(Exercise class at the Jewish Community Center, 2003)
Bronia’s was the second funeral I attended this week.
During the service her son, daughters and a grandchild told “Bronia stories” and spoke in “Bronia-isms.” I laughed, cried, then laughed again.
Bronia’s son Walter talked about her questionable driving skills. He recounted the time his children were young and first went on a drive with her. When they came home they said they never wanted to drive with their grandmother again. Not only was she a bad driver, she kept honking the horn, and this caused people to turn and stare.
Their dad knew right away what the kids were talking about. He reminded them to consider Bronia’s size. Yes, it was true, he told us. Whenever he rode in the passenger seat with his mom, the horn was always honking. It wasn’t because she was warning people to get out of the way (though that might have been a good idea) - it was because, with various stops and turns, her chest would often heave toward the steering wheel, and well, the sheer weight and force of it would sound the horn.
I conjured up the familiar image of Bronia, short of stature and wide of girth, wedged into the driver’s seat of her car, her eyes barely clearing the top of the dashboard.
Walter told us about a day shortly before Bronia died. He was at her bedside in the hospital.
Walter: Are you okay, Mom? Can I do anything for you?
Bronia: I’m so uncomfortable. Lower the bed a little, would you?
He cranked the bed down a bit.
Walter: Is that better?
Bronia: A little more.
He turned the crank again.
Bronia: Oy, just a little lower.
Finally, Walter figured out what his mother was up to.
Walter: Mom, you want to get out of bed, don’t you? Sorry, but you can’t. Remember, you have a broken leg. If you try to walk right now, it could break again.
Bronia (who always managed to get her way): If you let me get out of bed, I promise… I will walk VERY LIGHTLY.
If I could have told a Bronia story, it would have been hard to choose just one, but it might have been this:
Not so long ago I took Bronia to Operation Breakthrough so she could speak about her experience during the Holocaust to a group of teenagers. As we were leaving the building, a woman (all lit up with a huge grin) approached Bronia with outstretched arms. “Oh my gosh! I haven’t seen you in years. You used to run the bakery, didn’t you? You made my wedding cake. It was in 1977. Remember me?”
Bronia didn’t miss a beat. Even though she was exhausted and drained from the talk, she beamed back at the woman. “Of course. It’s so nice to see you again!” They hugged each other, and the woman kept exclaiming how unbelievable and how great it was to see the bakery woman again after all these years. Clearly, running into Bronia had made her day.
As Bronia and I walked to the parking lot, I asked her if she really remembered her old customer. She shrugged and smiled and said, “She’s such a lovely person.”
That was the thing about Bronia.
In spite of the darkness and the evil and the sadness and the loss that had been a major component of her life, she was a proponent of love.
Everyone was lovely.
Life was lovely.
And those firmly held beliefs made Bronia one of the loveliest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
Her daughter, Judy, told us that the whole family was at Bronia’s bedside as she died. They had their arms wrapped around one another, encircling the bed, and they huddled close. They started singing some of Bronia’s favorite and beloved old Yiddush songs. So that’s how my friend died, being surrounded by and lifted up by family and music and memories.
How lovely is that?
I’ll miss Bronia.
Me and the 500 other people who were at her funeral. We really will.
(I stand corrected... 700 other people! If you have a Bronia story or memory you'd like to share, please leave it a as a comment so we can all enjoy.)