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Ices in February

We kids were in a bubble of oblivion, sure that our grandparents existed solely to smother us with endless love, fun, and nosh

First, we would get smooshed with a kiss that lasted a tad too long.

Then, as steady as the traffic on the way up, as inevitable as one of us throwing up in the car, we got ices.

So what if we had just trudged through the foot of snow blanketing Bubba’s massive driveway? If we came in June, we got ices. If we came in February, we got ices. If we came, we got ices. Simple as that.

As far as I can remember, there were no rules. No rooms were off-limits to rambunctious little people, no knick-knacks were grabbed away from inquisitive little hands. So as soon as we had finished dripping ices over the floor and had gobbled down piping-hot sweet potatoes (at seven years old, I thought they were so exotic), we tore through the cozy old house, checking out what was new since our last visit. And with a grandmother who pulled over whenever she saw a “garage sale” sign, there always was something.

Sometimes there were piles of dog-eared books, or quirky tchotchkes, or used toys. Usually there were bikes or riding toys. Once there was a whole dining room set, its crushed velvet cushions a startling shade of mustard. And always there were stuffed animals, some as big as we were.

Was there a rush to get ready for Shabbos, as my grandparents struggled to accommodate our large family in their far-from-spacious home? Maybe. But we kids were in a bubble of oblivion, sure that our grandparents existed solely to smother us with endless love, fun, and nosh. And those ices, of course.

How else would we have had the chutzpah to keep waking my grandmother Shabbos afternoon? It was unfathomable to me why she would even want to sleep when we needed to go to The Lake. We had a longstanding tradition to walk to The Lake on Shabbos afternoons and marvel at the ducks waddling about, even if we had to do it while shivering in our Shabbos coats. If it was June, we went. If it was February, we went. If we were in Monsey, we went. Simple as that. I knew I was doing my grandmother the ultimate favor by waking her up from that silly nap.

“Bubba, can we go to The Lake now?”

“Another ten minutes, sheifeleh.”

I was a good girl. So ten minutes later, not a second past, I was back at her door.

“Bubba, it’s ten minutes, can we go to The Lake now?”

“Another ten minutes, sheifeleh.”

I was dumbfounded. Sleep versus The Lake? How was that even a competition?

But good girl that I was, I resigned myself to waiting another ten minutes. I whiled away the interminable wait with my second-best Shabbos afternoon activity — going through the albums.

My grandparents had a built-in bookcase in the dining room. The top shelves were crammed with well-loved seforim, some of which were antiques. But it was the bottoms shelves that held the real treasures.

If you were lucky and got there before anyone else, you were richly rewarded with albums full of the most fascinating pictures. My mother as a baby with a bonnet tied under her chin. My mother as a toddler with long, wavy hair. My mother as a schoolgirl in a uniform. My mother as a teenager, with short hair and outdated clothing. That glimpse into my mother’s life pre-Mommyhood mesmerized us.

Leaving Motzaei Shabbos was always bittersweet. Those winter nights in Monsey could chill you through and through. Nobody asked for ices. We would squeeze into the backseat of our car, warming each other with our sleepy bodies, and Bubba would cover us with a large blanket, tucking us in tightly against the frigid air. And if that blanket never made it back because a certain little girl snagged it for herself, that was okay. The little girl needed to hold on to the love long after, to lie in bed at night twisting the loose strands and dreaming of the next time she would visit the house in Monsey.


Somehow, inexplicably, I am the Mommy in the front seat of the car now, doing my cheerful best to ignore the ever-increasing battle cries from the back. We don’t go to Monsey as often as I would like, but when we do, it’s coming home all over again.

Here is Bubba, handing out those same ices to the kids. And also to the adults, as my husband and I find ourselves sheepishly licking those dripping sticks. Here are the plastic shopping bags strewn about, telling of her last-minute run to the supermarket. Here are the disposable grills she’s trying to fire up for a summertime meal of franks and roasted marshmallows. Here are the aunts and cousins and grandchildren, gathering for an impromptu get-together, because it’s Visiting Day, and Monsey is only a hop and skip from the mountains, and where would you rather be than here?

(Yerushalayim, my grandmother would answer. Because that’s where her heart and her thoughts and her every conversation turn. Even when she’s reveling in her beautiful family.)

Here is controlled chaos, babies crawling where they shouldn’t, food spilling off crammed picnic tables, laughter and heated conversation and Bubba worrying that maybe she should have also made some burgers.

And here is also nosh. Because what’s a trip to Bubba without a marshmallow or three? And if you pulled some heartstrings (though truthfully, you don’t need to work too hard), you can snag an entire package of Sour Sticks from her never-ending supply. My kids don’t blink as their great-grandmother, forever youthful, doles out the latest in candy fads.

Adult me has half a mind to put a stop to the partying. Guess who has to deal with the vomiting in the car these days? I wish I could tell Bubba that we know she loves us to pieces, that we don’t need all that sticky goo to cement all her love, that she can put all that candy away until Chanukah, or Purim, or forever.

But then I remember those ices dripping on her kitchen floor. Those frosty walks on Shabbos afternoon. That blanket tucked around me on Motzaei Shabbos. And I know that just as I was nurtured and sustained throughout my childhood by her too-long hugs and her too-generous gifts, my children also need to be enveloped in the knowledge that a grandmother’s love knows no limits.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 830)

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