We’re delighted to give you an early peek at Ilene Beckerman’s upcoming book, The Smartest Woman I Know. Her sensational debut, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, charted the course of her life through a series of wardrobe changes. It became a runaway bestseller and inspired a hit Off-Broadway play of the same name by the Ephron sisters. Now, Gingy returns with a sparkling tribute to her wise, indomitable Jewish grandmother, Ettie Goldberg.
Though she had no more than a third-grade education, Ettie dispensed unforgettable wisdom to Gingy and her sister, Tootsie. She also doled out advice to the customers at her stationery store, including Sara Delano Roosevelt, Irish nannies, and Marlene Dietrich. She provided sage counsel on everything: life and love, food and men, faith and Vaseline. It didn’t hurt that she got some of her best ideas from conversing with God out loud.
Ettie may be gone, but thanks to Ilene Beckerman, her wisdom lives on. Whether this story makes you remember your own grandmother or whether you’re lucky enough to be a grandmother yourself, The Smartest Woman I Know will make you laugh, cry, and remember.
Below is an Introduction to the book from Ilene and a short excerpt. Enjoy!
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Grandmothers today are blondes, play tennis, and have French manicures. When I was growing up, grandmothers lived in Brooklyn, knitted sweaters, and made soup. Not my grandmother, the star of my book.
She and her husband had a store on 65th and Madison Avenue—a fancy neighborhood even then.
Everybody who was anybody came into the store and schmoozed with my grandmother. She was the smartest woman I ever knew, even though she never got past the 3rd grade.
Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mother who lived around the corner, would come in and tell my grandmother how worried she was because her son Franklin had polio. “Don’t worry,” my grandmother told her, “your son’s got a good head on his shoulders. Someday he’ll be president.” My grandmother said that to everyone who had a son. “That’s how you make a customer,” she told me.
The wisdom of my grandmother is now part of the off Broadway hit, “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” based on two of my books. The brilliant Nora Ephron – you know her from “Julie and Julia” and more – optioned my books for a theater piece, now in its second year.
So there’s my grandmother—in spirit—giving out pearls of wisdom about life, love, sex, and Jewish holidays to hip young women at the Westside Theatre. Who could argue with this remedy of hers: “For everything wrong inside the body, hot tea and lemon. For everything wrong outside the body—Vaseline.”
Almost all grandmothers—whether they’re Italian, Irish, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or something else–have special wisdom to pass on. So, to paraphrase that commercial, “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s bread,” you don’t have to be Jewish to laugh and get misty-eyed when you read about my grandmother. And, judging from the responses of the young audiences at The Westside Theatre, you don’t even have to be a grandmother!