    This is so beautiful and I was moved by what you wrote. May her memory be for a blessing and her neshama have an aliya. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Auntie M. permalink

    Felice, This is a most beautiful piece remembering Toby. You will be able to carry on and make many of the wonderful foods that she did. It will be up there with “Nana Alice Meatloaf.”
    xoxoxox

  28. Roz Ben-Chitrit permalink

    Felice – I think Nana would have been happy to share her Mandel Bread recipe with the world…so I copied and pasted it below for your readers. What you wrote was lovely…she would have appreciated it, but mostly she would have been so proud of you. She always was. Our family events and get-togethers will never be the same. I keep reminding myself that when I lost my Auntie Alice, someone told me that the depth of our sadness when someone passes is simply a reflection of the heights of our happiness when they were with us. It’s clear that she gave me a LOT of happiness!

    Nana’s Mandel Bread Recipe

    4 eggs
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup oil (canola was Nana’s oil of choice, but I used walnut oil and it worked well)
    2 tsp. vanilla extract (or almond extract) – don’t be stingy with the extract!
    2 tsp. baking powder
    ~ 4 cups white flour
    ½ cup ground almonds
    ½ cup chocolate chips – or more

    Mix eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
    Mix baking powder and flour together, then add flour mixture with wet ingredients. Add nuts and chocolate chips at the end. Add flour if needed so dough is sticky but can be made into a ball.
    Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
    Preheat oven to 350°. Separate dough into logs that are about 1” high x 2” wide and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake loaves for about 25 minutes, and turn off oven, keeping loaves in oven for about 4 more minutes until evenly browned.
    Remove loaves and cool. Re-heat the oven to 350°. Cut loaves in diagonal slices and return slices to the baking sheet and the oven for 5-10 additional minutes.

  29. Shoshy permalink

    Beautiful written words for a beautiful woman who we are all mourning this week. Toby you will be greatly missed by all who knew you.To me you were a strong bright kind and caring friend . I thank Gd for bringing you into my life I will always love you and you will always be a part of me.
    May God console your amily among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

  30. Diann Buro permalink

    my dear Felice, I am so fortunate to have you and your written word in my life, thank you for having the strength to share this with me…
    with joy and love,
    Diann b.

  31. Albert permalink

    Sorry to hear that. I always hate to see you sad..

  32. Michael Griffel permalink

    Dear Felice,

    I just read your posting, and I feel very sad about your grandmother. Please accept my condolences.

    As ever, Michael

    Sent from my iPad

  33. Dearest Felice,

    Just read your blog. I’m so very sorry to hear about Toby.

    I remember meeting her a time or two during the days that you and Mark and I played at your Nana’s in Hull, and then some years later. She was a very strong woman in many ways.

    My deepest condolences to you and the rest of your family.

    Love,
    Deb

  34. Shelley Foxman permalink

    This is so sad. I’m glad you have a lot of great memories to cherish. My mother, 85, passed away the same week. Perhaps their spirits will meet. She too was in FL for many years.

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