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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Madloch

Loyla Louvis

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

According to her four children, my paternal grandmother, Loretta Gross, was a very lenient mother. She also had a very unusual family dynamic.

After she married my grandfather, they lived in the Bronx, next door to their best friends. They spent a lot of time together and sometimes joked that they should exchange their respective spouses. At that time, each couple had already two children.

The bliss was interrupted by a tragedy when in the neighbor's family, the husband died. Nevertheless, the widow did not remain single for a long time, as soon after the neighbor passing, my grandfather left his wife and married the neighbor next door.

Upon discussion, it was agreed upon that my grandfather and his new bride should raise the two children my grandmother birthed. The result was that my father and his sister were raised in the neighbor's house, along with two children the neighbor already had from her first husband. My grandmother stayed in her place alone.

Sometime after the formal divorce went through, my grandmother married my grandfather's younger brother. However, once again, she was not to be happy in her marriage for long. My grandfather passed, and following his death, his own brother started dating the neighbor woman. He never left Loretta, though. Instead, he just moved to the basement in her house, and they coexisted, keeping their separate territories.

All the memories of my grandmother come from six months when I lived in her house. When I was 8-years old, my parents split, and my mother took my sister and I back to Venezuela, where soon after she suffered a nervous breakdown. There was nobody there to take care of us, and my sister and I were put up for adoption. In fact, given the level of corruption in the crisis-ridden country, we might have ended up being sold to some soldier.

In this situation, my maternal grandmother stepped in and wired my father in the States. She wrote just two words "Come quick." He came immediately and took all of us all back to New Jersey. Shortly after that, my mother was placed in a mental hospital. My sister and I were sent to live with Loretta. After all the fear and abuse, it was a strange relief.

Loretta fed us cake and we watched a lot of TV. She loved the nightly show, Lawrence Welk. At that time, she spent most of her time in the house, with her husband, who we called Uncle John, still living in her basement. We sensed that something was not right but did not understand the entire situation and knew better than to question it. Sometimes we peered through the fence to the neighbor's house and saw Uncle John there too! The neighbor, whom we called Aunt Betty, was, in fact, a lovely woman, and we were strangely fascinated by her.

I often wondered how my grandmother could function in such a situation. I think she just decided she would not let life destroy her. She was living her routine and seemingly did not care or did not overanalyze everything. Instead, she enjoyed simple pleasures. She laughed easily and loved to dance. She was always ready to go out, and although she never learned how to drive, she easily found somebody to give her a ride. She was not an intellectual person, but she did not care to be one. Instead, she just did what she wanted to do.

There is certainly a lesson in her way of living. Even though she went through a lot, and maybe did not the conventional happy family, she has lived a fulfilling life and has not allowed tragedy to define her. In this photograph, she is posing with me. Last weekend, April 21st, 2019, we celebrated her 107th birthday.

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