her mother’s mother came from Russia

Last year, at eighty-six, my mother-in-law of twenty-three years had surgery to remove over half of her cancer-filled stomach. We went before the surgery, to stay until Minnie was out of rehab and either back at home or settled in a nursing home.
We had spent almost no time in her Cleveland home since our marriage. She loved to travel and we met her in the Bahamas, in Vegas, and on cruises. She also visited our homes in Houston and Tahoe where she would get to spend time with my daughter and granddaughter. They were the only grandchildren she had and they called her GrandMinnie.
In anticipation of this weakened woman returning home with a walker, I attempted to remove potential hazards. Furniture was pushed ever so slightly to provide wider aisles. The old step stool in the kitchen attested to the fact that this woman who claimed to be five feet tall could not reach even the second shelf. I moved items to de-cluttered lower cabinet shelves before moving on to the basement.
Stacks of yellowed newspapers dated to the mid-seventies. They confirmed when Minnie and Paul bought this house with its two downstairs bedrooms to accommodate her ailing mother. She had told me stories about how when she was a girl, her mother’s mother came from Russia to live with them and shared a bedroom with Minnie.
I wondered just how depressed she had become when the mother she had lived with as both a child and a bride died soon after they moved just for her. It couldn’t have helped that my husband, her youngest, had just left for college.
In the basement pantry rusty cans, yellowed boxes, and jars with discolored liquid revealed dates in the early eighties. As I filled sturdy boxes with the twenty-year old food, it dawned on me that Paul died about then. Had this woman known for her baking and hosting Jewish holiday dinners for the extended family given up cooking? She told me that she knew if I lived in Cleveland I would have taken over, even though I wasn’t Jewish. No one had taken over as host and the family was the poorer for it.
I made a note to purge potentially poisonous items from the fridge.
There I found items that had been long-expired before the old refrigerator had been replaced eight years ago. Had the delivery people filled the shiny new one with these relics of meals past?
I relayed to my husband my fears of the much-traveled Minnie stuck in her dysfunctional house for what the doctors said would be her final year.
She surprised us and the doctors by giving up the walker two months later and rejoining both of her weekly Mah Jong groups. They still played for a quarter a game and her coin purse filled with quarters said she was a good player.
We accompanied Minnie on her last cruise and brought her back to our house for a while. She visited twice more—once when my daughter and granddaughter were also there. We tried not to be sad that it would be their last time to see her, but focused on making sure that seven-year old Maggie would have happy memories of her GrandMinnie.

PartII - work in progress
A year later, after Minnie’s death, discovering the house was a repository for what I now refer to as “The Beckerman Museum.”


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