I’m sorry, I actually loved my Bat Mitzvah. (And I’m not just saying that because my parents are in the audience.) However, my grandmother would certainly have changed a few things.
When I was little, I loved to look through my parents’ wedding album with my grandmother. We’d look at the photos of the guests at their tables, and my grandmother would say: “That one’s dead, she’s dead, he’s dead, I dunno what happened to her, dead, dead… dead.
My mother’s mother was one of my favorite people on earth. I was lucky enough to have had her in my life until adulthood. She lived long enough to see me married and with a child, in that order, thank god.
But she’s not here, now, and so I thought that I should look through my Bat Mitzvah photo album tonight, with all of you, and try to channel what she would have said if she was here, too, up on stage, adding her 2 cents. The part of my grandmother adding her 2 cents will be played…by my husband.
SMILE! WHY DON’T YOU SMILE??
WHY SUCH A DARK DRESS? IT’S NOT A FUNERAL.
(ps That was my FAVORITE dress. Laura Ashley. And I would not be caught dead in any brighter color than that until my 30s.)
AT LEAST YOU FINALLY GOT YOUR HAIR OUT OF YOUR EYES.
WATCH IT YOU ARE GOING TO CUT YOURSELVES. LET JACK DO IT. LOU DON’T HUNCH.
(ps Lou, on the left was my grandfather, my grandmother’s husband, and she talked to him just like that. Jack was my other grandfather.)
IT LOOKS LIKE THE BALLOONS ARE COMING OUT OF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD. WHY DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE YOUR SPEECH RHYME? THAT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF TROUBLE YOU DIDN’T NEED.
(ps I’d have to agree with her, there.)
THE CAKE IS SHAPED LIKE AN ARTIST’S THING. WE’RE STICKING LOLLIPOPS INSTEAD OF CANDLES INTO IT BECAUSE IT’S SHABBOS, OF COURSE.
(ps My grandmother grew up fairly orthodox, raised her family conservative, and secretly longed to eat, and did, sweet and sour shrimp behind my grandfather’s back.)
STILL, NO SMILE. AND LOOK, YOUR GRANDMA HELENE GOT LIPSTICK ON YOU. NOW THE REST OF THE PHOTOS ARE RUINED.
ALSO, AN ACCORDIONIST? NO ONE LIKES THE ACCORDION.
(ps My husband plays the accordion.)
FINALLY, YOU’RE SMILING. BUT DID YOU HAVE TO TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES? YOU’RE GOING TO RUIN YOUR PANTYHOSE.
(ps I don’t remember having that much fun.)
My grandma had a smile that she would wear in all photographs. Look straight into the camera, show teeth, very awkward, nervous expression. Hold.
Which is, come to think of it, my attitude towards Judaism in a nutshell. For me, it’s a practice that can feel…awkward, but is also unaccountably important and so deserves to be captured, forever, perhaps even in a sort of book (or album?), so that your family can return to it through the years and tear it apart. Over and over again.
Lisa Brown is a New York Times bestselling illustrator, writer, and cartoonist. Her children’s books include: How to Be, Vampire Boy’s Good Night, Emily’s Blue Period (with author Cathleen Daly), 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy (with author Lemony Snicket), and Baby, Mix Me a Drink. She teaches writing and illustrating picture books at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.