Ma Vie En Rose Part 2
No! I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I inherited a very special one when I discovered it in a wooden box of silver plate flatware that had belonged to my aunt. When I saw what was engraved on the back, I knew that it had belonged to my father’s mother, my grandmother Etta, whom I called “big Grandma” because my mother’s mother was so much shorter.
The reason I know with absolutely certainty that the silver demitasse spoon belonged to her was because the engraving read: R.Wallace A1 Mayfair House and that is where my grandmother worked as “finisher” in the sewing repair room of the hotel in the 1930’s. (The Mayfair House became a New York City Landmark in 1981.)
The spoon is so small that occasionally I think I’ve lost it and go into deep panic because it is my connection to a past long gone; and also because I am familiar with exactly how much sugar it measures, and most of all because it feels so right in my mouth—so smooth and gently curved. It is my every night after dinner comfort—an espresso with a little heavy cream, sugar, and that spoon stirring it and getting licked for the last drop.
Both of my grandmothers were in the garment industry. My mother’s mother took care of me up until I was 5, while my mother spent the day working as a dentist and orthodontist. When my grandfather died she came to live with us, and continued to care for me and my younger brother while my mother continued to work.
Grandma gave me one of my first toys—a fat wooden crochet hook on which I would warp a long piece of yarn. ‘Cheynenu’ was one of my first words and it took a while of crying to get my dad to understand what it was that I wanted. And I still remember my relief when she didn’t scold me for getting a loosely knitted garment caught up in her treadle sewing machine.
My dad gave me three other treasures of my very young years: he built me a sandbox with the fine sand from the nearby beach in Far Rockaway; he made me a wooden jigsaw puzzle, and he let me play with the little brass extension on his carpenter’s ruler. He also bought me tinker toys which I found a lot less interesting.
When I was about 11, grandma gave me my first cross stitch project. It was a towel with the design of a pear. It is now 64 years old and I keep meaning to frame it. Little did I know at the time that I would marry a man named Beranbaum which means pear tree in German. His father was also in the garment industry.
It was only in recent years that I realized how very special and rare craftsmanship is. I once dated a French chef who told me he could not marry me because he was a “manual” and I an “intellectual.” I thought, at the time, that he was wrong, but now I realize how wise he was but also not entire right because I am both. But he was right not to marry me because my “intellect” could not have long supported his concept that chef’s got fat because by handling food all day long they absorb calories from the pores in fingertips directly into the blood stream. My sense of humor is another story—but he had not been joking. He did have a way with food though. The recipe he taught me, pork stuffed with prunes in a cassis cream sauce, which I wrote up for publication, was once listed as one of the best 50 recipes in the past 50 years of Ladies’ Home Journal.