Steeped in Sepia

“Unloved Boat – Tintype” by NoJuan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

My grandparents, Ely and Ada Bloom, peer at me through
the convex glass of their mahogany hexagonal frames. Ada,

about 22 then, recently from England, Ely, ten years her senior,
born in Poland, raised on a farm in Chenango. Pa, as we called him,

poses in an overcoat he’s sewn himself, and a homburg pulled low,
served in WW1, knew every bawdy line of “Mademoiselle from Armentieres,”

Parlez-vous? that he sang for the male customers in his shop while I, his youngest
granddaughter, pretending not to listen, stirred up spindrifts of lint. Ada,

lips still full, brown eyes shining, wears a Gibson Girl blouse, her dark hair piled in a loose
chignon. From her hands—pale, delicate as lilies beneath the lace flounces at her wrists,

you’d never believe she used to shout in cockney, Shit in your hat and punch it
when she lost at bingo, or that she would open her own millinery shop and candy store,

work both as she raised three children and buy a whole block of three-story rentals.
During the Depression, when the banks foreclosed, Pa took to his bed with “brain fever.”

After a month, Ada ordered, Ely, get up right now or drop dead, and he rose
like a doughy Lazarus. I remember the menthol / wintergreen blast of Sloan’s Liniment

when I entered their house, and Sophie Tucker wailing “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas”
from the Victrola, the small, rounded, honeyed, braided pastries, taiglach, Ada made for us

with strands of her still-dark hair stuck to them, Pa’s rumbling cough from the cigarettes he
rolled himself, the reddening of his plump face when he knocked back a schnapps, the mixed-up

tales he told us like The Pied Piper and the Three Bears. I remember how before each simcha,
each wedding or bar mitzvah, we prayed that Ada and Pa would be there,

like I pray their pictures won’t be thrown away
someday by my children.

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