A Window Into the Heart

Growing up I think I always felt a little starved for attention.  In my family there were five children and I was the middle (older brother, older sister, me, younger sister, younger brother).  My Dad was an alcoholic, which kept a lot of everyone’s attention on him, and on the drama that was my parents’ marriage, so there was even less attention available for me.  (As many of you adult children of alcoholics can attest, in many ways an alcoholic home is an insane environment.)

So it was a big treat to get to spend the occasional night at my Grandparents’.  My Mom’s parents, my Poppy and Grandma Jessie, were, in my opinion, perfect Grandparents.  They doted on us.  Listening with rapt fascination to our triumphs, sympathizing with our defeats, celebrating our victories.  They were genuinely nice people who adored their Grandchildren.

We lived in the suburbs, central Westchester, in a four bedroom, two bathroom house.  They lived in the city, the Bronx, in a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment.  Trips to their apartment were like visits to a different world.   Dinners at one of the local Jewish deli’s, trips to the newspaper store for penny candies, the Bronx Zoo, the el (the elevated part of the NY subway system), sitting in the park listening to the accents, the yiddish, the kvetching and the kvelling.  And always being introduced as the light of their lives, the cleverest, most talented, most extraordinary grandchild one could hope for.  (It was actually a bit embarrassing, their unabashed joy in me, but embarrassing in a good way.)

Sometimes, when I was very lucky, I was invited to stay the night with Poppy and Grandma Jessie.  I imagine that they had worked out a schedule with my parents to ensure equal sleep-over time for each of us, but the invitation was always welcome.  For one night I was the only child!  For one night I got all the attention, all the doting, all the love.

At bedtime I would brush my teeth, get into my pajamas and go to bed first.  They had a day bed in a corner of their bedroom for just this purpose.  After both of them kissed me goodnight and tucked me in, they went to living room to watch a little TV (turned much louder than I was used to.)

And so began their bedtime ritual.  When Perry Mason or Lawrence Welk was over, Grandma would come into the bedroom and shut the window that had been open during the day to “air the room out.”  Taking her nightie with her she’d go into the bathroom to change and do her evening ablutions.

After the News ended, Poppy would come in, open the window, take some deep breaths, then go into the bathroom that Grandma was just vacating.

Seeing the open bedroom window, Grandma would shiver and walk over and close the window.  Then she would go to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Poppy, back from the bathroom and seeing the closed window, would walk over and open it.  Realizing he’d left the book he was reading in the living room he’d go get it.

Meanwhile Grandma, carrying her water glass would return to the bedroom and seeing the open window, would go over and close it.  Poppy, book in hand would come back to the bedroom and reopen the window, get in bed and read.  After awhile he would fall asleep with the book on his chest.  Grandma would quietly get up, put the book on his nightstand, turn off his lamp and…yep, you guessed it…shut the window.  Climbing back in bed with a sigh of satisfaction, she’d turn off her light and soon also be asleep.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when the room began to feel too stuffy for him, Poppy would wake up, quietly get out of bed, open the window a crack, get back into bed and go back to sleep.

Sometimes, later in the night, hearing a car horn or a train whistle, Grandma would wake up, quietly get out of bed, close the window, get back into bed and go back to sleep.

They were married for 60 years.  They each knew that the other was the love of their life.  I never heard them argue about the window or even discuss the window, except when one of us Grandkids would ask “Poppy, why do you always open the window?”

“The radiators make the room too stuffy,” he’d tell us.

“Grandma, why do you always shut the window?  Don’t you get stuffy? we’d ask.

“The street noise keeps me awake” she’d explain.

Questions answered they thought no more about it.

Poppy passed away in 1983.  After he was gone, Grandma continued to live in that apartment for another 9 years.

On a visit to her a few years after Poppy was gone, I happened to be in her bedroom in the evening and noticed her opening the window.  Opening the window!  I thought she must be going senile.  I thought of all those years of the two of them opening and closing the bedroom window.  I had to ask “Grandma, you finally have the place to your self.  You can have the windows however you want them.  Why in the world did you just open that window?”

“Well, you know, I hear the street noises and feel the chill in the air and it makes me think of Poppy…”

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