J. staff writer crafts love letter to grandmother

A letter to my grandmother

J. staff writer Stacey Palevsky composed this letter to her maternal grandmother after being a guest on Janet Gallin’s radio show, “Love Letters Live.” Last week, she stamped and mailed it to her mother in Cleveland. The radio segment will air at 8 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 19 on KUSF-90.3 FM, or on the Internet at www.loveletterslive.com.

Dear Grandma,

Sometimes, when your memory gets fuzzy, I dust off and set up my sewing machine. The rhythm of the needle tying together two pieces of cloth reminds me of afternoons in your Pittsburgh basement, when I watched you work at your mint-green Singer, making sure to never tread barefoot for fear of stepping on needles and pins.

I didn’t realize how amazing you were when I was young. You were my Grandma, the one with white hair (styled weekly), a thick Hungarian accent and a bad habit of saving half-eaten dinner rolls in her purse.

Sure, I noticed the number on your arm. I knew the most simplified version of your survival during the Holocaust. But I didn’t define you by that experience. I thought of you not as a survivor but as a worrywart, a gifted seamstress, a Bubbe who gave me seconds of her delicious chicken soup for fear I never ate enough.

In 2002, I studied abroad in Prague. I ended up living just two blocks from where you and your siblings went after the war. I went to Poland for a weekend; I visited Auschwitz.

Only then did I realize how brave and strong you were, to not only survive that hell but to move beyond it, to make a life for yourself in America, to raise a son and daughter who had an education you didn’t. Your life, suddenly, was my life. Without you, I would not have been alive to testify to the death camps, to travel Europe, to write, to dream.

Then you died. Three weeks after my trip to Poland. Talk about bad timing. I couldn’t go to your funeral. Worse, I couldn’t ask you the dozens of questions boiling over in my mind since seeing Auschwitz. I felt an enormous sense of loss — of everything you were to me, and everything you would never be because I had never asked.

I would have liked to know about your teenage years. Did you date many boys? Did you have a favorite book? What were your friends like? Were you scared when the Nazis knocked on your door? Did you ever stop believing in God?

I never even asked you about coming to America. What the boat ride was like, if you liked your first American job at a coat factory. I don’t even know what you first thought of Grandpa Eugene after you met him, and how you knew he was The One. I don’t know how you learned to sew.

I miss you. That’s actually why I continue to sew — I want to keep your memory alive, and sewing makes me feel connected to you. I like to think you’re with me as I carefully cut and pin fabric. When I finish a project, I can almost hear you, and I know you would feign surprise at my pseudo-talent. You’d tell me how “vonderful and zo beautiful” my creation is, and turn it over in your wrinkled, arthritic hands, admiring the craftsmanship as only another seamstress can.

You are gone. And I do regret not knowing you better. But your memory and strength will always live within me, and future generations. I guess I didn’t tell you that either. But I like to think that regarding this point you always understood.

With love,


COVER STORY – To you, with love Letter-writing benefits authors as much as recipients

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.