Sunday, January 31, 2010


My Grandmother, Nana Laura, was quite a character. By her own definition she was "a feisty old broad." She enjoyed the privileges of old age, often to an extreme. On a bus she would humiliate men who didn't offer her a seat -- "Thank the Lord I am not your Mother."
As a youngster I was delighted with her antics and together we indulged in her favorite enterprises.
When my parents went away for a weekend we set out to the local Delicatessen to buy the various delights behind the glass case. Rare roast beef and potato salad with rye bread was out favorite. Not exactly the meal my Mother had in mind, but Nana Laura delighted in it.
On Saturdays we took the Fifth Avenue bus up from Greenwich Village, in New York City, to 59th Street where FAO Schwarz was located. Our mission was to adopt another Madame Alexander doll and possibly another Steiff teddy bear.
Nana Laura was a favorite customer of the salesgirls who earned commissions on her extravagances. She had no illusions about her popularity and made them earn their paycheck.
There were rules for adoption. And procedures. First she would line up a dozen or more of the "same" doll or bear. "There are no two alike so we must interview them first." If there were not enough candidates on the shelf she would smile at the salesgirl and ask, "Are there any more hiding in the stock room?" The poor salesgirl would scurry off to "fetch" additional stock.
Nana Laura had the eyes of a hawk but she delighted in the "props" of elegant seniority. These included conspicuously elegant hats and gold rimmed eyeglasses on a chain around her neck.
Once the dolls or bears were lined up on the counter she would raise the glasses to her twinkling eyes and peer into their faces until one "spoke" to her. I was too young to appreciate the importance of these interviews but learned to over the years.
After the interview we would take our new family additions to tea at the Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel across the Street from FAO Schwarz.
Perhaps the most endearing rule was her insistence on making the new bear or doll feel right at home. If a doll had a wrist tag or other type of company identity showing it was removed at once. The Steiff bears had their ear tags carefully removed.
"These are not visitors," she would say as the tags were clipped off, "but members of our family. We must make them feel comfortable and at home."
So my first Sasha family had all of their tags removed and when I photographed the Steiff bears for my first book they too had their tags removed.
Traditions should be honored and rules must be observed.