goodbye, sabta.

April 9, 2010

this is a hard post to write. my grandmother, irmgard harff goldschmidt, died on friday morning. quite shocking….i just saw her in reno last week for passover. she was a spry 91-year-old, german-born matriarch of the family with stories and dignity and sarcasm for days. she was a stickler for the rules but always left room for a little jab in the ribs. a one liner. or two!

she had an incredible life, like most of her generation, formed and dictated by the wars. born into a non-practicing german-jewish family, she left her increasingly-alienating motherland and sought refuge in palestine, married and raised three kids in post-war israel, on to new york, chicago, retiring to san diego and a final move to reno.

i asked her once where she thought her home was, and she said she didn’t have one. but the most important thing to her in the world was her family, which was her home. she mapped out our entire family tree past the 1700s, her interest in genealogy ticking since age 13. she spent her time translating old letters and documents from german, archiving family photographs, replaying and retelling stories of scandal, romance, and ugly babies.

she attended henry winkler’s bar mitzvah (his uncle desperately wanted to marry her!) and was on antiques roadshow with a corner-cabinet from the 1700s (story goes that the wood came from her grandparents’ backyard cherry tree. roadshow experts said it’s mahogany, which doesn’t grow in germany! or the only mahogany tree in germany?) her reverence for things of the past- objects, stories, people- always inspired and amazed me and imprinted in me my love for all things old.

i showed her my blog while i was in reno last week, which she really enjoyed. she was amazed at what people can do now with the internet, collecting photos together in one place. i bookmarked it for her and wrote down instructions on how she could get back to the page. i loved writing her letters and even emails in german, which she boasted (proudly, for both of us) didn’t even need grammatical corrections.

she started my napkin collection for me as a kid. she made sure we had little packets of fruit to snack on on our way to and from the airport. grapevines cut into short, manageable bites with 3-5 grapes. a crumb roller perpetually on the dining room table. cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall. astro-turf on the san diego balcony. powdery bedroom scent with dual twin beds. pastel pussybow blouses. handknit blankets. crocheted doilies. bottomless bowls of chocolate and those long caramel candies in bowls on the coffee table in emerald and fuchsia foil. bunnies in the bushes and birds nested in the planters on the front porch. her telling me not to paint my nails at the table. pressed wrinkled lips shuttering giggles. the inevitable german accent.

the first thing i did friday morning was bake her infamous schweinsöhrchen cookies, a meltinyourmouth double spiral (double fat!) “pig ear” cookie with four ingredients: butter, cream cheese, flour and a heavy-handed coating of her infamous vanilla sugar (vanilla bean lounges in a jar of sugar for a few weeks). gobbled those up quick.

got back to chicago tonight, it’s late and the funeral is on 2 on tuesday. more photos of reno to come….

it’s comforting to know that the last time we spent together was to celebrate passover, the holiday of freedom, rebirth, spring, and the passing on of those values and histories to the next generation. it’s a good parallel to our relationship. at dinner she said it was ok to eat the asparagus with our hands, like the queen of the netherlands, she said, who intentionally spilled on the table so her guests wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. she’s the boss.

thank you, sabta, for all of your wisdom, humor, love, generosity, and stories. i will do my best to share it all with the world in your memory!

ich liebe dich
je t’aime
אני אוהבת אותך
i love you!


passover in reno: part one
super delicious every day

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4 Responses to goodbye, sabta.

  1. Sirenna on April 13, 2010 at 6:36 am

    You could add, "ti voglio bene" (Italian for "I love you" to a family member) =-)

  2. meagan on April 16, 2010 at 9:10 am

    im sorry to hear about sabta :( i know she would not only love all the kind words you have to say about her, but all the deeper and more important things that she would have wanted you to take from her and pass on… my condolences…

  3. meagan on April 16, 2010 at 9:16 am

    also, judging by your pictures i think you have inherited her love for plants! i am glad that you got to see her one last time and it seems like you never took her for granted and always cherished everything about her…

  4. go nuts! | BIG THINGS on December 26, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    [...] baking and preparing snacks as gifts for parties and family and friends. this year, in memory of my grandmother who died in the spring, i’ve been trying to make more of her recipes, including this one for the traditional german [...]

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