Andrew Greene (530nm330hz) wrote,
Andrew Greene

Memories of my Oma

Today (i.e., tonight and tomorrow) is the 21st Jahrzeit of my Oma, Frieda (Friedmann) Bissinger. I wanted to capture some memories that I have of her; I suppose that this technically qualifies as a genealogy post, in that I'm recording family history. But today I'm not going to talk about her origins in Germany, or the story of her escape in August 1939 to England, or how she came to America. I'm not going to trace her family line back N generations. Nor am I going to talk about those last hard months of her life.

Today is a day for reflecting on the love in my relationship with my Oma.

My grandmother, my Oma, was a Yekke, and I say that with pride and admiration. There were expectations, and they were clear, and on the (hopefully rare) occasions when they were not met, her disapproval was palpable. But she was warm and loving, and doted on my sister and me.

At some point she realized that the standard Yiddish nickname for a grandchild was "bubbele," but that wasn't really a native part of her vocabulary. She spoke German, not Yiddish. Also, her father had passed away before she was married; her mother perished in Terezin; her brother died, childless, at Buchenwald. And my mother was born in England, not Germany. All this I explain in order to help you understand that the word "bubbele" was, as I said, not actually a word my Oma had really heard used by grandparents. So when she tried to call me that, it became "bullyboo." And that was her nickname for me as long as she lived. I was her "bullyboo."

Oma lived about 2 miles from our house, so when my parents went out, my sister and I would have a sleepover at Oma's. We'd watch "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right", and then she'd feed us Howard Johnson's Mocha Chip ice cream. In the mornings, while we waited to be picked up, my sister and I would play War with Oma's two decks of playing cards from the Chase Manhattan Bank -- one with dark blue backs, one with dark green.

Sometimes Oma would take us down the brick stairs from the dead-end traffic circle in front of her apartment, across Park Drive East, to the playground in Flushing Meadow Park. This was on the east side of the lake; my other grandmother would take us to the west side of the same lake, where she lived; somehow, that seemed nicely balanced.

The one game that Oma and I would play together -- over and over -- was Trouble.

Oma would join us every Friday night for Shabbat dinner. I don't have any particular stories about that, but it's a warm memory. And on Yom Tovs, Oma would show up with flowers for us children to give our mother.

Oma was a saleslady at B. Altman & Co., the department store in New York. She worked, I believe, in the ladies' department, at the flagship store on 34th St., diagonally across from the Empire State Building. I didn't care about the ESB so much: My Oma worked at the most beautiful store in New York. I used to watch the elevators (still operated by humans, with manually-operated gates) while Mom shopped. Altman's took really good care of their employees --- for example, even into the 1980s, the employee cafeteria charged 25 cents for lunch, and if an employee spent more than $100 on any purchase, it was 50% off. As you can imagine, we got my Bar Mitzvah suit there.

As we grew up, Oma continued to favor us with love and support. And chocolate. Every Pesach, she gave us chocolate cocoa beans.

Oma was the kind of survivor who didn't talk about it. I know that her memories of Germany were bitter. But she was able to start over, and to build a new life here. At her funeral and shiva, a number of women from her seniors club made the effort to come, and told us how much they would miss her.

I am glad that she and Heather had a few years to get to know each other, even if Oma didn't live long enough to celebrate our wedding.

Of course she spent every seder with us. Her favorite part was the songs at the end, in particular "Ki Lo Naeh, Ki Lo Yaeh." Most people I know today don't know any tunes for that song, and often skip it. But I never do. That tune is my Oma's memory to me, as I'm certain it was her father's memory to her.

Tags: family, genealogy, judaism

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