The Bubster

Each summer, when I was a kid and before I started going to overnight camp, my family would go to Cape Cod for 2 weeks for vacation. My sister and I, along with my parents and my mother’s parents (Bubbie and Zadie) made up the core group of vacationers. We would get visitors from other parts of the family over the course of the 2 weeks. We stayed in different towns over the years.

The last time I can remember going I was probably 9 years old. I’m 45 now so my memories for these trips are at least 36 years old. I don’t remember every moment of every trip but for those that I do remember, they are as vivid today as they were back then.

For multiple summers we stayed in Wellfleet, which is a small town that sits pretty high up on Cape Cod. It is about 15 miles south of Provincetown (the town all the way at the end of the cape). We stayed in this small cabin that was, frankly, gross. I remember waking up one night with an army of ants on my pillow with me. I remember sitting in the kitchen sink to take a bath. The beauty of this place wasn’t the inside though; it was its proximity to the ocean.

From this cabin, we’d walk down this long sand path that was framed by tall grass that, given my height at the time, came up to my neck. There were giant sand pits that I could fall down (on purpose) and just play for hours. The sand at the bottom of these pits was always quite a bit cooler on my feet than the rest of the beach.

We spent a lot of time on the beach on those visits. There wasn’t much else to do in that place. I’ve never been a big fan of swimming and as such, not a huge fan of the ocean. We would go to the beach, all of us carrying something. I would drag this inflatable boat with the rope around it down the sandy path all the way to the ocean. My Bubbie would have one of those low-to-the-ground beach chairs. We would get to the beach and she would plant her chair about 1 foot from the edge of the water. She would strap the boat’s rope around one of the chair’s legs and then plant me in the boat, and her in the chair. I’d sit in that boat for what felt like hours, gently rocking in the first 8″ of the ocean. I don’t remember if we talked about anything during that time. I don’t remember if I had any toys with me or if she was doing anything other than being my boat’s anchor. I just remember sitting in the boat, on the edge of the ocean, hoping she wouldn’t let me drift off to England, or wherever the ocean would take me.

Some other time, she and my Zadie took my sister and me on a trip to Provincetown. They brought us into this cute little gift shop/general store type of place. She bought me a Rubik’s Cube. There was something odd about this particular cube though. It was in a box that was all black. At the time of purchase, I wasn’t sure why but, The Bubster (as I like to call her), paid for it and back to the car we went. Zadie was driving. While she did have her driver’s license, I don’t ever recall being in a car with her in the driver’s seat (and if she ever was, I’m reasonably sure she wouldn’t have been able to see over the steering wheel without a phone book).

I opened the box of the Rubik’s cube and much to my surprise, it wasn’t covered in the standard colors.

Each of the six sides were emblazoned with a picture of a different, and very naked, man.

I asked her what kind of Rubik’s Cube this was? She casually took it from me and I’ve not seen it since. A few years ago I got her a “standard” Rubik’s Cube as a gift. She put it on her TV stand as a reminder.

Then there was the time in a different town, Brewster I believe, where we stayed in a house that had its very own small fishing dock on a small lake in the backyard. The Bubster would sit in her chair (probably the same chair from the beach) on the dock while I learned how to fish. One day we were out there fishing. My mother was out there with us, wearing these [ugly] green socks. I went to cast my fishing line and on the backswing, got it stuck on one of my mother’s socks. Panic ensued. The Bubster sprang into action to try to extricate the hook from the sock but in attempting to do so, hooked her own finger. Fortunately for my mother (and the rest of us who had to suffer her wearing the green socks), we were able to get the sock off, cut the line, and head to the emergency room. The Bubster was attached to my mother’s green sock via my fishing hook, laughing the whole time.

