No one expects revelation while trimming fat from skinless chicken. But there I was when the truth arrived. My life is mapped on the ample curves of my grandmothers’ bodies. I believe in well-rounded women. Their topography, at once yielding and strong, is mine – more so as my face, hips, and breasts grow rounder with age.
My maternal great-grandmother, Bertha, came from poor, Polish Catholic immigrants. She was quick with numbers, stern with her children, and an endlessly creative cook. She kept the books for her degenerate husband’s bar and later kept house for Gold Coast families. Everyone says she saw potential where others saw leftovers. Whether the medium was food, flowers, or people, she attended it with a critical and loving eye until it became a delight. I knew her late in her life when she was stocky, smooth, and soft to touch. She smelled of kitchen and Church. She had a peculiar walk, a rolling waddle I recognize in my reflection. She played on swings at 85 and could recite the capitol of every South American country at 93. I still recall her ever-present handbags and her life-sized Infant of Prague statue. “How are you, Babchi?” you’d ask and she’d answer, “Like an old lady!” This woman of steel ended every phone call, “Pussycat, pussycat!”
I never saw my paternal grandmother, Bertha, (“Grandma O’Brien” to us and “B” to everyone else) carry less than 300 pounds on her five-foot-two-inch frame, though in her youth she was stunning and svelte. She stocked the house with rich treats, “for the girls,” she’d innocently tell my dad. She hummed original wordless tunes and vacuumed fleas from her poodles. She loved playing her organ, excelled at needlepoint, and kept a Hummel collection that had its own zip code. When I picture her, she is standing in the early morning by the giant plate glass window that formed the fourth wall of her kitchen. With a bowl of milky tea in hand, she draws back the drapes and shouts, “Good morning, River!” to the Intercoastal Waterway across the street. She laughed often and loudly from her expansive heart and gigantic belly. As long as I knew her, she was wife and nurse to Grandpop O’Brien, who was irreparably disabled by multiple strokes. She bathed and fed him, guarded his movements, and talked to him long after he could answer.
When I converted to Judaism 10 years ago, I named myself Meira, a Hebrew form of “Bertha,” meaning “bright.” Only now is the connection fully illuminated. My walking and humming, my affinity for cooking and crafts, my industriousness and compassion, and my love for strong, milky tea. They are written on my increasingly zaftig body. My partner, herself a well-rounded woman in all respects, says I come from “peasant stock,” meaning short, solid, and ample. I hope she also means assertive, passionate, and devoted. I believe in well-rounded women. I end my calls “Pussycat, pussycat!” and always say good morning to the river.
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