Dear Michael and Caroline,
She took me everywhere in Manhattan, as my own parents never had. I would stay overnight with my grandparents, often for a few days during school vacation, and every day Nana would take me on some adventure in the great city.
As a boy, especially one growing up in the suburbs, I saw the city as all hustle and roar, as a movie that was all action without letup, something to see and hear at every turn. Nana took me to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall (for movies yet!), the New York Historical Society (where I pored over newspapers from the Revolutionary War), Central Park, a toy store on the Upper East Side called Rappaports, Schrafts (for ice cream sodas), Chock Full of Nuts, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s (where Barney himself once took care of us) and who knows where else.
She would do anything for me, my grandmother.
She listened to me at length and heard my words as my parents never could.
She praised me for being smart and beautiful and clever.
In later years, she would remind me of a remark I apparently made at the Guggenheim Museum (yet another cultural landmark she took me to). We were there looking at some modern painting, maybe a product of Abstract Expressionism. And I said, according to her, “If you turn it upside down, it will look the same.”
And so it was that she poured herself into me, poured all of herself, her hopes and wishes, her attention and affection. And to me it always felt all-consuming, as if I were in the embrace of something towering and mountainous, inescapable. Through her, probably as much as anyone, I learned to speak and behave, learned manners and diction and appreciation of history and culture and Manhattan itself.
All our adventures centered on Manhattan. I rarely saw her outside it. She came to be synonymous with it, its representative, its most loyal advocate and tour guide.
Without her – her care, her guidance, her very presence – I might well have grown up feeling shunned, unloved, isolated, alone.
P.S. – See Part 3 tomorrow.