January 9, 2010: I thought of my grandparents this morning, and whether or not they ever brushed their teeth. Not that their collective breaths were ever bad -- on the contrary, their distinct individual aromas all hold wonderful, unique memories in my soul (old cigar smoke and the stink of a sweaty T-shirt among them) -- but times were different then, and even as I sit here edging my way into middle age, I can't necessarily understand all the strength and subtleties that constituted the Great Grandparent Generation.
Nestor, my mother's father, constantly ground his sparse yellow teeth, creating a not-unpleasant, rather musical sound somewhere between a Cuica and someone stepping on a mouse. He ate slowly and regularly, yet looking back I marvel at the fact that those Polish choppers were able to disassemble anything more rugged than a matzah ball.
In honor of my Gramma Manya -- (She always spelled it M-A-N-I-A, for some ungodly reason, but the open-ended depth of the straight joke is too ridiculous to perpetuate in print.) -- I decided to replicate her potatoes this morning for breakfast. (She made the most amazing potatoes, which are nearly impossible to replicate, despite their having only one ingredient -- potatoes.) This got me thinking about how little sleep she seemed to get. What the hell is it with old people anyway?! Why don't they ever sleep? The same was true of my father's parents -- Sal & Jo (Jo being the woman) -- they were like robots that way.
Grampa Sal's capacity to smoke was also remarkable (as was his capacity to talk loud) -- constant cigars and pipes and cigarettes and cigarettillos and all sorts of other esoteric Italian and Spanish-style tobacco products. I think his body composition had evolved so that he was actually partially made of tobacco. (He was brown and wrinkled and looked exactly like Groucho Marx in the "You Bet Your Life" years.) As a former smoker, I sometimes pine for the chance to light up again and bask in the hearty stink of burning carcinogens. And yet my frail constitution has been severely compromised by the terrible times we live in -- so unlike the healthy, pure bodies that were born before the Great, Artful, Awful War.
Gramma Josephine was cool as a cucumber, butchering an enormous purple octopus in the sink as if it were tofu. When she wasn't cooking, she put all her energy into brushing the crumbs before her on the red and white checked kitchen tablecloth, with short deliberate gestures that seemed to go on for the entire evening. (Perhaps there was some revitalizing energy that came of policing crumbs -- a lifeforce benefit brought about by pedantic attention to detail?)
Either way, there was something solid there -- in their teeth, their tireless fortitude, their cell quality ... -- something we don't see that often in these strange peanut allergy-affected times in which we live.