What Rye Bread Says About My Past

I’ve been in the habit, lately, of having nothing in the morning for breakfast, but a piece of rye bread and a coffee.  If someone were to see me painted from within a story, I think this detail would say a lot.

“Every morning, the woman ate one slice of rye bread and sipped on a coffee.”

It says volumes.  Rye bread.  It’s something a New Yorker eats like its a religion – rye bread and bialys and bagels.  For example, Wifesy hates rye bread.  Clearly, she is not from New York.  She has introduced me to the breakfast burrito.  This also says a great deal about her origins.  It indicates her Californian roots.  To me, a breakfast burrito is Mexican for breakfast.  (Ew.)  But, it’s growing on me, like everything else in sunny-landia is.

Good Lawd, are those olives? What’s next hamburger for breakfast?

As I was thinking about my morning ritual, it reminded me of my Great Grandmother.  My parents had me, their first child, later in life than was considered the norm back in the 70s.  So, my great grandparents were very old.  I barely remember my Great Grandfather, only stories told to me by others and a hazy, mental picture of him that comes and goes.  My Great Grandmother, however, I can see very clearly.  I wonder if my brother, born 5 years after me, can remember either of them at all.

I remember my great grandmother’s morning ritual and the entire layout of her apartment.  She was really full of life and seemingly a joy to everyone who knew her.  She knew strange things like the unknown verses to, “Take me out to the ball game.”  She knew the story part, the girl who goes on the date with the guy to the ball game.  Recordings exist of her singing the little known verses and then the rest of the family joining in at the part that everyone knows.

I was 4 or 5 when I spent a weekend alone with my great grandmother.  I remember being dropped of at her apartment in the Bronx.  Normally, I cried my eyes out when my parents left me anywhere, but not at my great grandmother’s.  Even at 4, I found her and her apartment so interesting.  I also found her so calming.  I think kids (like pets) sense energy.

The apartment wasn’t a house like my parents had, and therefore cool by its very exotic nature.  Great Grandma placed me at the kitchen table and put a bowl of cornflakes in front of me to eat.  I started eating them when Great Grandma did the strangest thing.  She stood over at the stove, placed one hand on the front of the appliance, and started moving up and down.  She was exercising!  I thought it was so odd because no one in my family did that.  At least not at the stove, while I ate cornflakes!

I only remember snippets of things from there on out.  For example, her living room was sunken and I remember loving that.  It was, as if, the the living room were a cozy little cave.  At night, Great Grandma and I slept in the same bed.  Great Grandpa must’ve been passed away by then.  I asked Great Grandma for a pillow and she said, “I don’t sleep with pillows.  They’re not good for your neck.”  She then explained to me how pillows cause an unnatural curve at the top of your spine.  I don’t know where she got this from, but the little me loved it.  It was like Great Grandma and I were on a research team for science.  We were on a quest to prove the horror of pillows and we were going to prove it to the whole goddermned world.

I also remember the way Great Grandma dressed.  She wore “outfits,” dresses and things.  I don’t think she ever wore a pair of jeans and rarely (if ever) pants.  She wore blouses with bows that tied in the front and great-looking heels.  She always looked so fantastic and put together.  I remember that very clearly about her.

She wore shirts like this, but even classier and with less snazzery.

Years ago, I was sitting in my parents house with my own grandmother.  She was very old.  It was probably only a few years before she also passed.  I was sitting with my legs crossed in a pair of my favorite heels when my grandmother said, “My mother would’ve loved those shoes.”

And I knew in a moment exactly what she meant.  There was something timeless and classy about these particular shoes.  Surely, Great Grandma would’ve loved them.

It’s oddly thrilling how your beginnings speak through you with or without your awareness of it.

Life is oddly wonderful that way.


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53 thoughts on “What Rye Bread Says About My Past

  1. It really is amazing how some of the smallest details in peoples’ lives can become such a strong part of their identity. Whenever someone eats their eggs a specific way (over easy, ignoring the whites, dipping toast into the very runny yolks), I think about my dad. The song “Some Enchanted Evening” makes me think of my grandfather. Memory really is powerful in weird ways, isn’t it?

    I want to go watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind now.

    1. i love, LOVE connections like that. it’s funny, i had NO IDEA what i was going to write about this morning. so, i simply started writing about the rye toast i was eating and the coffee i was drinking and then – bam – my great grandmother flashed through my mind. and i thought, ‘gee, why did that happen?’ so i tried to write about why i think it did. not sure if i accomplished that, but an interesting exercise nonetheless. thanks for reading and commenting, badfads. and i can not agree with you more, it’s those little details – the way a person eats something that make up a character. so interesting. much love, sm

    1. glad you liked it, simon. not my usual hardy har har, but i like to write like this sometimes. it’s fun and different. anyhoot, glad you enjoyed it. much love, sm

  2. Thanks for a different view into your world. I wrote a post a few months back about idiotic grandparents in the news, called “Grandparents Gone Wild”, but it ended up being more about my grandparents and not so much about the dumb ones in the news.

