“I was Penelope,” mami said smiling half-joking, as she was about to tell me one of her stories. That afternoon, we were laying on her in Israel, side by side, sharing a sweet moment of closeness at a time her body was beginning to be ravaged by cancer. Mami was known for her storytelling abilities. Her soft tone had a musical vibration and she could hold a room in rapture. Her eyes would sparkle coming alive when retelling her well-ironed stories. When finding the twist of humor in the stories she would tell, she would laugh with the pleasure of reaching her audience. She often told me, “How come you have no sense of humor?” Totally true, I go for the dramatic, with a splash of the melodramatic.
“What do you mean,” I asked her that afternoon in Israel. She continued, “I used to take my mom’s knitting every night, and redo what she did that day, picking up the dropped stitches. She never found out and the story goes that Penelope, wife of Odysseus, devised a trick to keep away her 108 suitors by telling them that she would choose one when her weaving was finished. Cleverly, every night, she undoes the weaving of the day.”
My grandma, Nagymama, inhabited her green corner chair in Argentina, her throne, knitting or reading the same books in Hungarian, over and over. Her bedroom was across from us, the girls, my sister Karen and I. She lived with us in that home in Argentina until she died when I was 12-years old. With a wrinkle-free face, ocean-blue clear eyes, and a gold block chain necklace, she was a beautiful woman, even in her late 70s and early 80s. She would wash her gray hair in lemon juice to make the grays more brilliant and put her hair up in a coiffed look. She dressed in an old-world matronly style, in one-tone dresses that went down below her knees. She was a religious woman. Sitting at the intersection of our family life, between my parents’ room and the hallway leading to the children’s bedrooms, she couldn’t miss anyone or anything. A good strategy considering she didn’t speak Spanish and we kids, didn’t speak much Hungarian.