by Reeve Chudd
My maternal grandmother, Rosie Goldman, had a very special superpower. What power, you ask? She was a Mammal Magnet; her unfathomable, seemingly involuntary radiance would attract virtually all mammals, both domesticated and wild, to her proximity. This was most definitely not something I fantasized; while her talent was uncanny, it was verifiable by dozens of witnesses, especially humans. I first learned about the power from Rosie’s man, my Grandpa Sam, whose own most impressive power was that of a polyglot.
Rosie was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. Sam, on the other hand, emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine (then part of Russia) with his widowed mother and younger brother at the turn of the twentieth century, and through his disjointed sojourn to America, he and his family made long stops in Germany, France and Ireland, finally ending in Brooklyn. As a result, Sam became prolific in German, French, English and Gaelic, in addition to his mater lingua of Yiddish and native vernacular of Russian. Along the way, he also became a skilled diamond cutter, by which he made his lifetime living. Later, when I struggled to learn French in high school so that I could converse in code with Sam, my esteem for his power rose exponentially, but it was Rosie’s extraordinary attraction of beasts which was the marvel of my early life.
When Wilbur, my normally stubborn basset hound, was with me, even sleeping with me on my bed, if my grandmother entered the room he would be awakened to depart and be with her. It wasn’t just Wilbur who succumbed to this gray-haired siren. When Rosie would accompany me on walks with Wilbur, others in our Long Island neighborhood who were simultaneously walking their canine family members would normally be wary of their own dog approaching Wilbur and instigating territorial scuffles, but these folks were uniformly shocked to see their pet instead drag them by leash toward Rosie, totally ignoring Wilbur.
Rosie and Sam lived in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, on Lincoln Road, just east of Prospect Park, in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant the delectable aromas of which were so powerful that Sam (a Cantonese food snob) could identify the dishes being prepared downstairs. My parents and I lived on Dogleg Lane in Roslyn Heights on Long Island, but I got to spend many a weekend sleeping over on Sam and Rosie’s Castro convertible sofa. My grandparents were infinitely more interesting than my parents (which seems to me to be a universal truth among naïve youth). Now that I have my own grandson, I understand these sentiments. Parents must exercise their roles to discipline and guide their children’s development of sound values, whereas the primary responsibilities of grandparents are to impart love and entertainment (i.e., spoil their grandchildren) and to relate their histories. If done properly, this process secures grandparents’ immortality through their descendants. What should be obvious to the reader is that Sam and Rosie were successful in this process with yours truly.
I could write a book on experiences of Rosie’s power, but here I’ll just share a few choice examples, and then I’ll share my favorite experience with her.
Once, Sam and Rosie took me to the Bronx Zoo when I was eight years old. Upon approaching the various mammal habitats, the normally indifferent bestial residents would halt in their then present activity and instead turn their gaze upon my grandmother, as if they regarded her as their royalty. Had I become a veterinarian (one of my earlier answers to an adult’s inquiry of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”), I pondered that I would employ my grandmother outside my clinic door in order to attract new patients.
She could even attract normally self-centered cats! In the apartment adjacent to my grandparents’ flat lived Edith Schiavelli, a wonderful, plump soul who had a Russian Blue named Cleocatra (yes, I know, a name of hideous pun-ishment). Cleo got herself stuck way up in a tree chasing a bird. Edith, along with many in this Flatbush neighborhood, was well aware of Rosie’s power, and she enlisted my grandmother’s services to retrieve the elevated feline, with quick success in about fifteen seconds after Cleo saw Rosie appear.
On another occasion, my parents took me, Rosie and Sam to Honolulu to visit my father’s sister. There, we swam with dolphins in the Kahala Hotel lagoon. All three of those playful cetaceans surrounded Rosie, while the frustrated hotel lifeguards attempted unsuccessfully to redirect those creatures to pay some attention to the other tourists in the water.
My mother and I learned early on not to bring Rosie along to the veterinarian for Wilbur’s appointments. The first time we did, the vet’s waiting room became a tangled web of intertwined leashes from the scramble of canine patients seeking proximity to Rosie. On the other hand, when Wilbur, age fifteen, reached senility, incontinence and painful hip dysplasia, when it was finally time to put him down, we had Rosie there to comfort him in his final moments. I am absolutely certain that Wilbur, on some level, found his final moments of peace with her presence. When I fantasized about the existence of an animal heaven, I’d suggest to myself that God would enlist Rosie, now of blessed memory, to be the animal heaven equivalent of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
On many of my visits to Brooklyn, I would spend hours with Sam in deep, mutual cogitation regarding the origin of Rosie’s power. Could it be her perfume or her particular body scent? Well, no, explained Sam, because the zoo animals who responded in her presence were probably too far away to sniff Rosie’s essence. Could it be her wonderfully soft and soothing voice (Sam claimed it was one of Rosie’s most attractive features)? Probably not, I noted, because her seemingly organic magnetism worked even when she was silent. Could it possibly be her appearance (she never reached five feet in height nor one hundred pounds in weight)? Nope, said I, because other diminutive adults we knew exhibited no such phenomenon, let alone smaller children. Make-up? It couldn’t be her lipstick or nail polish color because most non-humans were color-blind.