    My grandmother on my father’s side, was also “always put together”. She wore pumps to breakfast.

    I’m out of my element, this is no place for my usual sarcasm.

    Thanks again.

    1. lol. even that comment made me laugh. people used to dress. i mean really dress. i like to dress – SOMETIMES, which i think means i’m a product of my times…i don’t know. your sarcasm is welcome here, along with the rest of your thoughts, at any time… xo, sm

      1. Was talking with someone the other day and remarked how back in the 40’s every single man was wearing some sort of hat. They looked at me like I was a mental patient, and I wondered how the hell anyone could have missed that fact.

      2. women AND men used to DRESS. i mean, i’m even on the other side of the fence these days and i’d say, what woman doesn’t like a man in a fedora? those hats were awesome. now when guys wear them they either look eccentric (like unabomber eccentric) or they’re an ultra hipster – both types not as appealing…lol.

  3. I have rye bread every day too!! Levy’s rye! It’s hard to find rye bread in other parts of the country, and I don’t understand why the rest of America hasn’t embraced the rye in all its delicious yummy bready goodness.

    I love your ode to your great g’ma. It’s funny how certain things transcend generations.

    1. interesting, isn’t it? you don’t realize how new york you are sometimes, until you leave it. same about being ‘american’. i never feel like a yank until i leave the country and then if i ever forget everyone feckin’ reminds me! lol. but, yeah, rye bread is a goddermned bread choice at every respectable diner in new york. i love it. wifesy thinks i’m nuts. lol. xo, sm

  4. When I was a kid, the highest praise you could get from my grandmother was, “That sure is a smooth looking outfit.” Thanks for reminding me.

    1. yep, i totally get it. when my grandmother said that about my shoes, i really felt like it was a big compliment. my great grandmother used to dress so well and if you can remember that as like a 5 year old, it truly must’ve been something… thanks for reading, friend. xo, sm

  5. You are completely right on about kids being able to sense energy. My son encountered a former colleague who retired from teaching a year ago. She is a teacher every child immediately gravitates to, and my son was no different. He was begging her not to leave–and he never does that. Not even with me. In fact with me he’s more like “okay bye. Bye bye mama. Seriously GTFO mama.”

    1. that teacher sounds hella awesome. you should write about her. and i don’t know how you managed it, but you were even funny in this comment. sweet lawd, you are a rockstar…

  6. My dad, who was from the Midwest, also loved rye bread and a good German bakery. Your great grandmother sounds fascinating. And you sound younger than me, which is weird because I’m calling you mother.

    1. loooool. i’ve been called mother since i was 5. an old soul, i suppose, but i ain’t that young either, well, youngish. hmmm…maybe i’ll talk about that today. xo, sm

  7. So true..my parents always had rye toast and coffee, and we had bagels on the weekend…And in NY, you never had to ask for a ‘shmear’ of cream cheese with that bagel – they just knew..:-)

    1. ohhhhhh, they knew alright. i love the schmear or however you spell it, i have no idea. a shmear is just right. anything else is overpowering… much love, mim, much love, sm

      1. I wasn’t sure of the spelling either, but I knew you’d know what i meant..Thanks for making my day…much love, m

  8. I love this post, warm and fuzzy 🙂 Makes me miss my grans tho. My granny K always had tea and toast, sometimes ginger snap cookies if we were lucky. It was at her house, and later retirement home, that I learned to drink tea and how to enjoy the simple company of Mum and Granny. I miss tea time .

    1. wow, that’s really cool, chef. when you’re a kid, grown ups just have this way of making those daily rituals look like the best things ever and it sounds like your mum and grans did just that… very, very cool. xo, sm

  9. I’ve never developed a taste for rye bread—obviously I’m not from New York. 😉 But I liked hearing about your grandmother and great grandmother. Sometimes mixing up the posts is good for the creativity. At least that’s what I’m telling myself after my non-usual fare today!

    1. rye bread is one of those things… you either like it or you don’t. it’s like seafood. lol. i may be the only person to ever compare rye bread to seafood. hmmm…gonna have to head over and check out your post today…

  10. Yes, I remember my own dear great-grandmother. She was wonderful. Always dressed to the nines in jewels and furs. She had a killer sweet tooth, and she was so, so beautiful, even in her 80s. I was crushed when she died– she had promised me she would teach me to knit when I turned 8. I still stubbornly refuse to learn how. I wanted her to teach me. Thanks for the sweet post, sweet mother!

    1. nic, this is a great comment. i love how you’ve said that you’ve refused to learn knitting because SHE was supposed to teach you. it says volumes about your relationship and you are the first person to illuminate that it is what we do and what we DON’T do that shines a light on our past. really, really, interesting stuff. xo, sm

  11. The part where you wrote “unnatural curve at the top of your spine” I felt myself straightening. Shoulders back, spine elongated, and wondering if pillows did indeed, put that slouchy looking lump at the bottom of my neck.
    I like your GG.

