Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Rosenberg Chronicles: Mama Rose by Bernard Rosenberg

Rose Barnett was my grandmother on my father’s side. Known to me as “Mama Rose,” she was always kind to me. As an adolescent, I knew that when I saw her at the cottage at Lake Fenton she would always have a supply of Hershey Bars to pull from the top drawer of her dining room sever. I also knew that when I visited her on Court Street there would always be a fresh box of Sander’s Chocolates for me to open. She had that sort of kindness, and it was a crisp as those dollar bills that she would give me during the Jewish Holidays. I can never remember her as anything except as being a kind grandmother to me.

I was the grandson who gave his time to provide for her when I was 16 and living in Flint.  I would arrive at the Kith Haven Nursing Home, help her dress, and walk her to the elevator. 
The elevator terrified her, and every time I would slide the folding barrier shut, push the button and then descend, she would call out for her husband, Ed. She never did that going up, but I could always count on it going down.

Then it was on to the front passenger seat of my father’s 1966 white Cadillac. Via Fenton Road, I would then drive and take her into her past. Though this was a time when she could hardly walk, she loved the trip seated in the comfort of the car. I would take her down Cussewago Beach on Lake Fenton to the cottage, and she would admire it. I would then drive all the way into Fenton, and we would stop at the A&W. Via curb service, she would have a hamburger deluxe and a root beer. She always smiled and went through countless paper napkins during those Cadillac lunches. We did this on occasional Sundays until I graduated from high school and left Flint to go to college. That’s two years I have never regretted.

As far as I know, I was the only grandson who did this. For some unknown reason, I was unique in my ability to handle her. Though she was feeble, her voice was strong. We didn’t talk much during those trips, but from the smile on her face I knew that my time with her brought back happy memories. And that was good.

Just as she remembered me with her candy, so did I remember her with her chosen confectionary. Next to those Hershey Bars in the cottage server were her packages of Sen-Sen, a petite anise-flavored breath mint that shook out of a package that you could hide in the palm of your hand. Each pack had a metal-foil cover opening the size of a pencil eraser. You could puncture it, and that allowed you to shake out a dark colored mint the size of a fluff of rice. I hated the flavor. She loved it. As our driving trips would end, I always had a package hidden in my palm to give her as we went up that elevator, and I suppose that’s why she never called for Ed on the return trip.

I have a sterling silver keepsake that Mama Rose carried with her from the days before she married Ed Rosenberg. It is a woman’s petite purse, large enough only to hold a small supply of name-cards and some change. It has a snap cover and unfolds. When you open it, there is a tiny mirror in it, along with two spring-loaded canisters to hold dimes and nickels. The outside cover is engraved with the initials of the woman known as Rose Barnett. The card storage area has one remaining card that is embroidered with her name. I can still read the important names and phone numbers written by Rose long ago.

I was with her the night before she died. As I watched her labor through her breathing, I knew she would soon join her husband. I also held her hand, and when I squeezed it, there was an ever-so-faint return.

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Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.