Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Lifetakes: More than Toys

Faigy Markowitz

We only saw her a few times a year, but every time there was a huge shopping bag filled with toys, prizes, and hair accessories

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

 Mishpacha image

Photo: Shutterstock

M y son asked for a dollhouse for his upsheren.I assembled it and even bought a few second-hand pieces of furniture, all the while hoping his interest would fade, because furnishing a dollhouse can be expensive. But he knows exactly what he wants. A small blanket and pillow for the baby. An ironing board to iron, and a kitchen set to cook in.

While searching online, I see a Hansel and Gretel storybook and house set. In an instant, I am transported to the times of my early childhood.

The classic fairytales of “Hansel and Gretel”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “The Ugly Duckling” are entwined with my enigmatic grandmother, who showered us with cheap toys, thin books, and heaps of criticism. As a child I was scared, yet awed by her; she would call me closer but I was so afraid. Just a few minutes ago she had lectured me on the red flower embroidered on my new outfit, and now she wants to show me a new trinket?

We only saw her a few times a year, but every time there was a huge shopping bag filled with toys, prizes, and cheap hair accessories nestled right next to her aching legs and big black shoes. Every Chanukah our family squeezed into the car. Driving down the FDR to Williamsburg, an excited dread filled the stuffy air. Our first cousins were practically strangers. The noise level made conversation impossible. Yet parties are fun and one thing was sure, my grandmother would give Chanukah gelt and toys.

The women and girls crowded into the kitchen, while the men were in the dining room. The little kids sat on the floor playing with the tchachkes my grandmother distributed. Every year the scene would repeat itself, until I was too old for any of the toys, books, or hair accessories that filled the huge bag next to my grandmother’s big black shoes. Then I’d stand on the side, and watch my grandmother’s eyes taking in the scene of chaos and nachas.

Over the years, as I matured and even agreed to taste her special Pesach foods — flemmel cooked into the soup or griben with liver — I appreciated the pain-filled memories she would share. Exact descriptions of how the maids took the laundry to a river and how the hot water with soap mixed in large wooden barrels ensured sparkling clean laundry. Snippets about a washboard and tedious hours of labor still ring in my ear. 

Related Stories

Coloring Out of the Lines

Esther Kurtz

At least Debby is entertaining when she harasses me. But Paint Nite? Seriously? I’d send a donation,...


Bracha Stein

Involuntarily, Chava smoothed her sheitel, but her brown bob couldn’t hold a candle to Miri’s locks....

Best Foot Forward

Rikki Ehrlich

“Just four pairs of shoes. But such class. Such style.” A pause. “Such middos. And she’d draped a st...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Out with the Girls
Yonoson Rosenblum Another progressive revolution that eats its own
And I Will Glorify Him
Eytan Kobre Herman Wouk “made G-d a bestseller”
What You've Learned
Alexandra Fleksher Allow me to let you in on what school is all about
Going Broke
Mishpacha Readers Reader feedback for “The Kids Are Going to Camp..."
Top 5 Ways Jews Try to Lose Weight
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Gaining weight and talking about losing weight
He Soaked Up Our Pain
Rabbi Yaakov Klein A tribute to Reb Shlomo Cheshin ztz”l
Leaving on a High Note
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman And then it happened. I knew it would
Family Matters
Baruch S. Fertel, MD, MPA, FACEP Not the answers they teach in medical school
Play the Night Away
Riki Goldstein May we all share simchahs, no strings attached!
Fast Thinking
Faigy Peritzman How we react when we're exempt from a mitzvah
Baalat Teshuvah
Rachel Karasenti Don’t ask, “So how did you become frum?”
Confessions of a PhD Graduate
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When it comes to parenting, we’re always learning
Dear Favorite Little Sis
Anonymous I ended up wanting to be like you
Who's Making My Phone Calls?
Sara Eisemann Should I be upfront that I’m calling for myself?