Featured Column
Week of 2.16.2004
C'mon over for a coupla
My Gram makes lunch
          In the 1930s their marriage was considered an insult to their families. Dad was an Irish-Catholic. Mom was Jewish. They were madly in love with each other. Dad wanted a marriage to help him escape from the dreary days of working and coming home to an empty apartment. Mom wanted to feel more from life. She wanted a friend who would understand that as a highly intelligent and motivated woman she was decades ahead of her time. They suited each other.
          Dad was outgoing, funny, and needed laughter and attention to fulfill his life. Mom was pensive, inquiring, searching, deep - and needed her quiet time alone to think. Then she became whole.
          Three years after their marriage my mothers father died and her mother moved in with my mom and dad. A year after that I was born. From that day on I never knew a home with just my mom and dad. Gram had moved in and never left. In 1945 we left the Bronx and moved to southern California. Gram moved with us.
          Gram, her name was Fanny, was Jewish and looked it. She was plump, had kinky-curly hair and a nose that belonged to a much larger person. Gram was proud to be Jewish, although she, as best as I can remember, rarely went to the synagogue and only followed the more convenient Jewish tenets. But, Grams thinking was Jewish.
          By the time I was ten years old I started objecting to Gram living with us. I looked at her as an intruder in our family circle an interloper. I never told anyone about my feelings, but Im sure Gram felt them.
          At about age fifteen I started looking at Gram differently. She was older now. Her sight was fading, her hearing lessened and she was diagnosed with diabetes. I started seeing her inner strength much clearer now. Every morning she arose and gave herself a hypodermic injection of insulin at first in her right arm, then her left and then in her thighs. She got up before anyone else so she could inject herself in privacy. Gram never complained about the painful injections she had to perform.
          Once, when we were alone having breakfast, just the two of us, I asked her about where she was born and raised. She told me she was born in the Bronx, raised by Jewish parents who had come to America from Russia to escape the murderous pogroms. She was married at twenty- one to a carpenter. He died when I was a year old in 1935 and that's when Gram moved in with us. During the second World War she got a job with the Army Quartermaster Corps make uniforms for our soldiers.
          After high school and college I started working for the local newspaper first in the composing room, then the circulation department, then selling advertising and then to the sports department in editorial. The newspaper office was only ten minutes from our house. With both mom and dad working it meant that Gram was home alone during the day. Knowing the freedom I had at the newspaper Gram would phone me two or three times a week and invite me to have lunch with her. By this time I no longer looked upon Gram as an intruder in our family. I had grown to love her and appreciated her and what she meant to our family. She had become the continuity and the strength of our family.
          Her phone calls to me at the newspaper office would be loving and gentle, Ronnie, can you come over for a coupla today? A coupla in Bronx-talk would mean two eggs, scrambled and made into a sandwich of two slices of Wonder Bread. If I sounded hesitant she would say, Ronnie, I got some good eggs and nice bread for you. I guessed that her childhood in the Bronx in the early 1900s didn't bring her many good eggs and nice, soft white bread. She would sometimes add, And I got some fresh milk for you too.
          How could I resist? We would have lunch together in that tiny kitchen, eating off that 1950 style kitchen table with rusting chrome legs, sitting on the matching kitchen chairs with plastic seat pads. Wed each have a coupla sandwich and a nice glass of fresh milk. Looking back I realize how important those lunches with Gram were to both of us.
          Good eggs, Wonder Bread and fresh milk were scarce in Grams childhood, as was a good piece of meat and fresh vegetables, crisp and newly picked. These were all luxuries, so, when we shared our sandwiches and fresh milk we were living high.
          Our coupla lunches went on for years, even after I got married. My love for Gram got deeper and more profound. I would leave work and take her to her doctors appointments, where they checked the progress of her diabetes. After I dropped her at the doctors office and she heard that her blood sugar fell into a safe area she would walk the three blocks to the neighborhood ice cream shop and have a forbidden chocolate ice cream cone to celebrate her monthly clean bill of health. Then she would have me meet her down the street at the bus bench and I would drive her home. She never knew that I knew about her little chocolate indiscretion.
          I learned a lot from Gram at our coupla lunches. I learned how important my grandmother was in my life. She was patient with me and I believe that much of my ethics, principles and morality came from the hours she spent with me. She was old-fashioned and from another era. She came from a time when the automobile was unknown, there was no television, no McDonalds, no Wal-Mart. She came from poverty and bigotry and a struggle to survive. She lived with her daughter and son-in-law and survived both of them. When her daughter, my mom, died I was with Gram outside the hospital and when she heard the terrible news she tugged at my arm and said, Its so wrong to live longer than your children. And she cried the rest of her life.
          Gram lived to be eighty two years old. She died in a rest home following a stroke and a broken hip.
          Forty years after her death I think of her every day. I still see a loaf of Wonder Bread and remember our coupla lunches. I quote Gram more than any person I've ever met. I find myself saying, You know what my Gram would say.
          Every once in a while, a few times a year, when the phone rings, I expect Gram to be on the line saying, Ronnie, can you come over, Ill make you a coupla.
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ronís career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ronís interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
Ron Cruger