There are people, lots of them, who see a silver lining behind every dark cloud. Then there was my Grandma Ethel. For her, behind every dark cloud was another dark cloud. And a cloudless sky was no reason to celebrate. Although she was a very good-hearted and devoted grandmother, she could take a sunny day, any sunny day, and turn it into a potential tragedy: "You could die from heat stroke on such a day!" And winter? Some people picture crystalline snowflakes and bracing walks in the woods. Not Grandma. At the first sign of frost, we could always count on a phone call from Brooklyn warning us of the dangers we’d likely encounter just outside our door: “Don’t walk on frozen ponds,” she’d insist in her deeply accented English, “you could fall through and drown.” “But Grandma,” I'd explain, “where we live in Queens, there are no ponds.”



Grandma Ethel and her second husband, Grandpa Louie, on their wedding day in 1949.


Grandma Ethel and her first husband, Grandpa Harry, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park on their wedding day in 1929. Grandpa Harry died in 1943 at age 44.
Grandma Ethel was born in 1898, in Lvov, a city in Ukraine, that was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She came to the United States with her parents, sisters, and brother in the mid-1920s, where they settled in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood. Grandma Ethel died in 1973.



Grandma Ethel in her store, the
Bay Ridge Gift Shop, in Brooklyn, New York, in 1969. Even though she's smiling,
believe me, she was a pessimist
(but with a heart of gold).


Can you pick out the pessimistic grandma? From left to right: Grandpa Louie, Grandma Ethel, Grandma May, and Grandpa Marty in Forest Park, Kew Gardens, New York, 1958.