Emma is part of my people. A long-gone matriarch who kept the family moving forward through the good and the bad.
She was born in Belgium and named Emma. She was my great grandmother. My mom thought Emma was a little too old fashioned, so she named me Emily. Emma’s maiden name is my middle name. We called her Booma. It means something in Flemish – probably a dirty word. Before asking a Belgian what it means, know that you could be saying something very offensive. And you might get slapped.
You have been warned.
I remember going into Booma’s room at my grandma’s (her daughter) house and spending hours of time with Booma, watching her crochet and stealing Starbursts and M&Ms from her kleenex box. Unfortunately she also kept some of her medications loose in the box. That meant that stealing the M&Ms could be a minefield if I didn’t look. I bit into one of her bitter pills once. Not a happy memory. I still regard M&Ms with a level of cautious optimism.
Booma was a legend in her own time: she left Belgium to escape socialism, to become Catholic and to leave behind the heartache of her fiance who was killed in World War I.
She met my great grandfather through an ad in the newspaper. I’d like to think that she would have used eHarmony if she were alive today. But she probably wouldn’t have been matched up with my great grandfather.
They were an odd couple.
Booma was short, maybe 5’2″. Her daughter, my Nani, was 5’8″. My mom is 5’10”. I am 6’1″.
Booma was funny. She was the one who told us that if we poured salt on the tail feathers of birds, we could catch them. She played tricks on my mom, aunt and uncles. She was wise and woefully undereducated. She worked in a button factory for many years.
Her biological legacy is alive and well with me today: I managed to inherit elements of her fantastic reproductive system. While Booma was one of 8 children, she only had my Nani. Booma had fibroids, like me. She had Nani via C-Section -one of the first in Chicago. Her fibroids also resulted in a hysterectomy.
She always wanted a large family and even though she didn’t have any more children after Nani, when she died at the age of 96,
one daughter and a son in law
who had four children, who all married
and had 13 great grandchildren (9 of whom she met)
I have fond memories of Booma.
Once, when I was 5 and staying with Nani and Papa (Booma lived with them), I had to puke. I puked a lot as a child.
And yet I still love food so much.
Anyway, I had to puke.
I learned, at a young age, that my little thumb nail fit right into the locks of the doors in my grandparents’ house. And with just a little bit of finagling, I could get the door open.
So, like I was saying, I had to puke.
I didn’t give myself a lot of time between realizing I have to puke and then doing so.
I ran to the bathroom, but the door was locked – because SOMEONE was using it.
That someone was Booma.
No matter, I knew how to pick the lock.
And I had to puke.
Bursting through the door, my poor, dear Booma sat on the toilet, staring at me.
I don’t remember saying anything.
On the floor.
Right in front of her.
Her mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.
She swore in Flemish.
She repeated over and over, “But I locked the door!”
Good try, Booma. That day she learned a lesson my parents learned many times over: if Emily has to puke, she’s going to puke. Right. Here. (And it will probably decimate everything in a 10 foot radius)
I still laugh when I think of the look on her face.
Booma – she is my people.