So this morning the wife dropped me off at her office on 185th Street in the Washington Heights section of NYC. It’s not the most beautiful section of the city, but—for me—it smells like home. Washington Heights is the place where my Grandma and Grandpa Herz called home, beginning with their arrival from Germany in the late 1930s until their deaths in the 1990.
They lived in the same apartment forever—a classic two-bedroom joint on 181st Street and Fort Washington Ave. The place smelled like old German, which means sorta musty, sorta tingy, with a hint of stale ginger. At dinner, Grandma sat on a piano stool and Grandpa—a grumpy bald man who never met a sunny day–leaned in the corner, sort of scowling. Whenever my brother and I visited, Grandma would have a chocolate bar waiting. She took us to the circus, to the museums, to Macy’s to see Santa (even though we were Jewish; she worked there for years). They both spoke with thick German accents, both cared 0 about sports; both suffered terribly from Nazi Germany; both considered themselves full-blooded Americans.
Point is, I miss them very much.
I blogged about this years ago, but my Grandma’s last day haunts me. It was 1999. I was living in midtown, and we’d see each other every other week or so. I went up to Washington Heights, and Grandma wanted to go to the Riverdale Diner—a good half-hour bus trek away. I was busy, busy, busy with something, so I insisted on the shitty Hilltop Restaurant across the way (the photograph above shows the spot where the Hilltop once was). It was small and dirty and gross, and Grandma had some sort of eggplant dish. She didn’t much like it.
We said our goodbyes, and that night she died of a heart attack in her bed.
Here are some pictures from her building …