My earliest memories are saturated with images of my grandparents, especially my mother’s parents, with whom we shared an apartment until I was five years old. Granny was a short, slightly plump lady, whose dignified demeanor - the result of a British upbringing - belied her warm nature and the twinkle in her eye. Zaide, my grandfather, was a tall, funny, loving man who delighted in holding me on his knees, teaching me the aleph-beis (the Hebrew alphabet), and entertaining me with Yiddish songs.
Every Friday night, Zaide came home from work with his pockets filled with little pieces of colored cardboard. He would empty the contents of the pockets into a pile on the kitchen table, and we would sit down together to sort the pieces by color - the blue ones on the left, orange next, then green, then yellow. I thought this was a wonderful game we played together each week. And it was.
But it was much more important than just a game. It was how Zaide got paid. For my grandfather worked as a stitcher in the Montreal garment district, and was paid "by the piece." Every one of those pieces of cardboard - called tickets - represented a seam he had sewn; each color had its own value. Blue tickets might be worth ten cents, red ones perhaps a nickel, yellow just a penny. Once we finished sorting the tickets, we counted how many were in each pile, and Zaide calculated what he had earned that week.
I didn’t know it then, but my grandfather was an active and committed Union Man. He was involved in the 1912 garment workers' strike in Montreal - he wrote about it years later for L’Aiguille, a Union newspaper. What counted for me was that he was my Zaide - my grandfather - the man who held me on his knee, told me stories, taught me how to play gin rummy, and took me to the park in the summertime on Sunday afternoons to show off to his friends.
And who brought me colored pieces of cardboard for us to play with every Friday night.
©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.
A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this reminiscence was to describe a favorite activity from when I was between four and six years old.