Barbara Cooper recalls being a snob when she was 14 years old. She and her family moved from New York to Los Angeles in the 1920s, and the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights seemed like the most logical choice for a new home.
Barbara, however, decided that “Jewish Tijuana” with its open barrels of foul-smelling herring and pickles and women trudging along Brooklyn Avenue in house dresses and bedroom slippers was not the place for a sophisticated young lady. At her insistence, the family moved to West Los Angeles.
Now 91 years old, Barbara Cooper has returned to Boyle Heights, where Canter’s Deli has been replaced with Hernandez Market, and Brooklyn Avenue has been renamed Cesar E. Chavez Avenue. But she and her husband of 73 years, Harry, have seen many changes in their lifetimes and are quick to get with the times.
The hip nonagenarians are not only Web-savvy, they’re also contributors to the blogosphere. Their OGs blog, which stands for Original Grandparents and plays on the street term Original Gangstas, is a daily dose of Barbara, 91, and Harry, 96, as they settle into the historic Hollenbeck Palms retirement home in Boyle Heights.
Launched Nov. 6, the video blog was the brainchild of granddaughters Kim Cooper, 41, and Chinta Cooper, 20, who wrote in the introduction, “We’ve enjoyed the wit, wisdom and weirdness of our grandparents for our whole lives, and think it’s high time the rest of the world got a chance.”
In featurettes such as “Around the Hood,” “Ask Grandma Anything” and “Picture Book,” the charming pair share their thoughts on Boyle Heights, give relationship advice — Harry says all a husband needs to know to make a marriage last is two words: “Yes, dear” — and recount stories from their past based on photographs their granddaughters dig up.
Having lived through nearly a century, the Coopers have many tales to tell: of being stranded in Jordan for a week as a result of Barbara naively noting on an airport form that they were Jewish; of obligingly smoking hashish with a group of Arabs in Cairo so as not to offend their generous hosts — “it was a nauseating experience” said Barbara, who was born in a Jewish ghetto in Cairo; of selling watermelons from a cart during summers in Philadelphia, and of living through the Great Depression, a particularly relevant experience in our current economic climate.
The OGs ran a discount shoe store for many years and “worked together on the days that we were compatible,” said Barbara, silver-haired and petite. They founded a convalescent home in Los Feliz, the dividends of which support them today. They’ve lived in Hollywood, Culver City and Camarillo, and have traveled the world, including three visits to Israel. Together, they raised two children and seven grandchildren and after all these years, they’re getting their 15 minutes of fame — to their own surprise and their granddaughters’ delight.
“We thought we could tell a story about the neighborhood through our family,” said Kim Cooper, a native Angeleno who leads bus tours of the city’s old neighborhoods. She lives in Boyle Heights with her husband and younger sister Chinta. They decided to bring their grandparents to nearby Hollenbeck so that they could spend more time with them; one of the unexpected benefits of the move was gaining two fascinating sources of social history.
“It’s so much fun reminiscing with them about how L.A. used to be,” Cooper said.
A blog that began as Cooper and her sister’s personal quest to capture their beloved grandparents’ memories, thoughts and endearing personalities on tape has turned into a small phenomenon: roughly 200 people from as far as Paris and the Philippines visit the site every day to see PopPop’s first encounter with an iPod or hear Bubbe’s warm and raspy voice finishing her husband’s sentences.
“I was hoping that this would be for our family,” said Barbara (her first reaction to the idea was “What’s a blog?”). And now that other people are watching, she just hopes that the blog will be entertaining. Prompted by Kim and Chinta’s questions, the OGs keep the subject matter light and upbeat; topics such as their two children being gone are off limits, but everything else is fair game, within reason.
When asked what she thought of the outgoing president, Barbara replied, “I am too much of a lady to tell you what I think of Bush.”
Whether they’re reminiscing or commenting on current events, the OGs are having a blast being the stars of their very own blog. More importantly, they’re relishing the time they get to spend with their granddaughters, who they call their children.
“They’re our nachas,” Barbara said. “They’re our joy and our saving grace. And now with this blog, I can’t get rid of them!”
To watch the OGs online, visit www.the-ogs.com.