A Prayer for my Grandma Nina

by Isabella on February 28, 2015

It’s interesting how memories form. From an early age, you see, you experience, you feel, and you store them somewhere in your brain. As we grow older, newer and newer memories fill your head, pushing older ones deeper away.  We run around, busy with our lives, working, doing, achieving.  Sometimes it is only when someone you’ve known and loved your whole life is just barely holding on to theirs that you realize how important it is to slow down and just remember….

This is for my one and only beloved Babulia:

Babulia, I remember how when I was 3,4,5, we used to get up and do our morning exercise from an old russian exercise booklet. I remember how I’d tell you that you’re not doing the exercises correctly and you’d just smile and say “balay baba” (grandma’s little one).  You taught me to exercise.

I remember how I used to jump onto your back as you sat on the sofa, and you’d rock me back and forth and sang songs in an ancient language that immediately connects me to you.  You taught me how to be affectionate and the love for music.

I remember how you’d buy me sunflower seeds from the lady around the corner from our house and how we’d sit at the kitchen table and peel them together. We’d have to eat them quickly, because mama didn’t want me to eat sunflower seeds, but you’d buy them for me anyway. Then when she’d come home, you’d still tell her that we bought them, because you were so proud and happy that I counted the sunflower seeds and divided them so we can each have exactly half. You taught me how to be kind and share.

I remember how you washed my underwear in the sink when I was little and how you showed me how to help you wash them. You taught me how to do laundry by hand and then later on, when I was about 7, how to do laundry in a big industrial size machine.

I remember how during the gulf war, when sirens were howling, I ran up 4 flights of stairs looking for you, so we could get shelter in the building’s basement.  When I found you, you were leisurely coming down the stairs and smiling. You said “you call this war? this is not a war, this is just sirens”.  You taught me to be courageous and to smile in the face of fear and adversity.

I remember that time that you tried to dye your hair brown, but instead it came out bright orange.  You walked with orange hair for 2 months, and held your head up high, knowing that you were beautiful.  You taught me to always feel beautiful and proud of who I am, no matter the situation.

I remember sitting with you at the bus stop next to our immigration housing while you talked with other grandmas.  You’d let me be part of the conversation. You let me practice all the silly foreign accents I’d learned from all my immigrant friends. You’d laugh at my attempts at being funny, as if I was the best stand up comedian. You taught me that even if I am not the best at something, that you love me nonetheless.

I remember that time that I wanted to feed a stray sick dog, and even though beef cost a lot and we were poor, you allowed me to take all the meatballs out of the soup to feed it to the dog anyway. You taught me that kindness matters more than riches.

I remember all those times that we’d pass a begging person on the street, and you’d give whatever little you had. You’d tell me that one should always give to a reaching hand, and always feed a hungry mouth.  You taught me that even if you are at your lowest, someone else might be worse off, and that kindness will eventually be repaid with kindness, maybe not directly to me, but to my kids or grandkids.

I remember how we’d walk in the Israeli summer heat to shop at the cheap  vegetable market and how we’d walk back across town with heavy bags of groceries.  You never once complained, even though you were already 63 years old. You taught me how to be tough and resilient.

I remember all those times you’d make me fresh squeezed pomegranate or carrot juice. How’d you’d chase me around the apartment, forcing me to drink it, yelling “vitamini”. Now, years later, having tried to make my own pomegranate juice, I know what hard work it was for you.  I wish that I drank every single drop of juice you made me because it was a labor of love. You taught me that we work really hard to keep the ones we love healthy.

I remember how aside from juice, you’d make me eggnog with raw eggs and sugar and some over easy eggs to eat, and even though I hated both of those things, you told me I must eat them so I can grow.  You taught me how to feed stubborn children while still keeping a smile on my face.

I remember that time we took a bus to your sister’s house with only an address written on a tiny piece of paper. I was little, and all you knew to say in Hebrew was ‘toda raba’ or thank you.  We got lost on several buses, but eventually, with help from people, smiles and thank yous, we found our way to her house.  You taught me that even getting lost can be a fun adventure and that I can always find my way with kindness and a thank you.  You taught me to never be scared, and that its’ ok to ask for help.

I remember that time we decided to make donuts for hanukkah from scratch because store bought were too expensive.  We almost burned our tiny kitchen down with hot oil.  Although the donuts were nothing like store bought, they were delicious because we made them together. You taught me that even if my cooking experiments fail, try try again.

I remember how every time I got sunburned, which was a lot, you’d immediately try to cover me with cold sour cream.  Apparently that’s what Russian Jewish grandmas do for burns. We’d sit and laugh about how silly I looked and how funny I smelled with sour cream on my back.  You taught me to appreciate the simple home remedies.

I remember all the yummy food you made. My favorite kotletki with mashed potatoes, pilaf with beef and countless other foods. Now that I cook for my children, I realize how difficult it was for you to make me gnocchi with tomato sauce from scratch, only to then grind walnuts to put on top, without a grinder, just so I can have the dish I like.  With your cooking, you taught me love, and that nothing can ever be as good as grandma’s.

