Among friends and relatives there is an unusual concentration of birthdays in November. For example, the 12th, 13th and 14th are birthdays of my wife, my daughter (plus Chris Locke and JP Rangaswami) and my grandmother, respectively.
That’s Grandma Searls, on the left. Born in 1882, she would have been 129 years old today. She died in 1990, just short of 108. Her daughter Grace Apgar, my aunt, will be 100 next June.
I like this picture of Grandma, because that’s how I remember her best. The shot was taken in Ju;y, 1953. Grandma was 70 at the time.
It’s a close-up from this group shot, at her little summer place back in the woods of South Jersey. Our little summer place was at the other end of a winding path through the blueberries. The third point of our summer home triangle was Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack Dwyer‘s place. Paths led from both of the other houses to that one. Aunt Florence was Grandma’s younger sister. Uncle Jack took the picture with one of those large-format bellows cameras. I’m the curly-headed kid in the front row with the beer. I turned six at the end of July, the month this was shot.
Grandma was the third of the four Englert Sisters, all of whom were also in fine health then (and lived many more years as well). Here they are as kids, with their dad, Henry Roman Englert, then head of the Steel & Copperplate Engravers Union in New York. Here they are again, that same summer of ’53, at the beach.
Grandma grew up at 732 E. 142nd Street in The Bronx, which looked like this in 1885 and is today a parking lot. The house where Grandma raised three kids in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at 2063 Hoyt Avenue, is also gone. In fact, the whole street is wiped out. Too close to the George Washington Bridge, which my father helped build, as a cable rigger. All three of our summer places are gone too, replaced by a bank and a shopping center.
But what lives is the love. Grandma was one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. Pop told me she was a tough mom when he was growing up, but for us grandkids she was a saint. She loved kids totally, always welcomed and fed us, loved to read us stories (in her warm Bronx accent) and tuck us into bed when we spent the night (which was always a treat). She never had a critical word to say, and was always full of encouragement and support.
This is all strong in my mind right now as my own two grandkids sleep upstairs in their house here in Baltimore, where I’ve been visiting.
Grandparenting is different than parenting. Even these many years later, Grandma is still teaching me that.