On his 97th birthday, my grandfather bought me bright red lipstick. Grandpa, Dad and I had just gone out for lunch in Midtown. The gift recalled a lunch outing a few years earlier.
It was an October afternoon. I’d left the Village after my morning grad school classes, and my sister Jackie had trekked East across 34th Street from her office. We met Gramps at a deli near Macy’s. He took the subway from 161st Street, near the Stadium, happy to break loose from the apartment and Dad’s protestation that he wouldn’t or shouldn’t come downtown on his own any longer. Grandpa Morris and Grandma Ruth already had more than a decade of lunching history with Jackie and me. Wherever we worked in Manhattan in our college summers and post college years, they showed up smiling proudly, Morris in a jacket and tie, sometimes a hat and overcoat, Grandma in an elegant dress, Ferragamo shoes and the kind of handbag held by women of a certain age.
After lunch, Jackie headed back to her office. I wanted to go across the street to Macy’s. Grandpa had planned to return home after lunch, but I convinced him that he could indeed be a constructive shopping accomplice. One pair of loden green suede boots and one Think Bronze lipstick later, we parted with a hug and a laugh. Later that night, Dad chuckled that Grandpa had fun. And Grandma (who wore only fuchsia Chanel lipstick) claimed she did not believe that he really helped.
We have told and retold that story. When Grandpa was alive, he and I evoked the memory with just a few words. Like the Saturday night a few years later when we were talking and I said, “Grandpa, I’ve got to go put on my makeup and get out the door.”
He responded, “I wish I could be there to help you pick it out.”
Or in the Chanukah note he wrote to accompany a check: “In the spirit of this gift, buy yourself cosmetics, shoes without my assistance.”
Grandpa died in 2002, just shy of his 103rd birthday. Today would have been his 117th birthday. It’s Passover, too, a holiday Morris loved, seeing everyone and sitting at the table bending the ear of the person lucky enough to be next to him, telling stories upon stories. We always worried that Morris was talking the ear off of whomever that was– my friends Barb, Jay, Ellie, Uncle Fred. All assured us, though, that listening to Morris’ stories was a delight, which I believed, knowing he was an engaging conversationalist. And each year I led the seder, I asked Morris to talk about seder of his youth, in a tenement on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, with his Rumanian immigrant parents, Avram and Frima. Morris told his story, and he brought the reality of freedom to our table.
Last night I sat at the seder table, with someone else’s 94-year old, nattily dressed grandfather, another nonagenarian who can tell a good story. His granddaughter reminded me of myself as she lovingly attending to and worried about her grandfather. I wanted to tell her a million things as she allowed me to journey back to sitting at the seder table with Morris, hear his voice and see his face.
And this morning I woke up with the urge to go lipstick shopping