Thursday, April 15, 2010

Friday Night at Bubbe’s

“See you Friday night at Bubbe’s,” my aunts would call as they rushed off to work or make dinner. My grandmother, Ida Kravitz was called ‘Bubbe’ by her ten children, twenty-four grandchildren and ever increasing number of great grandchildren.

Every Friday night, Bubbe’s dining room table became her canvas, stretching centuries, laden with chicken soup, matzah balls, boiled chicken, kugel, challah, bowties and kasha and of course, her own kamish bread. Her family, as well as any other neighbors or friends who picked up on the aroma, crowded into her four room row house apartment at 6727 Horrocks Street, to eat in shifts.

Those coming directly from work, along with the children would eat first. The second shift poked around the living room looking at the same old photographs, munching on salted peanuts and chocolate kisses, smoking or just squeezing together on the sofa, gulping down the rich, luscious air of Bubbe’s house.

Aunt Jean, just home from work, still wearing her Lenny’s Hot Dogs uniform, would dutifully sit in the same chair each week while Bubbe brought her soup. Aunt Jean served fast food at a hot dog stand at Fifth and Passyunk Avenue all day to people she called “baby” and “doll.” She willingly surrendered her public persona as Bubbe’s steamy soup seeped through her. She ended her meal with a Raleigh cigarette. She let me count the coupons. She chewed Dentyne and carried four packs in her handbag, always one there for me.

Aunt Min and Aunt Bess hovered around the table, broad jumping to the refrigerator, should any man or child ask for ketchup or butter. Bubbe couldn’t understand why anyone would need ketchup so you couldn’t find any on the table, and butter was “tref” with chicken. It wasn’t allowed. But, no one knew from want at Bubbe’s house so it was with impish delight that Aunt Minnie and Aunt Bessie saw that the contraband got into the right hands.

No one waited very long for anything, in fact the second shift usually ended up at the table with the slow eaters of the first shift, who were unwilling and often unable to give up their thrones. The table talk usually centered around the hot dog business. Almost everyone worked for Uncle Lenny except for my parents who had their own luncheonette, Abie’s Hot Dogs at Fourth and Monroe. Aunt Bess worked at Lenny’s on Castor Avenue. Aunt Minnie did not, although her husband Uncle Joe went to work for Lenny after he lost his job in the late nineteen sixties.

Aunt Min and Aunt Bess resembled each other sharing the same face and sense of humor. Aunt Bess was a brunette. Aunt Minnie dyed her hair fire engine red. People would see Aunt Bess working the counter at Lenny’s on Castor and remark, “Oh, you’ve darkened your hair!”

“No, you’re thinking of my sister,” she would reply. The word “sister” dripped from her mouth sweet as pie-a-la-mode, famishing any sister-less soul, like me.

Cousin Lily was one of the oldest grandchildren. She was only a few years younger than my mother. When Lily’s mother died young, Bubbe raised Lily along with my mother and her younger brother Lenny, the three youngest children. Lily didn’t work for Lenny and was proud of it. She wore bright, tight clothes over her ample frame and every inch of her said “notice me!!” I imagine this was to be expected from the eleventh child. She complained that the cigarette smoke on Friday night at Bubbe’s irritated her asthma, and that
there was too much food. She didn’t stay long but like all of Bubbe’s children, she always finished her plate.

My Auntie Mame, Cousin Lily drove a convertible and took me away on weekends to Long Beach Island, New Hope, movies and theater. Early on she whet my appetite for the freedom and excitement of the road, as well as the comfortable embrace of returning home.

This was the table where I spent every Friday night for the first twelve years of my life. I was one of the kids who Bubbe Ida fed first. I remember the quiver of Bubbe’s wrinkled, vein striped hands as she carried my bowl of hot soup between them. She didn’t flinch when that steamy broth leaked down her sagging arms towards her elbows.

Bubbe crossed an ocean to bring me that soup. Feeding me was her goal. Mortal affliction would not come between us. The soup contained all of her hopes for a better life for herself, her family, her world. It made the struggles of her past as well as the creeping injustices of old age recede into the background, at least on Friday night.

Bubbe infused my cousins, my brothers and me with her fire, and fortified us with her antidote to physical or spiritual suffering. She left twenty-four grandchildren who now have grandchildren. When we come together, it is always with warm bellies, full hearts and eyes shining from the light that was cast on Friday nights at Bubbe’s.

Tracy W.

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