My bubbe, Regina Blumenthal, passed away Tuesday night at the age of 85. The lovely Romanians who run the small Scottsdale residential facility where she’s been living for the past few years say she ate her dinner, let out a big sigh and gently left the dimension. May we all pass so easily.
She was born Regina Dines in Warsaw and came to New York as a child after my great grandfather sniffed something ugly in the Polish air during the mid-1930’s. She married my piano-playing grandfather, George Blumenthal, towards the end (?) of WWII and lead a bohemian life in Coconut Grove near Miami. She had my mother in 1945; she had a son a few years later who died of cystic fibrosis at four years old. She never mentioned my mother’s brother to me; I only know because my mother told me.
I don’t know when she began to paint, but I have several giant, abstract canvases in dark, complex colors that I never get tired of looking at. She contracted rheumatoid arthritis at some point before I was born and never painted again, but she always talked about art. She and my grandfather knew more about classical music that anyone I’ve ever met to this day.
I don’t remember her as being anything other than old, but these last five years she reached a zenith of cronedom, sitting like a Buddha on her couch, her big dark eyes blinking.
I wish I could post a photo of her when she was young, ’cause Here she is the summer before my mother was born – (muchas gracias, Pepe Pringos!!) she was a real knockout. My mother, her only child, and my father devoted so much time and energy to her care – they’ve set a very high bar for honoring one’s parents. When it became necessary to move Bubbe and my grandfather to Scottsdale from the Miami home that they’d lived in for over 50 years, my parents spent weeks sorting through piles of junk Bubbe insisted were treasures. When my grandfather became ill and couldn’t care for himself anymore, my mom and dad bore the brunt of Bubbe’s hysteria with much grace.
Bubbe could be difficult and dramatic, especially as my grandfather was dying. She also had a great sense of humor and deeply appreciated beauty in all forms. She truly loved my grandfather; when El Yenta Man and I went to visit with our then-2 month-old son, she showed us recent photos of them skinny-dipping in the pool. What kind of 70-somethings are still hot for each other?
She was not religious at all. Her father was hyperobservant and mean, mean, mean, so I think she associated Judaism with her negative upbringing. She didn’t attend my mother’s bat mitzvah a few years ago, and she wouldn’t come to the synagogue for my grandfather’s memorial service. She requested to be cremated, and we’re planning to spread her ashes in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, the same place my mother spread my grandfathers’. I guess this isn’t necessarily kosher, but it’s what that side of the family has always done. I told this to a frum woman I know and she was horrified. But what difference does it make to God if a body breaks down in a gust of flames versus decomposing slowly in a box? Doesn’t it all end up as dust on the shelves of heaven?
Even though I can picture her shaking her gnarled index finger at me, I’m going to say the Mourners’ Kaddish for her anyway. I’ve always learned that we say it for ourselves, the living, because the dead have already returned to the loving arms of our Creator, so she can just ignore me. In fact, I hope she’s too enthralled to be sitting at my grandfather’s heavenly piano once again.
Rest in peace, Bubbe Reggie.