January 07, 2012

My Nanny

Esther and Joe, 1940
Note how she
shows off her legs!
Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of my maternal grandmother, Esther Aaronson Poppel. I know this because my mom mentioned last week that she had a yahrzeit coming up. (Yahrzeit is the Yiddish word for the anniversary of the death of a loved one.) I asked my mother to consult Nanny's death certificate, did a little math, and indeed, it's been thirty years.

I'm named for my maternal grandfather Joseph, who died before I was born. So my grandmother was widowed young and never remarried. She was a constant presence in my earliest years, before we left New York. When we moved to Cincinnati, Nanny took her own apartment in Yonkers.

1961: I am 2 years old
and my sister is 6 months

Nanny came to visit us every year for a month at a time. We carried on with our usual lives. Mom and Dad worked, my sister and I went to school, and when we came home, Nanny was there. She was a diabetic and so we always had special treats when Nanny came to visit.

My grandmother also had breast cancer. I don't know how old she was at the time of her diagnosis, but she had a mastectomy. I once saw her breast form drying in the bathroom and it took me a long time to figure out what it was. We never discussed her health, and she lived a long time after her cancer treatment. She was in her 80s when she died. A look at her birth and death certificates reveal that she was a few years older than her husband, a secret she never told my mother.

After Nanny's funeral, my mother told my sister and I that we could take any one thing from her apartment as a memento. I had always been fond of a purple glass sugar bowl and creamer and still have it after all these years, although the sugar bowl is chipped. (I found a similar set for sale here, although my creamer has a purple handle and the sugar bowl has no lid.) Evidently I have good taste - this is now a valuable collectible. But for me it's a memory of my beloved grandmother.


  1. Interesting read! Your granny had survived cancer till her 80s is something really great. She seems to be a very strong women. :)

  2. Your sugar bowl and creamer are collectible indeed. They've collected a lifetime of memories.