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Grandma Bertha and the giant wall of pumpernickel

I always told her everything. And then I told her one thing too many.

Will Dowd

You can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery with a tattoo. End of subject.”

She’s eating gefilte fish out of the jar with the same spoon she used for her diabetic strawberry jam. Yuck.

It’s 1986, and I’m a brooding teenager who’s already irritated with the world when she puts the kibosh on my plan to deflower my left ankle when I turn 18.

My grandma Bertha. Jewish. Rounded. Diabetic. Typically jolly, but when it comes to our ancestry, she’s no joke. Especially at the mention of anything German, like cars, Bayer aspirin, or pumpernickel.

I’m a virginal 16-year-old who plans to spend senior year fleshing out tattoo ideas, cutting gym class, and riding shotgun in Kathy Johnson’s white VW Cabriolet.

Strictly verboten.

I’m not thinking about being buried, let alone being buried way out in South San Francisco, where the sun never shines. WTF? I’d be miserable. She knows I hate fog. I’m so used to sharing everything with my grandma Bertha and now, bam. We hit a giant wall of pumpernickel. Hard and impenetrable.

End of subject.


Shanti L. Nelson is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow her on Instagram @shantilnelson.