The Shapiro Files

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Tribute to Grandma Sophie

I'm very sad to report that my maternal grandmother Sophie Portnoy passed away this morning. Grandma Sophie was the quintessential Jewish grandmother. She was very outspoken, had a Yiddish-like accent, called us "Bubbala," gave big sloppy kisses on the check, and was happiest when she knew we were well-fed ("You're so thin! Eat Bubbala, eat!"). She was never afraid to speak her mind, often saying some things that were both shocking and incredibly funny.

It's always been disappointing to me that once my family moved to California in the 70's, we only saw our grandparents infrequently. I do remember some memorable trips to Florida to see Sophie and her husband/my grandfather Curley (real name: Herman) and their trips to visit us in the San Fernando Valley during the 70's and 80's, but such visits all but stopped entirely by the 90's. I am extremely happy that Grandma Sophie made the trip to California to attend Marcie's and my wedding in September 2000. I was thrilled to finally introduce Marcie to her and it made that weekend especially meaningful knowing she was there.

And speaking of our wedding, I will always remember the message she left on our answering machine in September 1999 when she learned of our getting engaged:
"Uh, hello. Uh, Stephen [pronounced "Stay-ven"], uh, hello. Congratulations on getting engaged. I'M SENDING YOU A CHECK! Uh, okay. Goodbye. Oh, this is Grandma Sophie. Okay, goodbye."

(This is probably funnier if you knew how she spoke and what her voice sounded like. But you get the idea.)

I saved that message on our machine for months, but as it was a digital answering machine, it finally was erased when we moved and it had to remain unplugged for a couple of weeks during transit.

Marcie and I last saw Grandma Sophie at my cousin Andrew's wedding a couple of years ago. Upon her arrival, she immediately launched into telling us about a young couple sitting in front of her on the plane who were acting a bit too affectionately. In relating this story, she used a few choice words (something she never hesitated doing) in describing her observations and consequently had us in stitches. Later at the reception, she didn't hesitate to join her fellow wedding guests on the dance floor despite otherwise having difficulty walking. Her love of music was so strong that no amount of discomfort was going to keep her away from cutting a rug at her grandson's wedding.

And on the topic of music, during one of our trips in the 80's, I remember Grandma Sophie constantly listening to an oldies radio station that seemed to play nothing but Frank Sinatra. We always got such a kick out of hearing her singing along with Sinatra's songs--even though (or possibly because) she didn't have what would normally be considered a particularly great singing voice. I also had the pleasure of acting as Grandpa Curley's accompanist (on an electric organ no less!) one evening during the same trip. Curley had a wonderful singing voice and was a true pleasure to listen to. He managed to rig up the organ and a microphone to his tape deck so we could make a recording of our "jam session." Twenty years later, that tape is still among my most cherished recordings in my collection. One of the best parts of listening to it is hearing Grandma Sophie humming along (albeit off key, but endearingly so) in the background.

So, here's to Grandma Sophie. We love you and will miss you terribly. I'd like to imagine that you and Grandpa Curley are together again. And just maybe, he's singing a Sinatra song and you're humming along.



  • So sorry to hear about Your Grandma Sophie...

    Love from us to you Cous :)

    The Egel Nest

    By Blogger Bradley Egel, at 2/03/2006 10:39 PM  

  • I am so sorry for your loss, Steve. Grandma Sophie clearly left an imprint on your life. Reading about your memories of her made me smile. Our thoughts are with you.


    By Blogger Aimee Blaustein, at 2/04/2006 9:07 PM  

  • I'm so sorry... It sounds like your grandmother was a really great person... and a lot like my own grandmother!!! I enjoyed reading your memories of her. What a wonderful tribute.

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 2/04/2006 9:28 PM  

  • Hi Steve:

    Uncle Bruce and I are very sorry to hear about your Grandma.

    Please accept our sympathies and keep treasuring those wonderful memories!

    God Bless all of you!
    Aunt Linda

    By Anonymous Aunt Linda, at 2/04/2006 10:49 PM  

  • Thank you all for your kind words and condolences. I'm writing these comments from the West Palm Beach airport, which has wireless Internet access, and was cheered to read your comments. As the Rabbi at yesterday's service said, the best way to honor Grandma Sophie's memory is keep sharing stories about her and keep the love of life and family that she conveyed in everthing she did part of everything we do. I think she would have been very happy to know that her family--her children and spouces, and their childen and their children--were all together this past weekend and doing just that.

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 2/06/2006 9:30 AM  

  • Stephen,

    As usual, I couldn't find your blog so, I didn't read your tribute to Sophie till tonight. I could fill up your whole page with Sophie's antics. She was a terrific mother in law and was always good for laughs even if she was the brunt of them from time to time.

    She greeted me from the age of 24 until age 60 when I last saw her at your wedding with the same affection by yelling (and I mean yelling), "Al, I luv ya Al". I never knew why she called me Al since I have almost always been called Allan. Even after I divorced your mother, she continued to say the same thing each time we met.

    I have very fond memories of both Curly and Sophie but, Sophie was one of a kind. She was what I can only describe as a female Yogi Berra. I'm only sorry I didn't get to see more of her these last few years.


    By Anonymous Dad, at 5/13/2006 11:39 PM  

  • My grandmother died too
    She was 83 years old.
    I miss her too....

    But you tribute is touching. Hope mine can be too.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/26/2007 6:34 PM  

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