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Barbara Reiss Newman

Fifties

200x200 Barbara Reiss
Barbara Reiss Newman

I’d love to be able to have brunch with my maternal grandmother, Ethyl Yuspeh, who was 97 when she died in the summer of 2007.  I remember Granny as a warm, caring, delicate, perceptive and sophisticated woman.

She was born and raised in my own hometown of New Orleans—unusual for a Jewish person in the 1920’s. I now realize (and didn’t when I could have asked her about it) that she lived through some fascinating history—the “Roaring 20’s,” the Great Depression. She met my grandfather (a music prodigy who played piano at Carnegie Hall when he was 9 years old) at her “Sweet 16” party where he was the piano player in the band. Like many Jewish men of his generation, he became a successful traveling salesman. When their children were grown, Granny traveled with him—all over the world.  

I regret not asking her more about her life when she was alive. There’s so much I want to know. What made her fall in love with my grandfather? Was he the right person for her as she got older? (He was very controlling and travelled a lot.) What was her favorite place that she travelled to and why? How did she feel about my father when she met him, and did she think my mother was too young to get married at 19? What changes did she experience that made the world a better place and what could she have done without?

And I would ask her how to be a good mother and grandmother.

My grandparents lived in an apartment on the top floor of a two-family house. When we visited and it was time to leave, we’d walk downstairs and wave to her and say, “’Bye you up there!,” and she’d say, “’Bye you down there!”

I miss her, and I often think, “Hi, you up there!”

Granny always made me feel like I was the most important person in her life, and there was nothing she'd rather do than be with me.

What would she say to me?  I think she would tell me to be happy.  And to take care of myself.

Barbara Reiss Newman is an optometrist who lives and works in Huntington, NY.  She loves to read, cook, practice yoga, garden, and travel with her husband to visit their family and friends all over the country.

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