I Wasn’t Born Yesterday (circa 1935)

God will always give you enough. That was my grandmother. This picture was taken of her in the early 1920s. She was born Elna Selinda, but later changed her name to Eleanor to remove some of her Finnish upbringing and become more American. It was standard in those days.

I loved her so.

There’s a book called Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Great book! The subtitle is An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson. The book chronicles their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie’s lasting gift with the world.

This gave me a brilliant idea.

My grandmother had just been moved into a retirement facility and had to leave her home of over 50 years. I knew just what to do. I would read to her on Tuesdays. I asked her if there was a book in her life that she’d read, that she would like us to now read together. She said that there was a book she read in her 20’s. It was called I Wasn’t Born Yesterday. That’s all she knew.

I found that book in an old book store thousands of miles away. It is an anonymous autobiography as told to Rivkin and Spigelgass. The woman in the story lived in Coney Island, but traveled the world and had a very colorful life. The book was published in 1935 and has a language of its time:

“Stop mooning,” Big Jerry said to me one afternoon. You think I’m going to let you sit on your big fat can while I dish out the coin? You got work to do, baby. You got to start making a living.”

While I read to my grandmother, she would stop me from time to time. She would say, “they’re talking about the Virginia Reel, a rollercoaster on Coney Island.” Another time she would tell me, “there was the Park Luncheonette on that corner.” It was a fabulous time we shared together and I learned more about her.

My grandmother had been my comfort since I was a child. A very young child at that. I remember a time being so abused I was left catatonic. Unable to respond or speak, my father brought me to my grandmother’s home. Her loving touch began to break the icy shield my parents had inflicted upon me.

She never stopped loving me all the days of her life here on earth.

One day when I was a teenager she told me I had Finnish sisu. “Inner fortitude,” she said. She had taught me that, among many other things.

My voice was the last strength I found. The courage to tell the truth.

I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.

But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased.

Psalm 39:1-2

My anguish is much better now. Now, that I tell my story. My whole story.

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