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Lessons for a Shayna Madela

I am excited that Terror House Magazine published

another essay of mine today. XXX Nancy



Terror House Magazine

JULY 9, 2022 |IN LITERARY NONFICTION |BY NANCY DAVIDOFF KELTON




I was 7 years old when my family took a road trip to Miami Beach, Florida from our hometown, Buffalo, New York. We took Grandma Davidoff with us.

Until then, I saw Grandma at holiday dinners and on Sunday visits with my father. She lived upstairs of my Aunt Yetta, Uncle Louie, and their three sons in a two-story house, two doors from Temple Emanuel where they all belonged, and Aunt Yetta was the secretary. Grandma owned the house. She did not own a car, drive, or have much money. She took in boarders, male Temple members, one at time to live in her spare bedroom.

On Sunday mornings, Grandma and Aunt Yetta baked taiglach and kichel. One would phone us when they took them out of the oven. I was dressed and ready.

“A Shayna Madela!” That was how Grandma greeted me with a pat on my head, a kiss, and a pinch on my cheek. No one else called me a Shayna Madela, which is Yiddish for a beautiful girl, or made me feel like one. Particularly not my mother, who told me I had “inner beauty,” not the kind one could see. Being a Shayna Madela to Grandma Davidoff was sweeter and longer lasting than her warm kichel.

On the car ride to Florida, Grandma sat in the back with my older sister, Susan, and me. Or with me alone when Susan sat upfront between my parents. I did not want to take turns sitting in the front as I usually do. I was happy sprawling out with my head on Grandma’s lap. She would stroke my hair. I closed my eyes, napped, or listened while she talked Yiddish to my parents or told me stories.

One long story was about two Russian sisters, Moshington and Toshington. I loved those names. They were so different. So funny. Every time Grandma said Moshington and Toshington, I smiled. So did Grandma. She loved telling me that story. She claimed that someone from the old country had told it to her. My father said later that he thought she made it up. When I asked if she remembered other stories about Moshington and Toshington, she came up with one, but she preferred telling the original story over and over.

Upon arriving in Florida and getting out of the car, Grandma said to my parents, “I never realized how smart Nancy is.”

I said, “But Grandma, we were in the backseat together for three days and I hardly said a word.” She nodded. “That’s why.”

Talk about something long lasting. I carry that with me along with Moshington and Toshington. And with being my Grandma Davidoff’s Shayna Madela. Yes, oh yes!

 

Nancy Davidoff Kelton Nancy Davidoff Kelton has been teaching at the New School and elsewhere forever and writing books and essays even longer. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times

Magazine, The Boston Globe, The Buffalo News, Next Avenue, McSweeney’s and elsewhere. Her seven books include Writing from Personal Experience and a memoir Finding Mr. Rightstein from which she adapted a play with the same title. Her six most recent Next Avenue essays can be found here. The New Yorker piece on her Strand Bookstore writing workshops is here. Her website has selected essays. www.nancykelton.com/

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