by marjorieingall on September 2, 2010

My grandma Bess died today. She was very Yankee for a Jew. Strong Boston accent, very elegant in that Hepburn-y low-key never-trying-too-hard way, not very into fashion or beauty (though she was VERY beautiful), super-duper athletic in her day. (Kennedy-esque!) When I was a kid, she could swim halfway across the lake and back in a picture-perfect front crawl. I remember taking walks with her on Cape Cod, on cracked and winding asphalt roads (no sidewalks in the country back then), admiring her Wallaby shoes and hoping I could keep up. Grandma was very smart — she went to Boston University in an era when not many women went to college, because she was too smart NOT to go. She was amazing with numbers and she was very open-minded. When Andy came out to her, she barely batted an eye. (She said, “I know. We all have them in families. In my day we called them ‘bachelors.'”) She welcomed Neal into our family and adored Andy and Neal’s daughter Shirley.

Grandma was not the cuddly, soup-making bubbe of children’s books. She was not super-demonstrative, and she was not much of a cook. I associate visiting her with eating little oval knishes (from a box — I loved them). When we visited her on the Cape, we chased lobsters around the kitchen floor. The one thing she made, and made amazingly well, was blueberry pie. Grownups in her house had drinks in heavy highball glasses. There were always cut-crystal candy dishes filled with pastel-coated chocolate mints. Even in her late 90s, when she was living in an assisted living facility, even when she wasn’t doing much talking anymore, she’d direct her home health aide to offer you candy. (Josie and Maxie loved visiting her, because she had candy AND a karaoke machine.)

Bess’s husband, my grandfather, was a beloved pediatrician who made house calls. He was my mom’s pediatrician, and he used to joke with my mom’s mother that one day their children would marry. But he didn’t live to see it happen. He died when my dad was 14 and my aunts Gilda and Nancy were even younger. Bess was very strong for her kids; she wasn’t a huge crier and she wasn’t a drama queen. She was practical. She married again when she was still young and beautiful — she and Papa used to go dancing. She loved to dance and the two of them cut quite a rug. As a kid, I was happy that she had one husband who sounded as though he’d been serious and a little exacting, and one who was indulgent and fun.

She was a young woman during the Depression. We laughed at her for saving teabags to reuse two or three times, and carefully rinsing tin foil, smoothing it out and putting it back in a drawer.

But she was engaged with and fascinated by the modern world. She had email (remember WebTV?) in 1998. She LOVED her email. (Her address was, because she loved Scrabble, could kick everyone’s ass in it, and played for blood. Sometimes she’d pretend to be a little doddering so you’d let down your guard, and then she’d put down a gazillion-scoring word, slapping down the tiles triumphantly.) And she was utterly engaged in politics. She sent my brother this note when Andy told her he was considering voting for Nader in 2000:

I think you are wrong. There is still a big difference between the 2 parties. The democrats are still more concerned with helping the poor, and improving health care for the needy.  Look at W’s record in Texas. It is not all that he claims. And his emphasis on this being a CHRISTIAN COUNTRY is scary. Lieberman’s euphoria and talking about God etc. has already spent itself. I think he will now concentrate on political campaigning and tone down on religion. He has been in the senate for about 8 years and he never threw his religion around. Also, if the democrats get in, Liebeerman as v.p. will have to defer to the pres., Gore. Don’t waste your vote on Nader. He, too, is not what he was early on. I know you like to be a protestor.But think first before you protest. First and foremost,Bush is not the man we want for pres. Sometimes you have to chose the lesser of 2 evils.

When she was in her 80s, we took her to a Nam June Paik exhibit at a Florida museum. We pushed her through in her wheelchair as she gaped at the crazy techie installations. In the car on the way back to her apartment, she kept saying “What a wonderful world!” She read my column in the Forward religiously [sic] for years and sent notes. She was SO warm and complimentary about my writing (and told me whenever she disagreed with me). My dad always said that she was demonstrative and boast-y about her grandchildren in a way she never was with her own children. And I found her infinitely more expressive and loving in email than face to face.

