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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Madloch

Julie Rifon

First from the left in this picture, is my maternal grandmother, Gertrude. Everyone called her Gittel. Grandma Gittel died very young. She was only twenty-eight years old. My mother was a young child when it happened and she must have been devastated. I can say I know how she felt. My own mother died when I was twenty-eight.

Since Gittel’s husband, my grandfather was not really in the picture, both my mother and her sister went to live with Gittel’s parents, Alice and Max, who created a loving home for the girls and tried their best to fill in for the missing parents. Alice is a central figure in this picture. The woman on the right is Esther, Gittel’s sister and my great aunt whom I knew well. She was my main source of information about the family.

Naturally, I never had a chance to meet grandmother Gittel. However, when I look at old photographs, I can see that I look very much like her. Besides looks, I have been often told, especially by Esther, that my personality is much like Gittel’s. She had a quirky sense of humor and was a positive, happy person. Esther said that Gittel enjoyed music and played piano rather well. It’s possible that I inherited my passion for music from her and piano is also my favorite instrument. I can clearly see that I also have a lot in common with Alice, my great-grandmother.

Alice came to America from England and married an immigrant from Russia. Being good with languages and having amazingly broad vocabulary, Alice was passionate about crossword puzzles. She particularly enjoyed Sunday edition New York Times crossword puzzles. I also love crossword puzzles and the crossword page of the New York Times is always the first one I look at. However, Alice’s love for words went beyond solving puzzles. She was an amazing poet. Her poems were often published and she won many prizes for her literary works. The family benefited from her talent as she always wrote short humorous poems for everyone. Everyone I knew treasured them dearly.

Alice died when I was a teenager, but I managed to spend time with her and have quite a few pleasant memories of her. My fondest ones are those from our Friday dinners. For these occasions we always visited her in her Brooklyn home. The apron displayed next to me belonged to her and she wore it for our gatherings. When Alice passed, aunt Esther gave it to me. I framed it and display it in my kitchen. It is reversible, but I decided to have it displayed the way I remember it from our Friday dinners. It is one of my most cherished possessions.

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