The Smartest Woman I Know by Ilene Beckerman
More than a decade ago, an industry friend encouraged me to read what was probably my first nonfiction book since college and consequently expanded my reading universe beyond fiction. We don’t work together any more; however, once in awhile he sends an advance reading copy with a yellow sticky marked ENJOY!. And I know I will. The Smartest Woman I Know arrived marked just this way.
Ilene Beckerman’s first book, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, became a bestseller and inspired the hit Off Broadway play entitled the same. Her latest is a small gem honoring the wit and wisdom of her grandmother, Ettie. The text alone is funny; however, the quirky illustrations and quotes gilding this memoir making it even more enjoyable.
Ilene, known as Gingy, and her sister, Tootsie, went to live with Ettie and her husband, Mr. Goldberg, in 1945. They lived above Goldberg’s, an Upper East Side candy store, which later became known as Madison Stationers.
The two sisters lived with the Goldberg’s during a time when the world was in a constant state of flux, yet Ettie didn’t change much at all. She had worked hard her whole life and raised three children. At 65 she was raising two grandchildren and still working seven days a week at the cash register and “schmoozing” with customers. She was busy dispensing advice, solicited and otherwise, to clientele ranging from neighborhood regulars to movie stars and mothers of future presidents. Ettie had an opinion on everything, talked to herself and God, worried, and all the while rolled out her pearls of wisdom to Gingy, Tootsie, and anyone else who would listen. Thing like…
Finances – “A penny earned is a penny you should save. A dollar is even better.”
Hollywood – “Who needs the movies? I should pay money to go to the movies to see craziness? I can stay home and see craziness.”
Dining out – “How do I know they wash their hands? In my house you can eat off the bathroom floor. In some restaurants, you don’t even want to go to the bathroom in their bathroom.”
The contents of her “Handbag for Emergencies” alone reminded me so much of my own grandmother, it made me simultaneously laugh and cry.
When I finished this book I passed it on to my mother. On a recent vacation, three of us were reading lakeside; my mom would chuckle, and then read a passage aloud to my niece and I. Eventually she read most of the entire book aloud to us. I thought maybe the book would appeal to only women of a certain age; however, three generations of women, ranging in age from 16 to 74, sharing laughter proved me wrong. Pick this up. It is short, irrepressible, heartfelt, and hilarious, just like Ettie.