ARTnGrandma’snAppointment innSamaranby John ChodesnWhen my grandmother was 89nshe became a mild celebrity as anpainter. Another Grandma Moses.nOnly better, at least I thought so. Shenbegan painting in her late 60’s, after hernhusband died, to fill the void and loneliness.nThen, quite unexpectedly, twonfamous artists stumbled upon her worknwhile she was exhibiting at the outdoornGreenwich Village Art Show. Bothnmen bought her paintings and hungnthem on their studio walls, and suddenlynthe art community was asking aboutnthis old lady who paints like MarcnChagall and who had never taken anlesson in her life.nAt this time. I was a fledgling writer. Insaw in the stir an opportunity to writenan article on Grandma Lottie and sonbreak into print, and she agreed to do it.nThere was also the other benefit, that Inwould learn about sides of her I nevernknew. And that was important —nbecause time was running out.nShe had always been just “Grandma,”nmaking chicken soup and alternatingnbetween Yiddish, which I did notnunderstand, and a heavily accented English.nShe would kiss me, even as annadult, the way that peasants do, grabbingnmy face in her big meaty handsnand pressing my whole head to her lips.nThe smacking sound made my earsnring. That was unmistakable affection.nGrandma Lottie lived in a fifth floorn48/CHRONICLESnwalk-up in the Bronx, and it was thatnlong climb that kept her young. When Inwas a kid her neighborhood had beennrespectable and Jewish. But time andnhistory moved on, and now the area wasna dilapidated, partly burned-out ghetto.nThe halls were filled with debris, stink,ngraffiti, and noise.nI knocked. She answered the door.nThis was no sweet, white-haired, frailngranny. This was an old lioness. Lottienlooked more like Gertrude Stein; shortnand stocky with shaggy, close-croppednhair set above that deeply wrinklednpeasant’s face.nI came in with my tape recorder andncamera, to capture her words and thenimage of her paintings, which coverednthe walls from floor to ceiling. Hernoutput was amazing, considering hernage when she began.nThe paintings were like her face;ncraggy and wild. A still-life of a bowl ofnfruit was created from at least a halfinchnof built-up paint, layer-on-layer tonevoke the textures and shimmeringnshapes. Even such a contemplative subjectnhad van Gogh’s freneticism.nLottie told a story with every canvas.nSince she was self-taught, no one hadntold her that it was impossible to conveyna long narrative with a single painting.nOne canvas was divided into four sectionsnand told the story of a PuertonRican neighbor’s family history. To explainnit does not reveal the impact;nseeing it was like viewing a tapestry. Itnwas childlike but very effective.nI turned on my tape recorder. “Okay,nGrandma, let’s start. Tell me, how didnyou begin painting? What are yournfavorite subjects? What techniques donyou use? You know, that kind of thing.”nAdmittedly, it was not very imaginative,nbut at least it was a way to warm her up.n”No!” She said defiantly. “If theynwant to know my paintings, they’ve gotnto know Lottie!”n”But Grandma, I know your story. Incan fill it in.”n”Johnny-cakes,” (that was her petnname for me) “you think you do. I putnmy whole life in each picture. You wantnto write. Then you’ve got to know.nLook at this one.”nLottie took down one of her biggestncanvases. I set up my camera. Thisnpainting was a jumble of events andnfigures that I could not follow. It hadnwild, unreal colors and everything wasnscreaming for my attention simulta­nnnneously. I did not know where to looknfirst to find the beginning of the story.n”Here. We start.” Lottie pointed to anlower corner. “See? I am 14. It is anlong, dusty, thirsty road from my homentown of Jzerovenah.”n”Where is that. Grandma?”n”Where else but Austro-Hungary? Inam heading for Vienna, the jewel ofnEurope.”nGrandma’s words had a sing-songnquality as if she had repeated this storynover and over to herself as she painted.nIt was a magical dialogue to bring thenoil-based characters to life. And she wasnnot speaking one word of Yiddish. Itnwas obvious she wanted me to knownthat she could hold a conversation entirelynin English.n”I walked all four days.” Her fingersnmoved to another portion of the painting,nto a young girl and an older womannfigure. “I was just like my mother, fullnof ambition. As I trudged along, Inremember how she said ‘Go to Vienna.nThere you have a chance to marry annofficer, even a nobleman. Don’t staynhere and die a nobody like me.'”nLottie’s face crinkled. The painfulnmemories welled up, still burning afternall these years. This painting was ancatharsis. “There were wonderful partiesnin Vienna filled with generals andncounts. But d—n it! Only the bluebloodsnever went! And I was just anpeasant girl. I had to step in the gutternwhen those nobles strutted down thenstreet, or get whipped for my nerve!”nLottie’s hand flitted over the finalnsection. Here I could see a bed, peoplenhunched over, working. “Dreams.nPointless dreams. For two long years.nBut what was I? Just a common seamstress.nLiving like a mouse behind thentailor shop on five dollars a month. I laynin the dark, in my little room, cursingnthat I was a peasant, a Jew. That’s whatnkept me from being someone!”nHer narrative had wrung out deepnemotional pain. It might overwhelm hernto go to another picture immediately.n”Grandma, can I have a cup of coffee?”nShe had none. Instead, she made menthe traditional glass of tea. Served it withna stale, flaky strudel. That calmed her. Inlooked through the open window, tonthe cluttered fire escape and a burnedoutnbuilding across the way, listened tonthe raucous sound of children playingnstickball in the street. When she dies, Inthought, there will be a deeper downhilln