Teen compares high school experience to great-grandmother’s

Anya Tullman (left) helped celebrate her Great-Grandma Libby’s 103rd birthday in June. 


My great-grandmother sits in her favorite chair, puts her feet up and asks me if I had any trouble finding a parking spot. When I respond, “No, I got a good spot today, right up front,” she smiles and crosses her hands, displaying perfectly manicured fingernails. 

Grandma Libby offers me a piece of Hershey’s chocolate, which I gladly accept, and tells me about dinner with Hilda, a woman who attended my grandmother’s wedding 80 years ago. Grandma Libby is 103, but she doesn’t look — or act — a day over 85.

Writing for Ohr Chadash, the Jewish Light teen page, requires that I check off at least one of three requirements: stories that pertain to St. Louis, stories that have a Jewish angle and stories that impact teens. I am a St. Louis, Jewish teen in 2018; my grandmother was a St. Louis Jewish teen in 1933. What better place to start?

I am a senior in high school. I spend my weekdays at school, doing homework and participating in extracurricular activities. 

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Grandma Libby did not go to school past ninth grade. Instead, at age 14, she began working for her family’s grocery store, Northside Packing Company. 

While I am lucky to have never experienced true anti-Semitism, grandma and her family were ostracized by the local community. In fact, one customer said to my grandma’s father, “I’d love to shop with you but if my husband knew that I was shopping in this store talking to you as Jew, he’d kill me and you both.” The family got out of the grocery business shortly after.

On the weekends, I enjoy eating at Mission Taco Joint and watching Netflix with my friends. Although she began working full-time at a young age, Grandma Libby still had plenty of fun. She had eight or nine close friends, and the group would take the streetcar to Fairgrounds Park, hang around the neighborhoods and jump rope. On special occasions, my grandmother would walk five miles from her home to see a show; she was even in the audience on the night the St. Louis Fox Theatre opened in 1929.

My grandmother’s dating experience redefined the “boy next door” as the “boy downstairs.” This boy became my Grandpa Manny, who passed away when I was six weeks old. All the girls in the neighborhood would anxiously wait outside my grandma’s apartment to see Manny come home, but he only had eyes for my grandma. The couple’s first date was to see “The Jazz Singer,” the first talking movie. They married in 1938.

After telling me about her experience dating Grandpa Manny, Grandma Libby turns the question back on me. “So now can I ask you about your love life?”

People always ask my grandmother to share her secret for living so long. She responds, “With good company and a loving family, a person can live forever.” 

Grandma Libby may feel lucky to have us, but she will never understand how grateful we are to have her.