- Thanks to some seriously amazing Hungarian genes, my grandmom Rose Wiggins was about to turn 100, so last Wednesday I bid adieu to the rest of the Rattypack.
“I’m gonna miss you so much,” I said to the boys before I left for the airport.
“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” they replied, barely glancing up from their keyboards.
Five hours later my plane touched down in Philadelphia. I was thrilled when my cousin, Tracy, picked me up at the airport. When we were little, Tracy and I sported matching pixie haircuts, and played school for hours on end in her basement.
We hadn’t seen each other for 15 years, so we had a lot of catching up. Plus I was dying for a cheesesteak. We beelined for Jim’s on South Street.
Tracy warned me that Jim’s counter jockeys were Cheesesteak Nazi’s, like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, so I better get my act together before I reached the head of the queue. But there were so many add-ons, my head was spinning.
“I’ll take the provolone with sautéed green bell peppers, uh no, never mind,” I stammered when it was my turn. “How about ‘shrooms and onions? Oh shoot, wait a sec.” The guys couldn’t have been nicer. They even agreed to this photo op on the condition I send them In & Out burgers, animal-style, when I got back home.
By the time we finished our meal, the line was wrapped around the block. It was obvious why—the tender, thinly sliced ribeye was heaven in a roll!
Not so heavenly? The smell in my room back at the Holiday Inn. My hair and clothes reeked of grilled meat and onions as though I’d just finished an eight-hour shift at Jim’s, but I didn’t care. I was already fiending for my next carnivorous fix.
I could have devoured
one, two, five of those babies for breakfast, but my Uncle Chuck had other ideas. He took us on a tour of the Italian Market. We passed by old school butcher shops filled with all kinds of delicacies…
One live poultry market was bursting at the seams with furry animals and birds crammed into cages— imagine Death Row for bunnies.
To cleanse our eyeballs from that sad site, we toured historic Society Hill, where I fell in love with the charming 18th- and early 19th-century architecture and brick rowhouses.
I could have meandered down those cobblestone streets for hours, but it was time to PARTAY! First we had to pick up Grandmom Rosie’s birthday cake from Giants supermarket. Luckily there was a blue light special on TastyKake Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes which I loved as a kid. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups meets moist cakey goodness, these treats are melt-in-your-mouth delish.
Soon it was time to blow the roof off the Broomhall Presbyterian Nursing Home! Orange soda was flowing, a hoagie tray was brimming, and Uncle Dave was crankin’ out religious hymns on his keyboard.
Nestled in a crochet blanket, the birthday girl wore a slouchy beanie, and beamed at her many well wishers including my sweet cuz, Matt who flew in from Florida for the day.
Grandmom Rosie’s long term memory is great. She regaled us with childhood stories. Apparently her grandmother (who helped raise Rosie) spiked her tea with whiskey every morning before school because the weather was so frigid.
Her short term memory, though, is shot.
“Hi Grandmom,” I chirped when I first approached her. “It’s your granddaughter, Kim, from California! Happy Birthday, you look beautiful! I’m glad I could be here to help you celebrate.”
“Kimmy? Kimmy!” she cooed. “I can’t believe you’re here. Oh Kimmy, I love you so much…”
Ten minutes later, I checked back in. “Grandmom, you enjoying your party?”
“Who is that speaking? I’m sorry I can’t see so well, I have macular degeneration. Who are you?”
“It’s Kim, visiting from California, Grandmom.”
“Kimmy! I can’t believe you’re here. Oh sweetie, Kimmy, I love you so much.” And on our conversation looped for the rest of the sweet celebration.
Grandmom Rosie starred in all of the Hungarian musicals in her hometown of Bethlehem, Pa. When she was about 17 or 18, the young starlet aspired to move to NYC with her best friend, cousin Mary, to give Broadway a shot. Fearful of the wild city life, however, her grandmother thwarted those plans. Hmm…whiskey before grade school, yes. Broadway, no. Not sure about that logic, but regardless Rosie’s love for the dramatic arts—from attending musicals to her beloved Liberace—never waned. So it was in her honor I hopped a train to NYC the following day and saw Kinky Boots on Broadway.
Winner of the ’13 Tony Award for Best Musical, Kinky Boots is based on a 2005 British film about a British shoe factory on the brink of ruin that reinvents itself as a maker of eight inch stiletto “kinky boots” for drag queen performers. It’s a big ol’ love story about sons, the families we make and red patent leather. (Disclosure: Cribbed that last line from the NY Times.)
With music and lyrics by Cindi Lauper, Boots was more delicious than cheesesteaks and Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. The male actors who appeared in drag were insanely gorgeous. When I wasn’t contemplating turning to the excessive cougher behind me and shoving a lozenge down his throat, I cheered for 2 hours straight. And wondered how in the heck those dudes tucked everything—and I mean EVERYTHING—out of sight.
After the show, I stood on the sidewalk with strangers, our hearts still pounding, as we raved about the show. I couldn’t help but think Rosie would have adored Kinky Boots. She was there in spirit for sure.
Happy 100th Birthday to the greatest DIVA of all, Grandmom Rose.
Kimmy from California.
PS: I said, KIMMY FROM CALIFORNIA!