It’s that Tottoo Grandma. Distinguishing between his two grandmothers, that was how my eldest son Judd announced that it was my mother on the phone when he answered as a young toddler. He named her Tottoo because she called him Tatella…Yiddish for “little man.” My children were privileged to develop a special bond with my mother of blessed memory. She lived 97 years, closer to 98. She would have been 100 today and we all remember her in our own way.
When I spoke with Judd, he was off to the grocery store in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where he lives. He wanted to find a box of his favorite cookies that Tottoo would buy for him whenever she was in the grocery store. His own birthday follows two days after my mother’s. He was due two days before her special day and we waited with added anticipation to see if he would be born on her 73rd birthday.
In the stores nearby his apartment there were no familiar boxes of the nostalgic kosher, pareve jelly cookies. In conversation, he mentioned that they sell them at the ShopRite supermarket in Livingston, New Jersey. He added, “But that’s OK.”
I suppose you know where I will be going this morning. First, to ShopRite and then to the local post office to overnight a package of jelly cookies so that they arrive in time for his 27th birthday celebration in two days.
My daughter Rina has a classic photo of my parents as her screensaver on her iPhone. That took me by surprise when it accidently appeared before my eyes as I picked up her pink phone, thinking it was my red one, when she was home from Los Angeles on vacation. Naturally, I wrote a story about it and sent it off to the newspaper. The editor asked for a better resolution of the photo and Rina was able to send it from her Smartphone. Tottoo would have said her klug phone, emphasizing the Yiddish word for “smart,” just the way she referred to her grandchildren.
Rina and our younger son Moss volunteered to eulogize Tottoo at her funeral in December 2012. They drew excerpts from my manuscript and added their own fond memories. “A homemaker extraordinaire, my mother was completely devoted to her family. Before she became wheelchair-bound at 87, the kitchen was her domain and she rarely left the room. She loved to cook, bake, and make all kinds of specialties, even in the summertime at the bungalows in the Catskills...” They went on capturing the life of their Tottoo in my words and theirs. Afterwards, friends told me they rarely have left a funeral feeling like they knew the person.
My parents were married for 57 years. I posted that picture Rina forwarded of them frolicking in their heyday on Facebook this morning. The “likes” and comments from my cousins and friends will enhance the day.
Of all the things I did in my life, I am most grateful that our children spent as much time as they did with their grandparents. My mother gave them the biggest bang for the buck, living into their adulthood. I credit her for molding them into the great adults they have become. While she was infirm and couldn’t hug them with her arms, she embraced them with her words of encouragement and her smiles.
I wrote the story of my life and included lots of remembrances and recipes my mother was able to review. She often said, “When are you ever going to be done with that book?” Today, I will sign a contract with a literary agent. I’ll tell my husband and three older brothers to plan to have our universal favorite comfort food, Tottoo’s baked spaghetti, for supper.
From his home in the Catskills, my cousin Irv, whose family owned the Mountain View bungalow colony in Livingston Manor, emailed: “Happy birthday to Cousin Idam, the best cook in the world.”
What better gifts to celebrate the 100th day since Tottoo Grandma graced the Earth?
By Sharon Mark Cohen