JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Marta Glasses

The above is a picture of two glasses. In our house, they’re known as the “Marta Glasses.” I absolutely love them. Really, I love the story.

My Grandma Marta died in 1999. She was an 86-year-old German woman whose mother died in Nazi Germany. My mom (her daughter) was raised in a building on 181st Street in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. My mom and her folks (Marta and Curt) lived on the fifth floor of an ancient brick building. Their apartment was pretty big, with creaky wooden floors and a radiator that sang out noises from the rear bedroom. The place smelled, to me, like sweet potatoes.

I digress. My grandma was a wonderful woman. Beyond wonderful. She also was, well, cheap and thrifty. Hence, once day in the mid-to-late 1980s, she walked through the lobby and found a set of four perfectly good drinking glasses. Unlike most people, who wouldn’t have touched them, Grandma placed them in her purse and carried them up to her apartment.

For years and years and years, I would beg my grandma to tell me about the glasses. I’m not sure why—was I making fun of her (probably)? Admiring her (in this case, probably not)? Did I just find it funny? Undeniably.

Anyhow, the day my grandma died was one of the worst in my life. She wasn’t just an elderly figure; she was my friend. I tried to see her every 10 days or so, and she’d always greet me with a chocolate bar. When she passed, I was the first relative to her apartment. I still remember—and will likely always remember—seeing her on her bed, lifeless. That image still stings.

When we eventually got to cleaning out her apartment, I took a few things. A plant. Her scarf. And, best of all, the glasses—renamed “Marta Glasses” by my wife. Two cracked in the ensuing years, but two remain. They’re faded, and surely won’t survive another decade or two. But my kids drink out of them regularly, and both know of their namesake.