On my way home from college once I realized I'd never had a full conversation with my grandmother. It's true. Of course we spoke; she lived with us part of each year. We even had brief multi-lingual exchanges: how I was doing in school, what was on TV, my health, her health--which was rapidly failing. She was living with us permanently by then. And I guess that gets back to why I had this realization while sitting on a plane, on my way home from school. I knew deep down that permanently wasn't very much longer.
My excuse was that she didn't speak fluent English and I wasn't really fluent in Yiddish. But the real reason was that I never had the patience or respect to sit for awhile and talk with her. So when I got home, I composed a list of questions, dusted off the tape recorder, and sat at the dining room table with my grandmother, and my mother to translate the hard stuff.
The hard stuff turned out to be getting her to stick to the subject--her mind was wandering a lot those days--and to understand what was being asked, for she had grown quite deaf.
She spoke of her first date with my grandfather, in a horse-drawn carriage in Poland, and of the chocolates he gave her wrapped in fancy paper; she told us about her dreams, and her belief in spirits and fairies; she compared her grandchildren. Finally, because she was a very devout Jew and I'd always wondered what faith, if any, lay behind her strictly kosher diet, lighting of candles and constant blessings, I asked, "Do you really believe in God?"
"Mama," my mother screamed in her ear. "Gloibst in Gott?"
We waited, for something to remember, for some ultimate answer.
Without hesitation she continued the monologue, and told us about getting ready for Shabbos--rolling the matzo balls in her hands, cleaning the chicken and putting up the soup, setting the table, baking the challah, dicing the carrots for tzimmes, and . . .
"Mama!" my mother said in her ear, getting impatient. In Yiddish: "We asked you about God. Why are you talking about food?"
She laughed, and then answered in Yiddish: "For me it's the same."