Monday, March 26, 2012

The Lioness

My step grandmother was my grandmother. I knew no other. I was born well after she had cemented her place in the family when my Mother lost her mother as a teenager. Younger than my Grandfather - somewhere between his age and my Mother’s. She was never Safta (Grandma in Hebrew). Just Levia. Her name meaning lioness in Hebrew. Though not by blood, by birth she was my Safta, regardless of how I grew up addressing her.

Unlike all the rest of her grandchildren, I did not really grow up with Levia. I left when I was 4. I would come to Israel every summer on my yearly visit from where it was that we were living. I'd sleep on a mattress on the floor of the room that served as her painting studio. Levia was an artist. A painter, a sculptor, a jewelry maker. Every piece of art in the apartment was hers. I am afflicted with a similar disposition. She was not much of a collector of other's work. She lived amongst her creations. Paintings of oils, acrylics, watercolors, sketches of pencil and charcoal covered all walls and sculptures on shelves and other surface areas. Constantly changing as it took on a musical chairs quality for my yearly viewing. Even the main sewage pipe running up and down through the building, in their portion, in their bathroom, was covered in a plaster sculpture of a female nude. The room I'd sleep in was packed with supplies and storage for works that are not on display. Much of the work was still life and figurative. Very classic painting school. Portraits. Lots of nudes. The female form. I would occasionally find 4x6" snapshots of naked women posing as subjects for her or in art workshops. She worked from photographs. Always interesting for a curious young boy/teen to stumble upon on some easel shelf. I'll let your imaginations wander to wherever you'd like to go with this. Back to topic. Later she experimented with more abstract paintings and jewelry, which though rough around the edges in form and comfort, I was a big fan of it’s boldness of design.

Levia talked about her art. I had a certain connection with her on an artistic and creative level that grew stronger as I matured into my craft. Unfortunately it was already in her later years. I would have loved to have had the same conversations in her youth. She could talk about her art tirelessly. As much as her prolific art making itself. Though, I never really got to see it in the making. Which is something I only now realize in hindsight. I was around for very short spurts on summer vacations. Given the tour of latest materials, ideas and results in summary. Besides that, it was about the meal and the hosting and making sure all visitors were happy. Adults talked and discussed, whilst I explored and got to know my Safta from behind the scenes. Through her space and stuff.

In recent years Levia had been living in a home. Her mind delving deeper into the Alzheimer's disease that was overtaking her. I saw her on 3 separate occasions over the past 3 years that I've visited. Each time, Little Man remained in the lobby with my dad. My mom and I went up to see her, sitting in the common area of her unit. Engrossed in the group activity of the afternoon, she’d notice us walking up and she’d light up for a moment. Always remembering my face. Wanting to show off and share something with me. Dance and sing and talk about how pretty she used to be and is. After another full year and a thicker beard, she always recognized my eyes. Three similar experiences, though progressively seeing her be taken further away from us. They were difficult moments for me, but necessary. I live thousands of miles away and have most of my life. The rest of my Mother's family bucked up, went on rotation and united around making her feel loved. She was not alone. My grandfather, my Saba, the solid rock of the family. 96 years strong - sharp as a tack and independent. Nurturing and present everyday of her life, before the home and after, without fail. Even when she forgot. He remained her daily friend, until the end, the other day.
Goodbye Lioness. I'll miss you and will always love you.