I remember the summer that mama had a seizure, and without flinching, you stuck your finger in her mouth so she didn’t choke on her own tongue.  As she bit down hard on your finger, you calmly told me to go get help and watched over her until she came to.  You had no medical training and you did what you could to save your child, with whatever you had.  You taught me to be resourceful, stay cool, calm and collected and that in cases of emergency, you don’t talk, you act.

I remember how every Yom Kippur for years you’d take us to have a chicken spun over our heads.  Apparently the chicken would take our sins away, and then we’d donate it to a family in need. Eventually, we finally convinced you that donating money to the synagogue is more efficient than spinning chickens, and you agreed.  You taught me to hold on to my traditions, but not so rigidly that I cannot respect other people’s beliefs and values.

I remember how at 63 years of age, you decided to take a job wrapping plastic utensils and napkin sets for an airline company. We’d go together and sit in a tiny hot room full of immigrants just like us and fill the bag.  A bag of 500 paid 5 shekels, but nevertheless, you took pride in that dollar and fifty cents.  You told me that an honest days work is all that matters, no matter how little you made. You taught me to work hard.

I remember the time you won 3000 shekels in the city lottery and immediately went and bought more lottery tickets with all that money.  mama was very upset, but you knew that it’s ok, because you didn’t have that money to begin with and it was worth a shot. You taught me that sometimes risks pay off, and sometimes they don’t, but you should never be afraid to take them.

I remember the day I came home crying because some kid stole the money I made selling used books at the book fair.  You told me that money comes and goes, and I shouldn’t cry over it.  You said that maybe the boy needed it more than I did. You taught me to forgive people, and to always wish them good things, even if they wronged me.

I remember the day I introduced my husband to you.  You told mama that he has “sipot malah”, or the face of an angel.  Your intuition was right, he has been my angel, the bestest friend a person can have.  You taught me to always trust my intuition.

Now, as a grown woman, I reflect on your life.  I realize that by the time you were my age, you’ve already been working for 16 years.  You got accepted into a music academy with only a 5th grade education, only to give it up so you can work and support your mom.  You carried 4 children, to only have one survive. You were a single mom, working 50 hours a week, raising a 2 year old and taking care of an elderly mom all on your own.  You then worked hard as a barber for 40 years, you were loved and respected by co-workers and patrons, and when you finally retired…you went on to take care of me.  And then when you were done taking care of me, you continued to take care of yourself, until you couldn’t any longer.

When I remember you, I won’t focus on how your memory faded away over the last 10 years. And I won’t feel sad that sometimes you were with us and sometimes you weren’t. I will focus on the positive, like you always taught me to do. Over the last 10 years, you got to slow down, to rest, to get taken care of instead of being the caretaker. To spend more time with your daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren. To have your hair and  nails done for you, to have food cooked for you. To be bathed gently and spoken to kindly. To listen to your favorite music, and to sleep as much as you wanted.  Although we didn’t always understand how this disease was taking you away, we poured all the love you gave us back into taking care of you the best we could and we hope you felt it.

I will choose to remember the funny, witty, kind, firecracker of a woman you were and I know still are. The woman who despite having a hard life never complained, never gave up, and just continued on.  The woman who even through adversity, smiled, laughed and thrived. The woman who loved yummy food, loved music and always danced with her arms up in the air.

You have shown me that there’s nothing in life worth crying over.  There’s nothing in life that is so scary that you cannot overcome it. You have shown me how to laugh in the face of difficulty, how to give even when you have nothing, how to be strong even when you’re at your weakest and how to always be thankful for everything you have.  You have taught me that as long as you are surrounded by the people you love, everything is possible and nothing else matters.

I have countless memories of you my dearest Babulia.  Memories of us playing cards and how you’d let me win. Of us dancing to kavkazi music with our hands up in the air. Of us watching the Bold and the Beautiful in English with Hebrew subtitles and how you knew exactly what was happening, even though you didn’t speak English or read Hebrew. Endless memories of sitting with you, singing with you, laughing with you, playing, eating and being happy.

Happy, strong and joyful is how I will remember you forever. Every time I hear a familiar song, every time I make kotletkis with mashed potatoes. Every time I eat sunflower seeds. Everytime I wash my children’s poopy underwear or make them healthy juice. Every time I look into my little Nina’s eyes, I will remember the neverending light of your kind eyes.  I will forever remember you by honoring who you are.  I will try to be as kind, giving, loving, selfless and charitable as you always were and to teach my children the same. I am who I am, because of you. I love you endlessly.

To anyone reading this, please pray for my grandma Benavsha (Nina) Melichova who is now in hospice. Pray that she stays with us for as long as she can, and that her time here is peaceful and painless.  Pray that when it’s time for her to leave, that she leaves peacefully surrounded by kind angels.

Lastly, please donate in the name of my grandma Nina to the alzheimer’s foundation – http://www.alz.org/ , but only if you can.  Hopefully one day we’ll find a cure, and no person on this earth will ever have to forget all the wonderful things that should be remembered.

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  • shoshanna

    Wow im so sorry to hear! I cried reading this. Tyota Nina is in my heart and prayers. She’s such an amazing woman. I love that picture with my mom and rachel <3

    • Isabella

      thank you Shoshana

  • Rachel

    Ya Lublu teebiyeh tyota Nina! Thank you for sharing this. I will always remember tyota Nina as the lovely character she was❤️

    • Isabella

      thank you Rachel

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