My parents were raised in the city. New York City. My maternal grandmother lived in New York City until she retired. My Great-Aunt Shirley lived in New York City until she retired and my Great-Aunt Rosalie grew up in the city and at some point (after she married) moved to the suburbs where she raised her kids. My grandmother walked, rode the subway or got a taxi. She never drove. My Aunt Shirley didn’t drive either (although I’m not sure if she ever drove). My Aunt Rosie did drive. Whenever my grandmother or Aunt Shirley needed a ride (and the subway or taxi wasn’t good enough), my Aunt Rosie came. Sometimes her husband, my Great-Uncle Gene drove, but mostly I think it was Aunt Rosie.
Whenever we flew from Chicago to New York for a visit, Aunt Rosie would be “volunteered” to drive. I don’t know, but I think that Aunt Rosie only really got “volunteered” to drive when we were in town. I don’t know that she drove my grandmother and my Aunt Shirley much when we weren’t there because both my grandmother and my Aunt Shirley worked and would be busy doing their own things during the week.
Why am I writing about this? I have this memory that is replaying in my mind. I’m not sure why, but it seemed that it was a story that needed to be told.
When my brother, Jeff and I were kids we flew to New York by ourselves. I think I was 9 or 10 and Jeff was 6 or 7. I remember the Flight Attendants checking all the paperwork and making sure that my grandmother was who she said she was before she released us. Of course, Aunt Rosie and Aunt Shirley were there to pick us up from the airport too. And Aunt Rosie drove us to my grandmother’s apartment. That is most of what I remember from the trip. I don’t remember flying home. I don’t remember what we did. I don’t remember anything else, except for the peanut butter incident.
Since my grandmother didn’t drive and she was feeding Jeff and I while we were visiting, she had Aunt Rosie come to drive all of us to the store. Aunt Shirley came too. Jeff and I got to pick out our favorite cereals and snacks (as my grandmother didn’t have any of that at her place) and peanut butter. As kids, Jeff and I, ate a lot of peanut butter. It was our favorite.
I don’t know what started it, but as we were standing in front of the peanut butter, my grandmother and my aunts started yelling at each other. Yelling wasn’t something that surprised Jeff and I – we were growing up in a Jewish household and everyone yelled. You yelled when you wanted to be heard, you yelled to get your point across, you yelled all the time. In fact, it seemed to me that if everyone wasn’t yelling at the top of their voices, something was wrong. But that was something that you did at home.
My grandmother and aunts were yelling at each other in the grocery store. They were yelling about peanut butter. Yes, at the loudest volume imaginable, they were arguing about peanut butter. I don’t know why. It seems silly to me now some 30 years later. But they were. They couldn’t decide what peanut butter was the best choice for Jeff and me. It was 1980. How many choices could there have been? Skippy, Peter Pan and Jif? Creamy or Chunky? Maybe there were more, but I don’t think so. It wasn’t like it is today with organic, low-fat, creamy, chunky, super chunky, reduced fat, natural, honey nut, old-fashioned, natural with honey, cinnamon raisin swirl, salt free, without added sugar, maple and who knows what other kinds. As research for this blog, I looked up peanut butter on Amazon.com and there were 4 pages of results.
So what were they fighting about? They maybe had 6 choices. And I don’t like chunky peanut butter, so that would have eliminated 3 of them. But instead of asking us what we wanted, they were yelling about peanut butter. Imagine ladies standing in the grocery store yelling about peanut butter. Now imagine that my grandmother was a tiny lady (she was maybe 5′ tall and weighed maybe 100 lbs) who was impeccably and conservatively dressed. She had her nails done at least once a week. She would have been wearing tailored clothing and heels. She would have had her hair just so and her make-up on and lipstick. My Aunt Shirley would have had her hair and nails done (don’t forget the lipstick). But she was much taller than my grandmother (she seemed very, very tall in her heels) and she was more flamboyant. Then there was Aunt Rosie who also had her hair, nails and make-up done (with lipstick), but she was much grandmotherly. The three of them were standing in their heels, waving their arms and yelling at each other. As I recall the scene, it seems very funny to me.
But, it wasn’t funny then. Jeff’s lower lip started quivering. He was about to cry. Here we were in New York City (we were confirmed suburban kids), in this scary grocery store without our parents and our grandmother and aunts were yelling at each other. They were getting louder and more animated. Jeff had had enough. And, since I was the big sister and was supposed to take care of my little brother, I had to act.
I remember walking over to my grandmother and aunts and grabbing a jar of Peter Pan Creamy Peanut Butter. I looked at all three of them and said, “This is what Mom buys.” I put it in the shopping cart and walked back to Jeff. And the yelling stopped. And my grandmother and aunts were not waving their arms. One of them took the shopping cart and started to push and the other two went along to finish the shopping. Life was good. And we had peanut butter.