Haven: Where the memories remain

The Haddon Heights home of Miriam Grossmann January 10, 2014. Her husband Saul died last March and she has decided to stay in the ranch home they built together in the late 1950s and readjust her life. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
The Haddon Heights home of Miriam Grossmann January 10, 2014. Her husband Saul died last March and she has decided to stay in the ranch home they built together in the late 1950s and readjust her life. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

HAVEN | After the death of her husband, Miriam Grossmann is staying in her Haddon Heights home.

Posted: February 02, 2014

There are two contrasting points of view when it comes to the memories a home holds after a spouse or partner has died:

"So many memories - I can't stay!" is one.

"So many memories - I can't leave!" is the other.

For Miriam Grossmann, who lost her husband of 59 years last spring, the latter emotion determined her plans.

"We built this house together - we lived here so happily that it's really where I belong," Grossmann says of the Haddon Heights rancher she and her husband, Saul, had built back in 1961 on an open parcel known as the "Penn Hughes Tract."

Following their marriage, the couple had lived with her parents in Elkins Park, and then in a Collingswood apartment house.

"We were definitely ready for a home of our own," she says. "We loved the area and were looking for a quiet neighborhood where we could raise our two daughters, and one that was close to a synagogue. We found all of that."

So, yes, it's been a huge adjustment to find herself alone in a space that most recently housed a devoted couple. Still, Grossmann is coming to terms with loss and change.

"Fortunately, this house is not overwhelmingly large," she says of the three-bedroom dwelling, situated on a quiet street, one where neighbors care.

"We look out for one another," says Grossmann. "That was a huge factor in my decision to stay."

But other factors weighed heavily, as well.

About a decade ago, the Grossmanns did a basic renovation of their kitchen, updating it with new cabinetry and counters. It made the house more livable.

The flow of rooms in the rancher also worked for the family, then the empty nesters, and now for Grossmann herself.

A living room that is truly lived in holds the 1920s Steinway baby-grand piano Miriam plays daily.

"I'm definitely not a concert pianist," she says, "but I love to play."

A back wall is dominated by a cleverly planned, double-sided bookcase positioned between the living room and the dining room.

Books were always precious possessions in this home occupied by two educators.

Miriam Grossmann was originally a public school teacher, then spent 38 years as a Hebrew school teacher at Temple Beth Sholom, originally in Haddon Heights and relocated to Cherry Hill 25 years ago; Saul, originally a public school English teacher, went on to become a regional superintendent of schools in Philadelphia and then a professor of educational leadership at Temple University.

A highlight for the family, Grossmann says, came when they hosted a young German girl as an exchange student. She became so connected that their lives have been intertwined for decades.

"Saul and I both loved young people, and this was a special experience that turned into a lifetime relationship," she says.

Throughout the house, Judaic art and artifacts coexist with other, less-specialized pieces.

While he was working on his doctoral dissertation, Saul Grossmann found doing needlepoint a tension-reducer. Some of his exquisitely detailed, Jewish-themed works hang on the walls.

Also on display are some of the beautiful crewel works of Miriam Grossmann's late mother, as well as Miriam's own needlepoint.

Among her pieces: Hanging on a hallway wall is a show-stopping assemblage of dancing women, led by her Biblical namesake, Miriam.

A newly designated computer room, converted from a bedroom, is a testament to Grossmann's commitment to conquering the technology. It's not an easy or natural fit, she says, but she's forcing herself to improve her skills.

The same room holds a collection of Madame Alexander and other dolls that carry sentimental meaning from the years when the Grossmanns' two daughters were at home.

The couple lost their older daughter, Deena, to a rare cancer in 1993, and the childhood dolls are a comfort, Miriam says.

Another bedroom serves as a perfect, peaceful spot for putting together the seemingly endless pieces this intrepid puzzle-master manages to assemble into coherent finished wholes in her spare time.

That spare time is a precious commodity. Grossmann has been a much-honored activist in Hadassah, the Jewish women's service organization, and currently serves as president of the Golda Meir chapter in South Jersey.

Through the difficult last year, she says, she has found solace and peace, even in winter, in the painstakingly created garden she and Saul spent decades cultivating. Its beautiful bushes and shrubs stretch over the nearly one-acre property.

They provide Miriam Grossmann not just with memories of what she and her husband created, but also with the sense of renewal and hope that gardens bring.

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