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Monday, July 12, 2010

I know why the caged bird sings....

I know why the caged bird sings....
at Lord & Taylor

with apologies to the wonderful Maya Angelou

When my dear wacky grandmother, Nana Sophie, turned 75 and I was a young 13, she had the misfortune of slipping in the bathtub and breaking her hip. As a result of this accident, she was in a cast from waist to knee for several months recovering. Sophie was quite the baleboosteh*, robust both in personality and appearance, if you know what I mean, not that this would not have been a hardship for any 75 year old, but just made it, particularly difficult for her.
*from: Yiddish for
(ba-leh-BOOST-eh) n. A Super-woman, a.k.a.- One Tough cookie
Because the poor thing had this plaster mold affixed to her side for months, she sort of lost her appetite and slimmed down rather dramatically. To celebrate the cast removal and Sophie’s liberation, my mother suggested that she and I take her to lunch at her favorite restaurant, The Birdcage, at the lovely Lord & Taylor in Millburn.
The Birdcage was a true treasure. It was created for and thrived in its heyday, as a ladies-only dining establishment serving only lunch and afternoon tea. The individual tables were artfully designed to wrap around a slim solitary diner, so customers taking a break from their arduous shopping, need not feel awkward dining alone. These tables were also placed in clusters around the light-filled airy room, so mothers and daughters could talk and lunch together. The floor to ceiling window-fronted space was filled with enormously ornate floral arrangements and tall golden filigree birdcages and they served the most beautifully prepared salads with delicate finger sandwiches perched artfully on the side of the bowl. Made of cucumber and butter and another made with salmon and just a bit of crème fraiche, with the crusts removed of course, they were a little girl’s fantasy of sophisticated dining for the gentler sex.
I was so excited about taking my Grandmother out to this wonderful place, our favorite place, on her very first excursion following her accident.
My Grandmother lived, as did many other widowed Jewish Grandmothers, on South Munn Avenue in East Orange, New Jersey. Her neighbor was the mother of William Shatner, who my Grandmother had never heard of, and when she kept complaining to us about the “lady who keeps bragging about her son in Hollywood, Captain Kirk,” and how she had no idea who the hell this woman was talking about, my sister and I would run and hide and then shriek with laughter.
This part of South Munn was a repository of elderly ladies living alone in lovely brick and stone mid-rise apartment buildings, which lined both sides of the avenue. All had grand entrances with long canopies and tall neatly trimmed hedges extending the length of the walkway to the street, from the front doors.
On this particular day, we pulled up to the front of her building, right between the tall hedges. My Grandmother was waiting just inside the double glass front doors, with her ever-present pocketbook hanging from her metal walker. You could tell how happy she was to see us. I was sitting in the back seat of the car by the window, watching as she pushed opened one of the doors, holding on to the walker with the other hand for balance, and stepped down onto the sidewalk, ready to traverse the steps to her awaiting chariot. As she stepped down, her underpants slid down to her ankles. (I did say she had slimmed down.) Time stopped, took my breath away and with my eyes and mouth wide open, I wondered, what was poor Nana Sophie going to do?
Once both her feet were firmly planted on the ground, she gracefully bent down, stepped out of her underpants, one delicate foot at a time, straightened herself back up, unfastened the massive clip on her pocketbook, dropped said drawers right inside, and snapped her bag shut, ever the lady.
When she finally looked up at us, I could see the tears in her eyes from laughing. I could not believe it and became completely hysterical. My mother, who had witnessed the whole thing from the front seat, burst out laughing as well as my Grandmother began to inch her way step by step to the car, gripping her walker with the pocketbook dangling, her head held high with great dignity, and with tears of laughter streaming down her happy face.


  1. Great story - reminds me of walking down the street with my grandmother after she'd had cataract surgery. All of a sudden she could 'see'. I kept asking her to read the signs on the store awnings and billboards.

  2. what a truly delightful memory. thank you for sharing