Sam, half joking, even asked me if Rosie’s power was proof of her superior evolution beyond the rest of earth’s population, to which I drew the contra-distinction that maybe she was less evolved, i.e., more animal-like and, therefore, less of a human threat.
All of the foregoing is background to my favorite story starring my grandmother and her superpower creating a special day when paired with an extraordinary African Grey parrot named Boris.
Boris was owned by my cousin Mickey, the only son of my mother’s elder sister, Ruth. Mickey, about 13 years my senior, was a fireman and lived with his long-time girlfriend, Tina, in Brooklyn, not more than a five-minute walk from my grandparents’ home. While Rosie’s power didn’t extend to fowl, fish, reptiles or insects, it was obvious when Mickey visited with Boris on his shoulder that the parrot enjoyed being in Rosie’s company.
Now Boris, like many of his species, was a master of repeating sounds and voices that he heard, particularly those originating with high decibels. His repertoire included, but was not limited to: (a) imitating the sound of the electric garage door at Mickey’s house opening and closing (which, at 3:00 am, can be frightful), (b) repeating with enthusiasm Mickey’s cackling laugh, (c) making the sound of Mickey’s smoker’s hacking cough (which was followed by Boris’ reiterating Mickey’s fiery response to the bird when Mickey heard Boris imitating that cough: “Knock that shit off!”), (d) repeating a full litany of Mickey’s frequent outbursts replete with expletives (such as “What the fuck?!!!”) and, most importantly and unfortunately, (e) replicating all of the lovemaking sounds and vocalizations of Mickey and Tina in the throes of passion. Boris was normally silent until he heard loud noises or speech, at which point he would respond vocally.
While Rosie was tolerant of Mickey’s visits with Boris, she was not fond at all of Boris’ exercising any of his aforementioned talents and would scold Sam and me if we raised our voices in the bird’s presence (with the intention of eliciting the bird’s response). Of course, my grandfather and I loved doing just that. Sam would sometimes arrive home from work to discover Mickey, Tina and Boris at his home, and would raise his voice in imitation of Desi Arnaz from the “I Love Lucy” television sitcom, calling out, in his best Cuban accent: “Boris, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”, and the bird’s consequential diatribe would send us all (except Rosie, of course) into paroxysms of laughter.
The other minor participant in my favorite Rosie story was Marvin, Sam’s and Rosie’s black Labrador Retriever, who was a bosom buddy of my own Wilbur. Marvin, of course, was also addicted to Rosie’s charm and, as with Wilbur and me, Sam bemoaned the fact that if he was alone and paying attention to Marvin and Rosie entered the room, he (Sam) suddenly became “chopped liver.” To that I replied: “Are you telling me that Marvin would pass up chopped liver?”
I was thirteen years old in the summer of 1961, when Mickey and Tina decided to go on a photo safari in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. Mickey unilaterally volunteered Sam and Rosie to babysit Boris during their week absence. During this period, I also was visiting and staying in my grandparents’ apartment, now with the added joy of Boris’ presence. My grandmother suggested that we take Marvin on a visit to Prospect Park. Because Boris had clipped wings, he was smart enough not to attempt an aerial escape and, frankly, he loved to sit for hours on the vantage point of a human shoulder, so we brought him along with us. This wasn’t exactly Rosie’s choice, but the alternative would have been leaving the bird alone in the apartment and suffering the complaints of neighbors while Boris screamed his fowl foul expletives in his separation anxiety (thanks, Mickey).
Since it was a weekday, Sam was dutifully working as a diamond cutter at Tuck’s Jewelry, a prominent custom jewelry store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan (Andy Tuck, formerly Avram Tuchmann of Vienna, was the store owner). Sam, who spoke fluent German, loved to tell people that the word schmuck in German was translated as “jewelry”, and so a more appropriate name for the store would be “Tuck’s Schmucks”, which he thought was a great joke, considering that in America, the word schmuck had been taken from Yiddish and Anglicized to mean a “jerk.” But I digress; so, it was just Rosie, me, Marvin and Boris out for a walk in the park.
Prospect Park is perhaps the most dog-friendly park in America. There are wonderful, fenced-in walking trails (Kensington Dog Run) as well as an actual tiny lake for canine bathers (the Prospect Park Dog Beach). What’s more, the park has its own activist organization to preserve its dog-friendly ways, called FIDO (Fellowship for the Interests of Dogs & their Owners). Even if you were dogless, but a major dog lover, visiting Prospect Park would be a thrill and a half. Professional dog walkers with five or six canines on a leash were plentiful and fun just to observe the chaos they wrought. Prospect Park is a special place of peace and comfort, the paradigm locale to get a “dog fix.”