    1. she was a very cool lady. seriously, everyone liked her and that can not be said about everyone else surrounding her. she simply had this way. glad you liked it, sara. xoxo, sm

  12. What a classy lady she must’ve been. Loved this post, Moms! It got me thinking about my own grandmothers, and that is a lovely place for me to go this rainy North Carolina evening.

    1. oh, rain. i never thought i’d say this, but ohhhh how i miss it. it feckin’ never rains here and it makes an old east coast girl feel like she’s constantly in a twilight zone episode. yes, i just complained about the sun. sigh. 😉 sm

  13. I love rye bread for breakfast, particularly with butter and strawberry jelly.

    My grandmothers were / are not sharp dressers. One wore mumus because she was a big gal; the other still wears polyester pants, never skirts.

    Love the post.

    1. glad you liked it, lauren. see what i mean about the new yorker or ex-new yorker thing and rye bread? it’s like a thing. you either grew up with it or you didn’t. and the mumus is hilarious. can’t wait to see you guys in sf! i’m really looking forward to it. much love, sm

  14. Lovely post Mum! I have some very fond memories of my grandmother. She taught me a lot about getting old without ageing and I hope my wits are as sharp as hers were at 90.

  15. Your great must have been of an age with my grandmother, they sound like they come from the same generation. Lovely ladies with wonderful life rules, including always being pulled together, even if just to stay at home and entertain the family.

    This was a wonderful window into what made you, even if you were unaware of those ingredients.

    1. always being pulled together, indeed. and you are right, val. i can’t always pin point those ingredients in a moment, but this piece helped me to do so, i think. much love, sm

  16. I love this! I love rye, too, and pumpernickel. I never really knew my grandparents. I have a vague memory of my mom’s mom. I think that’s why I love Husband’s grandma so much. She’s also a really amazing woman, so that might have a little something to do with it. 🙂

    1. fishes! i knew i liked you and since you’re also a rye lover, i can see why. i’ve never really got into pumpernickel bread, but i will say i love a pumpernickel pretzel. seriously. it stinks that you didn’t get to know your grand rents. i have one grandfather whom i’ve never met. my dad’s dad. he passed before i was born. and it’s the strangest thing, i have a picture of him in my mind, though i never knew him and there aren’t many stories about him. tho my own dad says that his father was a storyteller, so who knows, maybe that’s where i get it… lol. xo, sm

  17. its amazing how you remember so much about that day…
    I was never close to my grandparents …probably because we spent all our life moving from one city to another, rarely spending more than 5-7 days with them and that too once a year…
    but sometimes i wish i was close to them enough to know them..specially my mom’s mother,…

  18. Loved it! I don’t really remember my great grandparents but my grandmother (nanny) from my mother’s side was warm and wonderful. She wore dresses and slacks (never jeans) and was really proud of her family. I remember that in her 50’s, she got a job at the bakery counter at Ogilvies in Montreal and when I’d go and see her, she’d tell all the employees AND the customers, that I was her grand daughter! I was embarrassed but felt special at the same time. I miss her dearly. Oh…and I love rye toast. It tastes good and is much better for you than white bread. 🙂

  19. I love that you can remember things from such a young age and that you can make us feel the 4 year olds way of thinking. Of course an adult witnessing the same stuff would have seen it all quite differently.
    For me it is memories of my Mom that come back to me like that, but it will be hat that triggers it. She loved her hats.

  20. Thank you for your inspiration. It got me thinking about so many of the things that I want to write about. I love that you are so “in the moment” and you take us there with you. My husband and I often tell stories of our first memory. Do I really remember it or do I recall it from a photograph I saw or hearing my mom tell me about it? Get’s me thinking . . . Gotta go. I feel a rush of energy coming on to write …….

  21. Thanks for your post. It inspired me to deal with an event from the past that has been affecting me ever since. Now that I see it, I can deal with it.

  22. I love how minors fibers encrust in our lives. This memory connection happens to me all the time, a simple music brings me back to the strangest moments sometimes. Your writing is magnificent. I’m glad I stumbled on your blog.

    1. It is interesting, isn’t it. All I need is a certain smell and bam, I’m somewhere else, sometimes. Thank you for saying so, diane. I really appreciate it and I hope you’ll come back for more. much love, sm

  23. My gram just passed away on July 17th – it’s been a very difficult month, and it hasn’t even BEEN a month yet. But my brain keeps tossing up random memories, like how we’d have coffee (yes, both of us – the instant teabag-style bags from Folgers) along with the Stella D’Oro anise cookies. That was breakfast, and it was the best. It never occurred to me it might be unhealthy.

    My gram also wore those same shirts…. and ‘outfits’. Always.

    Thank you for making me the good kind of sad. 🙂

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