It can’t have been easy for her as a widow with three young children. She was also trapped by poor hearing, and then poor vision, for a long time while her mind was still active. (She read up a storm until her early 90s.) But she was not the type to allow herself be miserable. When I had a miscarriage, she emailed me to say she’d had one too, before my dad was born, and it was pointless to dwell. Just stop thinking about it.

She was a remarkable woman.

Baruch Dayan Emet.


bathing beauty

i like how grandma's hands are on jonathan's belly

dad, mom and grandma at my wedding

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynn September 2, 2010 at 12:59 pm

So beautiful, Marjorie. I’m so glad, especially, that JoJo and Maxie had her in their lives. Me, I’m sorry I missed her pie (but not sorry I never faced her in Scrabble.) May her memory be for a blessing. xo

rosmar September 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Thank you, immensely, for this.

My condolences on your loss.

Andy September 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm

thankfully, I listened to grandma’s advice and voted for Gore. Thanks for writing this!

Jill Davidson September 2, 2010 at 6:51 pm

What a lovely remembrance. So sorry that she is gone – she sounds like a wonderful person who lived well. Peace to you and your family.

Eleanor September 3, 2010 at 1:25 am

I wish you and your family long life dear Margie. Thank you for sharing these words and photographs with us. You know, you capture truth, beauty and love with your words. My thoughts are with you x

Amy September 3, 2010 at 4:34 am

Thanks for this beautiful insight into a special woman. May you be comforted by the warm memories you have of her wonderfully long life. Thinking of you. xoxo

Rahel September 3, 2010 at 7:34 am

Marjorie —
Thanks for these beautiful reminiscences of your grandmother. Our New England grandmothers were women of tremendous strength and Scrabble prowess. May her memory endure for a blessing, and may we be like them.

Dan Alder September 3, 2010 at 9:35 am

Thanks for sharing your touching tribute to your grandma. Clearly, she leaves behind precious memories. May they be a source of comfort to you and your family.

Lisa Hirsch September 3, 2010 at 10:52 am

What a wonderful (and gorgeous) woman. May her memory be for a blessing.

Anne September 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm

So sorry for your loss, Margie. You were so blessed to have such a wonderful grandma and for so long. She left you many memories to keep her spot warm in your heart.

christina September 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm

I’m sorry, Margie. My grandam died almost exactly a year ago, and she was also in her nineties. Yours sounds like a very impressive woman.

marjorieingall September 3, 2010 at 6:21 pm

christina, i’m sorry about your grandma too. and rahel, you made me laugh!

marjorieingall September 3, 2010 at 6:22 pm

oops, i was raised in a barn. thank you all.

kayo September 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm

What a beautiful smile. My condolences to you and your family, Marjorie.

Amber September 5, 2010 at 8:00 am

I am so sorry for your loss. I am very close to my grandma, who has more vim and vigor than anyone I know. I stumbled upon your blog after stumbling upon your late father’s blog and both have touched my heart. God bless.

Janet September 6, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Marjie: I was just going back to your dad’s website- farklempt– which then led me to your website, which I have never been on! Yes, in mourning Bess I also was thinking of your dad, and re-reading many of his “blogs”. Did we call them “blogs” back then? Thanks for your posts, and I am glad I found your website! Love, Cousin Janet

Elvin Kaplan September 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Dear Marjorie, Your Mom sent me your lovely notes that commemorate Bess, a lovely woman. My sense of sadness at this loss is lightened by knowing how much she loved all of her family. I do have one minor correction, assuming my memory has any validy. Bess was a superb cook, whose dinners were a high point of our frequent trips to Boston to visit the Ingall’s, and later, the Spiro’s. Michael and I would marvel at how she was able to make kosher cuts of meat so tasty and tender. (We wondered, could they be non-kosher?) I have only wonderful memories of Bess, and your remembrance with the accompanying pictures was a beautiful way to recall the joy I have had in knowing Bess. Love, Elvin

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