Doris Riegel was born and raised on Long Island, New York. She completed her MS in Education at Indiana University where she met her husband. They lived and worked in a variety of cities around the United States before moving, with their two daughters, to New Zealand in 2006. After volunteering and working in non-profit music and theatre education for almost twenty years, she is now exploring new activities and challenges.
With a rattle, the gate to the elevator slammed shut. To a ten-year-old in the 1970s the elevator in my grandmother’s Brooklyn, NY apartment building was thrilling. The castle-like foyer with dark stone floors, concrete walls, and dim lighting was in contrast to her apartment with its tall windows and stark white walls. The kitchen was small but adequate and the living room, always tidy, held a sofa, chair, and coffee table displaying knickknacks. The bedroom was dark, but warm with walnut furniture and heavy drapes.
My grandmother’s name was Lillian Mioducki, but we called her Lulu — she refused to be known as ‘grandma’. As the oldest grandchild, I had the privilege of sometimes staying with Lulu. She would take me out in the city where we’d visit stores she called ‘shit shops’-because of the vast array of varied and cheap items they stocked, then enjoy lunch at a soda fountain followed by a stroll down to the water to watch the boats pass under the Verrazano Bridge. Lulu would often send me, on my own, to the corner deli to purchase milk and a pack of ‘True Blue’ cigarettes.
Lulu’s visits were always great fun. She had a wicked sense of humour and loved to play games. When she smoked, she sat outside the back door on an aluminium strap chair, similar to one she had in her living room, which she preferred over the soft upholstered furniture. She was a tall slim woman who wore her grey hair short. My mother would set Lulu’s hair in pink plastic curlers using a sticky green gel called ‘Dippity Do’ which had a sweet chemical odour. In the morning, the curlers were unrolled, and her hair moulded into position for the next week. Sometimes I would sneak a little gel and try to style my own hair.
When Lulu began suffering from dementia, I was stunned to discover that her relationship with my mother had always been strained. To hear the hurtful words, they shouted at each other as the dementia took over, was heart-breaking. I may never fully understand the difficulty of their relationship, but I will always treasure the memories of my funny, spirited, and generous grandmother.
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