On this humid day, the four of us (the reader will forgive my anthropomorphizing Marvin and Boris) ventured to the park. Boris was initially silent on my shoulder, and several times during our walk from my grandparents’ apartment and into Prospect Park I would reach up to my shoulder to invite him to move onto my index finger (he always accepted my invitation), and then I would gently secure his tiny feet between my thumb and forefinger and swing my arm in a full circle several times with the bird attached. Mickey trained him in this activity, and my cousin would jokingly say that Boris was a “real swinger”, because the bird seemed to love the ride. What was most impressive is that when Mickey trained Boris, my cousin would swing the bird several times and then ask “Again?” So, after swinging around a few times, when I stopped, Boris immediately asked “Again?” People around us, who initially thought that I was torturing Boris, broke into laughter when they heard this utterance whenever I stopped the swinging.
As I said, it was humid and hot, and because Marvin was a water dog, these visits to the park involved him taking a plunge into water at Dog Beach. As on most summer days, this small water feature was filled with dogs playfully splashing about. There was a sign that forbade humans and other non-canine animals from swimming there, as well as a warning that the small lake was quite deep, so that the owners should not place into the water dogs without any swimming experience, such as puppies. Humans, however, were permitted to stand or sit on the slab rocks at the edge of the lake to watch the frivolity in the water.
Once his leash was removed, Marvin, perhaps surrendering to his ancestral proclivities, forsook his constant attachment to Rosie and bounded into the water. We watched gleefully as he paddled around, and Rosie muttered, “Sure beats bathing him."
Within a couple of minutes, as if upon command, Marvin and all of his fellow enthusiastic canine bathers responded to the Rosie’s charms, and one by one they all emerged from the water and, as if in a planned out-of-water ballet, and surrounded her (I was within that circle, having already placed myself in close proximity of my grandmother with Boris on my shoulder). The conglomeration of canines then shook vehemently in unison to get dry, torrentially soaking poor Rosie, Boris and me.
The crowd of human owners present steered their attention to us, and an elderly woman observer, seeing this phenomenon, screamed “Oh, my God!!” These three magic words were a trigger for Boris, and he dutifully began reciting his virtuoso from Mickey and Tina’s copulative adventures. He carried on this dialogue in both Mickey’s and Tina’s voices:
TINA: Oh, my God! You’re so hard! Don’t…….stop!
MICKEY: You’re mine, Baby!
TINA: Make me happy, Big Boy!
MICKEY: Feels so good, Baby!
TINA: "Oh… oh....oh….ooooooooooh."
And so on, until Boris added, as the conclusion of his recital, Tina’s crescendo, “Now go get a towel to clean up.”
Well, all of this merriment and the bird banter that followed was enough to cause the crowd of owners to burst into laughter, followed by many of them coughing loudly to catch their breath, and the latter naturally brought Boris back to the obvious response of Mickey’s “Knock that shit off!”, casting the crowd into further enjoyment.
The ever-expanding crowd on the slate rocks began to applaud Boris’ masterpiece as well as Rosie’s circle of canine friends, and Marvin then started a barking chorus joined in by all of his present furry friends. As if an encore performance was required as a piece de resistance, I drew Boris from my shoulder, swung him around a few times, and then took a bow.
Someone in the crowd who’d brought towels for their dogs offered one to each of me and Rosie. We dried off, and after exchanging pleasantries with Boris’ newly found fans, it was time to go back to the apartment to change clothes and for Rosie to start preparing dinner.
That was a day of days, when pleasure crushed sadness, and joy was rampant. I had many enjoyable visits with my grandparents which were incredibly special and loving for me, but this day will be my most adoring story of Rosie and Boris so long as l draw breath. I sure wish that I had a video of that wonderful day’s events, instead of merely the vision in my mind’s eye.
When Mickey died of cancer in 2015, he bequeathed Boris to me. By then, Boris was about 60 years old, nearly my own age, and, sadly but inevitably, our grandparents had already left us. I have a poodle now, Lulu, and Boris and Lulu serenade me with their barking dialogue sometimes. I’ve tried to teach Boris to keep a civil tongue, but my own grandson visits from college and secretly tries to revive Boris’ raunchy memory from Mickey’s mentorship. Boris’ presence in our living room (and his weekly imitations of our garage door opening at 3:00 am) reinforces daily my loving memory of Sam and Rosie. My only regret is that Lulu never had the chance to experience the radiant magnetism of Rosie. Perhaps someday she will.
Reeve Chudd is a retired trusts and estates attorney from Los Angeles, now residing in Carmel, Indiana. He wanted to become a professional writer, but he didn’t want to sacrifice eating. His four university degrees, when added to $4.65, will purchase a grande latte at Starbucks. He is on FaceBook, but no other social media.