Magazine article Psychology Today

The Queen of Slipper City

Magazine article Psychology Today

The Queen of Slipper City

Article excerpt


My grandma's romanticism was rose-colored to be sure, but aware of its own rouge.

MYGRANDmother keeps company with spirits. A Dewar's on the rocks every day at four o'clock on the button, and the spectral kind that rattle around her head. This isn't some crackpot theory; it's a matter of fact. They're here, now, passing through the walls of her old house on Cape Cod, where I've come to finish a book. For a long time, I thought it was a book about divorce- a bedside companion for the boo-hoo crowd, Chicken Soup for Shattered Souls. But while I may have set out to interview people about their most brutal breakups, I'm realizing now, almost four years in, that like most marital spats, it's never about what it's about.

It wasn't always like this- Grandma's spirits, I mean- only since Grandpa died 16 years ago, just shy of their 50th anniversary. We talk about it often, this great love of hers, and as we do, she sips her Scotch, his drink, on her side of their bed. Still, always, on her side of the bed.

"To my Howard!" she says, toasting the ghost with his tumbler.

That's what she calls him now, my Howard, sometimes right to his face. It's a much younger face than I remember, black and white and framed on their bedroom wall. Back when he was here, in color, she always called him Daddy.

To hear her tell it, she never had eyes for another. It was b'shert, she says- the Yiddish word for "destiny." They were neighborhood kids from the same side of the tracks in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a factory town that was known back then as Queen Slipper City because local workers manufactured almost 10 percent of the shoes worn in the United States. The Cinderella subtext wasn't lost on my grandma Rose, whose name no doubt influenced the tint of her gaze.

The first of eight children born to Russian immigrants in 1915, her head has been bumping up against the clouds ever since she could crawl. Where others saw dust, she found glitter, and she came of age air-trumpeting to Cole Porter, daydreaming of a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. And sure enough, as if her destiny had been written in calligraphy, she awoke one day in her teens to find that the love of her life was living just down the road.

My Howard.

"I got a car when I was 16 years old, a convertible," she tells me. "For my first ride, I went looking for him. I wanted to show off a little. So I put on my hat, and looking very nice, I drove by where the boys used to hang around. Sure enough, there he was. He wasn't like other boyshe wasn't a wise guy. I asked him: 'Would you like to go for a ride with me?' And he said, 'No. I'm busy' Just like that: I'm busy.

"Well, I went home and I was hysterical. And my mother said, 'Stop your crying- what's the matter with you? If he didn't want to go with you, so what? You think he's such a bargain?' And I said, 'Well, Mother, he's a bargain to me.'"

After that, he started coming around. A lot. "He would stop by the house three or four times a week," Grandma says, smiling. "Finally, my mother came out on the porch one night and said: 'What's it gonna be with you two?' And that was it. We got married. I never wanted to look at anybody else ever again."

When my grandpa died, I went snooping through his dresser, looking for clues to his character, hoping to find that longlost tchotchke that would reveal the secret longings of a man's soul. His rusty dog tag from the war that earned him a Purple Heart now hangs from a chain in my office. …

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