Then, there was the infamous whale watch. Given my general distaste for the ocean, you’d think a whale watch wouldn’t be my thing but I had always been fascinated with whales so that outweighed whatever ocean trepidation I had. My mother, The Bubster, and I were the only 3 from the group who wanted to go. Bubbie was dressed with her white shoes and her Sophia Petrillo bag like she was on her way, with the Golden Girls, via the Love Boat, to Gilligan’s Island. Zadie dropped us off at the boat dock. I didn’t realize what a time commitment it was. I believe it was probably 3 hours of boating out followed by 20-30 minutes of viewing, and then 3 hours back. While still in the harbor, we were sitting in the inside cabin of the boat and The Bubster realized that coffee was being sold for $0.05 a cup. What a bargain! “Matty,” she would call me, “go get me a cuppa-coffee.” I think I probably went back 4 or 5 times while in the harbor. This particular whale watch was sparsely attended, and it’s a good thing…

Once we exited the harbor, the real ocean happened and by that, I mean, very choppy waters. It wasn’t long before those white shoes The Bubster was wearing looked more like the green socks my mother liked to fish in. I don’t think she was able to stand up the entire boat ride. I’m talking non-stop seasickness. Eventually we reached calm waters for the actual viewing of whales. Aside from a few crew members, I was the only passenger outside the boat looking at the whales. I remember calling to my mother and The Bubster that the whales were breaching and hoping that someone would join me in the excitement. Alas, The Bubster was still repainting her shoes and my mother was attempting to find solace in the palms of her hands. The good news: 3 more hours of rough waters to get back to shore.

Needless to say, when we got back, The Bubster walked with us back to Zadie’s waiting car, barefoot and declared that this whale watch would be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

Most people aren’t as lucky as I’ve been to have grandparents alive for as much of their lives as I’ve had. I lost my first grandparent, Zadie, the week of my wedding. The Bubster was the last of my grandparents to go and I truly think she’d rather us laugh about ridiculous stories involving fishing hooks attached to socks and whale watch coffee than anything else.

She was the funniest person I’ve known. Everything about my sense of humor comes from her. She was proud and loud and warm and and open-minded and progressive and so hilarious.

My mother would tell this story better but I’ll give it a try. The Bubster used to manage a women’s lingerie store in Malden (where she lived) called Lady Grace. Apparently, people would come from all over the country so she could fit them for bras. At some point, she started receiving customers who were men as well. Her store didn’t have a men’s dressing room though so they had to use the next best thing: a storage closet. The men would try things on, with her waiting outside, and impatiently calling for them to “come out of the closet.” She apparently liked to take credit for coining that phrase.

You know that feeling you get after you hear a great joke? You get that feeling that you need to tell someone else; you need to share it. I don’t think many of us have a grandmother on speed dial for that. I did.

“Bubster, sit down for this one…”

I’d tell her a dirty joke and she would always make this over dramatic gasping sound, like she was shocked that her grandson would tell her such disgusting things. She would then often start cackling and then occasionally claim that the joke may have made her pee, just a little, in her pants.

It wasn’t all jokes though; just mostly. The other times we would speak, she wanted to talk about the Red Sox, what I thought about whatever was going on in national politics, our pets, or how my kids were doing. Nothing was ever SO serious. Nothing was too big or too small to talk about. Nothing was out of bounds.

A life like hers is hard to come by and I think you’d have been lucky to have her in your life for even a fraction of what I’ve had.

Her life was long, full, and filled with love, laughter, family, and happiness.

When we found out that we were nearing the end, my sister and I made a trip to the hospital to visit. You never really know what you’re going to experience on those types of visits. In my experience, the person I’m visiting is usually sleeping. We went into her room and she was awake. She gave us a big smile. We gave her updates on what was going on in our worlds; that our kids said hi and loved her. I ran down my list of normal topics we like to cover including telling her that the Yankees had lost the night before in game 2 of the American League Championship Series. She watched and supported the Red Sox like they were her religion.

She responded with an excited, ”Oh great!”

Even in these moments, she liked to keep things light.

As we said our goodbyes and started to leave, I looked back and asked her one more question:

“Bub, be honest, I’m the best looking in the family right?”

She’s never given me a straight answer on this question when I’ve asked before but this time…


I always knew it. I said I loved her and continued to walk out.

She replied, ”I love you more!”

I’m not so sure about that.