L'Chaim / Living Judaism
February 3, 1998 / 7 Shevat, 5758

To Bubbe's house we go!

By Ted Roberts

MY OLD BUBBE on my mother's side wore high-top shoes and black dresses that covered her shoetops. She moved in a mist of cologne that simulated, with incredible fidelity, the scent of stewed chicken and onions. Or maybe she didn't wear cologne -- maybe she carried that tantalizing scent honestly -- due to long hours over a dutch oven full of chicken and onions.

"Let's go see Grandma," my mother would say. That's another thing that's changed -- the title itself. We never called her Bubbe. How "old-fashioned" -- that was a word for greenhorns, not first-generation Americans like my mama. My pals all used the term "grandma," except my flaky friend, Herb, who called his mother's mother "Noodles" --- short for her Noodle Kugel. Herb's favorite meal. But even Herb never said "Bubbe."

A visit to Grandma meant I would be put through a personal inspection accenting posture, cleanliness, and general physical health. To go or not to go. On one hand there was that oniony chicken or maybe homemade Gefilte fish. (Even Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel -- all mothers in Israel -- didn't make homemade gefilte fish. At least it's not recorded in Genesis.) On the other hand, if I had even the slightest sniffle, I might end up on Grandma's couch with her rubbing chicken fat on my chest. If I was lucky, her supply of schmaltz had been used up frying onions, and my poultice was Vicks Vaporub. Vicks had a piney scent of menthol that came off after a couple of days of steady bathing before and after meals. The chicken schmaltz took a week, unless it was rancid, and then you were branded for life (or at least until you escaped adolescence) and picked up a nickname like "Schmaltzy."

After the rubdown, the conversation would go as follows:

Grandma: "Teddy, have a nice bowl of chicken soup -- you'll feel better."

Teddy: "I feel great, Grandma. Besides, it's July -- the tires are melting on my bike. It's 98 degrees in the shade and..."

Grandma: "Uh, Teddy, it's either the soup or another chicken schmaltz rubdown. Your choice, bubbele."

Teddy: "I'd love a bowl of chicken soup, Grandma. And gimme a bowl to go for my little brother."

At Grandma's house, there was always a lot of chicken by-products -- soup, fat, fliegeles (wings) -- to be consumed.

This symbiotic relationship between Bubbes and the chicken species I understood even then. Grandmothers cull the herds. If chickens were left alone, they'd overpopulate their natural range, thereby reducing drumsticks to the size of match sticks. And if not for the frying, stewing, and baking of fowls, Jewish grandmothers would have been on the phone all day with nervous daughters-in-law. "So what will you cook for Irving's supper tonight that he won't hate like last night? Oh, sure he called me -- MY BOY IS SUFFERING."

Unlike the bubbes of today who read Cosmopolitan and have not time for chickens, my grandmother never took me to a baseball game or fast food restaurant. And not once did she ask for a play-by-play account of my date with Sharon McKovsky.

Ah, how the years work their transformations. Now, I have neither a grandmother or bubbe, but I'm married to one. Four grandchildren with no respect for a Zayde's sensitivity to age, call my wife "Bubbe." And sometimes, with a nod to modernity, "Bubs."

Of course, the only thing worse than being the hubby of a Bubbe is the title of Zayde. That's where I draw the line. A Zayde is a guy with 2 or 3 teeth who plays pinochle and smokes a pipe. The last grandchild who called me Zayde got a rigged, plastic dreidel for his Chanukah present that was inscribed "you lose" on ALL sides. Zayde I'm not ready for.

My old Bubbe had two sayings I'll never forget: number one, "Always wear clean underwear. You never know, G-d forbid, when you'll be in an accident." Number two: "If you gotta talk about your problems, tell 'em to a stone in the backyard." Not an attitude appreciated by psychotherapists or repentant druggies, or the confessional junkies of our blabbermouth society.

Like I say, Bubbes ain't what they used to be. Times have changed. See if you don't agree with the following chart:


Favorite clothes:Dracula's cloak -- only longerpantsuit/jogging suit
Favorite song:My Yiddishe MamaWind Beneath My Wings
Favorite singer:Molly PiconCeline Dion
Favorite food:Tsimmes (mostly potato, light on carrots)Pizza with sun-dried tomatoes
Favorite drink:Hot teaPerrier with a squeeze
Favorite expression:Oy vey!Charge it!

Take your Bubbe to lunch today. I wish I could take mine. And if Zayde wants to go, tell him to bring his wallet.

New JWR contributor Ted Roberts is a nationally syndicated humorist based in Huntsville, Alabama.


© 1998, Ted Roberts