I did a blog recently about my Sito Esther Salem and the Sundays at her house. A small faux pas, Max’s children are Scott and Synde. All that talk about bonding and I mixed her up with my cousins Scott and Elyse (children of my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Marcia)!
Anyway, Sito Salem’s hubby had died long before I was born. So my only Gido (grandfather in Arabic) was my father’s father, Joe Missry. As very traditional in Sephardic homes, it was incumbent on us to visit our grandparents regularly. So most Sundays, all of my 32 first cousins on my father’s side would ‘drop in’ and visit his parents, Freida and Joe.
Sephardic culture is deeply rooted in tradition and honoring our ancestors is essential. We name our children after our parents in a very special way. First son and daughter are always named for the paternal grandparents and second son and daughter for the maternal grandparents. We actually grow up expecting our grandchildren to be named for us and if they are not then it is actually embarrassing because it means your children did not honor you. So as I grew up, I had a brother and 9 cousins named Joey on my father’s side and an uncle and great uncle on my Mom’s side, the Salems. Needless to say, we had a lot of Joey’s in my family.
I divert. So when we stopped by our Missry grandparents, we would first kiss them. Gido would sit in the corner club chair and we would kiss his hand.
My favorite memory of Gido Joe was when I had my tonsils out when I was 6. It was winter and he walked in the snow down Bay Parkway from his house to our apartment on 69th St and brought me coffee ice cream, my favorite. Sito Missry was a character. She was devoted to Wheel of Fortune and game shows. She loved Atlantic City and the Miss America pageant.
These Sunday visits were important for our growing up. They bonded us as grandchildren to each other as cousins. It is amazing that we all know each other, recognize each other, can pick up a conversation easily and catch up. It is also amazing that most of us live in a 10 block radius, with one exception in California and a few about an hour away in NJ.
My father Abe was the third of 10 children. My father’s sister, Aunt Dulie A’H, told us wonderful stories about growing up in that house. She said my Sito would take them all 10 children to the beach in Coney Island in the summer. She would pack bags and bags of food, pots of rice and all kinds of things. This was probably in the 1930s as my dad was born in 1918. At the time, it was a nickel to get on the subway. She would tell the kids that if they could get on the subway for free, then they could have the nickel to buy a treat.
Anyway, these Sunday visits were less about food and more about the visit and tradition of honoring them. My Sito put out fruit and nuts but there were too many of us, combined with 10 aunts and 10 uncles, to ever have a real meal together. Still, I cherished those visits and playing with my cousins. They were an integral part of growing up. I had so many cousins that they were my friends and my closest confidants.