My Grandmom Made Me a Therapist
Lois Braverman, social worker, New York*
Growing up, my grandmother was my roommate; we shared a dresser, a closet, in a little working-class row-house in Philadelphia. She came from Minsk and was the oldest of seven sisters. Every day she called every sister on the phone, a couple of hours a day; she must have been viewed by her sisters as an incredible listener.
I’d come home from school, she’d be in the kitchen, and I’d pick up the extension in my parents’ bedroom; stealthy, you had to breathe very quietly. It was much more interesting than TV. About husbands, children, worries, why is he doing this, why isn’t she coming home in time. The talk of women, trying to understand and accept human frailty, suffering, disappointments. It wasn’t about the stock market. Did he lose his job? She lost a pregnancy, who was angry at whom, was it reasonable.
One of my great-aunts saw a married man until his wife died, then she married him. That was a scandal. All of these different configurations are a part of life. It was all about the relationships. The idea of being in contact every day! My grandmother would go across town by public transportation, for a week, to stay with Aunt Shirley and my cousins — unlike me, they were not so happy to share a room — and my mother was expected to call her every day.
When I left home and got married, might we live in Philly? Where would we live? My mother said, “Well, of course you’ll call me every day.” I said, “I don’t think so.” I didn’t want to have to report everything. But I understood “reporting” — there was this expectation. You would have a close, intimate knowledge of what everybody was doing and feeling and thinking every single day.