My name is Juliana Tegan and this story is about my grandmother, whose name was Irene.
My grandmother was born Irena Keller, in Romania in a town outside of Transylvania um- sometime in the nineteen-teens, I can’t remember the exact year. And she was born to an Orthodox Jewish family that was fairly well off and well known in town. She was a precocious sort of wild daughter though- she was the, I think the second to youngest of four girls. And uh- she used to tell me and my mother and my sister stories about sneaking out of her family’s house late at night to go visit the nearby Gypsy camps – actual Gypsies that would travel around the country and the area – when she was a child. She would go and watch them dance and eat and you know want to participate in their wild experiences- just to give you a sense of what kind of person she was.
She was quite outspoken and very bright, um- and a she and her family moved to the United States, to New York, in the mid-1930s. And she- a few years later, she met my grandfather who was a Sicilian Catholic and they married- which was quite unorthodox at the time. She decided to leave her faith and marry into this pretty traditional Catholic family, which did not go over very well with her parents and members of my grandfather’s family. So she was definitely and independent woman, independent minded and did things her own way.
My grandparents settled in New York, had three children and time went by and uh- many years later, all three of their children had moved out to California, including my mother and my dad. And my grandparents, Irene and her husband Nate, my grandpa, like many Italian and Jewish people from New York, had decided to move down to Florida- to retire. And they were living in Florida and realized that all three of their children were living in California, so they started making annual trips in their RV out to California to visit their children- and the grandkids were happening, and more and more were being born so they were coming more and more often.
Like I mentioned earlier, my grandmother was quite outspoken and, could be kind of a loudmouth at times- so there were periods during these trips across country when she and my grandfather would need to take some space from each other. You know being cooped up in an RV for, you know, at least a week at a time, driving cross-country to visit your family would definitely drive anybody crazy. And uh- considering the relationship that they had, I’m not surprised that they would take long stretches of maybe not speaking to each other.
So, this story is slightly different depending on who tells it. But, when my grandmother would tell it, this is how it would go.
She and my grandfather were driving cross-country to visit their kids, sometime in the early 90s- and somewhere in the middle, in one of the plains states, they had gotten into an argument about- you know who knows what. And my grandmother had gone to the back of the RV to lay down and just have some alone time away from my granddad. Well, my grandfather pulled into a gas station to fill up on gas and whatever else. And while he was outside, handling the gas, my grandmother got out of the RV and went into the gas station to use the restroom. My grandfather didn’t notice and got back into the car- into the RV- and drove off. And, because they hadn’t been speaking for, you know, an hour- a couple of hours or so, and kind of in the middle of an argument- he didn’t think anything of it that my grandfather- my grandmother- was you know, he thought, quiet in the back of the RV, maybe laying down.
He went- he traveled over 100 miles, at which point he started to get hungry. And so he says, “Hey Irene. Gimme a peach.” No response. Waits a minute, tries again. “Hey Irene! Gimme a peach!” No response. He tries one more time before he looks over his shoulder and realizes she isn’t there. And she hasn’t been for quite some time. He tries to think back to the last time that they had stopped, and he realizes that he’s not quite sure where he lost her.
Meanwhile, my grandmother is at this gas station without her purse, without her wallet, without anything on her, stranded- thinking that her husband, my grandfather, has abandoned her once and for all, and left her there in the middle of- probably Kansas or Oklahoma- to start a new life for herself. That wasn’t the case. And my grandfather turned around and drove back, to find my grandmother in the gas station, chatting up the gas station attendants, making new friends, and of course telling stories about the ridiculous things that she and my grandfather would get into.
So, that’s a story that we like to tell in my family. And we always call it, “Hey Irene! Gimme a peach!” And I hope you like it.