I have to admit that when my Mom came up with the idea of a big party for my grandmothers ninetieth birthday I thought it was a wretched idea. I thought about the inconvenience of traipsing up to New York City on a weekday and the impossibility of bringing the children. This feeling was enhanced by sabbatical panic mode with a theme song of “sabbatical bites the dust…” running through my head as I contemplate a summer in a part of China I’d never heard of until last year. I also had cynical visions of a Woody Allen style macabre rehearsal for a funeral. Such grim locutions are not unfamiliar in our family; suffice it to say I’ve been fulfilling dying wishes of my grandfather for at least twenty years now; they’ve included art lessons for Rebecca, getting married, finishing a book, reading some bizarre scientific studies of pediatric endocrine problems and the list goes on….. And I understand others have been at this particular project for even longer.
It’s true that my grandmother has always loved parties, spent many a late night out at various cabaret clubs, and told us that the St Patrick’s day parade was all for her. But still, she and my grandfather are the last man and woman standing from their generation and have no living relatives or friends from their cohort. I call the frequently and most of the time my grandmother asks why I don’t call more often and doesn’t know who I am. Although she got down on the floor and played with my twins when they were babies she usually doesn’t remember I have them these days. And now if we go outside it involves me pushing a wheel chair. My grandfather is very deaf, refuses to wear a hearing aid, demands intellectual conversation, and tells lude jokes. It’s hard to discuss Plato with someone who can’t hear. A year ago I made some sticky papers to flash at him with things like “Behave Yourself,” “not funny,” “Leave her alone,” “Yes Republicans suck” “Yes the medical system has gone down the tubes.” He is also prone to tantrums and unlike Jonathan he cannot simply be picked up and moved to a different room. My grandparents, who were movie star gorgeous in their youth are spared none of the physical indignities of old age; the same goes for those who spend time with them. So the event had the potential to be a grim affair. That my grandmother didn’t know who her sons or granddaughters were the day before, and that my grandfather woke up the morning of the party announcing he was not leaving the apartment was not a ominous beginning.
But I was completely and totally wrong. And my mother was right. My grandmother’s three children six of her eight nephews, four of five granddaughters, a few spawn of cousins, and two of my mothers oldest friends all converged wearing green. (one friend abstained from the green theme reminding us that we are all Jews and we don’t observe that holiday) The cousins clearly had a great time together and spent a good seventeen minutes recreating a picture of them with their grandparents taken in about 1955. As children they all had really big ears but I’m happy to say they’ve all grown into those Beckerman ears. I'm also glad that none of us in the next generation seem inherited them. They all spent an enormous amount of time together and went to camp together growing up—a closeness my sister and I always envied. Our generation is scattered in location and age.
The best thing about it was that my grandmother did come back to the same astral plane as the rest of us for the evening. She’s completely blind so couldn’t recognize anyone but once she knew the name and heard the voice she knew who they were, whose kid they were, and who their siblings were. She chatted everyone up and sat kind of diva like in her chair every so often beckoning for some nephew or other. The next day, I got a full report on all her nephews, the shrimp appetizer and even the presents. And there were no patriarchal eruptions from his majesty the grandfather. In fact despite a long life of antisocial malaise he seemed to enjoy himself. I wore a dress that my grandmother had worn to her birthday we think 60 years or so ago. On cousin remembered her wearing it and it supposedly had something to do with a reward for a third child. It’s painted silk with little green birds on it and is way prissier than anything I’d ever wear. It fits perfectly which suggests that she must have been my size—although a good deal sexier. I’m pretty sure no one ever called her cute. It also reminds me how glad we should all be about that 2% of spandex in everything fitted these days. So my mom was correct the party was a great idea and I’m really glad everyone made the trip from Virginia, Chicago, Vermont, LA, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We should do it more often.